Friday, November 27, 2015

Belief vs. Trust

"All you need is faith and trust!"        peter pan, the comic character

Belief or Trust: which is the foundation of religion?

Belief and trust in the current understanding of religion are synonym terms upon which the entire religious view is built. In the current understanding of religion, there are always some notions, rules, and rituals that cannot be explained rationally and the religious person is expected to blindly swallow them with the added flavor of belief and trust. This characteristic is so much highlighted in the current understandings of religion that the critics of religion view religious people as unreasonable people who completely abandon rational thinking and blindly follow a religious package composed of concepts, rules, and rituals.
In this article, we do not want to deny the existence of the element of "acceptance without proof" in a sane religious view. Nevertheless, we think that this acceptance--which we know it as belief or faith--in religion must be limited to a few items and its extension to a large set of rules and rituals (i.e., religious package), stems from another element called trust. In this article, we explain that trust not only is not something upon which the religion is founded, but also in some cases it is indeed the very same corrupted element that religion rose to confront it.
In the rest, we define each of the terms "belief" and "trust" in the context of religion and inspect their trace in Islam, as one of the major religions of our time.


Interchangeability of the notions belief and trust in the current culture is so deep that it has even influenced the way dictionaries describe these terms:
belief: the feeling that something is good and can be trusted
trust: a strong belief in the honesty, goodness etc of someone or something:
In the core of each religious method, there is unprovable element that the religious person is expected to "believe" in it [7:75, 7:76]. This unprovable element not only is not a weak point for religion but also resembles the live spirit of the religion without which being religious degrades from a heavenly state centered around the man's free will to an earthly, dead body of predetermined reactions. If the religious principles were all provable, then the very lively religious excitement powered by the love for the God [3:31], would be replaced by a collection of spiritless, rational rules that leave humans no choice but following them [36:11].
Nevertheless, the religious people along the history usually considered "belief" or "faith" as the down side of their lifestyle and would commission an army of philosophers and scientists to invent "arguments" for rationalizing the foundations of their religious view. We can still find traces of these continuous efforts in the many existing arguments for existence of God such as the theological argument. What is interesting is that there is not much evidence these so-called arguments have "convinced" the people outside the religious circle about the correctness of the religious view. It rather seems that the actual target audience of these arguments were the people inside the religious circle to have the next generation accept the religious culture the same way it is offered to them.
This fear from unprovability grows to an extent that the religious people would not even dare to question the soundness of these so-called arguments. For example, when the great scientist and philosopher Avicenna announces that even though he believes in the judgement day, he cannot prove its existence, he is threatened with Apostasy and hence death.
In the foundation of every religious school of thought, there are two unprovable principles: existence of God and the judgment day; i.e., there is an intelligent creator behind the world that will reward/punish us based on our deeds. There is no rational proof for any of these two principles and the religious person is expected to "believe" in them and--under the influence of this belief-- to stay away from wrongdoings [10:63, 12:57] and pursue right deeds [2:82]. The belief in these two principles, however, do not demand from him/her following any particular ritual or person.
Although the two principles of the God (the creator) and the judgement day are the essential basis for any religious school of thought, different branches of religion have also other principles to answer the following questions:
  1. How does the creator communicates with the creature? Is this communication also in the form of a conversation?
  2. How to identify the ideal deeds? And whether the creator has some ways for guiding the creature to the right path?
The answers offered by various branches of religion to these questions are different, but they can be abstracted into the principle of "the message". The message principle is to believe in a conversation between the creator and a few of the selected creatures at some point in the past. The message in general includes: (i) a model of the relation between the creator and the creature, (ii) reminding the creature about the main purpose of creation, (iii) describing a model of an ideal creature, and (vi) samples of the correct and incorrect implementations of that model in some particular periods of time.
Whether the creator has sent such message to that particular creature or not, and also how close is the text that we are reading to that sent message is not provable and the religious person based on his/her own religious beliefs decides on the relation between the present text and the original message. For example, in the religious approach of Islam, the religious person believes that one of the 10 readings of Quran is the same as the message that was descent to a person named Mohammad. Although this belief is strengthened after studying Quran and finding it not similar to any other texts on earth, similarly to the two principles of the God and the judgement day, it is not provable [3:75].


As we explained in the previous section, "belief" (or "faith") means accepting the existence of the creator and the judgement day without any proof. The belief calls the religious person to stay away from evil [10:63, 12:57] and to endeavor for good deeds [2:82]. Nevertheless it does not specify which deed exactly is good and which is evil. The practical question in the daily life is that what "concrete" deeds are the implementation of "abstract" notions of good and evil in each separate situation. In this article, we are not giving an answer to this difficult question. The author's position is that there is no unique answer to this question; sometimes harmony with the symphony of creation leads human to finding the right way, as the very same approach had led many of the prophets to separate their path from the wrong going of their people. Sometimes following the already guided ones helps understanding the correct path, as many people living at the time of the prophet were benefiting from companionship of the prophet [3:31, 20:90]. And sometimes reading the previously revealed messages and trying to comprehend the model of the ideal being explained in them can be helpful [2:2, 39:17, 39:18].
Instead of giving a vague and perhaps incomplete answer to this difficult question, in this section we analyze the answers that the religious people have adopted and show how these answers have led to the inception of the notion of trust in religious schools of thought.

A) The divine connection

One possible answer that many of religious branches have adopted is that telling right from wrong can be achieved via a divine, non-verbal connection with the creator. In this view, the divine person due to purity of his/her heart and its proximity to the source of truth can feel the evil nature of the wrong deeds and stay away from them. The main problem is that even though an ordinary religious person cannot reject the possibility of such a connection, he/she knows well that in practice he/she is far from such level of divine connection and pretending to that would be nothing more than a deception. What eventually will emerge in such a religious society is a majority of non-divine, ordinary people who are seeking the right path and a minority of divine people who "claim" having reached to such level of divinity that they can feel the right path. What facilitates the transaction between these two groups is an element called "trust": the majority of ordinary religious people can trust the divinity as well as the honesty of the minority group of divine people--to which we refer to as the Elders--and ask them about the correctness of their deeds. Among the groups that have implemented some version of this approach, we can name Catholicism, which is built upon trusting the honesty and divinity of the church.

B) Sample-mining

Recall that in the message principle the religious person believes in samples of incarnation of good and bad deeds in the past cherry picked by the creator and included in the revealed message. Believing the authenticity of these samples can guide the religious person to a better understanding of the difference between good and bad in his own time and life conditions. This guidance however due to the samples being few is limited to some general hints and hence does not satisfy the desire of the ordinary religious person of having a convenient religious practice that tells the exact commands of what to do and what not to do [38:6]. The first step in the religious view based on sample-mining is increasing the number of samples. For example, the Judaism gathers samples of the history of its nation in some thick books and keep them beside the original message, Talmud. In Islam also a large volume of the historical stories of the conversations between the prophet and the people around him are gathered and maintained under the name Hadith. Depends on the branch, some also expand the Hadith collection with samples of stories from the prophet's companions or his family.
The gathered samples can then be turned into religious rules. For example, if there is a sample implying that over a thousand years ago the companions of the prophet were avoiding a particular type of food, this sample could turn into a general religious rule that considers this type of food evil. The obvious problem of this approach is that the process of making general rules from samples is not well founded. That aside, the second problem, which is the subject of this article, is that no matter how many of such samples we gather, they cannot cover the infinite number of situations that religious people face in different times and places. As an extreme example, although the evilness of the unforgivable act of murdering a child is clear to everybody, in some special cases it was considered the deed that has pleased the God [18:80]. One-to-one mapping of the infinite situations that a religious person could be located in to a bounded set of religious rules is an unachievable dream.
The employed solution is creating new propositions by combining two or more of the original rules, which doubles the complexity of the religious practice to the extent that applying such a complex practice becomes impossible for ordinary religious people. At this point, "trust" enters the culture of this religious school of thought: here trust means accepting the honesty and expertise of a small group of the religious community for knowing the implementation of good and evil in the daily life. In this approach, a small group--to which we refer as the Elders--devote their life to data mining in the previous rules and samples, i.e., sample-mining; the ordinary religious people try to cast their particular situations in the form of questions and ask them from the religious Elders; the Elder look into repository of samples as well as previously generated rules and generate a new one: do this or do not do that. The ordinary religious person needs to trust the expertise and honesty of the Elder to be able to execute the issued order in the name of the God.

C) Religion + Trust

The primary problem of adding the element of trust to the religious culture is that the follower is not equipped with any tool with which he can verify the correctness of the rules produced by the Elders. If a rule does not conform with rationale the religious person cannot simply reject it since he/she is told that the God's commands are not supposed to justified. An ideal religious person is pictured as the one who executes the God's commands with no questions asked. Thus, if a rule produced by an Elder does not conform with what his/her heart tells him/her, rationale, the message, or the spirit of the religion, the religious person cannot tell whether the rule being unnatural comes from the Elder's  mistake in producing it or from the flawed understanding of the religious person of his/her own nature. The only choice of the religious person is to trust, either the expertise and honesty of the Elder or his/her divinity.

For a religious person born inside the religious culture that is mixed with trust, is difficult admitting the un-religious nature of trust as it constitutes the majority of the content of the religion he/she has practiced. For example, as much as religious people outside the Catholic circle view trusting the church as an awkward attachment to the original Christianity, the followers of Catholicism view it as the absolute view for salvation.

D) Religion Trust

We can consider trust as the first mistake in the history of religion when Adam trusted the oath of Satan [7:21] and ate from the fruits of the forbidden tree. Ever since the same element of trust has been merging into the religious cultures, with new names and under new covers. By reviewing the history of the current religious branches one can vividly observe the depth of the damage inflicted on religion after getting mixed with the poisonous element of trust. To keep the abstract notions explained in this article far away from the disagreements about historical events, we leave the review of the relevant history to the reader. We just advise the reader to investigate the damages inflicted by trust in a religious culture other than that of the reader's, so that prejudice of his/her own religious culture would not prevent him/her from free thinking. Instead in this section, using the verses from Quran we show that trust is one of the monsters that religion had risen against. However, trust in our era instead of standing against religion in a face-to-face combat, has merged into its soul and has become part of its identity.
In the rest, by emphasizing on verses from Quran, we explain the author's understanding of the correct religious view in Quran and show that how Quran refers to the dark notion of trust--which has become a holy word in the current religious culture--and describe it as the root of some deviations in religion.
In Quran's view, people who love the creator will reach the ideal destiny [3:31].

Say, [O Muhammad], "If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful." (31)

And the ones whose heart are not completely devoted to the God will end up in the incorrect path of following a special group of people, whom we can translate as the Elders [33:67].

And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. And if only they who have wronged would consider [that] when they see the punishment, [they will be certain] that all power belongs to Allah and that Allah is severe in punishment. (165)

And they will say, "Our Lord, indeed we obeyed our masters and our dignitaries, and they led us astray from the [right] way. (67)

Following the Elders will led people to apply the deviated religious culture of their local community.

And when it is said to them, "Follow what Allah has revealed," they say, "Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing." Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided? (170)

And when it is said to them, "Follow what Allah has revealed," they say, "Rather, we will follow that upon which we found our fathers." Even if Satan was inviting them to the punishment of the Blaze? (21)

In fact along the history of religion the Elders have been a primary obstacle for proper reception of the message by ordinary people. Quran mentions some samples [38:6, 7:75, 7:90] that the Elders resist the message of the God and invite their followers to follow the incorrect religious culture of their community.

And the eminent among them went forth, [saying], "Continue, and be patient over [the defense of] your gods. Indeed, this is a thing intended. (6)

The leading men of his people who were bent on denying the truth, said, "If you follow Shu'ayb, you will certainly be the losers." (90)

Said the eminent ones who were arrogant among his people to those who were oppressed - to those who believed among them, "Do you [actually] know that Salih is sent from his Lord?" They said, "Indeed we, in that with which he was sent, are believers." (75) Said those who were arrogant, "Indeed we, in that which you have believed, are disbelievers." (76)

In several occasions [2:166, 34:31, 14:21] Quran foretells events in the judgement day that the misled followers will hold the Elders responsible for them having lost the right path.

When they face their punishment, those who have been followed will disown their followers, and all their ties shall be cut asunder, (166) those who followed will say, "If we could only return to the world, we would disown them as they have disowned us." God will thus show them their actions as a cause of bitter regret and remorse. They shall never emerge from the Fire. (167)

Those who deny the truth say, "We shall believe neither in this scripture nor in [any] that [came] before it." Could you but see when the wrongdoers will be made to stand before their Lord, casting blame on one another! Those who had been weak will say to the arrogant ones, "Had it not been for you, we should certainly have been believers!" (31) The haughty ones will then reply to the weak ones, "Did we keep you away from the guidance when it came to you? Indeed not. You yourselves were the guilty ones." (32) Those deemed weak will say to those deemed great, "No, it was your scheming night and day when you commanded us to reject God and assign equals to Him." But they will show their remorse when they see the punishment. We will put iron collars round the necks of those who had been bent on denying the truth. They will be requited only in proportion to their misdeeds. (33)

They shall all appear before God and the weak will say to those who behaved proudly, "We were your followers. Can you protect us from God's punishment?" They will reply, "Had God given us guidance, we would have guided you. It is all the same whether we are patient or impatient; there is no escape for us." (21)

There are examples in Quran that shows that the misled followers were among the believers who were in fact religious, but trusting the Elders led them to an invalid religion [38:6, 34:31, 31:21].

And the eminent among them went forth, [saying], "Continue, and be patient over [the defense of] your gods. Indeed, this is a thing intended. (6)

… Those who had been weak will say to the arrogant ones, "Had it not been for you, we should certainly have been believers!" (31) ... (32) Those deemed weak will say to those deemed great, "No, it was your scheming night and day when you commanded us to reject God and assign equals to Him." But they will show their remorse when they see the punishment. We will put iron collars round the necks of those who had been bent on denying the truth. They will be requited only in proportion to their misdeeds. (33)

When they are told to follow the [Revelations] that God has sent down, they say, "No, we shall follow the ways that we found our fathers [following]." Yes! Even though Satan is inviting them to the punishment of the burning Fire? (21)

Thus the Elders who were blocking the guidance from reaching people were not from outside the religious community--as mistakenly assumed. Quite the opposite, the Elders were actually the pioneers of the religious culture--which was deviated from the original, correct religion--to the extent that they produce direct rules for their followers stating that what the God wants them to do (this is a thing intended. (6)) and what not to do.

Appendix I: Glossary

To avoid confusion, we redefine the terms that are used in this article.

Message: the content of the communication of the creator with a chosen creature in the past. The message was indented to be heard by people in future to be their guide. As far as people in the current century are concerned, the creature who has received the message is not alive anymore and thus there is no way to receive the message directly from him. The message could have been preserved in the written form by ordinary people subject to mistake. Among the revealed messages that are currently available in the written form, all but Quran are scientifically proven to have changed from the original version. The absolute majority of historians believe in the same version of Quran--the differences are at the level of vowels. Quran claims that it is a miraculous book and people can verify this claim by trying to being a chapter like Quran's. The belief that Quran as the book that we read is the same as the message that was revealed long time ago, thus, does not require trusting the intermediary individuals along the history.

Messenger: the chosen person that the message is revealed to him in the oral form and he repeats what he has heard to people around him. There is no alive messenger at our time.

The Elders: the ordinary people that at the time that the messengers are absent take the control of religion and define themselves as the necessary hub for understanding religion. The way the elders make their position legitimate is either by claiming a divine spirit or by attaching a complex literature to the religion (such as Hadith) and claiming mastership in that literature (such as scholars).

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