Albert Einstein on science and religion

30 10 2012

Although many are familiar with the famous Albert Einstein’s quote “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”, few knows where it comes from. It is often being shared on social networks and sometimes discussions arise about what did Einstein really meant by it and some even doubt if he ever said it at all. To clear up this subject we did a short Internet research and found the transcript of Einstein’s lecture in which he mentioned that phrase. We hope you will find his article interesting. 

Science and Religion

By Albert Einstein

This article is taken from:

A Symposium on Science, Philosophy and Religion

The conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, New York, 1941

It would not be difficult to come to an agreement as to what we understand by science. Science is the century-old endeavor to bring together by means of systematic thought the perceptible phenomena of this world into as thoroughgoing an association as possible. To put it boldly, it is the attempt at the posterior reconstruction of existence by the process of conceptualization. But when asking myself what religion is I cannot think of the answer so easily. And even after finding an answer which may satisfy me at this particular moment, I still remain convinced that I can never under any circumstances bring together, even to a slight extent, the thoughts of all those who have given this question serious consideration.

At first, then, instead of asking what religion is I should prefer to ask what characterizes the aspirations of a person who gives me the impression of being religious: a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonalvalue. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts. According to this interpretation the well-known conflicts between religion and science in the past must all be ascribed to a misapprehension of the situation which has been described.

For example, a conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors.

Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

Though I have asserted above that in truth a legitimate conflict between religion and science cannot exist, I must nevertheless qualify this assertion once again on an essential point, with reference to the actual content of historical religions. This qualification has to do with the concept of God. During the youthful period of mankind’s spiritual evolution human fantasy created gods in man’s own image, who, by the operations of their will were supposed to determine, or at any rate to influence, the phenomenal world. Man sought to alter the disposition of these gods in his own favor by means of magic and prayer. The idea of God in the religions taught at present is a sublimation of that old concept of the gods. Its anthropomorphic character is shown, for instance, by the fact that men appeal to the Divine Being in prayers and plead for the fulfillment of their wishes.

Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?

The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God. It is the aim of science to establish general rules which determine the reciprocal connection of objects and events in time and space. For these rules, or laws of nature, absolutely general validity is required–not proven. It is mainly a program, and faith in the possibility of its accomplishment in principle is only founded on partial successes. But hardly anyone could be found who would deny these partial successes and ascribe them to human self-deception. The fact that on the basis of such laws we are able to predict the temporal behavior of phenomena in certain domains with great precision and certainty is deeply embedded in the consciousness of the modern man, even though he may have grasped very little of the contents of those laws. He need only consider that planetary courses within the solar system may be calculated in advance with great exactitude on the basis of a limited number of simple laws. In a similar way, though not with the same precision, it is possible to calculate in advance the mode of operation of an electric motor, a transmission system, or of a wireless apparatus, even when dealing with a novel development.

To be sure, when the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large, scientific method in most cases fails us. One need only think of the weather, in which case prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible. Nevertheless no one doubts that we are confronted with a causal connection whose causal components are in the main known to us. Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of any lack of order in nature.

We have penetrated far less deeply into the regularities obtaining within the realm of living things, but deeply enough nevertheless to sense at least the rule of fixed necessity. One need only think of the systematic order in heredity, and in the effect of poisons, as for instance alcohol, on the behavior of organic beings. What is still lacking here is a grasp of connections of profound generality, but not a knowledge of order in itself.

The more a man is imbued with the ordered regularity of all events the firmer becomes his conviction that there is no room left by the side of this ordered regularity for causes of a different nature. For him neither the rule of human nor the rule of divine will exists as an independent cause of natural events. To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.

But I am persuaded that such behavior on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress. In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself. This is, to be sure, a more difficult but an incomparably more worthy task. (This thought is convincingly presented in Herbert Samuel’s book, Belief and Action.) After religious teachers accomplish the refining process indicated they will surely recognize with joy that true religion has been ennobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge.

If it is one of the goals of religion to liberate mankind as far as possible from the bondage of egocentric cravings, desires, and fears, scientific reasoning can aid religion in yet another sense. Although it is true that it is the goal of science to discover rules which permit the association and foretelling of facts, this is not its only aim. It also seeks to reduce the connections discovered to the smallest possible number of mutually independent conceptual elements. It is in this striving after the rational unification of the manifold that it encounters its greatest successes, even though it is precisely this attempt which causes it to run the greatest risk of falling a prey to illusions. But whoever has undergone the intense experience of successful advances made in this domain is moved by profound reverence for the rationality made manifest in existence. By way of the understanding he achieves a far-reaching emancipation from the shackles of personal hopes and desires, and thereby attains that humble attitude of mind toward the grandeur of reason incarnate in existence, and which, in its profoundest depths, is inaccessible to man. This attitude, however, appears to me to be religious, in the highest sense of the word. And so it seems to me that science not only purifies the religious impulse of the dross of its anthropomorphism but also contributes to a religious spiritualization of our understanding of life.

The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge. In this sense I believe that the priest must become a teacher if he wishes to do justice to his lofty educational mission.

EUROPEAN DALITS: The role of Buddhism in social integration of young Roma in Hungary

29 10 2012

Dalits are members of the lowest strata of Indian caste system. Due to their caste identity Dalits regularly face discrimination and violence which prevent them from enjoying the basic human rights and dignity promised to all citizens of India. Although modern Indian Constitution adopted in 1949 prohibits caste based discrimination, tradition of caste based segregation is still alive today especially in rural areas of India. This problem is well known and mush discussed. What is not known is that similar social ostracism exist in today’s Europe against Roma (Gypsy) population in East and Central Europe.

Roma, also called Romani or in English-speaking word Gypsies, are an ethnic group living mostly in Europe, who trace their origins to the Indian Subcontinent. Roma people arrived to Europe approximately 1.000 years ago. Many theories exist about the reason of their exodus, but none of them are verified. Persecuted throughout history by Byzantine Empire, Habsburg Monarchy, subjected to genocide by Nazis in World War II, their hardships lasts until today.

Amnesty International reports continued instances of Anti-Roma discrimination during the 20th Century, particularly in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Kosovo.

While visiting India in 2006, Janos Orsos, member of Roma community in Hungary, learned about the role of Buddhism in social integration of Indian  Dalit population. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891 – 1956), popularly also known as Babasaheb, was an Indian jurist, political leader, philosopher, anthropologist, historian, orator, economist, teacher, and editor. Born into a poor Untouchable caste family, Ambedkar campaigned against social discrimination and the Hindu caste system. He converted to Buddhism and is also credited with providing a spark for the transformation of hundreds of thousands of Dalits or untouchables to Theravada Buddhism. Janos Orsos likened the position of Indian Dalits to position of his Roma people in Hungary and decided to follow dr. Ambedkar’s example.

Janos Orsos, President of Hungarian Jai Bhim Buddhist community, tells of his life and struggles as a European Dalit:

I am a Gypsy. I was born and brought up in Hungary, but I do not consider myself a Hungarian – I am a Gypsy. Let me explain what that means. Many people think that Gypsies are nomadic, but the great majority of Gypsies in Eastern Europe are settled. They live mainly in villages, but right on the edge, in segregated streets. Hungary is a western country, viewed from the third world, but the Gypsies here live like people in the third world. They live in streets or neighborhoods where there is no tap water, no street lighting, no sewage – but if you go just a few meters away to the non-gypsy streets next to them you will find all these facilities.

In the Western world people speak a lot about poverty in India or poverty in the third world, but they don’t notice that the third world is next door to them. I went to India twice and I saw the situation of ‘untouchables’ in India and I can say that our social position in East Europe is exactly the same – not better, not worse. From the Gypsy point of view, Hungarian democracy is not really democracy because our segregation means that we have no voice. That is why I call myself a Gypsy and not a Hungarian – when I say Hungarian after this I mean the non-gypsy citizens of this country.

In Hungary, Gypsies are said to be about 7% of the population: maybe 700,000 out of ten million. What people will say a Gypsy is depends on who is speaking. The word ‘Gypsy’ in my language (which is Bayash, a form of Romanian spoken by about 20% of Gypsies in Hungary) simply means ‘man’, ‘human being’. For me ‘Gypsy’ means my family, my neighborhood  my people. I remember the Gypsy street where I was brought up with very good feelings. I spent my first 26 years in a very, very poor Gypsy street, maybe one of the poorest in Hungary, but it felt good to live there.

Nonetheless, outside our own neighborhoods to be a Gypsy in Hungary means humiliation. It means fighting to live up to the expectations of society, struggling two or three times harder than Hungarian people. In schools we must work three times as hard as Hungarian people – but in the end we cannot get proper education or work. The educational system is not for us, it is not a service made or organised for us, books are not for us. The jobs intended for poor people are effectively reserved for gypsies.

People can tell I’m a Gypsy just by looking at me, because I am darker skinned than other people. Gypsies are not white. When I go out in public, people look at me, stare at me. When I take a bus or go on the metro, I always have space around me. I feel very uncomfortable because people don’t want to come near me. I’m a Hungarian citizen but everyone can see the difference between a Hungarian face and my face.

I am a citizen of Hungary, but in India people think that I am Indian. It is difficult for me in India because people address me in Marathi. When they see I don’t understand, they address me in Hindi. When they realize I don’t understand that, they ask me in English what language I normally speak. They don’t know where Hungary is and so I tell them I am European. In a crowded railway carriage people look from the other side of the carriage and ask me if it is bad for me to travel with them in this compartment because I am European! That is very ironic for me.

When we go to Western Europe we don’t have this feeling of discrimination. I have been twice to England and to France and Belgium – everyone in those countries thinks that I am Indian. It is not very socially prestigious, I know, but much more so than being Gypsy in Hungary. In Central Europe everyone knows I am Gypsy.

What do Hungarian people think about Gypsies? For a Hungarian, ‘Gypsy’ means stealing, telling lies, cheating, smelling, being dirty. That is why people don’t approach me in a crowded metro. That is why I can’t have a proper job – because I steal. We can’t learn properly, they think, because we have less mental capacity than white people. There are scientific papers that try to prove that Gypsies are different from ‘normal’ people. The fact that they steal and tell lies is genetic and they brought it from India. If you go to bookshops here in Hungary you can find many ’scientific’ books about the genetic inferiority of Gypsies still published today.

I say that we cannot get proper education. Hungarian people assert that we have the same right to proper education as they have. They are correct, we have that right. However, it is only a right in theory, not a reality. For a start, 25% of Gypsy children are considered mentally subnormal. Among Hungarians it is only 2%. If you visit any special school for mentally handicapped children in Hungary you will usually find that all the students are gypsies. The World Health Organisation reports that worldwide on average no more than 3% of the population is mentally handicapped. Yet in our gypsy ethnic group it is 25%. People accept the findings of modern science in every area of modern life – why is it that they accept such crazy pseudo-science?

There are economic reasons behind these statistics. The state provides double funding to schools for mentally handicapped children, so the more there are, the better financed the school will be. It is very easy then for the school to segregate the Gypsy children. They are usually taught in a separate part of the school, in smaller, less well-maintained classrooms. They eat separately. They have a different timetable of classes and breaks in the day to avoid them mixing with the Hungarians. Not only those considered handicapped are segregated. Gypsy children are segregated in the majority of Hungarian schools, whether mentally handicapped or not. So there are three sets of classes: normal, Gypsy normal, mentally handicapped, which means mainly Gypsies. Class A is for Hungarians, with normal text books and curriculum, Class B has the same text books and curriculum and is for normal Gypsies, Class C is for the subnormal with a special curriculum and text books and it is mainly for Gypsies.

So what happens to the extra money given to the schools by the state for the mentally handicapped children? You can easily see how the money is spent – it is spent on the Hungarians. They have better buildings and equipment. With the extra money given effectively for Gypsies, since they make up the overwhelming majority of the mentally handicapped, they renovate buildings for Hungarian pupils and they invest in IT equipment, language training etc. Gypsies, whether mentally handicapped or not, never see any of this money spent on them.

These economic facts are reflected in the results. In Hungary, 70% of all youngsters pass secondary school leaving exams, which are important for going on to higher education. Amongst Gypsy youth the figure is between 5 or 7%, depending on whether we look at the countryside or the towns. And this is a big improvement: ten or twenty years ago it was just 1%. However, I am not sure that these more recent statistics are correct. I work in a number of villages and towns where Gypsies are very numerous. In none of these is the percentage more than one – and in one or two cases there is not a single Gypsy with a secondary school leaving certificate out of a Gypsy population of one thousand or so. These are the figures I have seen for myself. Perhaps in bigger cities these percentages are higher, but in my work in the smaller towns and villages in the countryside this is what I have seen. But if you go to the next villages where there are no Gypsies, there around 50% have leaving certificates. That is why I say we do not have proper education. The extra money comes for our Gypsy handicapped children but it is used for the Hungarians. It is a very effective bridle for our spirits.

It is like the colonial system before the independence of India – but within one country. We are a colony for them just as India was for the British. The difference is that the British went home in 1947, but here the colonial system is in full flower. There are several professions for keeping the colonies going – civil servants, teachers, policemen, lawyers. They profit from our misery. If we want to leave that misery, we find many obstacles placed in our way. If we want to help ourselves, we are suppressed. Of course, they let some of us succeed a little bit – they need that so they can proudly show they have lifted some of us up. When Hungarians do work among us, they are often not trying to provide careers for us, but for themselves – their careers are lifting up the gypsies.

Gypsies mostly end up in vocational schools where they are usually trained in trades that don’t really have a place on the labor market, trades that are not really good for earning money – like making flower bouquets, which is a trade not much in demand, fruit harvesting, which is seasonal, and park attendants, when there are no parks in small villages where many Gypsies live – this is what they learn at vocational schools. Maybe one in a thousand Gypsies has been to a good school or university. Such people mostly go to big cities. They have work – maybe not very worthy, but work. They are the Public Relations side of colonialism. Hungarians can show them and demonstrate that Gypsies can go up in society. There are Gypsy youngsters who work usefully for the whole of society – but not many of them. As far as I know there is only one Gypsy doctor and three Gypsy lawyers in the whole of Hungary. There are some teachers, maybe 100 altogether, but they mostly only teach Gypsy children.

Photo: Alokavira (Timm Sonnenschein)The early part of my own story is a typical one. I was born in a very poor gypsy street. When I was six years old I did not speak Hungarian at all, since the Gypsies in my village spoke a form of Romanian. I had to learn Hungarian at school, with the help of my brothers and sisters. I had no real chance to continue my studies. I was not in a Gypsy class – in my class there were only two other Gypsies. That was very good for me because I was forced to compete with my classmates: I had to work three times as hard as them. But, however hard I tried, I always got very bad marks. I took great pride in writing beautifully, for instance – but still I always got bad marks. The teachers would deliberately give me wrong marks – but not so bad that I would have to repeat a year’s study, because that would mean having a gypsy around in the school a year longer.

My knowledge was equal to my classmates’ at that time – but my marks were always lower. Even my classmates protested to the teachers about this, because I had proved that I knew what they knew. But the teachers said that there was no point in teaching me because I would never continue my studies at the secondary level – for Gypsies never do! ‘Primary school is enough for you’, they told me. In the end I agreed with my teachers that I should leave school, even though I had not completed the obligatory eight classes. Four days after leaving, at the age of 15, I started work in a factory.

I worked 12 hours a day, sometimes 15. I was one of the best workers in the factory, which produced kitchen pots. With the money I earned I was able to help my family. I have seven brothers and sisters and, with my mother, the nine of us lived in a house just 27 square meters . When I began work, my little brother was studying in the same school as I had gone to, but he was getting better marks than me. I thought that we should help him go further in education. I did illegal extra work in the factory, so I could give as much money as possible to my family, especially to care for him. At the age of 17, I managed to build us a house of 29 square meters in the same street as I was brought up in. My brother came to live with me in the new house so that he could have good conditions for his study. I began to learn to drive, which would give me good prospects in the future. So everything was going very well for me and I was helping my family. Other people appreciated me very much for what I had achieved. But in 1993 I was kicked out of the factory and became unemployed.

When the communist regime ended, unemployment began. Under communism there was no unemployment: that came in with the market economy. For the outside world the information was given out that it was the less educated who were the first to be unemployed – but really it was the Gypsies. It is well known that in these factories there were non-Gypsy workers who also only had primary education, like me, but they were kept on, while the Gypsies were fired. It was a euphemism to say that it was the less educated, really it was the Gypsies.

My new house had its roof but it didn’t have windows yet. I now had no money to finish it and it took me two more years. I had only one exam to go before getting my driving licence, but without money I could not complete it. It was a big collapse. I was 18 at that time.

After leaving the factory, I spent one year in military service, which all young men had to do in Hungary at that time. I liked the military – I was important to someone, I was serving my country, I had a uniform, I had food. And there was no discrimination. The day I joined, the senior officer told the 600 recruits who joined with me that there was to be no discrimination: we were all equal, all serving our country together. But, after one year, my service was completed and I was unemployed again at the age of 20. My career was over, I couldn’t achieve my dreams. I began to drink. I was not a real alcoholic, but I drank systematically.

After one year I was scared of what I was doing to myself and I remembered that at the age of ten I went regularly to church. I began to read the Bible and go to church. I stopped drinking and began to live again. The priest of the village found for my sister and me a course for unemployed young people that trained them to become social work assistants within the Catholic Church. I was 22 years old and I began to study and it went well. This was a very good period of my life.

Around this time I came in contact for the first time with Gypsies with school leaving certificates and this made me think that I could get one too. At the age of 23, I decided to begin secondary school along with my sister. I did very, very well at this school. My younger brother was 14 and studying in the last year of elementary school. When his teachers discovered that he wanted to go to secondary school, they began to give him very bad marks. But nonetheless he managed to get to secondary school. We were behind him, supporting him financially and in other ways.

So that was the beginning of my involvement with the movement of helping Gypsy youngsters to continue their studies and I have spent the last twelve years in that movement. To begin with our work was done within the Catholic Church, but we drew on other sources as well. George Soros, a billionaire American of Hungarian origin, financed our movement. I coordinated scholarships through his foundation for hundreds of Gypsy youngsters. And he helped us set up Amrita Community House, which was the center of this movement.

Amrita is an organisation that helps gypsy youngsters with their further education. It is based in the city of Pecs, and has students in every town of south-west Hungary. The program worked very well, providing scholarships for young gypsies and supporting them in their studies: for instance, we organised summer camps for hundreds of young people, all of whom had scholarships from Amrita, as I did myself. We called the organisation ‘Amrita’ for very specific and important reasons, continuing the trend already begun when we gave the name ‘Gandhi High School’ to a secondary school for young Gypsies we had founded in Pecs, also with the help of George Soros.

We wanted to emphasize our connection with the East and its culture. We wanted to show non-gypsy Europeans that there are cultures outside Europe – older cultures and ones that are no less prestigious. We Gypsies don’t really have anything to do with Hungarian culture – we are not included in it.

So we couldn’t imagine calling our organisations after famous Hungarians who we have had nothing to do with and don’t know much about. Through these names, ‘Amrita’ and ‘Gandhi’, we could build and strengthen our identity.

We had begun our work within the Catholic Church but we did not continue within it. We were put off partly by the way that people in the Church saw us. The Hungarian old ladies in the Church thought that we gypsies could not believe in God as much as they could. But mainly it was the narrow attitudes we encountered from the Catholic authorities themselves. For instance, before we went to a summer camp one time, we went to Caritas, the Catholic charity, to get some shoes – shoes being a problem in poor gypsy families, whose members often couldn’t come to the camps for lack of footwear. The old priest who looked after the store was very kind to us and promised to find something for us. He came back with a sack full of soap – so that we could have baths, it being a standard stereotype that gypsies are dirty and smelly. I just threw it away.

Photo: Alokavira (Timm Sonnenschein)

Another incident finished our relationship with the Catholic Church. At the summer camps we gave out tee-shirts with ‘Soros Foundation’ printed on them. When Aniko, my sister, went in to work at the church in the village wearing one of these, the local priest, who we liked and who had been very helpful to us, especially in finding us the social-work course, asked Aniko not to wear it. She asked, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘Because Soros is Jewish!’ She asked, ‘Why is that a problem?’ He replied, ‘Because we are Catholics’. She said, ‘Wasn’t Jesus a Jew?’ ‘Yes,’ he responded, ‘but he converted!’ That was the end of our connection with the Catholic Church!

When I finished my studies at the high school, I began to study at the Buddhist College in Budapest.

The peculiar circumstances in Hungary after the end of the communist regime enabled many Buddhist groups to participate together in establishing an official ‘church’ and then to set up a University, the Dharma Gate College, in Budapest, which has degree level courses in a number of academic subjects related to Buddhism. A member of the church, Tibor Derdak, was very involved in our educational work in the South West. He had been a Liberal Party MP in the first post-communist parliament and had played an important part in establishing many rights and opportunities for gypsies. Through him we were linked to the Buddhist Church and College. In 1992, when we founded the Gandhi High School, the Church was one of the organisations that gave us their backing – although all the funding came from other sources.

Photo: Alokavira (Timm Sonnenschein)

So from then on we had a continuing relationship with them and I began to study at the College. Even though I had stopped working with the Catholic Church, I still considered myself a Catholic – indeed, what I saw of Buddhism in the College strengthened my Catholicism! If anyone asked me where I studied it was strange for me to say it was at the Buddhist College. There are brilliant scholars at the College, but this is academic or intellectual Buddhism and it is not for me. I certainly never thought of becoming a Buddhist at that time.

After some four years, in 2004, we made a connection with the FWBO. This came about through one of my teachers at the College – not only Catholic priests have been our patrons! He visited one of the main centres of the FWBO in England and spoke about Buddhism in Hungary with some of their leaders. They found our email address in the journal of the Church and College and wrote to us. My English was not that good at that time and when I saw these emails I thought that they were spam and I deleted all of them. Fortunately, Tibor answered for us and in that way we came to build our connection with them.

Photo: Alokavira (Timm Sonnenschein)

Members of the Western Buddhist Order came out to Hungary to meet us. I thought that they were just intellectual Buddhists like the others I had met in Hungary. But Subhuti told us about the work of the FWBO/TBMSG in India and showed us a film about it. I saw their many educational institutions for Dalit people and I recognised that there was a very strong parallel with what we are doing in Hungary among gypsies. I had a strong desire to see this work for myself – but I was aware that I could only see it by going to India. I had always wanted to get to India. In my childhood I had seen the film, ‘The Jungle Book’, with Mowgli and the animals in it, and other nature films. And then of course everyone thinks that gypsies are originally from India. So going to India was a dream for me. The Karuna Trust paid for my air ticket and, at the end of 2005, I visited for one month, with my friend, Tibor Derdak.

The first sight I saw in India was not the exotic beauty I had seen on TV. I was very deeply struck by the poverty and the conditions my new Dalit friends had to live in. In Bombay, on the first night, we slept on the ground in a tiny flat in the slums, in what seemed to be a kitchen. We were taken then to the Bhaja retreat centre, near Pune. The centre is on the edge of the jungle and I felt quite scared. But when we got there it was so beautiful. From then on it has been my favourite place in the whole world.

I visited educational institutions in a number of cities in Maharashtra: Aurangabad, Amaravati, Pune, and Nagpur. Everywhere I saw gypsies! To me the Dalits are gypsies and the gypsies are Dalits. What struck me most strongly was that the Dalit people run these institutions themselves, not white people. They believe very strongly in their work and we saw with our own eyes that many people have improved their lives in a real way through that work.

The Dalits we were meeting were very proud to say that they were Buddhists. But their way of practising Buddhism was quite different from what I had seen in Hungary – even the way they practised meditation was different. I realised that this whole movement is based on Buddhism. I felt strongly that I can identify myself with this movement. It had a very big impact on me. I saw people like me take their destiny into their own hands through Buddhism and that is what I wanted to do and wanted other young gypsies to do.

After one month in India, I came back convinced that I was a Buddhist. On a very big retreat in Nagpur for 5,000 people, in January 2006, I had become a Dhammamitra, publicly declaring that the Buddha is my teacher, that I will practise the five precepts, and that TBMSG/FWBO is my spiritual family. But back here in Hungary, there were only Hungarian Buddhists, and I could not identify with them. However, people from the Western Buddhist Order/Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha, both Europeans and Indians, came to stay with us and they were completely different from the Hungarian Buddhists. It took me some time to work out what kind of a movement the FWBO in Europe is, because these were white intellectual people who took to Buddhism for reasons that I could not really understand. But they were different from the Hungarian Buddhists I had met, because they were genuinely concerned with social questions. When they come to Hungary they spend time with us, which Hungarian Buddhists don’t do. They have become our friends and the connection between us is very good.

However, I feel that I am much more closely identified with Indian Buddhism. That is why our own new and independent religious organisation wears the name of ‘Jai Bhim’. The name gives a message: it means that we belong to India. We have found a new framework for our twenty-year-old movement for gypsy education. We began to believe that we too can take our movement in our own hands and run it ourselves, just as our Indian brothers and sisters do. Our experiences over the last twenty years fit well with the Ambedkarite movement. Our Indian friends started fifty years ago and they have big results. So we feel it is worth us starting out on the same path. We have found that Dr Ambedkar’s thinking fits well with our aims, so we have named our new school, ‘Dr Ambedkar High School’.

I feel very pleased that I can speak in Europe about Dr Ambedkar. Nobody in Europe has heard for him, so it is one of our major tasks to speak about him. It is very wonderful for me to see that my actions find parallels in Dr Ambedkar’s activity and movement. We have found ourselves going through the same steps as our Indian friends, because these are the logical steps in our social situation. Our Indian Buddhist friends are able to take their own institutions in their own hands because they have their own hero.

When I see all the photos, statues, and other images of Dr Ambedkar in India, I feel a bit uneasy, because in Hungary, when it was still under communist rule, we had images of leaders everywhere – it is what we call the cult of personality. However, I understand why Dr Ambedkar is remembered in this way. For us too Dr Ambedkar is vitally important. This is the only way that we can send the message to society that we exist. We don’t want a cult of personality in our movement around living gypsy leaders. But I want Hungarian society to take us seriously and respect us as human beings. I want to see gypsy youngsters getting good results in their education and going on to take up important positions in society. And it is very easy to speak about a personal story like Dr Ambedkar’s, because he himself achieved what I want many young Gypsies to achieve. So Dr Ambedkar is a very important symbol for us – a very important message to ourselves and to others.

We need the image of Dr Ambedkar because we are still invisible to society. For instance, my white colleagues are not as good at teaching our Gypsy students as I am, for obvious reasons. But it is always the white people who are known about. For instance, it is well known in Hungary that the Buddhist Church is active in the gypsy field, especially at the Little Tiger High School in Alsosantmarton, in Southern Hungary. But whenever the school is talked about in the mAlsoszentmartonedia nobody notices the gypsy activists who work there without money, even though these activists get excellent educational results, usually better than the white teachers. But we are not noticed. The white Buddhist authorities are highly visible because they ’sacrificed their lives’ going to the gypsies – the biggest sacrifice that one can make! They become famous as heroes and saviors – but we are nowhere. And this is the story of Dr Ambedkar. In Europe people have heard about the untouchables and how Gandhi almost sacrificed his life for them – everyone knows this in Europe. I have nothing against Gandhi, I respect him. He is a real hero for India. But what did Dr Ambedkar do? Wasn’t he a participant in this movement? Nobody knows about him because he is the gypsy. This is a very easy parallel for me to make.

So taking Dr Ambedkar’s thought as our basis and using his image as our rallying point, we have set up a new organisation, ‘The Jai Bhim Religious Network’. If we want to create schools for gypsies in this situation, where we have no real connection with the culture and thought of the surrounding society, we need a new context of ideas and culture that relates to us. We need to be able to define ourselves – not for other people, but for ourselves. We are very happy to be members of FWBO. But we are not Western Buddhists – we have never been welcomed into Western society and it does not belong to us.

Our social situation is not equal to that of Western members of the Order; it is very similar to what we saw in India among Dalits. So that gives us a feeling of solidarity with them and we identify ourselves with them. We certainly want to use the knowledge found in the West. There are Western Order members who are our friends – indeed, anyone who is willing to work with us is our friend. But our strongest identification is with the Ambedkarite movement in India. That is why we have named our organisation ‘Jai Bhim’. It is a message of self-definition to ourselves, which helps us to be clear what we want. It gives us our ideological background – our background of vision and ideas, which we need in order to carry out our task.

That task is running social and educational institutions for gypsies – and for us this is Buddhism. We don’t judge ourselves by how much time we spend meditating. For us our educational work is effective when people become aware of their own minds. Our goal is to help people to be aware of the potential within their minds. We help them to grow out of their ghetto world, within a Buddhist framework. Through us the students can meet Buddhism. These youngsters will easily identify themselves with the ideas and the vision that helps them. It may not be that every member of our schools or our movement will take to Buddhism, and they certainly won’t to begin with. This was the case for me too. What was interesting for me when I first came across the followers of Dr Ambedkar in India was not Buddhism but the social movement. I connected first with that movement and the people in it. No doubt it will be like that for others too.

The Jai Bhim Religious Network is an ecclesiastical organisation, legally speaking. We have founded a church! Of course it’s not usual to found a church and this particular church has no precedent in Hungary. There are new Christian groups forming new churches in Hungary in a Protestant context, but these Christian churches belong to sects that operate outside Hungary. Ours however, is a Buddhist church. We have done that, firstly, because of our Buddhist convictions. Second we have founded a Buddhist church because the Christian groups and churches ignored and neglected the education of poor people. They do deal with poverty, at least if it concerns old people or ill people – but if it is about gypsy families it is not important to them. We have founded an autonomous church, which is not under any other denomination or ideology, although it is linked to TBMSG/FWBO. This is the first church in Hungary set up by gypsies for gypsies. There are Pentecostal gypsy churches, but they are just segregated versions of the Hungarian churches and the leadership and organizers are all Hungarians. The gypsies need the authorization of the Hungarians to organize anything. But this church is ours.

There is only one non-gypsy in our organisation. We, the Dhammamitras who run the Network, decided that we would be very cautious about letting in non-Gypsies, because of our experience of being taken over or co-opted in the past. Non-Gypsies can come to work with us – we will pay for their work, for instance as teachers or administrators. But we don’t need them to tell us what is good for us. We have had enough of Hungarians telling us what is good for us. I worked for the Catholic Church and I was not Catholic enough. I worked for the Dharma-Gate Buddhist Church and I was not Buddhist enough. I do not want anyone to tell me I am not good enough.

So often our efforts are appropriated by Hungarians. For instance, we helped the Catholic Church to set up a Gypsy hostel in Manfa, near Pecs. All the money which was needed to buy the land and develop the buildings came for Gypsies from government grants and donations from NGOs. Our smiling faces were on the appeal leaflets, and I did the work of getting those grants and donations. Then the buildings were built and it was time to hire staff and open the hostel – they didn’t need me or other Gypsies any more. They had got the property in their own name and had the income for their own people. The same thing happened at the Little Tiger High School in Alsosantmarton, this time with the Buddhist church. I did the work; we raised so much money – not a penny of it from the Buddhist Church itself. We did the initial very hard work of setting the school going and in two years young Gypsies succeeded in getting their school leaving exams – not the four years it usually takes. Then they took it away from me and my Gypsy friends and made some other trouble for us.

So we don’t need owners like that. We want to be fully responsible ourselves. Some things will go wrong, of course – but it will be my own fault, my own responsibility. In the past we have built schools and other institutions for Gypsies which Hungarians have controlled. Now we are in control and we intend to stay in control.

With the Dr. Ambedkar High School we are trying to do the impossible. We are trying to provide education for youngsters who are totally outside the secondary educational system. When they come here at the age of 16 or older, they often cannot read and write properly. They come from very difficult circumstances. They don’t have proper housing; sometimes they don’t even have shoes. So we work with people in deep misery. We began this work without any money. What we have achieved is just with our own effort.

The teaching we do is not something special. Gypsy students have the same kind of brains as members of other ethnic groups. But because of the way the educational system works in Hungary, most of them know virtually nothing – most of them cannot read or write or calculate. Some of them have been declared mentally handicapped on the basis of their social situation. Those who were considered normal were usually in segregated classes for Gypsies with very inadequate teaching. Even those in normal unsegregated classes could not learn because the teachers made no effort to understand them or to appreciate the situation from which they came. Many of them left school after just five or six years – not the normal eight.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian children, the control group, generally get a good education. They are taught IT, foreign languages, how to communicate – but these are not on the curriculum for most Gypsy children. The Gypsy children are taught by teachers who are not properly trained, with educational programs that are very dated. What they are taught, even at best, doesn’t touch them because it isn’t aimed at them. It is education designed for the middle classes given to students from the under-class – it has nothing to do with them. In the teacher training colleges, there is no attempt to train teachers to deal with this problem, which affect 8% of the population.

So what are we doing about this problem? From September 2007, we are concentrating on an area in Borsod County in Northern Hungary, where gypsies live in terrible conditions. About 90% of gypsies in this area have no regular employment and have no prospects. We rent buildings in various villages where we hold our classes, since our network does not have its own building yet. These are school buildings belonging to the local authorities in peasant towns and villages, but, since the birth-rate for non-gypsies is dropping very rapidly and many young couples move away, there are no children. So the authorities need to find students from somewhere, even from gypsies, since they must be used for educational purposes. So we have schools, but we don’t have a building to live in ourselves yet – we have to camp in the classrooms! But our work is developing well. We will have our own buildings one day.

120 students registered for admission when we started, but many of them don’t come. They want to study, but their lives are not organised so that it is possible at the moment. For instance, some young girls get pregnant and many young men have to earn money for their families through casual labour or seasonal work in other parts of the country. So, not everyone who wants to learn in our school can do so. But there are 60 who do come regularly because they are able to fit study into their lives. And more will come in time. We have just completed our first term.

We have to meet the students each morning with our minibus at a bus stop some distance away, where the school bus throws them out because the bus company does not believe it is a real school and will not bring them to the door. When they arrive we give them something to eat here, because some will not have had proper food at home. Then we start the classes, trying to give everyone what they need to begin again what they left unfinished some years ago at some school somewhere. We are concentrating on teaching them the skills of reading, writing, calculating, and communicating. Some of them already have some competence in these skills, some are complete beginners.

What do we do that is different? The first step is making them believe that they can accomplish a normal secondary education. We help them to believe that there is an alternative to lifelong unemployment and lack of prospects in life. Slowly but surely we have to fight the resistance within them to school – because they have developed a resistance due to their previous experience. They are alienated from school, from knowledge, from books. We have to make school sympathetic to them. Only after that has been achieved can we teach them reading and writing and calculating. Once they can read and write and calculate, we can give them the knowledge about the modern world that is required at university and college. Not all of them will go to college, but they still need a certain level of knowledge of the modern world if they are to get out of their ghettos. They need to be able to choose between university and the world of jobs. We consider that what we are doing is creating possibilities for them – this is the slogan of the Waldorf educational movement, which we have made our own.

There are many people who are deeply critical of us, even who hate us; there are many people who revere us; and there are many people who are jealous of us. People ask, ‘Are these gypsies real Buddhists? How can you teach Buddhism to gypsies?’ What we are doing is so strange in Europe, where Buddhism is largely the leisure hobby of the middle classes. People say, ‘Isn’t Buddhism a luxury for gypsies in villages?’ Some of these comments come from Christians – but it is easy for us to answer them: they don’t offer effective secondary education for gypsies and we do! But whatever people say, it doesn’t bother us – we just carry on with our work.

And we know we are not alone! To my Indian brothers and sisters I say: let us do it together!


For more information about Janos Orsos and Jai Bhim community, please visit

More stories published about Jai Bhim on Central-European Religious Freedom Institute website available on the links below:

HUMAN RIGHTS ALERT: Discriminatory actions against Hungarian Jai Bhim Buddhist Community

Double Trouble: Discrimination of Roma Buddhists in Hungary

Eid al-Adha: Muslim holiday commemorating the sacrifice of Ishamel by Abraham

26 10 2012

Hari Raya Haji, or Eid-Al-Adha as it is known in other parts of the world is an important Muslim festival. The day is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic Calendar. The day is celebrated to commemorate the sacrifice of Ishamel by Abraham.

According to the story in Quran, the religious book of the Muslims, Prophet Abraham was tested by God. According to the story, about 4,000 years ago, the valley of Mecca was an uninhabited place. After years of worship, Abraham and Hajra, his wife, were blessed with a son, whom they names Ishamel. Thus, Ishamel became their most prized possession. In order to test the devotion of Abraham, God decided to command Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son Abraham. After much deliberation and many hindrances out forward by Satan, Abraham decided to sacrifice his son by placing him under the knife. However, just before he was about to sacrifice his son, God appeared, happy with Abraham’s intentions. Thus, Ishamel was saved from sacrifice and instead, a ram was sacrificed in his place.

This festival is a major festival for Muslims around the world. Muslims around the world celebrate this day with great pomp and show. Mosques are decorated with bright lights and other decorations. Muslims wake up early in the morning to offer their prayers before sunrise. After that, extravagant meals are prepared. An important tradition of the day is sacrificing a goat in the name of God. This is done to remember the sacrificial intentions of Abraham towards Allah. The roots of this tradition lie in the fact that a goat or a sheep was very important in the life of humans in the olden days for rearing and other purposes. People of all ages wear new clothes and exchange gifts on this day. The day is a public holiday in most parts of the world. People can be seen burning fire crackers at night and remembering God. Inviting non-Muslim friends and acquaintances is also a common tradition on this day. This is done to make people aware of Muslim culture and traditions. Three important things form a part of Eid celebrations in accordance with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad- offer prayer before sunrise, dress up in the best clothes available and observe general cleanliness.

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish Eid Mubarak to all Muslim believers.

Jura Nanuk,
Founder & President

ISLAM IN BOSNIA: “We belong to the West, culturally and mentally”

22 10 2012
Sunset over Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. Photo by Sarajevo Times.

Sunset over Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. Photo by Sarajevo Times.

Bosnia is entering a new phase in its history: the post-war era is over; communities and mosques have been rebuilt. But where are Bosnian Muslims heading in these turbulent times? Charlotte Wiedemann spoke to Ahmet Alibašić, lecturer at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo.

In what direction are Muslims intellectuals of your generation looking?

Ahmet Alibašić: We’re not looking in any particular direction. Because we were cut off from the Muslim world for several decades, during the Yugoslavian Empire and the Communist period, we have learned to be self-reliant. We have developed our own education system and produced a certain Islamic approach to learning. We were forced to rely on ourselves; we are used to independence. And we are very pluralist.

The lecturers of this faculty come from a huge variety of universities: Chicago, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Belgrade, Zagreb, Turkey, Kosovo, India. You won’t find such diversity at any other university in the Muslim world. We have modernists here, traditionalists and reformists.

Muslim mosque in the city Pocitelj city, Bosnia.

Muslim mosque in the city Pocitelj city, Bosnia.

And where are modernists such as yourself looking?

Alibašić: Bosnian modernists are looking more to Muslim scholars who teach at western universities or who used to teach, for example Fazlur Rahman, Abdolkarim Sorush or Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid.

Sarajevo seems to be a market place for all possible strands of Islam. You have just compiled a bibliography of all the works that have been translated into Bosnian. Who is paying for all this?

Alibašić: Much of it is sponsored. You can get an incredible amount of things for free here. The Sufi brotherhoods canvass for their sheikhs; the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the liberals, the feminists – they all pay for their own translations. The Iranian embassy distributes Khomeini, the Turks Said Nursi and Fethullah Gülen. And then there’s commercially translated literature from small independent publishers.

What makes Bosnia such an attractive market place? This isn’t Syria after all, Bosnia doesn’t have any strategic significance.

Alibašić: We may not have a strategic importance, but we have a symbolic one. Sarajevo – it’s a word that resonates with many people, because of the tragedy and the fighting that took place here. Sarajevo was world headline news for four years. It’s important for religious leaders to get that snapshot, one that shows that they have achieved something in Sarajevo.

Is this more of a danger, or is it an opportunity?

Alibašić: I see it as an opportunity, as a challenge. I’m not the kind of person to panic. Of course being associated like this with the entire Muslim world also has its dangers, but it’s better than being isolated and forgotten. Up to now, we’ve coped very well. None of the international movements have really had any success here. Quite simply because this is not an empty space. Anyone coming here encounters a Muslim hierarchy that cannot be simply denounced as corruptible or as part of the government. It is a community with tradition and with elections. Sooner or later all these movements, who come here from elsewhere, must accept that the mainstream will remain with the Islamic community. It could take four or five years, but they’ll realize it eventually.

Not everyone takes such a relaxed view of the situation. There are radical groups that brand the community as “faithless” because it calls on people to take part in secular state elections.

Alibašić: Yes, but in this respect we’ve put the worst behind us. During the war, and in the period thereafter, Bosnian Islam faced substantial danger. The Salafists were very ambitious at the time. But as I said, this critical phase is now behind us.

The community controls the 1,400 imams in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the 900 Muslim teachers of religion paid by the state have to be validated by the community. Does this mean it is upholding an absolute religious monopoly?

Alibašić: The Salafists remain a challenge, but we are also concerned about the Sufis and the Shiites. We have problems with the Sufis if they only listen to their sheikhs and do not accept the authority of the community. An imam is not allowed to turn a mosque into private quarters for his brotherhood. This is why several grassroots congregations have broken away.

The mosque in Sarajevo, where the Grand Mufti has his office, was dominated for a long time by a Sufi group, for years Ceric wasn’t able to enter the mosque! The Mufti of Sarajevo and others were even beaten up there.

Beaten up? By Sufis?

Alibašić: Yes indeed. There are other mosques withdrawing from the control of the community for other reasons. In western Bosnia, a congregation is refusing to accept the removal of an old imam. For several years now, worshippers there have refused to recognise the imam who was appointed to replace him. We can’t call in the police to throw out the old imam; all we can do is wait until he falls ill, or dies.

The community is not a company like Coca Cola; some people expect it to solve internal problems in the same tough manner as a business corporation. But we prefer to wait for time to resolve the problem. The community must also live with those who don’t like it, it can’t throw anyone out.

What is your faculty’s attitude to Wahabism?

Alibašić: Many people don’t understand that each and every dean at this faculty, even a modernist, is obliged to recognize a diploma from Saudi Arabia if it fulfils the formal criteria. Just as it did in Communist times, the faculty is still expected to scrutinize qualifications from foreign institutions. So if a Wahabi Muslim comes to us with a diploma that corresponds to those awarded by our faculty in terms of subjects and the scope of a course of study, then he has the right to work in Bosnia. That is Islamic pluralism.

Of course, the grassroots community can then say: We don’t want to have this person as our imam. But we can’t impose any general ban ourselves.

Iran also appears to be present in Bosnia. What’s so appealing about Iran here?

Alibašić: That’s primarily because of Shi’ism. It’s very emotive and full of stories of victims; the Bosnians have a weakness for that. Because we’ve suffered a great deal ourselves, and we are attuned to injustice. For a while, several intellectuals adopted an Iranian-influenced position on the Syria conflict; now they’re trying to back down from that. Generally, I see more of a religious than a political influence.

Politically, Iran is much too far away. We belong to the West, culturally and mentally. This is also evident from the following statistic: of the hundreds of thousands of Bosnian refugees abroad, very few remained in Malaysia, Turkey or other Muslim nations. They eventually preferred to go to America, Australia or Germany. Even the Bosnian Salafists would rather operate from Vienna than Saudi Arabia.

Interview: Charlotte Wiedemann

© 2012

Editor: Lewis Gropp/

41-year-old Dr. Ahmet Alibašić, Assistant Professor, studied political science in Sarajevo, Islamic studies in Kuala Lumpur and Arabic in Riyadh. He translated the work of Catholic Islam scholar John Esposito into Bosnian, founded the independent “Center for Advanced Studies” and is co-publisher of the “Journal of Muslims in Europe”. Progressive Bosnians would like to see him in the post of Grand Mufti at some point in the future, but Alibašić maintains a distance from the establishment.

City center of Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

City center of Sarajevo, Bosnian capital.

Religious leaders urged the President of Ukraine to veto amendments to Law on Freedom of Conscience

19 10 2012

The Institute for Religious Freedom – Kyiv, Ukraine
  – The leaders of churches and religious organizations urged the President of Ukraine to veto the amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations” specified by the adopted draft law № 10221.

The corresponding letter was handed personally to Viktor Yanukovych during his meeting with members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), held October 17, 2012 in the building of the Presidential Administration, reports the Institute for Religious Freedom.

This appeal to the President was signed by all leaders of denominations, who were present at the meeting. This issue was also separately raised in the speeches of Patriarch Filaret, Primate of the UOC-KP and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

“We believe the development of the draft law № 10221 by the Ministry of Justice and its adoption by the Parliament are steps to the destabilization of the religious situation in the society, deterioration of religious freedom in Ukraine, creation of significant obstacles to the spiritual and social ministry of churches and religious organizations”, – emphasized religious leaders in their statement.

According to them, the need to veto the draft law № 10221 is conditioned by a complete disregard for the position of the religious community and the agreements reached by UCCRO with the author of the project – Permanent Representative of the President in the parliament Yuriy Miroshntchenko and its developer – the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine.

Leaders of denominations reminded the President on the promise given on April 21, 2011 during the first meeting with the members of UCCRO, that the legislation on freedom of conscience will not be altered in the absence of its consensus support from denominations. In this case the law was passed without discussion and any edits, proposed for the second reading.

Leaders of churches and religious organizations believe that by the use of veto on the draft law № 10221, the President would protect the fundamental right to freedom of religion and affirm his promises.

It should be noted that the adopted law complicates the procedure for obtaining by religious organizations the status of the legal entity in connection with the introduction of two inconsistent registration procedures: registration of statutes and state registration (inclusion in the Unified Register of Legal Entities).

The draft law № 10221, like in the days of the Soviet totalitarian past, provides for the right to monitor the implementation of legislation on freedom of conscience and religion to the public prosecution bodies, the Ministry of Culture and other ministries and local authorities.

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Source: The Institute for Religious Freedom – Kyiv, Ukraine

Catholic priest and Sunni sheikh promote inter-faith cooperation in Lebanon

18 10 2012

Lebanon’s diverse religious groups live in close proximity to one another, scattered from block to block in a jumbled, overlapping mosaic of faiths. Despite this proximity, there is often little to no interaction among the various groups, resulting in limited understanding of different religious perspectives.

In the Lebanese town of Saida (Sidon), however, teachers at Christian and Muslim schools are educating their students about the importance of religious tolerance. Thanks to a small grant from One Community: Promoting Inter-Faith Cooperation in Lebanon, a Catholic priest and a Sunni sheikh joined forces to write and produce a documentary film on the issue of child labor in the community.

The documentary, entitled Helwe Jameetna, tells the story of Youssef, a young boy who is forced to work in a café instead of going to school and playing with the other children. He daydreams of joining the others during story time, but instead spends his days taking orders from rude customers and his abusive boss. A group of children take note of his plight, and go to the town priest and sheikh for help. Their innocence and concern bring together townspeople of both faiths, who start a collection to pay Youssef’s school fees. According to the priest, “We are all responsible for such an issue.” The documentary, which has been shown in local religious schools, not only demonstrated the importance of inter-faith cooperation, but also brought together real people of diverse faiths during its production.

The One Community project, in partnership with the ADYAN Foundation and Nahar Ashabab, works with faith-based community organizations and their leaders to undertake community development projects that promote religious tolerance in Lebanon. Its goal is to increase positive interaction and collaboration among confessional groups by bringing together pairs of leaders and their communities for joint projects.


The new intolearnce

17 10 2012

This is the text of a Standpoint lecture delivered by British author and journalist Melanie Phillips on March 13 at the  Lauderdale Road Synagogue, London. These arguments are expanded in her book “The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth and Power” (Encounter Books). Melanie is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. In 1996 she was awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism.



To judge from what we are reading and hearing almost every day at the moment, it would seem Britain is in the throes of a war of religion. A war, that is, between religion and atheism. Professor Richard Dawkins, the Savonarola of atheism, regularly hurls his thunderbolts at believers. Christianity, says the church, is under siege. Christians are being prevented from wearing the crucifix at work, being barred from adoption panels. Even Delia Smith has now brought her rolling pin to the fight to defend the faith.

At the heart of this great argument lies the assumption on the part of the anti-religion camp that this is a battle between reason and obscurantism, between rationality on the one hand and knuckle-dragging ignorance and prejudice on the other. And of course, that anti-religion camp is on the side of reason, and thus of intelligence, science, progress and freedom; whereas religious believers would undo the Enlightenment and take us all back to the dark ages of credulity, superstition and the shackling of the mind.

This assumption is based on a further given: that in the West this is the age of reason. And we think this, in large measure, because we have put religion, or faith, in a box labelled in very large letters, “Un-reason”. Faith and reason, religion and science are supposedly inimical to each other. There is no overlap. They knock each other out.

So it follows that people who are intelligent can have no religious faith; those who are religious are either imbeciles or insane. Not only that, religious people are narrow, dogmatic, intolerant and unpleasant. Those with no religious faith are broad-minded, open, liberal and thoroughly splendid people whom you’d be delighted to meet at a dinner party. Little casts a chill over a fashionable table more than the disclosure that a guest believes in God.

I have a rather different take on this great division of our age. My view is that while we may be in a post-biblical — and post-moral — age, we have not disposed of belief. Far from it. We have just changed what we believe in. Our society may have junked the Judaeo-Christian foundations of the West for secularism. But this has given rise to a set of other religions. Secular religions. Anti-religion religions.

These are also based on a set of dogmas. They proselytise. They involve faith. But unlike the Judaeo-Christian thinking they usurp, these secular anti-religions suspend truth and reason. What’s more, I would say that it was the Judaic foundations of the West which, far from denying reason, gave the world both reason and science in the first place.

God has been pronounced dead, and in his place have come man-made ideologies — in which people worship not a divine presence but an idea.

These ideas, which brook no dissent, give rise inescapably to intolerance and indeed to tyranny. Indeed, they are far more tyrannical in their effect than the God of the Hebrew Bible who gets such a bad press for being so authoritarian. In fact, he has a truly terrible time getting his way. His people are always complaining, refusing to do what he tells them, blaming him for everything and always, always arguing with him. But ideologies which represent the will of man bend everything to the governing idea, which cannot be gainsaid. There can be no argument with them.

Rather than being rational, I suggest these are irrational; not tolerant at all, but deeply illiberal; not open to other ideas, but as dogmatic as any medieval pope. Indeed, these atheistic ideologies are reminiscent not just of religion but of medieval persecutions, witch-hunts and inquisitions.

Let me illustrate all this with an anecdote. After a debate in which he took part some time ago, I pressed Richard Dawkins on his belief that the origin of all matter was most likely to have been an entirely spontaneous event — which meant he therefore surely believed that something could be created out of nothing. Since this ran counter to the scientific principle of verifiable evidence which he tells us should govern all our thinking, this itself seemed to be precisely the kind of irrationality which he scorns.

In reply, he acknowledged that I had a point but said that the alternative explanation — God — was more incredible. But then he remarked that he was not necessarily averse to the idea that life on Earth had been created by a governing intelligence — provided, however, that such an intelligence had arrived on Earth from another planet. Leaving aside the question of how that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself been created in the first place, I put it to him that he appeared to be saying that “little green men” provided a more plausible explanation for the origin of life on Earth than God. Strangely, he didn’t react to this well at all.

However, Dawkins is not the first scientist to have suggested this. It is a theory which was put forward by no less than Professor Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA.

A committed atheist, Francis Crick found it impossible to believe that DNA could have been the product of evolution. In 1973, Crick and the chemist Leslie Orgel published a paper in the journal Icarus suggesting that life may have arrived on Earth through “directed panspermia”. According to this theory, micro-organisms were supposed to have travelled in the head of an unmanned spaceship sent to Earth by a higher civilisation which had developed elsewhere some billions of years ago. The spaceship was unmanned so that its range would be as great as possible. Life started here when these organisms were dropped into the primitive ocean and began to multiply. Subsequently, Crick abandoned this theory and returned to the idea of the spontaneous origin of life from purely natural mechanisms.

How can someone so committed to reason be so irrational as to entertain such a fantasy?

The answer, at its deepest level, lies in the very fact that they have repudiated the religion they scorn as irrational. Religion, or more precisely the religion of the Bible, and more precisely still the Judaism at its core, is the real crucible of reason. Those who reject the religion of the Bible are rejecting reason itself.

So why do I make this counter-intuitive suggestion that Judaism gave rise to rationality?

The popular belief is that the roots of reason and science lie in ancient Greece. Now undoubtedly Greece contributed much to modernity and to the development of Western thought down the ages. Nevertheless, in certain crucial respects Greek thinking was inimical to a rational view of the universe. The Greeks, who transformed heavenly bodies into gods, explained the natural world by abstract general principles.

By contrast, science grew from the novel idea that the universe was rational; and that belief was given to us by Genesis, which set out the revolutionary proposition that the Universe had a rational Creator. Without such a purposeful intelligence behind it, the universe could not have been rational; and so there would have been no place for reason in the world because there would have been no truths or natural laws for reason to uncover. Science could only proceed on the basis that the universe was rational and coherent and thus nature behaved in accordance with unchanging laws.

The other vital factor was the Bible’s linear concept of time. This meant history was progressive; every event was significant; experience could be built upon. Progress was thus made possible by learning more about the laws of the universe and how it worked.

It is atheism, in fact, that is innately hostile to reason. Instead of worshipping God, man worshipped man. To be more precise, man’s ideas became the articles of faith. But instead of wrestling with God, man’s ideas brook no dissent, no argument. That’s because they are not actually ways of making sense of the world, of asking the great questions of why am I here, what is the purpose to my life, how should I behave in ways that give my life meaning. The ideas that man worships are instead ideas he invents to gain power over his fellow human beings. They are ways not of explaining the world but of controlling the world. Therefore they cannot be resisted or argued against. There cannot be any alternative set of propositions. There cannot be any debate. They are a doctrinal belief system of power.

Indeed, atheism has given us through such ideologies a faith which repels reason. Ideologies such as environmentalism, or the belief in the innate harmony of the natural world; scientism, or the belief that everything in the universe has a scientific explanation; moral relativism, or the belief that everyone’s value system is equal to everyone else’s; multiculturalism, or the belief that no culture can take precedence over any other; egalitarianism, or the belief that everyone is entitled to identical outcomes regardless of their behaviour. These all repel reason because, instead of looking at evidence to reach a conclusion, they start with the governing idea and force the evidence to fit it.

All these ideologies are secular, undermining some aspect of Judaeo-Christian belief or ethics. But here’s the strange thing: they all display characteristics not just of Christian religious belief — a body of doctrine, a belief that their story is the sole pathway to virtue, an instinct to evangelise — they also share a feature common to the religious fanaticism of previous centuries (and past and present Islam): millenarianism.

Millenarianism is a religious belief in the perfection of mankind and life on earth, often associated with an apocalypse. It is a doctrine of collective and total salvation, and it leads inescapably to a totalitarian mindset. Because it is an unchallengeable doctrine of perfecting the world, any dissenter must be evil and so must be destroyed.

It is generally assumed that the Enlightenment put an end to that kind of religious fanaticism which gave rise to the terrible religious persecutions in the medieval world. In fact, the Enlightenment merely served to secularise millenarian fantasies. This was embodied in the core idea, no less, of the Enlightenment itself: that reason would bring about perfection on Earth, and that “progress” was the process by which utopia would be attained.

In the 18th century the Enlightenment thinker Condorcet wrote: “No bounds have been fixed to the improvement of the human race. The perfectibility of man is absolutely infinite…” In the 19th century Herbert Spencer, the apostle of Social Darwinism, similarly believed that life would get better all the time. He wrote: “Progress is not an accident but a necessity. Surely must evil and immorality disappear; surely must man become perfect.” It was reason that would redeem religious superstition and bring about the kingdom of man on Earth.

Just as Lenin believed, whatever fosters the revolution is therefore good; whatever hinders it is bad. In the millenarian and totalitarian mind, there is never any middle ground; and truth and reason are turned upside down to fit.

Unlike Soviet Communism, the mass movements of today are not so much political as cultural: anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism, environmentalism, scientism, egalitarianism, anti-racism, libertinism and multiculturalism. These are all not merely quasi-religious movements — evangelical, dogmatic, fanatical and with enforcement mechanisms ranging from demonisation to expulsion in order to stamp out any heresies. They are also millenarian and even apocalyptic in their visions of the perfect society and what needs to be swept aside in order to attain it.

They name the crimes committed by humanity — oppression of third world peoples, despoliation of the natural world, bigotry, war — and offer redemption and salvation by returning to the true faith. Dissenters are heretics forming diabolical conspiracies against the one revealed truth. Since it is believed that the decision to invade Iraq, Israel’s military operations, opposition to man-made global warming and the persistence of religious faith cannot possibly have any reasonable basis because they all deny the absolute and unchallengeable truths of anti-imperialism, environmentalism and scientific materialism, the only explanation for them must lie in conspiracies by the neocons, the Jews, Big Oil and the creationists, whose various hidden hands are detected in every development.

In today’s society the left-wing intelligentsia, the environmentalists and the Darwinists are the modern equivalent of the Gnostics, the priestly millenarian caste whose higher knowledge of perfect truths puts them on to a superior plane from the rest of humanity: us lesser mortals who have to be exhorted to change our ways in order to be saved from blood-curdling apocalyptic scenarios — war and social disorder, floods, famine and pestilence, genocidal slaughter perpetrated (only) by religious fanatics but never by atheists (the many millions who perished under Stalin or Mao are brushed aside).

The environmentalists, for example, possess through their scientific credentials sole access to the truth that the planet is being destroyed. They preach that the Earth has been sinned against by capitalism, consumerism, the West, science, technology, mankind. Only when these are purged and materialism in all its aspects rejected will the Earth be saved and the innate harmony of the world restored.

In a similar vein, Richard Dawkins asserts from his position as chief Gnostic of the natural sciences that all must comply with his pronouncements on pain of being excommunicated from the realm of rationality. By redeeming its original sin of religious belief mankind can create an unbelievers’ paradise, an anti-Eden, with no war, bigotry, persecution, tyranny, violence — indeed, no ills apparently of any kind. Gehinnom replaced by John Lennon heaven. Imagine!

And the religion that gives us John Lennon heaven is materialism — which has led atheist scientists to morph from science into scientism.

“Scientism” is the belief that there is a material explanation for everything in the Universe and beyond. Of course, there are — and always have been — many scientists who are also religious believers and see no conflict in these two parallel spheres of science and religion. Indeed, they think that each informs and deepens the other. By contrast, scientism holds that there is no place for religious faith at all because everything has an empirical explanation. Thus Oxford chemistry professor Peter Atkins has claimed: “There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence.”

But there are clearly many aspects of existence which lie beyond the province of science — love, appreciation of beauty, belief in right and wrong. Only dogmatism gives rise to the belief that there is no such thing as understanding aesthetic phenomena. Nevertheless, such dogmatism is precisely what is on display amongst scientists for whom science defines the world.

Since they don’t accept that there can possibly be any questions science can’t answer, the fact that it cannot answer such questions only proves that they should not be asked at all. The fact that science can’t answer questions of ultimate purpose proves that there is no such thing as any ultimate purpose. The fact that science cannot prove the existence of God merely proves that God does not exist.

Yet as the theoretical particle physicist Stephen Barr observed, “materialism” is not actually science at all but a school of philosophy defined by the belief that nothing exists except matter. And this was also a “passionately held ideology” — with a purpose.

“Its adherents”, he said, “see science as having a mission that goes beyond the mere investigation of nature or the discovery of physical laws. That mission is to free mankind from superstition in all its forms, and especially in the form of religious belief.”

In other words, the “materialism explains everything” school had less to do with explaining the world — the true aim of science — and more to do with changing the world.

This goes right back to the 16th century and the father of science, Francis Bacon, who thought the point of scientific inquiry was not the advancement of knowledge but to bring about utopia. Then scroll down to the 19th century when Auguste Comte propounded the doctrine of “positivism”, in which science would supplant Christianity in Europe in an attempt to liberate humanity by reason from the “arbitrary” wishes of an absolute Being to whom men were deemed to be slaves.

Comte openly presented positivism as a religion with scientists becoming the new clergy. And as the priesthood of humanity, positivists would allow no deviation from the one received truth. They alone would decide what was to be thought; there would be no freedom of thought or conscience in the form of any dissent.

But here’s the thing. Comte wanted reason to replace religion. But he also thought that knowledge had to be based upon experience. And since experience is subjective, his thinking inevitably detached the mind from objectivity — and thus eventually from science.

As a result, so-called “rational” positivism plunged headfirst into deepest irrationality as Comte eulogised fetishism, or the worship of objects which were invested with spiritual qualities.

In a similar way, “directed panspermia” — or “little green men” planting the first seeds of life on Earth — also shows how, by fetishising material explanations, scientific atheism leads directly into irrationality and absurdity.

Scientism, materialism, environmentalism and all the other secular ideologies claim to be based on unchallengeable truths. In fact, they all manipulate, twist and distort the evidence to support and “prove” their governing idea. False beliefs are thus presented as axiomatically true. Moreover, because they proclaim the exclusive truth they have to maintain at all costs the integrity of the lie. So all dissent has to be resisted through coercive means. Knowledge is thus forced to give way to power. Reason is replaced by bullying, intimidation and the suppression of debate.

In the 20th century, the political totalitarianism of both Communism and fascism echoed the pre-modern despotism of the church in declaring themselves the arbiters of a totalising worldview which would crush all dissent. With both Communism and fascism defeated, however, the West has fallen victim to a third variation on the theme: not religious or political but cultural totalitarianism.

If religious totalitarianism was rule by the church and political totalitarianism was rule by the “general will”, cultural totalitarianism is rule by the subjective individual. With morality privatised so that everyone becomes his or her own moral authority, the laws and traditions of the West rooted in Christianity and the Hebrew Bible have come under explicit attack. With no purpose or order in the world, it’s everyone for himself. Moral and cultural relativism are the order of the day. Any attempt to prioritise any culture or lifestyle over any other is illegitimate. Subjective individualism is the one revealed truth, the old order of Western civilisation has to be destroyed and any dissent is to be stamped out.

Medieval Christianity — like contemporary Islamism — stamped out dissent by killing or conversion; Western liberals do it by social and professional ostracism and legal discrimination. It is a kind of secular Inquisition. And the grand inquisitors are to be found within the intelligentsia — the universities, the media, the law and the political and professional classes — who not only have systematically undermined the foundations of Western society but are heavily engaged in attempting to suppress any challenge or protest.

It is hard to overstate the influence of these left-wing doctrines on our culture. They form the unchallengeable orthodoxy within academia, from which base-camp they have set forth on their “long march through the institutions” which they have colonised with stunning success. They have managed, furthermore, to shift the centre of political gravity so that anyone who does not share these values is defined as extreme.

For the Left believes that its secular, materialistic, individualistic and utilitarian values represent not a point of view but virtue itself.  No decent person can therefore oppose them. Anyone who does so is automatically “right-wing”. In fact, such opponents may have no ideological position. But the Left cannot acknowledge such a possibility. In Manichean fashion it divides the world into two opposing and exclusive camps, good and evil; and so it creates as the sole alternative to itself a demonic political camp, to which everyone who challenges it is automatically consigned. Since anything that is not the Left is therefore “the Right”, and since “the Right” is by definition evil, to challenge any left-wing shibboleth is to be labelled “right-wing” and put oneself totally beyond the moral pale.

So there can be no dissent or argument at all. Only one world-view is to be permitted and all other views are to be suppressed or destroyed. And because all that is evil is “right-wing” and all that is “right-wing” is evil, anyone who supports Israel or the Americans in Iraq, is sceptical of anthropogenic global warming, opposes multiculturalism or utilitarianism, supports capitalism or is a believing Christian is not only evil but also “right-wing”.

In a follow-up to our “little green men” conversation, Richard Dawkins once again provided an example of what I’m talking about. In a lecture to the American Atheists’ Association, which was mainly an attack upon a Christian professor of mathematics who is one of his fiercest critics, he also claimed — falsely — that I had selectively quoted him in order to misrepresent what he had said. In fact, since he was ascribing to me something that someone else altogether had written, it was he who had misquoted me. Nevertheless, the point of this anecdote is that, intent as he was on dramatising to the American Atheists’ Association the full depth of my iniquity, he displayed on screen just three words to sum up what both I and the maths professor had done. Those words were “Lying for Jesus”.

In other words, just as the Left assume that all evil people are “right-wing’ and all “right-wing” people are evil, so Dawkins appears to think that everyone who opposes scientism and evangelical atheism is an evil Christian. Since I am actually a Jew, I’m not sure quite where that places me on the spectrum of infamy.

Dawkins’s star may now be on the wane, since his extremism has begun to grate even among his erstwhile fans. But the witch-hunting of dissenters from the revealed truths of secular ideology continues to escalate.

For the millenarian, the high-minded belief in creating a perfect world requires the imperfect world to be purified by the true believers. From the French Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety to Iran’s moral police, from Stalin’s purges of dissidents to British and American “hate crime” laws, utopians of every stripe have instigated coercive or tyrannical regimes to save the world by ridding it of its perceived corruption.

The symmetry today is as obvious as it is striking. At a time when radical Islam is attempting to purify the world by conquering it for Islam and thus create the kingdom of God on earth, the West is also trying to purify the world in order to create a secular utopia in which war will become a thing of the past, prejudice, hatred and selfishness will be eradicated from the human heart, reason will replace superstition, humanity will live in harmony with the earth and all division will yield to the brotherhood of man.

The result is actually a culture in which injustice is rampant and morality has been negated. With “discrimination” now the supreme crime and the very idea of a hierarchy of cultures, beliefs or lifestyles deemed to be discriminatory, self-designated “victim groups” can do no wrong while the majority culture can do no right. Any objective evidence of harm that may be done by such “victim” groups has been swept away. All that matters is that they must not be made to feel bad about themselves, nor be put at any disadvantage even if this results from their own actions.

Activities previously marginalised or considered transgressive are privileged. Those considered to embody normative values are actively discriminated against. In the cause of non-judgmentalism, only those who are in favour of moral judgments based on the ethical codes of the Bible are to be judged and condemned. In the cause of anti-discrimination, only those who believe in a level playing-field are to be discriminated against. In the cause of freedom, those who seek to limit its absolute and anarchic expression in order to prevent harm to others are to be denied the freedom to do so.

But there is a further curiosity — that in doing this, the secular, post-religious West is not merely adopting a quasi-religious posture but a specifically Christian one. The governing story of Christianity is of sin, guilt and redemption. And, remarkably, that is precisely the pattern lying behind the utopian agendas of Western secular progressives.

For the Left, the West is guilty of the exploitation of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. Britain has to do penance for the sins of imperialism and racism. Israel has to do penance for the sins of colonialism and racism. America has to do penance for the sins of imperialism, slavery and racism.

For the environmentalists, the West is guilty of the sins of consumerism and greed, acquisition, and luxury which have given it far more than it needs. So these things must be taken away and the West must return to a simpler, austere, pre-industrial way of life.

And because of its sins, the West is being punished through the wars and terrorism being waged against it. The West “had it coming to it” on account of its manifold iniquities. So America is responsible for Islamic terrorism that murders American innocents. Israel is responsible for Palestinian terrorism that murders Israeli innocents. And Britain is responsible for the radicalisation of British Muslims and the 7/7 London bus and Tube attacks in which dozens of British innocents were murdered, because it has backed America and Israel and is guilty of “Islamophobia”.

As a result of all this sin, guilt and punishment the Western progressive soul yearns for expiation and redemption. By electing Barack Obama as president of the United States, Americans wanted to redeem their country’s original sins of slavery and racism. Through the demonisation of Israel, Christian Europe wants to redeem its original sin of anti-Semitism. By campaigning against carbon emissions, environmentalists want to redeem the original sin of human existence.

As for the scientific materialists, the sin to be redeemed is not by man against God but by God against man. Their governing story is that uncorrupted man fell from the Garden of Reason when he partook of the forbidden fruit of religion — which now has to be purged from the world to create the kingdom of man on earth.

And for all these millenarians and apocalypticists and utopians, religious and secular, the target is the West. As Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit write in their book Occidentalism, the West is seen as a threat “not because it offers an alternative system of values but because its promises of material comfort, individual freedom and dignity of unexceptional lives deflate all utopian pretensions. The anti-heroic, anti-utopian nature of Western liberalism is the greatest enemy of religious radicals, priest-kings and collective seekers after purity and heroic salvation.”

That’s why the West is squarely in the sights of all who want to create utopia and are determined to remove all the obstacles it places in its way. For environmentalists, that obstacle is industrialisation. For scientific materialists, it’s religion. For transnational progressives, it’s the nation. For anti-imperialists, it’s American exceptionalism. For the Western intelligentsia, it’s Israel. And for the Islamic world, it’s the entire un-Islamic world.

I hope I’ve shown how these false faiths of ideology have not only sought to replace biblical religion but have used the characteristics of religious extremism to do so. The curiosity is that in their warped way they are all types of belief, types of faith. Moreover, in a society that prides itself on rationality there is a huge growth in paganism, the occult, parapsychology and the like. Of course it brings to mind the famous quote attributed (not necessarily correctly) to G.K. Chesterton: “When a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing, he’ll believe in anything.”

Whoever actually said that, it’s clearly true. So the great question is this: why do people continue to believe, even when they scorn organised religion as irrational or irrelevant?

Religious people would say that this shows the existence of God. Richard Dawkins would say it’s a “meme”, a kind of thought-gene which transmits itself from one generation to another. But memes don’t exist — another example of the retreat into fantasy which atheists call being rational.

The obvious answer is that people have a profound need for something to exist outside themselves, something that gives a purpose to life. And when they deny the belief that there is something beyond this world, you could say that they seek that purpose within this world in secular ideologies.

Except that doesn’t quite answer the question. Because one might assume that the reason they turn away from organised religion is because they reject any non-materialist beliefs as irrational mumbo-jumbo. Yet as I have tried to show, so much of what they do believe is irrational mumbo-jumbo. So there has to be some other explanation.

To help solve the conundrum, let’s turn the question on its head. Rather than ask what causes people to believe, let’s ask instead what causes militant atheists to hate religious belief so much. Why does it matter so much to them that people have religious faith? Why don’t they just dismiss them as cranks and just leave it at that? Why does it matter so much, as the geneticist Richard Lewontin candidly admitted, that scientists will come up with crazy propositions in order to prevent “the divine foot in the door”?

One clue, I think, lay in the slogan on the side of the bus hired by atheists back in 2009 to spread the non-believing word. That slogan read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” In other words, nasty religion puts constraints on your behaviour and makes you miserable. In order to enjoy life you just have to shake off religion and lose those constraints and then you will be happy.

I think this fatuous slogan gets to the heart of why people have turned away from biblical religion — not because it is irrational but because it puts constraints on their behaviour. This is the source of the hatred — that biblical religion is seen as a restraint on the ability to behave exactly as you want. What such people don’t realise is that true freedom only exists within constraints; and far from expanding freedom, unconstrained libertinism leads straight to abuses of power. As we can see from the ideological false faiths that are filling the vacuum.

Which leads me to my conclusion. The only way out of this, the slow throttling of freedom of thought by secular ideologies and the corresponding erosion of morality and order, is to return to the true faith of biblical religion. To which people say: this is impossible in a world governed by reason. But as I hope I have shown, it’s not reason at all. People currently believe all kinds of rubbish. If they are prepared to believe a dozen impossible things before breakfast, there’s surely no reason why they can’t believe the one allegedly impossible thing for which there exist centuries of scholarly exegesis and an impressive measure of supporting evidence. All that’s needed is for God to have some rather better PR — for rabbis and priests to start marketing their brands in more imaginative and attractive ways. Ways which don’t duck the mystery at the heart of existence which the false faiths of ideology, no less than organised religion itself, are patently quite unable to explain.



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