(What follows is a response to Salman Rushdie's letter denigrating religious traditions answered by a Pakistani blogger, link to whose blog is given in start of the post. Italics text is Rushdie's words, green is by the Pakistani blogger, "Uni".)
How did we get here? And, now that we are here, how shall we live?
Uni: Dear Rushdi. As one of the newest member of the notoriously sneering species, it is a pleasure to note that you at least admit that the whatever dollar questions remain unanswered - still being wrestled with.
Oddly - as if six billion of us weren't enough to be going on with - it will almost certainly be suggested to you that the answer to the question of origins requires you to believe in the existence of a further, invisible, innefable Being "somewhere up there", an omnipotent creature whom we poor limited creatures are unable even to perceive, much less to understand. That is, you will be strongly encouraged to imagine a heaven, with at least one god in residence.
Oddly, it has occured to you that we the inquisitive EXIST and all on our own... function and procreate, all on our own... the entire universe runs smoothly all on its own - down to the whole factory running within a single cell - all on its own. The fact that you're unable to percieve THIS little piece of clear logic, is what's beyond us poor creatures.
This sky god, it's said, made the universe by churning its matter in a giant pot. Or, he danced. Or, he vomited creation out of himself. Or, he simply called it into being, and lo, it Was. In some of the more interesting creation stories, the singly mighty sky god is subdivided into many lesser forces - junior dieties, avatars, gigantic metamorphic "ancestors" whose adventures create the landscape, or the whimsical, wanton, meddling, cruel pantheons of the great polytheisms, whose wild doings will convince you that the real engine of creation was lust; for infinite power, for too easily broken human bodies, for clouds of glory. But it's only fair to add that there are also stories which offer the message that the primary creative impulse was, and is, love.
Creation stories might be many - yes, but the truth is only one. If you're not convinced by it, cool. But this gives you no right to ridicule all the versions with a singlemindedness worthy of an award, really. You can't prove your theory, even if you're unconvinced by the opposing theory. There are far too many out there who (despite, not having seen it)... believe in God. And you don't find them ridiculing the opinions you hold.
Many of these stories will strike you extremely beautiful, and therefore seductive.
No. That's not the reason why we believe in them. Sorry. Wrong guess.
It is possible that they may at some point come to feel inescapable, not in the way that the truth is inescapable, but in the way that a jail is. They may at some point cease to feel like the texts in which human beings have tried to solve a great mystery, and feel, instead, like the pretexts for other properly anointed human beings to order you around. And it's true that human history is full of the public oppression wrought by the charioteers of the gods.
In the opinion of religious people, however, the private comfort that religion brings more than compensates for the evil done in its name.
Firstly, for people who do believe in God (with their hearts and minds) do not feel the truth to be like a jail, confining them. So wrong guess here again. And secondly, the teaching of human beings that led to this truth, wasn't forced upon us. Nobody pointed a gun at us to believe in God. And thus, the argument that they only did it to order us around, stands totally invalid. The fact is, that evil can take any excuse for committing evil. If religion is one such excuse, then the blame on religion itself is foolish. Go blame those particular people.
As human knowledge has grown, it has also become plain that every religious story ever told about how we got here is quite simply wrong. This, finally, is what all religions have in common. They didn't get it right. There was no celestial churning, no maker's dance, no vomiting of galaxies, no snake or kangaroo ancestors, no Valhalla, no Olympus, no six-day conjuring trick followed by a day of rest. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Your opinion, your opinion, your opinion. We don't consider the creation process as wrong.
But here's something genuinly odd. The wrongness of the sacred tales hasn't lessened the zeal of the devout in the least. If anything, the sheer out-of-step zaniness of religion leads the religious to insist ever more stridently on the importance of blind faith.
It's not blind. As I said (and I'm a believer so I know what I'm saying), the decision is a sound one, made by the heart and mind. If you don't believe that, your problem.
As a result of this faith, by the way, lt has proved impossible, in many parts of the world, to prevent the human race's numbers from swelling alarmingly. Blame the overcrowded planet at least partly on the misguidedness of the races spiritual guides. In your own lifetime, you may witness the arrival of the nine billionth world citizen. (If too many people are being born as a result, in part, of religious strictures against birth control, then too many people are also dying because religious culture, by refusing to face the facts of human sexuality, also refuses to fight against sexually transmitted diseases.)
Weird it is, that you, not having had control of when to enter this world (did you decide your birthday hmm?), and not in control of when you'll leave this world... think it's prudent to think that we all have control over the population size of this planet?
There are those who say that the great wars of the new century will once again be wars of religion, jihads and crusades, as they were in the Middle Ages. I don't believe them, or not in the way they mean it. Take a look at the Muslim world, or rather the Islamist world, to use the word coined to describe Islam's present day "political arm". The divisions between its great powers (Afghanistan against Iran against Iraq against Saudi Arabia against Syria against Egypt) are what strike you most forcefully. There's very little resembling a common purpose. Even after the non-Islamic NATO fought a war for the Muslim Kosovan Albanians, the Muslim world was slow in coming forward with much needed humanitarian aid.
Oh you don't need to remind us about the ''efforts'' of the Muslim nations right now. They are deplorable. But we also know that it's the leaders of these states that are quite oblivious to events around them. Not the common man. If the common man were like this, there would be no flotilla towards Gaza .. knowing that Israeli forces aren't going to give them a red carpet welcome. And btw, the war b/w religions is already going on. And yes, ideology remains the key war instigator even now.
The real wars of religion are the wars religions unleash against ordinary citizens within their "sphere of influence." They are wars of the godly against the largely defenceless - American fundamentalists against pro-choice doctors, Iranian mullahs against their country's Jewish minority, Hindu fundamentalists in Bombay against that city's increasingly fearful Muslims.
If you're calling state laws as wars... then even more weird is that you didn't mention in this list of yours one very very important one... the policies of the state of Israel, the policies of India on Kashmiri Muslims... it's not only the godly who impose their laws. Secular governments do the same thing. If one opinion is unacceptable to you, doesn't mean you go about calling it war and then select a subset of state policies as examples. Puny indeed.
The victors in that war must not be the closed-minded, marching into battle with, as ever, God on their side. To choose unbelief is to choose mind over dogma, to trust in our humanity instead of all these dangerous divinities. So, how did we get here? Don't look for the answer in story books. Imperfect human knowledge may be a bumpy, pot-holed street, but it's the only road to wisdom worth taking. Virgil, who believed that the apiarist Aristaeus could spontaneously generate new bees from the rotting carcess of a cow, was closer to a truth about origins than all the revered old books.
To choose unbelief is your choice, we're open to believing in God, despite you thinking of it as being closed minded. Trusting in humanity can't go side by side with belief in God? Apparently, you haven't read much into history. Imperfect human knowledge was enlightened with scriptures, and this knowledge was the source of illumination for a great number of minds. And then you ask, how did we get here? Didn't you, in the beginning talk about this as a notoriously inquisitive display to ask these questions? Consistent, aren't you?
The ancient wisdoms are modern non-senses.
Live in your own time, use what we know and, as you grow up, perhaps the human race will finally grow up with you and put aside childish things. As the song says, "It's easy if you try."
As for mortality, the second great question - how to live? What is right action, and what wrong?- it comes down to your willingness to think for yourself. Only you can decide if you want to be handed down the law by priests, and accept that good and evil are somehow external to ourselves.
The blind wanderings and backtrackings of modern sciences is also a lot of claptrap, no worries. And sure, go ahead with this logical mode. Hand over the morality reigns to each and everybody's own individual self. So if a thief thinks its moral to steal (because he/she felt it inside that its okay!), then don't blame him. Sure.
To my mind, religion - even at its most sophisticated - essentially infantalizes our ethical selves by setting infallible moral Arbiters and irredeemably immoral Tempters above us; the eternal parents, good and bad, light and dark, of the supernatural realm.
To each, his or her own. We don't (and won't) mock your ideas. Follow what you will, but at least you shouldn't mock the things you don't agree with.
How, then, are we to make ethical choices without a divine rulebook or judge?
You're not supposed to. That's the thing, see.
Intellectual freedom, in European history, has mostly meant freedom from the restraints of the Church and not the state.
The Church men had made the laws that were suffocating mankind. Christianity had nothing to do with it. Even now, the lobbying for doing away with celibacy laws prove that the original teaching did NOT contain celibacy - nothing unnatural is ever promulgated in the main religions.
This is the battle Voltaire was fighting, and it's also what all six billion of us could do for ourselves, the revolution in which each of us could play our small, six-billionth part; once and for all we could refuse to allow priests, and the fictions on whose behalf they claim to speak, to be the policemen of our liberties and behavior. Once and for all we could put the stories back into the books, put the books back on the shelves, and see the world undogmatized and plain.
You mean, see the world in chaos and disorder. Even right now, the world's in disorder because of lack of belief in accountability (yes, even by those who CLAIM they're following religion and do heinous crimes - all acts of people who don't believe in God, Hereafter and Judgement).
Imagine there's no heaven, my dear Six-Billionth, and at once the sky's the limit.
Imagine a Just God, and imagine trying to follow His Teachings, being good to fellow humans and doing good in all spheres of life. The sky is certainly the limit.