A modern secular India has no place for religious education

Religions, claim the scriptures, are revealed by the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God or gods, making them irrefutable and infallible.
For representational purposes (Express Illustrations/Durgadatt pandey)
For representational purposes (Express Illustrations/Durgadatt pandey)

The images coming from Afghanistan are alarming. Once a country chooses to ride the tiger of fanaticism, rarely has it escaped being devoured by the beast. In the long journey of human civilisation, religion has had its place. It helped to unite people for a common cause and gave cohesion to societies. It provided continuity of ideas and knowledge. But in this era, even the most liberal of the religions is anachronistic. They serve no purpose other than to divide people and create bloodshed and havoc. 

It would be naive to argue that all religions teach love and compassion. If one searches hard enough, we may find some verses about such noble feelings in most scriptures. But they serve no purpose except as a shield for apologists who claim those who perpetrate cruelty and war misrepresent the religion. There are deeply problematic lines in most of the religious scriptures. They belong to a different era and time. They might have been helpful in that era, but not anymore. The world has progressed far beyond the imagination of humans who lived many centuries ago. 

Religions, claim the scriptures, are revealed by the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God or gods, making them irrefutable and infallible. If so, there shouldn’t be any lines against compassion or love or should they be proven wrong by science or later day knowl-edge. However, there are troublesome lines that call for discrimination based on caste, religion, sex, race or hatred and intolerance towards others worshipping differently in the religious scriptures. If the omniscient God had revealed or written such lines in scriptures against humanity, common sense and basic science, is he omniscient? Or is he really God? If such lines were added in God’s scriptures or holy books by miscreants, as many apologists claim, is such a God who couldn’t even prevent such trouble makers from playing mischief really omnipotent? If he is omnipresent, as many scriptures declare, he witnesses so many atrocities around the world in his different names. If he is omnipotent as claimed, why is he not preventing such atrocities? If he is all-powerful and yet not preventing it, can he be called compassionate?

One can argue that logic shouldn’t be applied to belief. It isn’t the illogicality of religion that is the problem, but the clannish nature it evokes in its followers. Without the existence of a rival, most religions would collapse. Only by claiming that we are the chosen people of God as against the others can religion keep the flocks together. When an external enemy is not available, the religions split and continue fighting against each other. From Catholic-Protestant rivalry or Shia-Sunni conflict to Shaivite-Vaishnavite disputes of the medieval era in India, every religion has traversed this path.

The more a religion clings to its original scriptures, the more regressive and violent it remains. If the belief is so rigid that the holy scriptures are divine revelations and not the work of men (rarely women) of a different era and culture, there is no scope for reformation. We see it in Afghanistan. A few fanatics are trying to return to a bygone era of a different culture, rejecting thousands of years of human progress. They aren’t alone. Our country has enough fanatics who thrust their beliefs literally down the throat of others and, unfortunately, get away with it. The clock is ticking for us too. Most religious scriptures talk about impending doom, the rise of the dark age. But humanity is galloping from the darkness of religion to the sunshine of reason, science and progress year after year. Which fool wants to live in some primitive times when the writers of scriptures couldn’t even imagine science, technology and all the comforts that we enjoy now?

So why do people still cling to age-old beliefs? The reason could be that religion is thrust down their throat right from their childhood. Mainly, the chance of birth decides why we follow a particular religion. Why should a child be imparted arcane knowledge that goes contrary to most things science has disproved? Why should the clergy be allowed to impose their regressive views on impressionable minds? There is no place for religious education in a modern secular, democratic republic. After becoming an adult, one should have the freedom to read all scriptures and choose one’s religion, but not before that. It is high time we banned the clergy and priests from imparting religious education to children. The freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution is only for the adults to practise their faith and not impose it upon the children. mail@asura.co.in

Anand Neelakantan Author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy

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