I am not generously open to the concept of religion. There is enough reason to label religion as man-made. History has shown how it has adapted to continually pander to people’s fears and interests, thus causing them to succumb. I can go on about how religion is flawed in scripture, but I am here to talk about something vastly different.
Religion as a lifestyle.
This, I admire. Bar the ritualistic practices, religion does a fantastic job of giving what Ravi Zacharias famously calls a ‘moral point of reference’. Fearing the abyss of hell and seeking the bliss of heaven creates a social construct with a moral compass—people can distinguish between wrong and right at both the grass root and superficial level—the latter is of course marked with variety and subjectivity. The laws of religion, rigid or not, dictate good judgement to a far extent. The names of several religious people come to my mind when I think of those who embody virtuous qualities. They practice a level of discipline, self-restraint and modesty that I respect wholeheartedly.
Religion also serves as a beacon of hope to the masses who need it. It bridges the gap of emotional inequality, so to speak. It is quite obvious how many people find it to be a source of psychological elation and, especially to the least fortunate, the image of a brighter future is very fulfilling and makes life worth living.
So without a hint of skepticism, I can say the world would not be better without religion.
So wherein lies the problem?
The problem arises when you associate religion with moral exclusivity. It is erroneous to assume religion is the ‘absolute’ way of achieving a moral standard, and it is certainly wrong to assume religion is the golden ticket to a worthy life.
When I was in Middle School, I was a devout Muslim. I found myself making a deliberate effort to follow the many prerequisites because of fear. And sure I did what many would consider ‘good deeds’ but the motive wasn’t in the right place. With time I began losing my faith, and not-so-soon later, my lifestyle. I lost my faith because I began questioning. I started reading up on history, did a lot of research, and I began to see a lot of incoherent details that swallowed what I once thought was an indomitable belief. The notion of helping people, or being generous, as a means to gaining access to heaven seemed ironically self-centered. Praying countless times to a divine being who did not need it also seemed rather odd to me.
So I stopped believing.
What next? It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I had numerous questions. If there is no conscious God, why am I here? Was I just a matter of coincidence? But the most daunting of all…
Is death final?
It took a while to come to a conclusion, but I’m glad I did. The best moral point of reference for me is empathy—to live a civil lifestyle that is beneficial for the society as much as it is for me; to help someone in need because I am genuinely concerned and not because I have any ulterior motive.
While I am not a 100% certain death is final, I would like to believe it is so. It has changed the way I perceive my existence, and that of others. I don’t live in contentment; I know I have to seize every opportunity in the absence of an after-life. Since I believe the same holds true for everyone else, I have an inner inkling to help everyone else make the most of life’s ephemeral chances.
My intention in no way is to dissuade you from having your beliefs. Far from it. Someone else might perceive religion in a wildly different way, and that is perfectly fine.
I simply want you to recognize the significance of having a moral direction, and more importantly, finding the right one. If believing in a certain faith gives you the satisfaction you want and if it has forced you to think beyond yourself, then by all means continue doing what you’re doing.
The violence we see today on a global scale does not stem from religion or no religion. It comes from having no moral point of reference.
Look inward, find what is right for you, and be of value to those who surround you.