Medicine, Engineering, Law, Dental, Art, and much more. When we think of these fields, we quickly are able to relate to the purpose they are serving. Medicine serve the purpose of human health, Engineering makes human’s life easier, Law provides a sense of order to our chaotic society, Dental helps us smile and keep smiling and Art helps us satisfy our aesthetic urges. Then apart from all these fields, we have the field of Religion. What purpose comes to mind when we think of Religion.
If you ask people randomly on the street, they may give you various answers. For some, it can be
To achieve the goals of salvation, or Moksha, to reconnect with God
For others, it can be
to make humans suffer and live a miserable life and have an overall bad impact on the society
as Steven Weinberg, popularly quoted
Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
To understand why we have such a spectrum of opinions we can divide the understanding of religion into three main categories.
- Dharmic Understanding
If we go by the written records, this is by far the oldest religion which we can prove historically. The oldest–Rig–Veda is from 1200BC, compared that to oldest known Hebrew Bible which is 600BC. Plus you have Sumerian text which dates back to 2600BC. Though the Dharmic religion is way more diverse compared to Abrahamic religion–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–but if you want to summarize the main understanding of the purpose it will be as follows
The purpose of Religion as per Dharmic Understanding would be to enable a human being to dive within and dig out one’s soul, to go through various phases of reincarnation, self-realization, enlightenment and in the end, Moksha, where the soul unites with its Origin, God, a timeless, spaceless, entity. This is achieved by freeing oneself from the worldly animal desires, by living an ascetic life, free from the disease of passion and urges. The first stage of this process is called Dharma, where one learns to be at his ethical best, by fulfilling all his obligations as a human living in a society. One may argue, that being good with one’s ethics is the pre-requisite to reach moksha
- Scientific Understanding
As per this understanding, one would insist on accepting things based on empirical evidence only. At the lack of empirical evidence, one should stay away from making any drastic conclusions, as the possibility of error is very large.
A person with such an understanding will view religion as worthless and something which should be eradicated completely. The reason being the empirical evidence of all the violence which has been caused for years in the name of religion. For such a person, the purpose of religion is simply to cause pain and suffering to human life. The reason why people still stick with religion is simply that they are not thinking properly and nothing more. We have to understand that the main cause of the critique is caused by the lack of ethics found in humans claiming to be religious or claiming that their bad acts were carried out because God said so. Hence, the main purpose they are trying to achieve by eradicating religion is to improve human ethics and improve humans intellect, his reasoning, his ability to question.
- Abrahamic Understanding
There is one God who has created human beings, which is just one single species out of the almost infinite species which He has created. They are gifted with an opportunity to be God-like–that is, to become eternal beings, have free will, be able to do whatever they want etc etc. To bring this into action humans are put in a small test and this gift can be achieved if they manage to remain good in this test.
The purpose of Abrahamic religion then is to enable Humans in winning this gift. By putting certain rituals, certain laws, certain guidance which will help them reach there.
If you notice, in all the above understanding, one thing is common. The human ethics. You can’t reach moksha if you don’t fulfill the phase one of the journey, which is Dharma, that is to be a good human being. The entire argument of the scientific community is that religion is not enabling ethics, hence stressing on the same point, the importance of human ethics. The Abrahamic religion is saying the same thing, in lay man’s terms.
We have to understand, whether we are a religious conservative, a liberal, a progressive, modernist, a mystic, agnostic or an atheist. If our religion or lack of it, is not improving our ethics, if it’s not making us good humans, if it’s not enhancing our concept of empathy and humility every day, if we are getting stagnant to such an extent that our character is getting decayed and our reasoning, our ability to comprehend, deduce and our intellect is getting corroded. Then, it’s time for a change, it’s time to start questioning and to get our questions answered, it’s time to wake up. If we ponder, and after deep intellectual speculation and survey realize that it’s not the case, that all the beliefs we have are based on genuine beliefs backed with rationality and not emotions and fancies, then it doesn’t matter on which path we are, it doesn’t matter which religion we practice, till our heart is convinced, till our intellect is quenched, we are good.
In an interview with Bernard Russell, he was asked, what if He is wrong in his belief of atheism, what if there is a God, what will the answer to that God be, on the Day of Judgment. To this, he answered.
I would say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’
and that my friend is how it will be. If there is God and you are convinced–after intellectual investigation within your capacity–that he isn’t, and you kept your ethics intact, then a Just God has to let you be and if there isn’t a God, and you are convinced that there isn’t, then congratulations 2 on 2. Thirdly, if there isn’t a God and you believe that there is, then you lived a peaceful life free from the fear of existentialism, so congratulation anyway.
Either way, it helps us if we meditate on this more and remember not to get insecure about our beliefs. Human Ethics and our intellect. Keep that pure, and we are on the path of salvation, irrespective of the final reality. That is the purpose of religion or lack of it, alike.