The Ideology Of Radical Religion — Part 1

On 13th November, 130 people were killed and many more injured in a terrorist attack in Paris, France. That was 15 days ago. Since then, there have been 25 more terror attacks, mainly in the middle-east, the last of which came 2 days back, on 27th November, when a suicide bomber in Nigeria killed 21 people at a Shia Muslim procession. There have been now over 300 such incidents around the world, just in 2015.

I think the time has come for us to have a conversation on Religion. While I am of the strongest opinion that there is no right and wrong, I believe that there are consequences; and clearly, Religion is having consequences that is doing more harm than good.

In order to wrap my head around an issue as complex as this, I thought it would be easier to break it down. So, there are 3 steps to understanding this, as I see it.

  1. What is the origin of religion?
  2. What is radical religion?
  3. Can we solve this issue?

On the origin of Religion

Here’s an experiment. If you come home from work, and you find a bright pink chimpanzee in the middle of your living room, what would you think? Take a moment to actually think about it before reading on.

If it were me, these would be my theories..

  1. I’m asleep, and this is a dream.
  2. Someone’s playing a practical joke on me.
  3. The chimp escaped from a circus, fell into a container of pink paint, and somehow found it’s way into my living room through the window.
  4. Maybe I put the chimp there, and have since had a concussion and forgotten about it.
  5. Maybe my house is haunted by a ghost chimpanzee.
  6. Maybe God put him there.

What I would not / could not do, is to simply accept that there is a pink chimpanzee on my couch, walk inside, drop my keys in the key bowl, and go about my day as usual.

When a primitive man in the prehistoric era, saw lightning for the first time, it would probably have seemed as inexplicable as the pink chimp in my living room. In fact, every event that man encounters for the first time, is a potential pink chimpanzee. And it is impossible for us, as thinking animals, to not try and find an explanation for it. And the explanations can vary, ranging from the practically possible to theoretically possible to theoretically impossible. And since the theory behind our ‘theoretical’ changes every few years, so do the explanations.

When man first started attempting to make sense of the universe around him, there was no theory. Which meant that literally, anything was possible. And considering how vast the universe was even back then, it is natural that he would feel overwhelmed by it all, by the sheer amount of things that required explanation. He would have compared the forces of nature to his own capabilities, and realized how utterly powerless he is in comparison.

And so, the one explanation that would encompass all that was going on, was that someone greater than man was in charge, someone capable of handling all that was happening, someone in control. The idea that no one is in control, and that nature and the universe are things that just are, would not / could not have been an acceptable solution.

The idea that someone else in control of everything is preferable to the idea that no one is in control.

Enter religion.

Religion was our first line of defense against the mind-numbing sense of helplessness that life brings. Eventually, Science became the second one.

Religion gave man a sense of having a say, however indirectly, over the events governing his existence. The idea behind religion was (and is) this — You are not in control, someone else is (God), but you can do things to increase the odds of Him favouring you.

To be fair, mankind owes religion a huge favour; for giving us a sense of purpose and hope when there seemingly was none. Because it is impossible to accept that you are helpless, and still do your job, and function as a society. Religion is probably the sole reason why our species has not gone extinct by mass suicide out of depression.

So that’s how religion started. Now as to the question of how did it endure, the answer is this. Once religion became the focal point of all the answers to previously unanswerable questions (and there were a lot of those), it began to influence virtually every aspect of daily life; since there is always an element of the unknown in everything we do. So if the milk curdled at night, it became the work of God, as did a baby born with deformities, or famine striking the land, or someone falling down the stairs. In other words, at every instance where man was reminded of his own lack of control, it was immediately applied to God, and everyone probably felt better.

[Incidentally, I’ve noticed this many times during my medical practice, that patients need a diagnosis; some explanation as to why they are suffering. And it doesn’t matter if they understand the diagnosis or not; they’ll be satisfied with any word, as long as it claims to explain things. I once told a patient that he has autoimmune polyglandular syndrome, and he nodded his head wisely, and agreed to come for regular check-ups. ]

The main reason why religion endured is fear. And not just fear of God, as one might suppose, but the fear of the loss of proxy-control. Religion has, in one swoop, taken away the need for a man to search for an explanation as to why anything happens ever, while at the same time giving him a belief that he could influence those things in his favour. Giving up religion would mean giving up on all this, which to many, would be torture.

What is Radical Religion?

Religion stems from an inability to understand the world. Radical religion stems from an inability to understand religion.

(To be continued in Part 2)