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. 

 

 

 

 

LET THE SEED OF BELIEF YIELD FRUITS OF WISDOM

A few months back I got a packet of carrot seeds and sown them in my garden. Days turned into weeks but no result. Instead, unwanted weeds cropped up all around. I pacified myself thinking maybe the soil isn’t of good quality or the seeds aren’t supreme. Yet kept checking. Meanwhile, in a small pot, I scattered few tomato seeds and surprisingly saplings did crop up in no time. What made the difference? In the first case, I buried (literally) the seeds quite deep making it hard for the feeble saplings to make it to the surface. On the contrary, I sowed the tomato seeds quite close to the surface and covered them with a thin layer of soil. Keeping the soil loose lets the seeds breathe easy and develop well.

What struck me actually? Not the principles of Horticulture but a valuable lesson that those tiny particles have taught me. When the seeds are sown really deep and the upper layer of soil is decked up too tightly the saplings never find it easy to develop – not just tender leaves but strong roots; roots strong enough to brave the weather and stand upright. And this has a close allegory to the way we perceive devotion or seek wisdom in our lives.

We have strongly and successfully confused ourselves with devotion towards God and attaining wisdom with a set of ritualistic practices. And that resulted in FEAR. Fear of facing God’s wrath if we fail to perform or practice rituals as per the rule book which is amended and molded as per personal conveniences!! And unfortunately, we forget that God can’t be a synonym for fear and which is conveniently cashed by few “caretakers” of religions in the name of God. And that forces the rigidity. Rigidity to do things as mentioned and deemed to be God’s will. Just as the seeds need the soil to be loosened to let them breathe, the rigidity of practices must be done away with. The fear-mongering must be stopped, enabling the emotion, the devotion of heart – “God Loving” dwell in.

Fear never lets the love thrive and when love ceases to exist the desire to know more extinguishes and that blocks the route to wisdom, period! On a lighter note, we must remember that God is not our thrice removed maternal uncle to sulk and swear at every trivial matter. He has created us to achieve higher purposes in life rather than navigating directionless with fear of choosing five minutes of folded hand prayer over 50 minutes of chants.

DO NOT HESITATE! YOU CAN PREVENT A SUICIDE!

I still regret that incident which literally shook me in the year 1994. I was a teenager then but I could have prevented someone from taking her own life. Sadly, I could not.

World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on the 10th of September every year. This day is organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention. IASP is “dedicated to preventing suicide and suicidal behaviour, alleviating its effects, and providing a forum for academics, mental health professionals, crisis workers, volunteers and suicide survivors”. 

WSPD is an opportunity to raise awareness among all that suicide can be prevented. Even I felt, I could have prevented it by being a little vigilant and attentive to her and her feelings.

When the thought came, how we can prevent a possible suicide, I asked my friends to share their thoughts and they were quick to respond with their views.

Aditi says,

I will just keep talking and checking on that person and ensure that he/she doesn’t feel alone or left out.

Kalpana says,

If ever I feel a person is depressed, finding it difficult to cope up with the stress of facing challenges life is throwing at him or her, my initiative would be to make them realise!! Realise what? “Look around, we are not alone. We are in a situation which in our perspective is very difficult and life not worthy of living. But there are others who are struggling to have your piece at least to survive. And then there are others who rose from these dark waters. The first case is motivation to cling on to life and the second case is an inspiration to fight back. Do everything except to give up.”

Preeta says,

Regularly be in touch with my near and dear ones.
Being observantnotice change in the behavior of my friend, i.e., could be a weird message.
Not ignoring social media posts of anyone on my friend list, I mean, the posts expressing negative feelings of a person or friend.

Aastha says,

Suicide is a transient thought and often the extreme step could be avoided. No one is born with suicidal thoughts. Some failure or pain would have caused that thought. The only way “we” – friends, family, and society can help is through empathy and compassion. I would choose empathy over everything else.

And finally, Rajnandini gave her counselor’s view summarising all of our views…

1. Be vigilant for suicidal tendencies in people
2. Give a patient, non-judgmental hearing to anyone in distress
3. Encourage people to seek professional help and counseling when required
4. Impress upon people how precious a gift life is
5. Pray for those battling with life stressors

We must be aware of and must be seeing much news about the suicides during this pandemic. It has affected mental health big time. Staying isolated at home, less physical activities, unexpected changes in life and lack of proper connection between humans have made things worse. So, preventing suicide has become all the more important during this gloomy pandemic situation.

In the end, for our encouragement, I want to quote what God says,

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Stay Alert & Stay Blessed!

A LOVE WOUNDED RIN ALONGSIDE THE LOVE COMFORTED RIN

PROMPT: Standing in front of the mirror, she didn’t like what she saw…

Standing in front of the mirror, she didn’t like what she saw, while cleaning her face Rin’s eyes caught her age-old wounds. The red cut mark on her beautiful pink lips reminded her of those 5 years of ill-advised marriage life and the pain of physical abuse. Her beautiful day started falling like a pack of cards, divorced Rin fell back on the bed with teary eyes and questioned “IS THIS MY REWARD FOR LOVING HIM?”

The outside wounds were healed yet the inner wounds were bleeding!

Meanwhile, the voice of God reminded from her morning Bible reading,

“God’s steadfast love endures forever for everyone.” 

Rin bloomed and her teary Sunday evening turned into a blissful rainy evening enjoying the pitter-patter raindrops outside, producing the petrichor. Her heart started humming the old English hymn “HE DIDN’T THROW THE CLAY AWAY” in-recognition of the Agape Love that comforted her.

 

 

 

 

THE STALKER

PROMPT: She opened the library book and found a photo in it…

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(Image Credit – Google Inc.)

She opened the library book and found a photo in it. It was her and her ex-boyfriend. Scared, she held the photo and looked around. Her ex was standing behind the iron shelf. She wanted to run out of the library. Just then, her husband came in with tiffin. They were working in the same college and recently got married. He was an English Lecturer, while she was a librarian. Her husband sensed something and saw the photo she tried to hide. “Thank God you didn’t marry this dude!” He laughed and rushed across to where her ex was standing. “Stop stalking my wife. I know everything about you two and your past. Don’t come in our way now, she’s my present and my future. Now go back to your IT lab, students are waiting.

Happily, she held her husband’s arm and said, “Come, darling, let’s have lunch.”

 

 

 

BLASTING WEDDING CELEBRATION

She looked into the mirror and didn’t like what she saw. The eyeliner wasn’t proper. It’s her wedding day and she wanted to look perfect. The groom’s party would be on the way. There’s festive atmosphere all around and she’s yet to be ready.
 
Her father was teary-eyed when he saw her coming out finally. She was looking like a beautiful princess. Everything was so perfect till her mother rushed into the room sobbing… “There’s a bomb blast on the road where the baraat had to pass. They’re uncontactable.”
 
The world around her came crashing down as she fainted and was taken to the hospital. 
 
When she woke up, she found, on the bed next to her was lying her fiance smiling at her, “I’m just little injured but still in one piece… God saves my sweetheart… And trust me, we’ll have a blasting wedding celebration.” They’d a hearty laugh.