What fascinates me most about religion is different people’s reaction to it.
Plato famously said that what shapes human behaviour is desire, emotion and knowledge.
For decades, scientists have told us that religion is propagated purely by superstition stemming from ignorance. Many sociologists and psychologists alike believe that cultural evolution and the resultant conditioning are the underlying determinants of religion in any society. But surely, human emotion and desire play an equal, if not bigger, role in preserving religion’s position at the centre of human social existence.
Recently I spent 3 continuous days in the temple following a relative’s death. There were patterns in this temple that my observant eye just couldn’t ignore. Patterns which gave me clues to understanding why religion remains so firmly rooted in society.
The Innate Human Desire for Immortality
More than 60% of the people in the temple were Senior Citizens.
Surely some of this can be chalked up to the fact that they come from a different generation; from times when information was neither accurate nor as easily available. But the more I spoke to these people, the more I realized how desperately most of them cling to the belief that there is life after death.
The inability of the human mind to accept the fact that all of us will one day turn into ash and dust is the most fundamental instinct that keeps us believing in religion and superstition. And the closer you are to that inevitable moment, the more pull religion holds over you.
Investment in the Emotional Aspects of Life
It was the women in the temple hall who had tears in the eyes and it was the women who knew the words to all the hymns.
I couldn’t help thinking that if I were to discuss this observation with anyone the immediate response would be — women are inherently more superstitious and irrational; and hence more religious.
But I believe the underlying cause of women relating to religion is their highly developed emotional quotient. Women are also more invested in raising children and inculcating values in them. Most women who have experienced child birth call it ‘miraculous’ and associate this life-giving capability to God’s will.
Human Scope for Comprehension
The mysteries of life are beyond the scope of human comprehension because the human mind cannot process anything that we cannot directly observe. And therefore, the only way to rationalise what we don’t understand is Religion.
So does that mean if human civilization can successfully answer the question — how was the universe formed, we will be rid of religion? I believe not.
In those few moments when I closed my eyes and lost myself in the hymns & mantras, I experienced a calmness that is indescribable. For a few moments I was no longer trying to achieve anything, no longer trying to be observant or answer any questions.
Maybe people with diverse cultural backgrounds, conditioning and levels of education will always react differently when confronted with the great question of religious conviction; but Faith that helps us cope with the inevitability of losing loved ones, makes us want to be better people, or simply makes it easier for us to deal with the explained is what truly unites us all.