April 28, 2006

A Revolution in Religion

In today’s world of fragmented families, war-torn countries, and individual discontent, I would argue that perhaps the need for a faith-based society can only be understated. This is a particularly big step for a cynical agnostic like me. However, I restate my position about the need for faith in our lives while taking the complementary position that religion and spirituality need not be about dogma. Faith, as an internalized emotion that provides an individual with the tool set for dealing with the challenges in life, can be empowering, rewarding, and a source of inspiration to some. However, faith, manifested as an external set of rules and regulations imposed on a populace becomes a matter of great friction and fosters the kind of hatred that can only lead to timeless wars and unending grief. The solution becomes the problem and what is left behind is a set of dogmas ingrained into the minds of the 'faithful'. Religion too often becomes captive to the divisive forces of fundamentalism. Instead, it should foster the kind of tolerance that is innate in the basic tenets of most religions. Prejudice and intolerance foster a narrow-minded focus that shy away from these religious tenets and beget a divisive mentality – doing more to separate people rather than to unite them.

Like Deepak Chopra, whose fan I am not,
writes eloquently in a post on Arriana Huffington's blog:

Heresy is a pointless label in a free society. Spiritual freedom should be seen for what it is, a natural evolution, a step toward becoming more human. This step can occur without God. There's a famous saying in Buddhism: If you ever meet the Buddha on the path, kill him. What this means is that a literal person who stands for Buddha cannot actually be Buddha. Buddha is wakefulness, the state of a fully developed soul. It is not a statue, a person, or a set of dogmatic beliefs… Mainstream religion has been left with resounding moral teachings but little power elsewhere.

Chopra goes on to write about the inner revolution that is needed in religion. And it is not Imams or Bishops and Cardinals or Priests or even lawmakers who will bring about this revolution. While the church, the temple, and the mosque may remain the central disseminators of religious teachings, the implementation of these religious tenets in our day-to-day life cannot be dictated or guided based on the words of these religious leaders and politicians. Too often mankind has been led on misguided crusades (no pun intended) in the name of religion – the fervor of this vicious agenda matched only by the brutal rapaciousness of its bloody aftermath.

Deepak Chopra's series of posts on the subject are also cross-posted at the IntentBlog.
March 17, 2006 -
Does God Have a Future? (Part 3)
March 13, 2006 -
Does God Have a Future (Part 2)
March 10, 2006 -
Does God Have a Future?

For another interesting perspective on the subject read What I Believe by E. M. Forster from his book of essays, Two Cheers for Democracy. Without realizing it, I guess some of my own outlook in life reflect what is well known in philosophical circles as 'Secular Humanism'.

From the wiki article on the subject:

Secular humanism is a humanist philosophy that upholds reason, ethics, and justice and specifically rejects rituals and ceremonies as a means to affirm their life stance. Another synonym is scientific humanism, which the biologist Edward O. Wilson termed "the only worldview compatible with science's growing knowledge of the real world and the laws of nature". Secular humanism advocates secularism but is a broader concept. Secularism has a number of usages but generally emphasize limits on the role of religious or supernatural considerations in the affairs of society or government. Secular humanism adds to these positions a comprehensive perspective on life, including affirmation of human dignity and the importance of ethics.

Incidentally, though I have seen the movie, Passage to India, based on Forster's book, (don't think I have seen the movies, Howards End and A Room with a View based on books by Forster), I had no idea what relation he had to India which made him write a book based in India. The wiki article on him mentions:

He travelled in Egypt, Germany, and India with the classicist Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson in 1914. He spent a second spell in India in the early 1920s as the private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas. The Hill of Devi is his non-fictional account of this trip. After returning from India he completed A Passage to India (1924) which became his most famous, most widely-translated, and last novel. Forster wrote little more fiction apart from short stories intended only for himself and a small circle of friends. Some critical debate has concerned the question of why he gave up writing novels.

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