For many of us, religion is a free goodie bag that you get from the supermarket. You can live without it. You necessarily didn’t pay for it. But because you are born, society wants to give you a welcome gift, a complimentary voucher of religion. We take it under the guise of free merchandise. But like someone very smart said, “Nothing in life comes for free.”
I have a hard time with the concept of religion. Not with God. But with religion. They are mutually exclusive. Yes, both of them are human-made. Yes, both of them are contested. And yet there are millions of people, scores of them, whose life revolves around the free goodie bag.
Coming from an inter-religious household, I have had the privilege to question everything. My parents, thankfully, left the choice to us, what we wanted to follow, and never forced any of us to support their respective religions. We did celebrate the festivals, but it mostly had to do with plates of food, than with the pages of a book.
I see my family and friends who have grown up in a single faith household, and I am in awe how they function without the fluidity that my sisters and I were given. Do they have the same questions as I do? Do they agree or disagree with what is written? Or what is said about certain religions? Is it suffocating? Is it boring? Is it monotonous? Is it beautiful? No confusion? Are their behaviors influenced by the religion they follow? The lovers they take?
For a brief time as well, during my high school, I declared myself to be an atheist. Two reasons. One, I had so many problems and questions that I believed that I wasn’t a good devotee. How can I be? And secondly, I was trying to be cool. You know those ridiculously embarrassing kids at school who think they know everything. I was one of them. Hello, nice to meet you.
Then somewhere along the way, I started observing what all people did in the name of religion. Roll around on a heated stone ground with folded arms, chanting endlessly in praise of God, and my personal favorite, buying your way to salvation. You know religion has to be human-made when there is money involved. Come on, bro, stop lying to us. You are telling me your God needs a full diamond and gold makeover? You are telling me your Gods can’t sleep at night if they don’t have money in those trunks? You are telling me that only if I confess, my sins are cleaned, and I am pure? You are telling me that if I have a couple of not-so-fancy friendship bands on my wrist, I will ace the test? You are telling me that if I break a coconut, my wishes will come true? You are telling me that I have to live a good life so that I can get judged by Mr. God, whether I am good or bad? And don’t even start with me, if you say God is a man on top. Well, probably so, if it were a woman, the world wouldn’t be this bad.
When I go for house warming, wedding, and funeral ceremonies, I don’t understand how religion is the crux of life’s most important moments. I mean, I get praying every day and night. Still, something about religion’s dictatorship makes me not want to attend it. There is a specific time that all of these things have to play out. There is a certain angle, a ritual, a routine that one has to adhere to. There are scriptures that you read, verses that you repeat, and possibly don’t know the depth of. There is a certain placement of things. Certain vows deliberately put women inferior to a man. Most people like that there is this semblance of order within the chaos. Something that you can fall back onto. I am not going to pretend to sit on a high horse and question the point of everything. For me, when religion becomes dogmatic, I get claustrophobic.
I need space to breathe. I don’t need to show my faith by showing up. I don’t need to say prayers in a specific order to get my point across. I don’t need to fall at anybody’s feet. I don’t need to bow down before a pastor. I don’t need to be told to move when a priest passes my way, lest I “pollute” him. I don’t need to stand in line for two days to catch a glimpse of God if there is such a thing.
Religion functions by saying that we need to surrender our lives to God. That He will take care of us. That our lives are written. That we can rely on his will. Right. The debate between free will and fate has been ongoing for centuries now. And that’s another feature, altogether.
If life has taught me anything, it is to not depend on anybody. Even if it is a God who looks like Tom Hardy.
I find it bizarre that people submit their lives to God. Is that why it is called faith? That you are willing to hold someone’s hand, not knowing if they will help you or not?
My uncle told me a story when I posed such a question. He said one day, a man came to the mosque to pray. He had a donkey with him. Even if you are praying for a good life, you still need to tether and tie the donkey somewhere. You still need to do your part when you are with God.
And my gifted professor always told us that religious scripts are not to be taken under reason. They are for insight, and nothing more.
Everyone says there is only one God. Found under different aliases. If that is the case, I pray that people see him/her/it along the way, and not like the free goodie bag you are stuck with, from the supermarket.
Featured Image Credits: Azra Bhagat