Jostein Gaarder, in Sophie’s World, quoted “… the only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder….”
Recently, a young man came into my life. We met as a result of a shared interest in acting, but I thought of him as another acquaintance with nothing more than a casual correspondence. This young man, as a few days would have it, would be called my son. Although he is a year older than I, my maternal instincts kick in when we spend time together. I always hope he’s doing alright and that he doesn’t forget his goals. It was even more surprising when one Sunday I prayed for him.
I chose to write about this young man because through him, I learnt why, to me, Religion is more than just an abstract concept that tries to define existence. The young man told me that one of his favourite books is Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. This is a tale of a young girl who receives lessons on philosophy through letters from a stranger. As she learns philosophy, she begins to ask herself questions about life. “Who are you?” and “Where did you come for?” These questions make matters in the reality we live in seem trivial.
We talked of more books and I hanged on every word as he told of tales of authors I was yet to meet in their words. I asked him to recommend a few books, and he did. He asked me not to read Sophie’s World first because he thought it would confuse me as it did him. I was quick to say that I would be fine, and that even if I was not, I would just have to find myself again. Strangely, of all the books he mentioned, that was the one I was determined to read the most. So I began the journey.
As I read, we would still converse and eventually he derailed me. He asked if I was sleepy and I was lost for words trying to find the connection between the book and sleep. He reminded me that the previous day I had dozed off, leaving him to finish a conversation in his mind. I assured him that I would be careful to inform him if the same were to happen. He completely disregarded my choice to read the book first, and proceeded to seek answers to questions that had troubled him.
He began by explaining his stance. “God is not Muslim, Christian or Jewish. Religion is an institution created by man. That’s why there are so many! Even within each Religion there are a dozen denominations. The question of which is the right Religion is really that much harder to answer when you consider that. Plus, each Religion has its own set of holy books that it claims are divinely inspired. How do you choose? How do you know whose side God is on?”
In order to have this conversation, I had to be honest. There was a time I asked what would happen if I found out Christianity was a lie? However, the same answer would resurface. We live by faith. Not the kind that is based on theories but one that is practical. All the faiths believe in one God. Except those that have multiple gods. All the faiths have prophets. All the faiths have basic principles that cut across. The question then becomes, what can I live with and what can I live without?
I believe Religion is a human institution with a divine beginning and a humanized outcome. I say this because it is a reflection of cultural theories that have finally been condensed into one. God exists. At least even those with many gods recognize there is ‘the god’ superior to others. He was quick to ask for the position of Science and I gave a response that surprised me.
Like Religion, Science is an abstract concept that seeks to explain existence. However, Science lives to critique Religion but Religion, Religion stands on a spiritual platform. Science is the human endeavour to understand the extraordinary. It tries to explain ‘why’ yet to understand the ‘why’ you must explain ‘what’ makes the ‘why’. Science tries to say everything has a reason that we can fathom, but how can we understand a world that existed before our creation?
Science is an entity that tries to persuade men that life happens by accident sort of. That life’s happenings are independent. So if life’s happenings are independent, we cease having a reason to live. We no longer consider that because life is a series of interdependent factors, what we do has an impact no matter how small. That is what religion is about. There is a Superior Being with a plan for all mankind. How do we find this plan? We ask the Superior Being. Even Bertrand Russell, an atheist, said that unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.
We went back to the question of Religion. He said that he is afraid of being a hypocrite. Engaging in activities that are prohibited, and proudly claiming to be religious. His conscience cannot allow it. I responded with a personal experience. The church I attend has a drama ministry. Last year we were staging a play. Before rehearsals began, we would engage in a Bible study session. One evening, the pastor explained an interesting concept. When we choose to accept Christ, we don’t seize to be sinners, we learn to sin less. We ought to become more conscious of evils. The effort we put in is what dictates what kind of a Christian you are. You can’t say you’re saved and every Friday you’re out and next morning you are in a ditch. You get saved and learn to control your drinking. One less beer until the point you feel, this is my limit or you stop altogether. The bible doesn’t say don’t drink. It’s drunkenness that’s the problem.
Those that take Religion strictu sensu (in a literal way), make others shy away from it. They demand perfection, yet we are not created perfect to begin with. The faith we profess is that which perfects us.
“So what you’re saying is that Religion exists to give life meaning and that one should just choose what Religion works for them by virtue of faith?” He asks.
“And does one necessarily need a Religion to worship God?”
“Now that’s the thing. You can’t claim to be seeking a higher goal if it is not defined by a being superior to you. If you can define your higher goal then it means you exist for your own purpose, which isn’t the case.”
“Yes, but do you need to be affiliated to any specific Religion to recognize this superior being?”
“No. In the end, believing in God is important. The reason people affiliate with a certain Religion is because it is believed that through the Holy Books, God speaks to us. I believe Religion will always be dynamic because humankind is dynamic. We cannot allow what we profess to segregate us, yet we are quick to admit we are all different. Therefore, to impose one’s Religion on another is denying the other person the ability to exercise their free will.”
“Hmmm… I feel a bit more enlightened about Religion now.”
It reaches the climax when he asks if law school is where they taught me to make crystal clear arguments in favour of my opinions. True as it may be, I had decided not to have faith in something I can’t defend. So today I can confirm I believe in what I profess
The question to be answered on a societal level is “Why Religion?” If you can understand that, then the question of “Which Religion?” will be a personal journey.
“Although now writing this, I’m starting to think I’m crazy.” This is exactly how I ended that conversation. I still have doubts in my head about whether my thoughts make sense, but even I support Gaarder. The faculty of wonder is the first step to determine if I can be a philosopher.
Until the next friend that inspires me, I choose to pen off here.