As of late, I have been giving a lot of thought to what has been happening in the world, especially with regards to the events of September the 11th, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and many other conflicts, past and present that involve people of different religious backgrounds. What has come to the forefront of my mind is that what we need is a new perspective that would allow all of us to “get along” and to create a heaven here on earth. I am more convinced than ever before that religion as it stands today is the source of these problems, is outdated in its dogmas, and needs to be revamped! It is more of an impediment to constructive human evolution!! If we don’t change our perspective sooner than later, I fear we will end up destroying each other. Most of the ideas presented here have been as a result of my struggle to understand why there continues to be suffering in this world, despite major advances in the sciences and its application to the betterment of human society.
In all earnest, I strongly feel that the root cause of all of this suffering is the blind acceptance by all, of the founding dogma of the religions, be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam. This dogma, that we are “born with original sin,” is wrong and moreover, maladaptive. It is purported to be the reason for suffering’s existence, as will be shown below. It is this dogma that has stagnated us, and instead of trying our best to minimize the amount of suffering in this world, we are left complacent and accept it as if it is a fact of life to be tolerated. The concept that we were all born with “original sin” as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden is opportunistic and suppressive in nature. It has served as the basis for the religious claims that it is because of “original sin” that there is suffering in this world and it is only by being “saved” ( a nebulous term at best) that we can reduce this suffering in our lives. Hence the entire establishment of the world’s religions serves to effect this salvation of our souls by preaching what in their opinion is wrong or right. Since we are all sinners, as they proclaim, then we should not be surprised that suffering continues to exist. Furthermore, there are many religions out there with different fundamental beliefs. Thus we should not be surprised that there is so much conflict in the world.
These conflicts are related to the concepts of good and evil, and hand in hand with these are the concepts of forces which can be either good or evil. In my opinion, this acceptance is also counterproductive. When somebody does something that causes suffering, then this action is viewed as evil and when we create happiness, then this is good. If we look deeper we readily see that this only serves to usurp responsibility for our actions and ascribe suffering to evil forces, and good to good forces. One person may look at an act as good while the other may look at the same act as evil, depending on who ends up suffering. Although the majority of the people of the world subscribe to this ideology, I find this point of view totally unacceptable as by its very nature it is self-fulfilling and self-defeatist. Thus I am forced to consider other perspectives that will allow us to better understand ourselves and each other. Hopefully, by doing so, we will one day be able to effect the needed changes in our societies so as to alleviate suffering as swiftly and efficiently as possible.
What we need thus is a new paradigm that is objective and realistic, not relativistic and one which is productive and instead of dividing us, able to unite us. We need a new perspective that would make sense no matter what vantage point we use, be it with respect to the period of time, place of origin, age, or nationality of the people. This new paradigm would discard the model that puts at its foundation the concepts of “original sin,” “evil,” “salvation” and “evil forces” and at the same time help us to continue to believe in a Creator who is responsible for giving us this most remarkable privilege of sharing with Him the process of “creating a heaven here on earth.” It should be a humbling and at the same time empowering perspective and accessible and acceptable to all people from all walks of life.
Fundamental to this new paradigm is the concept of “ignorance”, which can be understood on many different levels. And ignorance, simply put is taken to mean “not knowing any better.” When an individual is ignorant about a certain situation, this means that he does not have the requisite knowledge to find a solution to a given problem. When a community is ignorant, it means that its members do not have the required fund of knowledge or expertise to allow them to provide for their basic needs given the limited resources available to them. And when we as a human species are ignorant about global issues, then we admit we lack data or information that would allow us to protect ourselves from natural disasters and diseases and their like. Although we are born ignorant, and are vulnerable to hurting ourselves and others, as we mature and learn from our mistakes and from those before us, we have a mechanism in place that virtually guarantees that as time passes we will all some day live in harmony with each other.
Let me elaborate some more. The physical sciences have taught us that the workings of the physical world is governed by fixed physical laws, and we have over the many years discovered certain patterns and regularities that we have used to create technology to make life better. Thus we know how to build houses to shelter us against the elements of nature, vehicles to help us move from one place to the other, the telephone, satellites and the internet to help us communicate over vast distances, industrial processing plants to mass produce food to feed the growing world population, and drugs and medical procedures to prevent and treat human diseases. Also we are beginning to understand more and more about the human mind, and a person’s needs and desires, and we are appreciating more and more that as individuals, we are the product of our environment, be it genetically, physically, and socially.
So how does this relate to ignorance as the source of suffering as opposed to evil? I hope to show that it is ignorance that is the root of all suffering!! It is when we do not know any better, as a result of lack of knowledge, that we suffer. From the individual level, if I have not been taught how to provide for my basic needs, be it because of lack of resources or lack of “know how”, then I would act in a way that would more likely than not infringe on other people’s provision of their basic needs. Hence suffering arises. If we as a community do not know how to build hurricane-proof houses or use technology to build safer vehicles of transportation, then we will suffer. It is only by trial and error that we as a species make progress, and by learning from our mistakes and those before us and learning of our strengths and weaknesses that we adapt and become empowered. If we lack the skills of communication and coping as a result of lack of the proper education, then we would more likely than not hurt others. If we lack the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills, and be able to apply them to solving problems in our immediate environment and lack the tools and resources to find solutions, then we would more likely than not effect a less than optimal solution and hence negatively affect others. If a person is a menace to society, it is because he did not have the correct upbringing and positive influences and may have had many negative influences; or he may have had some biochemical derangement in the brain that made him behave in a maladaptive manner in the first place. In the latter case, it is our ignorance of this chemical imbalance and its treatment that is responsible for the suffering, and not evil!!
In other words, we are not born with “original sin” but we are born ignorant. My “soul” hence does not need to be “saved” but needs to be liberated from the shackles of ignorance. “Evil” arise when we do not have the requisite skills or knowledge to avoid and solve problems – be it physical, social or global. When I “sin” it is because my act is not compatible with nature or conducive to creating and maintaining harmonious relationships with those around me. There are no such things as “evil forces” that drive us to do “evil” deeds. When we hurt others and get hurt ourselves, it is because we as individuals and as communities fail to fully understand our physical, social and global limitations.
Having accepted this vantage point as fundamental to this new paradigm, several conclusions are inevitable!! First and foremost, we are our BROTHER’S KEEPER!! As individuals, we have no control over what genes we inherit and what social or cultural structures that surround us during our formative years. We could have been born at a different point in time, in a different culture, with different genetic potentials susceptible to different diseases. It is because of the inevitability of diversity and uncertainty and vulnerability, that we must look out for our brothers and to the best of our ability, provide for those who are not as fortunate. It is the responsibility for those who have, to share with those who have not, as the circumstances could have dictated that the situations be reversed. Thus when there is an opportunity to help and we turn our backs, we should not be surprised if those who are not as fortunate hurt us. By not helping others, we ultimately end up hurting ourselves.
The most encouraging fact about this phase of human evolution is that we have evolved to the point that we can share information with every individual and we have the potential to produce basic resources in abundance, and the infrastructure to distribute them to those not as fortunate is already in place. This infrastructure, be it communication, transportation and education is already developed to the point in which the sum of human knowledge can be shared to eradicate ignorance and empower us to develop those skills to successfully adapt to the challenges of our ever changing environment. We are discovering daily the strengths and limitations of our minds and body, and I have no doubt as this ignorance is chipped away on a daily basis, we will learn how to reduce suffering in this world, be it as a result of natural or human disasters.
It is this universal vulnerability that should unite us, and the differences and diversity at all levels that should be our strengths and not divide us. I think that religion has served its purpose and provided us with structure when we did not know any better and this is probably God’s way of guiding us and protecting us during the early phase of our evolution. The church as its instrument has done a mediocre job up till now. The model of the past has outlasted its utility. In fact, I think it has hampered us with its outdated concepts of original sin and evil, and evil forces. Our blind acceptance of faith and dogma, although can be used for good, can as easily be used to hurt others as is seen in the recent spate of events. What we need is a revamping of the human psyche and a new model of what our responsibilities are. It is no longer to save souls, but to help in our own little way, to empower ourselves and others by sharing information and resources so that we can live together as one big happy family. When a person dies, what should live on is the memory that he has contributed in a positive way to creating “a heaven here on earth.” We should do everything selflessly for our brothers and sisters and the future generation, but we can only contemplate doing this in the first place by first providing for our basic needs. We are all equal and this common acceptance by all, that we are one people with the same needs and desires, should unite us.
Yes, human history is laden with many tragedies and suffering. We must all realize that we are in some form or fashion responsible for what is happening around us, either by what we have done or said or by what we have not done or said. When others hurt us, we should not be quick to senselessly hurt others. We should take steps to prevent the escalation of suffering, and stop the viscous cycle of trying to right a wrong with another wrong.
The only solution to the end of this vicious cycle of violence is if we start over with a clean slate. We must accept that we are citizens of a united global community and as a result it is in the best interest of everyone that we look out for each other. We must make a sincere effort to share our resources, be it human or technological and make it our duty to give every citizen of the world the same opportunity to overcome ignorance in their life and hence lesson suffering in their community. By doing so then we can invest all of our energies and imagination and dreams to deal with issues of global importance such as protection from natural disasters, saving our environment, and preventing and finding cures for human diseases, both physical and psychological. That is where we should invest our limited resources and not squandering it on destroying lives and buildings, only to rebuild them again.
Yes, the history of human evolution has been a shameful one, but there is still hope. We have to abandon our nationalistic pride and we have to stop thinking that we are entitled to a particular piece of land because of history. This is utter foolishness. Many wrongs have been done but two wrongs don’t make it right. Let us forgive each other publicly and privately for what those who have gone before us have done, and get on with rebuilding our societies and putting the necessary infrastructure in place. We should not expend wasted energy any more. We should instead use all of our resources to construct “a heaven here on earth.” That is our legacy, that is our responsibility!!