Tuesday, 11 January 2011

God is Omnipresent in Our Lives and Throughout the Universe

God is Omnipresent in Our Lives
And throughout the Universe

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Whether people believe in God or in the existence of God or not, the divine’s presence is eternal, universal and all-pervading and God will remain timelessly present in our lives and throughout the universe. Having said that, I have to acknowledge that there are some people who question the existence of God, who debated the presence of God. Non-believers or atheists have every right to believe in whatever ism or ideas they wish to believe in. Atheist Christopher Hitchens, terminally ill with cancer, recently challenged the former British Prime Minister Mr. Tony Blair to a televised debate in Canada about God.

Before the debate, the Canadian organizer arranged for a poll. The Ipsos poll, conducted in last September, found that Europe was the region most doubtful about the benefits of religion, with just 19% in Sweden agreeing that it was a force for good. At the other end of the scale, in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, it was seen as a positive force by more than 90% of those questioned in the 23-country poll. Within North America, it is reported, there was a pronounced divide. In Canada only 36% agreed with the positive view of religion whereas 64% saw it as a negative force – figures almost exactly the reverse of those in the US.

Televised debate between Tony Blair
and Christopher Hitchens
A Televised debate took place in November 2010 between the former Prime Minister Mr Blair, Catholic convert, and Mr Christopher Hitchens, atheist and columnist. Mr. Blair defended religious faith as a force for good in the world during the televised debate. He argued that faith is a force for good.

During the debate, which was won by him by two to one, Mr. Blair, 57, who became a practicing Christian while studying at Oxford University, said: “It is undoubtedly true that people commit horrific acts of evil in the name of religion. It is also undoubtedly true that people do acts of extraordinary common good inspired by religion.”

Mr. Blair also told the 2,700-strong audience in Toronto, Canada the good done by faith-based organizations, including the millions of lives saved in Africa and care for the mentally ill, disabled and destitute, adding: “The proposition that religion is unadulterated poison is unsustainable. It can be destructive; it can also create a deep well of compassion and frequently does.”

Religious debate panel
In the week that atheist Christopher Hitchens challenged Tony Blair to a debate about God, Anushka Asthana, The Observer’s Policy editor, based in Westminster, conducted a religious debate with a panel of five leading thinkers, asking do we need a deity? The panelists were former Liberal-Democrat MP, Evan Harris; deputy director of the Muslim Institute and freelance journalist living in London, Samia Rahman; Labour MP for Dagenham Mr. Jon Cruddas; former editor of the Catholic Herald as well as former deputy editor of the New Statesman, Cristina Odone and a philosopher AC Grayling who has written a number of articles about the worth of religion including one for the New Statesman entitled The Empty Name of God.
Anushka Asthana enquired what would a world without religion look like? The Observer carried the whole religious panel debate in one of its Sunday issue in the middle of November 2010. Replying to this, Cristina Odone said, “"I must stress here that I embrace the concept of religion as faith rather than simply a structure like the Vatican or a synagogue. When I think of religion I think of the injunctions that it has given its followers. Repair the world, a Jewish commandment. Love thy neighbour as thyself, the most famous Christian commandment. And look upon charity as something that you must do every day that the sun rises, which is a Muslim injunction.”
She also mentioned, “When I think of religion I think of the injunctions that it has given its followers. Repair the world, a Jewish commandment. Love thy neighbour as thyself, the most famous Christian commandment. And look upon charity as something that you must do every day that the sun rises, which is a Muslim injunction. I think without such wonderful exhortations, our spirit would be the poorer and so would our society.”
Jon Cruddas replied, “I agree I think the generic element of all religions is the search for compassion. That’s quite a good departure point in terms of how you live your life..the search for virtue in our world.”
Even Harris said, “the real question is, ‘What would the world be like without organized religion’? Everyone has beliefs – it’s not reasonable to suggest that people wouldn’t have beliefs, mystical or otherwise. I think I’m with John Lennon on this, that it would be much better place in terms of peace.”
Samia Rahman said, “"I see religion and the practice of religion as often an extension of [an] individual's personality and their existing thoughts and beliefs and their characteristics. And so I see this oppositionality between belief and non-belief as almost a moot point. We have shared values. Religion offers many people a framework and a moral compass and they navigate through the framework and through the guidelines that their religion offers them and they come to their own conclusion and their own way of living.
"So I do have difficulty with the dichotomy between belief and non-belief and I think we can look at the intersections and where we do agree and gain something from that, rather than constantly positioning ourselves as the other," she mentioned.
Religion for Peace UK Lecture by
Oliver McTernan at the House of Lords
During the National Inter Faith Week from Sunday 21 to Saturday 27 November, 2010, many events, meetings and seminars were organised by different organisations. The Religion for Peace also organised a meeting at the House of Lords, on Wednesday, 24th of November, 2010 where the Religion for Peace UK Lecture entitled “Has Faith a Role to Play in Shaping Public and International Policy?” was delivered by Mr. Oliver McTernan, Director of Forward Thinking, London.
Referring to The Observer’s Religious Debate on Sunday: “Is religion a force for good or would we be happier without God?” and also a similar debate ran by The Economist online a few weeks ago, Mr. Oliver McTernan said, “Problem I find is the people involved in the public debate often frame their arguments in terms of unhelpful caricatures of the other. As a consequence we very often end up with a clash of perceptions rather than a more insightful understanding of the core issues and legitimate concerns that exist between believers and non-believers.”
“Many secular intellectuals think that the real “clash of civilisations” is not between different religions but between superstition and modernity. This has been the underlining argument of a succession of bestselling books attacking religion and arguing that faith has no place in the public arena—Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith”, Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’s “God is not Great—How Religion Poisons Everything”. They argue with such passion that it reflects a religious intensity,” mentioned Mr. McTernan and said, “Another characteristic of such debates is very often a flawed logic: particular episodes or positions too often lead to general conclusions. An element of truth is so often made into the whole truth.”
Mr. McTernan said that if we are to have an enlightened and constructive debate on the role of faith in shaping public policy “we have to understand the motives and the genuine concerns of those who would argue that religion should be relegated to the purely private sphere of life,” he said.
In this connection, Mr. McTernan referred to an article in the Economist published in 2007, where the editor, John Micklethwait argued that part of that secular fury against religion playing any role in the public sphere, especially in Europe, comes simply from exasperation. He quoted, “After all” he wrote, “it has been a canon of progressive thought since the Enlightenment that modernity—that heady combination of science, learning and democracy—would kill religion. Plainly, this has not happened. Numbers about religious observance are notoriously untrustworthy, but most of them seem to indicate that any drift towards secularism has been halted, and some show religion to be on the increase. The proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism—rose from 67% in 1900 to 73% in 2005 and may reach 80% by 2050”.
Mr. McTernan continued to quote Mr. Micklethwait who argued that what made their concern even greater is that from a secularist point of view, the wrong sorts of religion are flourishing, and in the wrong places. “In general, it is the tougher versions of religion that are doing best—the sort that claim Adam and Eve met 6,003 years ago. Some of the new converts are from the ranks of the underprivileged (Pentecostalism has spread rapidly in the favelas of Brazil), but many are not. American evangelicals tend to be well-educated and well-off. In India and Turkey religious parties have been driven by the up-and-coming bourgeoisie.”
Mr. McTernan fully endorsed John Micklethwait’s analysis
“One of the main obstacles that prevents a more enlightened public debate on the role of faith shaping policy is the gap in understanding exists between the western political/social thinking and the diverse faith communities within Europe. The post enlightenment social/political mindset is profoundly secularist and as such only reluctantly tolerates religion provided that it is seen as a purely individual and private affair. On the other hand believers feel themselves under attack and retreat into uncompromising hard line positions on social and moral issues,” said Mr. McTernan and added, “It has been said that the combination of Westphalia and the Enlightenment have been ‘a double whammy for religion’”.
Mr. McTernan also said, “The Enlightenment, the secularists argue, challenged the old religious certainties, making science the new paradigm of understanding the world. Religion lingers on as a comforting myth for those who need support in times of personal crisis but having been relegated from the mainstream to the backwaters it has ceased to have any impact on the social or political life in modern society.”
Mr.McTernan mentioned, “Thinkers like Marx, Freud and Durkheim who helped to shape modern political and social theory were greatly influenced by the projection theories of the Greeks that saw the gods as nothing other than an objectification of human needs and desires. Religion they argued is a social construct, the product of particular social conditions which when changed will eradicate the need for religion. Marx looked on religion as an economic tool, an ideology that legitimised social oppression. For Freud it was a psychological illness that perpetuated the need for security. For Durkheim it was society worshipping itself.”
“If this is the historical and philosophical framework that shapes current western social political thinking the simple message people of faith need to get across today is that religion matters and needs to be recognized as a genuine motivator in their lives and needs to be respected as such,” said Mr. McTernan and added, “This can only be achieved if there is a major paradigm shift in the way in which the secular and religious worlds relate to one another.”
Referring to our contemporary multi cultural faith society as Britain is today, Mr. McTernan said, “religious leaders need to challenge the fears and prejudices that have so often driven the relationships between the diverse traditions as well as the wider society, leading to suspicion and at times negative perceptions of one another, and to focus within their respective faith communities on those teachings that at least implicitly acknowledge the right of others to believe and to act differently. To uphold and to defend the right of others to make truth claims, different from their own, and to act upon them, provided that these are not detrimental to the rights and well being of others, would be a significant step in addressing the clash in understanding that now exists between believers and wider society.”
Mr. McTernan said, “The prime purpose of religious dogmas, worship, laws and community is to enable people to discover the transcendent – the divine presence- in the midst of the contemporary human experience. These are props, as it were, that are meant to point the way or sharpen our awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Only when people reach the mystical level of belief are they able to deal with the plurality of life without feeling threatened.”
Mr. McTernan maintained, “The political decision makers also need to reassess the marginalized role relegated to religion in the past. There is a real and urgent need to pay genuine attention to the religious values and concerns that shape people’s political thinking and actions.”
“That said I believe it is equally important that the political decision makers respect the boundaries between secular and religious life. No government should presume the right to interfere in matters of belief or to promote one theological interpretation to the detriment of others. These are internal matters of faith and should be respected as such,” said Mr. McTernan and added, “In Britain recently we have witnessed a deeply worrying trend with government ministers openly promoting what they judge to be a ‘moderate’, and therefore presumably a more politically acceptable, brand of Islam. It is almost as if we are slipping back into a Westphalia mode of thinking that gives the ruler that right to determine the faith and practices of his subjects. This lack of understanding and respect for the need for boundaries on both sides can only cause greater suspicion and tension within a society.”
Mr. McTernan also said, “There is a clear need to promote at every level of political decision making a dialogue aimed at promoting awareness and understanding that can help to reshape the secular mindset that tends to dismiss religion as a backward and repressive phenomenon.”

“Whether we regard ourselves as secular or religious, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or indeed a non believer, we share a common responsibility for the security and well being of the whole of humanity. None of us can afford to ignore the challenge of allowing events on the ground to create the level of polarization that could so easily allow the flawed theory of a clash of civilizations becoming a reality. At the global and national level we need to create space for a real and genuine dialogue,” said McTernan.
Mr. McTernan mentioned, “Our Western secularist way of thinking has great difficulty in comprehending how religious belief can profoundly shape peoples’ political and social values as well as their identity. In the West we have grown to separate a spiritual identity from a communal identity. The ‘believing but not belonging’ phenomenon observed by the American social scientist Robert Putnam is inconceivable within most of the religious traditions represented here tonight.”

McTernan said, “To believe is essentially to belong to a community. Any outside interference therefore in the community’s structures or governance risks being perceived as an attack on the faith itself. The failure to give sufficient attention to this fundamental fact that faith and community cannot be separated can lead to the deep suspicions of a government’s intentions. The boundaries between the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities of the faith community need to be recognised and respected by both sides.”

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