Friday, 22 April 2016

Why People Believe in Religions! By Saeed Qureshi

April 21, 2016
Despite knowing the ambiguities and flaws in religions why the people still believe in religions? This is an extremely important and critical question that merits a detailed answer. The belief in religions even by those who otherwise know its flaws and its human formation is due to the fear and reverence of the unknown forces. Religions are primarily related to and concerned with God, deities, invisible forces and spirits.
The reverence for religion is born out of fear. Or we can say that it is the combination of both fear and reverence. Notwithstanding their credibility or veracity the religions strike awe, wonder and fear in the hearts of the people. Even if someone doesn’t believe in religion, the concept and awareness about the presence of the forces beyond this world still haunt, allure and frighten the human beings who he believes can wreak havoc or bring good fortune to the people. There are also physical fears from animals, natural disasters, enemies, diseases, poverty, hunger, death and destruction.
Man lives in a world that is mostly problematic. For most of the people living on planet earth, life is not that much easy as for the few. For that multitudinous humanity that suffers from poverty, hunger, health hazards, dis-empowerment, and lead a life of deprivation, religion is the only hope that at least gives them chance to pray to an invisible power for alleviation of their sufferings. Prayer has, therefore, assumed a pivotal role for all such people who can revert to God and spirits for help and blessings as the case may be. So it is the fright from the fearsome and appeasement and alignment with the benign forces.
It would be difficult to meet a king, a ruler or someone sitting on high pedestals of power and presiding over the destinies of the people. But it is much easier and so handy to raise hands and solicit or implore the help and kindness of the powers that are supposed to be exceedingly and decidedly powerful and overwhelmingly strong than the worldly power wielders. It is another matter that if the prayers are answered or not or if God or other powers that govern the world start listening to everyone raising his or her hands, there would be a complete chaos in this world. God cannot be party to anyone and take sides to favor one and disfavor another.
The people keep holding on to their faith despite undergoing sufferings like the non- believers undergo. The natural calamities, the social injustices, the atrocities and brutalities perpetrated by human beings against their fellows continue unabated. The torments, the day to day problems, the accidents, the death and diseases, the deformities, the deprivations still keep haunting both the faithful and unfaithful in equal measure. Yet people still consider them as a test for the faithful or at least the religious demagogues hammer this belief in the minds of the people that God puts his favorites and chosen people to test and therefore one should not deter from these setbacks.
The people take this as truthful and valid because still in face of the worldly troubles, they harbor the fervent hope that in the world that would be coming after death would bring to them the absolute pleasure and enjoyment from which he has been deprived wholly or partially in this world. This is a good self-satisfying explanation that can keep one’s hope alive even in the face of heavy and devastating adversities. One, therefore, tends to ignore the difficulties of this world as the will of God. The more severe the test is the more rewarding would be the life in the next world in the gardens of paradise.
The undeniable fact is that the people tend to follow and imbibe the faith that their parents or forefathers have been practicing. It is seldom that a man can willingly change or convert to another religion. The religious bias and adherence is so deep and hard that one would mostly not like to swap his faith for another one unless pushed to do so. Since the stage of infancy and childhood is impressionistic, the elements and teachings of faith are indelibly hammered into the minds of the children which cannot be erased for all time to come unless one is very strongly convinced of the falsity of his previous religion.
Usually the change is accepted or embracing of a faith is performed by those who are either secular or profess no religion. Since these people have no respect or fear of any religion or the ecclesiastical or supernatural powers that are associated with the faith, they can easily accept the faith either voluntarily or on some one’s bidding. But for a staunch faithful it would be pretty hard to abandon his faith first and take over another one.
It should, therefore, be understood that whatever ideological moorings one holds on or receives at the early stage of his life remain with him although he may have developed doubts in  due course due to his acquisition of knowledge and broadening of his intellect, awareness and vision. One would still like to stick to the religion because it doesn’t cost anything except following certain methods of worshipping and practicing certain rituals and rites that are there in every religion.
People generally look at religions and God from rituals and worship angle and not from rules and regulations that affect the daily life. Man basically is alone. He comes into this world alone and goes from here alone. Man follows religion to the extent it suits him and serves his interests, and not beyond that. He justifies his actions and interprets religious injunctions in his own way, whether on individual or sectarian level.
The Social and environmental factors affect and influence man more than the religion. Social reprisal for wrong doing is immediate, religious punishment would be in the hereafter. Religion is incongruent with politics and business because they cannot be run on ideal and conflicting moral principles.
If the society turns into a complete religious mold, life would be difficult as it would lead to sectarian conflicts, theocratic schisms and the ensuing chaos. An interest free business as ordained in Islam would be an anathema to the profit hungry business classes.
These people generally solicit the support of a divine figure, spirit or the saint dead or alive to ward off loss, fear or ensure safety from the perceived or real threat or danger to their lives and property. The basic question is whether the system in our world and elsewhere in the space is based on morality and ethics, or else it was based upon absolute scientific principles which have nothing to do with emotions or likes or dislikes of the superhuman lord, cosmic power or God.
God’s existence is a perennial mystery, which is beyond the human beings to unravel. It is only God himself (God is believed to be a male) who can lift the curtain from his real self and nature of existence. We are prone to interpreting God as having human manners and habits.
We interpret God in the image of human being implying that he gets happy on good deeds and unhappy on bad deeds. The messengers of God or Prophets have their own perceptions of God by saying that God communicated with them directly or through an intermediary supposed to be the archangel Gabriel.
Other than the prophets, no other human being can claim to have seen God or conversed with him. As for talking or communicating with the prophets through an angel, it is simply a negation of the infinite power of Almighty God who doesn’t need any intermediary between him and his creation especially humans as he is everywhere and can talk or reveal his commandants or messages to all by himself.
The claim that the angels bring messages of God is open to various interpretations. These cannot be physical beings as the angels have no physical form or constitution. One can say that the ideas or thoughts are born in the mind to make one believe as if revelations have taken place. This in fact is the pinnacle of a state of mind and thinking where one is capable of creating another being with an absolute conviction that the being was addressing him or her.
It could be an alter ego. It happens mostly in a state of continued isolation, deep solitude or intensive meditation. Why do the angels always meet the recipients in loneliness and without anyone else seeing them? God almighty cannot do his business of imparting his messages for the mankind in secrecy.
 Rather on the contrary when the angels come down to earth, these holy men should introduce these heavenly figures to the followers sitting around them as having been sent by God with a message to them. That would really clear the doubts about the beliefs and every one would readily believe in the divine messages along with bona-fide of the person receiving the message. Don’t the ordinary human beings have the right to question about the veracity of the religious beliefs they were told to imbibe?
The difference between the religion’s teachings  handed out by the divine figures or prophets on behalf of God to the humanity and the social contract prevalent in the society is that while the former remains rigid, the latter  is pragmatic and open to change or revision with the  changing times and situations.
The societal code is basically an intrinsic aspect of the culture that remains responsive to the changing needs and aspirations of the societies and the people. It is practical and practicable. The people have to practically follow the societal contract in their daily lives while the religious code remains unresponsive to the needed changes.
It remains rigidly confined to the social conditions of the times in which it was created. Moreover, more than addressing the socio- economic and political issues of relevant and respective times, it remains focused mostly upon observance of the rituals and rites. Religions have nothing to do with technology and scientific research. They exhort only to be ethical and to be a dutiful worshipper of God.
Those religious tenets are out of sync with components of a modern state or society, such as form of government, law, economy etc, democracy etc. Democracy could not evolve in olden times because of the logistic handicaps also for the reason that it is a new concept after the creation of modern state. 
The subject of technology is out of the pale and parameters of the religions because during the times when these came into being, the societies were mostly primitive and agrarian. No one could think of the breath taking technological and scientific revolution that has completely changed the human society.
The codes of respective religions on the whole have been ideal but complex and confusing, contradictory, redundant, superfluous and repetitive while the society consists of the established customs, traditions, folklore, the unwritten social taboos and norms and above all the law of the land.
The religion draws its strength from the reward and punishment to be given on the Day of Judgment or for more credulous in shape of bad or good fortune or good or bad circumstances in this life. In Christianity it is the love of Jesus and his acceptance as son of God that guarantees a place in paradise.
While God is supposed to be the ruler of the universe and creator of all human beings and whatever exists, the followers of every religion have monopolized God by claiming that the religion they belong to was the real divine religion and therefore absolutely and incontrovertibly true. In the name of God there are countless religions, denominations and cults, every one of them professing to be true while branding others as man - made or false.
The religious beliefs are rigid and unbending within a sect or cult or specific school of theology but in case of multiplicity of sects and religions, these differ from each. Their teachings may overlap or correspond or differ, but as a matter of fact all claim to be linked with the supreme divine force or God.
 The main religions and their denominations have many teachings and tenets common but still they would stubbornly oppose each other. The cults and denominations that branch off from the main religions do so because of the feelings that the main religions had been corrupted or polluted with the passage of time and therefore a new code or body of teachings and beliefs had become necessary.
All the main religions both Abrahamic and non Abrahamic have been divided into countless branches in subsequent times after their birth. The Islam, Judaism, the Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism are all fragmented into numerous denominations and sub religions. Some denominations have become cults.
Now the new denominations were brought into being by the reformers or self styled prophets who believed that the purging or the purification of the main religions was imperative. But these reformatory endeavors dealt a severe blow to the integrity and monolithic strength of the principal religion.
 The reformatory movements were necessary, as the pristine teachings had become redundant or outdated in due course of time. But if a religion is from God then its teachings should be applicable for all times and to all the nations. If religious teachings fall short of the requirements of the changing times then there must be some basic flaw with their original form. God almighty who can see through the future must reveal teachings and codes for humanity that should be relevant to all times and generations without the slightest change.
If he can create a universe and our own earth that are run on absolutely flawless principles that remain unaltered after billions of years, he can also enforce or pass on a religion that should be the same from the moment of its implementation to the last day of judgment.
 Even if some changes may be necessary because of the changing times and generations, still the basic teachings and principles should remain the same. Such a code can be given to the mankind in a way that everyone gets and believes it without any hesitation. Why should God choose a whole class of messengers to convey his message to their countless fellow beings with divergent and often contradictory teachings and doctrines?
Should we then infer that religions are manmade and man-made creations must have flaws? But the fundamental question is that can God run this world without a religious code as he has been doing for billions of years? Why a religion is necessary for the human beings?
The Religions make one believe that there was a life after death.  Not only that every religion preaches this but that humans own wishes and desires correspond to that belief. He wants a life where there is neither want nor dearth, neither disease nor sufferings as he is exposed to in this transitory world. In paradise, he would enjoy perennially blissful life. The physical pleasures would be infinitely available to him. The paradise is believed to be created only for enjoyment and attainment of luxuries. Food and sex would be plentiful to such an extent that he could indulge into such carnal activities for any length and number of times and still he would not be physically weakened nor his desire would wane.
No one realizes that these pleasures are all for the males and even in the paradise the females would be at the receiving end. They would be transformed into incredibly beautiful Houris and their only job would be to provide sexual pleasure and satisfaction to the males. It is, therefore, quite clear that women in Islam don’t value much and even in the paradise they would not be equally treated with the males. Paradise would also be a male dominated abode.
But the superiority or upper hand of the males in paradise is characteristic of the fact that the hidden intention or purpose was to please men instead of women. Women are guinea pigs in this world and they would remain so in the paradise. But that raises another question: would there be issues or children from the contact between males and females?
By nature, whenever, male and female meet there should be issues if all goes well. But if there won’t be any children or families then it means that primarily paradise would be like a club for drinking and for sexual pleasure and eating delicious and nutritious food of which so many people are deprived in this imperfect world.
As a matter of fact the environment in the paradise is like the garden of a medieval king. In this garden which would be limitless, all mundane and sensual pleasures as attributed with the life in paradise would be available. Beyond that, the kinds of comforts that are available in the modern world have no mention in the life in the paradise. The travel marvels in the present day world, the sports and games and movie and internet and soaring in the air ,the palatial buildings with all wonderful  facilities, are completely absent in the description of paradise.
Is it so because those who conceived the concept of paradise as an ideal pleasurable place had no idea and perception of an extraordinary easy and comfortable life that would be available to even a common man in the future? As such the picture of paradise as found in the scriptures was primitive and confined to the pleasures and enjoyments that were exclusive to the life of kings in the olden times.
As per religious tenants, the reward of living in paradise would be given on the basis of one’s’ good deeds done in this world of temporary sojourn. Now it is possible that a wife goes to the paradise and the husband was sent to hell. Clearly this is going to divide the families. Those women who would be in the hell would remain as women while those residing in the heaven would be transformed into the beautiful Houris.
What about the children? Would all under age kids which means below the age of 18 would become adults and lead an independent life as adults? But to say that the kids would join the families and would remain as kids is another version that is in sharp contrast to the first version of becoming an adult.
It means that those adults whether men or women who at the time of their death tell their surviving sons and daughters that they would all join in paradise was logically and factually untrue. Same is the case with the kids who die at an early age but promise and profess that they would now meet their parents on the Day of Judgment. They would all be adults. Is it to be conjectured that a teenage girl would become a woman. If not then what would be her status or physical formation?
The evaluation and award of hell and heaven would be done on the individual to individual basis so the family based decisions by the almighty and his angels are simply ruled out. From the glimpse of the paradise that is available in the scriptures one gets a picture that everyone would be on his own. There won’t be any clubs or meeting venues for joint congregations and cultural or social interactions.
It wouldn’t look a bad bargain for professing a faith and then earn an eternal blissful life in the next world. The ordinary common folks who have no higher social or educational awakening or level would not care for the miseries of this world for the sake of a promised living that is more glamorous and ideal than their wildest dreams.
The general picture that one can sketch in one’s mind about the paradise is that this would be place for the sole purpose of luxurious enjoyment and merry making. The host for such an everlasting fantasized hospitality would be God himself along with angels, charming women and beautiful boys serving the winners of paradise.
As stated earlier, the sex part of enjoyment would be confined only to the pleasure and there won’t be any issues or family rearing from that. What type of interaction would be there between a galore of beautiful women and their single master is any body’s guess because the fanciful life in paradise is still far away.
The humanity would be totally engaged in pleasure making and women only to serve the men. According to Islamic dogma there would be wine and intoxicants abundantly available at all times. There will be  rivers of honey and milk flowing under the verdant fruit laden and lush green trees .In the lawns and grassy gardens, the faithful will sit on silky couches along the flower beds with charming fragrance all around. It reminds one of worldly king of yester years who can be seen sitting in their palaces or in gardens like Shalimar of Lahore, drinking and eating in the company of their courtiers and charming girls serving and dancing.
 It is not known that as to why so much emphasis has been laid on milk and honey. This could be due to the fact that in Arab countries these two commodities were scarce and costly and confined mostly to those who could afford. Other than the milk and honey a variety of fruits are mentioned which again are delicacies and privileged food out of the reach of the poor and for those who cannot buy them frequently in this world.
But in paradise there shouldn’t be any food that is relevant to this world. The food is at all not necessary in the paradise because even without food and drinks one could remain in a state of perpetual ecstasy. But perhaps the authors of these ideas wanted to give feelings to the faithful that what was scarce in this world would be available to the practitioners of religions in paradise and that would be beyond their wildest imagination.

The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.This and other articles by the writer can also be read at his blog www.uprightopinion.com

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