“Believe in everything, nothing is sacred. Believe in nothing, everything is sacred”
Quote ~ Tom Robbins in ‘Even Cowgirls Get The Blues’
Man needs religion. Religion needs man. This is a generally accepted axiom.
There are myriad religious practices, rituals and rites, and different regional belief systems called ‘faiths’, at least 10,000 of them in the world. According to various dictionaries, “Faith is often used when describing religion or the supernatural: people have faith in God, or actually refer to the religion they practice as their faith”; “a strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”; “Belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof”.
Faith is best described by characters in my friend the late Prof. Ali Ansari’s book, ‘Dear Prophet’, a character says, “…faith has this quality of total mystery. You perceive a truth and it doesn’t depend on external evidence. So, it’s personal, or maybe I should say, a private truth.” He goes on to say, “Everything is faith. You believe what your senses show you and that is your private truth”. Another character says, “…reason cannot help you decide the truth of fundamental questions of existence”.
Religion is good for most people because religious conviction and fear of divine reprisal while they are alive, and fear of their fate after they die, keep followers of religion on a moral and ethical path that is guided by the religion’s particular code-of-conduct, customary observances, rules and laws.
The trouble is, while religion generally keeps the peace, and more or less keeps people in line, followers, adherents, devotees of each of these innumerable religions believe that theirs is the only path to truth. They think that the religious practice they follow is more important than all the others, and dogmatic support to each of these faiths or ways-of-believing cause disputation, arguments, conflicts and outright war between adherents of different faiths.
It is perhaps in what we consider ‘divine’, that we are so divided. The ‘divine’, is neatly explained by Michael R. Trimble, in his book ‘The Soul in the Brain’, “…the divine is the primordial sense of the awareness of another, ineffable world… The issue of God or gods does not necessarily come into it, in the sense that some religions such as Buddhism, do not assume a god. …this feeling has been called a sense of divine; others may prefer alternative expressions”.
A life after life, a life after death – Heaven and hell, called by various names in various belief systems, are what Michael R. Trimble means by the ‘the awareness of another ineffable world’. So, this primordial sense of the awareness of another ineffable world – heaven and hell – is what religion is really about.
In most religious systems, heaven and hell are places that dead people go to live after they die. Yes its true, heaven and hell are places of reward and punishments for dead people, for a life lived either well, or badly while they are alive. They are places for an after-life.
Heaven is a better, more comfortable place of reward after death for a human being who had, before dying, lived a life of virtue, piety, prudence, abstinence, and kindness. Hell is a place of terrifying discomfort, the punishment place, where human beings go, when they die; for committing sins such as murder, lust, slander, pride, and deceit. Most followers of a religion keep the faith because they feel assured that their well-being would be taken care of after they die.
The great American psychologist William James, studied religious experience as he would study any psychological formula; he defined religion in one of his ‘Gifford lectures’ like this. “Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”
This led me to thinking about how fragile religious belief is and how and why it should separate people and nations. This should not be so when religious experience is so personal, so internal, and yet so universal.
I declared myself independent from religion, because faith to me is personal, and I do not need any external source to be a guiding light, or a crutch to my being.
My conscience is my ethical system, and my conscience does not require a temple or church or a mosque, or fellowship with like minded people. Faith in myself is the faith that I subscribe to. It is private and personal.
I believe that there is more inherent goodness in people than not. All of us, or almost all of us, are born with a conscience, and know instinctively the difference between wrong and right; fair and unfair. It is this inner conscience or instinct that is our best guide to how we ought to live our lives. And only a few, a fraction of a percent of people are born criminals and do not have a conscience (there are sociopaths and psychopaths and born liars amongst us that cannot be cured) and cannot be made more humane.
I believe that being humane is more important than displaying faith. And I believe that reaching into myself to touch this core of humanity within, is the key to faith, in myself, which I can do on my own without help from an external influence, though it is a continuous struggle to do so as it is for everybody whether or not they follow a system of faith or religion. So I maintain my own independence from religious and ideological stands, and I do not worry about the existence or non-existence of God, heaven and hell, or theories of moral relativism and moral absolutism or moral and ethical codes and regulations that religion and ideologies prescribe.
I listen to my conscience, and my own internal ethical and moral system, and so I don’t need a supernatural force, or external spiritual force or deity to keep me on the path of righteousness. I am capable of keeping myself on the right path. So following any public religious path is, to me, quite gratuitous. I am open to evolving and co-evolution so, I will again quote my friend, the late Prof. Ali Ansari from our Email correspondence, “…personal evolution means extending your circle of empathy and acceptance to as many as possible without prejudice. It is an ongoing process. You don’t immediately become all-inclusive – “at-one” with everything and everyone, but as you shed your prejudices you continue to evolve”.
And what is my religion you may ask?! My religion is the one I just made up, all by myself, only for me – it is LALL – Live And Let Live. This is the code of LALL which I also just made up:
. Compassion, empathy, mindfulness to people and nature – and Ahimsa – non-harm to all
. Extend my circle of empathy and acceptance to as many as possible without prejudice
Membership of LALL is restricted to me alone. I only speak for myself and I am not trying to convince anyone to follow my thoughts.
Pratap Antony is a Passive activist. Active pacifist freelance thinker and writer. Writes on an array of subjects: ecology and environment, social justice and pluralism, management ideas and issues. Music: western classical, jazz, and Indian classical dance.