I came across the below article and thought it largely summarized my viewpoints towards religion. I may not agree with the way he words certain statements or even his viewpoints (in some cases). But I do think that people of his ilk (and indeed mine) should be heard more (and more). I think this is the direction humanity is broadly headed-towards. I do emphatically think that the author in this article points towards some universal truths that could form a common overlapping ground between conflicting thought-processes and ideologies.
Hence I reproduce the article below in toto.
Faith and Religion
By Murad A Baig August 28, 2008
Though I have a Muslim name I am a non practicing Indian Muslim who does not believe in any organised religion. I may have missed something by not having been brought up in a religious home but this also enables me to objectively observe all religions without any religious predispositions. I have a MA in history so I have been able to study history and religion with the proper disciplines of scholarship and in my line of work I have been to almost every district of India and know its people.
I love the core ideas of all religions but I hate the way the thoughts of the founders have been universally twisted by the Mullahs, Pandits, Padres, Rabbis and other professional priests who claim to be the `sole selling agents’ of their brands of GOD. I do not therefore respect most religious priests but I do endorse many good priests and many religious traditions that encourage human understanding and brotherhood.
I believe that all the founders of all religions were simple human beings who loved all humanity. I therefore hate the mythification of all the prophets, apostles, saints, sages, etc., that the priests raised to a sacred status to enhance their own power by frequently distorting the words of the founders in their sacred scriptures written by them many years, or even centuries, after the deaths of the founders to serve their usually material ambitions. I am also very suspicious of most of the `gurus’ and `babas’ because many, despite their huge followings, are often surprisingly narrow minded in their views and ignorant about history and culture.
I also find no sanctity in the huge baggage of customs that all religions so venerate. Christmas and Easter were Roman Pagan customs that the Catholic priests made a part of Christian faith several centuries after the death of Jesus. Eid and Ramzan were old Arab customs many centuries before The Prophet. Diwali, Holi, Naoroz, Passover, etc., were honest celebrations of spring, autumn or seasonal harvests and the religious fairy tales associated with them were charming additions of later times. But the vibrant charm of such festivals was so seductively enjoyable that the priests quickly used them to attract followers. The celebrations of the birthdays or martyrdom days of prophets or sages are similarly the work of the priests and many customs were introduced long after their deaths.
Religious customs like fasts and pilgrimages may sometimes be good for the physical and mental health of worshippers but in practice many have become a celebratory farce that can be a huge nuisance to other people. Having trekked to Amarnath, Hemkund and Badrinath I know that many people enjoy such beautiful places and the break from dull routine with travel that pilgrimages offer. There may also be merit in feeding the poor but none for the rich offerings made to deities or the priests at all places of worship. Their superstitious belief in wish fulfillment only fattens the priests. I believe that the myth about the power of curses is just as stupid as the myth about the power of miracles that can be delivered by fervent prayers.
I have been to almost all the main temples, mosques and churches in India and greatly admire their art and architecture but do not find anything sacred about them as the priests try to make us to believe. Magnificent art and architecture generated huge awe and admiration of religious themes so all religions were great patrons of many things of great beauty. But I do not believe that they were `houses of god' but places where priests could get rich from the offerings of gullible devotees. Genghis Khan was right when he said at Bukhara… God is too great to be confined to any house.
I also find no innate sanctity in any of the material things that the priests of all religions promote. What is spiritual about not eating pork, beef, shellfish, or not drinking or smoking, etc? These were practical hygienic advice relevant especially in times before refrigeration, rapid transport and sanitation. What is spiritual about Ayodhya, Ramasethu, Mecca, Jerusalem or any of the places of religious myth? The founders of no religion demanded any temples, churches, mosques or places of worship. Even for The Prophet, Mecca was the focal centre but followers could pray wherever they wanted.
Why should a cross, crescent, idol, talisman or other image be sacred? Those who believe that these have the power to miraculously protect the wearer are not religious but simply superstitious. Wearing medallions with the image of the prophet on their chests did not protect Turkish Janissaries from the arrows or bullets of their enemies any more than the crosses or other talismans protected the soldiers of many other religions.
There is also nothing spiritual or sacred about the distinctive costumes, hats, veils, beards or other things that many priests demand. The skull cap was originally used by the Zoroastrian priests to prevent polluting human hair from falling into their sacred fire. This became a Jewish religious custom in the 6th century BC when Cyrus the Great ruled over west Asia and allowed the Jews to return from Babylon to Palestine. It later became a mark of Islamic piety. The Prophet never required a veil let alone a Burkha among his followers. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh only required the turban, beard and other `K’s’ for Sikh warriors but not for civilians. These and the other distinctive marks of religion are nothing but the distinctive brand identities that priests of most religions demand for managing their flocks as if they were cattle or sheep forgetting that what is sacred to one religion can be hateful to another.
The priests of all religions also try to dissuade their followers from enjoying music, art and frivolity (except at their places of worship and under their management although great music, art and literature were undoubtedly produced by them all). Even coffee houses were banned by Christian and Muslim priests in Jerusalem, Turkey and Europe at one time. Spare time was to only be spent in a church or mosque.
I enjoy the many charming myths found in the epics and traditions of all religions but do not consider them to be sacred. There are also many exaggerated myths about the enemies of all religions that have been used to inflame passions and led to rivers of religious bloodshed over the centuries. The accounts of the horrible atrocities attributed to Mahmud Ghazni or Aurangzeb came from no contemporary Jain, Buddhist or Hindu source but from the flowery pens of Persian flatterers to praise their piety and their alleged violent destruction of Hindu temples. Raking up the old ashes of past atrocities in the present time to harm rival religious practitioners, who were innocent of the sins of their ancestors, and to ferment sectarian strife is deplorable. Many practitioners of all religions did many violent and evil things using the holy name of religion to justify their actions.
Over the years religion was used a powerful political weapon to unite and motivate the soldiers of any army against their foes. Today it is similarly used for political agendas in Palestine, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, etc., who are all guilty of going great evil in the name of religion. But it is the rulers and their followers are to be condemned and not their religions.
I do not like to use of the words Christian, Muslim or Hindu for the works or actions of some of their practitioners. We can speak of Renaissance, Italian or Ethiopian art but these were not Christian art simply because of the religions of their creators. So I try to never also speak of Islamic architecture, art, scripts, culture or atrocities because these were not the creations of the religion but the good and bad activities of numerous different people like the Arabs, Persians, Mongols, Afghans Turks, etc., over the centuries.
The same applies to Hindu or Hinduism. The Hindu religious tradition had seven distinct gear changes over the past five thousand years. If the word Hindu was coined by the Persians in the 6th century BC to describe all the people of the river Sindhu (The Persians could not pronounce S so Sindhu became Hindu like Haoma for Soma) than all the people of Pakistan and India are Hindu. Till the British period the word Hindu had only meant `native' non Muslims like farmers, shopkeepers or clerks and it was only in 1826 that Ram Mohun Roy first used the word Hindu as a unifying label for all the native forms religion and a number of different streams of indigenous thought and custom. So strictly speaking there were no Hindus as the followers of Hinduism, as a religion, until this time. I want to know how and when `Hinduism' changed from a gentle inclusive faith open to new ideas to become an aggressive exclusive religion intolerant to other thought.
The priests of all religions, to promote superstitions, often posed as clairvoyants and astrologers. History is full of glaring examples of how disastrously astrology has failed many rulers, generals and others. Most astrology was originally based on Babylonian concepts that many people adopted before they added their own modifications. Ancient astronomers only knew 5 planets and not the 9 we know today. The 7 day week was also unknown to ancient Indian texts. It was a Jewish tradition that came to India with Christianity. Thus there can be no sacred sanctity to fasts on Tuesdays or Thursdays or for not buying iron items on Saturdays.
I know that I am much more than my mortal body. If almost every cell is renewed every thirty months my body is not the body it was three years ago. So I have to be something else. Like the Sufis I believe that we are all sparks of a greater divine flame and like to think that I am a small bundle of cosmic energy that, to use computer language, is programmed to direct the creation, destruction and replacement of every cell as well as to give me a unique intelligence and destiny.
I therefore worship a nameless, formless cosmic force that I believe is the source of all life but do not believe it is a wish fulfilling, prayer answering machine that pries into my personal life. Man is not a beggar who needs a God to grant him happiness. I pray to it wherever I am to thank it for giving me a full and rewarding life and to empower me to be an active and good person.
I believe there have to be bad times along with good times for which one should mainly blame oneself or one's own inability the influence those around us.
I basically believe in the four Buddhist virtues of:
1. Friendliness to all. To prejudge no one.
2. Joy. To try to seek and give as much joy as is possible.
3. Compassion. To try to conquer the anger and fear of others.
4. Equanimity. To remain calm at all times.
I find the four Buddhist vices equally relevant:
1. Non injury to life and to not hurt others even with hurtful words.
2. No false speech. Not even half truths and white lies.
3. To take what is not given. More than theft even forcibly taking what are ones `legal' or `social' right can cause injury.
4. Physical or mental torture.
Like all religions Buddhism also got corrupted over time but I believe in the basic Buddhist idea of Karma where we all unconsciously know when we have done good and bad deeds and it is the joy or guilt generated by such actions that affect our souls in its passage through life and through the life beyond.
In short I believe in the core faith and philosophies of all the founders of all religions who all lived in poverty and loved all humanity but I do not approve of `religion’ as is usually practiced where motivated priests have made them into major sources of superstition, strife, prejudice and violence.
In every land and in every period evil actions have never been done with such pride and such joy as when they were done in the name of religion.
Mantras or chants are common to most religions and are usually in archaic languages like Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Prakrit or Arabic that usually no longer have any meanings but they are soothing repetitive harmonic sounds that many people believe have magical powers to cure all their ills or calm tormented souls.
My personal mantra is a short one with just nine words:
`Hang loose. Let go. Let the cosmic energy flow’.
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