There was a big discussion in one of my classes yesterday; a discussion that involved the whole class. And that would have been a dream come true for any psychology teacher but in this case it felt like a nightmare. It was a nightmare because I had no intention on string my lesson toward religion at all. It all started when I asked a challenging question to the class and got an unexpected answer.
I have been teaching Positive Psychology at college level for almost four years and the objective of this course is to teach students that Positive Psychology must not be reduced to Happyology. So questions like “What makes you happy?” are substituted by questions like, “What does it mean to live well and have a good life?” These questions are meant to lead our students to think in deeper levels. Answers I usually get from my students would categorize as Eudemonic or Hedonic approach in life.
Eudemonic approach is the one where people find satisfactions in life by making themselves useful as they use their skills and talents to help others. Hence, prove that Plato was right. Hedonic approach is the one where people use others’ skills and talents to find satisfaction for themselves. Hence, prove that Aristotle was right. However, I never ever expected a category of such nature, the one that I had to face yesterday: Those of preaching about God, even though they understand nothing of God.
It is not that I am in dark of the existence of such category of people. In fact, I know they exist and they are too many already. So sad, indeed. But, the problem is that question had nothing to do with religion and it was very clear (so I thought), “Describe, how your life would have been if you did not have to worry about money.” In my four years of teaching this course and asking the same question, I got a variety of answers. First of all, the way a student understands the questions decides immediately of which category student belongs to: Hedonic or Eudemonic. The Hedonic approach student will start talking about how his/her own life would look like if he/she won a lottery and suddenly had tons of money. While the student in the Eudemonic category will understand as if he/she has to has to describe a situation in which the whole society or community did not have to worry about money. Bingo! This category of students is the category of those who find satisfaction in life by connecting with one another and are not satisfied by being self-centered.
So some of the answers my students gave me in the previous semesters were, “I would live like a bird, and fly from one place to another, and learn about everything and every culture in the world, and enjoy my life.” Others answered that “If we did not have to worry about money, then we don’t have to work; and if there is no motivation then we would not get out of bad in the morning,” and some others answered that, “Everyone would have lived happily ever after on Earth.” I had easily challenged any of these views before by bringing to their awareness that money is not the answer to our happiness, or the motivation to get out of bed, because if we did not have to worry about money, we would still have to worry about health, relationships, intimate love relationship, and power. So, money is not our only problem, but it is a problem added on top of every other problem we have to face as humans. Therefore, any answer that students would have given me, would have been a perfect answer and a perfect moment to ask them further questions and make my students think deeper of what makes them happy and what makes us all happy. But, what can a psychology teacher do when student’s answer to that question is that “God is the answer to everything, because God is love and God is everything.” At first I thought that since I am dealing with international students, maybe English was a challenge for that student and he did not understand my question. So I went on explaining what the question really meant. Well, I was wrong, English was not the problem. I had now two students in my class standing firm on their view that God is the answer, and God pays their bills!!!???
Even though I knew better than to challenge human robots, which take their Holly Books to face value, temptation to face this view and make my students think, using their own heads, was too great to leave it alone. So, I started by asking, “What God had to do with this?” These two students answered that, “Well if you pray to God, that will make you happy.” Little did they know that God and Praying are my favorite topics, yet, hearing general answers like this one is my nightmare indeed. So I had to ask them further, ”Do you have to pay rent on the first of each month, and do you have to buy food tonight to eat your dinner, or do you not eat and don’t need a shelter at all?” Student answered, “Yes, we do and we also know that we have to work hard to earn our money.” So, I challenged that opinion with another question, “If we have to work hard to earn some money in order to pay for food and shelter and clothing, doesn’t that sound like we are basically living like animals? Animals fight (or work hard) to mark their territories, and they go on hunting (for analogy, we go to work) to provide food for themselves and their dependents. At least, animals have an advantage over us, as they do not have to worry about dressing themselves, while we do, because we cannot go out naked, right? Hence, we have to work “harder” to earn money to feed ourselves, cloth ourselves, and give ourselves a roof over our heads. Then why the heck we need a brain for when everything we do is to survive like animals do?” The rest of the students laughed because they liked my rhetorical question and started to get my point, while this student went on saying that, we have to work hard because Holly Book says so. This answer intrigued me even more so I asked him if he knew who wrote the Holly Book in their religion, and he answered that their Guru wrote the book, and that Guru was God. I asked him if this Guru had died or was still alive. Student answered that Guru had died, so my next challenging question was, “So if Guru was God, but Guru died, does that mean that God died? Does that mean that God is not omnipotent?” And I knew right there and then, that I lost him, as he did not even know what Omnipotent meant. But, no, he was still up for the debate and he continued that Guru died in body but not in spirit. I continued to challenge the student’s reasoning by asking him of how he would distinguish a Guru from a normal person. “Sure anyone can come to you and tell you, ‘I am God, so listen to my words, or I am God’s spirit and I tell the truth.’ So how can you distinguish a Holly person from a normal person?” I asked. The answer I got from my student was what I feared the most. It is the answer that makes me realize that even though we live in such developed society in the 21st century, we still have people that do not think with their own brain but they have to use the Holly Book as a reference. I would have honored any answer if the person would have, indeed, read their Holly Book themselves and draw their own conclusions, instead of hearing a phrase here and there, and then concluding that to be important in life you tell others that you are following the Holly Book, and if anyone dares to challenge your views then this person is dishonoring the Holly Book and so this person deserves to die.
The problem is that this student is not the only one using the Holly Book as a shield to hide their ignorance. There are many Christians and Muslims and people from all over the world and of all other religions that when they do not know how to answer a challenging question or don’t know how to think on their own, they go on threatening you by using the excuse that you dishonored their religion. Even though these type of people “Preachers” already know that I am not challenging their Holly Books, I am challenging their knowledge of how much do they really know about their Holly Book, yet they twist the whole conversation and use it as an argument against thinkers who invites them to reason using their own head. And, my dear folks, that is the nightmare of the 21st century: People who do not or cannot think and read on their own.