I have been jet lagged these last couple of days and that of course means the mind has been a cauldron of thoughts, questions and no apparent answers. One question that I have always found hard to answer is whether I am religious, agnostic or an atheist. Born to a Theosophist mother and an agnostic father and growing up around people reading and arguing the Jiddu philosophy, naturally I find it hard to accept anything without questioning its validity. So, last night I found myself lying in bed wondering about what my son had asked me when I was with him… what is the origin of religion? Where have all these faiths, beliefs and myths come from? Here’s what I think.
Myths are tales of Gods, their anger, their journeys, victory of good over evil that amuse and amaze children of all ages I loved reading about the twelve labours of Heracles and the wrath of Shiva when he severed a child’s head. The tales are endless and so is our fascination for them. Civilizations prospered and perished, all having their own religion, their own culture, their own Myths. But how did these Myths come into being?
To be human is to fear the unknown or inexplicable. Ages ago, when science as we know it, was virtually nonexistent, the concept of natural phenomenon and our lack of control over them must have been terrifying! Imagine months of water bucketing down on your heads, sometimes taking lives in its wake. Imagine the sound of thunder on a still night and a large lightning taking down a whole stretch of vegetation, for no apparent reason! Imagine not knowing it is a geographical feature. Imagine neither owning it nor having control over it. Imagine not knowing that it happens at a particular time because there is no concept of time/date/month or calendar! It would be petrifying to have no answers! It would be terrifying to not know whether or not it will happen again or how hard it would be this time! Human mind naturally wants answers. So the mind of ancient man called the unknown, “God” and everything pertaining to it, “Religion”. Gradually all unanswered and inexplicable phenomena were allotted to the supernatural capacity of “God”.
Just imagine… it must have been so much easier to say that it rained because Indra willed it or that thunder struck because Zeus or Thor was angry rather sit in fear and wait for these natural disasters to pass. As the human mind questioned more, the myths grew exponentially to answer them all. Gradually religion had created fabulous and fantastic characters with supernatural powers to fight all evil forces of nature. There was a god for everything, the wind, the rain, the sun, death, life, good, bad… and every God had a myth attached of victory of good over evil!
This concept of victory of good or evil gave way to rites and rituals. To appease a certain God, one would have to pay obeisance or do penance so the evil or bad times would be slayed. In fact many cultures even believe that one’s prayers and offerings gave strength to gods who in turn may bless us or use the strength in their battles against evil which will have a profound impact on the realm of man. All these myths and rites solved one basic function; they gave us some sense of control over things that were earlier completely out of our hand. They made the world seem less frightening. After all no one wants to live in a world where we have no control over anything?
Now put this in the modern perspective, when we know why it rains. In a world where we can predict quite accurately when a meteor many thousand miles away would actually make contact with earth. Between Science, Geography, History and Mathematics, everything seemingly mysterious can be solved. There is a logical answer for everything. So in today’s world I am intrigued by man’s need follow traditions and pray to “God” a certain way on a certain day to appease him so bad times will pass! Why do we as humans fear the future so much that we need to control it with prayers and penances? Why don’t we see that what must happen will find a way?
I do believe that there is a power, some magnetic force that keeps us all going and as you would a thing of beauty acknowledge, appreciate, revere and respect it. So in that respect I am a believer. I know I am not agnostic because I do care about the power and its ability to create in me a certain awareness that allows me to appreciate the presence of that power in me and in everyone I meet or see. But if you tell me I can avert some catastrophe that might befall a loved one, by fasting on a Saturday to appease “Shani” I most certainly am an atheist!
Sigh… once again…. a mind full of contradictions!