I have devoted a lot of time studying different religions. While I remain an atheist, religions amused me a lot. I think that stage is over. I do not find religion interesting anymore and I do not wish to study religion and how it affects people. I will however remain a student of mythology.
My final thoughts on religion are as follows.
Religion has broadly three components.
3. Genetic. (This is my suspicion not backed by any evidence).
As we all know primitive societies were super violent. Each century in human history has been less violent than previous in proportion to the total population. Societies achieve peace by figuring out what works best to establish order. Sometimes it is a complex structure of Dharma as in Hinduism or the man with longer stick wins rule of Islam.
Looks like religion and other associated beliefs play the major role in establishing this sort of order. In modern times when we have an idea of government, law and police and an extremely complex structure of resolving conflicts, religions do appear stupid.
I do not buy the crap that religions were started with “noble” intentions. I am pretty sure it was a completely random process where “what works” survived and “what doesn’t work” died out like in process of biological evolution.
Let me explain the three dimensions I explained earlier to make things clear:
Religion isn’t science and hence 2+2 is not always 4 in religion but depending on convenience it can be 3 or 5. That does not mean it can 7. While religious interpretations are contextual and people who believe in the religion understand it pretty easily, it does not mean “anything” is possible.
For example as as Hindus have gone to Shiva temple a thousand times. We have seen the lingam. But have we ever thought of it as a giant penis? Rarely. There is nothing wrong in worshiping a penis. Hindus and Buddhists do worship penises and give them importance but Shiva Lingam is never believed to be one of those symbols by us.
On the contrary for any westerner like Wendy Doniger, Lingam is obviously a penis. She even cites the word “Ligam” literally means penis without realizing the word “lingam” as is Shiva lingam predates popular term for penis.
Are these westerners wrong and trying to malign our Hindu gods ?
May or may not be but the real issue here is that they do not get the context that we all Hindus get.
Vice-versa is also true. Christian notion of creation is ridiculous to me as Hindu. There exists a real physical god in Sky who actually created the world in 7 days and the whole crap of Adam and Eve and the snake sounds stupid to me. But around 60% of Americans believe it to be literally true.
My hypothesis: It is not possible to be a Hindu by reading Hindu scriptures alone. It is not possible to be Christian or Muslims by reading Bible and Koran alone. To truly understand the religion and its beliefs one has to be born in the religion, brought up in religious atmosphere or spend substantial amount of time dealing with that religions.
There are examples of Christian missionaries who went into tribal lands for conversions but actually ended up accepting the tribal faith (or lack there of) as their own. They truly understood the other faith with its context.
All religions are not same. There propensity to accept science, other beliefs, violence etc. are different. A lot of these differences derive directly from the theology or The Book.
There is little doubt that Buddhists are relatively more peace loving that Islamist. All these differences flow from the book and they have behavioral consequences for its followers.
However depending upon the context these beliefs might get diluted/strengthened a bit. In countries like USA or India this context is rapidly diluting religious beliefs where as in Islamic societies it isnt.
I do suspect that genes play a role in people’s religious beliefs. I think people who have spent several generations in one religion and mostly in that majority region tend to be more peaceful and stable than people following the same religion but only recently.
For example Saudi Arabia is 100% Islamic country. But it is peaceful and prosperous. It has achieved that via its own means and methods which are clearly totally different from western world. Saudi might be perceived as oppressive state but nevertheless it is peaceful. I think the Saudi people are genetically evolved to adjust to that sort of oppressive regime and seek peace.
Pakistan is an opposite example. It is genetically a Hindu country trying to cope up with a foreign religion “Islam” and hence despite being 100% Islamic country unable to find peace.
I think India will remain peaceful as long as it remains a Hindu majority country with other religions as minorities. We can already see that where Christianity or Islam reaches majority those regions quickly become unstable. Nagaland and Kashmir are prime examples. West Bengal would be next.
With this I conclude my thoughts on religion. People fighting over religion on Internet forums are stupid because they mostly do not understand that religion as a contextual aspect. Having said that clearly religions benefit by increasing their number and holding to their land as long as possible. People who think that different religions can co-exist peacefully while being religious are equally stupid.