Are we born believers?
Contrary to what atheists believe, everybody, religious or otherwise, knows their Creator in their minds and hearts, whether they consciously recognize it or not. We are innately programmed to know God, to love Him and to seek refuge in Him. Thus, the term for “non-believer” in Arabic is Kâfir, which means “one who covers up the truth.”
God is the self-evident truth which everybody recognizes innately. According to Hamza Tzortzis of the Sapience Institute, a self-evident truth is one that is universal, untaught, natural and intuitive. (https://www.gotostage.com/channel/424782e29fec4b75a9798274bc11ea80/recording/f96a4872fc3f488693e1a4ec4cbd0aa0/watch?source=CHANNEL )
We know there is a Creator because what we see, in this world, matches what we would expect to see if there is in fact Someone in charge.
Accordingly, if our innate disposition is unclouded, God is clearly evident. Our hearts have a lock and knowledge of God is their key. The key, however will not fit if the lock is rusty or damaged from pride and distortions.
In the Quran, we are told that when the human race started as a “seed” in our father Adam, God took an oath from all of us in this state of incipiency that we would know Him as our Lord.
And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam —from their loins, their seed (or from Adam’s loins his offspring)— and made them testify concerning themselves (saying to them): “Am I not your Lord?’ They said: ‘Yes’— lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: “Verily, we have been unaware of this.” (Quran 7:172)
…the fitrah (innate knowledge of God) upon which He has created people. No change in God’s creation [let there be]: that pattern is the standard Religion. But most among mankind fail to understand. (Quran 30:30)
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: “No child is born except on the Fitrah.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 4775)
Before you rush to label the above as sentimental mythology, please consider the studies below.
- In a 2001 study by the Center for Brain and Spiritual Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. Eugene D’Aquili found measurable changes in the limbic system and in the object association area in the brains of monks and people in prayer. In the abstract of their paper, “The Neuropsychological Basis of Religions or Why God Won’t Go Away,” they state:
In general, religion appears to serve two major functions – it is a system of self‐maintenance and a system of self‐transcendence. Since both of these functions bear directly on human survival and adaptability, the neuropsychological mechanisms that underlie religions appear to have become thoroughly ingrained in the human gene pool and ultimately human experience. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/0591-2385.00140, Abstract)
- A 2011 study at the University of Oxford found that humans across many cultures, are “predisposed” to believe in gods and the afterlife. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110714103828.htm, Abstract)
- In a 2013 Finnish study published in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Volume 24, 2014 – Issue 2, Marjaana Lindeman, Bethany Heywood, Tapani Riekki and Tommi Makkonen examined whether atheists exhibit evidence of emotional arousal when they dare God to cause harm to themselves and their intimates. Skin conductance testing showed that asking God to do awful things was equally stressful for both atheists and theists. The results imply that atheists’ attitudes toward God are ambivalent in that their explicit beliefs conflict with their affective response.
In one of its many verses addressing the psychology of the disbeliever, the Quran talks about this conflict:
And they rejected [those signs of God] out of injustice and haughtiness, although their [inner] selves were convinced. (Quran 27:14)
- Olivera Petrovich is a Research Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology. Her 2018 book, Natural Theological Understanding from Childhood to Adulthood and her research deal with the origin and development of natural religious understanding across various cultures. She uses supporting evidence from a series of studies of children and adults living in diverse cultures such as the UK and Japan to contend that religion or theology constitutes one of the core domains of human cognition, rather than being a by-product of other core domains and speciﬁc cultural inputs.
- Recent research by Järnefelt, Canfield and Kelemen at Newman University concluded that there is a natural propensity to see nature as designed, even among atheists, and that non-belief was cognitively effortful. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25880608/)
- Professor Justin Barret, the director of Thrive Center for Human Development in Pasadena, California, in his book, Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Belief, concludes that children believe in a Divine Being that created the entire universe (Section on Evidence).
On the other hand, atheism is something taught, something counter-intuitive.
Many atheists acknowledge this and try to address the void which results from denying their natural human inclinations, by borrowing some concepts from religion. The writer Alain de Botton, during a TED talk, suggested that atheists should steal from religion to address this void. (https://www.npr.org/transcripts/245957052?storyId=245957052, para. 5)
The fact that atheists continuously debate with theists on the idea of God, indicates familiarity and experience with the concept of God. If they had no experience, they wouldn’t even know what theists are talking about. Similarly, you cannot expect a blind man to describe the color red. But, if he starts describing the feelings and impressions of the color and comments on its qualities, then you suspect that he cannot be blind, or that he once was able to see.
The practice of religion is a basic need for people in every community. You may find many towns without a theatre, without a park, without a library; some even without a school. But you will rarely find one without a place of worship.
When a plane goes down, those on board (whether believers, atheists or communists) start praying to someone beyond themselves. As the saying goes: “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Everybody at death knows God because at this point, all vanity and delusions disappear, and only the truth remains.
Say, have you considered: if there came to you the punishment of God or if there came to you the Hour – is it other than God you would invoke if you should be truthful? No, it is Him [alone] you would invoke. (Quran 6:40-41)
Thus, the real question amounts to this: Do we want a relationship with God during this life, or do we want to know Him only upon death?
Faith is for the ambitious
Are you satisfied with what this life has to offer, or do you yearn for more?
Whether you are an atheist, an agnostic, or a believer in God, every worldly desire loses its appeal after we acquire it. We either lose the excitement as it becomes familiar or we worry about losing it.
In a secular environment, Man searches for happiness in material things. He tells himself: “If I get money, I’ll be happy.” He becomes rich but finds he is still unsatisfied. When Bill Gates was asked how he felt about his fortune of 130 billion, he answered: “That number means nothing to me.”
Or, Man tells himself: “If I have power and fame, I’ll be happy.” Celebrities have both. Yet, in general, they are a notoriously unhappy segment of the population.
When we limit our goals to material things, we leave unfulfilled our other dimension, the spiritual dimension. True happiness involves satisfying both aspects of our humanity. According to Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, a 13/14th century Muslim scholar:
Truly in the heart there is a void that cannot be filled except with the company of God, a sadness that cannot be lifted except with the bliss of knowing Him and a yearning that cannot be fulfilled except with His love and remembrance. Even, if a person were given all of this world and everything in it, that cannot fill this emptiness. (https://www.azquotes.com/quote/817399)
Furthermore, without belief in an afterlife, everything is incomplete because earthly life comes to an end sooner or later. Ultimately, even if we have the best 100 years or so on Earth, without an afterlife, there is only the grave to look forward to.
We are born with the desire to reach for the stars and touch eternity and nothing in this transient and limited worldly life will ever satisfy that desire. Our dreams can be met only by our Creator, Who has everything.
Let’s take a very ambitious dream list or bucket list on Earth:
- Fly on a space-mission to Mars
- Meet the Pope, the Queen, President of the US, Tom Cruise, etc.
- Own a Caribbean island
- Have the fighting strength of Muhammad Ali or the beauty of Cleopatra
- Live to be 150
Everything in this world is limited, even its dreams are limited.
Let’s compare this to a dream list without any practical worldly constraints:
- Fly like a bird, anywhere we wish
- Meet Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses, Noah, Gabriel (peace be upon them) and—dare we say it—meet our Glorious Creator?!!
- Own a galaxy or two
- Possess beauty that makes all the Miss Universes pale in comparison
- Regain our youth and live forever young
Yet, in this universe, we see the signs of the impossible in God’s vast creation: cosmic numbers that are immeasurably large, laws finely tuned to unimaginable precision, extreme complexity at the infinitesimally small cellular level, etc. This gives us a perspective to imagine the mind-boggling scale of an afterlife in comparison to this earthly life.
If you go to a five-star resort, you appreciate the beautiful surroundings, the luxury, the service and the high quality food; you feel happy and content. This resort is what people have prepared for other people. Just imagine what the Creator of the entire universe has prepared for people.
Contrary to what some may think, religious people are the most ambitious. However, unlike non-believers, they do not confine their ambitions to what this life has to offer. Paradise is their goal.
Paradise is the end of boredom, weariness, depression, fear, loss, pain and death. It is the disappearance of grey hair, under-eye circles, wrinkles, etc. It is all the places we cannot hope to reach, the boundless love this world cannot offer, the people we yearn to meet, the realization of every hope and the fulfillment of our wildest dreams. It is the removal of all boundaries and the expansion into every possibility.
With faith, infinity is the limit: no constraints, no end. It is the realization of every hope and beyond.
No soul knows what is kept hidden for them out of the delights of the eye as a reward for what they used to do. (Quran 32:17)
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: God tells us: “I have prepared for My righteous servants what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no heart has imagined.” (Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhari 7498)
…To be continued in Part 23