As a person grows, so does their outlook towards life. Your perspective keeps changing as you pass childhood through youth, and then, old age. You learn that there are things that seem to be in your control and others which are not. Often, with this realisation, comes fear as well. Fear is of the unknown and of the known too and it is natural for everyone to go through fear.
Religion instills hope for the future and helps in dealing with the fear of the unknown. It also imparts faith and self-confidence, which enables one to handle known fears. It keeps one on track and helps one go through tough times. A person who believes in a higher power and has some faith has more endurance when he/she has to face a difficult time. On the other hand, religion has also incited fear in people, which has been manipulated to keep them in some kind of control. Religion can also induce greed or temptations of other worldly pleasures, which has been the cause of global terrorism. Fear and desire have instigated many people to become terrorists. While fear can discipline a person and make them walk on the path of morality, it also impedes creativity from flourishing.
At the same time, when one totally discards the notion of a higher power, then life reels in greater uncertainty and there are more chances of falling into depression and mental illnesses. While the religious dogma on one hand divides people’s psyche, on the other, it instills greater faith in the survivors during a calamity. Natural calamities or man- made disasters shake people’s faith in god but faith is also a great support for the survivors and helps them through tough times in life. There are both good and bad sides to religion.
How can we keep the positive aspects of religion? The answer, I would say, is spirituality, which is the common thread across religions, which does not discriminate human from human and which has shared universal values. If we combine shared human values from all religions, that discipline can be called spirituality.
Religion has also brought prejudice. There are religious leaders who believe that they have all the right to decide what religion is and how it is to be practised. They think their way is the only way and only they know the truth. The seed of such authoritarianism is fear, which arises from having the concept of an angry god, who is ready to punish people at the drop of a hat. To please this angry god, they do things that go against common sense and you find these elements both in the Abrahamic as well as the Eastern religions. In the Abrahamic religions, the idea that “one has to worship only one god and looking at any other god is a sin or satanic” has kept people from being open to other traditions. There are people who refuse to visit other’s festivals or take part in their celebration or share meals with them, like Ganesh Puja or other festivals. The fear of upsetting their one and only god keeps them away. In the eastern traditions, too, people offer animal sacrifices to please gods and goddesses. They think if they don’t do such practices, the goddess will get angry. Such insensitivity and cruelty comes from the concept of an angry god and this has often clogged the reason of mankind; it has blocked a sense of oneness to prevail in humanity.
The only way to surpass these misguided notions of religion is the path of spirituality, which brings together all the learning and wisdom from all religions. Religion without spirituality can do more harm. With so many sects within sects, intra-religious and inter-religious conflicts are on the rise in the world. There is an urgent need for an action-oriented confluence of leaders of all faiths. To promote confidence, harmony and all the positive traits that religion can offer in one’s life, one cannot ignore the spiritual aspect. It is like the safety valve, which arrests extremism in religion, takes you from concepts to communion and brings transformation through real-life experiences. Spirituality unites people of all faiths and gives an opportunity for the diversity to turn from a point of contention to shared celebration.
Illustration by CR Sasikumar