Since the dawn of humanity, we have been a species addicted to discovery. Our ape-like ancestors braved the unknown as they left Africa and spread to every corner of the Earth. We tamed fire, and we built machines to carry us across oceans. We innovated with bronze tools and placed a flag on the Moon. Our natural curiosity is a wonderful trait that despite attempts throughout history, cannot be suppressed. Over ten years since its launch, the European Space Agency successfully landed a man-made machine – Rosetta – on the surface of comet 67P travelling at speeds of up to 135,000km/h. This wonderful ingenuity is a reminder of the greatness that humanity can achieve.
Our natural inclination toward discovery is a product of our desire to understand the World around us. Today, the civilised World has the scientific method – with a flawless track record – to keep that desire to understand on the right path, free from dogma and superstition, continuously re-evaluating itself, attempting to prove itself wrong, and open to all regardless of thoughts, words, beliefs, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality. It is at its core non-discriminatory and open to all who seek knowledge. This wonderful framework for applying Mankind’s continued search for knowledge is a freedom we may take for granted, whilst much of the World clings as they do to archaic and very much discriminatory methods of discerning knowledge, of which only a select few unjustifiable privilege themselves according to old myths, to the misery and detriment of everybody else. We know this as religion.
Whilst the scientific method this week landed a craft on the surface of a speeding comet, Pakistan arrested Tufail Haider on ‘suspicion’ of voicing his opinion about the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, Haider’s opinion differed from those who bizarrely believe themselves to be granted the inherent privilege of violently punishing anyone who happens to think differently. It is the obscenity of considering the lives of others to be so chained and dependent on your beliefs only. Haider – who was Shiite – was then murdered by a policeman with an axe. This comes a few days after the young couple Sajjad Maseeh and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi were attacked by a mob, had their legs broken so they couldn’t escape, and were thrown to their deaths into a kiln after being wrapped in cotton wool (to catch fire quickly) by hundreds of people, for “blasphemy”. It was rumoured that they had burnt a page of the Qur’an. To that barbaric mob, burning human beings alive is far more acceptable, than accidentally burning a page of something the mob quite likes to think is divine (of which, they haven’t actually offered any evidence for). Similarly, in the case of Haider, the police referred to him as ‘mentally unsound’, rather than the policeman willing to kill a man with an axe for expressing negative thoughts about a group of people who lived 1400 years ago.
Humanity is capable of placing a man-made craft on a speeding comet, whilst murdering other human beings – including a pregnant woman – for saying unkind words about a magic invisible sky man who cannot do His own dirty work. It seems to me that if we are to base concepts of justice on how offended one may feel by the beliefs or words of others, it is non-believers – insulted and threatened on practically every page of most Holy books – who should be the main beneficiaries of such a policy.
Whilst my fellow atheists at times tell me that at its core, religion is the promotion of peace and love, I see nothing but what Sam Harris recently described as the mother lode of bad ideas. It would seem self evident to me that if religions are to be considered fundamentally peaceful, then the fundamentalists must be peaceful. The opposite is the case. Human suffering caused directly by religious dogma, is a clear result of anchoring human knowledge & moral ideals, and the human search for knowledge to a single time and place – often patriarchal – far removed from our own and that we as a species outgrew both intellectually and morally centuries ago. Indeed, a significant – if not the most significant – barrier to individual freedom, happiness and social and scientific progression, is the assumed privilege of religious supremacists. Over too vast a geographical spread, it plunges individuals whom tend not to fit its very narrow moral structure into fear and silence, which not only robs the individual of their right to a happy and dignified life, but also robs humanity of countless great minds. What if the cure for cancer is in the mind of a gay man in Uganda right now?
Humanity cannot be so great until it universally accepts that no single ideology or religion is inherently gifted the privilege to control the lives of others, to tell others that they are not to be included in society, or to withhold the talents of much of the population based solely on their skin tone, or gender, or belief, or sexuality. The minds and lips of all, free to believe and to utter according to the conscience of the individual alone, is the absolute prerequisite for a free and civilised society, and one in which the talents of all can be utilised. I see no greater flaw in our species than our ability to be so wonderful, to move with the times, to change based on the constant updating of human understanding, to free those traditionally oppressed by unjustifiable power structures, to create machines capable of landing on what is essentially a speck of sand in a cosmic ocean; yet at the same time be so willing to coerce and harm others in order to enforce – and make excuses for – the mother lode of bad ideas, regardless of the endless misery it so clearly causes.