Rejecting religion, embracing realism
Young freelance writer and martial arts practitioner HARJIT SINGH sought many paths to ‘enlightenment’ but after discovering the Freethinker, enthusiastically embraced rationality. (His article originally appeared the in the March, 2013, edition of the magazine.)
AFTER coming across the Freethinker, the world’s oldest freethought journal, I promptly began penning thoughts drawn from my personal experiences of a spiritual journey that began during my early childhood. So this article focuses on my problems with religion in general, and certain beliefs in the Abrahamic faiths in particular.
During my school days I found myself diving into the pages of the Bhagavad Gita, Bible, Koran, Dhammapad, selected teachings of Zoroaster, etc, as well as countless library books covering the history and practices of various religions. I would also sleep listening to many religious audio cassettes such as Hanuman Chalisa, Jain songs, Buddhist chants and Sikh hymns. My search for spirituality took me on a once-a-week visit to UK Sikh and Hindu temples as well as energetic singsongs at an open-to-public Sai Baba cult gathering.
I travelled several times to India, the birthplace of the Dharmic religions, in order visit the historical temples. In India, I bathed three times in the holy pool of Sikhism’s Harimandir Sahib (Amritsar, Punjab), worshipped the idol of a Hindu goddess at Chintpurni by driving up an almost 1,000-metre-high peak (Himachal Pradesh), and contemplated besides the coffin of a Muslim saint (Jalandhar, Punjab).
I have also taken yoga classes (with focus on intense breathing exercises), fasted several times (various types, including nine days on water) and even observed celibacy (stressful).
I have come across people of most religions and sought an insight into their thoughts about their faith. I was eager to see what all religions had to offer, but felt that devoting myself to one faith would limit my learning.
However, after all these years of wholehearted searching, I can honestly say I did not find what I was seeking. I expected something mysterious and magical to occur. One does get goose bumps when venturing into the whole religion thing. Experiencing new and strange things and visiting certain places, especially if they are of historical significance, does that to you.
But I found myself with more questions than answers. I also found it was not the regularly visiting, help-seeking devotees who were finding fulfilment, but the priests and management running the temples and shrines. The congregation’s donations just kept on flowing into their hands. I saw them as materialistic and capitalistic. There is nothing wrong in being either or both — except if you are a priest.
I remember the days when the headmaster of my primary school used to make us listen to him reading the Bible, largely the New Testament, on most days during the morning assembly, despite about one-third of the school being non-Christian. Around the Christmas season, we had to sing songs such as Away in a Manger. Intrigued, I further researched Christianity, especially with all the talk of Jesus, the Devil, sin. Hell, etc – mostly fear-inducing stuff.
After looking into the Abrahamic and Dharmic faiths with an open heart and mind, I drew some conclusions, some of which include the following:
Regarding traditional religions and modern cults in general, I see them as bear traps covered with pretty blankets. Watch where you step or else – WHAM! Fortunately, some manage to pull open the sharp jaws and drag themselves to safety.
I feel that religion breeds OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). OCD sufferers believe that if you perform these rituals, everything will be fine, but if you don’t, bad things will happen to you. I also came to understand that a religion’s long history does not make it any more truthful than a religion founded yesterday. Many ancient religions have only survived to this day because they have been imposed upon the masses, ie the Spanish Conquests, Jihad and the like. Once in, people find it difficult to get out because of the psychological barriers that are placed, such as fear of isolation, threats of physical violence, as well as so-called eternal damnation.
Around the globe, scores worship one god or several. Many also say that all gods are fictitious, a creation of manipulators used to control the masses. Several say the so-called gods who contacted the ancients were in fact extra-terrestrials from other worlds or dimensions.
After years of searching, I comfortably concluded that God may or may not exist because I cannot recall having had the pleasure of meeting him in person, and I’m certainly not going to accept the word of some other person or piece of literature. I feel we can only say we know God if he personally appears before us and reveals all. Therefore, without real, obvious proof, acknowledging the names and attributes of some god, and following detailed rituals and dietary laws that some “messenger” claims his god prescribed for humankind, is a gamble, and gambling is not for the wise.
What guarantee do we have that the so-called prophets of some or other deity even existed? There are numerous legends about them, but how do we know the events actually took place? We only know anything about them because we have been informed by literature and other people, but how truly reliable are they and their claims? What guarantee do we have we are not being deceived for the sake of hidden agendas? What guarantee do we have that these prophets even existed?
If they did exist, how do we know for sure they were not financially motivated schemers, or sufferers of mental illness?
I find it funny how many millions of people can fanatically devote their entire life to ancient, foreign “holy” individuals they have never met, yet they so easily ridicule and reject the logic of living, breathing, contemporary rationalists.
How reliably sourced are scriptures? Did the so-called prophets actually write them? What real proof is there? If dictated to followers, how faithfully did the followers write down each word together with correct punctuation? If written after the death of the prophets, who were the writers and what proof of their credibility do we have? Some scriptures are very beautifully written, but that cannot be taken as evidence of divine origin. Any ordinary person can be exceptionally articulate.
These scriptures, which many follow without question, can be found to contain contradictions (Matthew 27:5 and Act 1:11, New Testament), hypocrisy (Luke 6:27-31 and John 2:13-15, New Testament), scientific impossibilities (54:1 Koran), and even some disturbing material, ie genocide (Samuel 1, 15:3, Torah), mutilation (8:12, Koran), incest (Genesis, 19:32- 35, Torah), etc. which is not mentioned in the pre-watershed version used to lure people in to the faiths.
I see places of worship not as locations where people find salvation, but as centres where shepherds gather their sheep only to guide them to intellectual slaughter. One may note how religious folks tune into a “holy” state of mind within the confines of their places of worship, but when outside, are back to their usual selves. It is almost like a personality disorder.
Perhaps they believe their omnipresent god does not have access beyond the bricks and mortar? Why does there even have to be a place of worship when God is supposed to be everywhere? Should not then every place be regarded as holy as the insides of churches, etc?
I find the notion of Hell quite primitive, even childish. Another creation from the dark imaginative minds of religion’s scaremongers designed to keep the masses filled with fear to prevent them from daring to escape to freedom. No matter what you do, no matter how wrong it may be, nobody will be condemned to some fiery Hell by some deity and suffer torments for eternity. Prison, however, does exist, and is a place to be avoided because ones freedom there becomes limited, which for anyone would be a tormenting experience.
Whilst the Hell-myth prevents religious zombies from leaving religion, the Heaven-myth pulls them closer to their faith by tempting them, particularly with the promise that if they were to fight and die to protect their religion they will enter paradise, where they will reap divine rewards.
This false belief has led to an immense amount of worldwide suffering and loss of life throughout history. With no proof of Heaven’s existence, those who engage in “holy war” and attain “martyrdom” in the name of their religion, do so in vain.
I believe the Devil is just a character designed to persuade religionists that any rational thoughts they may have are not sensible, but instead derived from the evil influence of some monstrous fallen angel/djinn who wants their soul. It is quite silly if you take a step back and think about it. If people experience problems in life, it is either their own fault for lacking focus, or because of the plotting of others.
Religion’s manipulators knew that there are bound to be revolutionary freethinkers – people who question and expose all the silliness. The manipulators want their stooges to see freethinkers, particularly the influential ones, as the anti-Christ, whom they should oppose and perceive their logic as unholy temptation. Just as there have been many “final” messiahs and mahdis throughout history, fortunately, there were also thousands of rationalists. Sadly, many paid for their scepticism with their lives.
The devoutly religious observe the various rituals of their faith, including animal slaughter. Personally, I believe whether you kill an animal like “this” or “that”, the method of slaughter cannot make it pure or impure. Ultimately, the animal becomes a corpse. The real focus should be whether you wish to eat dead flesh or not. Therefore, at a restaurant or butchers I would not specifically request halal/ kosher meat nor avoid it, because I do not acknowledge biblical dietary laws and do not wish to give those rules any legitimacy. The only right choice to make when it comes to food is whether you want to eat vegan/vegetarian or non-vegan/vegetarian food.
I find that visiting historical religious buildings and ruins can only benefit the pilgrimage organisers/caretakers in a financial way. For spiritual upliftment, one can visit a safe nudist beach. Or perhaps take on daring challenges like bungee jumping or skydiving, or even enjoy a world cruise. Daring and fun activities unlock suppressed areas of the mind, can relieve stress and deliver other beneficial results.
Then there are the so-called holy relics of various faiths that serve to make religious fiction appear to have some legitimacy. Rather than debating about which relics are the “real” ones, I believe devout believers should first seek explicit proof that the prophet to which the relic is connected actually even existed. As well as keeping the masses tied to religion, these relics make good tourist attractions, bringing in considerable income for the relic-displayers.
Many religions and sects also demonise sexual intercourse, portraying it as something shameful, filthy and only right if performed for procreation. But I believe sex is a wonderful game that should be played over and over again. I also believe that sex should not be limited to either heterosexual or homosexual relations – bisexual relationships should be explored and understood by all. Even many of the “manly” Japanese, Greek and Roman warriors engaged in same-sex or bisexual love.
Finally, enlightenment. This, I believe, is not attained through mysterious and magical rituals, reciting prayers, practicing celibacy, fasting and the like. Religions promise enlightenment, but their promise is like the board game Snakes & Ladders: there are only a few ladders, a heck of a lot of snakes, and no box 100.
I have learned from my experiences that true enlightenment is basically seeing through all the ignorance of religions, not getting seriously involved with them. It is freeing yourself from the restraints that religions so firmly impose. Enlightenment is found after tuning into your maternal side, enjoying sexual freedom, being proud of yourself, indulging in flavour- some foods, relaxing in the day and sleeping well at night.
If we can spread rationalism among religionists in a polite and intellectual manner, we shall make good progress. But negative acts like scripture-burning, verbal abuse, physical assault, or vandalising places of worship are anti-productive, and will only strengthen and increase fanatical religious convictions.
HARJIT SINGH has been published in Martial Arts Illustrated (UK), Black Belt Magazine (USA), Blitz (Australia), Asana Journal (India) and other publications.