If we take a cursory glance at history, we find numerous examples of warfare and destruction that is motivated by religion. The scripture so each of the monotheistic religions in the world are full of instances of war in ancient times. Some of the scriptures even urge followers to invoke ‘holy wars’ in the name of defending their religion. It is easy to see how this invocation has resonance in the current geo-political atmosphere, where terrorism has become the most ghastly form of human tragedy. The connection between religious fundamentalism and global terrorism is undeniably. This is not to indict only Islam as prone to fundamentalist discourse and action, most other religions of the world (including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism) have fallen into this vicious mire. Hence, I would urge the participants of this debate to refine their view of religion and take it for its spirit of peace. As the history of the last two millennia has shown us, any fundamentalist interpretation would inevitably lead to conflict, suffering and unspeakable loss.
Coming back to the proposition of leading public intellectuals of the day such as Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, Stephen Hawking, etc, there are viable alternatives to religion. People usually seek refuge in religion due to their insecurities, their fears and the uncertainties of the future. But there are other avenues through which these human frailties could be addressed. Art holds great potential in this regard. As Richard Dawkins expresses eloquently in The God Delusion, there is infinite joy to be derived from sublime classical music. At one point in the book, Dawkins asks readers to imagine how if Mozart or Beethoven had composed an opera in celebration of natural wonders! What Dawkins is suggesting is that religion may not be the only motivation for composing divine music – even devotion to the beauty, complexity and grandeur of nature can produce great masterpieces like JS Bach’s Passions. Similarly, as late Christopher Hitchens noted in one of his public debates, literature can be a great source of consolation and philosophy. By extension, disciplines such as philosophy provide insight and guidance for conducting human affairs just as religious texts do. Hence, celebrating and revelling in human excellence is a great motivation in life. There is absolutely no need for religion in the modern world. The practice of fundamentalist versions of religion in contemporary times is particularly incongruous. There cannot be any mutual existence between science and religion anymore. With each advancement in science, religion will have to take a backward step.
Hence I implore the participants of this public debate to keep away from religious fundamentalism. Religion is no relevance in the modern world, especially the vicious fundamentalist variety. Religion is no more capable of offering solutions to human problems than what science and civility cannot. Hence I strongly urge you all to take up the cause of science and promote its practice and spirit. Instead of religion, people can embrace the arts and find the divine and the sublime by excelling in it.
Stephen Hawking: God did not create Universe, 2 September 2010, retrieved from
Steven Weinberg, On God, Christianity and Islam, Times Literary Supplement, January 17, 2007, retrieved from < http://pierretristam.com/Bobst/07/wf011907a.htm>
Richard Dawkins Quotes, retrieved from <http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins>
God² – how science and religion rub along, 21 September 2010, retrieved from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11380916>