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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Religiosity and Progress - Part 1

Author: Kerala Varma

http://glo-talk.blogspot.in/2014/08/august-21-2014.html

Read more on this series: Part 2

God, like romantic love, has been the most popular idea that has excited people and inspired creative writing and expression like nothing else, inspiring people to kill themselves and each other; that is the intensity of its attraction. The concept of god has led to a large number of conflicting movements in the form of religions and cults and has become the biggest source of the deceit of the gullible.

As Dawkins said, "What should drive us is a love of truth, a love of clarity, a love of the poetry of science, not alternatives like superstition. The alternatives sap education and deprive young people of the true glory of the scientific worldview. It's tragic to see children being led into dark, pokey little corners of medieval superstition. If children are taught, however moderately, that faith is a virtue, that you don't need evidence to believe something, then that paves the way for a minority to be extremists. Everybody has been indoctrinated with this view that if it's their faith, you can't argue with them. Science doesn't actually claim to know all the truth. It works hard by getting closer and closer to the truth, but of course science learns by its mistakes and advances by disproving hypotheses and getting things wrong. One of the virtues of science is that it is prepared to change its mind when the evidence warrants it. Public sharing is an important part of science. No scientist will ever say, “Oh, it's true for me; it may not be true for you.” It's the mission of science to arrive at "true for all" situations.

"It's true for me, it may not be true for you" is the tentative stand of the religious folks. When someone says "my religious sensibility has been offended by your non-belief", it's the result of fear arising out of the unstable basis of the religious belief. I would rather have our sensibility offended by the sexism and patriarchy practiced by all religions. The common practice is for the religionists to appropriate “the sense of hurt” exclusively to themselves, forgetting that non-religious guys can also have their sensibility offended by many rituals, mindsets and practices promoted by religions. Religion is founded on the fear of the unknown. But modern science has been able to explain almost all natural phenomena so that the fear of the unknown has shrunk considerably. Recent scientific advancements and the increasing theocratic encroachment on free society demand a less accommodating attitude toward religion, superstition and religious fanaticism than what has traditionally been extended by many secularists. It’s time science and reason took a more prominent role in our lives to improve the quality of life of individuals and encourage an open mind and freethinking. A less intrusive approach would be to retain the essential spirit and goodness of god/spirituality without subscribing to the theology and without believing in religion and ritualistic worship. The connection between god and religions and between god and places of worship is tedious. God and religion are a measure of the abdication of reason and the acceptance of superstition by most humans due to fear, greed and a false sense of morality and obedience.

Any human being who claims to represent god is committing a fraud on the believer. If one needs a god, nature in its splendour and a value system would do fine. God is truth. It is ironical that religious leaderships have been consistently uncomfortable with truth. For Gandhi God was “truth and love, ethics and morality, fearlessness, the source of light and life, conscience, even the atheism of the atheist," which in essence means that god is the value system you have inside you. Worship is living according to the laws of nature, upholding the values you believe in. We used to be nature-worshipers before all these organised religions messed up things beyond repair. I agree that organised religions and places of worship do have tremendous economic value and provide substantial employment both direct and indirect, apart from collateral social benefits in education and health care. Still a desirable way of life would be simple living and simple thinking as opposed to the complicated thinking of theology. Maybe one could avoid any thing that complicates life like god, religion, superstition and rituals. And welcome any thing that enriches life like love, music, reading, healthy eating, freethinking, an open mind, physical activities like long walks and jogging, swimming and precious moments with people one can relate to. Frankly, one doesn't need god except to sustain this business of religion and hatred.

How come nobody prays to Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athena, Demeter, Dionysus, Hades, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Poseidon and Zeus? Hardly anyone worships Mountain, Ocean, Sun and Wind, which were early human’s gods. You need constant emotional bombardment (or marketing) to keep you thinking about a surviving God! I would like 'Spiritualism' to have nothing to do with God and religion, but the opposite of materialism. Let's define 'spiritualism' as a state of mind in which you find happiness in non-material non-monetary stuff and do not measure your work and relationships in a materialistic manner. Faith and worship are the most materialistic things today both in their manifestation and purpose. The less God and pseudo-spiritualism clutter our intellect, the better it is :)

Franz Kafka had said, “By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.” Religious faith is a form of self-deception, sort of deceiving ourselves in an unconscious effort to boost self-esteem or feel better. The tendency to self-deceive could be wired in us as part of our genes or upbringing (such of us are prone to believe in god, religion and superstitions). We may deliberately choose self-deception for material benefit or as a tool to improve our success in coping with problems, as auto-suggestion is effective in strengthening our resolve or self-belief. Self-deception also makes us think we’re smarter, more attractive and more accomplished. It could be positive in that it makes us more confident. That’s why we tend to lie, sometimes unconsciously, about our figure, height, weight, personal habits and our family. We try to present a better picture of ourselves to the world. It becomes dangerous only when we become filled with vain glory and arrogance. Can we manage without self-deception to achieve the same objectives, by taking full responsibility for our actions, ready to face the consequences of our thoughts, speech and action? We also become ready to admit our mistakes and apologise and make amends. A life of humility and courage, where there is no need for god, religion or self-deception.

Let me quote Leo Tolstoy here, “Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking.”

We are born with a rational instinct. Children as young as one year, who have not yet learned to speak, will get perturbed and start crying when they see a magical event, i.e., one that is not consistent with their world-view. It is after age four that we learn to suspend this rationality so as to enjoy a magic show in which, we know, that the magician is playing tricks to entertain us. But the same “belief in miracles” can be drilled into children by parents and teachers, telling them to pray to a God who has supernatural powers and perform miracles. Children accept this against their natural instinct because they consider parents and teachers all-knowing elders. Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg said, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. Without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

George Bernard Shaw noted that, “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.” After the passing away of his son, Lincoln said, “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”

We don’t need God and religion to be moral and ethical, or to be good, kind and compassionate. Morality arises out of our innate desire for safety, stability and order, without which no society can function; basic moral precepts like murder and theft are wrong and the moral responsibility to look after the young and the weak antedated religion. Those, who abstain from crime solely because of the fear of divine wrath, and not because they recognize the difference between right and wrong, are not to be lauded, much less trusted.

Religions and religious/philosophical classical writing challenge us to enquire and debate. If we reduce them to objects of reverence and deification, we prevent them from becoming dynamic and a source of intellectual growth. We should not use them to uphold and preserve orthodoxy and tradition, but to lead us to freethinking and dynamic growth by our seeking new meanings and interpretations. History is replete with instances of religious and philosophical traditions nurturing progressive changes and revolutionary thinking. For example Karl Marx did his doctorate in ancient philosophy; Bertrand Russel had said in his autobiography that his keenest interests were in religion and mathematics; ancient Athens legitimated the idea of 'one man, one vote', and early struggles for gay rights also looked back to the sexual politics of classical Athens.

India-born religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism originally did not give much importance to god or worship. The worship of nature was mentioned in their early texts, which treated wind (air), water, fire, earth, oceans, rivers and mountains as gods. Their ancient texts did not give an exclusive way of finding God or state that any one way is superior to others, or that finding God is better than not doing so. They express their thoughts about the mysteries of nature, the universe and relationships with fellow-humans and animals.

Buddha rejected the existence of a creator god, saying that questions on the origin of the world are not really useful for reducing sorrow and suffering. Supernatural phenomena do not explain matters of the world. A human must attain personal wisdom regarding the nature of things in life and in this world. The sole aim of spiritual practice is the resolution of stress and unhappiness by following the eight-fold path of right vision, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.

I love this Jain prayer I had quoted in my review of "Ship of Theseus" in another thread.

There are no celestial beings I know of
There is no god either
Neither hell nor heaven
Neither a preserver nor an owner of the universe
Neither a creator nor a destroyer
Nor an eternal judge
There is only the law of causality
I take responsibility for my actions and their consequences
May I always have compassion
May I never cause harm to anybody
The truth is multifaceted and there are many ways to reach it
May I find balance in this duality
I pray for the end of my ignorance
May my true self be liberated from thoughts of life and death.


My view is simple. The earth and the universe are just what science has found out so far. There're lots of things we don't know. That's okay. There's no god, all religions keep propagating myths and falsehoods, we're intelligent enough to see through their false claims. There's no afterlife and there's nothing wrong or unethical about just dying and be the end of it. As long as we live, we live sensibly, we enjoy our lives without any sense of guilt, we tell our children the truth and no woolly false promises.

The best thing about not having a religion to guide you in life is how uncluttered your life becomes, how confident you become and how much freethinking and how much more your own you become. There's a mighty dose of intellectual honesty in your life and you don't have to bullshit to your children.

About Kerala Varma:

He hails from Chirakkal (Kannur), Kerala, is a former Deputy General Manager of State Bank Of India and lives in Chennai with his wife Chitra. He is an amateur writer, who believes in "simple living, simple thinking", welcoming enrichers of life like love, humour, long walks, the river, sea, mountain, books, music and internet and avoiding complicaters of life like greed, anger, ambition, sentimentalism, sexism, god, rituals, religion and superstitions.

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