I spend a lot of time vacillating between an agnostic secular person and a religious person, who doesn’t believe 80% of what my religion has become over the ages. Suffice it to say that the days I spend in my former state far outnumber the days I spend in the latter.
Here is my problem: I like to believe in the power of hope and if belief is what brings hope, I am all for it. On the other hand, over the ages, I can categorically state that religion has done more damage to mankind than good. The moment religion ceases to be a personal experience, I can see it wreaking havoc.
I quite like the idea of finding yourself. Easily, that is the path taken by all the “founders” of religion – be it Buddha or the Sufi saints of Islam or the Bhagavad Gita. But how does one explain “finding oneself” to the masses? That is where the problem begins. So, the explanation became finding one’s moral conscience – still good. But a few centuries later, moral conscience evolves into a set of rules written by the elitist community of the religion. Slowly, the congregation becomes more of a unifying force, one to forge your identity with, than to use as a tool to better yourself.
At my wedding, the priest was a person who was my grandfather’s friend. My grandfather was a kind-hearted, generous, loving, able teacher, caring husband/father and he was a pious man. But somehow, whenever people described him, they put his piety ahead of his other virtues. This priest came to my wedding and said he would do all it takes in his power to make sure that great man’s grand-daughter lived a fantastic life, and put us through the most grueling wedding ceremony in recent times. I didn’t understand more than a few words of what was said – there was no need for me to elongate the proceedings by asking for clarifications in between on a hot day in front of the fire, with no food in my stomach. The ceremony lasted a good 9 hours of listening to things I didn’t understand. Everyone who came to congratulate me, said the priest was excellent, he hadn’t missed a single thing – who would understand how my intestines were reacting at the time? Which religion?
What I am trying to say is, some people are ritualistic by nature – to them, rituals become religion – this isn’t orthodoxy, this is just an interpretation of their own religion. It is also show-case worthy.
I have spent my growing years chanting some prayers that my mother taught me on the way to the school in the morning, as we ran for the train. That is all I know today, and probably that is all I will ever know – who knows? Every now and then, I think that just because I am part-agnostic, I should not deny the experience of a religion to my daughter. So, I take her to the local temple. She asks a million questions along the way as usual. We are in the temple, and she looks at the statues and asks – “If Ummachi (God) made everything and gave us everything, how come he isn’t even moving?”
I savoured the question – the beauty of questioning always delights me. I am sorry that when it comes to religion so few people still have the power of questioning left in them.