Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Is religion the root cause of all evil ?

Here is a series of posts on Religion and Spirituality. Most of it comes from what I wrote at an Orkut discussion forum. If you have an Orkut id, i urge you to read the complete thread here, offering many more perspectives, I just mention here a simplified version of the questions to indicate the context for the replies.

Part 1 : Is religion the root cause of all suffering ?
Part 2: Spiritual but not religious
Part 3: God and the nature of suffering

In Part 1, I handle the question:

Is religion the root cause of all violence/evil ?

Oh No, I don't think so. Why single out religion ? Language ? Land ? It's quite fashionable and simplistic to attribute all violence to organised religion and can be reflected in more youth marking 'spiritual but not religious' on the Orkut profile, but I think it's not the case. (I hope to cover this in my review of 'The God Delusion' some day, but here is a primer).

People fight among themselves for all kinds of things. Yes, religion is one of them, but if you assume to take religion out for a moment, people would still fight. People can fight because they feel 'something is being snatched away from them' or 'another somehow calls himself as superior and dominate them'. In history, people have fought solely on the basis of color or race. Solely for the occupation of wealth or land. For certain sections not allowing a certain freedom for certain other sections, it could be any freedom, freedom to grow and prosper, to speak or express or freedom to choose a taste. Whether one is on the south or north of an imaginary line. The snatchaway or the superiority can also arise from religion, but, that is, only as much as it can arise from anything else.

Just as we hold the color/race/wealth/land as dear to ourselves and we feel jittery about any threat to that preference, so also religion is one preference and a threat to it unsettles man. The tribals usually worship an agreed family of gods, (in a homogeneous tribe), but they still fight for things like the prey they shot or the herb they pluck. It's quite possible people primarily fight on one count, the root cause for the resentment is some other snatchaway or domination, but later bring in religion also as one more count ,where possible, to fight even more. Using religion to enlist more people for the fight. The tendency to fight or kill does not arise out of religion, it's inherent in the unevolved Man as a basic tendency and he would anyway fight, religion or not.

Whats about religion thats not about other systems ?

All is not well with any religion. The demerits in each religion arise from the collective demerits of the people who are attempting to codify it or practise it. Their own personal flaws plus the flaws in the institutionalising attempts. This is true about any system or doctrine that seeks to benefit a collective.

To show that religion is not alone as a flawed system, lets take another unrelated field: Economics. Have we been able to arrive a single economic theory that benefits all of mankind the most ? And if we have, have we succeeded in making most of Mankind agree that it's the one ? God wasn't involved, but still we couldn't decide on a school, we are still looking. I am sure, divergent schools exist in every pursuit of knowledge, in science and in poetry. If you ask each school in isolation, they would like to believe that theirs is the best and has the most merits and sure they will promise that their school would lead to the much-sought 'liberation', whatever that might mean in that branch of knowledge. What flaws are so differently found in religion that are not found in other systems of knowledge or human behaviour ?

Just as Economics pursues the question of money, Religion pursues the question of Man and God. It arises out of a need, in Man, to connect with a possible higher power. Why is that need planted or whether it's a delusion is debatable, but it can't be wished away as non-existent, it's as much real as the question of money and economics.

Why is philosophy insufficient ? Because it handles theory. When you reach the lab, however, you need to know, which action to perform, X or X-dash and which one to abstain from. Not that one action is inherently right or wrong, one chemical is superior or sinful than the other, but given the objective that you are trying to achieve, there is a most optimal action that offers to get that outcome. Religion codifies these objectives and preferred actions that lead to those outcomes, assuming you chose to study God, just like if you chose to study money.

Find your own religion, if you can:

Rub off all religion for a moment. Fine, have we found answers to all the questions we have ? Forget the world...have we found answers to the questions of our own disease and death, of separation and suffering, that seem so real to us, yet baffle us without knowing their cause ? If we can, fine, you won't need religion any more, or what you find will become a religion. There is a precedent, this guy did it, devoting his entire life in the study of this subject. You might happily brush away this need but that doesnt mean it wont get to you, right ?Might as well spend some time knowing its nature.

Oh, is religion providing me all the answers then, you might ask ? No, religion is the training academy for a spiritual objective. Everyone is entitled to join the IPS, but it requires enormous amount of focused training, dos and donts to achieve that. If you don't have the fire, then it isn't for you. If you wish to experience that which Philosophy tells you, in your own lab of Life, that takes a certain amount of training. Religion prescribes the set of actions to achieve the reality that philosophy outlines before us. The rest of the masala in religion, hoaxes, oppression and all, well, is the outcome of the inherent masala in Man, the demerits of the codifiers and practitioners.

The final objective is always spiritually pristine, it probably doesn't depend on which religion or which ritual, which route you took to reach the peak. But you have to choose one and take that uphill route consistently and do things prescribed on that route. And this is true about every route, it will take you there, provided you take it well. All routes have a few basic things in common and a few specifics different. Need to connect regularly with a higher power for inspiration, care for the community and cultivating a good character are some basics that take different forms. I think, probably, the consistency of application, matters more than which route you choose.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed in this blog are the blogger's personal opinions and made in his individual capacity, sometimes have a story-type approach, mixing facts with imagination and should not be construed as arising from a professional position or a counselling intention.