Modern humans are intrinsically bothered about their origins (biological and spiritual) and their mysterious existence after death. In their present form, as Homo Sapiens, much long before the advent of modern scientific knowledge in the last millennium, questions, such as, ‘who am I?’ and ‘where do I go from here?’, made them to develop and strengthen some abstract ideas about both questions, albeit in the realm of religious beliefs. For several millennia, in the absence of modern scientific knowledge, their religious beliefs proved convenient to them in justifying their acts of kindness, as well as aggression, and the purpose of their transitory existence on Earth.
Interestingly, out of 4.5 billion years of Earth’s history, the human history (as Homo Sapiens) is just about 200,000 years old and, over most of their existence, they did not follow any of the modern-day religions.
In their relatively more recent history of six or seven millennia, humans are known to have created several religions in order to conduct themselves, as a way of life, in an orderly manner and, thereby, through organised religious pathways, seek answers to the questions that haunted them. Different religions were born at different times, at different geographical locations on Earth. Two main streams appeared — Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) and Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Of those, Hinduism is considered as the oldest of all regions.
As the reasons for their births differed, their focus and objectives differed too. Ideological and theological divisions started occurring across the humanity, some severe enough to set their hearts apart permanently, followed by bloodshed and immeasurable misery on their own kind. They forgot they were all humans.
Advent of Science
With the advent of science, particularly, in the past one millennium, some humans pursued their questions – about life and death – through both avenues, religion and science. In some cases, they tended to allow the discovered scientific knowledge and the reason to prevail over their religious beliefs acquired through enculturation. And there were some humans who just did not care about those questions on life and death, they learnt to live and enjoy their life in the present, without worrying about the afterlife.
Interestingly, a vast majority of humans remained steadfastly clung to their religious beliefs despite their education in science and livelihood through modern scientific pursuits. How?
[In my very early years, I too was bothered about life and death. At the age of 5 years, I wondered where did I come from? In my book, ‘My Life Does Not Have to Be Unhappy (2017)’, I have tried to answer this question. In a more relative sense, my self-realisation set me free from the abstract (and the absurd). However, in an absolute sense, I did accept the possibility of the unknown but not to the extent of any stupidity or confusion or chaos within me. I discovered my humanness and learnt to uphold the human dignity of theists, atheists and agnostics alike. My enculturation at home, coupled with my contemplation and formal education at school, taught me about the omnipresence of the Great Unknown, which we may call God or the Almighty, however, without any attributes. I learnt each human embodies the Universal Spirit of the Great Unknown. That realisation rendered every human as sacred to me.]
Many reasonable people of science wonder about the unrelenting influence that religions have had on the human psyche and common sense. They question the validity of religions in this fast-moving day and age of science of technology.
‘Why can’t humans move on from the age of innocence and ignorance? Why do they continue to cling to the beliefs, unverifiable by scientific methods, which lead to discord, strife and suffering in the human world? Who has ever returned from death and described the so-called ‘hell’ or ‘heaven’ in the afterlife?’
As such, most reasonable humans of science have no major issues with humans having personal gods and beliefs, as long as those beliefs are not forcibly thrust on others or lead to inter or intra-community social discord and strife. They say, as humans are born alone and die alone, they must have the freedom to live in accordance with their values and beliefs, however, only to the extent they don’t turn against one another out of fear and prejudices born out of their individual (or collective) belief systems.
Religions and Strife
As different religions were born at different times on Earth in culturally differing communities, there is no one single religion that the entire humanity follows. Variances in religious beliefs has led to friction between humans from different communities at different points of time. Claims of sole validity and superiority by a religion, or a group of religions, has induced fear, distrust and threat amongst the humankind.
For exploiting human gullibility, and to reap unabated wealth and power dividends, religions have been consciously nurtured and purposefully nourished by the wealthy and the powerful.
The control and use of social media by the wealthy and the powerful has ensured gullible humans are constantly embroiled in troubling matters of religion and religious threats. People are reminded about the greatness of their religion and how it is under threat by ‘others’, and what they must do, with impunity, to ‘save’ their religion and culture.
Human history is full of eye-tearing accounts of human aggression and suffering unleashed, in the name of God and religion, by powerful rulers and invaders. Humans have been denigrated and relegated to sub-human levels, worthy of death, rape and slavery, by aggressive megalomaniac rulers who enjoyed godlike impunity, which they shared with their followers.
Religion, when mixed with political power, has historically brought untold pain and suffering on the humankind. A system that puts religion at its core serves no one in the long run; all humans suffer and the country weakens.
Undoubtedly, despite criticism, religion has its own valid place in our lives in terms of personal restraint, discipline, morality, purpose of life and hope. But when theists take their religion too far and make it central to their personal and political lives – individually or collectively – they tend to be extremely judgmental and tyrannical in their actions.
Why Religion overrides Science in the human psyche?
Coming back to the validity of religion in this fast-paced day and age of science of technology, one can’t stop wondering how did religion manage to maintain such a strong grip on the human psyche and, in the process, allow absurdity to override the reason.
Don’t we know the Earth is not flat or the Sun does not move around the Earth? Don’t we know humans share 99.9-percent DNA? Can’t we see one another as humans first and then as symbols of religion, nationality, gender, race and caste? What is the need to compulsively exhibit religious attires and identities?
The answer to the aforementioned questions may lie in the history of Earth and the human evolution. Religion made entry into the human psyche much long before visible science entered the lives of humans. As such, science may not have yet caught up with religion. Not many humans are able to connect everyday life with scientific developments clearly visible to them. Knowing and understanding are two different things. Just because one may know of Quantum Theory does not necessarily mean one understands it. Possessing certificates or degrees in science, mainly for the sake of employment, does not make a person scientific minded.
Impulsively, many humans thank God for the services rendered to them by science or by those humans who discovered the laws of science and developed useful technologies that revolutionised and reshaped the human world, far from our hunter-gatherer days. Many science-knowing, educated people instinctively thank God when they or their kin are saved by tireless efforts of a dedicated team of medical and pharmaceutical professionals. People invariably thank God after a safe journey, and not the pilots who flew the plane safely, or a large team of engineering and maintenance professionals who made and serviced the plane.
In a world where less than 5-percent people are tertiary educated, with most well-educated people generally mirroring their less-educated counterparts, science will take a long time to find its legitimate seat in the common human psyche. Till that time, humanity will remain divided on the lines of religion and insidiously exploited by powerful individuals in the name of God and religion. Our fear and hate against our religious adversaries will continue to be nurtured by the harvesters of wealth and political power, using the available scientific know how, technology and tools, such as our mobile phones.
[Note: At present, as per the published information (e.g., Pew Research Centre), Christians make the largest religious community in the world (~31%), followed by Islam (~25%), Unaffiliated / Agnostics (~16%), Hinduism (~15%), Buddhism (~6%), Folk religions (~5%), Sikhism (~0.3%) and Judaism (~0.2%).]
There will be peace in the world only if genuine theists (from any religious community) accept and respect the truth – as the Will of God – that more than two-third of the humanity does NOT follow their religious faith. However, if they compete with one another and try to dominate the world and be aggressive in the process (in the name of religion and God) towards other communities, the world will NEVER see peace. In an absolute sense, such aggression must be seen as sacrilegious, as an act against God’s Will.
It is possible humans may embrace humanism if Earth is invaded by aliens from another world or when humans face an existential threat emanating from a deteriorating environment on Earth itself.
© Bill K Koul [19 April 2023, Chicago, US]
Copyright © Bill K Koul