Among the sad ironies that rattle our world is the mindless prediction by some religious extremists that the world would come to an end of May 21, 2011. This was to happen, not by natural disasters, not by unrest in the Middle East, not by explosions of weapons of mass destruction, but by the intervention of a very party-minded God who would transport all Christians to the bliss of Heaven, and cast all Non-Christians into the depths of a climatically intolerable Hell with a capital H. If such a pronouncement had come from an intellectually challenged medieval soothsayer in the Dark Ages inhabited by ghosts and goblins, jinns and asuras, it would have been understandable. But the fact that it came from a so-called religious leader in a country regarded as scientifically advanced and that it received much public space and was taken pretty seriously by quite a few gullible folks reflects the low level of general scientific knowledge in a section of the citizenry. Ignorance of scientifically informed worldviews has the potential for spelling disaster: we seldom remember the horrors perpetrated in ages past as a result of preposterous fears of the supposed powers of the supernatural.
Similar absurdities infect the minds of millions all over the world, stirred by corresponding worldviews resulting from other unreformed and stagnant religious frameworks. In this context it is important, however, not to yield to the temptation of condemning any particular religion. Every religion has at its core not only belief in a God Almighty but also injunctions to love and hope, to serve and help, to care and be compassionate, and above all to be humble and reverential towards the unfathomable mystery of the universe that has made life and love and laughter possible. The real culprits for our religious mess are leaders who keep the minds of the masses in the fetters of blind beliefs of which they themselves are victims – beliefs that should be relegated to the archives of ill-considered ideas. Their instigation to persist in values no longer appropriate and visions no longer relevant goads many millions to servile adherence to ancient worldviews and sometimes to hurtful behavior. Such men have not moved much in knowledge or understanding since the distant days of the sages, messiahs and prophets whose spiritual charisma instigated the great religions of the world, but not every inspired insight they articulated deserves perpetual acceptance.
Not surprisingly, in our own times the tension between religion and anti-religion has been growing in intensity. Anti-religious movements are fed up with the lingering dross of traditional religions with all their untenable views, including the conviction that one’s own versions of God and the hereafter are superior to those of others which must therefore be decimated. So the New Atheists are coming with full force in their ardent desire to dismantle all religions, and in their relentless efforts to make ours a faith-free species. Such goals are as naïve, though less ridiculous, than the belief that humanity will be salvaged on such and such a date. They also ignore the many positive and necessary contributions of religions to humanity.
What we direly need, and may hope for, is a recognition on the part of influential religious leaders of all traditions that one can be anchored to any faith without subscribing to the fairy tales of humanity’s infancy. Prayer to an unfathomable Mystery in whatever form or by whatever name and in whatever traditional mode is surely possible without denigrating other forms and names and modes towards that Mystery, including the ones that are seen in the laws and equations of physics. To respect reason and to be guided by the visions of science can also lead to the religious experience. Perhaps this embarrassment might stir rational religionists to reflect more carefully, fruitfully and meaningfully on their own faith system.
May 21, 2011