The writer is an agnostic who wishes to highlight the thin line between faith and fanaticism.
My religion, your religion and their religion, where do they all eventually lead? A question that has bothered me for a while now. While I may have some answers but I am still far from being convinced.
The Moral Fiber
The premise of religion in itself is always a bit sensitive one and people seem to take offence way too quickly or get all worked up whenever a question or doubt is raised that may contradict or oppose their beliefs. But, what they fail to understand is, it's a free society we live in. An individual's reservations about his faith or that of others are their own to keep and should in no way be a means to interfere in anybody else's personal space. We live in a nation or society governed by laws that provide us our own space to practice our own beliefs, that of course, following the norms. Here, I would stress on norms a bit. Respecting every religion and culture is probably a requisite for a good citizen but that doesn't mean subscribing to all the nonsense that comes along. Yes! There's a lot of it and at times it kind of gets on your nerves and that nauseating feeling makes you want to call out the bs - 'not just the one that talks ill but also the one that preaches ill'. We are essentially failing to understand, that archaic or acute orthodox thoughts and traditions from the past cannot continue to be an accepted norm in modern society. They will have to eventually fade away or be discarded. Society has evolved, much beyond what it used to be 2000 years ago when most of these thoughts were jotted down. At the same time, we need to be open-minded to understand that the current version of our religion has also undergone so many modifications over the course of history both good and evil, and in all likelihood, there's a possibility that somewhere down its own evolution path, the religion lost its actual essence. The sole purpose of creating a 'peaceful and karmic environment'! Again the question may arise, who be the judge? What is acceptable and to what extent? Well! All I am saying is, let your intellect and rationale determine it!
Essentially, I am not talking about diluting a culture/tradition or the religion as a whole but rather have it not be practiced at the expense of other. Be open to introspect, whether or not the same as an adverse impact on the society or an individual or gender as a whole and try and make amends if needed. Our religion doesn't demand pomp and show, does it? Isn't it essential that my religion or your religion advocates the right message simultaneously, both to the believers and the non-believers - the message to embrace peace, a feeling of brotherhood and I take a que from Hinduism on Vasudhev Kutumbakam(the world is my family). To put things in the right context let me again quote an example from Hinduism itself. The Indian religious practice of 'Sati', where a widow was supposed to embrace death by sacrificing her life on the funeral pyres of her husband, sounds horrendous and nothing more than forced death sentence. Now the religious scholars may have their interpretation of this inhuman practice and why it was prevalent during earlier times. But there are ample records that this continued to be the norm in several remote villages until the government finally abolished and banned it by law. Today, can that in any way be an acceptable norm? I mean that's completely irrelevant, draconian and inhuman on all counts. Something on similar lines was the witch hunt and burning alive innocent souls in the medieval west based on mass hysteria. Just because the Church or some religious cults or factions felt suspicious or threatened, innocent souls were burned or drowned in mass gatherings. It was justified all in the name of religion. The crusades back and forth in medieval Europe, the persecution of lower caste people in the Indian heartland and many more such evils were brain-child of religion.
The previous examples were no less than diktats that were mass-recognized due to ignorance and gullibility. They make more sense especially when we consider the implications of readopting them in our existing society. Can we really do that today? But that's just one aspect considering a particular religion's own premise. The challenge today, however, is multi-faceted and also more inter-religious than intra-religious. It often boils down to this perception of supposed infringement that one religion or sect feels from practices of the other and this in fact is growing into a disturbing trend. Even the civilized west isn't untouched from the same. The unnecessary Hindu-Muslim bickering in India and daggers are drawn time and again or the Islamophobia in the west can be considered as ideal examples. At least that's what I conclude basis my own observation and experience. I feel there is an urgent need to re-think. Instead of believing that ideas or beliefs which contradict our own must be defended against, perhaps we can simply allow them to be expressed and discover why it is that another holds them so true. Even open ourselves to them and welcome them if feasible. Having said that, the other side too needs to lose the rigidness, it's a two-way affair after all. I often hear the discourse on so-called notions of monotheism, polytheism, idol worship, religious-superiority or how some religions treat non-subscribers as infidels. It's an effective way to shape opinions both for and against and influence our thought process.
Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity. Irrespective of whether you are a believer or nonbeliever, whether Buddhist, Christian or Jew. The important thing is to be a good human being.
— Dalai Lama
Leap of Faith
Coming from a Hindu (Brahmin) family, worship or devotion to god, reciting prayers in the name of almighty, is nothing new as a concept or something to be hypocritical about. In fact, it was more like a daily chore. Though ever since my early teenage days I began overlooking this so-called routine, for me it was more like a leap of faith beyond my existing faith. I assume the drift somehow initially arose out of skepticism about a whole lot of things, to begin with, the very notion, "it's a part of our religion and culture". The belief in me only strengthened over the course of time and soon rationale over-powered faith. The dilemma was, please my own self or the thousands of gods. No offense, there were local gods and then there were mainstream gods. Too much of religion I suppose. Everything about religion and faith was more of a free download left at some corner in my brain's hard drive to influence my thoughts and perception and every time I tried to find a correlation or seek a logical explanation, it was 'error code 404 - page not found'. In simple words, everything out there as projected started looking too convincing to be believed or followed. Probably because it was nothing more than a mere transfer of information, no questions asked and that's probably why my religious side took a beating. Post the rationale took over there was no longer trusting any passive beliefs. I mean, questioning your belief is not a sin. One can't be wrong trying to figure out if something happens or exists in a particular way, then why is it so? Rather than just blindly agreeing that because it is god's will or written in the book. You may not always have the answers but you can try and figure out and there's nothing wrong with it. You can't just leave it on faith. Can you?
I do recall a few years back, I was having this discussion with a bunch of my colleagues, where I inquired - "apart from their religion which other religion they viewed most positively?" I was surprised that most people spoke of opportunities and shortcomings of other faith but refrained from a direct answer. The group was a mix of Hindus and Christians primarily and some Muslim and Sikh too. This was a clear indication of the divide that existed, I wasn't sure of the exact reason though. It could have been prejudice or some past experience/event or perhaps just a general notion. But needless I say what the root-cause was!
"The greatest illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn"
— Alvin Toffler
Cause and Effect Analogy
There's a general notion here in India that religious followings especially the more conservative types are primarily owed to illiteracy. An undeniable fact, I do second that but at the same time, I believe partly its illiteracy and primarily its perception building, propaganda, the existing sheep mentality and make belief in some sort of utopia. With regards to the west, while education may not be the guiding force but perhaps perception and ignorance maybe. The sense of religious belonging perhaps removes the rational aspect. It's hard for me to understand how a person, specifically a mortal can tell you 'what awaits after death' or the fact that there is a la la land called 'Heaven', the fact that a 'divine light in the sky' would guide you through all your troubles. To me, this is a nonsensical argument unless somebody can prove it, more like 'been there done that'! Back in old days, when we could just gaze at the wide sky, the stars, the moon and fancy them as they were out of our reach, it would still have made enough sense to believe in the so-called divine light. But today, with satellites floating around, spaceships conquering skies, hell no!
Coming to sheep mentality, it's more to do with the societal norms and the so-called notion of, what the people would think? It's about advocating and passing your beliefs onto the next generation, preparing them to be like the rest, hoping they would fit in and be accepted in the society. I think that's one aspect with a fair degree of gullibility. Accepting the norms and forcing them on to the next generation because that's how it is supposed to be. Pure genius! Mind control achieved, just like that. There are hard cases where people generally develop genuine faith. It's primarily passed upon and that's one reason why some fail to eventually bear its burden. To sum it up, guess it all revolves around 'belief or faith'. An invisible force or a well-recognized concept even among our educated class. When it comes to beliefs sometimes it is hard to even distinguish a literate from a less fortunate illiterate. Well! Some habits die hard I guess, not much scope of convincing them either.
Now while we may agree on some of the causes but when it comes to the effect, there are pertinent questions. Are our morals also affected by our faith? Does it also insulate our thinking sphere? If not then, how is it that we fail to respect and have tolerance for other religion and their point of view? Why some of us develop this sense of superiority of own religion and perceive everything wrong with others' faith? More or less what people generally believe irrespective of how they choose to express themselves.
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Our so-called sages, godmen, clerics, evangelists, priests, etc have an important role to play here, typically with regards to this self-superiority pertaining to one's faith and looking down upon the other albeit they fail often. Ideally they all should talk about coexistence and peace but instead, they instill self-superiority while stashing their pockets. Of course there's nothing wrong in pursuing preaching as a profession but not practising it and purely using it for self-gains, I say that's completely devilish. Often, they do share much of the blame for the misrepresentation of religion. Despite their mass following and an obligation rightly so, they tend to deliberately misinterpret religion or religious practices, setting wrong precedents in most cases. Some religions this berthen is extremely prejudiced and doesn't even shy away from promoting radical thoughts or even inciting violence.
Science and Religion
Voila! A topic that again sparks a debate for the very reason that science asks questions and demands answers but religion on the other hand only imposes beliefs that are to be blindly followed. Again, I do not intend to make this a typical science v/s religion debate, because all of us very well understand how and why science has been instrumental in not only our growth as individuals, societies, nations but has also helped in our sustenance. My focus is more on the faith and belief part.
We embrace science and all that it has to offer but at the same time, we also become cheerleaders discarding and rejecting science' interference in the land of faith. It's all jolly good if science advocates a mystic force but how dare you put up a theory about the 'evolution of life'. Adam and Eve are the mortal truth but Big Bang is blasphemy. Welcome to the land of logical fallacies a typical tu quoque arrangement, where profound intelligence battles to prove what cannot be proven. This one I tell you, I have really encountered fanatics on this. They'll make your blood boil and all you can do is exercise restraint and just walk away. It's better to allow the pig to win the fight, then getting yourself covered in mud. And what's with roping in intellectuals and scientists and flaunting their credentials to prove a point, that is pro-religion or pro-god. I truly fail to understand!
Dawn of Religion
The Communal Angle
Governments are often complicit in giving religion a free run for its own ulterior motives, some time for rebel-rousing or simply for polarisation during elections. I see it as mutual gains amounting to collateral damage. Leaders provoke in the name of religion, so do preachers, sages, evangelist, televangelists etc, often corrupting our minds to the extent that we tend to become so ignorant that we end up harming our own-selves or the ones we love and the buck doesn't stop there, we're made to do things which are unethical and even inhuman. In worst cases we see extremist form of few individuals all in the name of religion. Why go anywhere else such infamous episodes in plenty are available in the Indian subcontinent. Be it inter or intra religious violence, honour-killing or the latest cow vigilantism. Often its few radical groups of religious zealots or fanatics but more often its government or religious organisations calling the shots. There are several example of this kind of inhuman acts which are easily and apparently traceable in Indian history. When partition of India happened in 1947, thousands of Hindus and Muslims were massacred, women were brutally raped even the children were not spared. Thousands of casualties were reported on both sides and mind you these were not casualties of war but casualties of faith, casualties of distrust, casualties of anger and where did it all arise from? What was the root cause? Of course it was nothing but religion based intolerance among the two communities which still continues till date. Anyone can follow the Indian mainstream media during the run-up to elections and would be able to relate to what has been said. Why even elections, it happens otherwise too. Not much has changed despite us boarding the progressive train. Religion still plays a dominant role in our society no matter how much we try and defend the very thought. We still live in a very intolerant society where people easily get provoked or offended and are ready to break the so called communal harmony. The equilibrium that exists in our society is extremely delicate and once its disturbed the consequences are always far reaching. Our government, its policies have always been religion or cast centric rather than being citizen centric or development centric in the true sense. Whether its a so called right-wing-fascist regime or a left-wing-liberals and their political correctness - the appeasement based on religion never stops. We still have reservations in education, jobs and other sectors not based on merit or economic standard but basis the religion and caste. The divide thus never seem to end.
There are examples elsewhere too and in plenty. Take Pakistan for instance, they have blasphemy laws with capital punishment. Does that make sense? Donald Trump's 2016 campaign also effectively deployed the religion bogey painted in xenophobic and Islamophobic colors to woo the audience.
Rise of Alternate Views
People around the world today are disassociating themselves with religion due to an apparent disconnect they feel with their current religious profile. They are proudly endorsing tags like atheists and agnostics - Concepts that represent disbelief or doubtfulness in the existence of God. Atheism itself is becoming increasingly popular around the globe today, not because religion has failed or the so-called utopia projected by religion has reduced itself to a mere fallacious propaganda but because atheism has projected itself as a more acceptable alternative. An open forum that doesn't preach you morality but rather leaves you master of your own will to think, analyze and most important question the world and simultaneously question your own beliefs. As more and more people see through it, the more irrelevant the idea of religious belonging seems. To a great extent, it surely seems ridiculous to imagine a concept based on viewpoints that date centuries back and the fact that it can be a guiding principle dictating one's life today, only worsens the situation. I often compare atheist speeches with evangelism or televangelists talk shows and it's a no brainer which one comes out a clear winner. Again, my personal opinion. Of course it is not about seeking pleasure in religion-bashing or blasphemy but instead putting forth a logical and reasonable argument.
I look around and I see war, intolerance, crimes against humanity - perhaps at their peak and lessons of morality are but on slippery grounds. Not that any of this is a new phenomenon and neither I am equating all this to religion. But then religion isn't helping either. In fact, it's often found as an accomplice. Aren't peace, freedom, truth, brotherhood, benevolence etc the guiding principles of every religion? But is any religion anywhere close, probably none! The same torch bearers or guardians of religion have reduced it to a mere political tool and a propaganda machinery. It's only being abused to sway the gullible minds. Perhaps, it has also lost it's monopoly on morality.
'Change is the only constant' - hence we need a change in the outlook and perception bit along with the ability to embrace all. 'Compassion & Co-existence' is what a religion should aim at achieving, at all times. Personally, despite being critical of religion or its premise, I wouldn't outrightly reject the idea of religion. Rather I would want to relearn religion for how it has contributed to the society, for the wisdom it has stored within for centuries and how it can make the world a better place! With that said, even with zero authority I would want to question more.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2016 Ashutosh Joshi