The Oddities Of Religion
Blog – Musingsite
Religion, belief, identity. Could be mere words, could be potential explosives.
The major religions of the World – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism among others — all have their holy books. They have ideas that guide their followers to tread a certain path. The problem is that many of these paths may or may not be in sync with the current realities or sensibilities.
For example, the Catholic Church considers abortion a sin. Christianity considers the ‘Human form’ as a vehicle for sin. So everything from menstruation to intercourse to uttering the name of the Lord in vain is blasphemous.
The book that is considered the constitution of the Hindu way of life, Manusmriti, considers women and members of lower castes, the so-called untouchables, as lesser beings. That classification is used as a tool for repression.
Islamic texts have been used to justify polygamy and the ‘Triple Talaq’ system. Also included is the idea that members of the other sects (Shia/Sunni/Wahhabi, as the situation might be) aren’t true devotees of the Allah.
We could go on and on about these – to use an euphemism – oddities. But that isn’t my point. My question is – What should be the share of religion in a person’s identity? Or, to put it in other words, why should we view others through the lens of religion or their birth?
I have no delusions of being an expert on Theism. This post is a collection of personal viewpoints, gleaned from the things that I have heard, seen and read around me. Suppose we look at religions as organizations or schools of thoughts, separate from the belief aspect. One can consider them to have been created to ensure a certain way of behaviour from the people as also ensuring that they could be made to follow a certain set of rules. This allowed the contemporaneous rulers, themselves patrons of that particular religion, to govern their subjects the way they wanted to. Despite their varied origins, all religions needed state patronage in regions where they grew. And strife, maybe. Because when everything is hunky-dory, why would you need to search for a new God?
The other thing about religions as a whole is that they make you fear the ‘Supreme Being,’ the God(s) who has(have) given you life. So we have Hell for people who don’t pray, people who do wrong things etc etc. There are Gods that are always angry. Like Rudra in Hinduism and the Old Testament God. My question is – Why should my God make me afraid? I mean, I should have a way of life that’s guided by my religion. I get that. But shouldn’t I ‘love’ my God? Maybe, maybe not. You might argue that one is supposed to suffer punishment for one’s sins, that one can’t expect to go scot-free. But I want to love my God. He (She) must not feel like a terrifying nightmare.
We can say one thing about almost any religion of the world – it asks its followers ‘To Love Thy Fellow Man’ and ‘To Do right by Your Fellow Man.’ Why should we look down upon someone who is born in a different religion/sect/caste/race? Why should we stereotype people according to their surnames? Or by the colour of their skins? Or by the deity they bow down to? Shouldn’t we treat them as human beings first?
Hinduism, the religion I follow, has inconsistencies of its own and I haven’t found their explanations. And they are as active today as they were a few thousand years ago, in what we call the ‘Sat Yug’ or the ‘Dwapar Yug.’ In the Ramayana, how was Lord Rama justified in asking Sita, his wife, to go through a fire-test to prove her fidelity? That too based on a complaint by a third party. Why didn’t he have to go through fire himself? He was away from her for the same period of 14 years, wasn’t he? Let’s get to the Mahabharata. Why should we have an award named after Dronacharya? The same man forced a tribal kid to chop off his right thumb as ‘guru-dakshina’ (gift to guru for his guidance) when he hadn’t ever taught him. At best, this was elitist behavior, done to ensure a commoner couldn’t compete with princes like Arjuna, the guru’s favourite student. At worst, it smacked of casteism.
All religious texts have some tenets that were written for their times and are archaic now. They should be removed. Caste system is one such oddity. Whole sections of society were treated worse than animals for millions of years. Unless and until they are accepted as equals, how can anyone expect the victimized classes to move on? Even today there are areas where the Dalits and tribals have to live in ghettos outside the main towns and villages. An upper-caste acquaintance, in the aftermath of the Una incident, remarked, “If the Dalits won’t clean the sewers and gutters, who will? It’s their job.” Is it? What kind of a legacy are we leaving for our future generations? Must a man have to do a particular work because of his cast? And oh, don’t even get me started on the inhumanity of manual scavenging.
The same goes about opposition to abortion and homosexuality. There are illustrations in our temples and caves (Khajuraho, Ajanta) that are erotic. Some also include homosexuality. These were made thousands of years ago. Indian society applied Victorian notions of morality to them and other erotic texts and adopted the resultant as “Indian culture.” Do I even need to tell you who Vatsyayana was?
Going back to the questions discussed above, I think we need to keep two things in mind.
- Treat other people as human beings first. This includes people of different gender, caste, creed, race and sexuality, among others.
- What one has to follow or believe should be a personal choice, not a forced one. If one chooses to renounce all religion after being disillusioned, it’s their choice. Similarly, if one chooses to have an intercaste marriage, that should be a personal choice too. I keep going back to a line I read in school. When Mirabai is asked why she reveres/loves Krishna instead of her husband, this is her reply :
“One’s faith is one’s own.”
Take a moment to ponder on it.
I’d like to clarify, in case the tone of this post didn’t make that abundantly clear yet, that I don’t intend to mock/ridicule religion, any religion. I don’t want to be dragged to a court or have FIRs filed against me for seeking knowledge. I have seen that all religions have some oddities which I can’t convince myself about. And I can’t blindly follow them either. If you have the answers, I’d be happy to learn from you. Yes, you heard that right. YOU! After all, Man remains a student all his life. Right?
Thanks for reading. Please do visit my blog.