Why I stopped believing in God and Religion

Love is Stronger than Hate

Love is Stronger than Hate

Over the past few years, countless people, both friends and trolls alike, have asked me about my religious views. The accusations that I am a shill on the payroll of the Iranian government have made some believe I desire a Shia Islamic theocratic state in Bahrain. Yet what with Charlie Hebdo and the Islamic State being such an important part of the past year, I can’t help but talk about my own religious beliefs, or lack thereof. This is a work in progress, but I wanted to get my ideas out there, and have people share their own. 

 

Youth

I was brought up Christian, Church of England I think. I say ‘I think’ because frankly, I have no idea. I went to Sunday School briefly, and my mum would read the bible to us and ensure we said our prayers before we went to bed. As with most things of this kind, I did not enjoy them (I quit the Cubs after about three weeks, and never made it to the Boy Scouts). Sure I believed it all for a while, even to the point of OCD, where I’d say short prayers in my head asking for forgiveness every time I did something wrong – like swore, or had raunchy thoughts. I guess God seemed so badass and the idea of hell was so scary that I did not take my chances. I even remember wondering how people could not believe in a God. After all, the universe must have come from something. Of course it did not take long to realise, ala Bertrand Russell, that that argument is problematic; by asking that question, I was also asking – how can God come from nothing? I realised I was using the law of the conservation of energy to justify a metaphysical being, and using it badly.

Nonetheless, I was not particularly superstitious. I was actually  the annoying person who told others that the idea of Santa Claus was ludicrous. How could one guy visit all the world’s children in one night, and know if they’d been naughty or nice? (nowadays of course, Mr. Claus would probably fall under suspicion in operation Yewtree, but that’s beside the point…) Like many people I simultaneously harboured rational and irrational beliefs, yet the religious upbringing was not a myth knowingly concocted by my mum, it was something even she believed! But God did not come up too much in day-to-day conversation. If it did, then my memory is poor. However, one chat remains in my head. When I was about 11, a friend told me that he stopped believing in God when he prayed for his favourite football team to win and they lost. I simply said, ‘what about all the other people who prayed for the other team to win’?

At the age of 12, during my own ‘enlightenment’, or periods of critical reflection, I realized it was the principle of fairness that undid my idea of God. I am not sure where this principle came from, but my reasoning was fairly simple. According to the bible, the earth was only about 4,000 years old, yet I knew from biology that creatures had been around for billions of years, and humans hundreds of thousands. I also believed that humans had evolved, as did most of my cohort, religious or not. I then began to wonder whether humans, who had existed before the existence of Abrahamic Gods, went to heaven or hell. I mean, if they didn’t know about God from the prophets, it was surely not their fault, so it would be unfair for them to go to hell? If they did go to hell because of their ‘ignorance’, then surely that’s not fair! Similarly, if they went to heaven because of their ‘ignorance’, then knowledge of God is surely just a burden. Ignorance was bliss, as they say!

Discarding God

With this newfound revelation, I more or less decided religion was hokum. Yet due to my upbringing, I always found it hard to say I was an an atheist. I guess I had that ‘residual fear’ of damnation. It was silly of course, but fear is a powerful thing. Harbouring my cynicism, I still found religion interesting. Often I explored it indirectly through relationships. I dated a Baha’i girl for a while. When we first met I thought she said ‘I’m bi’, which I thought remarkably forward. Joking aside, I loved the Baha’i community. They  were kind, welcoming, and tolerant. However, I found out like most Abrahamic religions there were undercurrents of misogyny and homophobia, so I discarded it (admittedly, this was more in doctrine than the hearts of my friends). Yet I still have fond memories of that time. I was never compelled to believe, or encouraged to convert, and people did not throw it in my face. Indeed, most of our socialising was done through food. Maybe someone told God that the way to an agnostic’s heart was through his stomach?

I have also dated Muslim women. On one occasion, a father said ‘I don’t care who you marry, as long as he’s not Shi’a’. Another girl to whom I had become very close and who told me she loved me said that we could not marry as I was not a muslim, and I refused to convert. To me, conversion just meant succumbing to intolerance and bigotry. After all I did not expect her to convert, so why should I? And also, I objected to the argument that religion derived from the father; it was generally acceptable for muslim men to marry non-muslim women, and not the other way around. Again, I thought this a patriarchal anachronism. For me, converting, even in name, was to appease a judgemental family by succumbing to their perception of religious or communal superiority. I would certainly ignore my own parents advice if they did not want me to marry someone on account of their religion, race, or skin colour. I understood the pressure, but for me, principle transcended love.

Abrahamophobic?

On top of these experiences I have read a lot of religious texts. I personally find most a collection of relatively incoherent parables, stories, and fables. The Old Testament in particular is full of the most virulent and cruel passages, as is the bible in general. As for role models, Abraham’s conspiracy with God to murder his son Isaac did not endear me to religion.To me, God can only be defined by the interpretation of the holy texts in which he exists. Therefore, if most old testament books are to be believed, God is a bizarre paradox. Simultaneously merciful and ruthless, kind and cruel, just and unjust, open-minded and petty. In short, God seemed like a bit of a dick. Indeed, if there was a greater testament that such a god was man-made, it is surely these contradictions. God was man-made, a human construct.

For me, attempting to derive peace and serenity from these contradictions evoked the most crippling cognitive dissonance. I am not saying there is no good to be found in it. Far from it. Just a lot of bad too. Same is true of the Koran, which, to me, seems like it is plagiarized from the old and new testament. It condones slavery, places women beneath men, and advocate grisly punishments. Coupled with the hadiths (depending which you see as valid), scholars can justify all manner of things. Muhammad too, also struck me as a bit of a bad egg. How a prophet set an example by marrying a six year old, killing people, and conveniently having revelations when it suited me just seem like a total confidence trick. Some say not to take it out of context, and that it was an ‘improvement’ at the time (though try telling that to the  ‘pagans’ and Jews in Arabia), but if that’s the case, then why is it still relevant now? Also, any ‘good’ is also being taken out of context. Yet picking and choosing from religions is bizarre, especially in the case of the Koran, which is seen as the literal word of God.

Indeed, people seem to distill what they want from religion, whether it be calls for a peaceful existence or a violent campaign against an ‘other’. For this reason, religion cannot = peace. Peace is a convergence of every human endeavour throughout history that advocates peaceful and communal living. To say Islam, Judaism, or Christianity is peace, is to give in them undue credit. Peace = peace, and that’s it. Without a central authority or arbiter of religion, then who is able to define who is a true christian for example? Is it the pope? Does he only speak for Catholics. He is infallible after all…As for Muslims, who is the authority? Is it Al Azhar in Cairo, is it Fadlallah in Lebanon, or the Indonesian Ulema Council for example? If this is not the case then surely defining faith becomes about consensus among Muslims as a whole? Yet how do you gauge this? If belief becomes a democracy, and the tenets of religion as a ‘truth’ are undermined by the fact it is simply a book of advice that’s meaning derives only in its interpretation. If it is about truth, then defining who is a Muslim should be left to God, and not the vote. ‘ In this respect, if those who committed the acts in Paris define themselves as Muslims, who are we to say that they are not?

I realise I am focusing on Abrahamic religions, but that is just because of my own upbringing and current events. I posed on Twitter the question,  ‘I take issue with all religions in the Abrahamic tradition – Does that make me an Abrahamophobe?I do not reserve any special dislike for any Abrhamic religion, although I am against ambiguity. And to me, Abrahamic religions leave so much scope for interpretation, that they can justify almost everything, from wondrous good, to complete evil. Personally, I believe social justice is unambiguous. Where is the ambiguity in equality? Where are the clerics or vicars attempting to rationalise a verse about allowing slavery, or dashing babies against rocks? They do not exist. I also dismiss cultural relativism, as it can justify all manner of what I perceive to be evil. Of course, I do acknowledge that my beliefs are constructed. I mean, we are all just animals, but that does not mean I do not believe in a value system. That value system is fundamentally about social justice; about equality, fairness, compassion, and empathy. It is constructed of course, but I like to believe it does not discriminate. Maybe some of my values derive from religious teachings, but not just one, and there is no exclusivity there.

‘Each to their own’

To those who say ‘each to their own’. There is much merit in this, yet one’s ‘own’ is already problematic as it emphasizes exclusivity of communities, and separation. It is also a complete aphorism, as our belief systems, especially religious, are constructed from birth. People are often, as I was, indoctrinated with religious beliefs. To actually realize this ‘each to their own mentality’, people should practice it, and explore WHY this saying is relevant. For example – if I was to apply that mantra to bringing up my offspring, I would have to justify; ‘we say each to their own because their are multiple religions in the world, and no one of them can be said to be better than another because that would lead to friction, and maybe violence, and violence is bad’. At least then we can assume that people who say ‘each to their own’ believe violence is bad. For damn sure many prophets did not believe ‘each to their own’, as they are, by definition, prophets who ‘propheteer’ from proselyting.

Thus saying ‘each to their own’ is an implicit assumption that religions are not universal, but that many people accept the sanctity of peace. For me, to criticise religion or a belief system is incumbent on all humans. If we did not, we would simply believe everything we are told, and the only way that such indoctrination is acceptable is if it conforms to generally acceptable means of socialisation in the immediate cultural context. Raising someone with beliefs that encourage hatred or violence towards a certain group will lead to strife, unless everyone in that community is of that disposition. This issue becomes more acute in multicultural societies, where people of different beliefs, genders, or sexualities, rub up against one another. But the world is a multicultural place, by definition, and the identities of states and their esoteric laws cannot hide that.

Some might criticise my values as ‘Westernised’. To me, this is an ad hominem attack based on assumptions derived from post colonial arguments. It also attempts to undermine arguments by dismissing them based on assumptions that such principles of egality and humanity are confined to a singular region, and thus inherently prejudiced. Many people across the globe have such ideas, and to say they are simple ‘Western’ is to dismiss the fact that such ideas are universal, and have been evidenced in Buddhism, Janism, and many other belief systems.

Thoughts on Charlie Hebdo

As for my thoughts on Charlie Hebdo. I am, of course, appalled, by the act itself and the consequences. Richard Seymour yesterday said in the Jacobin that we must fear an Islamophobic backlash as a result of the Charlie Hebdo killing. He is right of course, as most attacks of this nature result in a backlash. There are already reports of grenades being thrown into a mosque in Paris, an abhorrent act that I hope the authorities are quick to condemn. However, my issue is the term Islamophobia itself. It should not be used as a term to undermine valid criticism of a religion. All ideologies should be exposed to criticism, whether Marxist, socialist, capitalism, christian, Muslim etc. A hate crime is a hate crime, and of course there will be those who use what happened as an opportunity to attack those who they perceive to be Muslim, but they should not be confused with those who choose to criticise Islam, the prophet, or its tenets. However, while the gunmen definitely do not represent all Muslims, it does not make them less Muslim. But criticism can be a release. Read ‘Why I am not a Christian’, for example, or ‘Why I am not a Muslim’ by Ibn Warraq. I also think humour is a valid form of criticism, whether directed at a prophet or not.

Ultimately, I have utmost respect all those saying ‘Je suis Charlie’. It represents not bowing to intimidation, and I think politicians and public figures alike should stand by and defend satire, even though much of it is directed at them. Sure, humour can make us feel uncomfortable, but sometimes that is good. It prompts soul searching and exposes truths. As far as I am concerned, religious figures, from Ron L. Hubbard, to Abraham, are fair game for criticism, parody, and satire. To single out one for special treatment, is to exhibit religious discrimination. To not criticize them, is to give them special sanctity deserved by no ideology.

*An addendum for my Bahrain readers

So where does this leave me with regards to Islam and democracy in Bahrain, particularly within the opposition. I think it is understandable for people to be cautious of Al Wifaq – a mostly Shia political society who defer to religious teachings and clerics for much of their ‘policy’. You cannot simply dismiss the fact that most of their gatherings are segregated, or that Isa Qassim has a special influence in Al Wifaq.  For this reason, many people believe that a real democracy in Bahrain would result in the domination of one political party – an assured victory for one group (at least in the near future). For those who don’t believe in an Al Wifaq Shia conspiracy, then it is more valid to believe that the quest for democracy for them is also the quest of an assured parliamentary victory for a single, religiously exclusive, society. Unfortunately then, opposition supporters are often seen as de facto Al Wifaq supporters, whether they want to or not.

Of course, as I have said before, I do have sympathy with Al Wifaq and Bahrain’s Shia. That cannot change. They have been discriminated against, and the rise of a Shi’a political party reflects centuries of government persecution, as well as gerrymandering. The presence of a Shia political society is very much the result of government maneuvering and repression, a manifestation of group solidarity in the face of gross oppression. Yet frankly, if Bahrain is to move forward, Al Wifaq need to give all Bahrainis more reason to believe that democracy will not be the swan song of Bahrain’s plurality. Indeed, many believe they should dissolve if their democratic demands are met. I think this would be an act of good faith in any transitional government. Such moves would also help undermine the government’s divide and rule tactics, by removing the presence of Al Wifaq’s alleged ulterior motive.

Anyway, as I have said, religion is not universal. It is also dynamic, as evidenced by sectarianism, schism, multiple religions, and personal interpretation. Why should one religion be over represented in one country? I mean I have no voting rights in Bahrain, but I am of the opinion that even a constitution, like Bahrain’s current one, should not have its roots in religion, Islam or otherwise. Bahrain, like the world, is full of people of all different religions, and if people look to the past, they should see religions change and evolve. To tie one’s constitution to one religion is short sighted, arrogant, and a little absurd. Of course I know I am being idealistic, but there is nothing wrong with that.  It is, after all, the 21st century, why not acknowledge that their are thousands of religions. If you believe that, why not just allow people to worship as they please, and derive constitution from a secular template that allows people to practice their own religion. If this were to happen, I imagine Bahrain would be at the vanguard of democratic and humanitarian change, rather than trailing behind.

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10 comments

  1. Jim from Canada says:

    Just as well you’re blacklisted from Bahrain mate, or you might have had your head chopped off after writing that second paragraph in the section “Abrahamaphobic?”. Second thoughts, that’s more likely to happen in London these days…

    But seriously, this is why I grudgingly support the Al-Khalifa regime, despite all its grotesque corruption and myriad other faults. If it went, you know some bunch of superstitious loonies living in the 7th Century would take over, whether Shia Wefaq (backed by Iran) or Sunnis (backed by Saudi and/or ISIS), and the dust-up between the two sides till one achieved dominance would make the current unrest look like a gay vicar’s handshake (see Iraq……for the extreme, merciless, and brutal violence that would ensue, not the gay vicar’s handshake, in case you were confused……confused about the violence/vicar conundrum, not about your own….oh never mind).

    Muslims are different from other peoples. They have been brainwashed for a millenium and a half, and they are able to resist any Reformation/Enlightenment with the oft-repeated claim (probably bollocks) that the koran of today is exactly the same as it was when first written, and therefore it and the religion must never be altered in any way, under threat of, you guessed it, death.

    Yes, beneath the 80-odd generations of brainwashing lies the very real threat of painful death for Muslims should they dare step out of line religion-wise. You walked away from your parents’ religion without a scratch. The fact that so many Muslims happily murder their own children, never mind some random stranger, for that very reason ought to tell you something about their compatibility with democratic civilisation. (God don’t you hate it when you get the red line under words you spell with an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’? It’s enough to drive one to jihad.)

    Good read though. Cheers.

    PS Who won the England-Scotland game this year? Bet the jocks miss your pace down the flank.

    • Thanks for reading Jim!

      I don’t believe the alternate to the Al Khalifa regime is loonies. Remember, if they exist now, they have thrived under the Al Khalifa regime who have played a role in creating this level of divisiveness. I think a well managed transition with a strong constitution would mitigate potential problems.

      I dunno who won this year. I am too sad not to be playing, so have deliberately not tried to find out! I hope it was Scotland though…

  2. jfh1956@mail.ru says:

    hey marc, got your message, but can write via normal post. james hitselberger

  3. Isa says:

    Salam Marc Owen Jones,
    excuse my broken english and excuse me saying that this blog post is spaghetti of topics 🙂
    It would be better if you just take one topic and discuss it deeply, i know this post is like a journey of believing but still..

    “People are enemies of things they don’t know” Imam Ali (a.s)
    clearly you have no good knowledge about Islam and you are making a wrong judgment depending on sunni=devil sources
    for example “prophet Mohammed married a 6 years old girl”, is true narration according to sunni=devil religion the
    narrator is Aisha (the 6 year old girl herself), this Woman is lying about her age , the truth is she was above the 20
    and she was married and divorced before marrying prophet Mohammad (p.b.u.h), she lied and made herself younger because
    after the death of prophet mohammad (p.b.u.h) she was into men, a lot of narration from sunni=devil books prove her lust,
    she was ugly woman by the way and no man interested in her.

    sunnis sees Aisha as a truthful holy woman because sunni religion is basically depend on Aisha and her father
    Abu Bakr(who become the first successor after stolen khilafah from Imam Ali) and her lover Umar the second khalifa,
    you can’t separate religion from politics those three and others hypocrites who became muslim narrated thousands of
    garbage narratives just to gain power, pleasure and money, they are responsible of falsification islam (the devil plan).

    I’m not writing sunni vs shia here, i’m saying that if you want to know the true islam if you want to know who is prophet
    Mohammed and the true meaning of holy quran, you have to go to the truth source, you should make a judgment from the pure
    source , the source which prophet Mohammad (p.b.u.h) told us to take his legacy and knowledge from ,the truth source is
    the twelve imams (a.s).

    The first thing god created is prophet Mohammed (p.u.s.h) light, imams are torches from prophet Mohammad light.

    let me give you some Imams words and debates with disbelievers:

    3th imam Hussain (son of prophet muhammad daughter Fatima p.b.u.h” said
    “i have been given birth by the messenger of Allah, I know the book of Allah, how the creator originated and what will
    happen till the day of judgment, all is to be found in this holy book of Allah. it tells every thing about heavens the
    earth the paradise, the hell and about what had been and what wll be. I Know them all as though they were mirrored”

    clearly holy quran is not just words written on papers, it has layers and meanings above human being minds.

    8th Imam Reda says “if people know our beautiful words they will follow us”

    here is a debate between 6th Imam Jaffar (a.s) and egyption disbeliever:
    The Imam (a.s.) asked the man , “Do you know that the earth has an underside and an
    upperside?” The man replied, “Yes, I know it.” The Imam then asked, “Have you gone in the
    underside of the earth?” The man replied, “No, I have not gone there.” The Imam (a.s.) then
    asked, “Do you know what is therein?” He said, “I do not know but I guess there is nothing
    therein.” The Imam (a.s.) then said, “Guessing is weakness. Why do you not acquire
    certainty?” The Imam (a.s.) then asked, “Have you climbed up into the sky?”
    The man replied, “No, I have not done so.” The Imam (a.s.) then asked, “Do you know what
    is up there?” He replied, “No, I do not know.” The Imam (a.s.) said, “It is very strange.
    Without reaching the East or West, without going under the earth or climbing up the sky and
    not even have crossed anything to know what is behind you deny what is in them. Does any
    man of reason deny what he does not know?”
    The heretic man then said, “No one has ever come up with such statements to me as you
    have.” The Imam (a.s.) then said, “So you are uncertain about Him. Perhaps He is or may be
    He does not exist.” The heretic man then said, “Perhaps He is.” The Imam then said, “O man,
    one who does not know has no authority over the one who knows. O Egyptian brethren, listen
    carefully. We have no doubts in the existence of Allah (God). Think about the sun, the moon,
    the day and the nights follow each other and do not miss their turns or become confused.
    They each have its place and do not have any choice. If they had any other choice they would
    not come back again. If they had a choice the day would not end with night and the night
    would not end in the day. They are forced to continue, O Egyptian brethren, I swear byAllah
    (God). The One who has forced them is stronger then them and greater.
    What people speak of and you guess it is (dahr=nature) motionless time if it was so, then when it
    would take them away it would not return them and if time have returned them then why it is
    not taking them away? These things, O Egyptian brethren, are compelled. Why the sky is up
    high and why the earth is low? Why the sky does not fall down on earth? Why the earth does
    not flow one layer over the other and the two do not stick to each other and why those on it do
    not stick to it?” The man then said, “God their Lord has made them to hold together.”

    Another debate between 6th Imam Jaffar (a.s) and Abdal Karim abu al-‘Awja’ a well known disbeliever with a lot of followers more then your twitter followers 🙂

    ibn al-Muqaffa sayied to abu al-‘Awja’ “Do you see these
    creatures, pointing towards the location where people walk seven times around the Kabah‘?
    Of all these no one deserves to be called a human being accept that Shaikh sitting there,
    meaning thereby Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.). The rest is garble and beasts.” Upon this ibn abu
    al-‘Awja’ said, “For what reason do you call him a human being and not the rest?” Ibn alMuqaffa‘
    then replied, “Because I saw with him what I did not see with the others.” Ibn abu
    al-“Awja’ then said, “We must test your claim.” Ibn al-Muqaffa‘ then said, “I advise you not
    to do so lest you will lose whatever faith you have. Ibn abu al-‘Awja’ then said, “I do not
    think that is what you mean. I think you are afraid of failing to substantiate what you have just
    said about this man.” Ibn al-Muqaffa‘ then said, “If that is what you think then go to him and
    protect yourself as much as you can. Be strong as much as you can so you are not harnnessed
    and note all points against and in your favor. Ibn abu al-‘Awja’ then left and ibn al-Muqaffa‘
    and I remained there. When ibn abu al-‘Awja’ returned he said, “Woe is you, O ibn al-
    Muqaffa‘. This is not a human being even though he lives in this world. He is a spiritual being
    but appears in the form of man whenever he wants the out world and turns into a spiritual
    being whenever he wants the inner world. That is the way he is.” Ibn al-Muqaffa‘ then asked,
    “How does that happen?” Ibn abu al-‘Awja’ then said, “I sat near him and when everyone had
    gone he turned to me and said, “If it is the way they (people walking around the Ka‘bah) say,
    which is true then they are saved and you are destroyed. If it is the way you say it is, which is
    not so then you and they are all equal.” I then asked, “May Allah be kind to you. What is it
    that we say and what is it that they say? We all say the same thing.” He said, “How can what
    you say be equal to what they say? They say that they will have a return, a day of receiving
    their rewards and penalties. They believe in a religion which says that in the heavens is the
    Lord and that they are habitable while you say that they are in ruins and there is nothing in
    them.”Ibn abu al-‘Awja’ has said, “I then found the opportunity to speak and I asked, “What
    then keeps this Lord, if it is true the way they say that He exists, from appearing to His
    creatures and call them to His worship so that no two people would oppose each other? Why
    is He hiding from them and has only sent messengers? If He would have been in direct
    contact with them it would have been more helpful to have faith in Him.” He then responded,
    “Woe is you, how someone who is already shown His power within you is hiding from you?
    He brought you up. You did not even exist. He made you grow when you were so small. He
    gave you strength and power when you were so weak and will make you weak again after
    being strong. He make you sick after being healthy and can give you good health after
    suffering sickness. He can make you happy after you experience anger and make you angry
    after being happy. He can make you sad after your joy and give you joy after sadness. He can
    give love after your experiencing hatred and hatred after enjoying love. He can give you
    determination after your uncertainty and uncertainty after having determination. He can give
    you strong desires after your experiencing dislike and dislike after having strong desires. He
    can give you willingness after experiencing fear and concerns and fear after having strong
    willingness. He can give you hope after despair and despair after having a great deal of hope.
    He can give you good remembrance of what you had no idea and remove what you may have
    had as a belief.” He kept reminding and counting for me the effects of His power within my
    soul that I could not deny and I begin to have a feeling that all that is between me and him
    will all appear in the open.”

    abu al-‘Awja’ came the next day to the meeting of the Imam and sat
    down quietly. The Imam (a.s.) said to him, “Would you like to review the issues we discussed
    yesterday?” He replied, “I did intend to do so, O son of the messenger of Allah.” The Imam
    then said, “It is strange that one who does not believe in Allah acknowledges the existence of
    the messenger of Allah.” He replied, “It is only the habit that made me say so.” The ‘Alim
    (the Imam) then asked, “What is it that keeps you quite?” He replied, “It is your excellence
    and awesome spiritual ability that hold my tongue back from speaking. I have seen many
    scholars and have debated many theologians but I never experienced such an awesome feeling
    from them as I feel in your presence.” The Imam then said, ” It may happen. I would like to
    open this session with a question to you. The Imam turned to him and asked, “Are you created
    or uncreated?” ‘Abdul Karim ibn abu al-‘Awja’ answered, ” I am uncreated.” The ‘Alim then
    asked him, “Describe for us then, how you might have been if you were created.” ‘Abdal
    Karim remained quiet and confused and began to scribble scrabble with a piece of wood,
    saying, long, wide, deep, short, moving and motionless all these are the qualities of His
    creatures.” The ‘Alim (Imam) then said, “If you do not know anything other than these as the
    qualities of the creation then consider yourself a creature because that is what you find within
    yourself that take place and come into existence.” ‘Abdal Karim then said, “You have asked
    me a question that no one before had ever asked and no one ever would ask afterwards.” Abu
    ‘Abdallah then said, “It is fine. I noticed that you did not ask any thing in the time past but
    how would you know that you will not ask any thing in future? Besides, O ‘Abdal Karim,
    what you said is against your notion that from the beginning all things are equal. How then
    you made them before and after? The Imam then said, “O ‘Abdal Karim let me explain it for
    you. Suppose if you had a bag with you full of pearls and someone asked you, “Is there a
    Dinar in your bag?” You then denied and said, “No, there is no Dinar in my bag.” The person
    then said, “Alright, then describe for me the qualities of the Dinar but you had no knowledge
    of the qualities of the Dinar. Could you deny the existence of the Dinar that was from the bag
    but you did not know about it?” he replied, “No, I would not deny.” The Imam then said, “The
    world is bigger, taller and wider than a bag. Perhaps in the world there is a creature as such
    that you do not know in whose case you would not be able to tell the qualities of the created
    from the non-created.” ‘Abdal Karim remained quiet but some of his people agreed to accept
    Islam and a few of them remained.

    He came again to the meeting of the Imam on the third day and said, “I like to reverse the
    question.” The Imam replied, “Ask whatever you like.” He then asked, “What is the proof that
    bodies did not exist and then they came into existence?” The Imam then said, “I have not seen
    anything small or large that on adding to it something of the same size would not make it
    bigger and in this there is a change and transformation from the first condition. If it, however,
    would have been eternal, there would have been no changing and transformation. What may
    cease to exist or change it may come into existence and may get destroyed, thus, with its
    existence after its none existence is entering into the state of coming into being and as being
    eternal this will take it into nothingness but the two qualities of being eternal and nothingness
    and the qualities of a contingent and something without a beginning in one thing do come
    together.” ‘Abdal Karim then said, “Suppose, I noticed that with a view to the two conditions
    you mentioned you considered it a proof of their contingency. If, however, things would
    remain small, despite the addition, then how would you prove their contingency?” The ‘Alim
    then said, “We speak of this universe that is already there. Were we to take it away and place
    another universe in its place nothingness would have, certainly, been a stronger proof of its
    contingency than its removal and its replacing with a different one. I, however, will answer
    you according to your assumption. If things would still remain small but it would certainly
    come into one’s thinking that whenever something like it added to another thing it then would
    be bigger. The fact that it can change is proof of its becoming temporal and in its changing
    condition is proof of its contingency. There is nothing beyond it for you, O ‘Abdal Karim.
    ‘Abdal Karim had nothing else to say.

    Next year abu al-‘Awja’ met the Imam (a.s.) in Makkah again and people from his followers said that
    he has become a Muslim. The Imam told him that ‘Abdal Karim was blind in this
    matter and would not become a Muslim. When he saw the ‘Alim he said, “My master, my
    chief!” The ‘Alim then asked him, “What brings you here?” He then replied, “It is the habits
    of the body and the traditions of the town to see what craziness makes them shave and throw
    pebbles.” The ‘Alim said, “It seems that you still live in your arrogance and misguidance, O
    ‘Abdal Karim.” He began to speak but the Imam said, “Disputation during Hajj is not
    permissible. The Imam freed his gown from the hand of the heretic man and said, “If it is the
    way you say and it is not true, then we as well as you are all saved. However, if it is the way
    we say and it is true we are saved but you are destroyed.” ‘Abdal Karim then turned to his
    people saying, “I feel pain in my heart. Take me back. They took him away and he died.

    Miserable ending, I hope you don’t end your life like Abdal Karim abu al-‘Awja’ 🙂

  4. Natashia says:

    Hi Marc,

    Interesting read and I respect everyone’s opinion. However, one part stood out in particular. Misogyny in the Baha’i faith. From what I have read I would state otherwise.

    Here are the examples I have pulled:

    “The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.” – Abdul-Baha

    “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is the equality of women and men. The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.” – Abdul-Baha

    This response is in no means to prove you wrong, as I stated everyone is entitled to their opinion and interpretation. I would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Hi Natashia,

      Thanks for reading! Yes I would say the Baha’is I met in general acted in a way that mirrored those quotes you put. Also misogyny was perhaps too strong a word on my part, discrimination against women more apt. Despite the progressive ideals, I find it strange, for example, that women are not allowed to be voted into the Universal House of Justice.

      • Hi Marc,

        Thanks for the prompt response. This link is a long read but might change your mind on women in UHJ. http://www.uhj.net/women-on-uhj.html
        I also struggled with the earlier notion that they were not allowed, however maybe I needed to reconcile with the times.

        I feel I am coming off preachy and in no means do I intend to be. Just thought I’d share.

        Looking forward to reading more of your blog.

  5. Reblogged this on wallacerunnymede and commented:
    Really interesting reflexive piece by Owen Marc Jones.

  6. ‘Peace = peace, and that’s it.’ That’s a great way of putting it. I would say there are no religions either of peace or of war. Religion is what people make of it, and if they go in direction of peace, they will use religion for peace. If they go in direction of war, they will use religion for war. As I think you’ve said above, religious texts are very much open to interpretation.

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