Saturday 4 February 2012

Religion as a cultural construct: Respek! No way, man...

Give this boat Respek! The Sheikh earned it... Not...
In one of his books, perhaps "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins makes two observations, which I think are unarguably true, whether you happen to be a Believer, or, like me, not.
First: that if there is a God, or Supreme Being, or Higher Intelligence, or whatever, there can only be one. That is, there can only be one ultimate Truth, whatever it is.  Either Jesus is the Son of God, or not.  Either Allah spoke to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel, or he didn't. Either people are reincarnated or they are not; the soul is immortal or it is not; either jinns exist, or they do not... and so on.
Or all the religions in the world may be wrong, in whole or in part. In short: there can only be at maximum one true religion, one true Truth.  I guess one should allow for the fact that two or more religions may share commonalites which may happen to be the true Truth.  But the central point remains: at most one religion can be true in its totality.

Second: people hew to religions almost wholly based on where and into what family they were born.  If you're born a Saudi, the likelyhood that you will be Muslim is 100% (it's the law). If you're born in India, you may be Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim; it will depend on your family.

So, the conclusion is that people almost always take on a religion based on what they're take in with their breast milk and not by analysing all the religions in the world and deciding that one of them appears to make more sense than the others; or by a rational analysis of which one of the competing views seems most likely to be the truth, the true Truth.

That being the case, why should one "respect" what is a purely arbitrary belief system for most believers?

I was thinking of this as I watched Charlie Rose on Bloomberg this morning interviewing the extravagantly named Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, Prime Minster of Qatar. He, the PM, said "I have a lot of respect for my religion".  That would be Islam.  Well, he would, wouldn't he? I mean as a high ranking official, and part of the ruling Royal family, in a Muslim country he has to say that.  Even if he's read the core documents, the Trilogy of Islam, and thinks it's a pile of dangerous crock.  Which maybe he does, or maybe he doesn't.  Though being a seemingly intelligent fellow I'm guessing there must be some aspects of the religion that make his buttocks tighten in discomfort, so perhaps he's one of those kinda "secular" Muslim guys and doesn't examine the Trilogy too closely.

In any case, why would he not "respect" a religion that allows him multiple wives: he has two, with whom he has fifteen (and counting) children. And allows him and the rest of his family to rule the oil-rich mini state, and become fabulously wealthy thereby.  He owns a 437-foot SuperYacht Al-Mirqab (that's it above, and you can charter it here!), which cost him $1.5 billion and recently bought an apartment on Hyde Park for $100 million.

But this wealth doesn't deserve our respect.  He did nothing to earn it, save for being born into the right family.  Just like the religion, really.  Just there at birth. What's to respect in that?