Ever since the dawn of mankind, he has looked up to the skies in veneration. He wondered who made everything around him the way it was and what fire, thunder, earth and water were made of; why did the Sun rise every morning and what made the heavens pour? Then the concept of a God, a supernatural, all-powerful and omnipresent entity who created everything and wrote the destinies of every man, was born. And so, religion took on one of the most important roles in humanity’s tale of success. What started, arguably, to promote morality and understand nature itself, soon transformed into a force so strong that it crumbled everything that challenged its supremacy. Undoubtedly, religion compelled every man to fear God, show compassion for fellows and fulfill God’s wish by being a scrupulous and just person. However for all the good that religion led to, it also created divides among people and societies. The question remains as to which side of religion was more powerful. I believe that ultimately, there was more evil in the world because of religion than good. For nearly 200 years from 1095 to 1291, a series of gruesome wars were fought – the Crusades, for the control of the so-called “Holy Land” claimed by both Islam and Christianity as its own divine right. Thousands were slaughtered and entire cities destroyed in the name of God. As Christianity became more powerful, the Church imposed severe measures on disbelievers and dissidents. During the Dark Ages in Europe, several “blasphemous” men were claimed to be possessed by the devil and burnt at the stake, women were branded witches and tortured to death. Even during the Renaissance, the Church refused to relinquish any of its power, now confronting a new enemy that was not another religion but rationality itself – science. As intellectuals like Galileo and Copernicus made remarkable strides in understanding our universe, the Church called them heretics and punished them with vengeance. But the destruction and violence emanating from religious fanaticism is not something ancient, we see it today in our “modern” world. Jihad or the holy war of the Muslims, ravages in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Events like 9/11 and terrorist attacks in every corner of the world, including India, are testimony to the growing clout of religious propaganda and its power to bring societies at loggerheads with each other. Some argue that this is not a flaw of religion itself but a misrepresentation of its message of peace by religious heads who pursue other vested interests. But, I tend to disagree – that may very well be part of the problem but is not the entire issue. The fact is that religion is fundamentally divisive and seldom unites. Bear in mind, that uniting against another group is at the end of the day, factious as far as humanity as a whole is concerned. For example, religion can be used to divide a multicultural society into distinct groups, like Muslims being separated from British India to form Pakistan – an event whose tragic legacy we endure to this day. But this does not mean that a Muslim or a Christian will necessarily be nice to another Muslim or Christian yet religion is used as a factor to wage wars against other religions, as was the case in the recent bombing of a church in Egypt this Christmas.
Religion often does not do the very thing it claims to exist for – to bring people closer to God (or indirectly to a greater truth). The fact is that a practicing Christian goes to the Reverend or the Father in church, a Muslim reveres the Imam while a Hindu venerates the Pundit. It is not often the case that religion is the way it should ideally be – personal. Nothing should stand between a man and his God and the fact that almost always there is the “interpreter” leads to religion causing hatred and discord in human society. But usually it is religion itself that grants credibility to certain people as being the bridge between the human and the divine – the ones who show people the path to salvation and to God Himself.
It will certainly will be a sweeping generalization if I were to believe that my arguments are valid for all cases at all times – perhaps it will be the very kind of bigotry that I stand to criticize. For there are examples abound of the ways in which religion can be a positive influence on people’s lives. During the era of discovery, Christian missionaries would bring aid and health-care to the natives of the New World. Even today, organizations and charities like the YMCA, ISKCON, Christian Aid and the Salvation Army tirelessly help people in need. But the last word on this matter is that religion can be the most destructive of man’s creations. And it is up to the people to decide on how to use it. It is hard but not impossible to pursue the cause of making religion what it set out to be – a force of good.
*This piece has been selected as the Winning Entry of the Day for the ‘Viewspaper Express Yourself Writing Competition’*