If we take a hypothetical village of 1000 people, living 2000 years ago, how many of them would be illiterate, slightly educated and highly educated? We could guess that the norm of life would be influenced by the illiterates, who would set the standard for beliefs, law and spiritual matters. Of course, this state of affairs would be under the influence of the head man and his acolyte – the shaman, witch doctor or head priest.
If we move 1000 years later with, say 2 000 people in that same thriving village, what would then be the standard of education? Most probably it would have improved. The beliefs of the people might still be anchored to ancestral conceptions, though there would probably be many more ‘modern’ thinkers and revolutionaries, trying to disagree with the administrative and religious establishment, with little success.
As we go on extrapolating to our own times, we could have an idea of how modern education and all sorts of scientific discoveries should gradually and laboriously displace old beliefs and superstitions.
But in this march towards newer conceptions, there would still linger strongly the influence of the ‘sacred books’ of all the world, grafted on ancestral traditions that many of us would love to keep, or find difficult to shed off psychologically, or even wishing to abandon with relief.
Meanwhile the modern man, gifted with all sorts of freedom, would wonder why is it that God gave different versions of the same truth to different people of the world. He would have known that the planet is a globe. If perchance all nations were to meet and compare religious notes, they would discover a lot of conflicting beliefs here and there; each convinced that it holds the divine truth while the other’s is all wrong . And this would inevitably lead to indifference or misunderstanding. Surely God would know this simple logic; yet why did He insist to supply so many prophets with such different and antagonistic philosophies? Or is it possible that God never did all that: it is just that our ancestors craftily invented all these divine revelations? Some modern thinkers are convinced of this latter view. They either believe that God just gave us a brain to think, full stop; or the extreme is that there is no God.
God: a psychological trap?
Currently that is the majority thinking in many an advanced democratic country, where people are giving more credence to the thinking power than to emotional or religious concepts. The proof is that where there is calculated atheism there is more richness in almost all fields of life, more political stability, comfort, better respect for others and higher education. As against this, in the more religious countries there are many more pockets of abject poverty, conflicts and misery. One would have thought that it would be just the opposite, because the religious is spending his life seeking the benevolence of a Supreme Being.
Besides he goes on believing in an after-life or world, spending a lot of his mental energy dreaming of the future life, and, in the process forgetting that this very present life is the important one. And he pays a heavy price for that.
Does God really need our daily prayer, our devotion and attention before showering his gratitude on the faithful? Such a God would be too anthropomorphic, far from the real broadmindedness we expect of Him. Why does He go on bestowing his kindness on the unfaithful, ‘blessing’ them with so much comfort, with ideas to discover new truths, new ways to treat diseases, new means to explore the cosmos and new vision of the world or universe? Whereas the faithful go on wallowing in pessimism, fighting daily chores for food, and waiting patiently for the final apocalypse, enduring a form of morbid masochism.
There must be something wrong with our beliefs and thinking. We had carried on in the footsteps of our ancestors who, in good faith, had invented all sorts of myths and stories to give meaning and purpose to our life so as to smooth out our daily uncertainties. We can fancy those ancestors of 2000 or 3000 years ago who did not have many pastimes, dominated by some high religious hierarchy to abide by strict conceptions lest they be outlawed and excluded from the group; nowadays we find it difficult to escape from that psychological trap.
Pruning the old
We love our ancestors; they are our roots, our pride; we are ready to forget and forgive their cannibalism, their human or animal sacrifices. We are ready to adopt the higher and more abstract conceptions they developed during the march of history. The tragedy is that we are also ready to go to war inspired by some of them that are a provincial, relative truth.
We go on forgetting that these very ancestors are alive within us, in our genetic make-up; what more do we need? Maybe we could do them more honour and justice by capitalizing on this genetic gift to produce a better civilization than committing horrible crimes in their names while adhering to queer obsolete beliefs locked in some man-concocted books. Let’s choose what is more universal, logical and scientific, and socially acceptable from those books and forget the junk.
Of course, continuing the culinary, sartorial, musical, some religious and linguistic traditions of our ancestors is most precious to our survival, but we need to always look differently to changes occurring in our world and try to adapt to new, valuable concepts. Surely our ancestors expect that from us.
However, this should not drive us back to the soulless concept of materialism of the communist, the supposed cultural revolution of the Chinese, or the unbridled anti- establishment movement of the hippies of the 1960s. Perhaps we need a new concept of the individual and society. So believe the atheists.
Nowadays as we start to discover new truths and beauty about our vast cosmos, about the common origin of life and all living beings, about our psychology, our microscopic and genetic truths and the quantum fabric of our universe, we realize that there is more be gained in investigating this new universe than to go on believing that there is ‘someone up there’ watching every move of ours, ready to reward or punish us for our deeds.
On the other hand many an atheist would readily concede that pure reason is not sufficient to lead us to happiness. Nowadays they concede that we must also turn our gaze inwards to understand our own self, for which no God is needed.
Many of these people would recognize that there is a need to distinguish between belief in a God, in religion and in spiritualism. Have we invented God to explain ourselves? That’s anyone’s guess. But it looks as if we have fabricated religion, which talks of a chosen people or of promised land, as if God were a totally biased provincial being, all of which still poison our modern world. It looks like a bit of megalomania on the part of certain prophets.
We see more people going on pilgrimage… but our crime rate goes on increasing, with the crimes themselves becoming more horrendous and disgusting. Going on pilgrimage was supposed to cultivate our collective feeling, thinking and sense of belonging; it was to help us understand the paradoxical forces that generate our being. Our ancestors did not know about psychology and the working of the mind and the brain, so they did invent, in good faith, a system to alleviate their guilt, to mortify and test their body, so as to thrash out that ‘evil’ being within them. We are still doing it – in vain.
So we are left with spiritualism. We will have to admit that there is a need to understand ourselves and the working of our mind, to unravel the mystery of our phenomenal consciousness or self-awareness. Some people believe that meditation must become a way of life. Done regularly it may help us to open new neurological pathways, leading us to spiritualism, a practice that would encourage us to discover ourselves and the self of other beings. And if all individuals could indulge in such practice then most probably we would build a world without misunderstanding.
Persisting to believe that our culture, our God, our sacred book, our religion are the best can only lead us to eternal conflicts. Can we forget our provincialism? Or is it wishful thinking?
Could we have new ideas and conceptions that will make future generations proud of us: their ancestors? That’s the challenge.
Dr Rajagopala Soondron