To decode this larger-than-life title, I start with some hints on what this piece this about. Over the last month, I believe religion turned out to be at the center of my activities and conversations. So here I take you through some of the conversations that reflect on what is God’s story of being. The article is not an attempt to challenge or refute God’s existence over non-existence. Instead, it derives how humans react to different understandings of God’s (non) existence and how it affects their thoughts and actions thereby.
Here we go through some of the incidences/conversations that I witnessed and this piece came out as a reflection of the same.
Stereotypes – How Costly?
With Huzur (Religious Teacher/Guide) visiting our city in Mid-May 2018, I had a packed week, in preparations for his visit. This also meant that I had to explain why I need to take leave from office to my colleagues. (Given my newer self-ambitions to try being as truthful to yourself and others about what you do and why you do, I thought let me give it a shot on explaining the purpose of my leave.)
Many non-believers in the group asked me, what motivates you to continue to believe, in the midst of all the tragedies that the world is full of? The agnostics on the other end, would ask, on how do you confirm that your Teacher/Guide is not going to tomorrow be caught in a scandal of the likes of Asaram, Ram Rahim?
And this is how I reflect:
It is true that the world is in a misery and; sufferings and anxiety is all over the planet. And many believe that if there was really God and that too a generous one, he would have done something to prevent this, cure this. And his non-actions are perhaps the evidence of his non-existence. Now here is the thing. Arguments of this nature assume that if God exists; he has to be magical in the most explicit sense. And he needs to cure what we believe brings pain to humans. This idea in itself is centric to the way we see our societies and its needs; without really learning the purpose of the religion. What is the purpose of religion and how do I choose the right option(s)? My only submission here is to learn more about the reasons of existence and being.
Now, the other argument is with the problem of Stereotypes. The odds of your religious teacher turning to be an ill-intended person like Asaram, Ram Rahim are the same as the odds of your muslim friend becoming a terrorist – mere exaggeration. Having said that, I agree that one must assess their teachers before they become their disciples; and that is the real question. And like Forest Whitaker says, Stereotypes do exists and we have to walk through them.
I see the big problem of religion getting outside the purview of socializing conversations. And what does that costs us? It costs us the possibility of driving ethics and values in humans. And rationality takes over; as the premise for most behaviours.
If there is anything that can save the world, it is religion. And if there is anything that can destroy it, it is religion, again.
In the times of poverty, environment degradation, resource scarcity, terrorism and multitudes of anthropogenic disasters, it is not untrue to say that the human civilization has perhaps moved beyond its safe operating space; and has particularly caused some of the gravest crimes of impoverishment; thanks to gross inequalities. Economists, Scientists invent, innovate new theory, new technologies and their claim to fame is that it is The next gen solution to the global problem(s). I choose to differ on Science providing solutions that can really save the world.
Has science destroyed our world?
A lot of evidence to say yes, Big dams, Bombs, Big power plants, Space explorations, nuclear explorations (disasters). A fine argument can be made that science, especially modern sciences were seen as the claim to power by many nation states. Big sub-marines, missile technology, GPS, Big dams (again) are surely signals that countries were given to show that they have arose to power, to the battles amongst the nations. Charles Eisenstein in many of his articles, share how Science as an institution is driven by interests of very few; and the knowledge usually generated is therefore only based on what benefits the one funding/sourcing their knowledge. So ethics and responsibility are central to whether a certain innovation will really be able to save the humanity.
That brings us down to what ethics and values. And my case for why religion is the only thing that can save the world comes from religion’s connect with driving ethics and values in the society. I have two reasons for believing that:
Death’s perspective in life: Now religion in the society is the only possible way of contemplating your life in the perspective of death. That’s the only philosophy that prevents you to not live for the moment, reflect on your actions of past and future; and live in the context of your expectation/understanding of the realities of death. How else, if not religion can help you reflect on this? Science will make life and death as one meaningless act; mostly inconsequential to how you live. My point here again is not to even go into the discussion of what is true and not true; but more on what is perhaps a higher value to the society?
Social ethics: There are cases where I’ve heard that humans don’t need religion to feel empathy for another human. May be that is true, in matured societies where certain evolved norms can may be considered as ethical. But is it natural for humans to feel empathetic towards each other? May be not. Mayor Hillman argues in his article that human civilization is meant to be doomed! Assuming that we are one of the members of the animal kingdom and follow the Jungle Law; like other animals; we may not really be quite conscious of our actions and their consequences on others; to the extent that can be called ethical. In one of the climate change lectures I once heard, a very interesting point made by a historian, that we humans are an evolutionary error. All the animals, dinosaurs evolved to adapt to environmental conditions and it was a very very slow process. While in case of humans, because of the development in our brain to think and due to which our capacity to assemble and live in communities, we have brocken the usual pace of evolution. This has disrupted our food chains, natural cycles, adaptation by other species against humans and that’s the cause of extreme exploitation of resources, the stupid feeling of ‘conquering the world’ while missing the point that humans may have an edge over other species. So consciousness and empathy towards fellow beings is not a natural state unless there is a driver; in my case, I believe the driver is the religion. And the second point is on the other extreme where we believe humans are the cause of the problem. And I just read this today that I feel fits best here – “I keep hearing that humans are toxic to the planet; but humans didn’t start killing components of our ecosystem until capitalism made it profitable to do so.”
I do not think I need to write much about how religion can destroy the world too. Extremist forces – Hindutva, Islam, Christianity have time and again shown the civilization of how they have the capacity to erode society in the most brutal ways. In the everyday lives, religion can become enemy of one’s own self if not well understood, with freedom to read, learn and in due guidance of a able teacher. Stories shared by one of my friends (real conversations are gems) tells me that there are still families in Bhopal where women of the family have never spoken to men, never moved out of the house even to a close ration shop without accompanied by a male, and the worst bit is – they do not know if there is any other world but the one they have been made to be a part of. I believe this is equal to slow destruction of the world.
I may want to end the piece with no real conclusion but a couplet by Hazrat Jaun Elia
“Hum Ne Jana, To Hum Ne Ye Jana
Jo Nahin Hai Woh Khoobsurat Hai”
The beauty of anything that we get fades away when we have it. It is only beautiful till we it isn’t there with us. This indeed seems true for worldly desires of wealth, fame, dignity, respect. Does it also hold true for God? (thought – inspired by a conversation!)That’s the story that I can’t complete. So only end with a hope that it is not.