Wednesday, July 24, 2024

The Riddle Called Religion

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The riddle called religion and its interpretation has always puzzled intellectuals, leaders and ordinary people

Religion is a social institution and force which is as old as the human civilization. It is based, according to Yuval Noah Harari, on the myth of ‘storytelling‘. Religion has always been a matter of controversy for centuries, much like a riddle.

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God, at least in the Abrahamic religions has been portrayed as a vengeful, bloodthirsty deity who demands sacrifice for his glorification. The Hebrew Bible and Quran is replete with such verses and references.

This idea is articulated by the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker and the late atheist Christopher Hitchens.

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The latter felt that religion poisons everything. So much so, that he wrote a book of the same name.

It is, therefore, necessary to understand the nature of religion from a nuanced perspective.

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Horrendous Side of Religion

Well to be blunt, religion can, indeed appear to be the incarnate of true evil.

This is evident in the countless sacrificial rituals, manslaughter and religious persecutions that religion encouraged.

This is especially true of Christianity and Islam. These two major Abrahamic faiths have persecuted the sects of their own faith. A good example is the Crusades (11th-14th century) and the European Wars of Religion (15th-early 17th century).

Christianity, notwithstanding its present docile nature was a master at ‘chasing’ evil.

Burning witches on the cross, ghastly nature of punishments, persecuting heresy and atheism and even, in some cases, homosexuality were some of the instances.

Also, for centuries Jews have been persecuted and massacred by Christians and Christian kingdoms.

Islam on the other hand was another culprit. The early history of Islam was replete with the massacres and proselytization.

The Islamization of Persia, North Africa, Spain(which later became Christian) are some notable examples.

In the Quran, heresy, atheism and even homosexuality is punishable with death.

Fast forward to the present day, the terrorist attacks undertaken by young Muslim suicide bombers carries strong religious motivation. Becoming Ghazi is their main motto and Jihad is the inspirational node.

Beauty of Religion

If the earlier section was dedicated to highlight the evil side of religion.

This section is meant to highlight the beauty of religion.

This is exactly evident in the case of Sanatan Dharma and her sister faiths. Hinduism teaches individuals tolerance, dissent, accommodativeness and inclusivity.

The Bhagvad Gita says, that violence must be undertaken, not as an indulgence but to protect Dharma, which means a ethical code of conduct on how to lead a good life.

Buddhism teaches the eight fold path on how to escape the cycle of life and death. Jainism teaches the idea of Anekantavada i.e., truth has different connotations, it can be reached by different ways.

Sikhism eulogizes the idea of ‘langar’ or community feeding, that explains the massive numbers of people the Golden temple feeds everyday.

All these Indic faiths are a true manifestation of what religion must represent- in what Steven Pinker had in his book-Enlightenment Now called ‘enlightened humanism’.

Conclusion

The riddle called religion is a complex social entity which requires some degree of nuanced understanding to solve it.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the monotheistic faiths are far more intolerant than the polytheistic ones.

What is needed is a global consensus to create King Ashoka’s ‘Dhamma’ in the post-modern world.

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