Into the Trenches, Les élus

There’s probably no God. Or is there?

It’s quite acceptable in some countries for sellers hawking goods to approach you on the street, and in others it’s laughable when people come up to you, as if out of no where, asking if you’d like to know about Jesus or the miracle of the Quran. And it’s annoying when they come and knock on your door … But lately in London, as it seems, a movement of what I choose to call a “religion” have upped the ante and decided it’s okay for them to scream their message at me and others in big font every time I leave the house. “There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life!” is a new campaign manifested in hundreds of posters plastered across British buses and tubes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way offended. I don’t care. People’s beliefs are their own.

But why shove it down my throat mate?

What always distinguished many atheists in my head, including the man behind this ad campaign Richard Dawkins (of The God Delusion fame), is that they did not comprise a movement, and don’t usually interact like an organised religion — but the recent ad campaign had made re-think what now could be a misconception. But if it proves anything, it proves that men tend to unite religiously over their beliefs. And it doesn’t matter if it’s around God or the lack of him, but they almost always evolve into a movement … and perhaps in a while a religion with a hierarchy and a “holy book” and all. It looks like even some atheists cannot escape the clutch of organised religion, as ironic as this is. And they too could be made to feel insecure … so insecure perhaps that they have to hold up ads to propagate their beliefs, and thus become no different that some outspoken adherents to religions centered around gods, astronomical deities and supernatural entities.

Back to the ad. My initial reaction to it was amusement. Britons and their humor, I said to myself. But then every time I saw the ad, a different feeling of discomfort with the underlying concept would rear its head. Minoring in psychology back in school, I remembered that one of the deterrents of suicide and also one of the support systems against mental malaise like depression and the likes of it was a strong belief system … in addition to other things of course, including family. So in a way, more religious people were less likely to commit suicide for instance or to get clinically depressed. So in a way, and in some cases, a belief in God (or gods) stimulate a person’s mental defenses, and even biological (people’s beliefs in many things, from God to alternative medicines, have cured them from a host of diseases). Therefore denouncing a spiritual or a religious state-of-mind is not always a solution for people, is not always a source of comfort and peace and will not always open the doors to a worry-less life as the ad claims. In a whole lot of cases, it can do the opposite.

A different discomfort today. Again, I was on the tube, reading The Secret History of the World, a book filled with ideas and crackpot pseudoscience but also inspiration and food for thought (it’s a mixed bag, really!) only to notice one of those ads — again. This time the main slogan was accompanied by a quote from Douglas Adams that goes, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” Well, for me it’s not. Coming from the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the phrase -to me- seemed like it was manipulated (by being taken out of context) to be used as a blatant statement against imagination and meditation. Taking the garden, the world, at face value and seeing only what the eye sees -the physical- is nothing short of lame. God bless Antoine de St. Exupery and his little prince. Sometimes, people need to know how nature works, how beyond the flowers and trees, there is a flawless system that makes this all work in order to appreciate the beauty of the garden even more (science!). For others, fairies are an important part of the equation (fantasy!). The hidden and the esoteric. For someone like me, who reads Harry Potter and secretly believes Hogwarts exists somewhere in a parallel universe but who also reads The New Scientist religiously, it’s sometimes both — depending on the mood.

None of us has seen God, despite some witnessing his presence in their lives. So it doesn’t matter if the atheists believe he exists or not. And I don’t think we’re settling the God argument anytime soon. So why not act like adults and stop rubbing each others’ beliefs in each others’ faces, tastelessly and needlessly. To me the atheist ads are as uncreative and perhaps as naive as the people who come up to me and ask me if I wanna hear about Krishna. Give me something to stimulate my thought and I will heartily respond. But don’t give me a phrase that even if I support I can refute in different ways every time I go to work.

Man, now I remember what the ads remind me of!
Images are coming into my head as I write this.

Egypt’s underground.
Da’wa!
The Muslim Brotherhood.
Of course!
“Islam is the Solution.”

Who thought that Richard Dawkins and Hassan al-Banna would have anything in common? God does work in mysterious ways.

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Into the Trenches, Les élus

What we hold dear …

“But it’s too easy to take sides in the Middle East conflict. Few other parts of the world inspire such passion or leave such little room for doubt. For many, choosing sides is just an afterthought to their birthright: If you’re an Arab, go join the Free Palestine demonstrations; and if you’re Jewish, go join the Save Israel marches.

Don’t forget, you can always throw God into the mix. Lay claim to your holy sites and you’ll have religiously sanctioned wrath to fuel your rage.” – Mona El-Tahawy.

I remember recalling this bit of Mona El-Tahawy’s recent piece while I was taking a tour of some 16th century artwork in London’s Royal National Gallery a few days ago. Heavily exhibiting Christian themes, several of the masterpieces naturally featured Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – just a passing mention or vision of the city was like a cue for my mind to dwell, yet again, on the Gaza carnage – dragging on for 20 days now- and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general, the loss of land and the humiliation of a people.

The trail of thoughts took me back to the horrors of the Holocaust, and I quickly questioned whether it provided enough justification for what is happening now. But I couldn’t even stay there for long. I could never stomach the reason why an oppressed or victimized group of people would almost always go on to inflict pain and misery on others, perhaps in the same way they were affected. I remembered studying something of the sort in school, in a psychology class, but the details escaped me. I concluded that it’s a vicious cycle, and didn’t elaborate on it in my head. Another thought left undeveloped.

And releasing it, I jumped to another: why is what’s happening in Palestine all so important – more important, more significant than other (war) crimes happening across the world? My mind has brought me full circle to Mona and another of her articles which bore the same question.

Perhaps because it was ongoing for 60 years? Or perhaps because the Israeli government has stripped the Palestinians of even the privilege of being pitied and has painted even their children as potential terrorists and their elderly as barbaric and inhuman. Perhaps, because it was so close to home and unfair and ugly and all too familiar. The reasons why -which formed the core of my disagreement with Mona about how this is not just another tragedy- went on. Because it is a just cause that the Palestinians are fighting and like Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto -a comparison that British MP George Galloway struck in a recent protest- they only had either choice: to die on their knees or to live forever.

Perhaps because it was the Holy Land they’re fighting over. Stop. Now, this was interesting. When I came to that, I looked back at the artwork, marvelled at how men could rise, fall and die bitterly for what they consider sacred … I instantly remembered Orlando Bloom in Ridley Scott’s flawed Kingdom of Heaven portraying a Crusader knight vowing to burn every church, mosque and synagogue before surrendering Jerusalem to Salaheddin so that people would stop fighting over them. I wondered if this would really be the solution; to just burn everything to the ground, so that the dust of the Holy Land, becomes that, dust — and not a cause to live and die for. But we all know, this is not going to happen. And it shouldn’t. And despite myself, I felt a longing for Jerusalem, to walk through its cobbled roads, to smell its air and finally pray in al-Aqsa — which I can’t help but feel eternal love for even though I’ve only seen it in pictures. I guess it’s another dream that I inherited and not developed, but refuse to let go of. It’s mysterious really how certain things can transcend their own natures and become powerful and moving symbols of identity, piety, resilience and courage. It reassures me on some level to find this love and respect inside of me for such symbols. But on another, and to be honest, it scares me.