I watched an extraordinary documentary the other day about Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The documentary conveyed the hazardous, potentially deadly logistics of climbing the mountain. There exists crevices, potential avalanches, a lack of oxygen, and treacherous weather conditions. To have climbed Everest in 1953 was truly a mammoth accomplishment. In reality, after watching such a documentary there is only prominent thought that can rationally come to one’s mind.
Don’t mountains just poison everything?
At least, given his recent logic, this is what Richard Dawkins would think. A few days ago the prominent New Atheist posted a tweet regarding the excellent new documentary on Professor Abdus Salam. Salam was a Pakistani Ahmadi Muslim Nobel Laureate in Physics, who was outcasted from his nation due to his religious beliefs. Pakistan, a Sunni Muslim majority, has sadly fallen into the stronghold of extremist Sunni Muslim clerics over recent decades. Consequently, Ahmadi Muslims, as well as other religious groups have been persecuted, often violently. Far from celebrating Salam’s accomplishments, Salam’s grave has been defaced, his name absent from school textbooks, his incredible contributions to science downplayed by Mullahs, or ignored entirely.
Unlike many of his other tweets, this one began in a calculated, rational manner. Dawkins praised the greatness of Abdus Salam, and his loyalty to his nation despite the poor treatment he endured. If only he could have ended it there. “Religion poisons everything,” Dawkins concluded. Since he claims that his superior logic prevents him from believing in God, his own utterances appear all the more absurd. In fact, their hyperbolic, hate-filled undertones convey a spooky resemblance to the logic of Mullahs themselves.
The arguments against his assertion are so numerous, and many so obvious that it almost beggars belief. Here are a few anyway. Firstly, just because some religious people behave in barbaric ways, it does not mean that the teachings themselves are to blame. Rather in most instances such barbarism is due to human corruption, weakness, or desire for political and financial gain. Going to war in Iraq, a political decision, was a grave and horrific act which killed over half a million children. To conclude from this that ‘politics poisons everything,’ is evidently absurd.
Second, to claim that religion poisons EVERYTHING ignores its undeniable benefits. Religion provides a source of inner peace for individuals, it provides community, an outlet to fulfill the spiritual urges which we all possess, a meaning and structure to life, and a way of appreciating our very existence. Just because a minority of perverse individuals use religion as an excuse to create division and hatred, this should not detract from its far more prominent role – creating unity among people over many centuries. Islam, and in fact all major world religions at their source promote kindness, unity and goodwill towards all of humanity.
“Kindness is a mark of faith, whoever is not; has no faith.”Prophet Muhammad
Third, Professor Abdus Salam himself was a religious believer, part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. At an address to UNESCO in 1979, he discussed the beauties of God and His Creation:
“The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.”
‘Did religion poison Abdus Salam? A man who, even Dawkins acknowledged, possessed astonishing loyalty and magnanimity towards a nation who did not deserve him. A man who showed humility and intellect, logic and insight, and who deeply valued his own faith, and his relationship with the Divine. It is remarkable how Dawkins managed to contradict himself in under 240 characters.
Edmund Hillary’s Everest climbing partner, Tenzig Norgay’s name translates as ‘wealthy fortunate follower of religion.’ And as the two of them climbed the mountain, they must have known that despite all the struggles they faced, the mountain itself was not created to cause them harm. As mountains provide for the freshwater needs of more than half of humanity, so does religion provide the spiritual water that our souls desire. The ultimate purpose of religion, like the mountain, is loftier than the petty squabbles of divisive zealots, something that both Dawkins and Pakistani Mullahs would do well to realise.