Religion is almost as old as civilization. Starting from ancient pagan religions that worshiped nature and her forces to Zoroastrianism and religions practiced in the Mesopotamian civilizations, religion has thwarted human survival although at times wars have been fought in its name. I believe that having a religion or a belief in something that is beyond oneself is a very basic human instinct. Though man is the most intelligent creature, he does not understand a lot of things and that which cannot be understood is often feared. It is this inherent fear and uncertainty which leads man to reverence. A striking example is of the various lightning gods in ancient cultures like Greece’s Zeus, India’s Indra, Rome’s Jupiter and Thor of the Norse. Man did not understand why the sky would flare up in a bolt of thunder when it rained heavily. Sometimes, this thunder struck the ground and burnt trees down. It was this incomprehensible phenomenon which motivated people to then believe that there was a supernatural being who controlled lightning. Even the Sun disc is a fitting case. Before Copernicus, it was believed that the Sun went round the Earth because it was the Sun that appeared to traverse the sky. Man had no reason to explain this, why did the Sun move around the Earth? Thus the Greeks had Apollo, the Romans worshiped Sol, Ra was the Egyptian Sun god while Surya was venerated in India.
So a question arises as to why does man need religion? The answers are manifold as are the purposes of religion. First of all, religion brings a sense of reassurance to men; it enables them to believe that in the end, everything will turn out right if they have been righteous for God can control fate. Religion allows people to feel as if they belong to a group, a community where they feel wanted and secure. If one tries to contemplate why certain things happen and certain things do not, it is not hard to realise that humans have no answer. For example, if you throw a die and it lands on 1, one knows that the probability of the die landing on 1 is 1/6 but what no one knows is why the die did land on 1, why not 2, 3 or any other number. In essence, who or what chooses or determines the outcome of an event, is a question that our intellect cannot answer and that is why we come up with the idea of God and hold faith that He shall lead us onto good and happy lives.
The Modern Religion
Although the eras of blind superstition and irrational practices may have long been gone, at least in most parts of the world, religion continues to fulfill its basic purpose which is to bring satisfaction to men that there is someone watching over them, someone who will make everything right in the end. I believe that increasingly as science seems to take on religion that even the quest of theoretical physicists can be thought of as something very close to religion. The ultimate aim of the theoretical physicist is to come up with a theory, dubbed the Grand Unified Theory that can explain everything that happens or exists in the Universe – matter, energy, forces etc. I feel that this is a modern and rational approach to something that man has long sought. I believe that all the religions of the world are in essence attempts to describe our world. Although they have striking differences, I feel that the purpose of religion and science, in particular that of theoretical physics is quite close – to understand our existence and everything else around us. So although it may seem worlds apart, scientists working on string theory, ancient Greek philosophers and Indian pundits have a lot more in common than meets the eye.