In a previous post, I wrote on how I find many Islamic beliefs to be bullshit just as Christopher Hitchens found them.
In the video I shared in that post, Christopher Hitchens said that Islam is nonsense in its entirety. This is something I have been thinking about since quite sometime. Is it really possible to dismiss a religion as big and as diverse as Islam in its entirety as utter hogwash? About three years ago, I had stumbled across the following video by Alain de Botton called ‘Atheism 2.0’
The central idea of the TED talk is as follows. The atheists have all agreed that the supernatural claims made by religion are clearly wrong. However, there is still something important that one can get from religion even after discarding much of it. The examples provided by Alain de Botton include things like Christmas carols, the art of Mantegna and the architecture of old churches. There are people who are, to quote Botton, ‘attracted to the ritualistic, moralistic and communal side of religion but can’t bear the doctrine.’
As someone raised in a Muslim society, there are a couple of things I’d like to add to Alain de Botton’s list. Qawwali, which is a very moving form of Sufi devotional music of South Asia, is something I thoroughly enjoy. Iftar is also a good example. It is an evening meal that Muslims have with family, friends and even strangers, to end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. It feels really good to have food with everyone after a long day of work and share a communal space. Eid al-Fitr celebrations are yet another example of the social side of Islam that I am, personally, amenable to.
The ideas propounded by Alain de Botton seem to have some measure of similarity to the kind of ideas discussed by Sam Harris with regards to Buddhism. That is, we can gain from the philosophy of Buddhism even after throwing away all of its superstitious notions. According to Sam Harris, “the Buddhist tradition, taken as a whole, represents the richest source of contemplative wisdom that any civilization has produced.” Sam Harris continues to state that, unfortunately, Buddhists treat and practice the Buddhist tradition as a religion “in many of the naive, petitionary, and superstitious ways in which all religions are practiced”.
I think Atheism 2.0 is a positive direction for human intellectual thought. It offers us, if I may say, the best of both worlds. We can enjoy the artistic, cultural and social side of religions without really believing in or caring about the metaphysical aspects of the religion.