Jul 5, 2008

Columnist - Khushwant Singh

A matter of faith
It depends on what you mean by religion. If it is prayers most of which you do not understand but recite by rote, going to places of worship to be in the company of like-minded people, undertaking pilgrimages to places you regard holy, fasting on certain days, abstinence from sex, and abstaining from consuming some kinds of food or drink, my answer would be an emphatic ‘no’ because these practices are of no consequence: conforming to them does not make you a better human being. On the contrary, they prevent you from thinking for yourself. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist, was right in holding, “When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life.” Galileo, the celebrated astronomer, said the same thing many centuries earlier. “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”
Abraham Lincoln put it succinctly: “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” How true! If you have to justify your words or actions, be sure your feeling good is flawed.
In the final analysis, everyone should make up his or her own religion and not unquestionably conform to the one he or she was born into. Since we do not know where we came from, belief in God as our Creator is optional. But there is no justification for calling Him just or merciful because there is little evidence of justice or mercy in our world. In earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, He takes lives of good and evil, believers and non-believers, old and young indiscriminately. All of which we describe as acts of God.
Why we are here is also an open question because we are not sure of the answer. All we can do is to teach ourselves how to live in peace with ourselves and get the best out of the faculties endowed to us without harming people among whom we live. This is not asking for too much and many people manage to live such lives.
What happens to us after we die should not be of much concern to us. There is no evidence whatsoever for believing in heaven, hell or re-incarnation. They are man-made fantasies to beguile ourselves.

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