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Belief Without Conviction

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According to philosopher Bertrand Russell the opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. If we share his skepticism and apply it to religious belief then it is not difficult to comprehend why for some people anything that is vaguely insulting to their religion is a cause for unbridled emotions.

It is perhaps because they lack the conviction to begin with, or at the very least an understanding of why they hold that conviction in the first place.

For these people it is easier, simpler and more satisfactory to put those with views different to their beliefs behind bars and burn their houses down rather than challenge their way of thinking or even just shrug off those views as mere nonsense. The former after all only requires the brute force of an insulted mob. The latter however, demands some form of thinking or a dose of good humour rarely found in people with a lot of passion but thin skin.

Unfortunately in this country too many people are believers of very little faith who find succumbing to insults or provocations (real or imagined) difficult to resist. Abuse your wife and children or rob the poor and your neighbours might turn a blind eye or at worst report you to the police. Call yourself the next messiah and they burn your house down and hunt you so that you end up going to the police for protection yourself.

But then insult is a very touchy issue. Usually the closer to the skin the insult is, the greater the injury. If my spouse is ugly and someone refers to his or her face like the back of the bus, then there is a good chance that I feel insulted. Not so much because the person thinks my spouse is ugly, but more because it is a direct comment on my taste in choosing a spouse. If however, I’m confident that my spouse is drop dead gorgeous and the person thinks s/he is ugly, my likely reaction is to pity their envy or their lack of good fortune and sophisticated taste.

Those whose beliefs are supported with a genuine conviction that nothing can sully the purity of their faith therefore, are unlikely to be much moved by claims contrary to their own. God himself after all, being God, is beyond the insults of mere mortals. As to religion, it is only as strong as the faith it is built upon. Putting someone in jail because they think s/he is the next prophet is hardly going to alter that person’s belief or make God any happier. The only thing it does is palliate the injured feelings of a bunch of people whose faith lies on shaky grounds.

Perhaps religious leaders here would be better off educating the believers in understanding the true meaning of religion, so that rather than wasting too much energy in nursing injured feelings they would spend more fruitful time learning good morals and practicing them in their daily lives. What after all is the purpose of religion if it is not to make one a better and more enlightened human being?

When we lock up people for not teaching the same form of prayer as the one generally accepted and yet allowing those who burn and destroy other people’s property to go unpunished simply because there were more of them, we are sending a wrong message to our society. A message that says our authority fears lawlessness more than laying down the law and prefers to bow down to mob rule rather than upholding justice. It is a message that is at once cowardly and lacking in conviction.

In a society where there seems to be little by way of good moral conviction and religious belief that pays no attention to ethics and decent behaviour, then it is little wonder that the increase in the number of religious believers is not matched by increasing moral uprightness. And that more and more young people are looking for alternative forms of belief that might just give better grounds for their conviction.