Thursday, December 11, 2008

Faith and Doubt

Few years ago, I read a very interesting anecdote about a prayer made by a Rwandan priest who visited his old parish two weeks after the genocide. When he went back to the church after the genocide, he found the inside and the backyard of the church piled up with decaying bodies, mostly of women and children, who had sought refuge in the church believing that, in a country with such devout Catholics, no one would enter and kill in the church. He was apparently wrong.
After going around the church premises, attempting to recognize his old parishioners among the dead, he stopped to say a prayer. It was simple but telling: “Dear Lord, please provide me with an understanding as to how this could have been your wish, so that when I go home I know that it indeed has been so”. The quote may not be precise but it is something like that. For me, the prayer meant that a deeply faithful man, a priest, was on the verge of questioning God…and questioning the teachings of the Holy Scripture (which says that everything that happens is what God has wished….how can mass murder be God’s wish?)

Anyway…moral of the story: how do you deal with doubt in matters of faith? Some religions discourage even doubts and contemplation over the validity of their dogma. But I think questioning is human nature. Of course I do not expect that we have theologians here to help us. I do not believe I am the only one who have had to face doubts about faith. I think everyone who reflects about life, rationale for existence, the purpose in this life, and one's own role in the society, these doubts necessarily come up. But, is faith and doubt incompatible?

There were interesting stories in the international media last year when private letter of Mother Teresa were released in public. The letters revealed that, for quite some time, Mother Teresa had doubt about her faith. In of the letters, she wrote "Where is my faith?" she wrote. "Even deep down… there is nothing but emptiness and darkness... If there be God — please forgive me." She even stopped praying, and in fact died with doubt.


Anonymous said...

If anyone can get a copy of "THE GOD DELUSION" by a British biologist RICHARD DAWKINS, please do and read it. The book has sold over a million copies and i have no doubt whoever reads it makes a great leap in setting oneself free. Most of us (at least in public) point fingers and look down on those who believe in witchcraft, and yet the two major religions in "taifaletu" -- Christianity and Islam each has these very strange doctrines and teachings which respective believers REALLY TRULLY believe because GOD OR ALLAH SAYS SO!! For Example, Jesus was conceived absolutely without sexual intercourse -- REALLY?? Or ALLAH will reward you with 7 virgins if you blow up infidels (you can imagine how appealing that idea is to a guy who never was "lucky" enough to open inaugurate a girl in this life (by the way, I'm one of those guys who never have/had). None of this makes sense, yet a good number of us have such beliefs.

If any of you guys believe the so called "holly scriptures" literally, please don't point any fingers to those believing in the magical powers of albino body parts. You are essentially more or less at the same level intellectually.

I do believe strongly that whatever religious belief system you get introduced to at an early age when you are so vulnerable, and get introduced by those you look up to; usually parents - you stick with that - be it Islam, Christianity, etc but often times a combination of some witchcraft and wizardry beliefs and traditional Judea faiths. A good number of us at some point in our lives have intermingled these beliefs for different reasons especially depending on how "serious" the situation was and or how young we were ( and thus having no say in whether to take part/follow directives to join a trip to Mgangas house or not). IF YOU HAVE NEVER DONE THIS, THEN SOMEONE YOU KNOW HAS DONE IT - It is usually awkward to get into details of why, what happened etc.

I must say that I'm delighted January too is asking himself these questions which is telling of the kind of a person he is. I presume in future he will make a lot of decisions that will affect a lot of us Tanzanians -- I know he greatly influences at least the thinking of our leader(s) a great deal and although he did not explain what his beliefs are, I'm personally encouraged that he has thought about this, and he continues to think about it and I hope he does not really care much about religion generally.

Lets keep this discussion alive for a while longer.

Very strong religious convictions can be very deadly - think of Bush and Osama, one mentioned Kibwetere, and there are so many others who continues to take lives because they believe it is their religious duty to do so to please their Gods or secure a place in heaven or avoid hell.

I would write pages if I was to explain why I believe that religious beliefs and other beliefs in the unknown especially in our societies are generally strapping us down - from things like believing in the rapture (kiama??) to being told what to and what not to do by these religious leaders and wagangas - for no reason other than that God says so, or in the case of Wagangas, that doing certain things will get you ahead or prevent some s**t from going down!

I can buy and give at least 3 downloadable copies of "The God Delusion" thru itunes to whoever would like to read the book but does not have a debit/credi card - just don't know how to choose who would get the books. Anyone with an idea of how to do this??

Break free fellows

Anonymous said...

I am also a believer in doubt (I saw your other post, too). I don’t think that people believe in evangelical ‘cults’ because they are poor, or destitute. That is a very simplistic answer. There are kings and queens in the world history that succumbed to the metaphysical promises. I don’t claim to know the answer, intellectually I am still looking.

However, it is clear why there has been no new “fundamental” religion “founded” after the middle ages. Science has laid to rest the explanation of the universe. Before Charles Darwin revolutionized our entire concept of our origins, and Albert Einstein did the same for the beginnings of our cosmos, many learned men had a default position of “deism.” So what existed before will survive but I can assure you, there will be no new ones.

Henceforth, “evangelicalism” will continue to expand. Because all what they do is innovate an old Christian gospel through a rock concert. But it is not something new.

The days that I wake up with more cynicism, I don’t ask where is my faith? Like you quoted mother Theresa.

I lament that there were no psychiatrist and psychologist to diagnose the so called “old prophets.” Maybe they were schizophrenic and heard voices or they had some other mental illness.

For the sake of intellectual exercise: envision the following scene. You are on your way to work on your air-conditioned car, with the Dar’s scotching sun raising. By the time you get to Salender Bridge, a pregnant woman stops you. Since you are generous you stop and talk to her. She says she needs help. She is from Tabata, tired and hungry. What kind of help do you need? You ask. She says she is looking for somebody who she only saw in a dream. She tells you she is a virgin. How did that happen – a virgin pregnant woman? A “voice” told her she will bear a prophet. So she needs to see this new person that she is looking for in order to guide her. Guidance to do what? She is not sure.

How are you going to react?

To me religion is no different than nationalism. See the debate on this wonderful blog (and Michuzi’s) on EAC federation. Those who defended Tanzania or those who criticized it were ready to fight for something that was imagined and given fake boundaries. Tanzania as we know it is not even fifty yet (most of our parents are older than that) and the feeling of one’s identity is so strong to the point that one is ready to fight for.

So is religion – imagined.

There was no Islam before Muhammad was born and no Christianity before Jesus was born and no Judaism before Moses. The story goes on….

Don’t get me wrong. If something was originally imagined it does not mean that it doesn’t exist. It does. That is why we have religions and countries and tribes and many other phenomena.

But along the way, God (if there is one) bless Mwalimu for giving us a religion and tribal free government.

I want to leave you with the wise words of a German philosopher Heinrich Heine in his classic thesis: Gedanken und Einfalle.
“In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind men as guides.”


Anonymous said...

Wow. JSM,

That post up there is the kind I love to read. I wonder if more readers can engage in this discussion - not to try refocusing the conversation to simply Yes there is an interventionist God and no there is None - but rather to encourage each other to keep asking ourselves these questions which we are asking ourselves now.

Im 31 and was raised Catholic. Talking to my Muslim friends and knowing what I know about the two religions, the two have a lot in common. My major sticking points will base on the Christian side which I know more.

I think in the face of an evangelical believer, or a faithful 5 prayers a day Moslem, a doubter or a non believer does not stand a chance to make a sensible argument against what they believe. It must be possible somehow - may be engaging them in discussions like this would be a good start.

Reading a bible as a philosophical literature, no doubt it's a well written and "sealed" collection of books. Yet the major - yes THE MAJOR - pillars of biblical teachings are the easiest to prove wrong - by just about anyone who dares to engage his/her brain. I understand by their very nature, the Bible and the Koran literary FORBIDS thinking on your own. Or so have done those who have taken custody and responsibilities of propagation of those books since they were written and put together.

Historians have studied and proven Jesus did live. Therefore I personally believe he did live and preached all that he preached - as documented and most of it was good common sense stuff. However he assured his followers they would see his second coming - "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled (Matthew 24:34). HOW COULD HE GET IT WRONG? Even today, preachers continue to stress "It will be THIS generation - a generations of you reading this post! I have no doubt Jesus meant his generation not our generation or some future generations. The thing that bugs me most is how ridiculously childish those "signs for the end of the world" are spelled out - famines, earth quakes, wars etc. EVERY ONE OF THOSE THINGS HAD HAPPENED at the time they were being written down. For example, the old testament talks about wars which were being wages by kingdoms long before Jesus was born! And the kicker is: SIKU ZA MWISHO MAARIFA YATAONGEZEKA!! As if there has been a period in human history when human beings never got smarter. How can anyone tell a Christian believer that inventors are not inventing to prove Jesus right - that man discovering fire - centuries before Jesus was born was in no way connected to bringing the world closer to a violent apocalyptic upheaval on that day when HE comes back!! The real life implication of this: there are billions of people out there who truly believe this planet earth as we know it will soon pass. Therefore, for example if you had a discussion with a Dar Es Salaam city planner who happen to be born again and speaks in tongues about laying down a concrete vision for the city for apprx 300 yrs to come; he will think YOU ARE NUTS because "Jesus will have come and wiped this planed clean" So why plan that far ahead when no human being will be around?

It will take human beings of extraordinary intellect, abilities and commitments to slow down our peoples from further engaging into these dangerous beliefs and conversions. Sad thing is, since most of our fellow citizens are very poor and poor Christians find comfort and justifications for their situation in the scriptures - they tend to believe Jesus' teachings even more (I think it could be because he preached that it would be almost impossible for the rich to get in heaven). On the other hand those who happen to have better lives, give credit to God and his buddy Jesus too for some religious reasoning I do not know. I bet there is something similar to this for the Moslems in relation to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. There are psychological explanations for hardship and supernatural beliefs relationships. On the other hand if a well to do person engages in philanthropy just because he thinks God will taketh away what he has giveth unless he shares- that is sad. There should be some other reasons to give and not for Gods sake. Anyway.....

There wil be another leader of some influential country like the United States who claims to be born again. Bush is a born again Christian and who knows what role did his beliefs play in invading Iraq? We all remember his comment "Lets crusade against these..." Such supposedly smart strong and successful individuals tend to have followers. Sarah Palin's church members "speak in tongues" although she claims not to do that and she was that close to second in command in the white house. Brace yourselves fellows!

Mwalimu's hard work paid off in making us more or less blind when it comes to the religion or beliefs of who leads us. Excellent. But I wonder how far anyone would go if he declared publicly that THROUGHOUT HISTORY, RELIGIONS HAVE BEEN SHAMELESSLY INVENTED, THEY'VE COME AND GONE, EVEN THESE MAJOR ONES TODAY WILL FACE THE SAME FATE SOONER OR LATER - I DO NOT WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH RELIGION! THANKS PEOPLE!! Mr. Kinguge N M is one Tanzanian politician who's come close to declaring this I think. I wish there were more like him.

LET ME HIT HOME: There are many families whose relationships have been strained because of "traditional healers" (1) Mama spending almost all you give to her on financing your own defenses against evil neighbors in your home village or so u can succeed or stay safe. You are pissed because you don't believe what she does helps and you believe its wastage of your hard earned shillings. Now, u stop sending her money for a while and she will borrow to finance figuring out who's done what to stop you from sending her money as often as you once did (2) You reestablish a long strained relationship with your aunt or uncle whom everyone else except you believe she or he is up to no good. You have a bigger agenda on your mind so you presses on and end up not talking to some siblings and relatives you care about because of this move you made. Everyone believes YOU are crazy. They will wait for years for any sign of you getting involved in an accident, losing a job, divorcing your spouse etc and blame it all on her or him. Even if one of these things happens 13 yrs after your initial contact with your estranged aunt or uncle. There are tons of real life examples like these only that readers are not willing to share them. This may sound like BS to you but I'm a living witness!

I bet that GOD whom we all have heard about does not care about what you do in or with your life. If some force that we call GOD today, put in motion the laws of physics that brought life to being , he must be billions of light years away now fellows, in very very distant galaxies; putting together probably refined and better quantum physics laws or whatever else he is up to in motion and DOES NOT give a damn about what you do with your life. Just like a daddy who abandons his children, and so did he if at all there is such a supernatural powers. THIS IM JUST TALKING!

Its an individual responsibility to reason be rebellious and break loose from the chains of religions and anything and anyone else that forces you to believe something without reason. In other words, reexamine your beliefs!!!

To Close, if your reasoning for a particular religion or its beliefs are based on that religion's so called "holly" writings, please understand that yours will not be a valid argument - because of the source of your sticking points. Feel free to use a religions' writings against it!

Lets keep talking people