A few years ago I participated in a ‘Dialogue With Islam’ debate with the well known author and philosopher Dr Nigel Warburton. The subject of the debate was “Is Religion a Force for Good or Evil?” and overall I thought it was a positive experience.
My remit was to present religion, and more specifically Islam, as a force for ‘good’. I started by presenting religion as a social phenomenon, this way the majority of the humanist/atheist audience who did not believe in the intellectual foundations of any religion, could appreciate the research. Due to the question we were addressing I started to speak about religion in general, I steered away from inquiring about God’s existence or the attempt to demonstrate the intellectual compatibility with religion and reason. I focused on understanding religious belief itself and how it relates to world views and their implications on individual and social action. After all this was the topic of discussion.
I assumed that this debate would fuel emotions, so I deliberately focused on academic well researched material rather than relying on my own subjective experiences. Hence I went straight to journals of psychology, sociology and philosophy on the study of religion and religiosity. To my amazement, it was very hard to find current research indicating that religion and its followers were a force for ‘evil’.
As a matter of fact contemporary research has opposite conclusions. According to the research, religion increases happiness, mental health and physical well being. It doesn’t stop there, the research also shows that religion prevents crime, increases rates of philanthropy and altruism. There is so much research out there, so it will have to suffice to give you a few examples.
• In 2001 Schnittker in the “Journal for the scientific study of religion” examined a data set of 2,836 adults from the general population and he found religious involvement had no significant relationship with depression. He also found that religiousness was a buffer against mental distress.
• In 2002 Smith, McCullough and Poll, in their journal “A meta analytic review of the religiousness-depression association: evidence for main effects and stress buffering effects” carried out an analysis of over 200 social studies and found that high religiousness predicts a rather lower risk of depression, drug abuse and fewer suicide attempts
• In 2002 Bryan Johnson and colleagues of the University of Pennsylvania Centre for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society reviewed 498 studies that had been published in peer reviewed journals. They concluded that a large majority of studies showed a positive correlation between religious commitment and higher levels of perceived well-being and self esteem, and lower levels of hypertension, depression and criminal delinquency.
• In the Handbook of Religion and Health, edited by Harold Koenig, Michael McCullough and David Larson. The authors reviewed 2,000 published experiments designed to test the relationship between religion and various medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer and depression. The overall results were that religious people tend to live longer and have physically healthier lives. Young people have significantly lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse, criminal delinquency and attempted suicide.
• Even in China an officially non-religious state. A recent study by Paul Badham and Xinzhong Yao for the Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford University, reported that a majority of those felt religious experiences had a positive effect on their lives.
• In 2000, Political Scientist and Professor Robert Putnam surveyed 200 volunteer organisations and it showed that there was a positive correlation between religiosity and membership of volunteer organisations.
• The Index of Global Philanthropy, 2007 states: “Religious people are more charitable than non-religious not only in giving to their own congregations, but also – regardless of income, region, social class, and other demographic variables – significantly more charitable in their secular donations and informal giving.”
I ended my presentation by saying how Islam, using verses from the Qur’an and statements from the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), achieves the above, but most importantly how it achieves a cohesive society (I have written about this at length on this elsewhere, so I will not expand any further). I concluded by saying that if religion achieves these things, then it must be a force for good.
The disappointing thing for me was the level of argumentation from the Humanist side. It was mainly personal experience with no objective research. No evidence or justification was provided for the claims that were being made. Dr Warburton responded to my disappointment by saying that research doesn’t mean anything, and someone in the audience claimed that there is research to counter my claims. Interestingly, I was waiting for the research and the reason why my effort had been discarded as irrelevant, but I didn’t receive or hear anything, during or after the debate.
Is it not the humanist and atheist traditions that claim people of religion are not objective and do not use reason? According to this experience I wouldn’t be wrong to find it difficult to appreciate why they can make such a claim.
But I did say it was a positive experience. The reason for this is because I learnt a lot about the mentality of some people who reject religion from a statement that was made by a member of the audience. It went something like this “We do not want to submit, submission is dangerous and backward”. I thought about this for a while and I gave the following response. Since then, I have called it the ‘logic of submission’.
The word logic comes from the Greek word ‘λογική’, and in philosophy, it concerns study of the principles of valid inference and sound reasoning. Logic is very important because its use allows us to effectively present and refute an argument. Now in the context of arguing that submission to God is the way forward, I used the following:
1. Submission to a higher being is more rational than submission to a human being
2. Islam requires humans to submit to a higher being
3. Therefore Islam is more rational
I pointed out that the above is almost irrefutable. The only way to respond to the argument is by dealing with some of the presuppositions. In this case the presuppositions are,
1. A higher being (i.e. God) exists
2. This higher being requires us to submit to it
I continued by saying that we would have to shift the debate to the existence of God and the miracle of the Qur’an, because if it can be proven that God does exist and that the Qur’an is a miracle, in other words, it has come from God, then the humanist should also submit (since the Qur’an tells us to submit to God). However the chair, Dr Mark Vernon, interrupted and reminded me it was not the topic of the debate.
I agreed, but it left me thinking that we Muslims do not have to answer all the questions anymore, such as “Why do you not eat pork?”, “Why do you fast?”, “Why do you pray five times a day?” All that we have to do is just tell people ‘because God said so’ and if people frown or suggest that we are crazy, then we should tell them about submission. Because it’s more rational to submit.
If they question us further and scratch the intellectual surface by highlighting our presuppositions, in other words our belief that God exists and that the Qur’an is a miracle, then all we have to do is show them.
Copyright © 2013 - Hamza Andreas Tzortzis - All rights reserved.