149. Development and critique of religious thought. Part one.
I respect all religions, but believe in none. I think that the religions are outdated now. Moral conscience of the society has sufficiently developed. Today is the epoch of secular humanism, which this mote believes (in my case, with the addition of fervent love of God and to reach Him through mysticism).
The religions arose to fulfill the needs of a particular society at a particular time in human history.
Why did man need religion? I have written about it in various blogs (33, 36, and 98). Let me repeat them over here.
Human beings saw a flat, stationary earth. Sun and moon rose in the East and set in the West. Stars filled the sky. Sunlight permeated the day and the moonlight suffused the night. Cool breeze in a hot summer day was delightful. There was a pregnant pause at dawn and dusk, as if the whole universe was holding its breath. There was joy in watching the children play. There were myriad plants and animals. Rain came to nurture the harvest. Fragrant flowers attracted butterflies. Each season came with its own delights. Beautiful snowfall in the winter, and fragrant flowers in the spring. There were blue lagoons, winding rivers and deep oceans. Clouds scudded the blue sky. Fish swam in the water and birds soared in the air. Cows and horses roamed in the pastures and camels in the deserts. Bees supplied them with honey and quadrupeds with meat and milk. Man was filled with wonder. Everything moved with precision. Just as a house could not develop by itself, somebody had to make it; similarly, the world had to be made by somebody. The thought of the grand universe making itself never came in the imagination of humans. There had to be a creator of the universe.
Against such beauty and grandeur, there was ugliness. There was great suffering and injustice.
Famines were common. Just few years of drought were sufficient to cause them in ancient times. Hundreds of thousands of people would die, including women and children. Tsunamis, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes would wipe out hundreds of villages and towns. There was the constant misery of epidemics of smallpox, plague, malaria, cholera and many other such diseases. Childhood sicknesses and birthing problems killed hundreds of thousands each year. Most of the globe suffered from chronic malnourishment in the poor.
Then there were the problems created by human beings themselves, such as poverty, wars and slavery. The dark ages had cruel kings like Tamerlane and Genghis Khan who would construct towers of heads. Last century had unprecedented number of deaths by the hands of Hitler, Stalin, Hutus and Pol Pot.
The problem of misery and injustice has plagued philosophers and religious scholars for over two thousand years. The ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus posed what is now called Epicurean Paradox
“God is omnipotent, God is good, but Evil exists”
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
It was more natural to think that sufferings could not be explained by religious arguments, so human beings thought about it and tried to reconcile the 3 powerful observations, which were before them. Those 3 observations were the following:
(A) Huge universe is present, and could not have possibly arisen, on its own.
(B)There is lot of suffering
(C) People do good things and bad things. Cruel or bad persons are not necessarily punished, in fact they may have a great life, and the good are not necessarily rewarded.
Since it was obvious and unalterable fact (to them) that there was a God, the need was to reconcile it with the second observation, the suffering. The logical answer would have been that God was not such a kind entity; in fact He appeared to be downright cruel. Even under the best circumstances He had to be indifferent and uncaring. So the wise men convinced themselves that there must be a life after death where justice will eventually be done. And to explain the bad deeds in the presence of omnipotent God, the Devil (Satan) had to be invented (bad deeds were the work of Satan and not of God). Hindu religion used a different theory: ‘Your sufferings are due to the misdeeds done by you in previous lives’. Oppressed people needed these dogmas, because that way of thinking gave them strength and eased their burden in three ways: First, because they may think that their suffering was due to God’s will, so it must be good, since God is good. And religion taught unquestioned surrender to God. Secondly, they may think that there may be a hidden benefit in the present calamity ( there is a silver lining in most clouds). And, through these trials, there may be an improvement in the better part of one’s nature. Who were they to question God’s wisdom? He knew better. Thirdly, if they were not rewarded here, then God’s justice made it absolutely certain that they will be rewarded in the next life.
To be continued.