The Babri Masjid issue, the Godhra riots, the ISIS crisis- this is my inheritance of religion. Most of us come from backgrounds where a certain degree of religious belief has been instilled within us from a young age. However, at a more societal and universal scale, how many of these values are preserved in moderation? Let me be explicit – I am not against the edicts of a particular religion. What I am appalled at is at the interpretation of religion today. The ideals and edicts in the religious texts of old like The Tanakh, The New Testament, The Gita have very little in common with what their respective religions have, for lack of a better word, evolved into.
What do I believe in? Given the inheritance of religion that I talked about, that is the dilemma that faces me. Do I believe in my sacred text? Do I believe in what the so-called, and sometimes self-proclaimed, gurus claim? Priests are supposed to be the men of God and, therefore, are trusted with carrying forward God’s word. However, some of these people go to the extent of saying that other religions are bad and are blasphemous. I really doubt that my God(s) or any God would say that. The idea of God is meant to be of a higher and stronger supernatural force that is benevolent towards all people, a force that is merciful and accepting of all people. How, then, can the men of these merciful and tolerant Gods call other religions evil? According to them, God’s love is limited to the believers. For some reason, the all-merciful and the forgiving Being just stops caring and loving and discriminates between people simply on the basis of their beliefs.
According to many anthropological studies, religion was meant to be just a term given to a set of beliefs which acknowledged the presence of the supernatural and decided to revere it. The idea of organized religion originated from here and then different branches of religion were formed. All these branches then formulated their own ideals and texts with one common aim- they were all geared towards a happy and successful life of the believers. There was no mention of Gods being supremely controlling, there was zero evidence of God being pleased with you if you put a 100-rupee note in the daanpeti, there was no proof of God forgiving you if you paid for the Indulgences. Yet this has become most synonymous with our generation’s idea of religion. I want to know why, if an entity is shown to be omnipresent, he/she can only be worshipped as idols in temples. The words of one my school songs make for a beautiful example-
Moko kahaan tu dhunde re bande,
mein to tere paas mein.
Na mein dewal, na mein masjid,
na Kabe Kailaash mein
As translated by Rabindranath Tagore–
O servant, where dost thou seek Me?
Lo! I am beside thee.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque:
I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
It’s strange how the very thing that serves as the inspiration and the reason for some of the most amazingly brilliant art- music, sculpture, paintings and literature- has also served as fuel for something like the Crusades. There is a phrase that I believe most aptly captures the deviation of the religious schools of thought- human intervention. Religion, as an idea, was meant to be a way of life. The idea never proclaimed itself to be one that pledged an almost ultimate belief in one’s faith. It was simply a guide, of sorts, by which people would live their lives. As an idea, there was nothing wrong with religion or even religious beliefs in moderation. Of course, these ideals then grew to become over-arching and polarizing schools of thought because of the manner in which they were exploited. Indian sages used to charge an excessive amount of money and food to conduct certain rituals which had no relevance or impact on the life of the individual. It was the same with Christianity in the Middle Ages- priests used to give out Indulgences in whole sale in return for, in some cases, an absurd amount of money. Human intervention has caused the pollution of something that inspired Bach’s most divine and complex music to a radical ideal which led to the burning of people simply on the basis of difference of belief. Tolerance and mercy are virtues that lie, or at least should lie, at the centre of all religions. Nearly all religions portray their particular God(s) in a forgiving, merciful and benevolent light. Why, then, are the so-called people of God promoting radical and completely opposite schools of thought?
The afterlife is another one of religion’s most potent and powerful arms. Since the very advent of religion, the idea of heaven and hell has driven fear into the minds of the believers. People who wield the ability to control people with regard to their beliefs have, for quite some time, continued to change the manner in which a belief group looks at these ideas. Many contemporary religious icons go to the extent of saying that only believing in a particular religion ensures a place heaven and a person whose faith lies in another religion is doomed to the flames of hell. The afterlife is a rather vague concept. Like the idea of deities, there is no conclusive proof of the presence of these realms. These ideals are based solely on faith and there is no concrete evidence of the existence of such realms but one’s belief in a certain religion, coupled with his/her desire to have a good life even beyond the living, drives people to worry about these concepts.
Why has religion, something meant to be a way of life, come to be synonymous with superstition, radical belief, power-hungry religious icons and violence? Human intervention has polluted an innocent idea and made it commercial and something to be fought over. Far from ensuring the life it was meant to for its believers, religion and its interpretation have caused more distress than good. Kant has said that the only thing that does not change across societies is goodwill. Goodwill allows people to transcend the differences of religion or culture and live in cohesion and ensure a good life for one’s self. That was also meant to be the role that religion plays- it was meant to be a guideline to help people live better lives. But because religion, rather its interpretation, has caused it to fail in its mission, maybe it is better for us to adopt this particular philosophy of Kant. Maybe it is time for us to place the ideal of goodwill where religion is because it almost nearly ensures what religion is meant to, across the boundaries of the strongest human differences- difference in beliefs.