Do thee knowest thy religion? I thinketh maybe not!

While I was a practicing Hindu, I came across a gaggle of priests who each had their own interpretation of the multitude of religious rituals we were required to perform, supposedly to ward off evil spirits and acquire the winning lottery ticket…or for the more holier-than-thou, acquiring the ticket to enter Nirvana.

I soon came to realize that each knew less than the last; each having been tutored by priests before them who knew very little themselves. They were in effect mere snake-oil salesmen who relied on a very useful human fallibility – faith – to ply their trade. I’ll bet that the priesthood is a trade, perhaps even older than prostitution; only the latter to my mind, is by far more honourable.

Some of the efforts to explain the religious beliefs and the rituals were quite hilarious, even absurd to my curious mind. Which is why I soon drifted away from organized religion to find out for myself.

Most people don’t bother to dig deep to find out what their religion is all about – they have faith in what they’re told sold. Researching one’s religion is just too much work, on top off having to attend regular religious services and perform the outlandish rituals demanded…by the priests/texts/superstitious mind of the believer.

It therefore comes as no surprise that a recent study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, confirms that non-believers seem to know more about religion than the die-hard adherents themselves.

An article in the online NY Daily News attempts to make sense of the study thus:

Most people are afraid of what they might discover if they read the fine print too carefully, so they sign on the dotted line without a glance and then often feel the need to defend their lack of curiosity as an example of their holy trust in their own faith.

The article further attempts to explain why Atheists and Agnostics tend to know more about religion than believers:

Atheists tend to be those curious and truth-loving folks who do take a good hard look at religious professions of faith and hence they tend to know what they are walking away from. There have always been atheists, though not always very visible to the public. In fact, the perennial nagging doubts of the few atheists in the crowd have probably been the main force sustaining theology!

Catch the full article here.

My Latest Road Trip: Part 3

Once again, I’ll attempt to relate my impressions on the final (return) leg of my journey into the East Coast region of South Africa, hopefully with the aid of some photographs.

Having left Storms River Village behind (with a degree of sadness), I headed up to Port Elizabeth. Nothing much to report here. Just another coastal city. I did however stop briefly to admire the new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium that was built for the Football World Cup that came to an end only recently. I did also stop at the Greenacres shopping mall; it looked quite different from the last time I shopped there many years ago.

I had booked a one-nighter in Grahamstown, being convinced that there would not be much to see, what with the National Arts Festival having concluded some weeks earlier. It seemed to me that Grahamstown revolved around the famous Rhodes University and the large number of top-notch schools (mostly private) that is dotted around this small town. There are some pretty well-known private schools here, viz. St. Andrews, Graeme and Kingswood Colleges and the Victoria Girl’s High School. This must surely be South Africa’s Education centre.

Rhodes University

Grahamstown is also well-known for the relatively high number of places of worship and religious denominations present for such a small area. Apparently there are 52 churches of every conceivable denomination and places of worship for several other disparate faiths such as Hinduism, Scientology, Quakerism, Mormonism and Islam. At this point you’re probably wondering what an Atheist is doing in such a place? Well, I didn’t come here for the evangelism; just the historical interest, and some of these places of worship do have beautiful architecture, which I admire. If you asked me to settle here with all this religious fervour hanging in the air, I’d point-blank refuse; this is something like my version of hell, even if it’s a picturesque hell.

Cathedral of St. Michael and St. George

I also learned that I had just missed Grahamstown’s first snowfalls in about 34 years, by about two months. Apparently there was quite a dusting around 15 June this year. Now that would have been something to see.

Unless you’re a student, there isn’t much to do in Grahamstown. That evening I had the choice of joining the university brats at one of the sports bars that lined what looked like the main street, or take in a film at the local Art Cinema. I chose to catch the early evening screening of the Coen brother’s film, A Serious Man, get some dinner and a swig or two of a full bottle of Jack Daniels I’d been dragging along since Storms River. I’m glad I did.

I left Grahamstown quite eager to get on with my road trip and my penultimate stop, before heading back home to Johannesburg. Port St. Johns is really a nothing-town. The buildings look dilapidated and the streets consist mostly of potholes. But the scenery is absolutely stunning. There isn’t any night-life to speak off, and from what I could make out there were only two restaurants available. However the food was quite good at the one I visited alongside the river on my first night there.

Port St. Johns

Having basically nothing to do that evening, I experimented with long exposure shots of the magnificent vistas available from my cabin overlooking the sea. I’m quite happy with the two posted below, one of which looks to me like a painting.

Port St. Johns night scene

Port St. Johns night vista

2nd Beach is reminiscent of a South-East Asian Island paradise. The coastline is quite rocky, but very very beautiful. I was quite lucky to find two local lasses who were only too keen to show me around the following day, as the deep-sea fishing excursion I was looking forward to, got cancelled due to strong winds. No matter; we had quite a rollicking time, and that near-full bottle of Jack Daniels I’d been dragging along since Storms River, helped to fill in the evening.

2nd Beach

The Wild Coast

Faith Hill

I was told that in the 70’s or even early 80’s there was no bridge on the main road leading to Port St. Johns, across the Umzimvubu River that squeezes past the town into the sea. Apparently ferries were used to get vehicles and people across. I was pleasantly surprised to find that ferries are still used to carry people and more especially school children across, closer to the river mouth.

The Ferry

The drive back to Durban the following day through Lusikisiki and Port Edward was pretty uneventful, even though the roads leading out of Port St. Johns were quite hair-raising. As I got off the highway to the neighborhood where my parents resided, I noticed that the huge inappropriate signboard near the exit, that I’d noticed there when I left for the Eastern Cape, was gone. It had read “Let Jesus Touch You.” Thank goodness…

Science is not against religion

While viewing some old videos posted on the thesciencenetwork website, about a discussion program, held at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in November 2006, I came across an interesting quote about science and religion.

Entitled Beyond Belief: Science, Reason, Religion & Survival, the program featured several well known scientists, skeptics, atheists and apologists alike. The quote I’m referring to was made by  prominent physicist and Nobel laureate, Steven Weinberg:

Science does not make it impossible to believe in God. It just makes it possible to NOT believe in God.

The connotations from this simple quote are really thought-provoking:

  • Science does not advocate that one may not believe in a god
  • Science in not concerned with proving or disproving the existence of a god
  • Science provides one with the tools (through reasoning, logic and critical thinking among others) to deduce through lack of evidence, that a god may not exist
  • Science compels one to arrive at the above conclusion, but does not compel one to believe through any form of coercion
  • There is no imperative to choose one or the other

One other thing that stood out for me in Professor Weinberg’s presentation was the reference he made to influence in science: science does not have any authority figure or prophet, rather science has experts and heroes.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins has not exactly found favor with some of my fellow atheists who accuse him of turning atheism into some sort of crusade, but the God Delusion has sure helped me cement my breakaway from religion. For me, Dawkins comes across as a respectable gentleman who decries the rise in religious fundamentalism and sincerely wants the world to adopt secularism. 

The book provides a fairly good exposé on irrational (religious) belief systems and is quite easy to follow. Recommended as a good starting point for anyone afflicted with doubts about religion, but is also recommended to fervent religionists alike.

Notable quote:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.