Yesterday night I had the usual `discussion' with another guy about religion. He's a Muslim, and a pretty dogmatic one at that. `Discussing' the basic concepts of religion with someone like that gets very old, very fast. For example, yesterday, he was of the opinion that I'm something really bad is going to happen to me, and I'm on the `wrong path' because I don't have any religion. Here's a basic idea of the exchange that followed:
Him: Man, I'm telling you, you should start believing, because see, if you keep on going this way, sooner or later something really bad is going to happen to you.
Me: Maybe. But if does, then don't you think that's unfair? If someone came up to you and told you, `If you don't do what this book here says, you're going to be punished....', wouldn't that make you angry?
Him: You can't question these things....
Me: But why am I on the wrong path?
Him: Because you don't follow the Holy Book.
Me: But why is following the Holy Book the right path? You've been told that it is, by other people. But how do you know that's it so?
Him: You shouldn't question these things.
Me: OK man, if I can't question your beliefs, then let's make it fair and say that you can't question mine.
Him: That's fine with me, even though you're on the wrong path and will burn in hell forever....
Me: I think we had a deal...?
Him: Yeah, I'm just saying, because you really are going to get hurt really badly some time if you don't start believing.
Him: Man, if you don't believe, you're going to burn in hell forever, even if you never do anything bad in your life. Even [somebody] who has drunk and committed murder and adultery and everything will get into heaven if they ask for forgiveness right before they die. (Slightly hysterically) You'll burn in hell forever!
Me: But what if I live my life as an atheist ask for forgiveness right before I die?
And then there was another thing that we touched upon: the Quran. Obviously Muslims believe that it comes straight from God, and yesterday I was trying, very subtly, to show this guy, and a friend of his, how maybe Muhammad and the Arabs of that time could have written it.
Them: The Quran had to come from God, because how else could it contain all the stories of the prophets like Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus), Ibrahim (Abraham) ... in such great detail?
Me: Maybe the Arabs of that time knew of those stories from the old books, like the old and new Testaments, the Torah, etc....
Them: But the Arabs of that time couldn't read!
Me: But they could have heard the stories from someone or the other. You have to agree that at that time Makkah was a big trading city, and all kinds of people -- Christians, Jews -- traded there?
Me: Then they could have brought the Bible and the Torah along with them, and told the Makkans and other Arabs the old stories.
But that did get me thinking. Suppose that there is a God, and He wants to test us while we live on earth. Suppose He has given us free will and wants us to use it to make our condition better, to live on earth with dignity and respect for one another. Maybe the real test is to see whether we can discipline ourselves even without the carrot and stick of eternal reward/punishment.
To make things more interesting, and harder for us, He has given us lots of holy books with lots of instructions and admonitions, thereby killing two birds with one stone. A beautiful masterstroke: the books contain the moral codes and authority to set mankind on a moral path, but also enough threats and contradictions to confuse and scare us. A test to see if we can overcome the confusion and the fear of being by ourselves to get to the next level, whatever that is.
Look that the history of religion in our world through this theory: everything is perfectly balanced. The feeling of fellowship and happiness from following a higher moral power, together; and the bloodshed and strife caused by conflicting beliefs. The holy books and beliefs give us just the right amount of guidance, while at the same time literally putting the fear of God in us, and the seeds of our own confusion and misery.