At the Heart of Faiths

This is a topic very close to my heart and I have been yearning to write about it for about 4 years now. The seeds for this article were sown in the summer of 2011 when I happened to meet a brilliant bunch of guys during an internship at a university and had several insightful chats about life, God and religion. And finally, I think the time is right and my thoughts are ripe enough to be penned down. Note that this is not an article about the pros and cons of any religion nor is it about deciphering the religious jargon. This article is an effort to deduce the reasoning behind the current state of affairs around us through the little knowledge that I have gathered about this subject in the last couple of years. So, if you do happen to read beyond this point, please put on your academic hat where there is little place for prejudice and preconceptions.

While growing up, most of us never have to think about making a choice about our creed or religion and it was no different for me. It was a given fact of my life and a part of my identity. And as a consequence, just like you never question the reason for having a particular name or being born at a certain place, I never really gave it a thought to what it means for me to have an association with a particular set of ideas which we term as religion. However, when we become more cognizant of the default virtues that we possess, we finally start asking the right questions. And as expected, each of my counterparts from different faiths were asking (or perhaps answering) the same questions – “Is there God?”, “Who created us?”, “How do we explain the Universe?”, “What happens after our life ends?” and the most important one for me was “What is the RIGHT way?”.

On little exploration, it seemed that everyone is arguing over the differences between faiths and hence advocating that their beliefs and their path is the right path which can lead all of us to THE truth. Despite these differences, the relieving thing was that ultimately everyone is searching for the same thing with different pseudonyms – Allah, Father, Creator or God. Most religions believe in the incarnations of the “God” referred to as the Son of God or the Messenger of God, etc. In some sense or the other, they believe that the ultimate Father/Creator had sent his messengers to Earth to educate the people about right and wrong, about the righteous path, the sins, Him, etc. Be it Krishna, Jesus or Prophet Muhammad, all of them agree on the single God whose word was carried by the messengers which finds its place in religious scriptures like Bhagwad Gita, Bible and Quran among others. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that only one way can be the right way to lead, that there can be only one answer to THE question. Unarguably, we all have a common Creator, hence there has to be some sort of unifying set of ideas which describes all of us and also explains the differences between different faiths. Moreover, it is just us humans who can read the scriptures of different religions and hence debate about the differences and superiority of ideas over one another, but in order to associate every living species in a single schema of things, there has to be something more to the existing religions. Hence, this question led me to explore the different religions and really look at the differences and similarities for myself.

In my short journey, I discovered that our idea of differences between religions is flawed (a personal opinion!). Also, our assumption that if at all there are differences between two religious scriptures, then only one has to be right is incorrect. For instance, in Hinduism, eating non-vegetarian food is discouraged while it is acceptable in some other religions. It is important to understand the reasons behind these differences. India was primarily an agricultural country and the livelihood of most farmers depended on cattle stock to plough the fields, etc. Hence, it became natural at that time for farmers to revere nature in form of cattle, air, rain, fire, etc. since these are the things that each farmer depends on for his or her survival. To give a contemporary analogy, it is common practice in Cricket for a Batsman to adore his bat or a student to not abuse his books. Similarly, it was very natural for Indians at that time to be vegetarians, majority of whom practised Hinduism. However, European or Arab countries being unsuitable for farming, such practices didn’t seem to relate with them. Similarly, as a practice it is acceptable to enter a Church with footwear while the same is discouraged in Temples and Mosques. And this is perhaps governed by the climates in which these religions were practised. Europe has a colder climate where being bare foot is almost impossible hence religions which have evolved there do not follow such practices. But same does not apply to Arab countries and the sub-continent, hence explaining the practice within religions which have evolved in these regions. The above examples are just a glimpse into a few minor differences which we talk about. In a broader sense, there are several such differences which make each religion unique because they were evolved within a specific demographics, in a specific culture and during a specific era in history. Therefore, having differences is inevitable.

However, there seem to be some serious ideological differences too. Most scriptures quote that their messenger have unequivocally specified that they are the only way to God and this is quoted by many followers to spot the “irreconcilable” differences. Lets just take a step back. Imagine you are teaching a child to walk. Now would you elucidate on all the possible ways to the already struggling child or would you tell him just one way to walk to you? You might choose different techniques to illustrate your point, depending on your own nature and your relationship with the child. A father would forgive the child even if he falls down a 1000 times, but a teacher might have a stricter approach, something which is typical of a student-teacher relationship. You might ask the child to take support or not take support, to take rest or not take rest, to crawl on the way to you or try again another day. Your approach will also be influenced by your lifestyle, your culture and a myriad of attributes which might differentiate your teachings to someone else’s in some other part of the world in an entirely different era. But wouldn’t you always tell him just one way to follow? The goal is to walk and reach the Father on the other side, no matter how much jargon you put in the approach to teach the child, it does not differentiate him from other children who are trying to do just the same. Some are trying on a wooden floor while some on sand, some with foot wear while some without, some fasting on the quest to learn to walk while some eating, some looking ahead at their goal 5 times a day while some on Sundays. I hope you get the essence.

Therefore, it seems that each religion is just one of the many equally valid paths to a common destination. The fact that different religions do not agree with each other (if at all) is of little significance in a broader scheme of things. But the real question which still remains – are there any unifying set of ideas which binds all the species together? I discovered the answer to this question in the ideas which are common across different faiths. It is believed across religions that the Messengers lived their lives as a normal human being, making everyday choices and decisions, tales of which have been captured in religious scriptures. In some way or the other, all religions do guide us about a way of life and teaches us about the attributes of an ideal human being. So if we can model our lives on one of the ideal lives to which we can relate the most and the one which appeals to our intellect the most, then we might just be on the right path. Shouldn’t our actions be the true parameters to judge our life instead of being judged only by the dogmas we live with?

Hence, it appears to be a much simpler world than we have construed it to be. For me, the above point of view unites people of all religions who are following a unique way to live their life based on their own culture, etc. It also creates space for atheists who are true to their actions but do not believe in any particular religious institution. And it creates space for several other species who fulfill their life purpose through their own little actions making them worthy of heaven (if any!) because it is not just reserved for humans who are the only ones privileged to read the scriptures. Given the above reasoning, I like to believe in all religions despite their contradictions. Probably this point of view might evolve in the future, but for now I find solace in the fact that despite the differences there is a sense of camaraderie which unites all of us in our journey to a common goal in our own unique way.