Religion drew a large group of interested people to hear a lively discussion of different beliefs at the IUS Stem Concert Hall on Monday, Nov. 10.
The event was hosted by the Honors Programs at IU Southeast and was moderated by Bryan Hall, assistant professor of philosophy.
Five panelists were invited to the forum representing the views of their respective faiths.
Anila Ragade, professor of psychology at Jefferson Community College, represented the Hindu faith. Edwin Kagin, national legal director of the American Atheists, spoke for the atheist viewpoint. Barton Anderson, of NEXTEP Consulting Group, represented the conservative Protestant view. J. Milburn Thompson, chair of the theology department at Bellarmine University, represented Roman Catholicism. Ibrahim B. Syed, president of the Islamic Research Foundation International, spoke for the Islamic faith.
Questions were submitted in advance to Hall, who opened the discussion with how different faiths respond to climate change caused by humans.
“I believe climate change is the most important issue for the 21st century,” Thompson said. “Although the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t presently have an official statement about it, I’m sure they soon will.”
Syed said the Quran emphasizes that while man is in charge of the earth, he does haveas the responsibility for its well keeping.
“According to Islam, animals should only be killed for food and not sport,” Syed said.
Ragade said the Hindu viewpoint respects all life.
“Every single item is a part of God,” Ragade said.
Kagin said atheists blame religionists for the destruction of the environment.
“We have fundamentalist Christians running around encouraging people to have all the babies they want because the Rapture is near,” Kagin said. “Myths can kill.”
Anderson representing conservative Protestants disagreed.
“God made the earth for man, but humans should take care of it,” Anderson said. “We should avoid the extremes of exploitation and not even touching it.”
The subject of medical science and religion colliding was asked of the panelists.
“Islam does not support prolonging life on life-support systems,” Syed said.
Kagin criticized Christians for the downfall of medical science when they became the dominant religion in the western world.
“Medical knowledge spiraled downwards after the time of the first century Roman physician Galen, until the time of the first world war,” Kagin said.
Kagin criticized fundamentalist Christians for their position on preventing terminally ill people from ending their life.
Anderson said life is sacred, because humans were created in the image of God.
“We must protect life or we begin a slippery slope comparable to Germany during the Nazi era,” Anderson said.
Thompson said in the Catholic tradition there has always been the issue of quality of life. He mentioned factors have to be weighed if treatment is more of a burden without the chance of recovery.
“Tube feeding is not the natural method of receiving food,” Thompson said. “But in the case of assisted suicide, this could lead to horrendous social consequences.”
Another question submitted was, is the material world an illusion.
Ragade said, in Hindu tradition, in the beginning only consciousness existed and from this, the material world arose.
“Hindus believe the material and spiritual are the same,” Ragade said.
Kagin defined religion as any belief in a supernatural world.
“We atheists reject any belief in a supernatural world,” Kagin said.
Anderson said Christians begin with a world view of transcendence.
“Humans belong to both the material and spiritual world,” Anderson said. “I believe that God will redeem the world to perfection during the resurrection.”
Thompson said the Roman Catholic Church has often made the mistake of stressing the spiritual and ignoring the physical.
Syed said in Islam, man is regarded as a traveler in this world, with the potential of being master of the universe.
“The Quran does not rule out the possibility of space travel,” Syed said.
When asked about what defines human life, the panelists had varied answers.
“Society has always defined what human life is,” Kagin said. “In my opinion it’s when the infant takes its first breath outside the womb. Fundamentalist Christians ignore that passage in Genesis.”
Anderson disagreed and said he thought we begin as humans when we are conceived in the womb.
Ragade said Hindu tradition would permit abortion if something is wrong with the fetus.
Thompson said recent Roman Catholic teachings define human life at the moment of conception.
“But the Roman Catholic Church’s absolute position against abortion bothers me,” Thompson said. “Opposing abortion even when the mother’s life is at risk might not be reasonable.”
Syed said in Islamic tradition, human life does not begin at conception.
“We believe it takes the embryo 58 days to form a human structure and the soul doesn’t unite with it until 120 days after conception,” Syed said. “After that, no abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk.”
The panelists were asked their opinions about the origins of the universe and human life.
“I believe that the universe came from the will and mind of God,” Anderson said.
Kagin disagreed and said just because you don’t understand the universe’s origin, doesn’t mean a mind created it.
“The universe is 13.7 billion years old, not 6,000 like the fundamentalists believe,” Kagin said. “The human species have been around for 200,000 years.”
Thompson said the creation stories in Genesis cannot be taken literally.
“The main thing to learn from Genesis is that God created the universe, not how God created it,” Thompson said.
Syed said in the eighth century an Islamic scholar taught a precursor to evolution in Cordova, Spain.
“He taught that minerals became plants, plants became animals and animals became humans,” Syed said. “In Islam there is no contradiction between evolution and faith.”
Ragade said in Hindu beliefs, there was a ball of egg shaped energy.
“A desire came from this energy to form the cosmos,” Ragade said.
Panelists were asked about their views on how the world will end.
Ragade said Hindu seers view world history as cyclical.
“The universe is created and oceans will rise up and destroy the world,” Ragade said. “Then it will start all over again.”
Anderson viewed history as linear and believed in a definite end of the world with God’s judgment.
Kagin dismissed any supernatural intervention, but raised the possibility of parallel universes.
Thompson said he had recently heard Christian theologian, John Dominic Crossan speak at Bellarmine. Crossan had discussed the issue of eschatology or end times.
“Crossan believes in collaborative eschatology, that humanity has to realize that God’s kingdom is here and now and to participate in it,” Thompson said. “That will define the fullness of God’s reign on earth.”
The final question asked was about absolute truth, and their opinion on it.
Kagin said he had no problem with Christian author C. S. Lewis, and Lewis’ own opinion on it.
“If it worked for Lewis it’s OK for him,” Kagin said. “My problem is with Christians who want to use this opinion over others.”
Anderson said he believed in absolute truth as a unitary form of God, expressed in the Trinity.
Thompson said absolute truth is hard to know.
“I don’t necessarily think that Jesus is the only way to absolute truth,” Thompson said. “Maybe there are also other paths to it.”
By RICHARD CLARK