The “religion” of humanity

Note: Fair warning that this post might offend some people. You may find yourself outraged, but please know, I am not attacking your belief system, simply stating my own. I would appreciate if you’d extend the same courtesy to me when commenting.

Watching Religulous last night just made me realize how we give a lot of significance to things we know nothing about.

India, one of the most secular countries in the nation, is routinely shaken by communal violence. Headlines that rip your heart: “Thirty-eight people burnt alive, 12 among them were children.”

“Property worth lakhs of rupees gutted down to ashes.”

“Shops looted and vehicles torched.”

Vikram Patel, Swastik Mehta, Joy Lobo, Heeralal Shah, Brian Phillips, Iqbal Mehmood, Aslam Khan – casualties of a war they didn’t start.

Their names bearing no significance – becoming only statistics splashed in newspapers people eat paapri-chaat on.

And it’s no different anywhere else in the world – hundreds of thousands dead in the name of religion. Politicians and religious leaders use rhetoric. They instigate mass hysteria. And caught between this war of words, the common man suffers.

I’ve always wondered how we end up determining our religion. Who tells us whether we are Hindus or Muslims? Christians or Jews? Scientologists or atheists? Is it the blood running through our veins? Is it a chemical reaction in our brains? Is it somehow something we just “know” when we enter this world?

No.

It’s people.

Starting with our parents. Reinforced by our social circle. Validated by our priests.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation: if a child is born to a woman who practiced Islam and she dies in childbirth; no one knows how to ID her; a Christian couple adopt him, baptize him, take him to Church every Sunday; but he is raised by their devout Hindu maid who reads passages from the Gita to him all the time.

What is this child’s religion?

Is he Muslim by accident of birth? Is he Hindu because he bowed to all the gods and chanted the Gayatri mantra day in and day out? Is he Christian because that’s the religion his parents identify with?

Isn’t religion just an organized social club where membership is determined by birth? You meet people with the same “beliefs,” perform the same rituals, and bow to the same deity (or different “preferred” ones if you have an array of 300-million to choose from)?

People don’t understand most of the stuff they do in the name of religion but do it anyway because they “don’t want to make Him angry” or because “you just don’t question these things!”

I call this worshipping fear.

One would think that with all our technological advances and better understanding of the cosmos, we, as Earthlings, would acknowledge that religion was “invented” to build community, to give people something to affiliate themselves with. To try and explain the unexplainable.

In today’s world where we know how to reprogram skin cells into stem cells, when we’re inventing ways to turn water into fuel, when we’re  finding evidence of water and carbon dioxide on a planet outside our solar system, to still hang on to stories our ancestors made up to control societies …?

It just doesn’t feel right.

I vividly remember Bombay burning as an aftermath of the Babri Masjid debacle and witnessed gory scenes of communal unrest in Gujarat that followed a decade later. Countless children were orphaned, millions of national wealth destroyed, innumerable lives cut short unwontedly; and yet we fight over constructing a temple, a church, or a masjid.

Is the construction of any of these buildings worth a public massacre? Can these brick and mortar structures be rightfully called holy? Isn’t this just human slaughter in the face of religious superiority? And who is to say which section’s God is the all-powerful one?

The way I see it, no one wins.

Religion only makes us lose touch with humanity. With what really matters. The symbols, the edifices, the nomenclatures – they’re just things we, the people, created.

When a child wails, do you hear Ram, or Allah, or Jesus?

No. You just hear a human being crying for comfort.

All we need is compassion. Empathy for each other. Peace within ourselves.

And for that we need to look inward.

Think about it before passing judgment.


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13 responses to “The “religion” of humanity

  1. Pingback: An inquiring mind | First Impressions

  2. “You just hear a human being crying for comfort.” may we truly despair the day we find that definition objectionable.

    And with that, I say “amen” and well done, well written. Yours are the eyes we do not get to see through.

  3. Pingback: An inquiring mind « First Impressions

  4. lisa

    Well, you know I have to add my sonnet here. Thanks for posting Mansi.

    No man is perfect. We are all subject to carnality, pride, vengeance, ill will, selfishness – as we are also perfectly capable of unselfishness, humility, kindness and love. There is opposition in all things – that is a fact. With the sun comes rain, with blossoms the mud – there is good and there is bad and we are all capable of being one or the other. And they are two polarizing forces in this universe. I don’t think any community in the history of time “invented” this fact. Religion is simply based on man’s yearning to understand where these forces originate – and how to deal with them as we go through our own journey of mortality. You say look inward – for compassion – for empathy. But where does that come from? What is compassion? And where does it come from? Did not Christ, Ram or Allah teach the same principle? Those principles of choosing good over evil – virtue over vice – and by so doing we receive a more peaceful, harmonious and joyful existence, right? And what is so wrong with that?

    But the problem is that we, as natural and prideful humans, are also subject to that other force. How easy it is to be selfish, and consumed by ourselves. Unfortunately, people have used the name of God or Allah or whoever to perform their own selfish evilness in this world. And I ask, is that his fault? Or is it that man’s? I find it fascinating that we are always so willing to place blame on “It” or God for what we do to make things wrong in the world. Yet, we are perfectly happy to take all the credit when it is something good like medicine and science.

    Does God force a man to molest a child? Did he force Hitler to kill millions? No man on this earth is forced to do anything in God’s name. And when they do so, it is by their own natural, carnal, evil definition – not God’s force. We all have agency – and are free to choose for ourselves. It is the great misunderstanding – we complain that if God were so great, he would relieve all of the suffering in the world and wreak havoc among the evil doers – yet by so doing he would be negating that agency that we all seem to be so sure we don’t have if we were to believe in something more powerful than ourselves. I argue that believing in God is not being controlled at all – it is being freed. It is taking responsibility for no one’s actions but my own – it is acknowledging the good and striving to be that way. It is choosing peace in a dark and callous world full of bad things. It is having a relationship with a force for Good that instills hope and calm amidst evil. And while this may have been born of my Christian, western civilized culture of which I am a product, it is something I can learn for myself – regardless of my upbringing. If I want to know if God is real, all I have to do is ask. And if he is there, he will answer. It’s really quite simple. We’re the ones who make it so complicated and perverse.

  5. Mansi, I don’t always have enough hours in the day to read every post on every blog, or to leave comments on all of them. I just read this one in the wee hours of the morning when I have enough time to devote to leaving comments. I didn’t find anything offensive about your thoughts here. Your premise was well written and logical, and it didn’t attack any one religion in order to build up another.

    I am from Tennessee, which is in the Bible Belt of the U.S., and this area is predominantly Christian, and Baptist. I was blessed to be raised by a Mother who gave us the education and exposure to any religion we were curious about. We were not forced to embrace any specific religion just because it was what the rest of the family at large did. As a result, I developed a genuine respect & appreciation of many religions.

    I don’t ascribe to a specific title for myself or my beliefs, but I do have a very strong personal faith and relationship with God. It is only when people demand that I slap a label on myself so that they feel more comfortable that problems arise. I am comfortable with who I am and what I believe, and also the most comfortable when I am open to everyone else having that same freedom.

    If everyone could embrace that concept of live and let live, we might all be much happier around the world. I realize that’s a big wish to achieve, but I think it could happen.

    ~ Dawn

  6. You tell baby A that A,B,C,D,E,F are numerics.

    You tell baby B that 1,2,3,4,5 are alphabets.

    When they grow up, their belief systems will clash.If they become leaders, there could be war. Our society facilitates such situations.
    so wars, terrorism,and all similar activities are true those individuals – that is their ultimate truth.

    Add to that,ignorance, and illiteracy,throw in a dash of poverty and malice, voila – you have the perfect recipe for disaster.

    Sadly, and scarily, more and more educated, literate and informed people are joining the ranks of chaos and mayhem.
    They have stopped questioning logic and reasoning.

    Methinks, one needs to be spiritual,not necessarily religious.
    If you really start to question – then everything around you is debatable, and world will be in disorder.

    so at some point,one needs to draw a balance between logic,and unconditional belief, maybe then the balance in the system will be restored.

    Just as an interesting anecdote here’s what happened to our debate on religion and spirituality –

    the other day, one of my close Muslim friend, said to me, if there is no halal meat available in say California, I will not take that job.
    I will stay where I am.

    and another day,my close TamBrahm friend said, if there is no curd rice and rasam available in California,I ll not take up that job,I’ll be where I am.

    and I sighed in relief, I know I have a job in California for sure.:-)

  7. Hey, nice post ,mansi!
    Religion i feel, is like your value system, necessary and essential.
    It is just our own distortion of it that abuses and transforms it into something ugly.And all religious tenets emphasise peace, harmony and love for one another.So, I’m Hindu and my gods & godesses might be a million and my religion may believe in re-incarnation, Christianity has only one God and they believe in passing through this world only once..Yet, both these seemingly different belief systems still preach the same values of love, brotherhood.Beautiful, isn’t it?
    It is just man who subverts religion..remember Marx who said “religion is the opium of the masses”?

    http://www.soulatma.blogspot.com

  8. Religulous was nice, though Bill Maher comes out as anti-semantic. You’re thought are on the lines of what Richard Dawkins writes about in his book “The God Delusion”. How can a new born child be branded a Christian, Hindu or Muslim just cause his paents are.
    Becca makes an interesting point, but do you really need Jesus Christ to love your neighbour or restrain from murder? Isn’t your conscious or the fact that we’re humans (who can tell right from wrong) enough?

  9. Pingback: Staringfrog.com | The “religion” of humanity « First Impressions

  10. There are so many levels to religion. In London, where I live, you get to make friends with people from all over the world. For instance, I have a lot of black friends and am very aware that their families are often very religious and usually Christian. Good God FEARING people (as you so rightly point out, it has a lot to do with the big F – FEAR).

    But when you think about how these families first became introduced to Christianity, it goes way back to the days of slavery. Now why would anyone want a slave to be religious? Is it because the slave masters cared about their slave’s spiritual well-being? As much as they cared about whipping and beating them and taking away their freedom? Of course not. It’s because it controlled them – through that F word again – FEAR!

    See, if you tell someone that if they suffer in this lifetime, if they are meak and mild in this lifetime, that they’ll be given access through the pearly gates, then what you achieve is control. And if you tell that same person, that if they dare to question the teachings, they’ll be sent straight to hell you achieve a control so great because submission is given willingly. This is control not by physical force but through controlling the mind – and that’s POWERFUL.

  11. I believe that a major factor is our religious orientation is what we are exposed to in our formative years, whether it is our parents, or an influential friend. So, to a large extent, we are born into our religious beliefs.

  12. I just loved Religulous! So funny and yet so poignant and at times, somewhat disturbing, and yet so often there was so much truth to the movie. I list myself as Agnostic Secular Humanist in my Facebook profile under religious belief, mainly because we humans seem to have such a need for labels.
    This is a tough topic to get started, I applaud your courage because so many will just shut out what you have to say before you even really get started – they are like a dogma with a bone (pun intended).

  13. First, let me say that I am a believer in Jesus Christ. Now I am not here to judge or condemn, but actually to say that I agree with you.
    When I hear the word religion the first word that comes to my mind is war.
    Religion has been and probably always will be a main source of confliction, hatred, and wars.
    But let me say that not all of us who believe in God are “religious”.
    For instance, I would never kill someone or their family for not believing like me, I would never shun them, or set fire to their building because it was devoted to another god, and I wouldn’t judge someone for being different than I am.
    I try to love everyone that I come across and be compassionate to even strangers because that’s what it’s all about. And for me, my relationship with Jesus helps me do that, because if He can love me through my flaws then who am I not to love. So I guess the one thing I do disagree with you about it where to look; you say to look inward, I say look to Jesus.
    Peace,
    Becca

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