I come from a family that has a varied range where beliefs are concerned. My wife is an atheist, my mother and sister are devout / religious and my father is semi-religious (in that he goes to the temple whenever my mom goes and does not forget to do an obsequious pranam every time we pass a temple). That leaves me and our family dog, Snowy. I can not vouch for Snowy, but he has this ritualistic fervor with which he urinates daily on the sacred tulsi plant that my mother has planted in our courtyard. So I shall put him down as religious and ritualistic too.

As for me, I like to think that I am spiritual without being religious. In fact I shall take it a step further and say that I hate religion. Do not get me wrong, I am open to possibilities as far as the existence of God and strongly believe that there is some thing to this cosmos beyond the tangible. But what I hate is the arcane series of rituals built on top of that simple belief in a higher being that seems to exclude any other school of thought. I hate exclusive telecast rights on the God Thingie and all derivative rights thereafter.

I believe that there is order in the universe and there is a force behind all of this. But I stop at putting a face on it and kowtowing in public every other Saturday at 7:30 pm at a designated place of worship.

I go to a temple when my mother needs someone to drop her there. I go in and stand with her as she purchases a diya for Rs. 2 and lights it in front of an idol of a deity who is competing with about 330 million others for market share. In the beginning she used to ask me to do the “maatha teko” thing in front of the deity and after three or four flat refusals, she mercifully stopped asking. I do not for a second believe that whatever we call “God” exists within a piece of stone enclosed in a temple.

I hate religion because it tries to put a face on something that is by definition amorphous and infinite. On one hand we harp on the omniscience and omnipotence of God and on the other we expect salvation only if we do puja on certain times on certain days at certain places. I do not buy that for a second. But I keep my mouth shut unless someone pointedly asks me as to the reason why I do not like religion or rituals. I do not expect others to have the same viewpoint as me and I have always tried to encourage a healthy discussion.

That is another point why I dislike the institution of a religion built on the simple idea of believing in a higher being. Religion drives believers to try and “convert” the non believers. Forcing someone else to have a viewpoint same as yours is a sure recipe for disaster. Just pick up a map and throw a random dart at any continent. (Last I heard the penguins were fighting in Antarctica over religious beliefs pertaining to whether they are white on black or black on white). Spiritualism is an intensely personal concept, where as religion is a social extension of that which brings in socio-political dynamics which then veer away radically from the concept of the one to a “one size fits many” kind of school of thought.

Religion means organization and any organization is an organism. It fights to survive. By their very nature ideas are transient. They evolve and finally give way to better ones. So does the concept awareness of the cosmos and the way it works. But when the idea grows into an organization, it becomes rigid and sometimes functions by rote only. It tries not to yield to the natural order of death and rebirth. It opposes new ideas when it should welcome them. The status quo becomes the end point of development and all religion does is preserve the status quo.

Now let us look at the central concept in all the religions. All religions basically teach us that the Cosmos is balanced and that every action has a reaction. Call it what you may, this sounds suspiciously like Law of Conservation of Matter/Energy and Newton’s Third Law to me. May be God is an equation after all, one that balances out the whole universe. That being said, I am succumbing the same trap as the one I am trying to oppose. I am trying to put a face on something that does not have a face.

In essence, in the matters of God and Spirituality, we are like the mythical blind men who met an elephant and formed their various interpretations based on which ever body part happened to be nearest to them. May be limited by the five senses and our perception of three dimensions (+ one if we count time) we each have formed our own view of God and religion simply perpetuates one of those “snapshots”.

I do not have anything against those that are religious or atheist. To me spirituality is something that is an awareness of the insignificance of self. For others it might mean different things. Each of us blind men is welcome to grope and probe the “Elephant” that is a higher being and form our own opinion. What I really really hate about religion is it tries to take away this basic option of finding something out for yourself. In stead of trying to think about such things or presenting the arguments, we simply hide behind the mask of “Religion” “tradition” and not encourage such debates.

I admire the texts of “Ramayana” , “Mahabharata”, “The Bible”, because I take them as allegories not factual accounts. Imagine if a million years later, once humans are gone and a race of super intelligent squid-baboons is the dominant form, how silly it would be if they based their religious structure with the posit that the “Star Wars” movies were actual factual incidents. On a literary level, the basic storyline of the religious texts is not much different from any Speculative Fiction epic.

Whatever your point of view is on this topic, I would like to start a discussion via this blog entry and the comments section. Feel free to post your comments and please keep the language civil as this is a public forum.