Religion continues to remain one of the most touchy and emotive issues which human beings generally abstain from thinking about rationally. Either we follow it blindly, or we prefer to not talk about it at all. It is surprising that despite religion holding sway over most of the things that we do in our lives, we rarely indulge in a rational inquiry of the ‘performance’ of religion. The very idea that religion can be evaluated or should be evaluated scares us.Has it delivered anything noble apart from bloodshed and mutual hatred, to humanity? The question is complex and certainly cannot be answered in terms of a simple yes or no. Thus, what is required today is the brewing of a strong public discourse analyzing the efficacy of religion in modern times.
The exact number of religions in the world is unknown, but the available estimates show the number to be around 4300, as per Adherents.com. However, only two religions can claim more than one billion adherents each. Christianity has approximately 2 billion and Islam 1.3 to 1.5 billion believers. Interestingly, over 1.1 billion people identify as agnostics, atheists, nonreligious or secular. This number is higher than the estimated number of adherents of Hinduism, the third largest one. Conventionally, it is any cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, ethics, or organizations, which relate humanity to the supernatural or transcendental . Religions relate humanity to what anthropologist Clifford Geertz has referred to as a cosmic “order of existence”. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion ( Source: Wikipedia). All differ from one another and historically some have even originated as a response to the other. For instance, in the Indian subcontinent, Buddhism arose in response to the exploitation which Hinduism demonstrated against the lower castes or the Shudras. In Buddhism, it preached in the languages of the common people – Pali and Prakrit, the marginalized sections found solace.
However, one common ground where all converge is that they all encourage human beings to attain what is regarded as ‘good’ in their respective society. Besides salvation, all religions strive to make humans more ethical and moral creatures. Thus, theoretically, all preach to make the world a safer and more peaceful place. Yet, history is testimony to the occurrence of the Crusades, Jihad etc., that is wars in the name of religion. It has been a source of wars and bloodshed for eternity. From Dharma Yudhas in ancient times to the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947, which has remained the source of conflict in society. The politics of communalism and xenophobia are grave manifestations of how it has modified itself in modern political parlance.
Two forms :
From the above discussion, it might seem that there exists a fundamental problem within all religions that propel people to fight against each other. But it is too early to jump to such a conclusion as denouncing it completely for its apparent ‘misuse’ is a naive judgment. Every religion can be classified into two forms – in its first form the religion constitutes a non-institutionalized form, where the middleman, that is, the clergy is non-existent and humans directly establish a link with the divine. In this noble form, the religion encourages human beings to fulfill higher ends. However, there also exists another form, one in which religion refers to the organizational structure, or the institutionalized form. In this form, religion is governed not by personal agency but by those who regard themselves as the contractors of religion, that is- the clergy. Unfortunately, it is in this second and distorted form that has taken over the ‘nobler’ form of religion. Today, most of the people who claim to be the adherents of any religion, are in reality, the followers of this nexus of hierarchical religion. Communalism also traces its genesis to this institutionalized as the so called guardians of it have a vested interest in maintaining religious animosity.
Hence, it is the need of the hour to propagate it in its true form – the non-hierarchical and non-institutionalized form, that is- religion being practiced by each individual as s/he deems fit. Religion should also be subjected to the scrutiny of public good as only what liberates people, and breeds mutual cooperation and harmony should be interpreted as religion. What the great Mughal Emperor of India, Akbar, sought to experiment with, namely the positive ideals of all religions in the form of the promulgation of Din-i-illahi, a syncretic creed derived from Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity, is a formula worthy of emulation.
– Contributed by Suryansh
Picture Credits: mosesmadison.org