A World Religions Conference will bring together the diverse views of an atheist, an aboriginal, a Buddhist, a Christian, a Muslim and a Sikh. And they will answer one question. How do we reconcile the existence of God and human suffering?
Alex Michalos is an atheist. He is also a respected and distinguished scholar. Michalos will be speaking about his views at the September 27 conference.
“I think religious tolerance is the hook that will be bringing us all together,” he said Monday.
Simply put, atheists deny the existence of God, said Michalos.
“If the concept of God is an oxymoron, then God cannot exist,” he said. His decision on religion came years ago, he said, after study and research.
“I went to Divinity school when I was young because I wanted to understand religion. I wanted to think longer on it (atheism) and be around people who were theists because it was more challenging.”
Michalos said the classic triad of God as all knowing (omnipotent), creator and all good cannot stand in the face of the existence of evil. “Religious people insist on holding onto all three things and to me, that is an oxymoron, a contradiction."
He said he will present his view supported by eight arguments using material he presented earlier in a February 2000 paper “The Case for Atheism.”
Michalos is director of the Institute of Social Research and Evaluation. He is also author of 21 books and 85 articles.
John DeGrace will be speaking about Buddism. He has been practicing Vipassana mediation for 14 years. For him, Buddism is a way of life and the only way of having a peaceful existence. “Fundamentally, it is about learning to let go.”
Of the conference’s question, he said Monday, “Suffering arises because we become attached to things. Even the good things lead to suffering because they don’t last. So we have to learn to let go of them. From the moment we get up in the morning it is about me and mine. That is the root of suffering.
"My alarm, my slippers, my cereal, my parking space, my job, my computer and so on. Later it leads to my pain, my discomfort.”
The formal practice of meditation does for the mind what going to the gym does for the body, DeGrace said. “It keeps you fit if you do it regularly. But if all you did was go to the gym for one hour, once a week, and the rest of the time was spent as a couch potato you wouldn’t be fit. It is the same with mental fitness. It has to be practiced.”
For his part, Naseem Mahdi will speak on the Islam faith. He is National President and Missionary in charge of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Canada.
Mahdi said he addresses the question of suffering in several ways.
“If there is no suffering, there is no progress if we’re talking about physical evolution of man. All ecological advancements we have today has been brought through human suffering.”
Mahdi said he will also talk about spiritual suffering such as that of Jesus Christ.
“We consider Jesus Christ as one of our prophets. Suffering is necessary for spiritual advancement because it shows concern for others. For example, if a man is hungry and he shares food with another who is hungry, that shared suffering brings him closer to God.”
Then there is man made suffering, Mahdi said, brought on by disturbing the balance of the ecosystem. Phenomenon such as ozone layer depletion, pollution of waters, droughts and floods which result can not be blamed on God, he said. But they may lead to change.
Other speakers will be Avtar Singh Grewal, a Sikh and registered priest, a volunteer with the Prince George Sikh Temple for 20 years.
Rev. Peter Zimmeris an Anglican priest at St. Michael and All Angels’ Church in Prince George and adopted member of the Wolf tribe of the Tsimshian people. Alden Elder Pompana is a Dakota from Sioux Valley, Manitoba.
He is widely recognized as an elder, counsellor and instructor of Aboriginal spirituality.
The World Religions Conference is Monday, September 27, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.Canfor Lecture Theatre, University of British Columbia.
For further information phone 250-613-3132 firstname.lastname@example.org. Refreshments will be served.