What a startling statement! How can religion die? It appears that an explanation is necessary. We need to analyze this statement in order to arrive at a full meaning of what it implies.
Religions, in one form or another, has been in the world since antiquity. It appears that there in an innate urge to believe in some Superior Being or beings, or powers, which regulate the activities of the world, and the universe. This Supreme Being or power controls the activities of humans. Because people find themselves helpless in controlling the forces of nature, and birth and death, and various types of miseries, they feel impelled to believe that there is a power that is superior to humans, and this power has influence in all the activities in life and in nature. Since this superior power appears to be, or is, eternal, how does it make sense to talk about the death religion?
If we look around the world, we will see that there are many religions being practiced according to their particular doctrines and dogmas. Each religion has good teachings for the improvement of human welfare. Each teaches to have love for one another, and to be charitable to others. Each teaches to live a righteous life, and to be good at heart, and to be good human beings. Now look at the activities of the various people belonging to the various religions. What do you find? People behave, more or less, in the same way, no matter to which religion they belong. Their desires, motivations, aspirations, basic needs, passions, and other human attributes are the same. There are people in every religion who are dishonest, cheaters, hostile, prejudiced, selfish, fanatic, violent, along with other undesirable behaviour. Many of these same people will swear by their religion about their religiosity. Can we take their assertions at face value? When actions speak louder than words, can we interpret their actions as consistent with the teachings of their religion? Has religion failed these people, or have these people failed their religion? These are questions that need to be examined by everyone if religion is to have any meaning.
Dr. Julian Johnson talking about religions stated, “The poverty of all religions has been their inability to make God real to their devotees”. How do religions fail to make God real to their devotees? If you examine the ways in which religions are practiced, then you will find that the teachers of religion instruct the laity to attend their respective churches, to recite their prayers, and to sing hymns, to practice certain rites and rituals, to make offerings to the church, and to develop a common bond between their adherents. They instruct about doing good towards others. We can at once see that all of these things are external practices. The teachings of religions do not percolate down to the hearts of their devotees, and do not form the basis for the conduct of life. God is, obviously, universal spiritual being. How can religion make such a God real to humans? God dwells in the hearts of all beings. For religions to make God real to their devotees, they must teach them how to realize God in themselves, and in the hearts of all beings. But religions do not do this. The so called religious authorities and instructors seem to be content in teaching the paraphernalia of religion, rather than teaching the essence–the spirituality–which is the foundation of all religions. If this fact is not recognized by the religious authorities, then they cannot adequately instruct their devotees to follow “the living religion”. Religion is dying a slow death, being eroded from the inside. The heart of religion is becoming hollow. Religious principles are not being followed in life. Instead dogmatism, fanaticism, fundamentalism, bigotry, and religious isolationism are widely practiced. There was once the slogan “God is dead”. Karl Marx stated “religion is the opium of the people”. There are teachings about the Anti-Christ, the Devil, Satan and other nefarious powers corrupting the hearts of humanity. When God is the Supreme Power dwelling in the hearts of all, how can any negative power sway the heart of humanity away from God? If religions give power to such negative agents, then how can the power of God manifest in the hearts of humanity? Believers in religion do themselves an injustice, allowing themselves to be weak, or to be ignorant, for they do not see that the power of God is above the power of all negative agents. Swami Vivekananda stated, “Religion is the manifestation of divinity in man”. How can any negative power assail that divinity which is in the hearts of all beings? Once human beings have lost spirituality, they will continue to be deluded by the external trappings and negative teachings, and they will fail to obtain the positive benefits and teachings of the “true religion”. Voltaire stated, “The tolerance of all religions is a law of nature, stamped on the hearts of all men”. Do people realize that religion is stamped on their hearts? Do they realize that divinity dwells there? So long as they are not in touch with that divinity which dwells within them, they will be subject to all types of delusions and wrong teachings and thinking. A. C. Bouquet states, “The essential function of religion is to integrate life”. Is religion integrating the life of its adherents? If any thing, people are becoming more disintegrated in life. Everything in life is in high gear, moving at a rapid pace. Changes are occurring, and people have difficulty coping with their personal, social, economic and political lives. There is disintegration all around the world. People’s bodies, minds and souls are no longer working in harmony, so how can their lives be integrated? Certainly religion has not helped to integrate life.
Religion is supposed to bring peace, contentment, happiness and bliss. People certainly have not derived these benefits from their religions. The Upanishads of India states, “The Infinite is bliss; there is no bliss in what is finite”. The Infinite refers to the Supreme Being. Realization of this Supreme Being in one’s own heart is what brings peace, contentment and bliss. To be wrapped up in the finite and mundane cannot give bliss. They are only sources of problems if not understood from a spiritual view point. Lord Buddha stated, “The gift of religion exceeds all gifts; the sweetness of religion exceeds all sweetness; the delight of religion exceeds all delight; the extinction of thirst overcomes all things”. Do people realize that religion is their greatest gift, the greatest sweetness, the greatest delight and the quencher of all their materialistic thirsts? Certainly it does not appear so. Shri Ramakrishna stated, “The soul that has tasted the sweetness of divine bliss finds no happiness in the common pleasures of the world”. Has the human soul tasted the sweetness of divine bliss? People do not have bliss in their hearts; instead, they are pre-occupied with stresses, anxieties, depressions, and are swayed by materialistic forces. People have lost their spiritual bearings and self-mastery. They are forever seeking pleasure in external things, and suffer disappointments. They need to pay attention to the soul which is, according to Swami Vivekananda, “potentially divine”. Jesus stated, “What shall a man be profited if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul”. People all over the world are forfeiting their soul for their materialistic, worldly pursuits. Jesus also taught to “Love thy neighbor as thy self”. Is this occurring in the world? Look at the simple ten commandments such as “Honour thy father and thy mother”, and “Thou shall not kill”. How many people in the world are following these simple commandments? These are religious teachings. Mahatma Gandhi stated, “Every act has its spiritual, economic, and social implications. The spirit is not separate. It cannot be”. If people will accept that the spirit of God is in-dwelling, and allow that spirit to motivate their economic and social activities, then indeed they will be practicing true religion.
From the foregoing discussion, is it not proper to talk about the death of religion? Dr. Albert Schweitzer, writing about Christianity stated, “…it is accommodating itself to the spirit of the age by adopting a kind of modern worldliness. Like other organized bodies it is at work to make good, by ever stronger and more uniform organization, its claim to be a body justified by history and practical success. But just in proportion as it gains in external power it loses in spiritual”. Religion needs to gain in spiritual power, not external power. The spiritual power is gained by the realization of people of the divine power residing within their own hearts. Religion is indeed dying a slow death, as more and more material progress is being made. There are more and more people staying away from organized religion, because they find many inconsistencies, hypocrisies, limitations, and stifling of the spirit, which is free from dogmatism, fanaticism and fundamentalism. Guru Kabir stated, “Practice a virtuous, spiritual life for this is the only thing that will go with you”. Everything else we struggle for in this life will remain right here. But our good actions, in thought, word and deed, will be our companion when we depart from this physical body. They will constitute “the seed” which will bear fruit in the future, either in this life or in another life. The soul is eternal and will not cease to exist. But in order for God to manifest his consciousness as spirit in this world, the soul will continue to take on bodies as vehicles for the manifestation of God’s consciousness.
Dr. J. Das
Guru Kabir Association of Canada