When I was a small kid, ‘By God’ used to be a swear word signifying that I had now rid myself of all lies, clutter and pretences and now stand before you in absolute truth, in sync with my inner conscience. Of course some of us had learnt the fine art of lying way too early and ‘By God’ became a very easy route for deceiving others and our own selves. Similarly, when we stand in court for our deposition and swear that in God’s name, I will state only the truth, I am supposed to be integral with my inner self and totally truthful. The question that arises is that if my God is going to be different from your God, is my version of truth going to be any different from what is perceived by others?
My earliest memories with respect to religion date back to an age when I was a 8-9 years old kid and by chance made to attend a multi-religion seminar. Much akin to the Emperor’s new clothes story, after listening for three days of hectic debating by a multitude of learned ones from different faiths, I found myself wondering that they were all professing the same thing- that is go out and be a good human being. Do good or at least no evil. So what was this whole deal about discovering yourself and coercing/ forcing people to follow their way?
As I grew up listening to blaring from religious houses and processions, I kept pondering as to why did I have to shout if my Daddy was indeed the strongest? Like the many different suits and apparels in my wardrobe, is religion not just another coat I use to hide my real self, my inadequacies, my true being? Akin to the hesitation of stepping on to a nudist beach and exposing my real self to the world, I think I clothe myself in ‘allotted at birth’ stereotypes which become rather difficult to shed like Karna’s body shield that would get ripped off only at death.
Starting as basic affiliations to ensure survival, evolution of different religions is widely researched and well known. Basically, these have been attempts to regulate society in the absence of laid down formal legal frameworks and inadequate policing by using group coherence and appealing to the inner goodness resident in mankind. Good conduct or let’s say desired conduct, is ensured by laying down moralities and thereafter oversight by a higher spiritual authority-remember ‘God is watching’. Religion has been widely recognized to ensure bonding, cooperation and mutual aid within the community. The underlying message has been that group dynamics score over individualism.
When things are not as we wish them to be, religion provides me the necessary bulwark and support from adversity. This is one of the primary reasons why religion is taking a backseat in highly developed countries where the state now provides succour and hope instead of God. However, as things stand, God is going to continue in our midst for a rather long, long time. Newer Gods will be discovered and worshipped while the older ones will be brought to the fore as along as they serve a purpose.
Cohesion and sociality, by-products of religion are available in more ways than one in today’s digital world. At one stage of the digital revolution, the optimists felt that true levelling and greater unification of the world was round the corner. Unfortunately, the tragedy is that these same digital platforms have become the battle grounds for modern day crusades and harbingers of enmity and antagonism. Religion has always been its own antithesis and has become more so in today’s age. While the stated purpose is order, peace and harmony, the outcome is invariably the opposite. Gods are today arousing the same passions and feelings they are supposed to suppress.
Each one of us just happened to be born into a certain family following a certain religion and a passed down set of beliefs. So easily or rather providentially, we could have been born into a different family following a diverse set of faith. In that case, would my strong views and opinions about my own religion (and of others as well) that I hold so dear today be the same? I sincerely doubt so. If my survival is not at risk, then why do I feel so insecure to outgrow and (if required) discard my at-birth delivered set of beliefs and choose my own set of moralities?
Today secularism is one of the most misquoted word worldwide and more so in our country. It is commonly understood as tolerance for other religions. The word tolerate itself being defined as ‘allow the existence, occurrence or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference’.
Does it mean tolerance of the beliefs held by the minorities by the vast majority? Or vice versa as well? Does something become right or wrong because the majority says so? How can anyone be a minority in the kingdom of God? Would it not be more appropriate to use the word ‘respect and acceptance’ of the beliefs of others? Why does a so-called secular state ask its citizens to notify their religion in every bureaucratic form required to be filled from birth to death? Why do I sub-consciously look for stereotype behavioural traits in all those who have a different brand of religion associated with their names?
First used by British writer George Holyoake in 1851, the word “Secularism” looked at promoting a civic social order separate from religion without actively dismissing or criticizing religious belief. Going by this definition, we are probably one of the most unsecular states around with a ‘common civil code’ nowhere on the horizon and religion finding its way in every political discourse and even in national parades and events. Politics invariably requires polarisation of the masses and religion provides a low-cost solution with an inter-generational shelf life. So, just by inclusion of the ‘S’ word in our constitution, nothing has really changed on the ground. Our dogmas and biases unfortunately remain intact if not intensified.
I often ask myself-Why am I allowing petty elements in my environment to drive and influence my thoughts, principles, attitudes and opinions? Why can’t I blaze my own trail rather than follow what I have inherited? Why can’t I shed what my inner core tells me is not appropriate and adopt what is good, irrespective of which faith it comes from? Why am I afraid to be what I wish to be or I know I should be?
By God, today I want to live by ‘My God’. My lament today is that if I want to change my religion to simple ‘Goodness’, they tell me you can’t, because no such religion exists.