Thursday, 2 May 2013

Consolation of Faith

Religious belief is a source of great consolation. Particularly in today’s complex world with all its miseries. Or so I’m told.

’s leave to one side the nagging doubt that makes me doubt that, even if it were true that faith was comforting, that wouldn’t necessarily make it true. I remember walking away from a funeral and being told by the deceased woman’s brother that he ‘couldn’t believe that she wasn’t still with us.’ Sadly, I felt that told me a lot more about him than it did about her.

Instead let's concentrate on just how much consolation faith really brings.

After all, for months now we’ve had constant debate about the rights of gay people to be treated equally in our Western democracies. Gay marriage ignited terrible animosities in Britain and worse ones still in France; in the US, it continues to excite controversy. I’m not sure that a belief system that labels gays as cursed brings much consolation even to its adherents, let alone to the gays themselves.

But all the vitriol over gay marriage is as nothing compared to two stories that featured on the news today.

With elections coming up in Pakistan, the BBC this morning chose to remind us of what happened in Quetta at the beginning of this year. A suicide bomber walked into a snooker hall and detonated his bomb, killing eight of the Hazara community living in the city. People ran to the site, volunteers as well as the emergency services. That was the moment the attackers set off a second bomb, attached to an ambulance. In all, 120 were killed.

Hazara Shia burying their dead

Why? Follow this carefully. Not many of us in the West know much about the distinction between Sunni and Shia Islam. To most people, Sunnis and Shiites are all justMuslims with some differences in detail of belief. But not, it seems, to certain Pakistani Sunnis. A legal party is running in the elections on a platform that wants Shiism designated non-Muslim. They don’t want the Shiites driven out of Pakistan, far less killed, so a candidate explained to the BBC, they just want them officially declared outside the faith.

It was that party’s armed wing that carried out the Quetta attacks.

What is the religion of the Hazara community? You guessed it. Overwhelmingly Shia. And short of consolation right now, I imagine.

This afternoon, the BBC turned its attention to the fighting now escalating in Burma. That nation seemed at last to be taking important steps towards a better way of life, with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and a general relaxation of military control. But now sectarian fighting is raising ugly new concerns.

On Tuesday, a trivial accident occurred on a street in the town of Oakkan: a young woman on a bike collided with a monk. Infuriating, I’m sure, the kind of thing most of us might expect to react to with some well chosen expletives.

I remember the ghastly bike riders I came across in Amsterdam. Step into a cycle lane, and they bear down on you, bell ringing and insults turning the air blue around you. At least, I assume what I heard was insults, but Dutch is a bit like that, isn’t it? It can make anything sound like an expletive. Perhaps the cyclists were mouthing endearments, but on balance I doubt it.

Still, I didn’t feel inclined to respond to their behaviour by killing anyone or burning down their houses. But the cyclist in Tuesday’s incident in Burma was Muslim, so Buddhist monks went on the rampage, attacking mosques, burning down houses, killing one person and injuring nine.

Muslim houses burning after Buddhist violence in Burma

Read that sentence again. That’s Buddhist monks. If any religion is committed to peace and non-violence, surely it’s Buddhism. But in Burma monks are going out in gangs to terrorise Muslims. Leaving them presumably as disconsolate as the Shias in Quetta.

Remind me again. Religious faith is a source of consolation to us all. 

Have I got that right?


Faith A. Colburn, Author said...

When the Buddhists start murdering people, I give up on religion. (Actually I did long ago. I find any spirituallity I have in quantum physics.)

David Beeson said...

... and the beauty of quantum physics is that it's only sure of uncertainty.