Sunday, June 04, 2017

Religion as a Hobby

Let me write about religion.

Now, haven't I said enough about this subject? Perhaps. Maybe it's because the subject of religion has been bothering me a lot lately. Why is religion so important to so many people?

Why do people do unspeakable things in the name of religion?

Three words: fear, ego and ignorance.

At the root of our existence is fear: the fear of death. Nothing terrifies us more than the annihilation of our existence. So we seek answers to the eternal mystery of death. Is there a life after death? Where do we go after death? How do I transcend death. Religion do provide some ready-made answers to these questions. It gives us a certain sense of comfort to know what to do here and now to guarantee our salvation. It provides us with a philosophical doctrine that pseudo-intellectually convinces us of its authenticity. Equipped with this certainty, we feel more confident of our place in the universe. We have a path to follow; a moral guide for leading our lives.

Religion also feeds our needs for ego and identity. It immediately aligns us with a group of like-minded people: your fellow believers and comrade-in-arms who will defend you and help you in times of need. You can proclaim your religious identity proudly on bumper stickers; you can judge the conduct of others with the moral authority of scriptures and you can show off your piety and flaunt your religious credentials on social media by spouting verses from the canon. You are right and the poor unbelievers are wrong, to be condemned in this and the afterlife in the fires of hell. How great a feeling it is to wallow in self-righteousness.

You think you are fortunate enough to be enlightened by your so-called spiritual knowledge. The light of spiritual awakening is so dazzling that you feel that you are already on the right track. Can't others see how true and deep this feeling is? Why are others so ignorant? Just read and listen to these wise holy men who talk with such confidence and exudes such charisma. If you follow what they say, you would be safe. Let's all hide under the umbrella of their all-encompassing wisdom. You will read their books and lap up every word they say. And that's all you read.

When you think you've found the answers to everything, you tend to be self-assured. You force your family and friends to follow what you've discovered and experienced. You are supposedly doing it out of love. You are saving them. You want to share your spiritual joy with them. Why are the unbelievers so stupid? Why can't they feel the glory of the divine? You are determined to transform their lives. They too will soon see the truth.

The life of a spiritually-inspired person is very different. It is like being born again. It is like falling in love. You see the divine in everything. Every incident in your daily life has some cosmic significance, in alignment with some divine purpose. The glory of that purpose brings you ecstasies, which the unbelievers can never comprehend.

To understand religion is to understand the primal instincts that drive our behaviour. If the human species is mostly wiped out but for a few pockets of survivors everywhere, the human race will likely rise again, and new religions will be reinvented. Religion is an inevitable product of life itself, like art and culture. Every civilization creates its own doctrines and dogmas anew.

Religion becomes a problem when we take it too seriously. Religion should be treated as a hobby. Everyone is entitled to pursue theirs as a hobby. You can pursue it as seriously as you choose to, but you should never impose your hobby on others. Every hobby has its therapeutic value; it might even make you a better and more well-balanced person. You could be even be obsessive about out it, like how some people are fanatical collectors of Star Wars memorabilia. But everyone knows that ultimately a hobby is a hobby and the hobby you choose to call yours is a matter of personal taste.

Isn't there some deep metaphysical truth about religion itself? You feel it in your gut. You get a glimpse of this deep connection with something higher when you pray or meditate or worship or do whatever you do as your spiritual practice. Perhaps. Artists and musicians experience that too when they are inspired, even astronomers when they peer into a telescope and see the majesty of our universe. It is not a monopoly of religion.

For the good of humanity, do not take your religion too seriously. Your religion is not better or truer than others. Be humble about your insights. Be aware of the fear, ego and ignorance that underpins your religious belief. Treat religion as a hobby. The world will be a much better place for it.

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