My Phases of Belief
I was brought up in a devout Hindu household and very enthusiastically participated in the havans and poojas that happened often in the house. I had the prayers memorized and the Hindu pantheon was full of the most awesome gods that might put the superheroes of the Marvel and DC universe to shame. In short, I had a normal upbringing that any child born in a religious household has.
I began to question the concepts at an early enough age. I remember talking to my elder sister why she believed in God while we were on a holiday at our grandmother’s. I do not remember how old I was but I was old enough to understand that she had a personal concept of god, something that makes Hinduism so alluring as a religion. I was going through a phase of skepticism back then. My faith in an almighty power had been shaken because of its unwillingness to help me out of a silly situation that I no longer remember. Open rebellion against religion and faith would have sought me a tight slap across the face by my mother so I kept my skeptic nature to myself while I worked on what was but a theory.
Growing up, the skepticism developed into strong atheism (by wiki definition, irreligion is the one that I complied with). I started abhorring religion to an extent that I refused to go into a place of worship of any kind. The only people I made an exception for were the ladies of my family. Perhaps I still feared a tight slap across the face but I justified it as doing something to keep their heart (maybe I was taking a leaf out of Krishna’s philosophy here). But at a personal level, I nurtured a deep antipathy for all religions. It was mostly due to the following factors :
- Religion was a major groupist factor while I was growing up. There were frequent communal strifes in India back then and the Hindu-Muslim divide was talked about a lot. Islam was associated with terrorism much like it is today. Christians had their crusaders. Hindu’s had incited and massacred the name of their god.
- Religions seemed unnecessarily restrictive. Even Hinduism, which is probably one of the more flexible religions (as are all pagan religions), had developed restrictive connotations. The religiously aligned political groups (Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena) and their moral policing in accordance with the “Indian culture” made me despise the outfits in their entirety.
To me, religion seemed like a completely unnecessary thing. Would we not be better off without it?
It was that question that led to my growing interest in the subjects of religion, god, and the supernatural. Mythology had always interested me (mostly ancient Egyptian, Greek and Hindu mythologies) much in the same sense as superheroes fascinate a child. It was not difficult for me to make the transition into understanding religions. But it was something of an uphill task. I am still deeply interested in the subject and of course, my understanding is ongoing. But from the atheist I was, I have come to appreciate the role of religion in this world. From the atheist I once was, I have now become an agnostic in aspects more than just religious. Along the way, I developed my thoughts about the intriguing concepts of the supernatural. Surprisingly my ideas have seemed to stabilise which is why I decided to rant about them.
The Supernatural Realm
I have a very scientific temperament according to myself. You might want to look up the definition rather than assuming what it means. It does not mean that I look at the world with Newtonian or Einsteinian glasses. It just means that I do not really believe in something without sufficient reason. Subjective as that sounds, it is a serious question mark on my faith.
My argument starts with the premise that human knowledge is and forever shall remain, limited. Consequently, our understanding of nature and what constitutes the natural realm remains limited. By saying this I do not in any way mean to undermine the human being’s capacity for knowledge. We are an extremely intelligent species who have been able to rise as the most dominant ones on land purely on the basis of our brains. We have been extending our capabilities in the aerial and marine worlds as well. Extension into space shows our unlimited ambition.
However, what I mean to say is that at any given point in time, no matter how much we know about the world around us, there is always a vast amount that is still unknown and unexplained. This sphere of the known and explained is what we call nature. The unknown and often mysterious surpasses this nature and is, therefore, the supernatural.
The supernatural is a rather interesting realm for many reasons. There are various concepts that make up this realm. There are some that have been scientifically observed and explained over the centuries that people with insatiable curiosity have striven to bring the supernatural into the domain of nature; the movement of the stars and the planets; the lightning and seasons; what constitutes an object and the splitting of an atom; why the sky does not fall on the earth; dreams, visions and the workings of the brain and many more such issues have been successfully explained to the satisfaction of a layman and are more or less in the domain of nature now as opposed to their previous supernatural explanations. But then there are many remaining concepts that still are unexplained and have not been scientifically observed; the soul; spirits; malicious ghosts; telepathy; reincarnation and more. While most of the people with a logical brain reject all these notions offhandedly as farce, therein lies the limitation of one’s scientific temperament. It took years for Galileo’s, Newton’s or Einstein’s theories to be proven and accepted by the general masses. If you look closely, there are significant studies being done to explain these supernatural phenomena as well. Parapsychology is an interesting place to begin if you have the inclination.
I should also add that the reason why most supernatural phenomena are given a human dimension is because of our inclination to superimpose human emotions and physiology to everything. We tend to think about a dog’s feelings in a human being’s terms of emotions while there is no reason to believe whether a lower mammal is capable of feeling such a wide range of emotions as an evolved human brain. Similarly, it comes as no surprise when an unexplained concept of soul is thought of in human terms of “essence of being” or a ghost is given the human shape or maliciousness. These might not be an accurate description of what the supernatural really is but it is a temporary explanation to ease our minds, for we really cannot deal with the unexplained.
Concept of God(s)
Coming to the concept of God or gods, as various faiths preach it. On a side note, there is a good book that I read on the topic which explains quite a lot but is somewhat dry and didactic.
The human imagination takes over when we reach the limits of our knowledge and the natural gives way to the supernatural. We are at a loss of knowing the why’s and the how’s. Some dedicate their lives to finding the answers to such questions using philosophical or scientific methods. But most of us are content with an answer that satisfies our imagination.
What are the stars and why do they move in the sky? What are the lightning and the thunder? How does a forest fire occur? How come the rains?
Well, now these questions seem silly because we have all learned satisfactory explanations in elementary school. But when such concepts were not explained, these were acts of supernatural powers called gods. The pagan religions worshipped the forces of nature as their gods. Each god served a different function, be it the movement of the sun across the sky every day or the coming of life-giving rains every season. As such concepts started getting explained, the romance of a god was reduced to the mathematical equations and mundane elucidations.
But what about the supernatural that still exists? The visible world around us is well explained now so we do not need gods for seasons or planets. But we still do not know what happens to us after death. Do we reincarnate based on our deeds or are we judged and sent to heaven or hell for eternity? Is there a soul that carries us forward or is death the ultimate end? Is this unexplained realm anarchy with no one to control it, insure “justice” and establish order? But that is impossible to think of! There needs to be an orchestrator. Someone who plays the father figure that we are so used to in our daily lives, be it in the family, a workplace, or the workings of the state. This father figure is, of course, a human-like creature with human-like emotions because we are incapable of imagining otherwise. Lo and behold, your god. Add on to this the specific requirements of the culture and our need for security and loving care and you have the god of the religion of your choice.
But again, I must clarify that I am no longer averse to the concept of god(s). As I mentioned before, I am agnostic and I truly appreciate that theories are all that we have to explain the supernatural. And these theories are a necessary starting point to begin any study. You collect data to support or disprove a theory. If you do not know what you are looking for, no amount of observation will help you determine that. A concept of god is similarly useful if considered as a starting point into studying the supernatural. Though I sincerely doubt that there is or are men and women in the sky who are superior forms of human beings either by the evolution of creation, the only reason I have against it is that it sounds too fanciful and self-obsessed, much like the theory of Earth being the center of the universe.
This finally brings us to religion, the most common method of understanding the supernatural. Religions hold their charm as a way of life to their followers. To oversimplify it, religion is simply a prescribed way of life. But this oversimplification is also the essence of all religions.
Religion tends to profess a way of life in accordance with the community and the culture of the land that it belongs to. It draws general guidelines on how one is expected to behave in the society and what an individual must strive for in his or her personal life so that the community as a whole benefit from the individual’s existence. It tends to provide an explanation of certain supernatural phenomena and assure the individual of his importance so as to rid him of existential quandaries.
Moreover, religions vary from culture to culture and from time to time. Religion will always tend to provide solutions for current and local problems. The changing social values are accumulated in the religion. As is true with any institution, there are the progressives and conservatives in religion as well. When enough social values change to create a contradiction, these factions go separate ways to create branches of the religion of a new religion is founded to explain new problems that were unexplained or ill-explained previously. The religions also tend to pick up local sentiments and accumulate them into their edicts when then come upon new cultures and geographies.
Simply put, peace of mind for the individual and society is the raison d’etre of any religion. All of them came into existence to find a way for the individual to live in harmony with itself and the world around.
A Personal Note
What I have said above is simply my opinion on research and philosophy that I have indulged in personally. I am well aware that most of these concepts are not looked upon in a similar fashion in contemporary culture. The biggest difference lies in how religion is seen and I probably should expound on that a bit more.
Today the religions are highly institutionalized and have groups of followers who are taught not to question and simply believe. These religions are misused by those who seek personal gains by exploiting the faith of its followers. Crusaders, ISIS, etc. are examples of how religions can go from a simple way of life to a bloody affair. These religions are thought of as single truths that need to be taught to the world at any cost. The simplicity of religion is a way of life that can vary from one individual to another is lost.
Sadly, we see these acts of hostility as a part of the religion rather than an individual or extremist group. A post I recently came across speaks of how religion is so much more than a way to mobilize hate. Religions are also used to justify the phobias of communities. We tend to attribute all these negatives into the religions themselves which complicate matters unnecessarily. Hate and extremism are not a manifestation of religion. They are a result of human insecurity. Slavery, imperialism, colonialism, gender discrimination, racism, and more are all examples of human insecurity, phobia, or megalomania that has little to do with any religion that it might use the name of.How my views have changed personally is as follows. I have started seeing the supernatural in a way more scientific way than being dismissive about it. As for god, it is a possible concept that is completely subjective but I still laugh at the image of a man in the sky. About religion, I have come to appreciate them since my days of religious dissent. I still remain non-religious in matters of supernatural beliefs and do not subscribe to any religion to guide me through my daily life, but I no longer see religions as an unnecessary evil the way I once used to. Acceptance is probably my new religion.
I would love to discuss what you think about my thoughts on the above topics. Drop a comment to let me know!
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