NB: I do not update this anymore, leaving it as a testament to my religious beliefs c. April 2003
1) Introduction and disclaimer
2) Me and Religion
3) The Value of Scepticism and Science and Religion
4) Why do people believe? and other questions about Faith
12) Further reading
"I'm going to rub your faces in things you try to avoid. I don't find it strange that all you want to believe in is only that which comforts you. How else do humans invent the traps which betray us into mediocrity? How else do we define cowardice?" - Frank Herbert, Children of Dune
Following is a loosely written essay - part personal reflection, part dissertion - assembled from numerous pages of scribblings assembled by me in wroth after a Catholic Retreat in Sabah in March 2003, which caused me to renounce my faith and become an agnostic.
I am aware that the retreat I went to was of a ludicrously puritan and hideously ascetic bent ("sheesh. what you went to sounds like a cross between extreme puritan catholicism and charismatic movement. it is -not - representative of moderate christianity"), and that probably only the Pope and various other extremist fringe sects have such extreme and outdated views. Indeed, I am told that Singapore Christianity is "uniquely perverted" and "takes itself far too seriously". Nonetheless, the retreat has scarred my psyche indelibly, pissed me off immeasurably and alienated me considerably, resulting in a pronounced aversion towards Christianity, especially fundamentalist Christianity.
Thus, I have written this essay - in part to consolidate my thoughts and reflections, but also to set out a case for why I believe that religion - especially human-organised and interpreted religion - is likely a delusion and to rebut all the points of doctrine preached at the retreat that I found repellent, using both secular and religious arguments.
This retreat was conducted by one priest, mostly. He will, hereon, be referred to as "the priest"
"The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance... logic can be happily tossed out the window." - Stephen King
1) Disclaimer and primer
The author is no stranger to controversy, and does not shy away from traditionally taboo topics. He believes in the Socratic method of seeking truth, and (so far) hasn't been forced to drink hemlock yet. If you are fond of excommunicating people on the slightest pretext, or if every other facet of the modern world is blasphemous to you, you might want to give this essay a miss. But a thought for you: "Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if he is as little as that, he is beneath it." - Mark Twain. On the other hand, if you've never questioned your faith, or if you are in your religion only because you were brought up in it, perhaps some meditation would serve you in good stead. Just don't get too lost in the interminable passages.
In this essay, I have tried to deal with a broad range of topics, ignoring a few like Creation "Science" and the Immaculate Conception, and have neither the space, time nor ability to explore many issues to as deep a level as I would like. This essay is targeted at a general audience, those who have never questioned their faith (or lack thereof) much, not at those with degrees in theology or divinity. If you're well read, you might not find much new here, though I think I did come up with some small insights. I have no revolutionary, earth-shaking ideas to share, as this ground is well trod upon, and indeed some might say barren, but I hope some insights might be found useful. I've tried to exercise some form of essay discipline but the sheer extent and wealth of material is overwhelming, really, especially since I've no editor, so some parts may read more like course notes than a planned part of a whole. I'll be working on this essay when I have material to add, or when the whim strikes me, though, so it should steadily become more lucid and tight. All feedback (but for mindless hate mail) is welcome. Many thanks are due to all who have given feedback so far :)
Hopefully, everything should come together as a coherent whole by the end of this tract :)
2) Me and Religion
"The church hates a thinker precisely for the same reason a robber dislikes a sheriff, or a thief despises the prosecuting witness." - Robert Ingersoll
It could be said that I was brought up Christian. My family never went to Church, and my father is a free thinker, but my mother did buy some books and give me some form of instruction. However, after I emerged from the unthinking acceptance of childhood, I began to have doubts, and so I suppose I was a semi-believer. The influences of Humanism resulted in me enquiring even in areas where normal people ceased to enquire, and accepted what they were told unthinkingly. Areas like religion.
I have never been one to accept what I am told tamely. For example, Tim asked me once why I like to rail against the proscription of homosexuals, and if I was one. I am not - but not all of the suffragettes were female, and did the anti-apartheid movement consist only of blacks? I do not see why people whose only crime has been to be born a certain way should be discriminated against and labelled unnatural, while others who deliberately pervert the normal course of nature are let go scot-free. Put another way: Would anyone worship a God who advocated the murder of unbelievers and apostates, cheating other people, heedless fornication, the pillaging of the earth, hating everyone, larceny, perjury, fratricide, parricide and more? (For some evidence, see here) I think most people, Satanists notwithstanding, would rather go to hell than worship such a god. Granted, conservative Christianity is not intolerant on this scale, but I trust you, gentle reader, see my point. For this and other reasons, I've always had doubts.
Iíd heard about the Sabah retreat for a while, since 1999, when Tim went. He said it was very good, and though I had my doubts, I finally decided to go this time in March 2003, for a fresh start. Indeed, it was beneficial, but not in the way most participants believed. It really opened my eyes to a lot of issues and forced me to examine many beliefs that Iíd been holding blindly for a while, and in the aftermath of the retreat, I felt cleansed and free. People went to renew their faith; I lost mine, pretty much, and feel all the better for it. The fuzzy undergrowth in my head has been cleared, mostly. Timothyís father was saying Iíd be buying a lot of books after I came down from the Mountain to learn more about my faith, and that Iíd experience a lot of changes. Indeed I will buy some - if books on agnosticism and atheism were easier to find in the shops, and I have become a great deal more sceptical.
3) The Value of Scepticism
"Gods are fragile things; they may be killed by a whiff of science or a dose of common sense." - Chapman Cohen
Proverbs 18:17: "The first to plead his cause seems just, until another comes and examines him".
Scepticism is necessary in the realms of religion, where the intangible abounds, for without it, we will follow gullibly the first religion we come to know of. Most intelligent people desire the truth, and don't want to live lies, or they might as well worship man-made idols. At the same time, we must try to be sceptical without being contemptuous.
It seems that as the developmental level of peoples and societies goes up,
the proportion of people with no religion, who are sceptical about religion
or who are just not very devout goes up in tandem. Many of the most intelligent
and prominent people in the past century or more have been atheistic or agnostic.
The naysayers reply that these people have tried to rationalise God and religion,
and so have not found either. But to trust in blind faith in something that
might be false would be folly. Real religions are supposed to make people
feel fulfilled and touched by God - those who are are jubilant and become
very devout, but what about those who aren't? They then inevitably become
sceptical, cynical and disillusioned and disavow the existence of worship
of God, where more gullible people might be tricked into continuing on their
I place a high value on scepticism, for the truth comes from questing. Indeed, Bien Kiat said of me -"Heís a very tough customer. If you can convert him, you will go to heaven. Guaranteed." (But then he also said that I was "Very intelligent, but very blur and stubborn", so). Some of my ilk choose not to apply the same criteria to religion as they do to other things - something I find perplexing, for they seem willing to be deceived in this one arena when they would not brook falsehood in others.
All the same, I keep an Open Mind (both ways). I saw some things at the retreat - healing, tongues, slaying and the like, but they can all be explained, as belief can work wonders and push the human body to do things not thought possible, though some are harder to rationalise than others. I feel a sense of peace once in a while, and feel twinges and vague emotions sometimes, but it could be a product of my own imagination and hope - my skin positively prickles and crawls whenever I hear my School Anthem being played (from the memories and some degree of pride), and even when the National Anthem is played (though whether this is because of the years of attempted indoctrination, the mysterious substances they put in our drinking water or my disgust and intense emotions at my Slavery I know not).
Agnosticism and faith both have their appeals. On one hand, like everyone I just want to surrender, and not to question. "I want to believe" - however I know better, for delusionment is pointless. In other words, I'm not playing Devil's Advocate just for the heck of it. Both choices are liberating in their own way. I was accused of not wanting to open up, and trying to rationalise something that cannot be rationalised, but I think I tried as best I could, and really - the sheer ridiculousness of it all stuns me sometimes and turns me off, and if I didnít enquire, I might as well join the Raelian sect or Heavenís Gate. If all the evidence points against religion, and we are thoroughly convinced that it is false, why follow it?
Science and Religion
The advent of Science in recent times has inevitably led to a corresponding decline in the fortunes of Religion. When Science can explain (or theorise) how we were created, we no longer need to attribute (or blame) it on a God. Indeed, some claim that Science is now our new Religion. Theists love to bash science, and claim that it cannot explain a lot of things - they dispute the Theory of Evolution, for example, and ask what could have come before the Big Bang - surely something cannot have come out of nothing?
However, Science is most assuredly not a Religion, and was never meant to explain everything. Science gives us a way of looking at the world, but it does not purport to explain every single mystery - it only endeavours to. So what if there are flaws in the Theory of Evolution? Its name alone gives you a clue - it is but a Theory. Darwin never claimed that it was perfect, or could explain everything, but today most have come to a conclusion that Evolution was generally responsible for our existence.
With regards to what came before the Big Bang - just because you cannot explain something does not mean that you have to attribute it to God. In Ancient Times, lightning was thought to be from the Gods, as no one knew how it came about, but now we know better. A few years ago, some Hindus in Singapore got very excited because the statuettes of one of their Indian elephant-headed Gods miraculously started "drinking" milk, and believed that the God was drinking the milk even though everyone knew that what was actually happening was that the stone the statuettes were made out of was absorbing the liquid.
Just because we do not know something now does not mean that we will never
know it. Therein lies the promise of Science. Religion, on the other hand,
claims to explain everything, or at least most religions do. There lies its
folly, for the flaws and contradictions inherent in any religion are its
doom. If something promised by a Religion is patently false, but is claimed
to be patently true, then how can the Religion be true? Of course, apologists
and fundamentalists try to temporise, to dissemble, evade, ignore the question,
offer fallacious, disingenuous and misleading arguments, change the question,
bash straw men, poison the well or employ their last recourse - say that
faith is needed and that non-believers will never see or understand (or imagine
or hallucinate, rather) - when in fact their faith creates the god, but those
with unclouded vision can see the truth.