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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Religion is not the Antidote to Hopelessness

Before I begin, I was seriously considering titling this post "Faith is not the Antidote to Hopelessness." The reason I decided not to proceed with this is primarily due to the fact that I have begun to differentiate between faith, as a necessity for all living things, and religion, as an institutionalization of faith, replete with rituals and practices, and most notoriously of all, a sense of identity that creates a framework for exclusion, as much as it does for inclusion. This play of semantics aside, I must admit that I am no stranger to religion, having spent a fair share of time trying to play along to the rules of the religion of my family, perhaps a bit more questioningly than is to be appreciated, however. Still, I have attempted pilgrimages, and will still show signs of respect outside temples, churches, and mosques, not to forget Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, or any other places of worship that I happen to come across. However, my own attempts to do so of my own volition, not because I was asked to, or in some cases forced to worship, have largely been a case of a sense of some missing element in my life, in spite of the certainty my knowledge and apparent adherence to a civilized lifestyle have ever seemed to offer. And, as I sit here pondering this kind of thing, sometimes more intensely than other times, I cannot help but feel that the world around me senses a sort of doom, this hopelessness I wish to refer to, not with a view towards defining or examining it, but just to point out that as days give way to a future in which I too am rapidly approaching old age, the young among us bring a frightening level of zeal and commitment to the beliefs that they accept readily, in many cases, making causes out of noble ideals that they are willing to die for. It seems to paint a strange, and somehow fateful picture for this world that we have created, but I will not be the one to judge this as the fate of our folly. No. I only wish to briefly delve into the fact that this growing angst that is fueled by the swelling of religious ranks, is ultimately not the antidote for the seeming hopelessness that seems to descend upon us all. If anything, it will be precisely the kind of thing that will light the fuse and explode this keg of fervent but disjointed worship.

The Source of This Hopelessness

I remember watching Bill Hicks do his comedy routine, quite specifically him mentioning how turning on the news invites us to believe that the world around us pretty much in flames and on the verge of total annihilation, only to pull back the drapes and hear crickets and the resounding silence in-between chirps, making us wonder where all of this is happening. He was right in one regard, namely that the news we all happen to see on TV is largely and most violently happening somewhere far away from us. Yet, in addition to the deluge of such information from the media all around the world, we now have social media to thank for a near-constant reminder of numerous other horrors occurring in all spheres of life, making this world ripe for self-extinction by its very creators. We see news about how politicians are screwing up their economies and environments, and creating wanton rifts in the communities they lead, just to get a few votes, before we find ourselves staring at the horrors of the meat trade and suffering animals, before we find out there is plastic waste much larger than many nations around the world floating around in the Pacific and causing massive damage to marine life, before being told about the heart-rending, gut-wrenching death toll of the latest natural disaster to strike a hheavily populated area, before someting else comes to the fore to make a mind-numbing sensation and elevate it to a higher point than the previous story. There is no escaping it, from newspapers and magazines to TV news shows, to the more recent advent of social media as a platform for sharing this content instantaneously, all around this orb we have come to call home. Add to this the troubles that are unique to the human race, like unemployment, or more competitive, rigorous, and ultimately, growingly unaffordable education, or even crises of resource supply to ensure basic survival to the largest swathe of humanity to be suffering since a few minutes ago, after which the population has grown and made the situation direr still. The hopelessness is palpable, to put it mildly.

Why Not Religion?

The reason for not wanting, or needing, religion to be the answer is fairly simple, on so many levels. First up, it claims to provide answers, but only offers more hope like a carrot on a stick, except it calls you to have faith in the carrot because when you open your eyes and look, you do not see one. Second, and I don't mean to make science seem to be the obvious answer in comparison to the statement I am about to make, but it claims to know the unknowable, and wishes to charge its adherents for their faith, with nothing less than cold hard cash. Most ironically, this money ends up making its way to the top of the religious hierarchy, where it can be used for all kinds of purposes, but manages to ignore the masses who pray on their knees for miracles they have been told about, and in all likelihood, have given up the most to make these offerings. Thirdly, in spite of all religions preaching very similar messages, there is always a schism in the interpretation of some aspect of the origins of the religion, to name internal differences, before which the codification of the essential faith makes enemies who will not do, say, live and worship in a similar manner. Instead of answers on how to actively deal with this sense of doom and gloom, most religions seem to advocate stricter, more impassioned followings of holy books and teachings, almost like a distraction to the reality of what is happening all around its followers. From my own personal experience with Hinduism, being born to and raised in such a household, albeit rather loosely because I always chose to question what I was and was not taught about it, I have found that it draws people into lifelong subservience with the promise of transactional gain; making offerings and participating in rituals, of which there is a long list, can bring about the desires of the person willing to make this payment. Praying to one or many gods for a safe way out for your own family, or self, is a very narrowminded approach to ensuring the longevity of the group, even before we begin to consider how everything else on this planet which is not human is left out. Well, maybe not the cows, being sacred symbols who give milk, and then live out their lives in bonded oblivion, tied to their masters' own sick, ultimate fate for no fault of their own. Most religions do not even begin to consider, let alone address the deteriorating environment, or rising sea levels, or even the fact that there are some followers who become deserving "haves" while others of the following will inevitably end up being "have nots".

The Answer, Please!

I don't know what the answer is, but even as I write this, a different kind of mindset is emerging, still in pockets mostly, but soon to take over large areas of the world. People are doing what it takes to try and reverse the aftermath of the lives they have led, and are asking the questions that needed to be asked generations ago, when many were still being sold lies, quite willingly accepted it would appear, because none of what is happening now seemed to be happening on the kind of scale in which it currently is. I mean, for example, my grandparents grew up in a time when the population of the Earth was about a couple of billion people, at most, and technology was still not as pervasive or readily available to promote its convenience as its key benefit. People ate food cooked over wood stoves, relied mostly on locally grown produce, and drew water from wells, traveling distances on foot that would today seem unthinkably unnecessary to do so, just to get to where they had to go. Cars and even bicycles were a novelty, horsedrawn carriages being the mode of transport of the elite, and electricity was just about beginning to make its foray into the local lifestyle, where people largely preferred to go to bed a couple of hours after sunset. They lived healthier lives and had a far greater connection to their immediate surroundings and the prevailing conditions. No, I'm not advocating a return to days of old, but I am trying to point out that activity, doing something about the mess, was a much more readily accepted course of action that brought people together to act and remedy what was out of balance. Maybe we've gotten soft, or maybe, we just prefer to fight reality with endless distraction. It doesn't figure well for us, overall, unless more people want to do something about something, which, I am happy to say, is becoming the case, more and more, with every day that goes by. May this trend continue, and really, not lose focus and pander to the call for distraction-by-entertainment that is now the want of most people.

It's about time we pitched in and did something, other than folding our hands and prayed for supreme beings of our own narrative creation to come along and save us from the mistakes we so gladly made, and in many cases, continue to make.
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