RELIGIOUSNESS OR RIGHTEOUSNESS – WHAT DO WE NEED TO LOOK FOR?

The world is not only crowded with religious Gurus. Moreover, it is crowded with the Good Samaritans and one of those Good Samaritan IS IN MY LIFE.

In my childhood, my family went through a too hard phase of life. If I can sketch that phase with an exemplary picture, the picture would be “the house of cards crashing down at once”. It was such a phase that unmasked many of our trusted friends & relatives, the intention of their heart, the intensity of their love, their secret scheme in relationship but among all of them one person and their family stood as a Good Samaritan for us. Neither biologically nor religiously they are our relatives, we just have friendship relation. As I revisit that phase of my family, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in reference to the parable of the Bible “The Good Samaritan” is too appealing to me –

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was:

‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’

But… the Good Samaritan reversed the question:

‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’

Surely, the goodness of the Good Samaritan made it evident for God to teach us “GO & DO LIKEWISE.” In God’s understanding the act of the Good Samaritan is counted as “righteousness” whereas the attitude of the thoughts of the Priest and the Levite in the story maybe counted as Religious but not righteous

The root meaning of the word “RIGHTEOUSNESS” is the character trait or quality of being just or right in the eyes of God and human beings. Raising above the meaning, in spiritual context God has called us (men & women) for “RIGHTEOUSNESS” and with this very intention God has created men & women in His image (the spiritual image of Wisdom, Knowledge, & Understanding) to be righteous. As God’s expectation from us is, we would be found blameless, holy, and free from all kinds of accusations in His sight.

Righteousness is not merely obedience in performing religious duties, abiding by the religious traditions & rituals, chanting prayers, and sacred words. Moreover, it is experiencing the love of God by loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul since God loved us in such a manner that He sacrificed His begotten son for us. Secondly, exhibiting God’s love by loving every human being as we love ourselves. All other laws, rituals, and religiosity is below this standard of living.

The intent of righteousness is the restoration of the relationship. Righteousness is exclusive in it’s demands but inclusive in its outputs. For the Good Samaritan for my family amidst of his struggles, his righteous act demanded him to go many extra-miles just to help us but the result of his righteousness included two generations though they belong to two different religions – Hinduism & Christianity. The Bible stamps out such teaching saying,  

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,

and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

Well, considering the present global scenario of religious insecurity and religious hatred the profound question is “If God has created us for righteousness and it is only the righteous lifestyle that God excepts from us, then why people are so much into a religious war and religious violence citing the protection of their religions?

NOW globally more than 61 nations are experiencing a high incidence of hostilities motivated by religious hatred, mob violence & lynching related to religion, terrorism, and harassment of women for violating religious codes. More than 84% of the world population who identify themselves with a religious group have been affected by religious hatred. Apart from the non-reported incidents, in February 2020 alone, 36 people in Delhi city are killed due to religious violence and on the report, approximately 280 religious violence is reported every year in India.

Instead of gambling the blame game on each other, the weighty reason is we are primarily evil from instead rather than the evil we see outside. In simple, we hate people of other religions not because our religious group hates them or our counterparts have victimized our faith rather it is because the hatred residing in our hearts initiates the hate and gives enough space to the evil thoughts to play the horror of religious violence. Describing the condition of the human heart, the Bible says,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Out of the abundance inside of the heart the mouth speaks.

Following it in the Bible the LORD God says,

I do not delight in sacrifice, or I do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices I look for is a broken and contrite heart.

And what do I, your LORD God require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly before ME.

For that, I the Creator, the LORD God of this universe, sacrificed my begotten Son “Jesus” on the cross as the remnant for your sins and to give you eternal life as you believe in my Son “Jesus”, you appear before me as “Righteous”.

 

DO YOU HAVE FAITH?

I saw him kneeling in prayer after the service was over in church and people had started filtering out. He knelt with hands folded and head bowed down for quite some time before getting up and moving out. I was struck by the open devotion. Christians are not usually seen kneeling in prayer in formal church congregations. Kneeling in praise and prayer is mostly confined to private home spaces and informal worship congregations.

I saw him do so Sunday by Sunday. He was a familiar face from my Coaching class, but we hadn’t befriended each other. Weeks later when the ice broke and pleasantries were exchanged, I asked him about his faith journey. To my utter dismay, he said that he didn’t really believe in God!! In the months and years of our acquaintanceship that followed I was to learn that he acknowledges God for two reasons – one, because his mother insists that does so and two, he doesn’t want to invite the wrath of God and let something bad happen to him by skipping a Sunday church service. 

Whoa!! That was quite a revelation for me. A 27-28 year old young man with patterns of behaviour that he does not believe in! This was years before. He is still the same, rather more diffident!

While parents can and need to instill faith values in children, rote faith does more harm than good. When God is known for who He is, faith exudes automatically. Religion can be passed on down the generations, but faith cannot be. Faith is personal.

The world today stands greatly divided on the basis of religion. In my opinion, it is meant to be so. Different principles of different religions hold good for different people for different reasons and cannot be expected to be uncompromisingly unifying. Religion is a unifying force within ingroups. But when we think of two or more religions, one is the outgroup to the other. And so, divisions emerge.

One corrective thought that the world at large refuses to see is the difference between religion and culture and the difference between religion and faith. This is what I would be focussing on within the limited cope of this article..

Having been a student of World and Indian Sociology for more than a decade, the stark difference between religion and culture is all the more obvious to me. There is no doubt an overlapping line between the two, but both are NOT the same. Culture is largely determined by the geography, apart from many other distinct features (which I will refrain from listing for the sake of brevity). And so we see people in different parts of the global hemisphere eat, dress, believe and behave in different ways. 

From times in the far past, humans have been in awe of some supreme power ruling over their lives for which culturally appropriate and functionally reasonable entities were ascribed power. That is how each civilization and culture has contributed its share of gods, goddesses, demi-gods and deities to the world. To give just one example, we have Tefnut known as the Egyptian god of rain, Zeus known as the Greek god of rain, Indra known as the Indian god of rain and so on across various cultures – all revered as rain-causing deities (by those who believe) with deeply embedded cultural connotations and culturally appropriate ways of appeasements. Similarly, there are many more divine entities which are ascribed the functionalities of love, wealth, wisdom, famines, plagues, destruction, prosperity, fertility, etc. across almost all cultures, with very few exceptions. And so, we have this unavoidable amalgamation of religion and culture.

However, the two different constructs that they are, religion and culture though form a symbiosis of sorts cannot essentially be conglomerated into a synthesis.

This is because religion is supposed to find its basis in divinity. Whereas, culture is a combination of geography, language, norms, values, folklores and mores, art, architecture, music, dance, family, society, customs and religions (here goes the list of the distinct components of culture). So you see, religion/s is a subset of the larger set called culture. Equating religion and culture leads to constricting the wider domain of culture, while expanding the narrower turf of religion. Confusing identities and nasty conflicts eventually threaten to rule the roost. 

I’ll pause on religion and culture here and switch over to the other distinction – religion and faith.

Religion, being a socio-cultural construct does its part in generating belief in and worship of the supernatural. Scanning through world history and geography would provide us deeper insights into how various religions were born. Just as we have the known planets and the unknown ones in the vast universe, we also have many known religions and many more unknown religions (not to mention the numerous sects, cults and denominations) spread across the length and breadth of the world with multifarious religious practices and rituals. To give an example, Hindu married women in India keep a day-long fast for the longevity of their husbands. This is called Karwa Chauth in Northern and Western India. The fast ends only after the moon is spotted in the evening sky and is seen by the fasting ladies followed by certain rituals. A very similar fast is kept by Hindu married ladies in Odisha at a different time of the year, and this is called Savitri amavasya. This fast by contrast, is observed on a moonless day and comes to an end in the evening in a similar way.

The same religion, same objective, same country but different ways of observations and different sets of rituals according to the geographical divide of the land. Each set of rituals and practices has its own mythology behind it and is held precious by those who adhere to it.

So is it with all religions. Touring across the world (virtually for now 🙂 )would make these understandings even more obvious.

So then, are religion and faith one and the same?

The answer is NO.

One can practise or follow a religion meticulously without having faith in God (as in the case of my friend mentioned in the beginning of the article). Another can have faith in God without subscribing to a religion as such. The former is easier than the latter considering that religion is an identity-essential in society, with few having the option to refrain from such identities.

Again, it is the societal construct that attempts to synthesize religion with faith, the end result of which proves to be a mess. A church-going person is considered to be godly. A fervent ritual-observer is labelled as pious. A performance of certain ceremonials is thought to provide self-satisfaction. Keeping certain fasts, eating or not eating certain foods on certain days are considered to be signs of piety. These are the parameters on the basis of which we (others) assess ourselves and others.

It can be argued that these religious acts are indeed observances of faith. But, the truth is that inherited religion and the accompanying rituals make God and faith esoteric obscurities.

So then, should religious teachings not be imparted? Should faith not be propagated?

Both have their places intact. The Bible says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” 

If we spare a thought to what matters before God – faith or religion, faith or rituals – we would undoubtedly have ‘faith’ as the answer. God is the echoing Truth of the universe and He treasures our faith in Him. Having God as the object of our faith would help wean away most of the undesirable rituals that have been getting passed on over the ages. He and only He matters.

In the inconclusive debates between theism versus deism or pantheism versus panentheism or  atheism versus agnosticism and many more such isms, the truth about God is seldom sought after by the intellectuals and learned philosophers who prefer rather to establish their theories.

No matter what worldview we hold or what teachings have been imparted to us, it is worthwhile to embark on the journey to know God and worship Him for who He really is, not for who we think He may be. Not hollow observance of rituals or cultural religiosity, but a mere simple child-like faith in Him is what He requires. 

 

 

 

 

INESCAPABLE INTRUDERS

The first cries of a new born baby pronounce him/her having ‘passed’ the examination of healthy normalcy. Wow!! What an age to begin appearing for exams!! Poor little infant doesn’t even know that the series of examinations has only just begun!

And from then on, no shying away from appearing for the exams that life doles out at various stages in myriad ways!

When I was preparing for the Indian Civil Service examination, the enormity of the syllabus overwhelmed me. The prescribed syllabus was just a pointer to practically everything under the sun. That’s why there goes a common expansion to the acronym UPSC as Un-Predictable Service Commission 🙂 (it’s actual expansion is Union Public Service Commission). The syllabus is unpredictable, the questions are unpredictable and the result is the most unpredictable of all!! But, still lakhs of aspirants from all over India slog to compete for this exam each year and many don’t quit till the last attempt is over.

Unlike educational exams, the tests of life are not choices that we tend to make voluntarily. Life’s examinations are the results of permutations and combinations that we find ourselves a part of. No matter how challenging or alarming, the tests of life are elusive to none. The interesting outcome of life’s examinations is that one still proceeds on to the next stage of life irrespective of the result. So you see, unlike career examinations, success and/ or failure cannot and do not stop life from moving ahead. But yes, they do impact how life moves ahead.

Who is the Examiner?

Though it might be tempting to believe that God conducts all of life’s examinations and He is the one who would give us the certificates with the remarks ‘pass’ or ‘fail’, ‘well done’ or ‘you need to work harder’, it is not true. To give an example, a person driving on the highway sees the wide smooth road ahead and seeing no sight of man or vehicle decides to accelerate the speed beyond the limits. In no time there appears a vehicle from the opposite direction and baaaaanggg – both vehicles collide!!! The driver gets arrested for overspeeding, has to pay a hefty penalty and his driving license is suspended for a three months. To conclude that God put this driver through a tough examination is absurd.

There are many such struggles in our lives which we drag ourselves into either because of our faulty thinking and decision making or at the behest and provocation of others. Though God does not lead us into such wrestling matches, He sure is the Shepherd to steer us out into pleasant pastures if we admit our folly and choose to seek His help. (God never imposes His help on anybody)

However, there are some other examinations that God in His wisdom allows in our lives. They may be the likes of sickness, unemployment, difficult marriages, childlessness, an intolerable boss, job posting away from home, special needs children, poverty, affluence (yes, even prosperity and affluence test us) and many such ordeals over which we seem to have no say. There can be three human responses to these rough winds that blow on our faces.

  1. To curse God and lose faith in Him.
  2. To take things in our own stride
  3. To surrender to His will and seek His intervention.

When we choose to respond in the first way, i.e., blame God for our difficulties and turn away from Him, it fills our lives with bitterness and self-pity, creates inroads for addictions and sicknesses and ultimately drives us into self-destruction. Life goes on, but with emptiness.

When we take things in our own stride without blaming God but not wanting His assistance to tide over the rough patches either, we tend to lose time and efforts in trial and error strategies – going round and round weighing the options and thinking of probable correct answers and sometimes even failing to hit at the solution.

However when we rely on God and seek His intervention, He does the impossible in our lives. Yes, the impossible! Or miracles, if you would like to think that way. Test Him on this if you will and you will know for yourself.

I remember reading about a God-fearing affluent person who lost a majority of his wealth in one day. To add to his misfortune, the roof collapsed and killed all his children while they were partying at a venue. In course of time, he developed a kind of incurable skin ailment which filled his body with sores and stinking pus. Even when his wife smirked at his foolishness for holding on to his faith in God in spite of all the struggles that they have had to go through, he did not let go of God. Things continued that way for a long time, after which gradually God blessed him and restored his health, wealth and blessed him with children to fill the void in his household.

Not all events of seeking God’s intervention in life’s examinations result in such tangible successes, however. At times, struggles go upto the very last breath with alternating jostling episodes of leaning towards God and withdrawing from Him in utter frustration and helplessness. In such times, the deliverance from such continuous phases of examination can be experienced only in eternity.

If you are going through a bitter life trial which you find difficult to endure or escape from, I entreat you to put your faith in God and see the difference for yourself.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

EXAM! HOW TO DEAL WITH IT?

Every evening while on my way back from the office, I always see a cute little girl with her Dad at the bus stop. Every time, the girl will be holding a chips packet in her left hand and her Dad’s finger in her right hand. Her Dad will be holding her big schoolbag and waiting to get a taxi or bus. The girl looks happy, feeling very safe and relaxed from studies, she appears to be in her own world and talking something non-stop. And usually, her Dad’s response was “yea…yea. Yes… okay… good”, keeping her busy in her imaginative world. Meanwhile, most of the time I used to be on call with my cousin explaining her the moves of this cute girl and the beauty of her cute little fancy frock. I just love that scene. Every time our talk about that girl used to end with one wish – “Wish we could time travel to our school days & make a permanent stay there. There will be no rigorous life exams, no worries, no heart-aches only eat – study – sleep and play. What a blissful moment, we lived!” As I resonate with my present feelings looking at that schoolgirl, it reminds me of what I was thinking in my past looking at an adult. I used to think – “When shall I become a grown-up man, there will no exam pressure, absolute freedom to roam anywhere I want and enjoy life to the fullness.

One among the greatest urge of every human mind is,

“Life would be filled with comforts & the availability of Easy-go for Prosperity”.

There was a rich man having a big business empire, in his entire career he always malpractice for success. In fact, he was so shrewd and skillful in malpractice in his life that never ever any of his teachers were able to catch him red-hand. Finally, he becomes one of the most recognized successful businessmen in his city. To celebrate and showcase his luxury, one-day he invited his school friends and the school teacher for a dinner party at his home. As the party began, he started boasting about his cunning ideas to success and the final point of his boastful talk was – “There is nothing wrong to cheat and succeed in life. Since life is a competition, cheating to succeed is always welcome. As a matter of fact, ‘cheating is a skill’.” After his talk, his school teacher said, since all your school batch mates are here, let me test your intelligence. If you pass, then I will agree with your statement. Someway, the billion-dollar businessman was able to cheat and succeed again. The businessman criticized his school teacher publicly. As the feast was over, the school teacher made a personal request to the businessman asking him how did he manage to cheat everyone in the test. The businessman took the teacher into his bedroom and explained his cheating tactics. As he finished boasting on his cheating tactics, immediately the toilet door opened and his 10-year old son came-out and looked at his father with a cheeky smile. Tears dropped from the billion-dollar businessman’s eye and both the teacher and the son departed from the room.

Despite the veracity, voracity & the variety of examinations from the classroom desk to the real-life, it cannot be denied that examinations always trigger intense mental and emotional pressure (sometimes resulting in physical pain) and an immense amount of challenges in life. In order to get rid of the clutches of pressure and for the easy-go for success, we tend to take short-cuts in life. In concern to it, renowned Christian author Ravi Zacharias tweets,

The shortest route is not always the best route,

because often times it can bypass life’s most important lesson.

In examinations, short-cuts/shortest routes to success demand breaching of the ethical and moral boundaries in life. India Today research says, more than 52% of men and women between 25-50 age living in metros consider copulation with higher authorities is a shortcut to professional success and it’s okay. Well, some of our Bollywood movies (ref: Corporate, 2006) have accurately presented the consequence of the use of such strategies from all angles of life.

The Bible says,

“Wise lives among many counselors and he listens to them whereas the fool rejects counsels, his ways are right in his eyes. The wise fear the LORD and shun evil.”

Furthermore, the depth of knowledge and the timely implementation of knowledge decides who is wise. Since God understands the finitude of the human mind and the need for knowledge during the time of the test alongside our hard and honest work for success, He (The God in the Bible) has promised us –

“Ask Me and I will give Wisdom, Knowledge & Understanding. I will give you Wisdom and from My mouth flows Knowledge and Understanding.”

Featured Image source: The New Yorker Post, EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM-1

TRIUMPH IN FAILURE

 

Wings, I had wings

To soar high without any attached strings.

 

Dreams, I had dreams

To be the cream in the midst of creams.

 

Goals, I had goals

To touch many parched souls.

 

Ways, I knew the ways

To move on ahead along the coasts and the bays.

 

Steered, through every winding road I steered

No hill, valley or desert I ever feared.

 

Pinnacle, yes my aim was the pinnacle

To reach there, I needed a miracle.

 

Efforts, I put in hard and smart efforts

And I was offered all available supports.

 

Changes, alas there arose changes

In the contours of life’s ranges.

 

Questions, many questions

Gripped at all times the head and heart.

 

Faith, in God strong faith

Was the anchor while the river was in full spate.

 

Alone, never did I feel alone

Remembering always that God is still on the throne.

 

Own, never would He forsake His own

In hopelessness I would never bemoan.

 

Shine, for His grace shall on me shine

And not let me sorrowfully whine.

 

Hope, indeed I have a blessed hope

That I would in darkness never grope.

 

Victory, awaits me sweet victory

To bring an end to this journey’s story.

Leaving behind what I could not achieve this year is easier than treading on my way to the year kept in my future. So let me start with the easiest one –
‘Letting go of my past’. – Chiradeep

 

KEEP UP THE FAITH

It’s time to bid adieu to this year and welcome the new year.  It’s time to recollect the best times that this year gave and to dream for the next year.

For me, 2018 started with new hopes and new beginnings,  while putting an end to the sorrows and sufferings. Though there were remarkable changes that I went through- settling into a new city,  moving from a joint family to a nuclear one, my tag being changed from working mom to a homemaker,  the end result was worth it as I was reunited with my husband after one year of staying apart. The year also witnessed some lows as I lost a beloved family member. But,  at the same time,  God was kind enough to bless our family with good news too.
To accomplish great things,  
we must not only act, but also dream, 
not only plan,  but also believe. 
– Anatole France.

The year taught me to keep dreaming, without losing hope.  God tested my patience and gifted what I had asked for. The biggest learning for me was- just keep going,  just like the time!

With new dreams,  new hopes,  but my same old self,  I will step into the new year.  So, I hereby wish everyone peace and prosperity for 2019. Just keep dreaming and keep the faith in Him.