Mankind is known to have always feared and sometimes even worship what it could not control. The thought finds explanation in the emergence of deities in the form of forces of nature in some of the earliest civilisations. It invokes utmost curiosity when, one starts to think of the origin of religions in their current form. How did the practice of worshipping start? Was it respect for the unfathomable power of these forces of nature, which made mankind worship them, or it was fear of their fury, which drove it to submission and surrender? While in both the cases, these forces of nature were subjects of unquestionable reverence, the underlying emotion that pushed them to that pedestal is extremely critical to identify-the former driven by respect and inspiration while the other is hinged upon fear as the driving force. The ancient civilisations and their traditions seem to suggest towards the latter.
As the human brain started to think outside the day to day needs of food and shelter, presumably the questions of existence, life and death would have started to frequent the more evolved human brains leading to the birth of modern day religions. The knowledge that these evolved thinkers acquired during their quest were passed on to generations in form of religious scriptures or practices.
The common link between all modern day religions is that, while they eulogise the spiritual faculty of the preacher, they also establish the essence of thought mediocrity of its followers. The religious doctrines were documented or formalized as rules of life, bearing in mind, the basic premise that most of the followers of these, would lack the capacity to comprehend the magnanimity of knowledge that supports or rationalizes these doctrines.
The fact that prophets or religious preachers had to prescribe rules, has led to the tendency of its followers not to further probe or improve the school of thought. To be fair to them, this does ensure order as long as there is homogeneity in the follower group. While the patrons/gods/preachers of these religions do deserve unconditional reverence, that they could think ahead of time and actually chose to pass on the awakening they achieved for the benefit of mankind, a religious preacher should pre-empt whether the teachings would lose relevance in times to come and build in that space to accommodate with changing times. It becomes the responsibility of the followers to take the awakening to the next level and refine them further by asking relevant questions, challenging some of them and reaching to a better answer till another question comes up.
For instance, in Hinduism, in the epic called Ramayan, Ram was a principled and brave prince, who fought bravely against all odds to get his wife back from the clutches of Ravan. But his own principles let him down, when he had to humiliate his wife and finally abandon her, setting a disappointing example for the society. As a society, we could have looked at imbibing some of the good qualities of him while condemning and discarding the imperfections. But in our euphoria to eulogize the man, we turned him into the “The perfect man, who could not err (Maryada Purushottam) raising him to a level of unquestionable authority. As a society, why do we fail to take an objective view of the life of Ram, is something which needs to be given a serious thought. A similar thought provoking discussion needs to happen in other religions as well.
It is often seen that attempts to challenge the practices are often met by responses like“ Because the Quran/Bible/Vedas say that”. Have we ever gone a step further and questioned, as to why do these scriptures say what they say? What were the conditions which made the religious preachers, formulate such a rule? Do those conditions still exist? If not, why can’t we change that? If faith cannot withstand the onslaught of reason, it is bound to collapse, and it should collapse. Why can’t we apply as much objectivity in religious matters as we do when making amendments in our Constitution?
Following something, without much thought and questioning, assuming that this is how it used to work for our ancestors, is a natural inclination for most as questioning requires effort and not many would want to put that. Any society consists of 3 categories of individuals. The first category i.e the staunch believers who have un-deterring faith in what the scriptures say and can go to any extent to defend, even if they fail logic, the second category i.e the confused identity ( majority of the population) who would be in a confused state torn between rationality and fear, would maintain status quo unless pushed hard, and the third category i.e the thought leaders (handful) would have the courage to pursue difficult questions with an objective mind.
The success of any revolutionary change depends on the critical mass which is the second category of people. It is their judgment of choosing between the staunch believers and thought leaders, which would define the evolution of a society. Hence it becomes extremely critical for the thought leaders to consistently speak their minds with authority despite efforts of criticism or maligning from the staunch believers.
Borrowing lines from the famous essay by Bhagat Singh, the legendary freedom fighter titled “Why I am an atheist”, written in Oct’1930.
“You go against popular feelings; you criticise a hero, a great man who is generally believed to be above criticism. What happens? No one will answer your arguments in a rational way; rather you will be considered vainglorious. Its reason is mental insipidity. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking. As Mahatmaji is great, he is above criticism; as he has risen above, all that he says in the field of politics, religion, ethics is right. You agree or not, it is binding upon you to take it as truth. This is not constructive thinking. We do not take a leap forward; we go many steps back”.
Religion was meant to seek mental peace and happiness. Unfortunately, in its current form, it looks like mocking mankind of the prevalent mediocrity on which it thrives, threatening to become one of the strongest catalysts towards the annihilation of mankind.