When I was young I did not believe in traditional religions or God. I was a fan of Bertrand Russell and thought myself to be an agnostic. That is, I was of the view that the existence of God cannot be proved one way or the other and it was best to keep an open mind and not have any fixed beliefs.
Here are a couple of quotes by the master himself (Russell):
“If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.”
“There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dare not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.”
As you may have guessed Bertrand Russell believed in logic and reasoning and was a rationalist. He valued intellectual integrity above all things. His essay – Mysticism and Logic – is a classic.
Russell correctly identified the fear of death to be the main reason why men take to religion. He advocated clear thinking, courage and pride in our dignity as human beings to overcome this fear. Here is another quote from his writings taken from the essay – What I Believe.
“I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive. I am not young and I love life. But I should scorn to shiver with terror at the thought of annihilation. Happiness is nonetheless true happiness because it must come to an end, nor do thought and love lose their value because they are not everlasting. Many a man has borne himself proudly on the scaffold; surely the same pride should teach us to think truly about man’s place in the world. Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigour, and the great spaces have a splendour of their own.”
Yet despite these eloquent and inspiring words I have taken to practicing and believing in traditional religion. The following are my reasons for doing so:
Firstly Russell correctly identifies the fear of death to be the main reason for faulty reasoning by most people who take to religious faith. And he condemns this fear for he believed that all religions are false and harmful. But condemning the fear of death will not make it go away. It is not a solution to the problem. And the fear of death – when it comes – is so monstrous that almost everybody who is not a philosopher will start believing in God. As the English saying goes – There are no atheists in foxholes.
Which brings me to my second point. Russell would like the entire human race to become philosophers so as to do away with religion. But most people have no time for philosophy and many do not even know how to read and write. How can we expect them to practice intellectual integrity and do everything else that is required to become a thinker or a philosopher? They need organised religion to help them meet the challenges of life.
The third point is that religious faith has served humanity ever since the beginning of history. It has prevented anarchy; it has helped keep civilisation going. That sort of a track record over thousands of years commands our respect and we should be ready to examine these faiths and myths sympathetically.
Next – religious faiths and practices have produced many mystics over the centuries and continue to do so. This sort of a track record also commands respect from us. We should not automatically disbelieve them because they cannot be proved to be true by logical reasoning.
Next point is that although religious faiths cannot be proved to be true through logical reasoning they have not been conclusively proved to be false either.
Next point: I am a Chartered Accountant and know something about auditing accounts. When a CA does auditing work the first duty is to form an opinion regarding the willingness and ability of the management to maintain proper accounts and prepare financial statements that give a true and fair view of the finances of the enterprise. Similarly in the field of religious faith it is up to us to form an opinion about the prophets and mystics who have come up with the religious scriptures. It is my opinion that it is too much to believe that all the mystics who ever lived were frauds. Almost all have identical messages of truth, love and non violence. This common thread is evidence that they shared a common experience and that we can also have the same experience by following their path.
Next I believe that religious teachings are not really statement of truth. Truth has to be experienced and cannot be found through use of words and reasoning. Religious teachings are more like a map of the territory that you will have to journey through if you are to experience God. As such you cannot form an opinion of whether they work or not unless you have made the journey yourself. Follow the path and you will find out through personal experience whether they have lead you to the goal. Until that time your criticism of the scriptures will lack authority and experiential understanding.
Lastly it is widely known that people who have religious faith are less likely to commit suicide and suffer from mental ailments. As such they are better adapted to the environment they are living in. This is corroborative evidence supporting religious scriptures.
I’ll end here. Please explore this blog for more articles on Self Help, Spirituality and Politics. If you would like to contact me the link is below. Please feel free to comment if you liked my post or even if you didn’t. Feedback from my readers keeps me going.