Religious Debates are Pointless

Religious Debates are Pointless

By Desmond Yeoh SC

Ceramic Products Manufacturer in Malaysia

Ceramic Products

Imagine that we have not seen or tasted a mango before but we have heard about it from different people. Therefore, we need to believe what the other people told us although they may have also heard it from other people. One day, we get together and start talking about mangos. I say that it is green in colour and you say that it is yellow and we pull out all our references, including the reputation and position of those who told us about the mango. At the end of the day, both of us are none the wiser. It does not matter who is right because the debate has not given either of us an actual experience of the mango.

This is the same with religious debates which requires us to believe in religious dogmas which cannot be tested or observed. We argue over things like whether of not the world is finite or infinite, eternal or non-eternal and so on. We can go on and on about this but sometimes, we need to take a step back and question; does it matter to me whether it is true or not. How does this contribute to my present happiness?

The mind can only perceive something which it knows from past experience; for example, the mind cannot understand a language it has never learnt before. Because the mind has never experienced enlightenment, it cannot comprehend it. This is also the reason why enlightenment cannot be taught because it must be experienced by getting behind the mind; those layers and layers of thoughts and conditioning. But what the mind can do is try to speculate endlessly about enlightenment just like how it can talk endlessly about a mango which it has never seen before but researched extensively!

The problem with religious debates is that we take them too seriously. We can get very defensive when someone challenges what we believe it. I may share my thoughts thinking that I am helping the other person, but he may view it as an attack on his ego. Instead of helping him, I just got him angry.

That is why I am very selective in what I retain in my head and what I share with others. I only put importance on those teachings which I can apply and test for myself; specifically, those that contribute to my inner-peace in the present moment. We all know that if we take care of the present, the future will take care of itself.

It is useful to just share those insights which we have personally experienced instead of quoting religious text. Instead of debating about what happens after death, we can discuss the practices and contemplations that can be applied to bring happiness in the present moment. We can talk about the conditioning that limits us so that the conversation becomes productive; something akin to meditation. Ajahn Sumedho said, “Meditation is a way of de-conditioning the mind; which helps us to let go of all the hard line views and fixed ideas we have”[1]. For example, we can discuss about personal views that can bring stress into our life such as ‘this is a dog eat dog world’ or ‘no one can be trusted’ and so on.

However, if we are at the receiving end of a lecture on religion, we can put our spiritual ego aside and try to see if there is something which can help us to better understand our own practices. We can skilfully steer the topic to something interesting. We can ask questions like – ‘what are the practices (or habits or ways of thinking) which make you happy?’ Sometimes, we may not know that we have misunderstood something until we listen to another person’s perspective on a related topic.

We must also remember that the desire to ‘become’ or to be special is one of the causes of suffering. We want to become an enlightened being or a ‘wise person’ or a good Buddhist/Christian/Hindu and so on. This desire pushes us to get into spiritual debates. Those desires are not by themselves bad; just like fire cannot be said to be inherently bad. But it is important to observe how these desires arise within us and observe how the presence of those desires sometimes get us into unnecessary trouble: It may cause me to correct a friend to prove that I am wiser but tarnish my relationship with him. When it comes to religious debates, we just need to keep in mind that friendship is more important than being right. Anyway, there is no right or wrong when it comes to debates over beliefs which cannot be proven through experience or observation.

[1] Source: The Four Noble Truths by Ajahn Sumedho

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. chiaab
    Sep 10, 2012 @ 13:30:21

    right on target,instead of debating on the usual hair splitting issue which has no agreeable solution but only blowing hot air to serve no useful purposes…..


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