Discover more from The Wisdom Project
Believe It Or Not
Wisdom Letter #38 | The One About Religion
Would you call yourself religious?
Or would you identify more as an atheist?
Or may be you recognize yourself as a spiritual person and not really religious so to speak?
These are all very personal questions. Our answers are as unique to us as our own identities.
And yet, religions are known to have united (and divided) large populations for more than a couple of millennia now.
Is belief in God same thing as having faith in him? (Does me using a capital G in ‘God’ make me more religious or does me not using a capital H in ‘him’ make me less religious? Btw I am not comfortable with assigning God a gender.)
What is the difference between faith and belief?
Did God really create man, or did man invent god to make sense of the absurdity of his existence?
How does a religious person reconcile the onward march of science and technology with her faith? And how does an atheist reconcile the meaninglessness and randomness of an average life with her skepticism?
And where does spirituality fit into this?
Does a global crisis like COVID19 push more people towards religion? Or does the immense power of a nanometer sized, invisible virus push us all away from having any faith in our respective gods?
Is there a remote tribe somewhere praying to the Corona Gods to not kill them? Or will we now see a deification of the medical community? The way knights and soldiers were worshiped in an age where wars were the most common way for people to lose their lives.
Why do we even need a religion in the first place? Doesn’t it create more problems than it solves?
If by some miracle, religion were to disappear overnight, would we miss it or would it not change a thing? Will there be a void if there is no religion in the world?
Do non believers feel such a void?
And what about the modern day religions in our society? We know plenty of sports fans who claim their sport is their religion. We know plenty of fanatics who live by the cult of the nation state. Is nationalism their religion?
What about religions like capitalism and communism and libertarianism, mere ideas that people so strongly “believe in” that wars have been waged in their name.
Do they qualify?
Today on The Wisdom project, we try to explore the purpose of religion, and how it has evolved with us humans.
We try to find out if it will ever disappear, we try to understand the role of doubt in having belief.
And we take a look at another interesting beast — Spirituality.
Purpose of Religion
Did God create man or did man invent God?
Religion has been with us for only a smaller part of our existence on earth.
In our hunter-gatherer days, we trusted people who were part of our tribe. It was only when societies got larger, that we needed a mechanism to trust and work with strangers.
Religion in that sense, is a cultural evolution necessary for the sustenance of our species.
Its an antidote to our skeptical tribalism.
In this podcast, Shankar Vendantam of Hidden Brain, looks at religion from the angle of behavior science and how understanding the human psyche can explain the evolution of religion.
Its a interesting piece on the origin and purpose of religions across the world.
Give it a listen—
Do you really need a religion?
As more and more people around the world call themselves atheists, we may wonder if we even need religion any more. Not just individuals, more societies and nations are less religious now than they were about five decades ago.
Is it because there are more educated people now than before? Or is it because of the advance of Science and Technology? Or is it because we now feel more secure and comfortable in our lives than our ancestors, and hence we do not really need to worship a higher power for our well being?
And if any of that is true then does this imply that we will see religion disappearing in times to come?
Humans have evolved to find narratives in any random sets of events. Ideas, both good and bad, stick to our brains only through narratives. They bind facts together for us to make sense of them.
Finding meaning is embedded into the neuropsychology of our species.
Our need for religion is most likely rooted in this fallacy. Religion gives us the narratives required to resolve the need for meaning in our life. This need is eternal and hence religion will also be eternal, albeit in varying shapes and sizes.
In this article by Rachel Nuwer on The BBC Future, she explains how we have evolved to have religion, what societies tend to be more religious than others and what fills the space created by religion in places where people are less religious.
Check it out
Spirituality and Science
Do you believe in science?
It’s good to acknowledge that there is no such thing as “Belief in Science”. Religion requires belief, science is just the study of nature, and nature does not care if you believe in it or not!
What we actually believe in is the scientific method of enquiry and its outcomes.
And hence, we often discard (or in some milder cases question or wonder about) the existence of Gods, fairies and their miracles. As none of it has any scientific explanation backed by science.
But spirituality is a different beast altogether. As Carl Sagan puts it:
“Spirit” comes from the Latin word “to breathe.” What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin. Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word “spiritual” that we are talking of anything other than matter (including the matter of which the brain is made), or anything outside the realm of science…
In this article from Wait But Why, Tim Urban takes the point further in his usual quirky way, and emphasizes that spirituality and science need to march together for humans to answer the toughest questions.
He draws a brilliant comic strip with stick figures of Spirituality and Science collaborating while humans evolve. By the end of it, as religion grows, spirituality takes a backseat.
Check it out —
The Role Of Doubt In Faith
Weather you are a theist or an atheist, have you ever doubted your faith (or the lack of it)? Does having doubt not take you away from what you believe in?
In this Ted Talk, Lesley Hazleton, claims that doubt is essential to faith. In the absence of doubt one has all the answers and no questions.
She refers to the doubts that Prophet Mohammad had when he received the first revelation of the Koran on a mountain outside Mecca almost 1500 years ago.
In his own reported words, he was convinced at first that his experience was either a hallucination at best or a possession at worst.
Yes, he too had his doubts.
Lack of doubt is a sign of a fanaticism, not belief.
Watch the Talk here —
Here’s a quote worth pondering.
Man is the only animal on earth intelligent enough to invent God and foolish enough to believe in Him.
We find our gods in anything that inspires us, scares us or tells us a good story about our purpose of existence on this planet.
And we find our religion in anything that gives us a simple framework to think about the big bad world we inhabit.
Yes, we invent our gods, but it is indeed these invented gods that end up defining who we are as people. We act in accordance to the gods we believe in.
Our thoughts, values, and our philosophy of life is driven by our own personal religion and our own personal god.
In that sense, our gods are as real as our own selves.
Think about it.
If you liked what you just read, you might like an earlier post we wrote about religion—
The RBI on Friday predicted India’s GDP growth forecast to be negative in FY21. It also extended the loan moratorium by 3 months and reduce the repo rate by 40bps.
Amidst a contracting economy who do we entrust our hard earned money with becomes extremely important. The problem is almost impossible to solve.
Our friend Rahul Ramesh continues to examine the economic soup we find ourselves in during a growing pandemic. This is part 2 of a 3 part series he is writing on Covid economics. Its an insightful read, cleverly written, check it out —
Checkout part 1 he wrote last week — In Time
If you’ve received this post from a friend, hit the subscribe button below to receive this Wisdom Letter directly in your inbox next week. It will help you spend your Sundays wisely.
And if you are already a subscriber, please hit the heart icon at the bottom of this post to show us some love.
Wisdom is like love. It spreads when you share it with someone. Tell someone about this post and spread some wisdom :)
This was Wisdom Letter #38. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 37 letters, checkout our entire archive.
And if you’re wondering why we are doing this project, what is the point of it? checkout the intro post, it might make some sense!
Tell us what you liked or disliked about today’s letter. We really appreciate all the responses that we get and are hungry for more.
Hit reply and lets get talking. Or leave a comment.
If you are not sure how to consume all of the content we have shared here, checkout the ‘how-to’ post we wrote —
Aditi & Ayush
None of the links that we share here are affiliate links. We don’t intend to make money off of your purchases of any books or products that we recommend. These are honest recommendations that have worked for us and we share them without any ulterior motives.