My Religion Column in The Daily Star

June 12, 2010
Questions backed with good intent are barrier breaking

What is that?
Oatmeal.
What are you doing with the oatmeal?
Making cookies.
Can I help?
Yes.
That was fun. Hey, Where are you going now?
To the bathroom.
Why? Can I come? I want to come. When are you coming out? What are you doing in there?

What am I doing? I am wondering, if Albert Einstein spent time with a 3-year-old before he was quoted as saying, “The most important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Actually, questions are useful. The key, is asking useful questions that lead to practical answers. And, this involves asking a question with a useful intent. In other words, before we ask a question, we want to ask ourselves, “Why am I asking this question?”

If the intent to question is to explore and discover, we will find helpful answers. However, we can’t just accept the first answer that comes along, even if answers come from the revered religions and sciences.

If the intent to question is to generate productive discussion, thought expands and understanding prevails.

If the intent to question is to trick someone, well, the questioning might work, but generally only the questioner is tricked.

Classic examples of trick questions are found in the Bible. We can read in the Gospels, where certain people, with the intent to ruin Christ Jesus’ reputation, would ask Jesus questions in the hopes that Jesus would say something against God’s law (e.g. Stoning an adulterous woman, John 8:3). Jesus, savvy to the twisted intent, answered their questions with counter-questions, and proved a very important point. Trick questions are self-incriminating. The trick questioners only embarrassed themselves, showing their poor intentions of sloth or indifference to humankind.

On other occasions though, Christ Jesus was questioned by people who sincerely wanted an answer. Some people did not like the answers Jesus gave, but they knew the principles were valid, and walked away until they were ready to accept the answer for themselves.

Jesus’ disciples were constantly asking him questions. The disciples better accepted”oacted on”oJesus’ answers, and felt the rewards of self-understanding, self-control, and of knowing a loving spiritual God.

Questions, with a pure intent, are barrier breaking. They make us feel better about ourselves. This is different from questions bent on arguing for a passing belief or rut thinking.

Every day human beings can ask themselves questions. Why am I eating this? Is it better to forgive than to hold a grudge? Can I walk instead of drive? Do I really need to buy this? Can I read a good book out-loud to the children, instead of watch TV?

The question-and-answer methodology requires honesty and effort, but most of all, it requires reaching deep into the soul and responding with a spiritual conviction, a conviction that originates in a greater power, a spiritual ego. In other words, it requires, not letting the human-ego hijack the question and answer methodology to suit the fact that the human ego/mind/brain/body has evolved to epitomize birth and death. Spiritual ego keeps us questioning because the idea behind a good question is undying.

For instance, the idea of equality, full of opportunity, presents itself to the universe. Reaching deep into the soul, spiritual mindedness will question and consider equality until it is better understood and acted on. These responses improve our world; humanity becomes more just, bigotry fades, or fears are overcome. However, if the spiritual conviction gets neglected, the human-ego kicks in, complicates equality, pollutes it with dogma, or abuses it to serve the flesh. But, the idea, equality, never dies. Only the mortal mind and body dies. And, spiritual mindedness, somewhere, sometime, will question equality and discover answers that again expand our sense of it.

Questions, backed with good intent, are powerfully advantageous. There is no limit to learning, knowing, feeling, and seeing. When I doubt this fact, or more ludicrous, when I think I already know most of the answers and repeat the “same old, same old,” I remind myself to go hang out with 3-year-olds.

Cheryl Petersen is a freelance religion writer. She lives in Delhi and can be reached at from.cherylp@gmail.com.

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