It was close to lunch on a hot day when this man started talking about religion. He was an interesting man, and I was curious to know his views his religion, Islam, and religion in general.
With me was a friend of mine, a Hindu. I would at this point mention my own religion if it wasn’t so vague, as is probably evident in some of my earlier entries on religion. I am a born Catholic, but have since explored and dabbled in many other religions and spiritual beliefs.
The man looked at my friend and said, “your friendship bands are very colourful.” The tone was sarcastic, and was probably an attempt to lead my friend to talk about his religion. My friend had two bands on his right hand — one black, one yellow — and one on his left, a multi-coloured one.
“These are not friendship bands, they’re prayer bands,” my friend replied. “This band,” he continued, pointing to his black band, “is for protection from evil spirits.”
Next he pulled up his yellow band and added, “this one is for studies. For good grades.”
My friend then pulled the band on his left, and said, “this is a special one. It’s from a Buddhist temple. We Hindus do also visit Buddhist temples. Buddha is from India.”
The man then asked, “how many Gods do you have?”
“We have many deities,” my friend said.
“Deities? So you have many Gods?”
“We have many deities.”
“And what’s the difference between deities and Gods?”
“There’s no difference,” replied my friend, after a pause.
“So you have many Gods?”
“We have many deities.”
Listening to this exchange was quite exasperating. My friend seemed reluctant to say he had “many Gods,” and the man seemed intent on making him say it. The problem here, I found, was that words come loaded with meaning.
In modern usage, people are generally more willing to accept multiple “Deities” than “Gods”. Perhaps this is due to the influence monotheistic religions (most notably Christianity and Islam, perhaps even Buddhism) have had on language, where God is often used in the singular?
“I believe,” the man said, “that in a religion, there should be one almighty being. One who is in charge, who is all-powerful. He shouldn’t need anything. I believe a God cannot need anything. If he does, He shouldn’t be a God. Why should there be a need for many Gods? Do the Gods need each other? Why can’t they survive by themselves?”
My friend was stumped for a while, not quite knowing how to reply. He just nodded. I was by the side, just listening, not agreeing, but not openly disagreeing.
The man then added, “I found that in Islam you find answers to many questions. Religion should answer your questions. If a religion cannot answer your question, it is not a real religion. I onced asked a Christian who was trying to preach to me Christianity. I listened to his story, and found it very interesting. But I wanted to test him. So I asked him, why is there a need for the Holy Trinity? Why not just have one? Why do they have to split themselves into three? He couldn’t answer, and just turned and walked away.”
I did not agree with what this man had said. Religion has been in my experience something personal. If you have 1,000 Catholics in a Church, there will be 1,000 interpretations of Catholicism in that Church. Every single person has in his mind a different shade of Catholicism. Even if the colour is generally the same, it will not, and cannot, be exactly the same.
Ask three people to write ten words associated with the word “God”, and chances are you will get almost 30 different words. The word “God” may be the same, but the way different people perceive it can be very different. (You should try this experiment)
Not everyone will know every single thing about his religion. But does that mean that that religion is so-called false or wrong? Should that person therefore only believe in what he knows everything about?
He went on to say that the “big bang” never happened, that it was a theory.
“Would you believe a cripple? The Big Bang is so convincing simply because it is so complicated. People don’t understand. Down the road, people will realise it is rubbish, and that it never happened.”
So when he said that he believed that there should only be one God, and almost dismissed my friend’s “multiple deities” religion as an error of logic, it disturbed me. His “cripple” statement, which probably referred to the quadriplegic author of the book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking, who actually did not come out with the theory in the first place, but merely popularized it, also rubbed me the wrong way.
The dilemma for me then was: do I intervene and speak my mind on religion? Do I tell him I did not agree?
I decided not to. Firstly, discussing religion is a slippery slope. This man, being a rather devout Muslim, would be a stubborn defender of his religion, and if losing, would probably use arguments that are either irrational (except to himself) or undisputable (“what came before the Big Bang?” Of course, I could use “what came before God?” But that’s another story)
Secondly, this man is my boss. Any attack on his religion and religious beliefs may constitute a personal attack, since religion is so closely tied to one’s self. A personal attack on one’s boss, when one still has months to go on one’s contract, does not seem quite that rational.
Thirdly, what can one gain by winning an argument like this? I, having no religion, or being more liberal about my religion, am better able to let go and allow my beliefs to be attacked. For him, it would be a different matter.
Lastly, and most importantly, it was time for lunch.