Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Setbacks in teaching history

In a deeply religious society, where students want to find answers for everything in religion, threats include being labeled a blasphemer. One of my students today asked for evidence of god. Especially after understanding the beginning of religion and links to agriculture, destructive forces of nature and the ultimate belief in a monotheistic god.

As a teacher in University of Karachi, its difficult to state openly, that belief, has no links to logic, evidence and reason. I received a threat last semester to not speak about religion at all or I will be responsible for consequences. The problem is, should I ignore valid questions by students? Should I discourage students from questioning, and tell them to merely accept everything? Would that not be dishonest? I think it would not only be dishonest of me to do so, but also stunt the mental growth of young minds eagerly searching for answers.

It would be very easy to merely give a lecture and ask students to learn it by heart. Something that our education system is well known for. Perhaps, if religion, any religion was based in facts and evidence, the religious people would not feel so threatened by a questioning mind. For a student, who grew up on anti-polytheist propaganda, polytheism comes with a backup of reasoning for belief, including the importance of the Sun and water in an agricultural society, and the moon in desert-nomadic societies. In this case, the burden of proof becomes far greater on monotheistic religions. Unfortunately, the monotheistic god is beyond the five sensory perceptions and seems to have no refuge, but one in the human psychology, incapable of understanding that existence is for no reason and with no purpose.

Whereas, worshiping the sun makes sense for a person growing crops in Mesopotamia, because without the sunlight, crops will not grow. Revering the moon in the desert is understandable, as it helps illuminate the sand dunes, and the trader does not get lost. Fearing the mighty River is logical because it can destroy villages and crops in seconds. But what does an unseen, unheard, untasted, unsmelt and untouched god do?

These things cannot be said out loud really, but can only be hinted at by stating and repeating that keeping evidence and belief separate is the best available option; belief is blind; that we never found 40-yard tall human skeletons; or that early humans had low life expectancy because of predators, health concerns, etc, etc.  Noah's age is not the only problem here. The floods were raging with safety issues, for Noah, allegedly 900 years old as per Islamic mythology has a lot in common with Utnapishtim from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Manu of the Puranas. That mythology is a word kept by Muslims for other religions, as theirs is 'undoubtedly the divine' one.

It is a dangerous world out there, I told my students, as the class broke into a cacophony of questions.

PS Architecturally speaking, we have far more temples, palaces and forts to study compared to the common man's house. Just like in earthquakes and floods, the rich man's haveli and the mullah's mosque survive. Not because of divine intervention but because of better materials. 

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