Parents are excused from strange beliefs

A couple of days ago, I went with my father to the temple to pray to/for my deceased grandfather, because it was 清明节, a day where you’re supposed to visit the graves of your ancestors to pay your respects and clean up the grave and things like that.

There’s only one cemetery still open for burials in Singapore (and even then, the graves are exhumed after 15 years) so most people are cremated instead. Which means no graves to sweep. What we usually do when we go to the temple on Qingming is: lay out all the food (the deceased’s favourites) nicely on a table (for them to eat); get some joss sticks and light them, then ‘pray’ to the buddha (??) at the altar; stick half of those joss sticks in a huge urn full of joss sticks; go to the marble block/mini tombstone with our grandfather’s photo and particulars and pray to/at/for (???) that. Sometimes people buy lots of ‘spirit money’ or paper cars/houses to burn to give to the deceased. I also see priest doing some chanting for families, reading from books while knocking on the wooden block.

There’s a whole lot of question marks in there because… my parents aren’t particularly religious (or so I like to think). Visits to the temple have always been once-in-a-blue-moon occurrences and the significance of what it done is never explained. As a kid when we saw the grown ups being all solemn, we don’t dare question too much and just imitate what they do, and do what we’re told.

But after my recent bout of questioning religion, unexamined beliefs and irrationality…this time round I found myself wondering. Does my Dad really believe my grandfather will get to enjoy the food and wine he puts on the table? and who are why ‘praying’ to or what are we ‘praying’ for?

And, more importantly, if I don’t believe in any of this, why did I agree to come along? If I can attack people of other faiths for just blindly going along with what always has been done and look down on such practices, am I not being hypocritical if I close my eyes to the irrational practices of my own family? Why not attack these senseless rituals of burning joss sticks and stacks and stacks of ‘spirit money’?

I have this anecdote I like to tell people when I want to illustrate how ‘strange’ my mum is: She gives me free reign to do many things other mums would deem risky or dangerous such as traveling overseas on my own or learning to ride a motorcycle. Yet she vehemently refuses to let me get my ears pierced. And I’m a girl! There are parents in Singapore who will bring their daughters to pierce their ears at a young age, and  parents who will not even allow their sons to ride a motorbike!

It’s really silly, and I obviously don’t buy her reasons why I shouldn’t pierce my ears at all. But still, I’m not going to disobey her and pierce my ears. Because I don’t want pierced ears badly enough to disobey, disrespect and upset my mum.

And I realize that’s a principal I apply to other issues as well: that you give more leeway to your parents. Parents are excused from ridiculous beliefs that you’d normally wouldn’t stand for in other people. You might chide them or try to explain it to them for the billionth time, but you’re not going to pick a fight about it.

Of course, you’d have to draw the line somewhere, like if your parents’ beliefs involved causing harm to others, or if they were being exceedingly unreasonable about something that means a lot to you, but I think most times, respect and love for your parents (and family) should have priority…

So why did I agree to go along and participate in rituals I didn’t believe it? Because I know it’s important to my father, something solemn and saddening for him. So if he asks me if I want to come along, I will, as a simple show of support, because he’s my father.

Passive No More; Ex-Agnostic Says Thank You

My personality is as middle of the road, non-confrontational compromiser and peacmaker as you can find.

Religion wasn’t something I thought about seriously or often, but related ideas inevitably would float about in my mind sometimes. I considered myself an agnostic in every sense of the word, and even took mild offence at atheist who derided the position as invalid or a cop-out.

Wikipedia says, “In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves there is a God, whereas an atheist disbelieves there is a God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grouns to justify knowledge whether God exists or does not.” and I embodied both definitions:

I didn’t really believe in any god, but it also seemed to be a possibility I couldn’t rule out for certain. The idea of a god had intrinsic appeal, although even when the possibility occasionally did flit across my mind, it was more often a deistic god than a theistic one.

More precisely though, I also believed that given what we are (humans) with our limited (human) abilities, we can’t know or be sure about a higher power that exists beyond our world. And if we cannot know about it, then it can’t matter what we think about it.

To elaborate: We seem to gain knowledge in two main ways, namely through the senses observing the physical world, and through pure abstract thought, reasoning things out. No one today would say God, heaven or hell is physical in a way that we could find them and prove them through science. Neither can we arrive at the conclusion of God by reasoning or thought experiments the way we can reason about logic or maths. God seems to inhabit some separate spiritual realm which doesn’t intersect with our world. If we can’t access it, how can we know it? if we can’t know it, what can it matter what we think of it?

Frankly, I was terrified of the topic of religion, because it is such a sensitive topic and there are always strong opinions on all sides and I am a person who instinctively tries to avoid conflict at all cost. I also hated getting into discussions or even listening to ‘the other side’ of the issue because I felt I didn’t know enough; If my knowledge on a topic is patchy, of course I shouldn’t say too much. If i enter the discussion and can’t think of an answer, it would seem like I ‘lost’, when it could in fact just be due to my lacking knowledge. If I listen to an argument from an expert on the other side, I’m sure to be swayed by his arguments, he’s an expert! I’m defenceless against him!

Well, now I DO think that’s a cop-out. It’s okay to be unsure; in fact, given the myriad of opinions out there and how much people love complicating life, it seems only reasonable to be unsure. But what is not okay is being unsure because you refuse to even look. If you’re unsure, examine why you’re unsure. Is there anyway you can perhaps make yourself a little less unsure? It’s okay to be unsure; it’s not okay to be unsure AND sitting happily on your bum, content to use ignorance as a excuse forever.

I was an agnostic, leaning maybe towards deism, haven’t really ruled out theism for sure, but also sympathizing sometimes with atheism, which appealed to my cynical and science/logic side. But a religion, if true, shouldn’t be in conflict with science, for science is merely the observation of the physical world, so that shouldn’t be a true barrier. And so, a true agnostic at heart, I went in with as open a mind and heart as I could manage: I honestly know that there’s so much I don’t know such that I can’t conclude anything for sure. I admit I don’t have the answers, and you say you do, so I’m all the more willing to listen, willing to understand, willing to try. Above all, I crave understanding. Understanding of how this can work, of how it can make sense.

Now? I think atheism is the most coherent position. I think I’ve been forced to explore and examine why I think what, and it has only cleared and focussed my world view into something more sharp and concrete. So for that, I thank you.

Is it ironic that you said the one thing you wanted was for me to know Christ, and you did the one thing you thought was necessary (a sign from god himself) to achieve that, and all that has brought me from my very neutral position to a more extreme and antagonistic one? To the point that I now find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with positions like that of Richard Dawkins, when previously I found him too confrontational, too extreme?

Ironic maybe, unexpected maybe not. That’s an overwhelmingly common theme in de-conversions: it all started with wanting to get closer to god or serving god more, and then the harder they searched, the harder they prayed, the more they cried out to god and the more furiously they believed… the more they found their faith crumbling around them.

I said it before: there was no gaping holes in my world view then, no searing cosmic questions that I needed answering. There’s even less uncertainty now. This doesn’t mean I’ve closed the doors or refuse to listen to or hear what people who believe have to say. On the contrary, I’d really really like to hear from them, because if there’s one thing for which I still crave for understanding, it’s how their world view makes sense to them.

But I’m not going to do so at the expense of my own beliefs anymore.

Your world view is an interconnected web of ideas and beliefs. They need to fit together like a jigsaw. It’s a framework in which you place your experiences of the world, the lens through which everything is viewed. If EVERYTHING I encounter can be understood from within this framework, it makes no sense to add a component that clashes with existing components and that raises more questions than it answers.