"Is Religion an Obstacle to Thought?" a Commentary by Bob Bushong

April 3, 2007

Author: Bob Bushong

Source: Orlando Sentinel


Recently I heard Salman Rushdie speak at Rollins College. Rushdie's The Satanic Verses precipitated his being forced into hiding due to the fatwa, or death sentence, imposed on him by former Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Rushdie is an accomplished author and a thinker of great renown. He also is an atheist.

One particular statement that Rushdie made has stuck in my mind: "The first obstacle to thought is religion."

Then he talked about what he calls "the two great questions of life." The first, having to do with our origins, is "Where do we come from?" The second, having to do with ethics and morality, is, "How shall we live?"

Rushdie went on to criticize Islamic literalism, and implicitly other religious expressions, including Christianity, as excessively narrow in their definition of what is true, suggesting that "you can't argue the tenets of your belief system if you cannot think."

As I listened to this distinguished scholar speak critically about an aspect of life that is at the center of what I am about -- not only my vocation, but the primary lens through which I view the world, not to mention that which to me really is "the hope" for a world in disarray, a world reeling from the effects of individual, corporate and national self-absorption and greed -- I felt defensive, to say the least.