The purpose of this article is to present an unbiased layman view of religions as of today. Majority of us fail to understand the apparent confusion of so many religions, all seemingly claiming to be best. Religion has become the prime pretext for all the violence, terrorism, fights and havoc all around the world. Religion seems to be the primary theme governing the world politics and society, yet most of us do not know what exactly it is all about. Most of us simply know the names of major religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Bahai etc and keep hearing how basically all teach the same good things and how all religions are equal. We also keep hearing lot of irrational stuff from all religions and hence tend to believe somewhere deep inside that it should not be taken so seriously.
Religion has become PSPO. I recall that famous ad of some fan company where people used to say that this particular fan has PSPO in it. And then someone would ask: What is PSPO? And no one would know what it is. Same is the case with religion.
Taking advantage of this gross confusion, many a self-proclaimed experts of comparative religions would then start marketing their own theories on religions to convince people why only their religion is true and rest is false.
In this article, we shall avoid getting too much into history and simply try to put a framework to understand the confusion of religion as it exists today, from a common man perspective. This would be helpful to then understand the gravity of the problem of religious fanaticism and the tremendous business that goes all around in name of religion. The article shall provide only preliminary pointers and expects the readers to research on the details themselves.
Why Religions exist?
Religions exist because all living beings take birth and then die one day. No one clearly knows what happens after we die. A natural trait of living beings in general and human beings in particular is to avoid the very thought of self-destruction. This urge for self-preservation has been very critical for nurture and growth of society.
We all see happy people, animals, insects etc moving around, interacting with us, with nature and then suddenly they turn mum forever. We see all the living beings ultimately meeting this fate and hence we all know that the same shall happen with us also one day.
This cruel reality conflicts with our core trait of self-preservation and gives rise to variety of personalities, complexities and other variations that give colors to what we call life.
Different intellectuals have provided answers to this mystery of ‘what after death?’ in different manners and that becomes the genesis of religious thought.
Religion of Scientists
Those claiming to be ‘scientists’ refute any existence of afterlife because they have been unable to find any evidence of that through their crude instruments. But they also fail to answer the most basic questions
– Who is the ‘I’ observing and feeling everything?
– Why does ‘I’ abhor death or self-destruction so much?
– Why only human is the intelligent species and nothing else?
– Who is controlling everything so intelligently?
– How can you claim to have most accurate instruments to measure and negate existence of afterlife?
The more rational ‘scientists’ follow a more reasonable approach. They say that modern science is a conservative approach. It shall comment only on what it can measure and deduce and shall provide no comments on the rest. So they simply remain agnostic to presence of afterlife or a controlling mechanism.
This ‘agnosticism’ or ‘scientificism’ is the most basic human religion for the most paranoid among us who trust only what their myopic eyes can see.
Religions of Visionaries
The other extreme is the cult of the ‘visionaries’ who see bit too much for normal people like you and me to appreciate and cross-verify even a small sample set of their ‘visions’.
This is the foundation of all Arabic religions like Judaism, Christianity or Islam. They are claimed to be founded by their respective Prophet(s) who saw things we could not see and told people what they should do to enjoy life after death and save themselves from troubles after death. Arab is a desert area that is known for mirage and hence it becomes confusing at times to ascertain if the prophets of these Arabic religions were having visions or mirage.
Following are the salient beliefs of these religions:
a. There is one God/Allah/Jehovah who created this world in 6/7/8 etc days and himself sits on some throne on 4th sky/ 7th sky/ Heaven etc.
b. We all are created by this God
c. We all are being tested by the God.
d. God sends his Prophet(s) to guide the less privileged people. Only by following the most latest prophet can one go to Heaven, else he or she shall go to Hell which is place for torture. Review God must be crazy! to analyze this.
e. There is no way one can question these prophets. Questioning them is like insulting God and hence dispatch us to Hell.
f. Heaven and Hell are eternal. This life is the only life.
g. Judaism considers Moses as the final Prophet, Christians consider Jesus and Muslims consider Muhammad as final one. Each of them brought his own final edition of God’s message. The fight among them is related to this controversy. Further, each of them is divided into huge number of sects which have there own different versions/ interpretations of the final book.
h. Muhammad being most pragmatic put an end to this Prophet business by claiming to be the Final Prophet till the world comes to an end. But some sects of Islam, claim to have new Prophets who only add upon existing message of Muhammad. The most prominent of these cults is Qadiyanis who consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmed to be final prophet. That is why other cults call Qadiyanis as Kafirs (non-Muslims) and hate them.
(Ironically, Zakir Naik has copied all his work from Qadiyani literature word by word, letter by letter, and promotes their Qadiyani specific views to claim popularity as expert of comparative religions. That is why this creates suspicion that he is actually a Qadiyani in disguise. Refer Dr Zakir Naik’s fraud exposed on this site.)
i. These cults believe that one day world will come to an end when people would be taken out from their graves and brought to a court where God will be judge and their respective prophet would be the lawyer. He shall take variety of evidences and then decide who shall go to Hell and who shall go to Heaven. And then Heaven or Hell will be eternal.
j. The entire fight in West today is on following:
– Which of the cults of Islam is the true cult of God? Shia, Sunni, Qadiyani etc.
– Which is true religion? Judaism, Christianity or Islam?
k. Jews (follower of Judaism) do not fight much because they consider themselves to be privileged ones having message of God. They thus do not get into competition of expanding their population base. There fight is restricted to unfriendly neighbors 9Arab countries) whose religious books term Jews as worst of the lot. But for Islam and Christianity, one of the most important performance metric set by God to qualify for Heaven is the number of people they can bring into their respective folds.
l. Each of these religions claims to be religion of peace. However the only rider is that this peace is for believers only. Non-believers are not tolerated in them. The level of tolerance has reduced chronologically. Thus Jews keep to themselves, but Christians allow use of sword and deceit to convert people. Islam goes a step further ahead by claiming that those who fight in path of promoting Allah and die become the recipient of best facilities in Heaven.
m. The description of Heaven and Hell is as per the notions of pleasures and troubles of arabic society of the respective era in these religions.
n. Existence of miracles is supposed to be greatest proofs of validity of these religions. It is a different matter that the evidence, description and testimony of these miracles are restricted to their respective books only. Some of the miracles are Moses splitting the Red Sea, Jesus reviving back to life after crucification, Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus, Muhammad splitting the moon, Muhammad traveling to 7th sky on a girl-faced donkey (Buraq) through Miraj Travels in a night, Muhammad having revelations coming from an angel called Gabriel etc.
One has to blindly believe in all this to escape Hell and achieve Heaven.
o. These religions are silent on status of animals and insects – whether they have soul, will they go to Heaven/hell, in what form etc.
p. Christians, though dogmatic in their beliefs, are not as uncompromising as Islam in their religious views. Further, the revival of scientific era in Christian countries led to a huge transformation in society and debunking of majority of Biblical myths. Thus most Christian countries today are Christians merely from population standpoint. Neither do majority of people take Bible seriously, nor there is threat of a Papal control of death sentence if someone preaches against Bible.
q. Muslim countries are most rigid on religious beliefs. If one questions Quran in Islamic country, as per Sharia, he is liable to be killed. Muslim clerics can still tolerate questioning of Allah, but if their Prophet is questioned, they start proclaiming fatwa of death for the questioner. Thus unlike Jew or Christian people, most Muslims live in fear of adverse eventualities if they question Islam. Many other start rationalizing this and most others are brainwashed to believe that Islam alone is best, regardless of whether they know Arabic, have ever understood Quran or can critically examine Islam.
Eastern Religions/ Hinduism
The third set of religions is the Eastern Religions. These are the oldest and foundation of almost all religious and philosophical thoughts including arabic cults. They include a variety of names like Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Vedic Dharma, Sanatan Dharma etc. If Hindu be the term depicting region on eastern side of Indus river, then all these collectively come under the umbrella of Hinduism or Hindutva. There are a huge number of sub-sects and varieties in these broad terms mentioned above. For example, in Sikhs we have Namdharis, Nirankaris, Udasis etc. In Jainism we have Shwetambar, Digambars and various sub-sects. Same with other terms as well.
Despite this myriad diversity, which at times appear contradictory on surface, there are certain common binding traits in all these religions under the fold of Hinduism:
a. None of these religions were founded by visionaries as defined in previous section. The founders of these religions instead were supposed to be exalted souls who realized truth in their own way. Thus no follower is expected to blindly believe in anything but explore truth in their own honest ways.
b. All these religions believe in transmigration of soul and a continuity of life and death like day and night. Thus as per one’s deeds, soul goes through appropriate births in different species and situations.
c. All living beings are supposed to have same type of soul be it animal or human. All humans are supposed to have been in one of these species in past and also have probability to go into these species in future as well. That is why universal compassion for all living beings is a central theme of all these religions.
d. A ten-fold tenets of Dharma/ religion is common among almost all sects. Interestingly, the sam shloka from Manusmriti (2.215) appears in almost all leading religions. These ten tenets include:
Patience, Forgiving, Self-control, Non-Stealing, Purity, Control of sense and action organs, Intellect, Knowledge, Truth, Freedom from anger. Further, all these religions put non-violence as supreme tenet of human beings.
e. All these religions believe that cause of life and death is the ignorance in souls. This ignorance is to be removed through constant practice of self-control and performing virtues. Blind belief is supposed to be anti-thesis of this purpose of ignorance eradication. Hence no human is expected to believe blindly in anything. Thus the guidelines of these religions are recommendatory in nature and not supposed to be recipe to reach any permanent Heaven or avoid Hell.
f. Human being is not expected to be able to understand complete truth in this life. Hence mutual discussions and debates are encouraged to collectively help each other move towards the truth. Thus, saints of various cults still maintain respect for each other while having differences in opinions.
g. A unique characteristic of these religions is the emphasis on meditation. Meditation is process of mind control and a variety of techniques for all levels of people are recommended by these religions. Self-realization being the focus of life, meditation is considered more important than forcing others to believe in a particular ideology through force. Interestingly, all these religions consider ‘Om’ ॐ as primary chant for achieving Supreme bliss.
h. A lot of malpractices did creep into Hindu society over ages, partially due to the own debilities and partially due to influence of Arabic cults. But nonetheless, since there is no binding blind truth for a Hindu, they have scope to rise above these new weaknesses without having fear of being apostate.
i. Each religion has its own religious book. Most of them consider Vedas to be supreme. Jains and Buddhists have their own texts. But no one claims that blind belief in any book is necessary. The only prerequisite is that one is desirous of knowing the truth and is putting efforts in that direction. Rest is supposed to happen automatically through forces of supreme.
j. Each of these religions believe in Theory of Karma. It has several variations. But in principle, our present situations are supposed to be result of our past deeds and our future situations would be result of our present deeds. After death, one takes birth in most optimal place as per his deeds of previous life. Thus good deeds and noble thoughts are supposed to be key recipe for blissful life. The religious books are attempts to explain further details of what good deeds are. These are to be understood rather than mugged up blindly.
Apart from these major religions, there are a minority of religions like Bahai, Zoroastrianism and new thoughts like Deism etc. Most of these are repackaging of the beliefs discussed earlier along with some of their own unique belief systems. The key point however is that none of them has ‘Only I am right’ approach and hence most of these are not part of any major controversies.
I would like to highlight the cult of gurus and babas and saints and peer-fakirs as a cult in themselves. They emerge from almost all major religions. They are founded by smart people who instead of being too prophetic, simply mould the tenets of a particular religion towards their own personalities. I would term them as pure businessmen who fool people. India is the biggest production house for such fake personality based cults. Many of these cults start with a person claiming to be adherent of a particular religion. Slowly with increased popularity, they open their own shop.
In themselves, these being small boutique shops do not cause grave global level controversies. But their sheer number, coupled with the number of people they collectively fool, lead to people remaining ever confused and hence succumbing to some of the larger controversies. I would term them as AIDS which in itself does not cause great damage, but makes you vulnerable to death, even when you catch a common cold.
How people follow a religion
Rarely does a person follow a religion because he or she analyzed it carefully and then chose it to be best ideology to believe in. In reality people adhere to different religions because of following:
a. They were born in a particular family. This is default religion and remains so for most of us. Just because we were born a Hindu, Muslim or Christian, we consider our birth-religion to be best. This birth-superiority coupled with brainwashing/ marketing that happens on us, makes most of us jingoistic about religion.
b. Many follow a religion because the society that they lived in followed that religion dominantly. This is based on natural human urge to comply with the trends. Also it makes them more secure and less alienated.
c. Many others change their religions because they want to marry a suitable life partner from another religion. This trait is used as a strategy to convert people in tactics like Love Jehad.
d. Many of us feel unrecognized in our own community and hence change religions to gain more recognition in new society. This is major cause of people drifting away from Hinduism.
e. Among Christians and Muslims, a lot of inter-conversions take place because of the way their respective evangelists market their own book and highlight defects in other’s book. This is more like a Pepsi vs Coke happening. This is also true for the boutique baba religions.
f. Many in West and Page 3 Indians are drifting to Buddhism because that seems to be a fresh respite from dogmas of Bible and Quran for more intellectual and introvert ones. Contemporary Buddhism is basically first step of Vedic Dharma minus the emphasis on self-control. So it is very easy and intuitive for typical western people who live in a lascivious society and thus find concepts of self-control bit too impossible for themselves. For example, one is expected to do Vipashyana and meditation, but need not become a vegetarian or shun all forms of vulgarity.
g. Many other convert because of lure of money. This is the favorite ploy of Christians in developing countries like India. A minor variant is lure of glamor associated with Christianity and the access of attractive white people who they can use for seductive marketing among youth, combined with rock shows etc.
h. A lot many change religions because modern day degenerations like caste based discrimination is humiliating for them and predator religions offer them the delusion of equality of status and respect. This was very true for dalit Christians who now face same discrimination in Christian society as well!
i. A very rare set of people actually analyze all religious ideologies in unbiased manner, or introspect on various aspects of life and then make an informed decision. The Arya Samajis of first generation belonged to this group. Though the modern day Arya Samajis are nothing but mostly Arya Samajis by default, as described in point a above.
Solution to the confusion
This in brief is the status of religions as they exist today. Religions would continue to exist and create controversies till planet earth exists because ‘after death what?’ would remain a puzzle forever for human beings. A more pragmatic approach to living peacefully in this confusion would be to:
a. Shed all levels of intolerance against those who do not subscribe to my religion’s view of ‘what after death?’
b. Continue having dialogues and discussions on this perplexing issue, as well as other mundane issues. Continue challenging each others’ beliefs to reject falsehood and accept truth. But this should be done without involving personal enmity or hatred and in most objective unbiased manner.
c. Promote the virtue of meditation, self-realization and charity for all human beings (regardless of religion or birth) which are most important recipe for peace here and after.
d. All religious heads should start taking religion not as a personal business or ego issue, but means to discover truth, Thus everyone should have dialogues, come up with common tenets and evolve a pro forma of universal religion that is same for all human beings and for all times. Each society/ individual should be given liberty to fill in minor details as per their own needs, without transgressing the overall framework.
e. The 11 tenets of religion as mentioned earlier should be foundation of this universal religion. Compassion, Character and Charity should be the guiding light.
I personally believe in Vedas being the only performa of such a universal religion. But even thrusting of Vedas as only truth, without due study by an individual, would be against the very essence of Vedas itself.
Name of book, thus is not important. But the knowledge is. Let everyone follow the universal religion and whatever be the truth, we shall be guided towards that automatically in proportion to our efforts.
Till the intelligent among us work towards such a performa of universal religion, neither shall we be able to discover the mystery behind life, nor can there be peace in world. What shall remain is only the jungle rule of those who desire dominance in name of religion through politics, force or deceit.
Mere declaration that all religions are good, would be a fruitless exercise as we all internally know that this cannot be the case. A more sensible approach would be to actually work towards a truly good religion – a universal religion – through consensus and deliberations and then let that be the ONLY religion sufficient for human beings. As mentioned earlier, each society/ individual should be given liberty to fill in minor details as per their own needs, without transgressing the overall framework.
I may be sounding too idealistic or impractical with these suggestions. But almost all practical realities of today had genesis in something impractical some time ago. My conviction is that the practicalities of today will take us nowhere. It is my conviction that all sensible people of the world seek such a universal religion. So there is indeed scope of this idealism becoming realism tomorrow. That tomorrow may not come very soon, but still our efforts would make it only closer and closer!
May the cults of intolerance and blind faith be destroyed through compassion and persistence!
May the truth prevail!