I Daresay, You don’t Believe in God!
By Paa Nii
In 2012, reports emerged that a Gallup poll involving 57 countries ranks Ghana as the most religious country in the world. The publication read:
“Overall, 59% of those surveyed described themselves as religious, 23% said they are not religious, and 13% said they are convinced atheists.”
“The nations with the highest percentages of self-described religious persons are Ghana, Nigeria, Armenia, Fiji, Macedonia, Romania, Iraq, Kenya, Peru, and Brazil.”
“The nations with the highest percentages of self-described “convinced atheists” are China, Japan, the Czech Republic, France, South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Iceland, Australia, and Ireland.”
(You can read the poll report here).
There is something peculiarly funny and interesting between in the socio-economics and living standards of countries which majority of citizens professed “religious” as opposed to those countries where majority professed “convinced atheists”; – but that is a matter for another day.
In this piece, I want to argue that in large parts, the socio-cultural parameters for the validation of belief, are to say the least, misleading. And that most people who gladly tick / respond ‘religious’ to survey questionnaires in fact, do not believe. Easy! Please indulge me.
My contention is that most people, in fact, do not believe in God, although they may profess to it. Most people – Yes! That’s your mum, daughter, your partner, your priest, your cousin who went to the convent or aspires to some ‘respected’ and privileged religious position, and definitely not the Pope!
…But what is God?
Of course, most people know what I mean when I say God, but since some have adopted this watered down bullcrap of saying God is this nameless, faceless ‘energy’/ ‘force’ that is ingrained in the human mind and fills our consciousness with virtue, and beauty and awe and directs the affairs of men or the universe,…blah blah blah …and all such nonsense, I am compelled to define what I mean by God.
The God I refer to is this omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent being that created the universe, everything in it, and sets laws for how to live in it. I speak of this God who has set aside some conducts and modes of behavior as virtues, and others as vices. I speak of this God with an earnest sense of justice, who listens to prayers, who intercedes in human affairs. Irrespective of the name assigned to him or the book being touted as his true Word.
So we know what God I speak of.
What is belief?
In general, we take an individual’s word for it. A person’s words declaring their stance on belief is accepted as the final arbiter. End of subject. After all, there’s no tool to measure and ascertain the truth of that. And societal norms of politeness require that you do not question people on such matters, lest you be trespassing on the person’s right to private thought. Accordingly, statements prefixed with “I believe” automatically have a cocoon around them which fend off inquiry.
And this, dear reader, is how I submit to you that not all the reported 96 percent who responded “religious” are indeed religious.
Let’s verify “Belief”
If I was to declare that I believe that Spain would win the World Cup, and then proceeded to the betting site, but did not put my money on Spain, what would you think of my belief? You would think that I didn’t really believe that Spain would win the finals, right? Or if I was to believe that the bank I have shares in was going to collapse and that it would lead to huge losses to me, but proceeded to invest more money in that bank rather than withdraw my liquidity, would you think me sane and sober or ridiculous? In each scenario, you would conclude that I didn’t really believe what I professed.
You see, to be convinced that I actually believe what I say requires that my actions, following the declaration of that belief, would reflect that belief. Cool? So that, if my actions were inconsistent with my beliefs, you would reject my claims to that belief. Cool?
Let’s make this clear: It is impossible to be mistaken in one’s beliefs. In other words, it is possible to believe that Spain would win the World Cup, even though they really wouldn’t. But if one were to truly believe it, their actions would bear testimony to that – in this example, I would put my money on Spain at the betting site if I was into gambling, and was placing my bet.
Well, it is not so with religious beliefs. When someone declares that they believed in God, it is taken at face-value even though his or her actions are incongruent with a belief in God. We have so convinced ourselves that “religious belief” is sacrosanct, that it ought not be questioned, and who the heck do you think you are subjecting someone’s belief to verification and inquiry?! The result is a chasm between someone’s stated beliefs and actual actions.
If 96 percent of Ghanaians believe in a God whom they pray to, who answers their prayers, watches their lives, and intercedes on our behalf, then our conduct, our actions must reflect that. Well, does it?
When we fall sick, we do not head to the church, to the temple or to the mosque to pray, (ah, but I am mistaken! Alas!, some do, with disastrous consequences! – but that is another matter). When we want an attire we see the tailor. When we have a legal case, we see a lawyer. When our car breaks down, we call a mechanic.
Why is it that when such cases arise we turn to other humans for help? Why do we not take our petitions to God directly and by-pass all these intermediary humans? We almost never choose exclusive prayer.
Here’s a deal: let’s abolish the law enforcement agencies, forget the military apparatus. Why not? God will protect his children. Unless of course, we aren’t sure He will.
Is it the case that for all our professions of a belief in God, deep down we are unconvinced by it? Or that although for all the consolation that belief in God provides, we cannot count on Him protecting us? Or is it that it’s just a ‘nice’ feeling to believe? Or that year of classical conditioning has ingrained in us the need for and a value of a security blanket? A fail-safe? Or we are just exhibiting the religious equivalence of the Stockholm syndrome?
Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages (here, the flock) express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors (the faith or belief), sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness (Source: Wikipedia). (See also, Oslo syndrome). (Texts in bracket are added).
….Oh,I dared say the Pope Doesn’t Believe in God Either!
If you have read this far, then you do agree with me that if you say you believe something, then your actions and deeds must be in congruence with that belief. If what you do is inconsistent with your belief, it is more than safe to conclude that you really don’t believe, and that you’re just professing.
The Pope has never grown weary of reminding the world how benign, how merciful, how benevolent, and beneficent the infinite the God he worships and whose wisdom is beyond reproach is. Hardly, does he realize the irony of conducting the business of God in bullet-proof cars. If the Pope believed that God is ultra-benevolent, ever merciful, and all powerful enough to protect him, and if He really intercedes on behalf of the worthy, why does the Pope need the services of bullet-proof vehicles, and the Swiss Guard? Won’t God protect him? If there was danger lurking, won’t God avert the danger? Wouldn’t God brush aside a bullet directed at him? Or could a decent God who upholds justice, and punishes evil not change the assassin’s mind and heart? Or couldn’t He blight the assassin with some cool heart-attack? But is the Pope or the Vatican counting on God to protect him? No! Of course, not!
The simple, but brutal truth is that the Pope and the Vatican cannot vouch for God to protect the Pope against the simple physics of a firearm. That is why a massive security and surveillance infrastructure is in place to protect the Pope.
Now check this out: It is an open record that in May 1981 an assassination attempt was made on Pope John Paul II. When the bullet hit the Pope, did they rush him to any of the massive cathedrals in Italy? No, Sir. He was rushed to a hospital where doctors worked tirelessly on him. What would the faithfuls have said if the powers that be had rushed the shot Pope to the nearest church rather than a hospital? Wouldn’t this have been the ultimate test of the efficacy of prayer, faith and belief? But here we were, when push came to shove, the Vatican, in spite of its vast reserve of “faith-capital” fell on the skills of scientifically trained surgeons. What does this say about the professed “belief” of the Vatican?
Days of intensive medical attention later, the recuperating Pope on his first public appearance, credited his close-shave escape from death to Our Lady of Fatimah! How very appreciative and fair to the medical doctors who were at his disposal to ensure he lived! The Pope said that Our Lady of Fatimah had guided the bullet from hitting his vital organs and that was how he’d lived. But as Richard Dawkins, writing in The God Delusion observed, if Our Lady of Fatimah was in the business of guiding bullets, why not guide the bullet entirely away from the body of the Pope? Perhaps, the Holy See would have approved of his wounded self being left to the munificence of the Our Lady of Fatimah instead of summoning surgeons to his hospital bed? But of course, it is cruel to ask such questions, so we ignore the pointlessness of the Pope’s professed beliefs and occupy our time admiring the devotion of the Vicar of Christ to his God.
All this, and So What?
Point of all this is this: A person’s stated belief is never subjected to the rigors of robust inquiry. Instead, we treat such with fawning indulgence much like prostitutes cajole their clients for an extra stipend at the break of dawn.
And that is also what happens when ordinary people respond to survey questions. We are raised in the sociocultural preconditions of reverence for faith and belief. An overweening part of the religious belief machination is that faith and belief should never be questioned. As a matter of fact, having faith (religious beliefs) is brandished as a “certificate of honor and character”. The laity is asked to demonstrate their faith by doing things for God. But never encouraged to validate faith itself by testing if God himself will return the courtesy.
We are culturally, classically conditioned to belong to one faith or another that we dare not question whether we truly have faith in the things we profess to. Since it is unbecoming to question or validate faith, it becomes the default position. Is it therefore any wonder that 96 percent of Ghanaians who responded to the Gallup poll claim to have belief in God?
So who are the Believers?
I submit that true believers are those whose conduct is meaningfully consistent with their beliefs – praying five times a day, going to church every Sunday, paying your monthly tithe, are simply not enough to be counted a true believer. It should be clearly evident that a believer’s conduct would have been remarkably different if they did not believe in what they claim to believe.
If a person claims to believe in miracles, and does not turn to doctors when afflicted with disease, but turns to prayer for healing, then we can make a case for “true belief”. It would also be an incredibly stupid move – but that’s a different matter.
If in spite of a comfortable life, you turn to Jihad as a religious mandate, at great cost to your family wrecking untold misery to millions including your own family and those of the infidels and ‘mushriks’, then we can make a case for “true belief”. It would also be genocide, and would ordinarily qualify you to a shrink – but that’s a different matter.
If you employ suicide-bombing of ‘mushriks’ on the belief that martyrdom is mandated by God, and for which a reward of eternal sexual indulgences involving seventy-two virgins at your disposal will be bestowed on you in a hereafter, then that is “true belief”. It would also be sexually induced suicidal lunacy – but that’s a different matter.
Clearly, taking from the pattern of the examples illustrated above, true believers are the sort of people that sane, sober and courageous people will call “lunatics”, “delusional”, “stupid”, “demented”, “deranged”, “psychopathic” – in short, they’re “extremists”.
These “true believers” may be the fringe-minority, so why do we lump the “not-true-believers” with them? It is the fringe minority, inspired by Scripture whose ever strident voices we hear daily. The vast sober majority has allowed ( by mostly keeping silent over the extreme utterances and actions of the fringe minority ) to dictate how their religions are practised and exercised. In electing to keep quiet about the extremes they have condoned the extremes. Plus, since the dictates and tenets of their religions sanctify the extremes; we have to judge the religions by the letter of what the “true-believers” practise. So there!
Intellectual progress has always been a fierce battle of ideas between those who sought progress in the knowledge of humanity employing reason and those who court scripture, authority, conventions and/or tradition. Anyone who will stand up to holding religious beliefs to inquiry stands the scorn of a massive and formidable populace. Sadly, by sheer accidents of history, religion claims a vast number of humanity and in so doing, has used them as human-shields to insulate itself from inquiry, criticism and sometimes rejection (apostasy) – because, you cannot bring a religious doctrine to the table of rational inquest without being told that you’re toying with the feelings of multitudes. Well, feelings? What has the truth got to do with your feelings? If it’s only about your feelings, I’m sorry, fuck your feelings very much!
Thanks for your consideration!
Paa Nii is a member of the Humanist Association of Ghana