Role of Religion in Human Life
What a childishness those people display who try to subdue or deny the role of religion in human life, or even brand religion as unnecessary. Throughout the world, I myself have come across many such people who deny the role of religion in human life saying that it is unnecessary. A young friend of mine from Odense city in Denmark even wrote a letter to me on this subject and quoted the sayings of Karl Marx.
Actually the use of words like unnecessary, unimportant etc. is not new in respect of religion. I have heard such words used with religion, right from my childhood. I have also been listening to the explanation that the users of such words give. I remember .the statement of a gentleman where he said, "Religion is the biggest obstacle in the path of human development." To be candid, I myself regarded religion as unnecessary for quite some period during my childhood and youth. I even agreed with the statement of Karl Marx, although I had no knowledge regarding its meaning, purpose and the thousands of years old history.
As I said a short while ago, I remember very well the explanations given by people who regard religion as unnecessary, unimportant and only a personal issue and an obstacle in the path of progress. A well known scholar of the last century had stated casually, "… Before engaging in religion etc., human being needs food, clothing and shelter.”
Such statements have been made by many scholars in the past as well in this century.
Certainly, there is no need to elaborate the importance of food, clothing, shelter and other basic needs in human life. We all know and understand the extent to which man can go in order to fulfill these basic needs. So if someone reasons that in the absence of bread for food, clothes to wear and roof for shelter, what is the meaning and benefit of getting involved in religion? It is but natural that knowingly or unknowingly, people without food, clothing and shelter will lean towards the above mentioned reasoning.
Today the population of this world is above 5000 million and a major portion of this population is deprived of the bare minimum basic necessities, as such this deprived class will lean towards explanations given against the role, utility and necessity of religion, irrespective of the fact whether there is any truth behind these explanations or not.
The fact is that the eminent personalities or scholars who diminish or deny the role of religion in human life by using words like unimportant, unnecessary or obstacle in the path of progress, are not very honest while doing so. They alienate themselves from truth. That is why their statements and explanations appear childish to me. Actually by using the above mentioned words they mean to refer to religious communities but while doing so they assume both religion and religious community to be one although both are distinct from each other in terms of their meaning, purpose, scope and historical background. The above mentioned eminent people and scholars do not concentrate on this context. It need not be said that the arguments that they are supposed to use only in terms of religious communities; the discussion that should be done only in case of religious communities, they do so about religion too. By doing so they are doing injustice not only to the subject but to their own erudition too. No doubt, religion and religious communities are distinct from each other not only in terms of their meaning but also in terms of establishment, purpose and scope. In terms of chronology [history] there is a big difference between the two. Therefore, it is not reasonable to comment on the necessity, importance or role of religion without factual knowledge about it. If someone tries to do so, it would certainly be his childishness.
Thousands of years ago, human life began at one place. During that period, various parts of the earth were joined together which separated with the passage of time. Whatever exists within the scope of our ability to see and understand is subject to constant change. The Earth, other planets and satellites or any object in this universe are no exceptions to this. The various parts of the earth today are not in the same condition as they were in the past. And in the future they will not remain as they are today. So from one place human beings spread throughout the earth by creating a conducive environment for progress.
You are well aware of the fact that many scholars believe in the transition of apes to man. I do not agree with the Darwinian or let's say agreements of the followers of Darwinian Theory regarding human evolution, although, I admire the well thought, cleverly presented the so called convincing arguments put forth in the above mentioned theory. But this is not our point of discussion here.
I firmly believe that religion was with man from the beginning of his life. This is in his nature, though it is an entirely different matter that he realized it while thinking about the security of his existence. When the thought materialized into reality, the position of religion became clear. How? We will understand by knowing the meaning of religion.
Religion- the Dharma, in its broad meaning is Goodness and adoption. As human being was born with the great value of non-violence, we can definitely say that religion was with him right from the birth and as already indicated, he realized this during his struggle to secure his existence. As soon as he realized it, he started living a more stable life as a community with others. By doing this, not only his, but other's existence too became secure. Truly, religion is dedicated to welfare of all and thus its scope is extensive. We should remember that all goodness that is linked for the welfare of all is religion. To absorb goodness is religion, today and in the future too. It was so in the past too.
I had said that non-violence is a permanent feature of mankind. Many people might not agree with this statement. I would like to humbly request these people to think as to what might have happened if non-violence had not been a part of human beings. No doubt in the beginning itself, man would have become nonexistent.
Generally what we consider religion is in fact religious-community. Religious-communities are many not one. They were established in different periods under different circumstances and requirements on different parts of the earth. For example thousands of years ago, Vedic Religious-Community was, established in Asia. Similarly, 2000 years ago Christianity in Israel and 1400 years ago Islam in Arabia came into existence, In India, the Sikh Religious-Community came into existence about 500 years ago.
I believe that the founders of religious-community gave a new direction to human life style keeping in mind the immediate future and contemporary point of view. They also made many eternal values a basis of direction out .of which one remained principal.
Certainly directions by each religious community are different, even if their goal eventually is the same. It is natural that out of many directions some will be suitable to some people and not to the rest it is not possible that a single one be suitable to all. Thus what is not suitable to all, cannot bring welfare to all. Such directions cannot be religion. Yes, it can be religious-community. Thus, religion is superior to any religious-community. This is what needs to be understood.
I cannot agree that human welfare was not the motive behind the establishment of religious-communities by the establishers although their scope might be limited. But it is ironic that the followers of these religious-communities diverged from the basic aim, feeling or values and using it as a shield exploited fellow human beings. Various inhuman deeds were perpetrated. They even divided their own religious- communities into various sects and gave them the name of 'religion'. You will find that majority of religious-communities have two or more sects. Is this in accordance with the feelings of the establishers of religious-communities? Not at all.
Our history testifies to the occurrence of numerous upheavals and wars in the name of religious- communities. We only need to look at 11th century's European history. We see that the so called stalwarts of religious-communities themselves caused many riots and wars. I am sure many of you are aware of them. My indication is towards the many religious wars or crusades.
Let me take you a little back in history. About 500-600 B. C., in the Indian region, you will find that the Vedic people in contrast to the basic value and practice of their religious-community, indulged in many inhuman activities. They were involved in activities of inequality and exploitation. While using religious- community as a shield clearly they were misusing their religious community. This was the period when Gautama Buddha was born. Did the fundamental or principal value of Vedic Religious-Community have anything to do with these inhuman acts? Not at all.
I can give numerous such examples not only in the Indian context but on a global scale as well. This happens even today. You hear about it now and then. But still I will firmly state that it is against the fundamental basis of religious-communities and that unspeakable inhuman acts have been perpetrated under the shield of religious-community.
All this has happened, is happening and possibly will happen in the future too. But what is shocking for you and me is that the scholars have linked these atrocities with religion itself and are still doing it today. Many scholars have ignored the difference between religion and religious-communities and belittled religion by branding it irrelevant and denied its role in human life whereas religion has always been committed to general welfare and will remain so in the future. In these belittled interpretations, sect and sub-sects too are considered to be religion. Is this not their ignorance?
Religion is much superior to religious-community. Religion is committed to general welfare. It was needed not only in the beginning periods of human beings, but today also it is needed. It was important not only during the beginning for surety of existence and later in development but is important today also. It urges for unity and cooperation to build a conducive environment and to solve day-to-day problems. Whoever has become familiar with its reality has understood its meaning; will always adopt a feeling of co-operation.
Not only this, he will be dedicated to unity and he will not face the day-to-day problems. This is how great the role of religion in human life is. If we want to be trouble free, move towards real progress, attain peace then we not only have to understand religion but accept its role in life too.
*Dr. Ravindra Kumar is a universally renowned Gandhian scholar, Indologist and writer. He is the Former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Meerut, India and the author of the book entitled, ‘Towards Peace.’