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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My views on religion (a summary to begin with!)

Some members have asked at my orkut community why I have said I am 'spiritual but not religious' yet also claimed that religion is one of my passions. To clear up that confusion (and also as my first contribution to the community I have joined - Universal Religion), here is a summary of my views on this subject:
1. One cannot discuss whether or not religion has failed man without first clarifying what we mean by religion.

2. Since ancient times religion in various forms has tried to give men support and strength to fight the battles of life, and to look forward to a better life, in the 'next' world if not the present world. By encouraging music and the other fine arts, as well as collective rituals and festivals, it has also tried to make us more cultured, more sociable, and our lives more colourful and interesting.

3. Every religion tries to make us better human beings by insisting that we practise various virtues like honesty, humility, charity and discipline in everyday life, and aim at non-material goals, such as justice and love.

4. That is the essence of religion, not particular sets of rituals and superstitions and mindless traditions, not even the question of the existence and the ‘true’ form of God! Recall that there have been great religions (like Jainism and Buddhism) which forbade or avoided any discussion of God, other philosophies (like sankhya in Hinduism) have explicitly denied the existence of God, while yet others made tolerance and reverence for all religions and great teachers an essential part of their practice, and many religious-reform movements have repeatedly tried to cleanse religious practice of all its accumulated silliness and dross.

5. Our opponents will argue that religion has taught us to be superstitious, tradition-bound, obsessed with rituals, and cruel and violent towards those who do not share our beliefs. They will also say that in this scientific age only stupid or ignorant people believe in religion. But the facts of history as well as current events prove otherwise. Many great scientists, like Newton, Pasteur and Einstein have believed deeply in God, our one-time Union Home Minister Murli Manohar Joshi was a professor of physics. Not only evil men but some of the noblest men ever born were deeply religious, like the artist Michelangelo, the poet Tagore, the statesman Lincoln. Even in this scientific age, many learned and clever people go to the Pope, Sai Baba or the Dalai Lama for spiritual help and wisdom. Much cruelty and violence has indeed been practised in the name of religion, but so has a great deal of good work been done for suffering humanity – from the founding of the Red Cross to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and the work of the Bharat Sevashram Sangh.

6. I believe therefore that it is both wrong and unfair to blame religion for all the evil in this world. Most men are born with a lot of evil inside them, such as greed, stupidity, jealousy, vanity, sloth and bloodlust, and all religions (like science) have tried for thousands of years to remove or at least subdue these evils, so that the world becomes a better place to live in. We often forget that it is because of religious influence of one kind or the other that many ancient cruel practices have been abandoned – such as torture of prisoners. True, to a very large extent religion has failed to civilise man (so has science – it has brought our species close to self-destruction through pollution and nuclear war!). But is this the fault of religion? Wouldn’t it be truer to say that man has failed religion – that the evils deeply rooted in him have proved too powerful for religion to overcome?

7. I also believe that religion does not make men bad. History tells us that though there have been people who have practised horrible tyranny and injustice in the name of religion, many others have done the same though they were not religious men – look at Timur the Lame, Chenghiz Khan, Hitler and Stalin! Bad men use religion as another convenient excuse to practise evil – don’t blame religion for it!

8. This will bear repetition: whether religion is of benefit or harm to us depends on what we understand by religion. Too many people who consider themselves religious are in fact so narrow-minded and hardhearted that they understand nothing about the essence of religion – to them it is nothing more than practising mindless rituals, believing in silly myths and quarrelling over whose rituals and myths are better! It is these people that make trouble and give religion a bad name. It has been said of one such man that ‘he had enough religion to hate, but not enough to love his fellow-man!’ It is such people that have failed religion, not religion that has failed mankind.

Last word:

It is foolish to think that man can ever do without religion. The ancient sages defined religion as that which binds men to each other, to the earth, and to God; while Einstein said in the 20th century that religion without science is lame, science without religion is blind. But the sooner we get the real message of the ancient sages right the better; true religion lies in practising self-control and good virtues, and it is learnt only in the company of people who are truly great in heart and mind. There is nothing new in all this: but people keep on refusing to listen! Remembering the crusades and the recurrent communal riots in our country, I must say that if most people will use religion that way, it is better to crush and ban all religions from public life. Yet I am hopeful: that religion has failed in its mission so far does not mean that it will continue to do so forever. I believe that, as a result of currently ongoing reforms, all the religions of the world will eventually find common ground, as Swami Vivekananda hoped, and someday all human beings will become nicer people by practising a genuine and universal religion, with which science and good folks will have no quarrels.

Some people, I humbly suggest, would benefit hugely from reading a few good books on the subject. I could name many, but for the present I'll name just one - Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsche.


Sudipto said...

I agree with you completely, Sir. I have seen a lot of people, who refuse to donate a penny to a beggar , and yet are very particular in following religious rituals. I don't think they even qualify as religious people!

The first thing that religion preaches is inter-communal harmony and peace. And yet there are thousands of so-called religious people who kill and torture people in the name of religion.

Gandhiji, a very deeply religious man himself, had once commented on cruel Britishers- "I like your Christ, but your christians are so unlike your Christ!" It was one of the greatest sorrows in Gandhiji's life that Indians were killing their own brothers and humiliating their own sisters in the name of religion. I guess that the last wish of Gandhiji must've been that we the people of India should reunite under the universal religion of love.

Alas! Gandhiji is still an unhappy man now.

sayan sarkar said...

Sir, pehaps it is not religion which has failed us, but human beings themselves are solely culpable for the miseries that they inflict upon themselves in the name of religion.
First of wall, most of us perhaps have no inkling about what being religious actually means. We keep forgetting time and again that religion is essentially about being honest, truthful, compassionate, helpful, sincere, tolerant, restrained and most importantly, having peace of mind.
Nextly, in the mask of religion, we mostly interact with so-called agents of religion-the imams, the purohits, the padres. And many of them are actually mediocre, intolerant, ignorant and insincere people themselves. Whether or not one believes in the concept of God, religion is essentially interacting with your own inner voice, and thereby evolving into a better human being oneself.
Thirdly, most of us associate religiosity with belief in God and adherence to rituals. Be it the strict unyielding monotheism of Islam, or the polytheistic structure of Hinduism, or the atheism of Zoroastrism, isn't religion more about godliness than about God?
Be it the Dark Ages and the Inquisition, the Crusades,or the communal riots that have rend so many soceities over the history of mankind perhaps portray that we human beings are essentially irreligious, and use God as an excuse for the disgrace we bring upon ourselves.
Perhaps you are right in saying that religion shoul dbe banished from public life-most men do not deserve the right to a religion.

Nishant said...

Sir, the topics on both Religion and Careers were comprehensive (I'd read them long ago but am commenting now; my apologies for that). Most of the people have no clear-cut idea about such topics. But when you write about them, they seem so simple and straightforward. I would request you to write more on such topics.

anindita pan said...

We are confused as to what religion really means,and the trend of following strict rituals,going to temples or mosques to show how religious we are is pushing us farther away from the real meaning of religion.Recently I had been to the famous Jagannath temple of Puri and I was shocked to see the behaviour of the pandas there-the so called devotees of the Lord.The temple and Jagannath were just an excuse to earn more money.If you do not cough up enough money , you do not get blessings but you invite the wrath of God...as per the version of the pandas.I was sorry to see that inspite of such offensive orthodoxy and pettimindedness, it could still manage to pull such huge crowds everyday.We are paying too much attention to all the superficialities...the traditions,the customs,the rituals..and ending up fighting among ourselves over them.It is shameful to see even so called "grown-up"men and women fall prey to such trivialities.
We do not necessarily need a temple or an idol,what we need is faith in one Supreme Being and the urge to discover our true selves.

kaushik_chatterjee1 said...

It just reminds me of Tagore when he says :
"Dharmer Beshe Moho jare eshe dhore
Abodh she jon mare aar shudhu more
Nastik sheo paye bidhatar bor
Dharmikotar kore na arambar
Shroddha koria jwale buddhir alo
Shastro mane na, mane manusher bhalo"

Subhra Das said...

It is really sad to see what religion these days has become. This post reminded me of a dear friend with whom I parted ways over this fanaticism. Her refusal to acknowledge other religions and her insistence that her faith was superior to any other made me reflect on the relationship I had with her and I knew, come religion or anything else, she would never value anyone else's sentiments anymore.
Tolerance and respect are the most important things that humans need to survive and sardonically the Catholic faith preaches against these two. Now you tell me Sir can we call such people human who lack the basic virtues of humans; like love, respect, justice, equality and compassion towards their fellow beings belonging to a different faith and race?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the comment, Subhra. Yes, alas, other than nationalism, religion is the factor that has caused the most blood and tears to flow all through history. Alas, we cannot do without it, despite John Lennon's song called Imagine.

In case you haven't seen it already, you might be interested in following the discussion centering on the blogpost titled 'God, Religion and Belief' on Sudipto's blog. The link is given on my blog: click on 'Sudipto Pondering'.

Sabyasachi Tarat said...

Dear Sir,

It was a pleasant surprise to come accross your blog and read the numerous and varied thought provoking articles. It is nice to see so many of us , ex students , participating in active debate related to the issues dealt with in your articles. It is a very commendable effort on your part to start this thinking process and the population , by and large, are desperately in need of exercising their brain cells if only to have a better idea of the direction their lives are taking. I was not very confident about posting here since I am pretty unsure about my english. But I figured that you will value honest opinions more than perfect english any day. I am replying to a rather old post but I find it to be a very interesting and important topic for discussion.

I think the term religion has been used to mean so many different things that often debate on this continues fruitlessly simply because different sides have different definitions of religion. The way you define religion seems to be as a philosophical system striving for the greater good of human society by inculcating certain values. However, there are some crucial aspects of conventional religion that this approach neglects and I think it would be improper to judge the impact of religion on mankind without considering those. The first thing is the tendency of all major religions to teach the virtue of belief without proper reflection either explicitly or implicitly. This tendency to believe dogmatically is extremely dangerous as it leaves people hopelessly exposed to the machinations of manipulative people. We see so many examples of this in human history. Religious leaders have often said that reason is a vice and the properly religious should throw reason out of his/her mind. Even sincere religious leaders have often done more harm than good because of some of their unshakeable convictions. The second point is regarding the popularity of religions. I think the postulation of a supernatural intelligence is the main reason for religion's popularity. It is not only satisfying from the intentional stance , an inbuilt trait in humans, but also from the expectations of remuneration in the 'other' life. Do you not consider it an insult to human intelligence to inculcate values based on such false aims in people? A person may be doing potentially good things in the name of religion, but since he does not understand the aims properly he is as susceptible to do bad things in the name of religion. Consider Mother Teresa for example. I wonder what she would have said when faced with a 15 year old pregnant girl who was, say , in mortal danger because of an underdeveloped foetus inside her. I cannot consider one differently from the other because they spring from the same dogmatic belief in certain principles. Unless you consider both these together, you do not get an objective viewpoint on religion. What we need are systems which teach values for the overall improvement of human society (including individual development) and are CLEAR about it without any supernatural or dogmatic connections. In my view , it does not need a supernatural or a dogmatic premise to justify love or sympathy. I hope I am not inflicted with either of those vices and I still think I do not lack in the latter two virtues. I think human beings have an instinctive sense of justice , love etc. It is only through clear headed, logical teaching that such feelings can be developed to their fullest.

Amit parag said...

Like many other "common" thoughts and emotions like love ,trust,honor and integrity;religion is also understood by a chosen few.The exactitude of the positive and negative aspects of religion are however diverse.

Meaning of religion-This is an abstruse concept.If I here assume that religion means something which we adhere to and always consciously and subconsciously follow and look towards it for solace then some people (like Paris Hilton) follow hedonism as their creed, while some would say that work is their religion.Looking the utter failure of religion ,in the contemporary sense, it is very advisable to follow some set of principles like justice,love,humility,charity and discipline.This might be the quintessence of the true essence of religion.
Even like the Ganges which is pure at its inception but becomes polluted along its course,no one can help agreeing that the parallel is exact with religion.If we juxtapose all the currents events which have an inkling to religion,with the essence of religion which Sir described so succinctly,then we might notice that religion(all the motley religions) is very nearly dead,preceded by the demise of ratiocination and common sense.

Substantiating all,I cannot help agreeing that over the ages men have always used religion as a mask to commit murder-of human body and of human mind.
True that man can never do without religion but alas as the common man is,they find it too cumbersome to follow any religion in its entirety.No many Hindu have even read Gita! Born in a Brahmin family I have found no evidence to the contrary.In view of all this I cannot help feeling that any idea of a universal religion(like Din-i-Illahi) will prove to as abstract
as the idea of utopia.
What do you say to thousands of years of single minded pollution of human mind!!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for commenting, Amit, but I must say two things:

1) Use simpler words, which are exactly appropriate to the context. There's no point using big words awkwardly.

2) I'm afraid you haven't read the blogpost closely enough. Do it sometime, and you will see why. The day you see a genuinely religious person (no matter which religion it is), you will also see why...

Amit parag said...

Yes Sir I noticed that I had bombasted a bit too much.
I did re-read the post again and found several points that I earlier missed or did not gave necessary attention to like "true religion lies in practising self-control and good virtues, and it is learnt only in the company of people who are truly great in heart and mind.se words".

Would not repeat the same mistakes.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Amit.

Most comment writers make the same sort of discourteous mistake, because they do not care to read attentively enough, and are in too much of a hurry to vent their opinions. The commonest sickness of this age!

What makes you different from (and better than) most is that you have the honesty, humility and courage to own up that you made a mistake. It is these little but vital things that mark the difference between the riff-raff and people worth knowing...

Keep commenting, and take care.

Anonymous said...

Your thoughts are very right and very balanced. I agree one hundred percent with all that you have written.

Religion was never intended to cause suffering or death; however it's misinterpretation has lead to all such evils.

However the masses have always been lesser developed intellectually. There have always existed a group of humans who were intellectually more developed and who could understand spirituality, and the laws of physics and metaphysics. These people are the one's who have always formed some religion or the other with the benevolent intention of improving the larger human population.

To attain these goals they have many a times used 'Maya' or illusions or magic to influence the masses. This has lead to the various myths of so many miracles in so many religions.

These myths are the basis of the well being and orderliness we see today in the human race. Hence falsifying the myths will amount to shaking the very pillars on which rests the harmony in human existence.

Existence or the non-existence of God is a different topic altogether; and it has to do more with science than religion.

Whatever has happened in the past and is happening now or will happen in the future is totally the result of the supreme will. There has been a continuous process of revaluation of the Supreme Being to man for which various natural events have occurred resulting in sometimes good and sometimes bad as we see it.

Hence we can conclude that religions are baby steps towards a greater goal.