The Power of Belief
Ok, it took me a long time to get round to it, and I know the entire rest of the Western World did it ages ago, but I have just finished reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Whatever your faith is or even if you have none, I can thoroughly recommend this book. I chuckled my way through ‘The God Delusion’ even though one doesn’t normally laugh while reading science, logic or theology texts (not that those categories can adequately describe the book’s contents). It was a stimulating, entertaining, passionate, and challenging read.
Dawkins describes how after 9/11 in the US, and after 7/7 in the UK, many people agonised to find an explanation for the seemingly puzzling behaviour of the suicide bombers. That’s an issue many people in Germany are asking today following the recent revelation that at least two of the suspected terrorists were German citizens. But as Dawkins points out – in one sense the key to the puzzle is relatively simple. The people were simply acting out things that they really believed. They weren’t necessarily weird or strange people. They had just adopted a belief system and were then carrying it out in the best way they saw fit. They were following their religion.
The doctors who recently tried to blow up Glasgow Airport spent most of their working lives caring for the sick and saving lives. They were ‘normal’, compassionate people. What lead them to attempt mass murder was their faith.
The inconsistencies that many of us would feel uncomfortable with were not a problem to such believers. Unquestioning allegience (and of course, they are trained in unquestioning allegience) to a god or a holy book enables reason to be subdued so that the supremely inhuman (and ironically, arguable irreligious) acts can be carried out.
Although it is mainly faith inspired acts of terrorism make the big headlines, let’s not forget that acts of faith are leading to, what can only be regarded as, ‘counter-intuitive’ behaviour all the time. A group of Christians recently decided to follow their master’s commands to go and make disciples of all nations. They weren’t particularly fanatical, just wanting to do what the good book says. The problem was that the nation they tried to make disciples in was Taliban dominated Afghanistan. The 23 Korean Christians may have been sincere and naive, but surely they must have known that their mission was dangerous. Two of them were killed by the Taliban and the remaining 21 were eventually released. Both sides can claim they were just following their faith.
On a lighter note, I was dumbfounded to learn this week of the fate of two Nepalese goats. Officials at Nepal’s state airline were having technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft and had to suspend services. Two goats were sacrificed at Kathmandu airport on Sunday in front of the aircraft in order to appease the Hindu sky god Akash Bhairab. The technical fault has now been fixed and flights have been resumed.
The power of belief is such that people capable of understanding the science behind a modern aircraft engine can also tolerate religious practices attempting to appease a deity by a sacrifice of goats. Initially the juxtaposition of two worlds seemed so strange to me. But then I realized that to some people in Nepal it might seem odd that an educated Western culture still tolerates official religious ceremonies celebrating the appeasement of a deity by the sacrifice of his own son.
‘The God Delusion’ has helped me become more aware of my own blindness about the strength of religion in my own culture. It has also been a powerful reminder that ‘sincere’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘right’ – however much cultural pressure there is to confound the two.
- A Thinking Man