The last time I traveled to my beloved native country few years ago, regrettably, I found out that one of my older brother’s sons had been killed in a freak accident nearly a year previously. He was a handsome boy in his early 20s. As soon as I had the opportunity, I telephoned my brother to offer my sympathy and brotherly support. I was somewhat hesitant to bring up the death of his son in our conversation thinking that doing so may open his tragic wound again or he may react irately. However, I was utterly surprised to hear him speak so calmly and serenely, reserved and content. He told me it must have been God’s will to take away his son for he had a better plan for him. My brother is a highly devout Muslim and I had no doubt that his faith in God as well as the kindness and support of his coreligionists had helped him to cope so well with the calamitous event of the death of his son. No doubt, religion is, among other things, a source of consolation when tragedy strikes.
Religion provides an effective mechanism for dealing with tragedies, particularly for those who may lack personal fortitude and resiliency. As such, I had no doubt that my brother’s endurance must have been due to the communal benefits that result from religious devotion. He explained to me how his son had been in a coma for a few days before his death and how the Mullah of the local mosque had asked the congregation to pray so that with the help of God, his son may be healed and regain consciousness; however, this was to no avail. My brother and his wife, along with friends and relatives, had sincerely beseeched God to revive his son, but the poor boy died a few days later.
This was not, of course, the first time that God did not perform a miracle for his desperate disciples. Over and over again, God has provided no miracle. Although praying had not produced the tangible results my brother sought, its psychological effects must have been very helpful. I asked myself, what was the point of praying to God if he had a better plan for my brother’s son? If God is omniscient and aware of everything happening on earth, he could have prevented that freak accident that cost the boy his life if he wanted to. By healing his son, God not only could further strengthen my brother’s faith, but also turn many nonbelievers into devoted believers through witnessing his miracle. My brother’s faithfulness, however, did not diminish one bit because he believed that God does everything, including taking his son from him, for a reason. Instead of giving in to desolation and never-ending grief, he gained consolation by persuading himself that the freak accident was God’s plan for his son. Such a way of thinking is, of course, fervidly imparted by Islamic clerics and instilled into the minds of credulous believers who take Mullahs at face value and are told not to question or scrutinize God’s will, even in the face of such tragic events.
Even though his son was not healed no matter how many people prayed for him, the love and the sympathy of his fellow Muslims must have provided comfort for my brother and his family. Religion works not only because of its communal benefits, but also because it alleviates the psychological pain of suffering people like my brother.
Seemingly, it doesn’t matter whether praying has positive effects like actually healing a patient; what is important is the fact that because of believing, devotees like my brother can withstand tragedies better. It is like the placebo effect. The positive benefits of praying are not predicated on the existence of God; those who pray to him do not question his existence. Faith helps them to cope with problems resulting from catastrophic losses, stress, diseases, and emotional problems. The deeper the belief, the more effective it becomes as a surviving mechanism. So far, we have not been able to construct a coping mechanism that can be more effective than that provided by religion.
Had my brother been an educated person, his conduct and his coping apparatus might have been different. He could have possibly read some good books and sought some answers from philosophers and scientists regarding life’s indispensable questions or how to cope with catastrophic occasions. However, being an illiterate person, his coping mechanism needs to be simple and fathomable to him, something he can embrace with his heart and his faith and not through reason and scientific underpinnings. He could have also raised his son more responsibly by teaching him the importance of common sense and safety and risk avoidance. Instead, he submitted to the fate he believed God had planned for him. He left everything to the will of God, a God who failed to protect his son and left him and his family in pain and suffering for the rest of their lives.
It is okay not to believe in a supernatural authority as long as you have the capacity to rely on yourself and your own strengths, seeking meaning and values internally, taking responsibility for your actions, crediting yourself for your success, and blaming yourself for your failures. Of course, if you can become a strong person by believing in God, like my brother did, that is fine too. There is a virtue that believing in God will foster.
Throughout history, gods of various forms and assigned attributes have been created and worshiped by people in different parts of the world. People who have been worshiping these man-made gods have been acquiring the same comforting feelings and benefits that devout Muslims, like my brother, receive by praying to Allah.
However, as previously mentioned, my brother, like millions of fellow Muslims, is an illiterate man who is also not economically well off. He lives in a holy city in Iran, one of the most religious countries in the world. Thus, he has no opportunity to choose his fate, but has to acquiesce to the milieu. This I can understand. However, I cannot fathom those religious apologists who are living comfortably in the U.S. or other developed countries and who are possibly educated in fine universities, but possess the mentality of the medieval era or personify someone who lives in Timbuktu. Even though they have an iPhone 6 in their pocket and use state-of-the-art technology to spew all sorts of nonsensical stories off and online, they keep 6th century’s thoughts in their heads. That is indeed oxymoronic. They think that there is a big brother in the sky watching their every move and recording their every deed, someone who takes the blame for their every misdeed and the credit for every success.
Do you think we will eventually enter an era in which we have to face life’s tragedies without relying on the benefits of religion?
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