Learning to Pray: A Reflection

By Aneace Haddad

The little boy in this video is learning to pray. His father, a young man of 28, is not very religious, but is proud of his Muslim heritage and wants to share that with his son.

When this video was shot, there were 3 billion human beings on the planet. Today there are 7 billion of us. We are hyper connected to each other in ways that were completely unimaginable at that time. We no longer live in isolated countries behind barriers of language, religion and culture. We now live in direct contact with people of other nationalities, races and religions.

A fast growing number of us are a mix of all kinds of different identities that used to be clear and distinct. Mixed nationalities, mixed races and even mixed religious beliefs. Just like the little boy learning to pray in the video, who went on to speak several languages and live around the world, across many different cultures.

The molecules in this little boy’s body will be replaced several times throughout his life. New molecules come in with food, stay with him a while, then leave. New ideas come into his mind, stay a while, then leave. New beliefs develop, then, in time, also leave. He is much like a wave in the ocean — constantly changing and moving, never fixed and permanent.

Of course, the little boy is me. I am very aware today of how religion came into my life very young. My family was never particularly religious, and yet, it took decades for the programming to be changed. I became very religious in my late teens and early twenties, then slowly drifted back to an agnostic state for 30 years, still kind of believing in God, yet gradually, and eventually, losing the Muslim identity and any belief in God.

Pressing my little head (it’s hard to call it “my head” since there is nothing left of it today) to the ground looks so innocent and simple, yet the programming was deep and profound.

The vast majority of people who believe that the Quran is the word of God are people who were born into a family, community or country who believe that. The same is true for people who believe that the Bible is the word of God. The same is true for people who believe in an entity called “God”. If you weren’t born into it, and your head wasn’t pressed to the ground (literally or figuratively) when you were a baby, then there is 99% chance you would not believe it.

I have always wondered why the world’s major religions all appeared in the same place where agriculture and money were invented. Around 4,000 BC, we hit a tipping point. We had started farming a few thousand years earlier, but suddenly, 50% of us were living off of farming. When this happened, the world’s major religions all appeared almost at once. All of them were born in the world’s major farming areas. We invented money precisely at the same time and in the same places. Agricultural age religions, plus money, gave us the means to organise into much larger groups than before. On a side note, it’s interesting that fundamentalist Christians date the beginning of the world at around 4,000 BC, exactly the moment we hit the agricultural age tipping point.

Before the agricultural age, we had few surplus possessions and had little to pass on to our children. With the brand new concept of land and property, men organised in patriarchal groups of extended families, and women’s rights were trampled on. The transition to the agricultural age was especially harsh to women, who lost much of the equality they enjoy in traditional hunter gatherer societies.

Agricultural revolution

I can’t buy into the Arabic superiority narrative either. Believing that a “God” would send down a book that is considered perfect for all people and all time, yet written in an obscure desert language which is extremely difficult for the vast majority of people to understand. This belief is the height of cultural pride and arrogance. And frankly, it turns the rest of the world off — big time — which should not be surprising.

Religion is made up of a rough mix of three parts: “science” explaining the physical world, morality and legal frameworks designed to bind agricultural age people together, and the spirituality that our species has naturally been drawn to for at least 100,000 years. A large number of people have already abandoned major chunks of the pseudo-science embedded in their religions. People are gradually leaving behind the moral and legal frameworks of religion, especially in the secular world. If they hold onto anything at all, it is the spiritual and cultural aspects.

When you dump the agricultural age pseudo-science, morality and legal frameworks, what is left? The answer will be different for each religion. Some religions are more dependent on the moral and legal parts, and are suffering from this transition. Islam especially.

We have gone from 3 billion people to 7 billion, hyper connected, in just my lifetime. And I’m still young. The world is slowly moving beyond pride in one’s culture, upbringing, nationality, religion, race, and even pride in one’s gender and sexuality. The transition is painful for some, exhilarating for others. Personally, I am thrilled to be alive at this time.

We are amazingly resilient, filled with creativity to the brim, and unlimited optimism in our constant exploration of our world. We make big mistakes and screw things up, and we can be very selfish to the point of destroying the lives of other people and other species. But the vast majority of us somehow finds a way to live decent lives. Otherwise none of us would be here.