Does Religion Impedes Progress? – Varghese Pamplanil.   

What a sincere attempt to help us go deep into the crux of truth? This is a write up which has authentic references and many highlights all the way. Thank you Shri Varghese Pamplani for your kind gesture of concern – Josph Mattappally (Asso. Editor)

Varghese Pamplanil

A recent paper on Scientific Advances presented in the USA, establishes beyond doubt that secularisation preceded  economic development in the 20th century. A Global  Gallup survey also confirms unequivocally the relationship between secularisation and economic development — the world’s poorest countries are the most religious, while the industrialised societies tend to be less religious than agrarian ones.

Organised, obdurate, obstinate, well entrenched religions such as the Catholic Church, have all along the human history, stood against and blocked progressive ideas. Even the findings of painstaking, meticulous empirical scientific experiments in the fields of biology, DNA, surgical procedures, medicines and other critical areas have had been sought to be  suppressed and anathematised by the Church. The Church seems to turn its face away from fresh ideas formed in the world at large. It tries to latch on tenaciously with its “so-called traditional values” even if they do not converge with the views of well thought out reasoning that emerges in the secular milieu.The adamant position of the Church that it’s dogmas and doctrines are “God dictated” and “immutable eternal truths” has landed it in a cul-de-sac with no obvious exit route.

Before the  Welfare State made its advent in the 20th century, religious organisations, no doubt, met at least partly,  society’s practical requirements and functions such as education and welfare. But when the modern State and prosperous societies/individuals took responsibility themselves  and started to discharge  these functions, religious bodies found themselves, irrelevant, marginalised and edged out. in this process religions seemed to have lost their locus standi.  

Despite a lifetime of experiencing ups and downs and vicissitudes, a person’s religious beliefs, by and large,  may remain unchanged from what he or she had absorbed in his/her formative years. They unwittingly carry fossilised versions of their beliefs imbibed in their childhood into the later years of their lives. Only those who take the trouble to think things through and analyse them criticality and logically, might change their perceptions.

Any human society is a cacophony of tangled causes, effects and plethoras of dynamic phenomena. The respect for the inalienable rights of individuals for freedom of thought, acceptance and recognition of individual  autonomy would facilitate the emergence of new ideas. Tolerance to deviations from the set prescriptions in the matter of  sexual orientations, contraception, abortion and divorces facilitate the creation of modern society. Societies will achieve  progress only when they show respect for individual rights. By their very nature, religious institutions are averse to changes. Religions often take the adamant position that their dogmas are absolute truths, revealed  by their gods directly to  certain chosen persons. This milieu makes it difficult  for religions to abandon and repudiate  even most preposterous dictums of theirs.

The world famous author, neuroscientist, psychologist, philosopher and podcaster Sam Benjamin Harris has come out with pathbreaking and widely accepted views on religion and other relevant issues. Incidentally many  ultra-conservative far right Christians had to make hasty retreats on confrontation with Harris. Those who tried to tangle with Harris escaped after being severely bruised; they had no option but to lick their wounds.

In his book “Letter to a Christian Nation” (2008) Harris observes — “Indeed religion allows people to imagine that their concerns are moral when they are highly immoral—that is, when pressing these concerns it inflicts unnecessary and appalling suffering on innocent human beings. This explains why Christians like yourself expend ‘moral’ energy opposing abortion than fighting genocide. It explains why you are more concerned about human embryos than about the life saving promise of stem-cell research. And it explains why you can preach against condom use in sub-Saharan Africa while millions die from AIDS there each year.” 

“While believing strongly without evidence, is considered a mark of madness or stupidity in any other area of our lives, faith in God still holds immense prestige in our society. Religion is the one area of our discourse where it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could be certain about. It is telling that this aura of nobility extends to those faiths that still have many subscribers. Any one caught worshipping Poseidon, even at sea, will be thought insane”.

“Norway, Iceland, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are the least religious societies on Earth. According to the United Nations, they are also the healthiest, as indicated by life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Insofar  as there is a crime problem in Western Europe, it is largely the product of immigration. Seventy per cent of the inmates of France’s jails, for instance, are Muslim…the fifty nations now ranked lowest in terms of the United Nation’s Human Development Index are unwaveringly religious….the United States is unique among wealthy democracies in its level of religious adherence; it is also uniquely beleaguered by high rates of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted decease, and infant mortality….within the United States itself: Southern and Midwestern states,  characterised by the highest level of religious literalism, are especially plagued by the above indicators of social dysfunction, while the comparatively secular states of the North East conform to European norms.”

“The truth however, is that the conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science”.

“The average Christian, in an average church, listen to an average Sunday sermon has achieved a level of arrogance simply unimaginable in scientific discourse”. (Sam Harris)

“It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion— to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious taboos, and religious diversions of scarce resources— is what makes the honest criticism of  religious faith a moral and intellectual necessity. Unfortunately expressing such criticism places the non-believer at the margins of society. By being in touch with reality, he appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbours”. 

Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us unwilling to criticise ideas that are increasingly maladaptive and patently ridiculous.”

“Countries with high level of atheism are also the most charitable both in terms of the percentage of their wealth they devote to social welfare programs and the percentage they give in aid of developing world. The dubious link between Christian liberalism and Christian values is belied by other indices of social equality. Consider the ratio of salaries paid to the top-tier CEOs and those paid to the same firm’s average employees. In Britain it is 24.1, in France,15.1, in Sweden,13.1, in the United States, where 80% of the population expects to be called before God on Judgment Day, it is 475.1. Many a camel, it would seem, expects to pass easily through the eye of the needle.”

Incidentally in his book “Waking Up” —“A Guide to Spirituality  Without Religion” (2014)  Sam Harris dwells upon , inter alia, secular spirituality (essentially within the context of “spiritual naturalism”). He rejects the dichotomy between spirituality and rationality. He seeks to define spirituality outside the influence of religion. His thinking:  spirituality should be understood in the light of scientific disciplines like neuroscience and psychology. He attempts to show that a certain form of spirituality is integral to understanding the nature of the mind. Harris writes that the purpose of spirituality (his version) are diverse; essentially it may bring forth happiness and insight into the nature of consciousness. He says spiritual discipline allows us to repeatedly recognise in our day to day lives that there is no self; instead there is an apprehension of “pure conscious- nenus”, a profoundly peaceful state independent of any sense of experience . He argues that this process of realisation is based on experience and not contingent on “faith”.   

Summing up

One of the major reasons for the social and economic backwardness of India could be the excess religiosity of its people. The large segment of our people is mired in ignorance and superstition. Our people appear to be  floundering in backwardness. Our neighbour China, which does not allow religion to call the shots and dominate the country’s social structure, is making rapid strides in the economic sphere. It is the hub of industrial activities. China’s material progress, albeit, happens in a more regimented atmosphere. But human spirit will seek expression at some point of time even in that country. This is what human history has shown. 

Come to think of it? Is it not the ground reality, that in our country,  UNFETTERED FREEDOM is the LUXURY of the ELITE? For the vast majority of our people condemned to the margins of the social sphere and body politic as “non-beings”  on account of the biological accident of their birth into the gutters of demeaned castes and classes. Their very  existence is a game of chance— the game of roulette? 

On our country, the time, energies and money  spent by almost every one:  governments and the people at large for the construction of mammoth and ostensible places of worship, appears to be prima  facie, unpardonable and unjustified.  Another wasteful expenditure is erecting huge statues of the heroes of the regimes in power. Instead if we care to  expend  our money and  efforts for social and economic improvement, facilities for modern educational system, empowerment of marginalised segments of our  society and especially of women, construction of habitable houses, provision of potable water and satisfactory sanitation facilities, adequate means of communication, good roads and up-gradation of  environment, it would do a world of good. Then who cares?

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