Among all the divisive forces such as class, race, country, sex, colour etc on earth, religion has enjoyed a prime space throughout history.
Barring few exceptions, religion is found among all the societies, in all parts of the world, in some form or other. Though, on the one hand it is a matter of faith and therefore internal to a person, on the other hand it has often been developed as distinct classification for the followers, by adopting various means for visible manifestation of one’s religion in public. Dress code, headgear and various other symbols have been used to demonstrate the religious identity of the person; sometimes voluntarily and other times compulsorily. Often they go beyond mere symbols and control their followers’ lives and culture through strict prescriptions and set standards.
When we talk to proponents of each religion, we get to hear the positives of their religion’s teachings. When we talk to the opponents of the same religion, what we get is only the negatives of that religion. Is either of them true? I do not think so. Like human beings, their ideologies and religions are also a mixed bag. No perfect good or bad choice there.
Often we are coerced to follow a religion that is bestowed upon us by our birth. In other words, we merely inherit the religion that is followed by our parents. Even if we find teachings of another religion attractive, we are discouraged by the family and society from changing our religion. Conversions (voluntary or induced) are often seen as an affront to the convert’s original religion and met with violent reactions.
Let us keep the relative merits of ideologies aside. What matters to unaligned people is the practise of the ideology. Each of the major religions can be blamed for perpetuating injustice and/or violence in some form or other, at different points in time. I am not going into details of these aspects here.
Now look at the question- Do we need a religion? The answers differ from person to person. Some would say following a religion is necessary to communicate with God; others like Immanuel Kant would say religion “is the recognition of all our duties as divine commands”. In other words, religion may serve the purpose of spirituality (in a sense bonding with God) and/or the purpose of morality.
But how do we make sure we get what is promised to us, while following a religion? Let us apply the Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) principle to our religions as well. If we consider the opinions of religious teachers about all other religions, any religion is good for nothing silly talks, if not pure evil. If we take that logic further, we can even say all religions fall under the same category; more so when we consider their bad effects, including violence and exploitation. So much hate is spread among the human kind in the name of religions!
If one believes in God do we need a mediator or a method to reach him? I can’t see how to agree with such logic. Confining that reach to a specific mediator or method goes against the very concept of God. Therefore, I cannot agree with the spiritual utility of religions.
Now comes, morality. Do you again need a religion to tell what is right or what is wrong? Do we adhere to something merely because it is believed to be a divine command, and not because we consider it as the right thing to do? Are we saying an effective moral education is adequate replacement for organised religions?
And then the question of which is the right religion to follow. As they say wrongs can be many but right can’t be different. Even if there are different rights, at least the first right thing to do is to admit the rightness of other rights? Can a right be right while saying all other rights are wrongs? These questions are not new to our times. In fact, Sri Buddha is believed to have been confronted with the same question by many villagers. They asked him about the various religious sects in vogue at the time and sought his advice as to how one should decide which is the right sect to follow.
Buddha replied their question with a counter question, “Tell me, what would be the result if a person is ruled by anger, ignorance and greed? Would that bring happiness to him and others around him?”
Villagers replied, “No Teacher, they can only bring sufferings”
Buddha continued, “What if he is ruled by love, compassion, humility, equanimity? What if he helps others in their suffering, rejoices in their happiness and treats everyone with compassion and no discrimination?”
“Teacher, such a person can only bring happiness to himself and all around him” villagers replied.
Buddha said, “Now you know what brings happiness all around. You don’t need any religion to tell you what is right. You merely have to follow what you know is right”.
He continued further, “Do not blindly follow the teachings of anyone, howsoever successful those teachers might have been. Consider and only accept those teachings that are in agreement with what you consider as right. Do not adopt anything that you think will bring unhappiness to either you or for others”.
It is needless to say, these words of Buddha make enormous practical sense (it is another matter that Buddha’s own teachings were subsequently reduced to yet another religion, by his followers). But if we look at this advice more closely, we can make out that it does not meet the requirements of organised religions. In almost all religions, there is no scope for picking and choosing. One is expected to follow its creed unquestionably.
But the same advice tells us something more. It tells us that we don’t need a religion at all. What we need to know is that what is right? If we know what is right, we merely have to follow that knowledge in our life and if everyone adheres to this simple practise, then this earth will be a much better place to live. We may use all the religious teachings to understand what is right; but we need not follow any of them blindly, even when we know something said therein is not right. We also need not restrict our search for the right, in the religion or religions alone.
As for bonding with God (I do not believe in the existence of God, but that is not the subject here), wouldn’t God himself take care of that, if we merely follow a righteous life? If we don’t follow a righteous life, any amount of rituals or bribes wouldn’t make God to bond with us. God, as we perceive, cannot be a party to something that promotes hatred and suffering than love and compassion.
What we need is not a religion but the wisdom and virtue to lead a life that is full of love, compassion, humility and equanimity towards our fellow beings.
P.S: This is not against religions per se. This is to say religion is not the only arbitrator of human relations and what matters more is human values than religious teachings.