This is the first article in Dr. Prabhakar Kamath’s latest series on Managing Life Without God and Religion In The Twenty First Century. Links to all articles in Dr. Kamath’s earlier series on Heretics, Rebels, Reformers and Revolutionaries can be found here. Dr. Kamath’s first series on The Truth About The Bhagavad Gita can be found here.
Today, the vast majority of people in the world use religion as a means to please their gods to fulfill their desires and protect them from various evils in their lives. Life is full of stressful events and problems, and religious rituals are tranquilizers for their stressed minds. Some of these rituals are so old that often even the priests officiating them do not know their true significance. Nor do they know how to sing Mantras (magical incantations) as priests did in the ancient times. Some of these rituals are daily, as when a Hindu prays god with Mantras every morning, or when a Muslim prays five times a day facing Mecca. Other rituals are occasional by tradition, such as Hindus worshiping Ganesha and Krishna once a year, or Muslims observing Ramadan annually, or Catholics celebrating Good Friday once a year. Still other rituals are event–specific, performed during stressful or happy occasions. For example, a politician might sponsor a grand Yajna after a loss of election to pray gods to get rid of his blemish (Dosha). Or, a Hindu father might perform a Yajna dedicated to Ganesha on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding to ward off evil.
Hallmark Of All Faithful People Is Their Mindless Behaviors
Very often, however, these worship-rituals, based on deep-rooted beliefs, become mindless behavioral patterns, without any conscious purpose or visible result in them. For example, a man might just utter Mantras repeatedly without knowing their actual meanings and useful purpose. Uttering the Mantra becomes an end in itself. A more recent example of this phenomenon is people singing Gayatri Mantra in public knowing nothing about its meaning or its original purpose. Religious leaders have brainwashed these people into believing that this Mantra is sacred, and that by mindlessly uttering them repeatedly one could get their desires fulfilled and get rid of evils. Such mindless behavior is a rule rather than exception in people who are staunchly devoted to their religion. Hordes of zombie-like devotees we see in Sai Baba’s ashram, singing Bhajans while bobbing their heads from one shoulder to the other, are prime examples of people who have lost all capacity to bring tranquility into their troubled mind without resorting to the above behavior. To calm themselves down, they use Sai Baba and his magic show as their tranquilizer. Because Sai Baba and his sycophantic cronies are totally incompetent to teach these devotees how to bring tranquility into their life by their own effort, they mislead them into performing rituals to appease gods; delude them with magic show, Bhajan, and other nonsense, and enrich themselves by taking full advantage of their ignorance and stupidity.
Religious leaders have obfuscated or ignored what little ancient pearls of wisdom and ethics there are in the ancient religious texts, simply because there is no money to be made by teaching wisdom and ethics to people. Swamis and Gurus of Hinduism, Ulamas and Mullahs of Islam, and Priests and Pastors of Christianity have diligently taught their followers various rituals, and reinforced them over the centuries, because they are profitable for them and their institutions. The obscene opulence one could see in the Vatican is an example of such systemic corruption of a religion. Because most religions have degenerated into profit-making businesses run by religious leaders and their corrupt bureaucracies, they have lost their ability to teach people proper life-management skills, and ethics in their dealings with others. The result is that there is a glaring disconnect between the practice of religion and practice of ethics and wisdom-based lifestyle. So, many highly religious people diligently and faithfully perform religious rituals in their private life, and yet indulge in blatantly unethical and antisocial activities without compunction. Indian politicians and bureaucrats of all religious faiths are prime examples of such blatantly obvious hypocrisy. In other words, all religions, without exception, have become shameless shams, and staunchly religious people have become mindless hypocrites.
Religion Is Deeply Entrenched As A Coping Mechanism
The reality is that religious people, who have come to depend on worshiping gods with rituals as a way of coping with life’s vicissitudes, would be completely at sea if they were suddenly deprived of gods and rituals. This is no different than an alcoholic becoming delirious when suddenly deprived of his daily dose of liquor. When Russia became an Atheist state following the October Revolution of 1917, religion went underground and Vodka became a major god. What Atheist Communists offered to Russian people, as an alternative to religion, was a repressive, corrupt and genocidal government, which further strengthened people’s dependence on religion as a tranquilizer. After the rotten-to-the core Soviet Regime collapsed under its own weight, religion came back in full force. Now over 85% of Russians, including former Communists practice religion as a tranquilizer for their troubled mind. The lesson from this example for Atheists and Secular Humanists is that unless people are gradually taught effective alternative methods of bringing tranquility into their minds, they will continue to resort to their primitive, deeply entrenched behavioral patterns, which give them some degree of peace of mind. Well-established behavioral patterns are extremely difficult to change, suppress or sublimate. Religious beliefs are far more difficult to eradicate than delusions of persecution or grandiosity of mentally ill people. Education and encouragement to resort to reasoning rather than rituals as a life-management tool should be the way to weaning people away from religion. Such education must begin at an early age. It is almost impossible to change grown-up people who proudly declare their ritual-ridden religion a way of life. When a Secular Humanist appealing to one’s reasoning is pitted against a Swami appealing to one’s base instincts, the former almost always loses. This no different than a counselor treating an alcoholic losing the battle to the alcoholic’s friend who takes his patient to a local bar after the counseling session.
The basic strategy should be to replace all irrational beliefs with rational ones by means of systematic education and promotion of reasoning. Obviously these strategies are more effective in children than in adults deluded by religion:
- To counter belief in a higher power, teach people that there is no higher power than a person’s Will.
- To counter worshiping gods to fulfill their desires, teach them that human beings are capable of fulfilling our desires by our own honest effort.
- To counter worshiping gods to protect them from evil, teach them that we humans are quite capable of protecting ourselves from evils that befall us.
- To counter people’s belief in supernatural evils, teach them that all evils (bad events and problems) have clearly identifiable causes.
- To counter people’s belief that they are helpless to change their Karma (deeds from their past lives), teach them that humans are capable of reducing misery in their lives by learning coping and managing skills.
- To counter their habit of performing fruitless rituals, teach them to redirect their energies to identifying and solving their hounding life problems.
- To counter people’s habit of wasting their wealth on temples and rituals, teach them to invest their wealth on education, social justice, environmental protection, clean government, and other activities in the service of humanity.
- To counter people’s irrational faith in ancient, fruitless rituals as the solution for their life problems in the 21st century world, teach them that the world has changed a lot over the past three thousand years and the problems of the modern world need more thoughtful, practical and result-oriented solutions.
- To counter people’s belief that their birth class (Jati) distinguishes them as superior or inferior to people of other birth classes, teach them that all people share the same DNA regardless their birth class, twice-born status, skin color, height, weight and other superficial stuff, and one’s conduct is all that matters in the society.
- To counter people’s blind belief in the sanctity of ancient scriptures such as the Vedas, Brahmanas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, etc., teach them that these scriptures are of historical interest only and most of what they contain is utterly irrelevant to managing life in the modern world.
Applying these strategies in the real world requires three steps:
- Educational material for knowledge and self-help.
- Classes, seminars and conferences to train voluntary educators.
- Volunteers to teach people coping skills, guide them to practice them, and empower them to solve their problems.
There are plenty of self-help books in the market, which have helped millions of people to varying degrees. Many of them contain generic “do this and do that” information. There are many people who offer seminars to people on varying subjects. People, such as Deepak Chopra, have profited enormously by marketing their own brand of “spiritual solutions” for man’s existential problems. The third step would require thousands of dedicated volunteers trained in teaching, guiding, empowering people in distress. The enormity of this step might be discouraging to Secular Humanists who want quick results. The truth is there are no short cuts in the business of reforming people. In my own practice, I have found it so hard to convince my clients to change their behavior even after they acknowledge that their behavior was the cause of their problem. No societal changes could be achieved without a significant number of people making sacrifices for the betterment of the society. This step might seem to readers as hopelessly anachronistic in the modern world of Internet, Facebook and Twitter. The reality is that the vast majority of people in India have no such luxury, and their sources of solace are false Swamis, greedy priests, crooked bureaucrats, unscrupulous politicians and quack doctors.
In this series, I will present the educational material only, which deals with the fundamentals of coping with and managing vicissitudes of life in the 21st century. The material that will be presented in the future articles are based on my 40-year-long psychiatric practice in the United States during which period I had the opportunity to evaluate and treat over thirty-five thousand patients. By its very nature, it is difficult to subject the human mind to exact scientific methods. Much of what I present in this series of articles will be based on my personal experience with, and observation of, middle class white people in the heartland of the United States.
The basic thesis that will be presented here applies to people of all nations with some modifications to suit cultural differences. There are many such differences between American and Indian culture. For example, Americans are mostly guilt-oriented whereas Indians are mostly shame-oriented. In the former case, one tends to do what he thinks is right; in the latter case one tends to do what one considers his community thinks is right. Americans have relatively clear-cut boundaries in their dealings with others; Indians tend to have rather blurred boundaries. For example, if you ask a question to an American woman, her husband respects her individuality and keeps his mouth shut. Almost invariably the Indian man answers the question put to his wife. Americans almost never argue when they know nothing about a subject; Indians almost always do. Americans tend to be open-minded to a new idea; Indians tend to be suspicious, cynical, skeptical and fatalistic. Americans are generally open when talking about their intimate feelings; Indians in general are highly secretive about their emotions. Even after taking into account these and many other cultural quirks, arguably (!) the basic thesis of the articles to follow is applicable to people of all cultures, races, nations and geographical locations. After all, we all come from the same stock of people before we left Africa relatively recently.
(To be continued)