What is Religion? – Part 2

This is part two of a two-part series in which we explore religion from the eyes of the religious. Read Part 1 here and reflection on the series here.

If you did, in fact, read Part 1, then here is a brief introduction to this series to refresh your tired mind. Our pal Nik proposed a fascinating undertaking: how do religious people respond to the general queries and scepticism around religion? It has taken us a fair amount of time to gather responses from a variety of sources, all from varied faiths and backgrounds, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism and spirituality in general. We hope you are able to take something from it, whether that is a greater understanding of religion as a whole, or a strengthening of your own beliefs. Thank yous are due to everybody who took the time to respond: Rajesh Katkoria, Hetakshi Kurani, Sanjiv Gandhi, Jagruti Gandhi, Apphia Armon and many others.

Nik identifies as an atheist, stating that his ‘last three years at university has not only softened [his] sometimes-militant stance on religion but also educated [him] a great deal on a subject that [he] freely admit[s] [he] knew far less about than first thought.’ However, he is also aware that he sometimes lacks empathy when discussing the subject, and therefore hopes that the following questions and answers will go some way to increasing our collective understanding of the reasons and rhymes for religious beliefs.

Most religious texts dictate that non-believers are destined for hell. How, if at all, does this affect your relationship with any friends you have who aren’t religious?

This is a very bold statement without fact. Jainism tells one to keep an open mind and respect others’ perspectives and beliefs. Jainism does not dictate that non-believers are destined for hell or Jains are destined to heaven for that matter. Fortunately, I have friends of varied colour and religions. It has not affected relationships because, a) religion is a private matter. I do not preach but do listen to others ideas, and b) religion/beliefs must not be forced but one must (when ready) be drawn to it.Jainism does not preach to convert others. It teaches us to be human (Non- Violence, Non-Possessivenes). We claim to be human but in reality are lot worse than animals who do not hunt to hoard massive amounts, nor harm other animals/plants unless for food. Look what humans are doing in Syria, Libya, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. Do one see animals doing so? – Jain

It has never affected my relationship with any friend or foe, for that matter. I firmly believe in “No compulsion in religion” and “Humanity first”. Given an opportunity to serve or help someone, I would look for the need of that person, not his/her faith. For me, friendship is about personality match. There are no prior religious, agnostic or atheist verification for my friendship. – Muslim

In the same vein, does it make sense that, according to most Abrahamic texts, a moral non-believer will be sent to hell whilst an immoral believer who ‘accepts God’ before death will be sent to heaven?

No it makes no sense at all, but it’s not good deeds that gets someone to heaven – good deeds have nothing to do with it. It’s only through Jesus that someone would be able to get to heaven. And through knowing Jesus your life should completely transform and you would become that ‘moral person’. Obviously this complete transition is difficult when you’re already on your deathbed, but at the end of the day we can’t actually say who is in heaven and who isn’t. What is going on in people’s hearts is between them and God, and if we believe that he is a good and just God then each person shall be judged justly. – Christian

To the believers it does. Most Abrahamic scholars may agree. Many also believe that towards the end, people accept God.  I have no idea. – Muslim

Is any part of your belief based around fear of the god whom you worship? If so, do you feel that could be considered unhealthy?

Religion is about controlling by abstract fear. Yes, If I harm other living beings (killing by words or deeds, stealing), then I should fear God. And no, it is not unhealthy. If there was no fear, people would be killing to get what they want: someone’s daughter or wife, stealing someone’s hard-earned cash or material possessions. Today, the organised religion in the West is Law and Order. Do we fear Law and Police? Yes, it stops majority of killing and stealing. Is that unhealthy? Certainly not. – Jain

Absolutely we are meant to fear God, it says so many times in the Bible! But we should fear him – not be scared of him. You can liken it to the type of fear you would have of your parents when you were a child; the kind of fear where you know that your parents love for you is unconditional but that they will discipline you to teach you. However, other parts of my belief aren’t about fear at all! God teaches us not to be scared of anything, but in everything come to him in prayer. We should fear Him and follow His word, but we should not be scared of the world. It’s the same with death, I do not fear death because I know where I’m going. My belief gives me hope. – Christian

For me, it is the compassion and mercy and my own personal experience. Praying is like that, in that makes me more disciplined and focused. – Muslim

The level of suffering in the world is extremely high, how can one claim that an all-powerful’ god can also be a ‘good’ god?

Ah, the most commonly asked question of all – I’m surprised it wasn’t the first on the list. It’s a difficult question to answer because there are so many counter arguments, which is probably why it is so popular. My answer is that God is not the creator of evil and suffering; in Genesis it talks about his creation of the world, Adam and Eve and how it was ‘good’ – I’m sure that’s how God wanted the world to be. God created love and joy; in fact in 1 John 4:8 it says that God IS Love. But he also gave us free will so that we can choose who and when to love someone or something. If God had decided not to give us free will and to create a world where we were all forced to love him, then would we really love him? Or would we be living that life because we had been programmed to do so? God is searching after relationship with people, not after minions.

Unfortunately it was this free will which led to sin, because we can choose to fight, to hurt, to argue, to CAUSE suffering. Or we can choose to love. Basically there is suffering in the world because we, as human beings, can choose to cause it. Not because God isn’t good.

I have experienced suffering in my own life, and in fact it’s during these times that I have drawn closer to God because I know that He loves me, and He gives me peace and comfort.

Philippians 4:12-13 “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Christian

Most religions that I have studied believe God as the creator and also destroyer. I guess, destruction is needed for the next cycle to emerge. Since it is needed for the next cycle,there has to be some form of destruction. I keep discussing this with several friends and my spouse. I haven’t found a satisfying answer yet. – Muslim

The concept of religion emerged at a time of when human understanding of the world and universe was extremely low. Should we reevaluate or reinterpret religions’ teachings in a 21st century context?

Definitely. But who is to determine that re-evaluation or re-interpretation is final? Once something set in stone (Law & Order today), that becomes religion… in time, it may be proved wrong!

Look at Brexit as an example. Clearly there were very good and sound reasons why the European Union was designed and formed for peace. Yet, here we are at a crossroads. We want the EU religion but only that which is beneficial to us! Take the four wives principle in Islam as an example:

    If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of  your

choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with

them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more

suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.

The Verse was written after the Battle of Uhud, in which many Muslim men were killed, leaving widows and orphans. There was concern for the welfare of women and orphans who were left without husbands and fathers who died fighting for the Prophet/Islam. This is about compassion towards women and their children; it is not about men or their sexuality.” Yet today the intended reasoning is gone out of window; instead because one has wealth, marry more than once who are neither widows nor orphans! – Jain

World and Universe exploration is about present life. If one does not believe in soul, physical body ends with science. Religious text has always been discussed by scholars and individuals in every era. 21st century is no exception. Every generation has produced religious scholars, so I am sure there has been interpretation and discussion within religion and inter-faith also.– Muslim

Relatively simple answer from a religious point of view. Although we know far more about the mechanics of the world and how it works, we are no closer to understanding the purpose of human life (scientifically). Unless you believe in chaos theory as an explanation of human existence, or the number 42. – Muslim