Richard Dawkins controversially asserts that, “it can be plausibly argued that a deeply held belief [in hell] might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.” Dawkins then backtracks by adding, “…violent, painful, repeated sexual abuse…probably has a more damaging effect on a child’s mental well-being than sincerely believing in hell.”
Dawkins’ comparison is nothing short of ridiculous. Those convinced and suffering from the belief in hell can always choose not to believe — as many do when older. Those who suffer sexual abuse can never “undo” the experience no matter how much time passes. It is much simpler to forget a fabricated hell than a real-life hell. Dawkins — himself the victim of sexual abuse and not the victim of mental abuse regarding hell — unfortunately ignores this fact.
Meanwhile, to remedy this alleged mental abuse of hell, Dawkins proposes that children not be taught about any particular faith, and instead enjoy full liberty upon adulthood as to whether they wish to believe in God, or not.
Dawkins’ bizarre aforementioned comparison aside, as one who believes in God, I agree that every human being should have a carte blanche right to choose first, whether they even believe in God, and second, if so — to which faith they choose to reach that God.
Dawkins, likely inadvertently, has endorsed (without crediting) a principle Prophet Muhammad championed 1400 years prior. The Qur’an categorically condemned any form of religious compulsion by declaring in no uncertain terms, “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (2:256). This remarkable verse extends beyond just religion as the word translated into “religion” is deen. Deen encompasses any form of thinking, ideology, or intellectual perspective–not just religion. Islam forbids compulsion regarding any of them.
Likewise, the Qur’an, in 22:39-41, commands Muslims to protect all houses of worship — temples, churches, synagogues, and mosques — so that freedom of conscience remains free. That is, the Qur’an provides muscle to ban compulsion of conscience. It is the only ancient scripture — religious or secular — to both specifically champion, and also provide muscle, to protect universal freedom of conscience.
Moreover, Dawkins should be pleased to know that the Qur’an condemns employing mental trauma to coerce belief. In 10:100 the Qur’an says, “And if thy Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are on the earth would have believed together. Wilt thou, then, force men to become believers?” That is, if God does not Himself compel mankind — whothe hell is any individual to do so? The Islam that Prophet Muhammad taught — in vast contrast to some extremist regimes we see and condemn today–was an Islam that championed universal freedom of conscience, and forbade everyone from compelling anyone.
But speaking of hell, in comparing Islam’s afterlife concept to Dawkins’ concept of no after life — it is only Dawkins’ teaching that would frighten children — or adults. Dawkins would have children believe that after we lose consciousness and die, our bodies simply rot, are eaten by worms and insects, emit a putrid odor, and our self-awareness is destroyed into an eternal agnostic void of nothingness. All our joys, pleasures, friends, loved ones, families–everything we ever held near and dear is all left to eventual death and destruction, never to be seen or heard from again.
Islam, instead, teaches that once we lose consciousness and die, our bodies are no longer needed, but our consciousness lives on through our souls. God judges our souls by our willful actions in this life — namely our service to God and our service to humanity. Those who commit violence, injustice, and treachery are likewise held accountable for their willful informed actions. That said, Islam does not monopolize salvation but instead repeatedly declares that non-Muslims can and will enter heaven. Finally, Islam teaches that hell is not an “eternal place of torment and damnation,” but a limited place, described as a “nursing mother,” in which our souls are spiritually cleansed and eventually admitted to paradise. In Islam, heaven, not hell, is eternal. And heaven affords us that opportunity — if God wills — to eternally reunite with our loved ones and relive our joys, free of pain and suffering.
In comparing Dawkins’ version of death to Islam’s version of life after death, it is Dawkins who needs to follow his own advice and not torment children — or adults — with such a horrifying, depressing scenario of oblivion.
And those who insist that Dawkins’ version is “reality” while Islam’s version is “fantasy” fall into the same trap as believers who insist their version alone is “reality” while all others are “fantasy.” But rather than dwell on this dispute, we instead return to the principle on which Dawkins agrees with Islam: Freedom of conscience must remain free.
Yes, whether he admits it or not, Dawkins is endorsing Prophet Muhammad’s teaching. And while hell just might have frozen over, perhaps we can work together to a world of freer consciences and fewer mental abuses.
Originally published here.