Recently I came across this extremely informative, thought provoking and useful blog, written by a journalist who is interested in psychology as well. The blog is called You Are Not So Smart. I strongly recommend subscribing to this blog as well as going through all the previous posts. Anyway, a few months back, I came across an article about Coffee in the same blog. The post was as mind altering and paradigm shift initiating as many of the previous articles I had read in there. I am not going to be summarizing that post in here. It is worth a read in its entirety. But as the title suggests, what I WILL be doing is to explain why practicing any religious activity is like drinking coffee.
And before I start out, let me assure you that this post is worth a read only if you are open to possibilities different from what you may be accustomed to. So while non-believers will (and perhaps should) have absolutely no issue in seeing my point of view, I wouldn’t be surprised if all the believers who read this post strongly disagree with me. I wont exactly call myself an atheist but I am kind of hovering around the edge of late. And some of my realizations are now getting manifested in this post.
Anyway, before I digress to the point of you closing this window/tab, let me get to the point.
All of us at some point of time, or perhaps even now, would have gone to temples, churches or other places of worship. You would have also prayed at home soon after taking bath, perhaps prostrating yourself in front of some God photographs, praying that the day go well for you. You may have the habit of praying to God when you are about to embark on something important for the day. You may even go to Sunday masses or some other religious/spiritual gathering on a regular basis. Perhaps you may even make that trip to Tirupathi/Shabarimala/Haridwara/Hrishikesh etc once in a while, donating money to the God and praying for good health and peace of you and your family members or maybe as a gesture of gratitude for some good luck that may have come your way. Maybe you make the effort to wake up early in the morning just so you perform a particular religious activity at the auspicious time. You or your family members may hold one or more religious ceremonies at your home once in a while, inviting family and friends for the occasion. You would probably have the habit of fasting on certain days or if you are a non- vegetarian, you make sure not to eat meat on certain days of the week or month.
The list is endless and I am sure you can add your own specific activities to that list. We may not have (or in my case, will probably never have) a fully convincing reason for doing all the things that I have listed above but we still do it because we believe that there must be SOME reason for it. (Rest assured, my argument is not going to question the validity of the ‘reason’. ) We do not thoroughly inquire about this reason because our belief accommodates the possibility that the actual reason is ‘out there’ in some scriptures or in some other religious book. Fair enough. And so whatever may be the ‘reason’, we continue to perform some or the other religious activities on a regular or irregular basis.
Continuing in the same train of thought, the logically correct thing to discuss next would be how performing these religious activities influence us.
Our parents have constantly reminded us that performing these religious activities help us in many direct ways such as improving our concentration, discipline, control of mind and in reducing distractions. And it would probably have come as no surprise when we found friends or other fellow students who were religious and were able to focus on the task at hand and not yield to short term temptations. ( Whether or not they ‘scored’ well was a different issue altogether.) Perhaps our parents would have even taken their examples to teach us the usefulness and importance of performing religious/spiritual activities. Again, fair enough.
But there is a fundamental flaw in the whole matter. You see, correlating the discipline and the ability to focus to the regularity and/or sincerity of the performance of religious activities is valid. And I also believe that this does exist very predominantly. But claiming that the performance of RELIGIOUS activities is the actual CAUSE for that discipline and focus is completely and utterly false.
Let me elaborate.
You see, discipline and focus stems not from the regular performance of ‘religious’ activities. They stem from the regular performance of ANY constructive activity. And since we have been told from our childhood that ‘religious’ activities are, by default, the most constructive activity, they also tend to yield the same results.
We wake up in the morning, take bath, go to the Sacred Pooja room and spend some time praying to God and asking for his blessings in all our deeds and actions. We do this mainly because we have been told from our childhood that we are SUPPOSED to be doing it for whatever ‘reason’ that we spoke about earlier. We go about doing all the other activities in the list above at some regularity and we do it because there is SOME reason for it and we are SUPPOSED to be doing it. Whether you actually find out what this reason is is totally irrelevant. You will continue to do the same activities either way.
So what happens when you do these activities on a regular basis? You are essentially doing something, which in your mind, you are SUPPOSED to be doing and which you perceive to be constructive. And what happens when ANYONE does ANYTHING constructive that they are ‘supposed’ to be doing? Its simple. They gain some happiness. They increase their self esteem. They become more confident about themselves. And as a consequence, we can see them get more disciplined and focused in their work and studies.
Think of it. Instead of being told to perform the early morning ceremonies without fail, what if our parents had pushed us to take an early morning jog or walk everyday? If that had become part of our daily activities, then we would have reaped the same rewards as performing religious activities on a regular basis. Hell! We would have in fact reaped a lot more rewards in the long term. Our fitness levels would have increased, our body gets healthier, a lot lesser number of people would have diabetes and most significantly, it would have vastly reduced the number of pot bellied middle aged uncles in our families!
There are so many more activities that one can think of, which if performed regularly, would not only improve our discipline, focus, self esteem and confidence, but also provide benefits in a lot more ways as well. We could explore our hobbies, passions and interests which definitely yield a lot more tangible results than religious activities.
And this is where the idea of drinking coffee comes in.
You see, coffee does not really stimulate you. If you have read the article, you would have understood what I am trying to say. It only temporarily cures your withdrawal symptoms that arise from the effects of the previous cup of coffee wearing off. Caffeine replaces adenosine, the chemical required to induce sleep in the body, in the receptor sites in the brain and makes you feel stimulated. The way the brain responds is by creating a lot more sites having a lot more adenosine which makes you feel a lot more sleepy, thereby requiring you to consume a lot more Coffee to just feel Normal. And everytime you drink coffee, this effects adds up and you end up getting addicted to it.
So how is this analogous to our present discussion? Think of it. If you at any point of time, stop performing religious activities, you will feel crappy about it. You will feel crappy about it because you believe you are NOT doing something that you are supposed to be doing. And if you become extremely irregular in doing those activities, you begin to lose your confidence in yourself, your self esteem and ultimately your discipline and focus takes a beating, which may end up reflecting at your work or in your studies.
And so to ‘fix’ this, you end up performing more religious activities. More activities, because you believe you have neglected your duties and that you need to make up for it. And it makes you feel happy for a while, thus getting you back to ‘normal’. After this, you will feel even more crappy if you end up becoming irregular at performing those religious activities. This time it will be worse because you will take your previous neglecting into account here as well, thus making a bigger neglect of duty. And after this reaches a certain point, you go perform some other (maybe bigger) religious activity wherein you pray to God to condone your neglect of duty- here duty being performing some or the other religious activity that you were expected to do on a regular basis.
And thus, this vicious cycle goes on and on and on. You will continue to do the activities for the same reason (or the lack thereof) you have been doing from the beginning: just because you are SUPPOSED to.
If any believer or a religious reader points out that this kind of a phenomenon is possible with ANY other kind of activity as well, then he is essentially retreating to the “Not only mine, but even your examples are wrong!” line of argument. There is just one problem with this argument. If you argue this way, you yourself are essentially negating the very things about religion that I am contesting! In other words, if you argue this way, then you are essentially accepting that all religious activities are for the sole purpose of generating discipline and focus among people through the performance of religious activities. This way, there is no higher REASON that needs to be found in any scripture or religious book.
But come to think of it, there is a much larger implication in all of this. In the entire post, I have never argued the fact that the generation of discipline and focus among religious people can be correlated to their regular and sincere performance of religious activity. But lets take it a bit further.
It is extremely plausible that religion and religious activities started out with this very intention- the intention to help people generate more discipline, focus and self esteem, thus leading to a more civilized society. Random people over the centuries preaching the masses that they are ‘supposed’ to be doing these activities, failing which, they will accrue sins for neglecting to do the same. Every single religion on this planet expects its followers to perform some or the other religious activity which gives rise to the whole phenomenon that I have described here. But over time, this original idea takes a beating and religion becomes what it is today. This, of course, directly implies that religion is man made!
As much as I have come to accept this in recent times, the high levels of logical certainty that exists in that statement is really daunting and scary. Especially if you look around at the scale of violence that is occurring in the name of religion. But that is for another day.
I am open to reason. I do not consider faith as a good enough substitute for reason. Feel free to leave any comments arguing my line of thinking. But please make some effort at least to include some reason in them.