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The hitchhiker’s guide to religion

13 October, 2006

After posting about the debate on the wearing of the veil by Muslim women, and what it says about some people’s use of religion, I came across this, by Douglas Adams, which says a similar thing much more elegantly. 

Religion …  has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, “Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? — because you’re not!” If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says “I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday,” you say, “I respect that.”

The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking “Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?” But I wouldn’t have thought, “Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics,” when I was making the other points. I just think, “Fine, we have different opinions.” But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say “No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it.”

Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows — but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe… no, that’s holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we’ve just got used to doing so? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being, and once that loop gets going it’s very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

Douglas Adams


3 Comments leave one →
  1. 17 October, 2006 12:44 am

    “Religion … has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, “Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. ”

    This seems a little bit overdramatic and perhaps wrongly stated? His notion of holiness is more like defining the appended sociological rules that people have made in regards to the holy. It is my contention that those who question and redefine and rework these notion sof holiness in light of the nonsensical mess that they have become have a given a greater contribution to Religion (be it Christian or not) than many persons who have faithlessly believed in it without doubting.

    The question is not is their a God or not, it is not how did God create the universe, it is Who is this God?

    According to Paul Tillich, all men have faith in a god, whether it be political (the nation), monetary success, power, humanitarianism, or capital g-God. The understanding of not believing in a god is then not the claim of faith that “I believe in God” but the claim of the ultimate concern in a person’s life.

    A faith is an ultimate concern. Which means you can’t escape having a faith without claiming that life is meaningless, and if life is meaningless why spend your meaningless life indulging yourself in ultimately frustrating and socologically harmful debates on religion?

    Let us step it up a notch and indulge ourselves in the reality of whati t means to be ultimately concerned in our non-meaningless life. Is our ultimate concern one that is ultimately fulfilling or one that merely promises (and never delivers) fulfillment?

    We who find meaning in life, are all bound by a faith. With this in mind, the holy is something that enraptures our soul, heart and mind into the center of that faith, integrating the whole personality and grounding one’s being in the ultimate. Of course people will take offense at someone calling another person’s understanding of the holy (or their practices of being in touch of such), it is in the nature of man to hold tight the things that it find important and look disdainfully on those who would take it away. This however does not excuse the matter, just perhaps show that those who believe in the holy (be it however they may) are still at their base human!

    I could go on forevever, but for now I will be content with waiting.

  2. 17 October, 2006 10:56 pm

    Dave, Hi.

    There’s a lot of ideas here that I’d need some time to think about.

    But to start off, I do think that Douglas Adams’ essential point is sound.

    In today’s society we do treat religious practices and beliefs as if they can’t be questioned, ever, even if they are throwbacks to another era.

    Why this is potentially bad for us is because our unthinking responses on matters religious can be abused by others.

    When Mohammed was portrayed in some Danish cartoons recently, one Muslim response (which may not have been representative of moderate Muslims) was to threaten death to those who had portrayed the prophet.

    No rational reason was advanced for why it is not OK to portray Mohamed if it’s apparently OK to portray Jesus, for example.

    The response was a knee-jerk ‘this is our religion and you cannot question it. Period’.

    This cannot be right. It’s just bullying.

  3. 18 October, 2006 3:28 am

    Agreed, and then at the same time disagreed.

    It seems that it is a matter of human dignity, will you allow me to be dignified in having faith in the most important thing in my life? (I.e. God, Mohamed, Jesus, Success, Family, Anarchy, Art, Alcohol, Drugs, Sex, Feminism, Justice, Intellect, Reading, etcetera).

    And on the other hand it is the issue of knowing how to take a joke, but part of delivering a joke is knowing your crowd. Some jokes are light hearted and satirical, and in person a comedian can say them and get away with a chuckle from the audience, but a comedian would probably not directly debaucher–and in a loud voice–Donald Trump about his most intimate and personal secret or even deepest held faith over his morning coffee, that is to say without expecting Trump to want to fight.

    The Islamic people are right, from their perspective, but their perspective does not allow for other perspectives to exist, imagine the KKK! Now let’s be fair about our generalizations (or in this case the Douglas’ generalizations), not all members of religion, or even of Islam are as possessive, it would be like being pointed out a KKK member for merely being a white guy. Or for being hated as a lazy, slavering, fool, because you are black. Neither are true, and for the most part even generally true, they are fairly pinpoint specific, and person to person, and rare for that matter.

    In our dignity, we must admit as humans–part of humanity that we all have issues that we can’t discuss or bare to reveal as open to the public arena to comedically make fun of.

    So they are both wrong, and they are both right. At least, from my perspective–and that is up to debate.

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