Roots of Religion: Need of Religion
all. These byelaws, that are expected to serve as substitutes for religion, must address a range of issues like identifying man’s needs, providing him with a framework to manage his affairs, fulfilling his needs, be it physical, spiritual or economical, etc. These statutes must necessarily have an inherent provision for defending the weak and the downtrodden, from the suppression of the despots and tyrants. Only if all these issues are addressed to with a fair degree of satisfaction, can one say that these laws are ethical, and hence capable of replacing all religious laws.
However, that is not the case. Today we see different societies of the world in sharp conflict with each other. Harmony is but a mirage. Bloodshed, murder and corruption are at an unprecedented height. And these societies are still struggling to rid themselves of the rampant depravity, evil, vices and perversions that have now become the order of the day.
If the social laws are to be enacted to condition man’s code of conduct, then the obvious questions are, how is this code of conduct to be determined, what should be the basis for establishing this code and then how are the laws to be framed so as to satisfy all the societies?
Today the discord and discontent that persists in society, is largely due to man’s free will and unbridled aspirations. That is why the quest for an encompassing law, to whet man’s considerable appetite, is as elusive as ever.
Extending boundaries from personal lives to cover the demands of the society at large has not dispelled the need for religion. Rather this need is felt more now, than ever before. An increase in aspirations and hopes combined with man’s need to lead a life based on values has provided the impetus for man to be more concerned about the needs of others. This need in turn has propelled religion onto the center-stage.
Man is peculiar in nature insofar as he perceives the need for a deity, be it an individual or otherwise. He realises that peace and tranquility can be experienced only through worship and submission towards this deity.
Selection of a deity
Having acknowledged man’s need for a deity, begs the question whether everything or everyone should be taken up as a deity? Is man free to choose his own God(s)? Does it really matter who we select as our God and will it affect our chances of attaining salvation and deliverance? Does this deity necessarily have to possess some characteristics?
We shall deal with the last question first, i.e. the necessary qualities of the Worshipped One, as all other questions are ancillary to it. A satisfactory reply to this question with reasons therefore, is crucial.
Fundamental Criteria for Worship
- Inclination towards the deity must be instinctive and psychological, it must not be imposed. Man has a special place in his heart for something he cherishes. He is captivated by it and it bears a direct influence on him. The moot point here is that this captivation is not forced, but intuitive. For anything that is forced will never draw the same kind of devotion and affection.
- Man’s objective in worship must be safety and security, and not destruction and annihilation. Man can only submit to a God who assures deliverance. This God must necessarily guarantee a future that exceeds man’s past as well as his present. Else there is little incentive for man to worship this God.
- As a pre-requisite, this God must necessarily be above all defects and flaws. He must be All-Powerful so as to evoke intense attachment and fervour. For, if this god is also like us humans, then given his weaknesses, he would be incapable of amending our problems and hence unworthy of being worshipped. Therefore, a God deserving of our worship, must be in a position to assure man success and happiness. He should be higher and more powerful than man, in fact, beyond every conceivable notion. For if man is able to conceive God, then his creator would become a mere product of his perception. In that case no matter how elevated and pure God maybe, he would never qualify to be our creator. For then, our thoughts would subsist his creation and not the other way around. Then how can the one whose existence depends upon our conception, be our creator? Thus, God must necessarily possess every possible virtue and attribute and should be beyond human perception. Also if this deity possesses a limited set of traits and fulfills our needs to an extent with them, then man with his endeavours and exertions can emulate these traits and contend with his creator. Consequently such a God would forfeit our respect and gratitude. In fact, belief in such a God would result in man’s ruin.
Instances of gods with limited prowess, can be found in ancient Roman mythology, wherein these deities had acquired authority with the sole purpose of exercising control and oppression over their fellow-humans. To suit their designs, they framed a set of guidelines for the Romans to follow. The people were living in a prosperous society and used to train their youths in martial arts and other disciplines. They did so to develop into complete human beings. Gradually Rome conquered the whole of Italy, laying the foundation for a government. Next they turned towards Greece and Asia Minor and annexed these as well and soon they ruled undisputed over the entire region. They scaled the zenith of their hopes and aspirations. There was simply nothing else to achieve. There was nothing to spur them towards further advancement and progress. Satiated, their development stagnated and degeneration crept in. They began to luxuriate in their wealth with little regard for ethics and morals. They turned their government into a breeding ground for corruption and tyranny. Soon justice and equity that were usually associated with the Romans, were thrown to the winds and replaced with injustice and tyranny. Gradually this depravation and corruption accelerated their downfall. Eventually they were attacked by their enemies and were annihilated. Thus from a position of immense strength, great advancement and progress, the Roman civilisation collapsed.
- God should be real and not exist simply as an image in our minds.
It is quite possible that god may be a figment of our imagination. He may not exist as such, but simply be a concoction of the over-imaginative amongst us. But sooner than later, this fantasy or God myth is likely to be exploded with the application of intellect and scientific investigation. That would leave us with a non-entity God, which would seem extremely stupid. Besides, a false and imperfect God will never command universal appeal and following. Worse is when people make a deity out of an object based on false notions and superstitions. This ‘God’ is bereft of even the most basic qualities necessary for man, let alone a deity. At times man associates with this God some particular thing or duty. Again these ‘Gods’ can never assure man salvation, since they are in no way superior to him.
The real deity on the other hand must possess the requisite power, a magnificent station and an all-encompassing will, so as to inspire awe and amazement in his creatures. Only then will man be urged to worship this God and reform his actions so as to seek His pleasure and satisfaction.
Thus the ‘real’ God must necessarily possess the above-mentioned four pre-requisites. His worship should take us to inconceivable heights. Also mandatory for this God is to be completely beyond man’s intellect and grasp, i.e., His existence should satisfy man’s instincts and at the same time be beyond his recognition. For although we should be able to perceive Him in the depth of our hearts, He should be beyond our imagination. He should be a God who has been created by none, and certainly not His own creation. For He should be independent of His creation while His creation is dependent on Him. He should be incomparable and possess power over all things.
The ‘Real’ God
We again come to the same question that confronted us earlier, i.e. ‘Is man free to choose his God?’ Having discussed this above in a philosophical light, we shall now try to resolve this question by studying the various experiences of the different cultures, and their Gods that they worship. We shall analyse the characteristics of these gods and see if they possess the four criteria discussed above. We shall then conclude whether the gods are worthy of veneration or whether they are simply the figment of their hyper imaginative followers.
Every man, rich or poor, is invariably attached to a God and seeks his pleasure. This God can take the form of his desires, his family, his fondness for fame and recognition, his likeness for food, etc. God can be anyone man tries to follow and obey. Then if man follows his desires, he has taken his desires as his God. At times man has more than one interest, i.e., he may lust fame, have a family and also like good food and clothes. Now if one wishes to determine who his God is, he should observe this man when all his interests are in conflict. If this man out of love for his family, spends his wealth for their well being and also forgoes his desire for fame, then he has given precedence to his family over his other interests. Then such a man who braves discomfort and uneasiness to please his family, is said to have obeyed his God, in this case his family.
Indeed a diverse range of objects have been placed on the pedestal of divinity, by the people. Some of these objects (that are taken as God) are ignoble in nature while some others are elevated in status. Some can even be perceived by human faculties, while some others in fact are commonplace things. Some Gods can not be perceived easily by the people. For example, few people can completely appreciate the values of truth and justice and they alone are prepared to endeavour to achieve these principles. The various things, emotions, values, etc. that people adopt as their God(s) have been outlined below:
Monotheistic and Polytheistic Worship
In order to facilitate a study of the above list, we present hereunder a chart in order to facilitate the understanding of the above discussion for the benefit of our readers.
|Food and rest, wealth and carnal desires and cravings||Materialistic aspect of worship|
|Lust for power, glory and authority, fascination with beauty and art, respect and esteem, knowledge and prominence||Non-materialistic aspect of worship|
|Affection for family, tribe and friends||Worship of genre|
|Values of truth, liberty, equity and justice in a free & independent society||Worship of ideals|
|Different deities and idols||Worship of thoughts|
|The One and ONly Creator||Worship of God|
A cursory study of the above classification highlights a few pertinent points. First, one observes a perceptible shift from the materialistic towards the spiritual as one moves downward from the first grade. Second, each grade tends to be more perceivable and discernible than the earlier one. Third, each succeeding deity seems more deserving of worship and veneration. However, it is imperative that to be more worthy of worship, the deity must precede the others in significance and virtues. Consequently, it must forego the lower virtues for the higher ones. For instance, in order to achieve knowledge and prominence, one must necessarily relinquish love for comfort and wealth, lust and cravings.
Similarly, affection and endearment towards the family may compel one to sacrifice respect and esteem, and so on.
A critical evaluation of the first four grades reveals flaws that completely undermine divinity. None of the gods has the original qualities of godhood. Hence those who have taken their god(s) from these grades have erred and continue to do so. True Godhood can be attributed only to the fifth grade. It is this God that has been introduced by the Prophets, acclaimed by the Quran and has the requisities qualities. Indeed it is this God alone that is worthy of submission and is called as “Allah”.
Allah precedes all others, elaborated in the classification above. He is the one Who has created everything and sustains them with His mercy. He alone bestows wealth and prosperity, and other infinite bounties. He possesses majesty and omnipotence. He is the Creator of beauty and grace. He is all-Knowing and all-Seeing. He has gifted man with intellect and faculties of discernment. He is the guide for all mankind and loves man more than a mother’s love for her child. Truth, justice and equity have endured because of Him and all virtues are mere rays of His magnificent entity. All virtues in reality, are acknowledged through His existence. Else in isolation, all virtues are mere conjecture and speculation. In fact these virtues only compel us to confess the existence of that Supreme Being. He is the sole refuge of every creature. The most minuscule of objects prostrate before Him in awe and wonderment. Regardless of our quest for perfection, we will never find anything similar to Him. Indeed it is only Allah who commands that perplexity and admiration that subdues man’s consciousness and propels him to prostrate before Him.
Attachment towards a deity, followed by his selection, is a psychological phenomenon that is unique in nature. As we proceed down the grades of worship, we find that it becomes more imperative for man to be judicious and perceptive in his selection. Selection of God mentioned at the bottom of the classification, gives rise to two possibilities;
In the first instance, we find any number of gods possessing bodies and resembling each other. People worship these gods, while they themselves have created the latter. So man has created his god and not the other way round. These deities are man-like insofar as they possess our qualities and characteristics.
In the monotheistic creed, we find One God who is unique and incomparable. This belief entails the acceptance of a single deity who regulates the entire universe in solitude without any associate. As the Almighty mentions in the Holy Quran;
‘Say, He Allah is one. The Self-Sufficient. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And there is none like Him. ‘
That is, He has no organs like humans and animals. His virtues do not resemble ours. We cannot even sufficiently illustrate His virtues, since they cannot even be fathomed by man’s limited intellect. The fact is, a finite entity simply cannot comprehend an infinite entity. This is unlike idol worship, where idols are created by humans and possess humanistic traits. These idols keep changing with the vicissitudes of time. For instance in Greece, when the locals used to frequent the seas, they imbued their Gods with things associated with maritime activities and objects. Similarly in Egypt, the idols were sculpted to resemble animals or had organs and appendages of animals. These idols reflected the jungle life of the Babylonian civilisation. In polytheistic faiths, since god is a creation of man, he is subservient to the whims and fancies of his ‘creators’. This is in sharp contrast to monotheistic faith, wherein God has created man and the latter is subservient to God’s commands and directives. Even the Prophets and Messengers (peace be upon them all) have not created God, rather He is their Creator and Controller. They have simply introduced Him to the people and invited them towards His worship.
Monotheistic inculcation : The most critical aspect of the Prophets’ duties
The above chart depicting different dieties worshipped by man shows that the latter dieties are more qualified to be worshipped than the previous one and ultimately as acknowledged above, the worship of a single God (monotheism) is most appealing to man’s rationale. The polytheistic faiths were not divine in nature, but were in fact, manmade. The monotheistic creed on the other hand, had certain individuals who functioned as God’s emissaries on the earth. These were the Prophets (a.s.). They were appointed by Allah and received divine revelation. These prophets (a.s.) were, not angels, but from amongst humans, and possessed humanistic traits.
In order to clearly demarcate polytheism from monotheism, we shall study briefly about these messengers and their duties.
Who Were the Prophets (a.s.)?
For easy comprehension, we elucidate the concept of Prophethood, through an illustration.
There is a person who has invited some guests for dinner. These guests have never been to his house before. His house is in an obscure locality, not widely known. Even the way to his house is marked by an intricate framework of lanes and bye lanes. Also, the route is likely to prove hazardous and perilous to the inexperienced, due to the danger of robbers and wild beasts.
A scenario like the one above will give rise to two broad possibilities.
- The host could be heedless and unmindful. He does not make arrangements to receive his guests and forsakes them to negotiate the treacherous path themselves. Ultimately, when his guests do not arrive, he throws away the food.
- The host is thoughtful and provides some guide to help his guests negotiate the route. For, if he does not do so, his invitation to dinner is meaningless.
Now, Allah has created the world and everything in it, for man’s benefit and well being. He has invited man towards His worship and obedience and assured him eternal happiness. Also, the way towards Allah is far from facile, and there runs the perpetual risk of deviation by Satan. Against this backdrop, if (a host like) God does not provide some beacon (read prophets) for man’s guidance, then His invitation will be meaningless. And He Himself has promised that,
“Surely, guidance is obligatory upon us.”
(Lail : 12)
If He does not do so, the primary objective of our creation will not be served. The aim of man’s creation is to recognise God and worship Him as He deserves to be worshipped. As the Holy Quran declares,
“And We have not created the Jinn and the humans except to worship Me.”
(Zaariyaat : 56)
And this is possible only with a guide, else recognising God would not only be not easy, but impossible. The prophets’ role was very clearly defined. They were sent to help man realise the objective of his creation and show him the path with the help of revelation and divine inspiration.