The space between belief and disbelief
The concept of an unknowable god roots us in our humanity, but also makes it possible for us to strive for more
I recently witnessed an acrimonious debate between a New Atheist and a couple of religious people (a Muslim and a Christian, actually). The New Atheist wanted to prove that god did not exist, and the Muslim and Christian believers were just as adamant that god existed. Finally, as often happens, all three turned to the non-participant in the room, and asked him to adjudicate. That was, alas, me.
Tabish Khair has been writing in the Times of India since those days when it was an upward struggle for yours truly to understand even the news in it.
Then he quit India after the bigots of anti-Muslim kind sent him a parcel with filthy matter in it. That too was a long time ago - around the time of the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
Being a Muslim he should have an advantage over a New Atheist as well as a Christian when it comes to the attributes of God. In this note he does not betray any such qualification. Clearly every Muslim should listen to what Dr Zakir Naik says in his lecture on the Concept of God in Major World Religions. Dr Naik has improved over his teacher in these matters - Shaikh ahmed Deedat. Hence his lecture is not only lucid but avante guarde too.
I did not want to answer them. It is usually my policy not to comment on matters of belief and disbelief, both of which tend to be put in highly reductive terms. But they insisted. So, I gave them an honest answer: “You cannot disbelieve in god without having the concept of god, and you cannot have any conception of god without disbelieving in god.” Thankfully, they thought I was being facetious and continued their discussion without me.
The second part of his assertion is clearly not very clear - to say the least.
"There is no god but God" is an Islamic dictum and its beginning is what can be said in corroboration of his contention. But that is not what he is saying. He has made vaguely philosophical statement that simply does not help in solving the problem at hand - whether there is God nor not. This question is usually posed as a scientific inquiry but a scientific inquiry it is not. Whether there is God or not is a personal decision and all of us have to make this choice. One may ask that how can we believe in God without having and evidence for His existence. This evidence is what is supplied by Signs of God. these are scattered over the whole of the Noble Qur'an. You can look at these sSigns and on the basis of thies you have to make your decision. Then you have to stick to your decision.
But I am convinced that the main divide runs not between religion and atheism but through each of them. Thinking atheists and thinking religious believers actually share a lot, just as half-thinking atheists and half-thinking believers share a lot too.
Does it help? Is it relevant? Is it even true?
Why bring addiotional issues into discussion when you are trying to resolve the all important question whether there is God or not?
While all religions finally deal with some personification of deity — incarnation, son of god, names or attributes of god, etc. —
Islam, for example, is against idolization and Tabish Khair should know it.
... all religions also have a similar concept of god as beyond human comprehension of form-time-space,
Again not true. Christianity has trinity and Jesus Christ AS is one of the trinity and there is nothing abstract about him.
and as unchanging and impossible to fully define. Even so-called ‘primitive’ tribes worshipping totems have this concept, for the totem is not just a plant or an animal but something more than just that plant or animal.
If all stake holders agree on something then it should be taken as a clarification and resolution and need not be discussed in an article that is investigative in its objective.
In other words, the concept of god eludes human imagination and language.
It is true yet very missleading too.
Basically this can go in the following wrong direction -- since we can not fathom God therefore let us forget about Him.
One of the first modern thinkers to try to go beyond the unnecessary antagonism of religion and science was the German Oxford University don, Friedrich Max Müller. In the 1870s, he explained the concept of gods, ranging from those in Vedic India to classical Greece, by arguing that these were powerful forces of nature that got personified in language over the centuries. So, initially, Apollo meant just the Sun, but later Apollo got constructed as a male god, with increasing human (and superhuman) attributes.
One wonders why a Muslim should be trying to learn from a western about what God is. The Islamic concept of God is not that difficult to fathom. According to the Noble Qur'an God is Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim. That means Most Merciful, Most Benevolent. Now what is difficult about these two attributes? Similarly when we talk about few other attributes then we already have sifficient knowledge about Him to go about our daily life. Then one can keep on improving.
Everyone needs God. This includes the simple people. Clearly concept of God has to be simple. Of course there will also be some things that are complex about Him - these things will keep the sophisticated people engaged. why should we be surprised at it?
Max Müller’s version has long been dismissed in intellectual circles, but he had made a valid incidental point: the concept of god eludes human constructions, including those of language.
We just answered this confusion. And confusion is something that the Noble Qur'an simply does not admit, it dispels all confusion.
Whatever we say about god does not exhaust the concept of god, ...
Remember that quote about making all trees pen and all ocean ink?
If we accept it then why do we go back to this Profundity?
... and hence our beliefs can only be personal.
That is what we Muslims say. why is being presented as a revelation? Or a conclusion obtained by much thinking and analysis?
We shall reach a lot of truth by thinking and analysis but not whole of it.
For some of the necessary knowledge we shall have to depend upon the Noble qur'an.
They cannot be imposed on others.
It is there in Islam - there is no compulsion in religion.
again there was no need to rederive this conclusion.
As the medieval Sufi poet, Rumi, suggests in one of his poems, any person’s conception of god can be valid only for that person; to pass it on to another person (by persuasion, argument or force) is to pass on what cannot be communicated, what is bound to be reduced in language. Many major religious thinkers have seen this too: the Muslim Avicenna or Ibn Sina (11th century) and the Christian Thomas Aquinas (13th century), among others.
Rumi can be taken as an authority but why start with him when you have the Book?
Ibn Sina is not that reliable on theology and Thomas Aquinas is not simply a Muslim.
In matters of religion, particularly God, it is risky to mix no-Islamic thought with Islamic.
The opposition to images of divinity that we find in iconoclastic religions, most obdurately Islam, is a consequence of this realisation. The divine, such religions argue, cannot be given a human shape. Hence, we have the Taliban blowing up the ancient statues of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001. Incidentally, though, this does not get us out of the conundrum: there is not that much of a difference between imagining god in human or animal shapes and attributing human (or animal) attributes to god.
We can agree with these observations but it is still strange that a Muslim should be mixing knowledge from various sources giving them equal status. When a non-Muslim asks a Muslim about any theological issue the expectation will be that you shall give the Islamic answer. The liberal democratic answer will obtained from a liberal democrat.
When we say that god is merciful or loving, we use a human concept to talk of god; it is not entirely different from saying that god is blue or wears a crown of thorns. This was the hidden gem in Max Müller’s perception: we can imagine anything only through language and our own experiences, and hence there is a tendency to personify the concept of god. It is a bit like saying that a quantum particle is both wave and particle and neither wave nor particle. What we mean is that we cannot really imagine quantum particles except by using what we have experienced in life and language: waves and particles.
Again there is mixing of divergent sources here.
This is usually the bane of philosophical talk.
While talking about God one should simply jump to spirituality and shun philosophy completely.
The author admits in above paragraph that idolization is not a worthwhile pursuit.
Then he also says we should not insist upon classifying a quantum entity as a wave or a particle.
Idolization does not capture assence of God and wave or particle attributes separately do not capture the essence of a microscopic system in Physics.
But if these statements are correct then what is wrong in saying them?
Well we must avoid giving any worldly examples of God's form.
Including wave-particle duality.
Wave-particle duality is complex issue.
God is needed even by those who can not fathom quantum mechanics.
The concept of god is exactly this point, which escapes our imagination.
Islam has clarified it for us that we should not try any physical image for God.
We need it for two main reasons. One, because it is only by situating ourselves between the knowable and the unknowable that we become human.
Again Mr Khair brings additional philosophical concepts - knowable and not knwoable.
Islamic attitude is that we simply focus on God's attributes and names and that is all.
Two, because to let go of the concept runs the risk of reducing everything to the known (which is sacrilege for the truly religious and hubris for the truly scientific) or to give up our claim on that which exceeds our current understanding.
If you restrict yourself to attributes and names of God this entanglement will not fall upon you.
The concept of an unknowable god roots us in our humanity, but also makes it possible for us to strive for more — including more knowledge, which only comes with the knowledge that we do not and cannot have perfect knowledge (which belongs only to ‘god’).
This is again the wrong end of the rod.
You can know all that you need about God and that is all that matters.
That is why thinking atheists cannot do away with the concept of god.
Atheists have made their decision about God and we have to leave them to their ways.
That is what Islam says.
That is also why the religious cannot claim to know god.
So I can not claim: (1) There is no god but God, (2) He is Most Merciful, (3) He is Most Beneficent....
Is that not absurd?
We become human in exactly that space where we are not animals (whose possibility of knowledge is restricted to what they already know) and where we are never ‘god’ (whose possibility of knowledge is complete and infinite).
The question, I suppose, is whether there is God or not.
What is Mr Khiar's decision?
He has not betrayed in this note.
We know the answer though - in spite of the fact that Mr Khair is trying to be very sophisticated, refined, knowledgeable.
He is simply not decided about existence of God.
That is a pity.
May Allah SWT make it easy for him.
May He also make the things easy for us.
Source : The-Hindu