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Religion sans ritualism can be boring

In his public speech at the opening of the Shirdi Saibaba Temple in Auckland on February 8, former Uttar Pradesh Director General of Police and ardent Saibaba devotee Dr Chandra Bhanu Sathpathy deplored ‘blind faith’ and ritualism.

He also told the editor of this newspaper during an earlier discussion that Temples are just architectural structures and that religion should be interpreted as culmination of humanity.

“Shirdi Saibaba did not believe in ostentation. He did not favour rituals,” Mr Satpathy said.

Most scholars and ardent devotees would not agree with his line of thinking, arguing that the God of every religion would expect ‘total surrender’ and obedience beyond question. The ‘follow me, obey me’ premise is as true of Jesus Christ and Allah as it is of Lord Krishna and Guru Granth Sahib.

One of the long-cherished ideologies is that rituals add excitement to events, and enhance the value of congregation. They also help increase the power of concentration and accept the supremacy of the Creator.

Mark Oppenheimer, a popular columnist said that religion responds to a deep, satisfying human need for ritual.

“It often organises the human quests for ethics and meaning; to think about the common good, the purpose of life and how to live. It has proven useful to use religious stories or theology.

Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, Ço-Founder of ‘Project Reason’ and author of ‘The End of Faith’ wanted people to question if religion is ever the best force for good at our disposal.

“I think the answer to this question is clearly no,’ because religion gives people bad reasons for being good where good reasons are available.

French Enlightenment writer François-Marie Arouet better known as Voltaire said, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.”

Leaving aside whether we actually did, can the same be said of religion? Most of the world’s population professes religious feelings of some sort, and these beliefs in turn underpin many strong communities, happy individuals and acts of charity.

Yet the world can be a very nasty place despite its preponderance of religious inhabitants. When faith curdles into dogmatism, it often leads to arrogance, intolerance and violence. In other words, religion is a force for bad as well as good and there is no simple metric with which to measure its net effect.

Its impact is often subtle.

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