Thought, Belief, Truth

Posted: April 26, 2010 in Batuku jeevuda!!, Pondering....
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एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति |(Ekam sadvipraa bahudhaa vadanti)” – Rg Veda, Mandala 1, Sukta 164, Rk 46

The Existent is One, but the sages express it variously”

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” – The Holy Bible, Book of Deuteronomy 5:6

Lâ Ilâha Illallâh, Muḥammadur Rasûlullâh” – ‘The Shahada’ – Muslim Declaration of Belief

There is no god but God (Allah) and Mohammed is His Messenger”

These are the interpretations of the world’s three largest schools of thought, of the existence of the ‘One‘, whom each of them calls by a different name(s). Through canons of doctrines called ‘scriptures’, they talk of His omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience and tirelessly sing praises in His glory. Nine in ten people around the world happen to believe in Him and adhere to one of hundreds of precepts like the ones above. They all think of Him as the ultimate and the only truth and call Him GOD. These schools of thought are what the world calls Religions. And these Religions, apart from describing and vaguely defining an abstract idea of a supreme power/being that is beyond the comprehension of the extremely limited human faculties of perception, also speak volumes, quite literally, on norms and rules of human conduct. These norms and rules, they claim, discipline human life and give purpose and meaning to it. Thus, Religions have transformed from being schools of thought into systems of belief, each claiming to be brightening the right path to the ultimate truth.

OM

After writing that heady, philosophical kickoff, a question lingered at the back of my mind – Do we really need to instill a fear of some supremely incomprehensible super-human power/being in order to establish discipline and make our lives more meaningful? Far from finding an answer, I stumbled upon a slew of more unanswerable questions. In medieval Europe, so much as a thought leading to such questions would have committed me to the stake and placed me on Hell’s menu as an exotic ‘Heretic’ or an ‘Apostate’ or an ‘Infidel’ from the East! But, thankfully, in a more tolerant world of today, I’d only be judged as an ‘Atheist’ or a ‘Non-believer’ or perhaps an ‘Agnostic’ for being confused. But, I hate being typecast and thrown into such categories which by themselves have sectarian undertones. Let me assure you that I am none of the above, nor am I a blind believer leaving no scope for an argumentative, skeptical view-point. Expressing skepticism and argumentativeness over established religious dogmas has claimed the lives of many a great thinker in the past. Even today, although such extreme punitive measures are rare or non-existent, such thoughts and acts are still not encouraged. But at least, we are at liberty to explore these aspects of questioning and learning and thus nurturing that fundamental human urge to know. I think inquiry and skepticism are the two keys to all knowledge.

Since the dawn of civilization, Religion, despite all the rationales behind its establishment, has divided the human society and stratified it more than unite. Ironically, it served as the reason for humans losing touch with humanity and humaneness. The thought of one’s beliefs being superior to another’s has spawned conflicts and history bears witness to their terrible outcomes. Kingdoms, empires and nations have risen and fallen to the whims of faith and altered the course of human history several times. Religion has wrought havoc on earth by breeding radical, intolerant, fundamentalist ideologies. People have slaughtered one another in the name of the one supreme being who, ironically, dictates that killing another human being is tantamount to sacrilege and is punishable with eternal damnation in the fires of Hell or being born as a parasite in the next life or some other penalty, as the ‘faith’ may be! Do we have to brainwash a person with these ‘consequences’ in order to enlighten him to the fact that killing is wrong and unnatural? Do we really need that fear of the divine to scare us from wrongdoing? Don’t we, as humans, possess that faculty to judge right from wrong without the intervention of divinity? Can we not be humane without factoring in something or someone from outside the known universe into the equation of human existence? Have we not evolved or learnt enough to understand that an omnipotent, supernatural being is a superfluous concept in the context of a modern human life?

Crucifix

Another aspect where religion amazes me to no end, is in its claims on creation and sustenance and their absolute disconnect from reality. Religion fails to provide any amount of credible evidence to substantiate its claims and any attempt to question this failure is regarded as arrogance and in many cases, a sin punishable by death. We are expected to believe everything without dispute or reason. Therefore, Religion meets its nemesis in Science, which is skeptical of anything that cannot be proved by logical reasoning and rigorous empirical processes. Science today, is taking quantum leaps into the future, what with the radical change in the way people think and perceive. This is the age of reason. In this age, should we still believe that the Universe was made in six days by a long bearded man seated on a colossal throne surrounded by extremely good-looking men and women with wings, and that they all rested on the seventh day OR that a four-headed, four-armed man born on a flower sprouting from the navel of another four-armed, dark-skinned man reclining on an enormous thousand-hooded snake, created the Universe? My answer would be an emphatic and resounding NO! These are wonderfully imaginative narratives, rife with people, magic, strange beings and creatures, but not textbooks on Astronomy! They are a testament to the prowess of human imagination, but not evidence of reality. These tales certainly cannot replace ‘The Big Bang Theory’ or ‘Theory of Evolution’ in schools. Sure, the belligerent might bawl saying ‘O they’re just theories and nothing more!’ Well, yes they’re theories, and as required of a theory, they’ve been tested and re-tested over and over again and have been proved, time and again, to be most accurate and progressively reinforced. I think we must begin to refrain from according religion the excessive deference and adoration it is so used to receiving. History has paid enough tributes to religion. Finally, I think it’s high time some faith-based groups stopped propagating that humans and dinosaurs had a live-in relationship just 6000 years ago! For the last time, ‘Flintstones’ is not a documentary and ‘Jurassic Park’ never happened! The earth is more than four billion years old, is almost spherical, spins on its own axis and revolves around the Sun and finally, all life forms ‘EVOLVED‘ from unicellular aquatic organisms which appeared more than three billion years ago, now get over it! And NO, THERE IS NO INTELLIGENT DESIGNER, who sat down to painstakingly ‘design’ all life forms as they appear today!

as-Shahada

As a child, I grew up amidst orthodoxy and a staunch belief in the supremacy of gods and rituals. A consequence of this is the ritually invested three-pronged white thread, the yagnyopavitam, that hangs from my left shoulder and runs across my chest to come a full circle. For long, I blindly believed in everything I was taught and accepted it without question. Mind you, I was always ‘taught’, never ‘brainwashed’. My family gave me the liberty to frame my own opinion and accept belief the way I saw fit. But it took me an awfully long time to become aware of the latitude I had. So, religion, ritual and God played a very important role and had a very special place in my life. They governed the way I thought, the way I perceived the world around me. I measured everything in life with a theological yardstick. I led a life of absolute subservience to the ‘divine’ power. Today, for reasons unknown, I think I am undergoing a phase of transformation by questioning the very fundamentals of faith and the rigidity of enforcement of its doctrines. I don’t know if this means that I’m rejecting them altogether, but I’m certainly exploring a new perspective on faith. I once ‘believed’, and now, I want to know what exactly it is that I believed in and whether it was worth believing. Words like renunciation or apostasy may be too harsh to describe the state of my belief right now. Whether or not I will ever be able to get to the bottom of this quest and face the ‘truth’, is something I really don’t know. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to know if I’ll ever get to the bottom of it. I’m content with the way I think and investigate into the truth, or the lack of it. As I think and ponder, the off-white three-pronged thread serves one of its many noble purposes – as a great back-scratching tool! While I think….and think….and think!

Images Courtesy: Om, Crucifix, Shahada

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Comments
  1. Great post, Stith. I’ve also wondered about these things over the last two years 🙂

    I know what you mean by thinking during this transformative phase in life. I’ve never been extra religious or even prayed to a particular God, but there was some sorta faith to push me through. I say ‘was’ because I think I lost it sometime in the middle of all this. Though, I must admit that it was never completely gone. So, reading this made it pretty nostalgic and I’m still figuring out answers to all the questions you ask here.

    Very well articulated 🙂

    Thank you. And honestly, I’m enjoying this phase of transformation. It’s giving me a completely different view of everything, a view that I never thought was possible. It’s making me question more and find out much more, which I wouldn’t have otherwise. 🙂

  2. kusublakki says:

    A very thoughtful and out of the ordinary post 🙂 Nice!

    Thanks! No opinions? 😛

  3. Gradwolf says:

    Very well articulated. But wonder what brought about the change?

    Well, a lot of reasons. It’s a gradual process, not an overnight change. We’ll discuss it sometime when we chat. 😛

  4. Sundeep says:

    Good one.

    Hope all the religions of the world understand the importance of Tolerance for the current society.

    The world will definitely be a better place!

  5. liberalcynic says:

    Very well said…people say that all religions should become more tolerant, but I think the sooner we stop tolerating religion, the sooner we can call ourselves an enlightened people. Nice post

    That’s a solution, though it may be considered a radical view by some. Perhaps we could come up with a universal code of ethics or something of that sort.

  6. truevoid says:

    very thoughtful and nice post! its time we discard the self-imposed shackles of religion with appropriate education and little common sense.

    Discarding religion might not be the only solution, but ‘a’ solution. Certainly there must be something less radical!

  7. maxdavinci says:

    if everything ok, then nice only…

    🙂 Sure!

  8. Arya says:

    Good, Well composed article

    You have mentioned
    The ‘Big Bang Theory’ or ‘Theory of Evolution’ in schools cannot be replaced. Every theory in science starts with an hypothesis and builds every other theory on it. When we individually question why at all the nature should behave according to our hypothesis we do not have an answer. Scientists/Researchers say it as unexplored science and will be explored in the near future.

    Fair enough! When some one says GOD and everything originated from him.. you guys feel illogical. Is it because it is not Science or you don’t have the interest in finding whether GOD exists are not?

    No one ever said science was perfect and it explained everything, but it is definitely more empirical, skeptical and based solely on reason. Religion has probably offered a more relaxed and acceptable explanation to things around us which couldn’t be readily explained, perhaps to break the monotony of reasoning and questioning. My gripe with religion is not with its reasoning entirely (although, I do have a bone to pick with religion on that!), but its methods of imparting.

  9. Sarvam Shoonyam says:

    I am glad that you are having this internal struggle. And I believe it is this kind of strife that humanity needs today more than ever. But I would have really appreciated it, if your argument was a little more rounded, than leaning to a side.
    I definitely agree with your reply to a comment above that we need a “universal code of ethics and morals”, but I believe religion IS that code, and it deserves more than you credit it for. Of course, it gradually fell prey to misinterpretation by opportunists, but then it will be the fate of any NEW code. I believe that is because any “religious” or “extra-religious” ideology is conceived with an intrinsic trait of gearing towards the ever elusive “Perfect” Code. That is precisely the reason, why time and again adherents of every new ideology claim themselves to be perfect and the rest as pagans. And may be these are one of those days when similar claims are made by people espousing the “ideology” of Science. But again if you come to think of it, there is a very fuzzy line between Science and Religion, there is hardly a difference between them. Both are meant to further the cause of humanity, and both are equally prone to misuse. Religion is equally skeptical about science, as is science about religion, and rightly so. Both of them are in everlasting search for the “ultimate” knowledge, albeit the different directions they take. Both of them saw tides and ebbs, had their hay days, days when people leaned more towards one than the other. So, instead of being at perpetual odds, I think it is for the greater good that they reconcile and spawn a symbiotic relationship.

  10. idlichutney says:

    Great post, Stith, very thoughtful and out of the ordinary but wonder what brought about the change?

  11. Abhinav Uppal says:

    hmmm….very interesting article…anywho, movin on….yo whr u been? email me!! i might leave a better comment next time so, dont mind 😛 but dont forget the email! i’m kinda standing on thin ice here!

  12. Sampath says:

    Hey NICEly written Karthik.. !! Well, you know my view on this one.. either u believe that there is a super human or believe that human is super.. 🙂 !! keep’em coming.. !!

  13. Raj says:

    Please take a look at this. I am sure it will be an eye opener for many:

    http://rajivmalhotra.sulekha.com/blog/post/2004/11/myth-of-hindu-sameness.htm

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