By Ajit Dongre 12/11/2001
Religion is evil. It leads to violence and hatred among people.
A religion is not history; it is the embodiment of the metaphysical and spiritual thoughts of a society at the seminal point in the course of that religion. In this socio-anthropological perspective, Man created religion out of the twin needs for (a) a code for moral or ethical thought and behavior and (b) spiritual tranquility and salvation. The major religions of the world evolved out of these needs felt by various societies over the millennia. The creation of each religion was, of course, not a conscious act, and each was influenced by the particular socio-cultural milieu out of which it arose.
Our tribal ancestors had to struggle to survive in the face of limited resources. Separated from other tribes by distance and culture, they often took recourse in violence against members of other tribes in order to protect their own kind. As human societies grew in size, the notion of "we" (vs. "they") had to be constantly expanded. Different religions codified this tension between "we" and "they" in words specific to that society at that juncture in time. In addition to the various edicts prescribing or proscribing violence in the name of goodness, other culture-specific trappings also found themselves in each religion in the form of additional verbiage.
We humans are creatures of our evolution. Behavior helping, and benignant to, our kin and fellow tribesmen was conducive to our survival as a species and so has become etched in our genes. Our religions reflect these attributes of ourselves - morality, compassion, love, etc. - which can be generically called humanitarianism. Unfortunately, most religions have a lot of other baggage in them beside a codification of these human values. Some of this baggage may have occasionally been marginally useful when that religion served a small society isolated from others, but in these modern times, of a single worldwide society, the non-humanitarian aspects of the world religions are inimical to that global society. In this sense, religions are like cancers attached to the healthy tissue of humanitarianism.
Many people think of their religion as being full of peace and brotherly love but imbue other religions with some kind of fault. More than xenophobia is at play here: it is easy for an outsider to spot the arbitrariness, internal inconsistencies and the lack of logic (the "mumbo-jumbo") in other religions. However, since such mumbo-jumbo is always intertwined with messages of love, compassion and goodness (values humans are inherently attracted to by virtue of their evolution), when people learn their own religion they become blind to the mumbo-jumbo of that religion. In fact, many become enslaved by the mumbo-jumbo and imagine the humanitarian values as actually arising out of, or at least being inherently part of, the mumbo-jumbo. Further, many consider their religious tracts as actual, authentic history and become zealots over these religious idiosyncrasies.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks by Muslim terrorists, Islam especially has come under scrutiny by non-Muslims. To Muslims, the concept of jihad signifies the struggle to overcome oppression within or without. Because the extremists among them can interpret the concept of jihad to sanction wreaking unspeakable horror on fellow humans who the jihadi decide to be the perpetrators of the oppression, jihad is often sighted by non-Muslims to justify their non-tolerance or hatred of Muslims. But there are many other concepts in Islam which to the non-Muslim appear just as silly, inhuman, arbitrary or internally inconsistent.
The problem, however, is not with Islam alone. The other religions that originated in the Middle East, Judaism and Christianity, are equally riddled with their versions of mumbo-jumbo. Inherent to Christianity, for example, are concepts of "Original Sin" and hellfire and damnation. Believing Christians have rationalized and reconciled to these concepts in a variety of ways, but to non-Christians they do not follow logically from any fundamental principles necessary for human survival or understanding.
But it's not as if these three so-called "Abrahamic" religions are the only ones that mix moral messages with irrational gobbledygook. The other two major religions, originating in Asia, Hinduism and Buddhism, also have their own healthy (or unhealthy!) share of tortured logic. For example, Hinduism in its most essential tract, the Bhagwad Geeta, goes to some length to explain monotheism embodied by thousands of avatars, "justified killing", and "dispassionate need-fulfillment" - concepts which evoke skepticism, distrust, or ridicule among non-Hindus.
Some religions, in addition to prescribing personal thought and conduct, also prescribe civic behavior of a society and thus butt heads with the laws of a nation and those between nations. Many Muslims, for example, think of partitioning religion and civic codes (i. e., "separating Church and State") as antithetical to religion itself. This further complicates the orderly government of people because the question of who calls the legal shots is never resolved.
World's great religions are good and desirable precisely to the extent that they embody brotherly love, compassion and good deeds. Beyond that boundary, they only divide people and confuse ethical and logical thought processes by injecting silly drivel or downright violent orthodoxies in human discourse and interaction. But the invention of god and the creation of religion are unnecessary to promulgate the virtues of love, compassion and good deeds. These virtues are inherent in our common humanity, not in religion - let alone in a particular religion. All we need to do is to articulate these universal virtues without the trappings of religion, in a sort of least-common-denominator version of the Ten Commandments of all the great religions of the world.
But what about the spiritual hunger that impels many to follow their religions? How can this hunger be satisfied in the absence of religion? While not everyone feels this hunger, a vast majority appears to, so this hunger must also be considered part of our evolutionary make-up. And following the codes of thoughts and behavior of a specific religion appear to satisfy the spiritual needs of many people. If religions are abandoned, where can these people turn for spiritual peace? It is true that other behaviors such as meditation and social service satisfy the spiritual needs of some people. But why should these behaviors replace religious practices for those people who are perfectly content with their religion?
The problem is the one we started with: praying to different gods divides people. While a majority of people are perfectly content with letting others pray their own way, others are not. What the world needs, therefore, is a new overarching religion, or a non-religion, which codifies the spiritual aspirations of Man. Is the creation of such a religion practical? Of course not. But that doesn't stop the humanitarian dreamer from dreaming of a new order when religion stops being a destructive, divisive influence on the modern world.
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