I started watching a new series on Netflix the other day called After Life. It focuses on how a happy man’s life completely rotated 180 degrees after the passing of his wife due to cancer. At a certain point, the protagonist (Ricky Gervais) gets into a discussion with one of his co-workers about atheism and the existence of God. That was when the quote above came up and it got me thinking.
How many religions are there in the world today? How many forms of beliefs has the face of the universe seen ever since the beginning of mankind and up until today? How many various interpretations are there of one specific text, book, value, story exist in the mind of a human being, irrespective of their nationality, race, background, upbringing and whatnots? The answer would be around the number of stars in the entire universe – or was it the number of grains of sand on any given beach? Either way, it does not matter in the context that even within the period of a lifetime, a person can modify their beliefs so many times that it becomes almost impossible to track everything that is going on.
For some people, the concept of beliefs and values is connected to the paradigm of rules and norms society requires us to observe and implement. For others, it is a question of faith and connection to the religion they adhere to. Finally, the third category of people tend to rely on what they have learned from the arts, literature, philosophy or maybe even music and movies. These social groups are neither constant nor fixed due to their intertwining – meaning that it is possible to position oneself in two categories at the same time. They adapt with the evolution of human knowledge and tend to oscillate between groups over the course of their lifetime.
The shifts can be explained by different causes and scenarios, ranging from personal experience that shapes our emotional intelligence and perception of things, to just being on the receiving end of new information that allows us to expand our knowledge and so makes us perceive and analyse events, people and ideas under a new lens. Whenever a transition is made, a ramification is created to the definitions, theories and interpretations that revolve around the topic in question, sometimes even generating a new school of thought. However, the question remains: why do we come up with all those philosophical thoughts; those multiple interpretations of faith and norms we comply with?
“Responsibility and respect of others and their religious beliefs are also part of freedom.”
– Horst Kohler
There is nothing wrong in believing in something that simply might not make sense to the rational mind, just as there is nothing wrong in choosing not to believe in that said something, let alone anything. Either way, such concepts and ideas should not be the sole deciders of whether we are good people or not. It took a good part of my childhood to understand that being religious or believing in a particular part of religion does not automatically mean that you are a good person and that you will forcibly be going to Heaven if there is one. The reason people find it necessary to pursue a religion or philosophical belief or whatnot is that it is something we as human beings seem to need or yearn for.
I might not go to the level of Karl Marx who labelled religion the opium of the masses. However, I would say that it is perceived as a form of social and psychological need for every person to develop some sort of purpose during their time on Earth, along with the possibility of some form of afterlife. For many, religion is seen as a management system combined with a set of rules that need to be followed in order to be a good person, “in order to be saved”. According to an interview conducted with an agnostic, journalist Nick Spencer was able to say that our thoughts and perceptions of religion are connected to our very own definition of it. Is religion only connected to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists? Or does it also include cults and philosophy focus groups? And what about atheists and agnostics?
For centuries, mankind has tried to find that one truth – that unique answer to everything that the human rational mind cannot understand or explain. Everyone claims that their version of the Truth is the correct one. This stems from the insecurity within that finds its solace in faith. Some would define it as “taking the first step even when we cannot see the entire staircase”. However, it has become clear with the evolution of mankind that certain events which used to be considered divine acts can now be explained through physics, biology, chemistry and so on. And so problems that tend to be solved by religion and blind faith are now solved through science. On the other hand, we each have a moral compass we carry in us. one does not need to be religious or to believe in something in order to know right from wrong and be a good person. The best way to prove this is that even atheists can feel guilt and remorse for things they say and do, yet they claim to not believe in something or someone divine.
“A Christian must be a good Christian. A Muslim must be a good Muslim. And a Hindu must be a good Hindu.”
– Mother Teresa
If I could add just one thing to this quote, I would emphasize the idea that a person must be a good person, regardless of where they come from or what they believe in. We can believe in whatever we want to or just decide that we do not have anything to do with all that spirituality. Both are valid positions. What is not okay is to follow those positions blindly without trying to understand them, without questioning them. Finally, to learn to respect other people’s decisions on that matter is vital if we are to learn to live together. This approach should be the same whenever people do not agree 100% on a certain topic, be it politics, religion, football, music or anything and everything else.
“I came to the conclusion long ago… that all religions are true, and also that all had some error in them.”
– Mahatma Gandhi