The tussle between Religion & Secular Humanism

Religion fulfills certain basic human desires. It offers people a sense of worth and specialness. It gives them a community in which they can feel understood and supported. It eases their fears about life and death, offers them hope of immortality. It also gives them a feeling of superiority, of having an edge over others. So you can't really blame people for being obsessed with Religion,God or Afterlife.

My point however is that though traditional religions fulfill many human needs, one need not depend solely on a religion to have one's needs met.

Secular Humanism can be a better alternative for the intellectuals.

This is the sense of having some greater purpose, a feeling that one's life has a meaning beyond the few years we have here on Earth. Religious people tell me that if there was no god, it would mean that this life had no meaning and purpose and they could not bear to live. I can understand that feeling, especially in view of the ugliness evident in our world. Many people see life as a trial, as trudging from one problem to the next. The minute you have solved one problem, another crops up before you can say Sarveppalli Radhakrishnan. They need to believe that there is a reason for the misery and pain of existence. I can appreciate that. It might make suffering easier if you believe that you will be more than compensated for it, in an afterlife.

I would say life is meaningless, in the sense that one day, I will not exist as I do now. And of course, the Sun will eventually burn out and all life on Earth will vanish. But then who thinks that far in advance ? Who travels through life constantly worrying about the end of time ? Non-theists have the same kind of meaning in their lives as religious people. We, for some reason, don't have a need for any greater meaning than is apparent. I see no evidence of a reason or purpose to existence. I only know that I exist, unlike god, and I must make the most of it.

The purpose and meaning of life is to make our lives purposeful & meaningful (a la Paul Kurtz) by cultivating the 3 C's : Courage to face our life's trials & tribulations without needing to suck on the pacifier of blind faith , Cognition ( Critical reasoning and scientific temper to understand the origins of the Universe, life & consciousness), and Caring ( Compassion and tolerance for all humans & animals in the biosphere). It is certainly not obtained by endlessly doing "Bhajans", praising the glory of an imaginary sky-daddy, don't you think ?

Belief in a god allays fears of the unknown. It is a comforting thought that your spiritual father is there to take care of you and that death isn't really death.

Death scares most people. It would scare me if I am faced with it, I am sure. But I am not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with the survival instinct. Death only scares me a little and only because I like living and want to keep doing it for a while longer. I realized, when I thought about it, that when I am dead, I won't exist any longer and therefore, neither will any fear or sorrow that I associate with death. It won't matter once it is over. I think about the time before I was born. I didn't exist then and it didn't bother me. I imagine death will be no different. That gives me comfort.

Coming to life on Earth, Religious people also take solace from knowing that their lives are guided and protected by their god. When they are saved, when they survive the flood, car/plane crash, attempted murder, they feel that god or an angel was watching over them or their prayers were answered. When they don't survive, their loved ones agree that it was god's will. If this gives them comfort, so be it. But it wouldn't give me any.

Religion also gives people an important sense of community. Travelling to and participating in the Haj/ Lourdes festival/ Triveni sangam -- gives people a sense of belongingness to a community very much like the members feel in a rotary/ Lions club. For the people who do not have the energy, the Sunday sermons in the neighborhood church or if an Indian, then daily Satsangs and Pravachans at a walking distance from their home, should do the trick.

Human being is a social animal. Even introverts like me need people, maybe one or two, unlike the extroverts who may need 20 to 1000, and when I first realized 50 years ago, that I was an atheist, I felt as if I was all alone in this world, since all the people I knew, including my parents, were devoted theists. Luckily now, the internet has changed the social landscape, allowing nonbelievers to find each other and cultivate friendships in any part of the globe, more easily and obtain a sense of belonging to a common club.

People generally seem to have a need to feel superior to others. Throughout human history, we can witness humans trying to prove their superiority through their gods, wars, racism, sexism and any other method they could find. Mankind is a fearful species -- fearful of death, fearful of the unknown, fearful of change -- and fearful of people who are different from themselves. Humans try to conquer that fear by demolishing those who are different, in order to prove that their own way is the right way. Religion does this to a lot of people. They feel that their religion is the right religion, their god is the right god and that they will be saved, while the others following all those false gods and prophets will perish. This makes them feel superior to others.

While I can agree that the experience of being right is a good one, I haven't found satisfaction in a feeling of superiority over others who are devoted theists, although I am totally convinced of the truth of secular humanism. It more often than not, causes me to feel sad. If I am smarter than one person on a certain subject, I keep in mind that there are others who are much smarter than I, in other subjects. They are religious not because they are stupid. Their ignorance is because of the lack of exposure to proper introductory literature in the areas of sciences, philosophy, comparative religions, logic and critical reasoning -- in their formative years, which is not their fault. So you feel only pity for such people.

The world is a frightening and dangerous place for some people. There is evil everywhere and the bad people don't always get their just deserts. People are getting away with murder. People are cheating others of their hard-earned savings and walking away free. People are causing pain and torment in other's lives and never face prosecution. People break promises, seduce young girls, divorce their wives to marry younger and more beautiful girls, betray their friends and are never punished. Religions provide a nice sense of justice. It convinces you that even though your enemies aren't punished here on planet Earth, in the afterlife, they will be.

For secular humanists, there is some justice in this very world. We have laws and courts to deal with those who break them. But there are many instances when you are hurt and nothing can be done about it. Part of justice is in your attitude -- what you make of the events of your life. What will you learn from them ? How you will handle them ? How will you treat the person who hurt you ?

Your attitude affects your outlook. People who can forgive more easily are happier ; people who hold grudges are miserable. I can appreciate wanting to know that there is some ultimate justice, in the afterlife, that will balance everything at some point. But I have to wonder how much of that is a desire truly for justice, and how much is it for revenge.

The desire for immortality is perhaps the strongest desire among humans. Most of us are terrified of death. Religion promises immortality. You can't get any more comforting than that. You won't die. You will live on, perhaps in a different form. Better yet, all those people who believe exactly like you do, will join you in a paradise, and all those people who didn't believe what you believed or the ones who did very bad things to you, will suffer an eternal torment in Hell.

Speaking for myself, I don't want such immortality. I don't want a comforting lie. I don't want comfort for comfort's sake. I am much more concerned with honesty, truthfulness, and what is real.

There are many ways of achieving immortality for non-believers:
1. Through descendance
2. Through inheritance
3. Through deeds
4. Through remembrance

Descendance. In children and grandchildren, our genes, fused with those of our partner, live on. There is nothing quite like seeing thefamily resemblance in a child's face, for realising the continuity of the generations and feeling one's embedded involvement in the process of life.

Inheritance. Almost everyone who has accumulated any degree of wealth or property likes to pass some or all of it on to their children or relatives.But even the poorest have some possessions that are unique to them- a school prize, a medal, a drawing/ painting, a diary, or some collection like a stamp collection or book collection.

Deeds. The third form of real afterlife comes about through our actions and creations whose impact persists after our death.Not only for writers and artists trying to leave immortal works behind them, but even a single act of kindness may be recollected for decades after our death.A life of loving care by some mothers will be remembered by those it touched for as long as they live. The trees we plant now will provide shade and beauty for generations.

Remembrance. Our only afterlife and immortality is in the lives and minds of those who survive us. And our only hell is in their memories, too. If we are unkind or egotistical towards other people, they won't feel sorry when we die. They may even say " good riddance ". If we hurt them seriously, they will remember us, not with love and nostalgia, but with hatred and rancour.

For many people there is no tussle between religion & secular humanism simply because they have not outgrown their childhood indoctrination in Religiosity and hence continue to live in their Utopian fantasy world. It's perfectly ok with me as long as they keep their delusions to themselves but it's not ok when they try to coerce others to follow their convictions or face death if they worship another god, like the ISIS or Al Qaeda.

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Comment by Joan Denoo on December 11, 2015 at 11:07pm

Life is meaningless! We live and then we die. Nothing complicated in that reality, The wonder of it is that we live at all, that we exist as sentient beings able to experience life through our sensory organs. We can see, hear, smell, taste, feel with our skin and our emotions. Some live hard lives with none of the joys of being while others have full access to the pleasures our bodies perceive. Some are privileged and complain, and some have no privilege and rejoice. 

Our bodies exist as a given. Our attitude depends on how one perceives his and her world. An individual can do some things to change the physical body while there are many things one can do to change attitudes.

Comment by Joan Denoo on December 11, 2015 at 10:51pm

Who is Sarveppalli Radhakrishnan? Does he or she have something to teach us?

"Dr. Radhakrishnan was one of India’s best known scholars in the study of comparative religion and philosophy"

 ‘Teachers should be the best minds in the country’ – Dr. Sarvepalli...

"The end product of education should be a free creative man, who can battle against historical circumstances and adversities of nature."

~ Sarveppalli Radhakrishnan

Thank you for this lead. It seems he may have wisdom beyond his cultural superstitions.

Comment by Michael Penn on December 11, 2015 at 6:44pm

My  advice for anyone who doesn't want to hear John Lennon's "Imagine" is to turn the radio dial to another station or simply turn the radio off. No one is forcing them to listen to it. That being the case they have no reason to complain, much less call for a ban. 

Oh, you're religious and you want radio your way! Then shut up and listen to one of those godawful religous music radio stations! Leave the rest of us alone. I'm so sorry that you were being persecuted.

Comment by Gerald Payne on December 11, 2015 at 3:37pm

I think it's more likely that we'll see a day when lions eat straw than a day of universal secularism. I read a post the other day calling for a ban on John Lennon's ''Imagine'' being played over the airwaves as it goes against people's lifelong religious beliefs. It's amazing the agonising passion and fear associated with pious feeble mindedness. If they put ear defenders on, blinds over their eyes, took a snort of cocaine, and hid under the bed, they'd get no relief from their demons.

Comment by Michael Penn on December 11, 2015 at 2:59pm

Regardless of what the religious say, there will never be a day that lions eat straw. Every time they told me that I was wondering if this would affect the entire cat family. Just keep your lions and kittens outside with the cows and horses. They would get along fine. Wait, put a little child in there with them also. The child could take turns riding them.

Does that seem like the inspired word of a god?

Comment by Donald L. Engel on December 8, 2015 at 12:00am

Nice post, VNK. Well thought out.

Comment by V.N.K.Kumar on December 7, 2015 at 4:56am

TS: Thanks for the comments. I must confess I do canvass for Atheism & Secular Humanism, but only inside my family circles. Publicly I am a non-believer in the closet. I am scared of being ostracized from my community if I divulge my non-belief. I liked the two points you added. Being a Sec.Humanist is an awesome responsibility. Once we know to a certain degree of certainty that there is no sky daddy, we will have to assume the responsibility for spreading happiness & doing what we can to redress the grievances & fulfill the needs of others at least in our immediate vicinity if not in the world at large. Somebody has to substitute or stand-in for the 'Absentee God'. Believers mostly would like to avoid volunteering & stressing themselves and would like to pray to God to do the needful, which of course is the easier thing to do.  

Comment by tom sarbeck on December 7, 2015 at 3:36am

VNK, here's my initial response to your post.

Your otherwise thorough analysis omitted at least two of religion's important emotional benefits.

1) Believers in an afterlife can look forward to again being with those they loved in this life.

2) Believers in authoritarian religions, to the extent that they obey their religions' rules, are free of the responsibilities that secular humanists know we have to deal with.

I won't explain the first. As to the second, we choose what we do or choose how we react to events we did not choose. Believers can and do hold others responsible for these choices.

I read your post again to assess the validity of my response and noted the condition you had attached: Secular Humanism can be a better alternative for the intellectuals [emphasis added].

By attaching the condition "for the intellectuals" to your analysis you exclude the people who are least likely to become secular humanists.

A result is that your analysis reads much like a propaganda piece for secular humanism.

Comment by Gerald Payne on December 6, 2015 at 11:48pm

Although the enlightenment moved peoples ideas toward a more natural interpretation of life it didn't completely overturn the fabricated reality that exists to this day. Many disinterested atheists, when questioned, still believe there's ''something there'' but they don't know quite what it is. This tendency toward superstition is so innate and universal it's hard to see people ever being free from it.

Secularism, at least in the UK, is slowly gnawing away at religious privilege and hopefully will continue to do so, with only governmental road-blocks the only obstacle to majority opinion. How long will we wait for a secular world? About as long as it takes me to get my tongue around Sarveppalli Radhakrishnan Kumar!!!



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