Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Religion: Do we need it?



Just moved from one to the other

Religion has never ceased to fascinate me.  Probably because I have often been a victim of religion and the attitudes it breeds among people with whom I have been condemned to live.

It’s no wonder then that I placed a pre-publication order for A C Grayling’s latest book, The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism. The book was delivered promptly yesterday.  I have just started reading it.  And here are some of the thoughts that the book provoked in me.

“Religion is a pervasive fact of history, and has to be addressed as such,” says the author right on the first page. I loved that.  We can’t ignore religion, whether we are religious, agnostic or atheistic.  By the way, Grayling is a professor of philosophy at the New College of the Humanities, London, and author of many books.

In the introduction to his latest book Grayling argues that religion has contributed much to the suffering in the world.  Individuals have been left struggling with their sinfulness because of religion.  Nations and civilisations have been engulfed in war and atrocity because of religion. Inhuman acts of cruelty have been perpetrated on mankind by religions.  Burning of witches and heretics are not confined to the medieval darkness of human history.  “(H)omosexuals are hanged in Iran, adulterous women are beheaded in Afghanistan and stoned to death in Saudi Arabia, women and children are subordinated in fundamentalist households in the Bible Belt of the United States and in many parts of the Islamic world,” says Grayling. “Throughout history the religion-inspired suppression of women has robbed humanity of at least half its potential creativity and genius.” (Emphasis added unless otherwise stated)

Religion does provide much consolation to sincere believers.  I know many individuals for whom life would have been an unbearable misery were it not for the consolations provided by religion.  Karl Marx was right: religion is a good drug.  But Grayling says that “Whereas the consolations of religion are mainly personal, the burdens are social and political as well as personal.”  And therein lies the problem with religion.

Grayling goes on argue that religion belongs to “mankind’s less educated and knowledgeable” realms like magic and astrology.  He won’t agree with those who argue that it is not religion that is at fault for the atrocities committed in its name but those who misuse it.  Grayling rightly argues that if religion is misused so much then it is high time that we went beyond it.

The first half of Grayling’s book is a critique of religion while the second half offers a viable alternative.  The alternative is clear from the title of the book: Humanism. 

I have just started reading the book and I am delving passionately into it.  More will surely follow.

[I’m still fighting my case with connectindia.in.  I sincerely look forward to a world that allows me to indulge myself more fruitfully.]

24 comments:

  1. People usually write reviews once they have finished reading a book. But here, I see someone relishing every piece of the book! Good!

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    1. I would have waited to complete the reading before writing about it. But the introduction provoked me much. I find the book quite irresistible as I proceed with it.

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  2. Pervasive account of history. These lines are gospel truth about religion. Religion chronicles a way of life for a certain era. In that era it worked but when the same way is carried forward to a time where it is highly irrelevant bigotry is a common by product. Loved ur piece inspiring me to buy the book already. Do keep us posted now :)

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    1. Yes, Richa, in fact, Grayling himself says that religion is inescapably conditioned by history. It is quite absurd to carry it forward when times and realities change. How can the laws made 2000 years ago be valid today? (There may be a few exceptions, I agree.)

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  3. I am keen to read a learned like minded writer !! Thanks for this wonderful post at the very beginning .. It makes so much sense and my thoughts on religions and the ills of it are identical.

    Plz inform about connectindia issue

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    1. I'm sure you will enjoy Grayling's book.

      Connectindia called me yesterday when I sent them a copy of my submission to my bank. They have promised to activate my account latest by today. Let me see. I'm writing about this publicly because I want the public to know about connectindia.

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  4. looks like, i should read the complete book. Your review is very good and alluring me to read it. I suppose you would have read the book, the God delusion by Richard Dawkins.

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    1. I read God Delusion and had a personal copy too which a student of mine took away. [Gone are those days when students used to gift things to teachers :)]

      Grayling mentions Dawkins in his book.

      I didn't like Dawkins very much because he is too much like me: too frontal in attacking. :)

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    2. I liked Dawkins . I have to read Grayling. thanks for sharing about the book, teacher

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  5. Looks like my kind of book :)

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    1. Go ahead, Jahid, and wish you the best of reading with it. Isn't it mere coincidence that I posted this on the day Asghar Ali Engineer died?

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  6. The author seems unbiased. Would love to read it.

    Thank you for writing about it.

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    1. Do read - that's all I can say. Philosophy deserves to be resurrected.

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  7. Intrigued by your review of the first part......so many thoughts crossing my mind...now can't wait to read the book. Thanks for the review.

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    1. It isn't a review really. An introduction.

      Glad it provoked you into a desire to read the book. The book deserves to be read. At least Grayling's arguments deserve a hearing.

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  8. "I know many individuals for whom life would have been an unbearable misery were it not for the consolations provided by religion." - Well, I would respond that these very same "consolations" must have turned up as more severe misery! If someone sympathizes with you, that is consolation. But, religion forces you to sympathize with yourself. This is about the severest form of misery.

    RE

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    1. Absolutely right, Raghuram. Religion is a perversion.

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  9. Yes, religion is created by the people and the disputes that followed were also created by the same people. I personally, am not against people following any religion faithfully but the kind of restrictions they press on others is just not correct. So much of art work and talent goes waste because of these religious beliefs. And specially in India and Pakistan, people are so much drowned into this ocean that even law is pushed back.

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    1. In the final analysis, Ashish, religion contributes very little. It's better to eliminate religion altogether from the human world and teach people to use their brains (and also their hearts, of course).

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  10. Yes, the author is right that we need to go beyond religion to be humane; but I have one question, are we ready to make the move? Have we learnt enough from our history to see our sorry ways? No, I don't think so. Even though these thoughts deserve to be put in action, it will be decades, if not centuries, for the society to mature.

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    1. It wouldn't be so difficult, nor would it take so much time, if our leaders were a little enlightened. If we had good policy makers.

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    2. But then these leaders are also human beings, who are as easily influenced by materialistic and goals as a normal human. Those who are really above all these things rarely bother. So we are back to the square one, aren't we? We keep on making noise about war cruelties, injustices, rapes, but what happens at the end? Do we get results? In the name of God, all evils things created by humans exist. Even though most of us are aware of it, what do we do to stop it? Wait and sit out for somebody to come and change things. If we are so aware, why do we need policies for that? Can't we follow the right things on our own?

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    3. Yes, Pankti, we CAN follow the right things on our own. In fact, the author, Grayling, says in the second part of his book that Humanism is the alternative to religion and Humanism is about following our own truths genuinely and respecting the truths of others.

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  11. This is a great book indeed. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Grayling is less upfront in his 'attacks' as compared to Dawkins or Hitchens.

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