We are rationals. Science appeals to us because it heralds an end to a dictatorship of value judgments. Today, we don’t buy arguments based on ‘because God says so’. We think religion is the reason why social evils exist and we hold the modern age as the era of technology over religion.
But if Religion was so nasty and diabolic, why did it exist in the first place?
There are two ways once can be satisfied in life: One, by achieving what you desire; Second, by cutting down on your desires.
Religion was the solution to a society where resources were scarce. It was not possible to fulfill everybody’s desires. Hence, it was important that sacrifices were made by some for the others. It was crucial for people to be disciplined doing low paying jobs for society to function.
Hence religion glorified sacrifice for the community, struggle for the family and discipline in work and made it worthy by promising eternal salvation in return.
Religion brought moments to overlook life’s harsh realities and created social bonding during festivals. Through marriages and house warming ceremonies, it gave us opportunity to celebrate each other’s happiness and stand for each other during life’s tragedies. It provided us hope with ‘prayers’ when things went wrong and gave us ‘destiny’ to blame if things didn’t work out. It gave us optimism when we had nothing to be optimistic about.
Religion was what prevented a hungry man with diseased children to not kill other people for money, since it would damn him to hell. Religion had injected a moral compass into people’s heads so that they didn’t need law and policing to be deterred.
Sure the evils like caste system and child marriage have no place today, but they were once Religion’s way of solving society’s problems of unemployment and molestation.
Today when we have nearly uprooted religion from our daily lives, romanticized by rationality and technology, we have also dismissed some key factors that religion had a solution to, but modern life doesn’t.
We don’t believe in destiny so we have nobody to blame our failures for. We find community rituals baseless and illogical, so we interact less with our relatives. Technology is working everyday to make us less dependent on each other, reversing everything Religion and old order had worked on.
We don’t need our mother’s advice on our life problems anymore because we can Google the solutions. We don’t call people anymore because we can always post on their timelines.
This kind of life is making us socially isolated and lonely.
Religion proposed us heaven as the eternal prize. Since there is no heaven to aim for, what are we aiming for in life now?
We have no answer and hence we feel lost. We end up seeking what everybody else seeks. What media and economy feed us is to want things, materials and luxury because sacrifice and sufferings are for losers and the most celebrated personalities today are ones who flaunt riches, not preach morals.
One who dismisses the modern day wave of consumerism and materialism deserves less respect since we today worship power, money and esteem over something divine, beyond ourselves.
What we are seeking is not exactly money, but the acceptance and love that we think getting rich will get us. Religion ensured that love and respect came by default from our closed ones and community members, something that we today invest our entire lives for.
Old times had people living in their social wells: few strong close friends and community members, isolated from things happening all over the globe. Today, the entire world is one connected web. To matter here, we need to say something, anything, to validate our existence, doesn’t matter what. Social media projects a bombardment of posts wanting attention, boasting achievements, celebrations of life’s moments. All of this makes our humble life seem inferior and lonelier compared to everyone else’s, while in reality we all are lonely today, hungry for love and compassion. You will be one of the 189 people who liked your friend’s post. 189 unique personalities dissolved in the label ‘189 likes’.
While we frown on religion for not giving people choices, we have to admit that religious people from the past, although irrational by our standards, were happier than us, they smiled more and needed smaller things to get happier. Remember how ‘simple’ life was in the 90s, when technology hadn’t made our attention span become less that 10 seconds?
But the modern world does offer voices to the section of the society that religion looked down upon and still does as their existence could have been a threat to the ordered society. There are complex problems unique to today that religion has no answer to, because it wasn’t designed for such a world where information travels in the speed of light.
War, hunger and poverty are still the problems of some parts of the world in Africa, Middle East and Asia. These areas happen to be still fundamentally religious as they give meaning to a life that is filled with suffering, death and hunger.
But for the rest of the world where the problems aren’t visibly life threatening, our loneliness, unfulfillment, monotony, unacceptance, heartbreak, friendships, declining values of parent-children relationships and inferiority complex, are the issues, neither the modern day nor the conventional religion have a solution. These are a result of today’s world dismissing anything subjective, abstract and spiritual but relying on visual, tangible and provable entities.
What is essential is to acknowledge that religion existed for a reason and was responsible for tying the community together. These days, dynamics of social interaction has completely different rules: one where you have friends from Chile and Kuwait but you don’t know who lives the next door.
In such a society, we need an alternate framework that offers us togetherness, restores human touch, liberates us from the clutches that we have summoned through technology. At the same time, this framework would take into consideration the arguments against religion: being dictatorial, imposing, provoking, intolerant towards liberals and discriminatory based on gender.
Most importantly, we need a new framework because we need something larger than materials to aim for in life. We need to restore the values that made life worthwhile, ones that have been backed by science to make us happier in the long run: compassion, love, empathy, creativity, forgiveness and kindness.
Bonding with others and participating with others was ‘normal’ and ‘prescribed’ by religion in the past, but now since the modern world values privacy so much, connecting with people, opening up to them in reality makes us feel vulnerable, shy and uncommon. It is easier to construct walls around our ego and intellectualize and romanticize loneliness.
The world equates niceness with timidity and demands us to be witty, sarcastic, edgy and independent all the time to appear strong and invincible. We need some space amidst this hustle bustle to clear our minds, be calm, stare at the fan blankly and ponder over the miracle that we are tender, fragile human beings that would be crushed if a piano dropped from a small height. At the same time, we are also the only sentient inhabitants of a rare beautiful planet that took a billion years to form.
Without something grand to remind how special yet fragile we are, at once, it is easy to be lost in the web of deadlines, notifications, requests, parties, weddings and presentations. We need time to look after each other, learn to tell our parents that we love them, play with our pets, and take a moment to turn our eyes off the meaningless garbage media and social media dumps on us to appreciate how life is indeed beautiful.
Just how univeristy classes compel students to attend classes as opposed to a MOOC class with a flexible curriculum, a ‘framework’, not necessarily requiring faith on God, will assist us more than the nothingness of atheism which can feel very empty, too-free and as uncomfortable as being absolute in control. In the game of life, we have only preferred to have no map in place of old maps. What we need is a new map that uses GIS and Geotagging.
This new framework will be more of a guide than a moral police. It will ask us to take time out of our busy lives to ponder on the largeness of life. It will teach us that life is bigger than things we live for today.
Will such a time really come where there would be an intellectual shift again in the 21st century? Where we will take time to understand philosophies, teach our children to be themselves, figure out their ingrained personalities, erase concepts of heteronormativity, use technology not to order groceries and dry laundry but also understand ourselves, solve our psychological issues, reduce anxiety, anger and frustrations, things we actually need.
Will there be a time when we restore the innocence in relationships? One where we aren’t shy to appreciate beauty and not be creepy, one where sex isn’t the result of swipes but deep trust and love?
The world we are left with is burning now. Children are dying of hunger and thirst, literally breathing their last breaths right now. The world needs us to be kinder, less obsessed with things, love our animals and our nature, rethink the need of opulence and ignite real human touch and interactions. We need religion because we need something larger than ourselves that does not make us feel lost and unconnected. We need our applications of technology to be used more creatively than ordering food, getting cricket scores and optimizing ads. The ability of AI and Machine Learning can and should help us reconnect with ourselves by preserving human minds beyond death to provide solace to the dear ones. We should allow us to make more cities, smarter beautiful cities based on experiences and feelings over stacking thousands of people, undo the damage done to earth by reforestation. We should choose to have meaningful deep conversations over small talks that have no meaning, and all of this requires a deep cultural shift, one that requires amends in our core beliefs and priorities.
The new religion will restore the yang in the society, the ‘female’ power of love, compassion, nurture and care to the existing yin dominated world that is unforgiving, fast, powerful, result oriented and focussed. We need to stop valuing people for the jobs they do and the money they make but for who they are. Humans, animals, nature, life and everything humane should have an higher intrinsic value than money, riches, property, fashion, sales values.
Can we not slow down just a bit? Who are we racing against and why? Why are the tallest towers of our cities malls and banks when they should be museums, art galleries, libraries, and places of community. We can be healthier, more peaceful, friendlier and hence, happier if we are okay being a bit poorer.
For that we need to stop dismissing religion because science does not approve it and logic does not prove it. We need to realize that a universe as vast as the one having our Milkyway Galaxy exists in our minds and we know so less about it. We probably need to place the compass we tossed in the garbage, but kinder and updated one, in our heads so that we don’t have to look outside in the outer universe for the solutions to problems of our inner universes.