I, like most others, did not have a choice when I first chose a religion to follow. I was….er….born into one. After spending quite a while seeing it being practiced, practicing some of it myself, defending subtle nuances in quasi-intellectual arguments with friends, thinking about it for quite a while, I gave up on conventional religion. This decision was driven by conscious rational thought and emotionally charged events.
From the outside, this gave me a chance to look at religion as a concept. I respect conventional religion for its ability to give solace to helpless minds. There have been times when I wished I could enjoy religious comfort. I am amazed at how religious thoughts have united various peoples across time. One’s belief in religion constitues a big amount of one’s identity.
Of course, the importance of religion could be accepted if religion were to be defined by its followers as “code of conduct in ALL aspects of life.” I am sure most religions define codes of conduct for most aspects of life. Rules and consequences of (not) following them are written down with great clarity. “Popularly understood religions” have unambiguous rules and even more unambiguous consequences. This is what makes them popular I suppose.
However, to understand the “whys”, the “how exactlys”, the “what ifs”, and other questions, deeper thought and more importantly, deeper study into religion is required. This, unfortunately, takes a lifetime. The irony of the situation is that religion tells us how to live, and its takes a lifetime to understand one religion. So, what is the way out?
It is evident that we have been leading lives. Without much problem, that too. Codes of conduct have been easy to follow. We do not break legal rules in most situations. People, mostly, are fair to others. So, why this fuss about religion?
This is because people mostly lead double lives. The life of day to day actions, intuitively selfish decision making, profit maximizing, etc. The other life of love, fear, insecurity, emotional traumas, indecisions, ego, inner-conflicts, peace-seeking, theorizing, etc. Of course, these two lives are closely intertwined, and with some people, are not separable at all. Religion, at some level, helps the latter life, and brings the two together.
Out of all the knowledge I had acquired over the years I have been thinking, and the built-up emotional reserve that had some thoughts of its own, I had come to the conclusion that I could formulate my own religion. Of course, an informally specified religion will have its own pitfalls during testing times, and mine was no different. Formally specifying religious tenets proved to be extremely hard. Achieving completeness seems intractable, if not undecidable.
So, currently, I am thinking about respecting centuries of distilled wisdom. The best approximation seems to be Hinduism, as it seems more liberal than other choices. Approaching a religion with absolutely no pre-conceived thoughts seems to be impossible. But I am giving it a try, and lets see where it leads me.
On an aside, I think that human thought has not been able to generate really significant movements for the last so many centuries because I do not see any new religion that has been developed. Have we really advanced in terms of thought and its corresponding conviction? Einstein supposedly believed that God is a “natural order of things.” He could have made a religion out of it. Formulated a set of principles, etc. But I guess he didn’t fully get it to make it into a full fledged religion.
6 thoughts on “Religion”
One of the few posts on religion wherein the word ‘God’ doesn’t find too many mentions. Just one in this case.
Your post made me think a bit. From your perspective, it looks as if the sole purpose of religion was to presribe a way of life and/or a code of conduct that should (hopefully) result in a harmonious society. However, it appears to me that you are ignoring the spirituality aspect of religion. Whether on purpose or by oversight is not clear (see your para 2. “…solace to helpless minds…”, which is nothing but a manifestation of the spiritual element).
In my book, a religion is one that is propounded by one person (and all too often quite rigid in its beliefs, practices) and a philosophy is one that is influenced by many great minds over a period of time.
Regarding Hinduism, I belong to that set of people who regard Hinduism not as a religion, but a philosophy and a way of life. Very liberal (to the point where it is easily abused) and also very progressive in its essence. But corrupted over the centuries by its practitioners for serving their own ends (the caste system, some of the rituals that are superstitious etc are cases in point). As a practising Buddhist, (although only for a short while now) I think that The Buddha was the one who further distilled the concepts of Hinduism, which by his time had already degenerated to an extent.
For what it’s worth – I believe religion is a walking stick/crutch to help you till you can walk on your own. If you have the time and ability to walk on your own, you don’t need it anymore. Also, spirituality may have more to do with morality and philosophy than religion.
Just bcos a religion is or seems liberal,man wants to follow it and think foolishly that he is being progressive…
anyways,time will tell my friend as to what is right and what is wrong…u wait we too are waiting.
falsehood is ever bound to vanish
I heartily agree with most of your thoughts, and I think your decision to formulate your ‘own religion’ is a wise one; after all, we are showcased only through our deeds, and in fact that is one of the motives of religion. I also agree that Hinduism provides the closest approximation to a liberal religion, and indeed, a universal way of life. But I do not want to praise it too much, lest I start sounding dogmatic myself!
Like you said, religions do have codes of conduct. My problem is in defining the purpose of those codes, because without them, it is mere philosophy that we are cogitating. Also, codes of conduct change over time, and should change over time, because except for general dictums (eg. to live in peace with each other), purposes also change with time. One of religion’s problems, for me, is its inflexibility to change over time. But that is actually not surprising. It is precisely this inflexibility that makes religion a dogma. And the dogma gradually turns into rule of law, law that is frequently implemented by force. That is the problem. The most striking thing is that even as far as the so-called ‘general’ purposes enumerated above are concerned, religion cannot agree on common action, and frequently ends up doing more harm than good.
I don’t believe that religion is all bad. It does give solace and support and wisdom. However, a glance through human history always convinces me that religion has failed to make any overwhelming case for itself as an instrument of good. As an element of good as well as iniquity, it is as pedestrian, unpredictable, and itinerant as political philosophies.
I am not sure whether religion and philosophy are that different. Religion subsumes philosophy; in the sense that Religion’s purpose is to implement a certain philosophy. So, of course, if we detach the codes of conduct which religion emphasises on, we are indeed discussing philosophy, as per definition.
Religion’s inflexibility is a myth of sorts. Also, the inflexibilty is justified. What is not justified is the inflexibility of certain rituals, which seem anachronistic. Many social norms, historically, have attached themselves to religion to give themselves credibility. These norms seem anachronistic to the next generations (and hence the inflexibility grouse) because after attaching themselves to religion, they remain inflexible while social conditions change inevitably. Overall, this gives an aura that religion is inflexible and hasn’t changed over time, while it actually need not change over time. Only, people have to drop social norms (like Sati) as per times, and move on with life.
[after a long pause]
I will get back on this code-of-conduct business. Apologies.
A fav topic of mine too; but religion as we know it, is corrupted by the institutions which “own” it; it is no longer “democratic”; it inhibits free thinking by its rigid structure. Which might explain the emergence of Sri Sri and his ilk. My mom has an implicit faith in God; it works for her. More than good enough for me; I believe in God too. Science itself is limited by proof. What would appear as magic 100 years ago, we take for granted. Jodie Foster and Contact 🙂 Anyway, belief gives me a sense of security in this mad mad world. Knowledge is my religion now; a great regret is forgetting Sanskrit, cant read the Geetha now. Hopefully Vidya shud b able to help out here 🙂 Want to learn more about the Buddha and what he had to say too. You ask, So, why this fuss about religion? To add to ur take, think its becoz we hv to pass on something to our children. And religion is perhaps the only constant in this changing world. Am I inclining towards identity again? The funny thing is ppl try to fit God into their own pre-conceived moulds. Hilarious