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Faith and Hero-Worship

February 22, 2009

‘Faith’ is a strange creature. A creature that is loyal only to it’s master. It listens to no one but it’s master. If the master asks it to jump off a cliff, faith will follow without any doubt, without any question. There is no place in it’s vocabulary for ‘reason’, no place for small nagging doubts and definitely no patience for adverse criticism. And, ‘faith’ is incredibly proud of it’s unwavering spirit and unflinching character. Faith is like a blind person walking proudly towards a blazing fire, unmindful of the searing heat and unconcerned by the loud warnings of bystanders.

Yet, ‘faith’ by it’s own definition is inherently dishonest. It indulges one to believe in something without proof or against verified facts. It’s the mirage of the mind. As a result, fact-based reason and logic versus blind faith is a no-contest. If I close my eyes, no one can show me the light. If my shut my ears, no one can make me listen to music. Reason means nothing to the faithful – there is no charity for facts or alternative points of view and no time to consider other possibilities. Proof against the grain doesn’t matter a bit to the faithful, because it is always “false and manufactured” – never mind the way the faithful themselves collect proof.

Courtesy : umf.maine.edu

Courtesy : umf.maine.edu

What the faithful do not realize, is that faith can cut both ways.  Just as faith in God, after-life, karma, judgement day etc can cause someone to serve humanity selflessly in the hope of future rewards, faith can also give rise to atrocious crimes and unfathomable cruelty. If someone is convinced, based only on faith, that torture, murder, rape or mass destruction is what God or a prophet wants him/her to do, there is no evidence one can produce, no reason or rationality one can advance to convince him/her otherwise.  Fact or evidence based rationality is the only honest path.

Thinking about the faithful, I have often wondered – what is it about them that makes them  slavisly follow their leader’s/prophet’s every word and action even when they know their prophets are wrong ? How do they come up with inane, illogical excuses to defend them ? The very actions they would have condemned in others becomes ‘acceptable’ when committed by their spiritual leader. Why can’t they keep faith aside for a moment, take off their colored glasses and analyze their hallowed leaders’ words and actions critically ?

The answers to these questions are often not straightforward but there is definitely a cult of personality which plays a significant role in such decisions.  I tried to remember what it used to be like when I was still a believer. How I used to think and respond to the same facts that are presented to me now.

When I used to be a believer, no matter how much people reasoned with me, it was blind faith in my prophets which would finally break the deal. I would ask myself –  Can the prophets be wrong? Can Jesus, Buddha, Krishna all of whom were supposedly human incarnations of God be wrong (I wasn’t exposed to Islam too much at that time to know about Mohammad)? What about the Hindu enlightened masters like Vivekananda, Ramakrishna or Sankara; could they be misguided ? Can the Bible and Bhagavad Gita be incorrect ?

I somehow convinced myself that these people knew what they were talking about and they just couldn’t be mistaken. After all they were divinity on Earth. They were paragons of perfection and enlightened with ‘Divine Knowledge’.

Even when the scientific facts contradicted what they said, I did not want to believe they could be wrong. I convinced myself that it must be the scientists who are fools.  They were misinterpreting the data. After all, they didn’t have divine knowledge. They just didn’t have the realization, the intellect to understand the profound – that which is beyond our senses- and I was so satisfied by this answer. But what proof did I have to believe I was right? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. It was all faith. I had convinced myself what other followers have believed and the only defense I had was my “faith”.

Till I started challenging my assumptions and holding these people accountable for their words and actions. Now I know better.

A few days ago, I came across an article by Ibn Kammuna entitled ‘Releasing the Bond’ at Faith Freedom International’s website which illustrated clearly the problem with hero-worship and the effect of cult-of-personality on believers. Even though this article discussed hero-worship in relation to Islam, I could see how that was true for any leader or prophet – be it Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna or the new age Hindu gurus like Satya Sai Baba, Prabhupada or Shri Shri Ravi Shankar.

I got a letter from a young lady, barely twenty years of age. She accused me of lying about Islam. According to her, I manipulated the facts. She told me Islam is true no matter what, that she will always be a Muslimah. I do not know why she told me that. I never asked her to leave the faith. But she insisted that Islam is the true faith, that she will never leave it, that I am lying about Islam. I told her that I do not lie, but rather research the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sirat. But she insisted that I manipulate the facts. I tried to narrow things down. I told her that Muhammad was an assassin. He sent his henchmen to kill a very old man called Abu Afak, and a mother of five; Asma bint Marwan. I gave her the book’s title and the author’s name so that she can find it in her public library. That way she can go and check out my story. Maybe I was lying. She deserves to know. All she needed to do is go to the public library, and check out my story. Well, she did not do that. Instead, she emailed me and told me that Islam is correct, that I tell lies, and that she won’t be writing to me anymore. That is fine. But why not go to the library and check out the truth or falsity of my story. Doesn’t she deserve to know?

This brings me to the title of this article “Releasing the Bond”. When one has a cult mentality, truth is immaterial. It is not important. What is important is to keep the belief system indoctrinated by the leader intact. In cults, there is an unquestioning loyalty to the leader. This is what the young lady is doing. In cults, the member has a polarized mentality of “us” against “them”. In cults, critical voices are silenced. This young lady wanted me to “stop” lying. All I do is research issues and report them. This is lying according to a good Muslimah, because it does not agree with her cultic picture of the universe. She could not take any criticism of Muhammad. I wanted her to go to the public library, and check out the truth about what I was telling her. But, alas, she would not even do that. She could not handle the thought that her cult leader was an assassin. To her mind he was her idol, her Prophet, her ideal love. The sad part is how difficult it is to discuss matters in a rational way with a dogmatic Muslim person who is only twenty years old. In a cult, members rationalize the actions of their leader. If that lady went to the public library and found out that Muhammad was in fact an assassin, do you think the story would end here and she would leave Islam? I wish the answer was “yes”, but it is not. Cult members learn to rationalize the conduct of their leader no matter how evil it is. No action by the leader is condemned. He is the authority. Whatever he says, members follow like sheep led to the slaughter. But why can’t they just leave the cult? Well, it is not as easy as we think. When humans are in a cult mentality/community, things are not so simple as to pick up and leave.

The advantage as well as disadvantage with our human psyche is that we are not only products of our logic or reason but also a complex product of our emotions, environment, genes etc. It is probably not productive or helpful to always use logic and reason to navigate the world. Emotions like love and compassion are also necessary to relate to everything around us.  But when the facts clearly go against someone we adore, when some idea is evidently fallacious at it’s core , when certain actions are proven to be utterly destructive and pernicious – then is it not in our best interest to take a step back, detach ourselves emotionally and then proceed to use facts and evidence to arrive at a logical conclusion?

Easier said than done? You bet !

But imperative ? Absolutely !!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2009 9:39 am

    It’s a good point. Although hero worship is ubiquitous, it is more prevalent among religious types.
    I think that’s the way our brains are wired up. Faith/Belief/Trust comes naturally, ‘doubt’ has to be cultivated with effort.

    Is it any surprise that religious people become easy prey of financial fraudsters, sexual predators or charismatic leaders?

  2. nitwitnastik permalink*
    February 24, 2009 8:11 am

    Yep, as I mentioned in my ‘Does Brain Create God’ post, that is probably correct.

  3. May 5, 2009 10:10 pm

    loved this post…The way you have interpreted faith here …which I suppose is also the common way that it IS interpreted is very different from the way a few people have discussed it on my post…or at least I have…faith to me simply means that I believe that there is something that I take solace in….something that does not have to be a religion a leader a god or a cult…but more of this universe as a whole….

    I couldn’t care less about leaders/gods/cults….

    Hard to understand I suppose…but for me, it is more of a feeling of awe about the universe..it seems so infinite…are we the only ones here?is there another planet with life similar to ours?
    I say Hindu because like you that was the home I was born in…I am not an atheist yet…nor an agnostic…so my beliefs are very different…

    I am still discovering myself…religious def not…
    But not an atheist or an agnostic either…

    As for the faith and the blind acceptance that you have mentioned here…couldn’t care less if someone questioned any and every god/goddess/leader/what have you….

    Doubts are always welcome…sometimes I add a few of my own too…on a diff note here’s a post of mine..which is quite rambling and not very coherent..but is an indicator of the way I am slowly thinking about things….

    http://indyeahforever.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/do-we-need-religion/

    (and then I also wrote about freedom of expression and how we should be careful while exercising it…)
    I realise that there is a contradiction in this post of mine (ie do we need religion one) and the freedom of expression one…but that too is a process…I am trying to sort out my own thoughts….

    Still discovering…still enjoying….

    Life without ‘faith’(or as I define faith) would be very tough for me personally..and very cut and dry….

    See?one cant compartmentalize people into this slot or that…everyone has their own definition of religion/faith…

    it all depends on whether they are dogmatic and rigid to the point of absurdity about it…

    my thoughts on religion are the same as given in this post….but as always I tread cautiously when I question people about their faith/religion…simply because its an issue that is really sensitive…one has to walk on eggshells

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 6, 2009 10:43 pm

      Well I figured I might answer this comment too since you have taken the time to comment here

      About your defn. of faith, I don’t see any problems with it. If you define “faith” as something you regard with awe and amazement or find solace in, then every person in this world can be called “faithful” including me. I also feel my ‘spirits’ uplifted when I spend time in nature. I also feel enthralled when I look up at the night sky. That is great. But when I criticize blind faith, I criticize the type of faith which does not require evidence and yet makes tall claims.

      • May 7, 2009 12:03 pm

        okay totally with you on this 🙂
        yep!! nature would be more like it:)
        imagine I forgot this one word in the talk of religion/faith and all…

        yeah criticism is very important and logical reasoning:)

        • May 7, 2009 12:05 pm

          oh! and your definition of faith does make more sense..the words and all 🙂

  4. May 16, 2009 1:26 pm

    Nitwit,

    Nothing to disagree here. Very comprehensive. So, a nice post!

    I’d done a post called ‘Communalism’, where I’ve tried to explore the psychological basis of cult mentality. TC.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 16, 2009 3:24 pm

      Thanks Panchal. Will check your post when i can.

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