“Are you Hindu or Muslim?”
“I am hungry….”
A simple, two-line conversation. So brief, yet so powerful, encompassing such a deep message. And bringing forth the moot question?
Is religion above humanity?
An atheist will probably say,”Well, no?” An absolute theist will probably say,”Well, duh!” While the ones in the middle, might just go into a ponderous place, listening to this question…
Perhaps the one thing that separates man from beast and has enabled him to evolve and progress to what he is today was, and remains, his keen sense of observation and the resultant curiosity. This has enabled him to make epoch discoveries, inventions and well-functioning ways of life. Logs of wood rolling down the side of the hill, he saw this and voila! The wheel was invented! It literally “rolled”us so much forward on the path of progress. It still remains the single biggest and most important discovery of mankind, setting in motion the plethora of discoveries and inventions to come in the near future.
Man’s observant nature also saw the rising and setting sun, how a seed planted in the ground blossomed into a tree, rainfall brought water to the earth, winds blew from one direction to the other, he saw how these things were so out of his control, and how much of a dire need he had for all these natural resources for his existence. So he started to worship them. That would form the basic idea on which religion was created. Although I would like to also highlight that man did eventually understand many of these forces of nature,and has successfully been able to apply the lessons learnt from them in his life.
Over time, as well planned settlements, lifestyles began to flourish, the basic necessities of survival were no more the primary concern, man moved towards ideological creations. The concept of economy, society, politics came forth. And with them, also came the secondary ideas of authority, position, money and control. The inception of rules, regulations, haves, have-nots, was the tertiary step. It is not a wonder to observe how these have shaped the course of history, as we know it today. And how it has moulded religion, uniting, breaking, segregating it into so many forms, reforming it off features that became obsolete with the passage of time.
It would not be incorrect to say that in today’s world, religion is being manipulated to wield power and gain control by the few desirous of it, while the naive commoner is the one facing the more often than not dreadful consequences.
Take a look at what ISIS is doing today. It is not just a militant outfit with a mandate. What makes it so strong is the way it has managed to use religion as the basis of its foundation. So it is not just physical, ammunition terrorism it is indulging in. It has managed to indulge also in an unprecedented “ideological terrorism”, disseminating it throughout the world, in what would be right to say, a silent way. That explains it’s unwillingness to die down, and so many takers and supporters wanting to volunteer.
But what has it done so far? Ravaged families? Claimed the lives of innocent children? Taken away the self-respect of women and young girls? Slaughtered humans like meat? Made us wonder of the inhuman extent of us humans? All using religion as a proponent? Does any religion advocate this?
It is not just ISIS. Many around the world today use religion as an effective tool to create conflict, fuel tensions, sway opinions-all for ulterior motives. Politicians use it to polarize votes, pressure groups use it to control masses,separatists , fringe elements use it to create communal disharmony. And while doing this, they are completely oblivious to the condition of the people involved. Agenda complete, and all the pretty promises go out of existence. The poor man who got swayed by the religious ideology sympathising with his tough life conditions, still remains poor. People still go at each other’s throats at the slightest of provocations. Human lives are lost, blood, red blood, not Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish blood spills. Hitler’s pathological hatred for the Jews is perhaps the darkest example of this-he was able to use his deranged ideology to almost exterminate a race-a race that has contributed so much, and continues to do so to the world’s progress.
Let us come closer to the person. Each of us either follows a religion or not. And each religion has its own ways. Some religions advocate extreme penance and adherence. Some are more liberal, but have meticulous set of customs and practices. Some are fairly liberal. The question here is, what if some of these practices are detrimental to the well-being of the human? And hampers his sense of reason and ability to progress?
A person in trouble(financial, career wise, educational, health wise) or the person’s kin goes to a shaman asking him to do some wonders to assuage the trouble,what does the shaman say? Stuff like “go visit this temple on this mountain? Feed so and so animal for so many days? Your stars are not aligned properly, you have the shadow of evil cast on you, do this, do that? By doing so, the shaman has created a scare in the mind of the troubled, further troubling them. How is this possibly helpful?
Of course, this works on a demand supply basis. These shamans will thrive only if people go to them, with blind faith. And this blind faith comes when man tries to numb his sense of rationality, and trust in his ability giving a breeding ground to despair and irrationality.
There are certain religious practices that require human tenacity at it’s best. Fasting, not drinking water for specific periods,complete devotion,absolute penance, self-flagellation, clothing that the weather treats with hostility challenge the human health, both mentally and physically. Of course, some of these, like fasting, is now a health fad, being used occasionally by people to “detox”. But indulge in such practices too often, and they bring bad news for the body. Should a person not in good health indulge in such practices? You may call it a portrayal of how strong their faith and belief is, but should it be at the cost of their well-being? Should they put themselves in jeopardy out of a sense of faith, and service to God? I have seen so many instances of my relatives undergoing such frequent penances, and eventually falling ill, and taking days to recover. So am I to believe that their faith was not strong enough? Or that they went for a health overkill?
Another practice prevalent in many religions is the position of followers based on their gender. Patriarchal systems have generally been observed to be more prevalent than matriarchal or neutral ones. My question is very simple-if both the male and female have complementary and supplementary roles in the society , and if both have the same level of faith and devotion, why should any one be treated as inferior based on their biological identity?And, considering today’s progressive society, where both men and women are contributing equally to the development of humankind,is this gender based discrimination even relevant?
God created man. Religion was Man’s creation– to act as an interface between him and Him; to unite people, give them a feeling of being secure,help them when they feel weak and directionless, act as a philosophical guide, and overall, shape their lifestyle in a positive and constructive manner. But trust the same man to be the architect as well as the one to shroud – manipulating, exploiting it as and when required, occasionally regarding it higher than humanity when a conflict between the two arises.
Is the present form of religion responsible, in some part, to contribute to the world’s varied problems, transcending the various barriers, both tangible and intangible, created by us humans? If yes, was it responsible for the same since it’s advent? Can it be modified to serve the purpose it was originally created for?
So whenever a dilemma regarding”what should precede over what” arises in daily life, ask yourself the question. Is it at the cost of humanity? Does it serve a positive and fruitful purpose? Will it assist you in your day-to-day endeavours? Is it necessary, keeping various factors of day-to-day living in mind? Does it give you peace considering both the human and the religious aspects. Is there a balance between the both whenever you indulge in any religious practice?
And the most fundamental of question,
“Shouldn’t humanity be above religion?”
5th October, 2016.