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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Questions Are Not Welcome


I was in a conversation with some of my friends last week, and I was told to remember that the “devil was very knowledgeable.” I was taken aback by this statement as I had no idea what the devil having knowledge had to do with the conversation at hand. As a skeptical person, however, I was curious. How did they know this statement to be true? But understanding that my friends are believers, and were only reiterating their religious beliefs as opposed to stating objective truth, I was more so interested in understanding why did they make this statement, in the first place. Interestingly, and with some level of expectation, my inquiry into the meaning of the statement was not met. As a result, I decided to present an explanation, on this forum, as to what I understand this statement to mean, and why I believe my friends opt for its use.
This proclamation, as I have experienced, seems to be no stranger to the Grenadian thought process. It is an assertion that will most likely raise its ugly head during most discussions on religion and faith. It is normally thrown around with no explanation, which seems to be a tactic used for psychological effect. Of course, the assumption is that the participants, in the conversation, are or were believers and understand the meaning and context.
But, is there a specific time in a discussion one can expect this declaration to surface? The answer is yes. In my experiences, it will suddenly come up when one begins asking probing questions into the religious beliefs of the believers. That's the time when the believers find it difficult to demonstrate their claims to be true, and for this reason, I conclude that the proclamation is designed to do these things:

  1. To guilt the person asking the questions into thinking that he or she is somehow morphing into an agent of the devil.
  2. It is used in hope to ignite fear into the person asking the probing questions to stop questioning.
The first point is very important because through it the second point can be achieved.. Of course, the assumption here is not that the person is literally becoming the devil. Instead, the belief is that the person, by questioning the belief, he or she is displaying, characteristics normative to the devil’s. This is a concept that appears to have been derived from the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity & Islam – mythic stories. Not unlike where the reasoning behind the concept of “original sin” came from. Eve convinced by a talking snake to eat an apple.
According to the myth, the devil, known as Haylal (The Cresent/Lucifer) bar Shakhar (Dawn/Morning) – Lucifer Son of the Dawn/Morning – aka Sammay’el (Samuel), was one of the many heavenly angels. He had possessed great levels of knowledge, and because of his vast intellect, he rose to number three in his order, behind Angel Miyka’el (Michael) and Angel Gabriy’el (Gabriel). As a result of acquiring such great knowledge, his ego also bloomed. He became arrogant and wanted to rule the spiritual (Heaven) and earthly realms, and even going as far as to question the authenticity of God (El) himself. According to the myth, Samuel made claims that the existence of a supreme ruler of heaven and earth was a fabrication made up by the top angels to keep their control. With that, he was evicted from heaven, but not before corrupting 200 other angels, who were also cast out with him. Hence the name Sammay’el, which means “poison those of El”.  Another name he was given because of his rebellious nature was Ibliys, which means “rebellious one.” 
This story is without a doubt mythology, which seems to have entered the Judaic (and thus Christianity and Islam) narrative from the ancient Canaanite myth, which tells of a minor god Haylal (Halel) trying to dethrone the supreme god El. Indeed, this story shows that the devil became such not only because of his challenge to ruler, but became of his skepticism and his decision to challenge the status quo. Hence the connection between knowledge and the devil. The smarter you get, the closer to the devil you become because you are more likely to start asking questionings.
This mythical story no doubt also influenced the theology set in motion by  people like Thomas Aquinas, for instance. These are the stories from which their theologies are based. Aquinas argued for the assent to God via faith only. He argued that faith supersedes human reasoning and intellect. Why, because you can become like the devil by employing the intellect and reason. In other words you will be following your own reasoning and not God's will. Aquinas argued that faith (blind faith) is better than reason, and asserted that blind faith – Christian faith – which is to be accepted without question, is a far more virtuous action, than using the intellect or reason. Thus, apart from these two points mentioned above, it is safe to say that another goal of this declaration, which I believe is not deliberate, is its ability to kill intellectual curiosity, and herein my concerns rest.
In looking at Aquinas’ discussion of the ethics of belief, George H. Smith writes that “by attributing unbelief (which is a position attributed to the use of reason and intellect) to a sinful will, Aquinas stacked the cards against reason by assigning to faith a superior moral status.” (Smith, 2000)

“To believe requires choice – an act of will – so to believe in God requires the voluntary assent of faith (blind faith), which is a meritorious act. Christian belief is praise worthy because it requires that we give our voluntary assent to doctrines that we cannot prove and, in some case, that we cannot even comprehend”. (Smith, 2000)

I certainly do not believe my friends were saying that I should kill my intellectual inquisitiveness. I suspect that they too use reason in other aspects of their lives. However, what they were certainly telling me is that when it comes to God, I should blindly accept their position. However, despite their naiveté, by making this declaration, they are unknowingly supporting, and promoting a view that can, and certainly does quell intellectual curiosity.
The statement may have had no effect on me. Imagine, however, the psychological effects on young Grenadians – most who are likely to be from the Christian faith themselves. Young people whose psyches have already been trapped by religious dogmatic teachings of fair. The fear of becoming like the devil. The fear of being thrown into hell by a all powerful God, for asking some lousy questions. How can these young people exercise their natural reasoning, and intellectual abilities in such an atmosphere where bogeymen runs rampant? This fear of questioning, despite being placed in a religious context, will no doubt overlap into all other aspects of their lives, and as a former teacher, the hesitation and/or fear exhibited by many of our students to ask questions, I believe, has a direct relation to this irrational thought process.
No doubt, the Hayal story above, despite being a myth, may speak some truth to reality. In that I mean, some people's egos become enlarged as their education level grows. They become full with pride; our political systems seems to be populated with such individuals. However, we should encourage our people to question any and everything. Not blindly succumb to accepted norms. Questioning is one of the most important steps we can take in our endeavor to acquire knowledge, and in doing so, religion should not be guarded from being placed on the witness stand. Moreover, remember that equating the acquiring of knowledge with that of being evil is an absurd and dangerous declaration that kills the mind. This is an action that will, no doubt, encourage the growth of irrational thinking. Something we don’t need.

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