Why Religion Doesn't Make Sense?
Religion is a manufactured construct of stories. Arguing which religion is 'better' is futile. They all say different things but mean the same: do good, avoid evil and be calm.
By Harshvardhan in life thoughts
February 5, 2023
Once upon a time, the entire planet Earth was cast as the lead in a hit reality TV show. The show followed the daily lives of humans, animals, and the environment, and it quickly became the most popular show in the universe.
Generally, each species used to live on one planet. To make things more interesting, some alien (human) species decided it was time to experiment. They brought cats, dogs, microbes, lions, elephants, sharks, crabs — literally every animal together. The show wasn’t picking up ratings, so they added something new: humans. Now, the show started ascending ranks.
Humans added to the mixture like no one else. They started hunting animals, something the alien species had not imagined as they were used to manufacturing chemical food. They began researching microbes to find what could be used as medicines. Some of this research even benefitted the alien species as they hadn’t thought about it that way.
Occasionally, the ratings started to drop. The producers intervened. They reduced the population of some species to wreak havoc on humans — who were beginning to consider themselves the centre of the universe. They took away some green cover. But none of their promotions was as successful as the inclusion of god.
Initially, it started as a pilot. The aliens visited certain places holographically, and humans believed them! These aliens could do miracles. They didn’t need to do much, just a few to keep the local humans intrigued.
The ancient cultures — Mesopotamian, Indian, Egyptian, Mayans, and Chinese — had their learnings about plants, animals and nature shared via spoken and written scriptures. This “god” figure could achieve the same outcome without following the supposed “laws of nature”.
Producers ensured that gods did not interfere widely and not with the existing knowledge base. The natural rate of growth was low, especially on infrastructure. Therefore, the producers, acting via gods, produced excellent infrastructure that spellbound generations of humans. Pyramids, which weren’t purposeful but just artistic, were built in Egypt, Indonesia and Mexico.
This small innovation, which reportedly came from an underpaid intern, changed the course of life on earth.
Around 2000 years ago, a new god was inducted into the show, which humans called Jesus Christ. Even the chief producer hadn’t imagined what humans were about to do. But the show ratings had never before hit 11/10.
Well, it all started with a guy named Jesus who lived in a Middle Eastern country 2000 years ago. He was known for his unique teaching style, which involved using parables and miracles to spread his message. People were so impressed with him that they started following him in droves.
One day, Jesus’s popularity reached the ears of the local authorities, who felt threatened by his growing influence. They decided to take matters into their own hands and had Jesus arrested and executed on a Roman cross.
But here’s the twist - on the third day after his death, Jesus rose from the dead! His followers were amazed and spread the word far and wide that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, as he claimed. People from all walks of life were converted to the faith, and soon, Christian communities were established worldwide.
In the centuries that followed, Jesus’s teachings continued to inspire and influence people, leading to the development of a religion with over 2 billion followers. And so, in just 2000 short years, Jesus went from a Galilean teacher to a global figure known and loved by people worldwide.
Jesus' entry was so successful that they even tried follow-ups. Except for Mohhamad, no one else gained as much fan-following on earth. Some, like Confucius and Patanjali, backfired: they became revered teachers instead of gods. But none like Jesus.
Who would have thought a carpenter’s son from Nazareth could profoundly impact the world? The producers of the show certainly didn’t. But then again, when you’re the son of the almighty, I guess anything is possible!
मानो तो मैं गंगा माँ हूँ, न मानों तो बहता पानी
If you believe so, I’m Mother Ganga. Else, I’m just flowing water.
The story I described is entirely fictional but possible. Improbable, yes. Impossible, no.1
Once you ponder upon the question of god deeply, you will find many, many stories like these — improbable but not impossible. These unanswered questions led me to question what god is. People relegate such stories as either “myths” or “truths”, depending on their own beliefs.
The story of Jesus healing a man from paralysis is a well-known Bible account from the New Testament. According to the account, Jesus visited a village and encountered a man who had been paralysed for many years. Jesus declared that the man would walk, and immediately, he rose to his feet and walked. This event caused a stir among the villagers, who had never seen such a remarkable display of power.
For many followers of the Christian faith, this event serves as concrete evidence of the existence of god and the divine power of Jesus. However, it’s important to remember that every religion has its collection of miracles and stories of supernatural events. From the Raavan’s flying chariot ( Pushpak Vimaan) to the cosmic dance of Shiva, each religion has its unique accounts of events that defy explanation.
Some even have literal, concrete proofs like Rama Setu (or Adam’s Bridge) that connects India and Sri Lanka. It was built by Lord Rama when he was marching to Lanka to rescue the queen and his wife, Sita, from demon king Raavan.
Below is an aerial photograph of the bridge. You can find a lot more on Wiki Commons.
In this sense, it’s possible to argue that religion — a total of selected mythological stories — is a form of ethnocentrism. Each follower of a particular religion considers their beliefs to be the “truth” and considers other beliefs to be deviations from that truth.
However, it’s crucial to approach the topic of religion with an open mind and a willingness to consider different perspectives. Just as the miracle of healing the paralysed man is considered evidence by some, so too are other religious accounts considered evidence by others. It’s possible that multiple religions can deliver different forms of truth and that the principles of monotheism may not be the only path to understanding the divine.
And if you can’t help but laugh at the idea of a flying chariot, well, that’s just a bonus!
The Idea of A Creator
The idea of a divine creator has been a central belief in many religions for centuries. According to this belief, the world and everything in it, including human beings, were created by a higher power.
If this higher power, commonly referred to as god, did exist, it’s safe to assume that they were not themselves created. After all, a creator who needs to be made themselves seems a bit like a catch-22. Instead, it’s believed that god has always existed, transcending time and space.
But there’s more.
A few days ago, I brought a new table from Amazon. I had just moved into my new place and needed an office-like table to hold my monitors, my laptop, some notebooks and a file cabinet. Three days later, the 25 kg package was outside my door. Following the algorithm for assembly, I started putting the plywood plates together. The table was carefully designed; I had to be right completely to get the table standing and working as expected. Two evenings later, I finally did it.2
Here are some questions we can ask about this story: Would it have mattered if I didn’t have access to their assembly instructions? Would it matter if I believed in those instructions? If I’m creative enough, I certainly don’t need the instructions. Maybe I can create an even better table from the same parts. Would the instructions be different if I had brought the same table from the local carpenter?
Yes, no and no.
There are parallels here. If this universe is like a table, there are some assembly instructions about it. We discover them through science. Experimentation, theorising, observation, and experience are several ways to learn.
But how do we transmit those learnings? Education, communication, culture and media. And guess what medium satisfies all four characteristics: stories.
Memorising is hard. Consider these table assembly instructions that I asked ChatGPT to write:
Instructions for Assembling a Table:
1. Lay out all the parts and hardware on a flat surface. Make sure you have all the necessary parts and hardware.
2. Attach the legs to the tabletop using screws or bolts, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
3. If your table has a stretcher or support beam, attach it to the legs, making sure to align it with the legs and tighten all screws or bolts.
4. If your table has an apron, attach it to the legs and tabletop using screws or bolts.
5. Secure any brackets or braces to reinforce the table’s structure, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
6. Check that all connections are tight and secure. If necessary, tighten any screws or bolts.
7. Test the stability of the table by gently shaking it. If it wobbles, tighten any loose connections.
8. Place the tabletop on top of the legs, ensuring it is level.
9. If your table has a tabletop fastener, secure the tabletop to the legs using the provided hardware.
Your table is now assembled and ready to use! Enjoy your new piece of furniture.
Now I asked it to present the same information as a Shakespear-style sonnet.
A Table Built with Care, A Sight to Behold
Instructions for this task, let us unfold:
A table to build, with legs so tall,
And sturdy structure, fit for one’s home hold.
With screws and bolts, the legs shall be strolled
Unto the tabletop, firm and fair,
And if a stretcher should be so bold,
It too shall join, with legs to pair.
An apron to add, with grace and might,
Secured with screws, so strong and tight,
And brackets too, shall join the fight,
To make the table stand upright.
Gently shake the table with a slight,
And if it wobbles, tighten with might.
The tabletop on legs, shall be placed light,
A table built with care, a sight to hold.
Poem’s content aside, this would be immensely easier to remember through the generations, primarily when you communicate vocally and not via writing.
Now, let’s add another complexity to this assembly process. Let’s automate everything so that factories can assemble them without humans' help.
Every system would work independently and communicate with each other. The Internet of things is a step in the right direction, but it’s nowhere what’s needed to operate an unsupervised table-making factory.
Such a factory is unimaginable with the technology we have today. Yet it exists: science calls it an ecosystem. One organ communicates with another in an ecosystem with little to no physical interaction. The changes in one system are communicated “invisibly” to change inputs in another system. Eventually, the system is always at equilibrium.
If a human making table takes so much care, wouldn’t god take as much care in creating the world? This proves why science works — we’re trying to understand an engineering marvel.
Thus, if there is a creator, science is the creator’s language. It is up to us to figure out the world, and god isn’t here to do that for us.3
My Dissatisfaction with Religions
Any book-following religion that believes in the supremacy of the text is problematic, particularly regarding the dynamic nature of our world and the evolution of our societies. It favours what is correct over what is right.
Firstly, religious texts were written in a specific context and historical period that may not align with the present day’s values, morals, and environments. These texts were often written for a particular community, and the customs and beliefs of that community may be very different from those of contemporary society. For example, the treatment of women in religious texts may not reflect modern ideas of gender equality and women’s rights. Same for LGBTQ+ rights.
Secondly, the static nature of religious texts can be disturbing when faced with new scientific discoveries or changing social norms. For instance, the concept of evolution contradicts the creation story in many religious texts, causing individuals to question the validity of the text. Similarly, advances in medical science and reproductive technology have led to ethical dilemmas that the strict interpretation of religious texts cannot quickly address.
Thirdly, the emphasis on a literal interpretation of religious texts can lead to dogmatic and rigid thinking and stifle intellectual and moral growth. For example, rejecting certain scientific discoveries based solely on religious beliefs can impede medical, physics, and biology progress. A narrow interpretation of sacred texts can lead to intolerance, prejudice, and discrimination against individuals who hold different beliefs or lifestyles.
The Case of King Ashoka
King Ashoka was a powerful ruler who lived in India in the 3rd century BCE. He was known for his military conquests, including the brutal war of Kalinga, which claimed the lives of over 100,000 people. After witnessing the horrors of war and the people’s suffering, King Ashoka renounced violence, practised Vipassana and converted to Buddhism. He implemented numerous reforms: building hospitals, roads and banks, allowing criminals to appeal their cases, and working towards a positive change.
While he was an enthusiastic Buddhist, he was not partisan towards his religion nor intolerant of other faiths. He seems to have genuinely hoped to be able to encourage everyone to practice their religion with the same conviction that he practised his.
Today, he’s known for his edicts, inscribed on rocks and pillars throughout India and Asia. One of the edicts say:
Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one’s own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one’s own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought “Let me glorify my own religion,” only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good.
I like this philosophy and abide by it towards all religions, as I’m sure my beliefs don’t line up precisely with anyone.
A Buddhist Stupa in China’s Qinghai province was recently renovated and now includes an Ashoka pillar (with Ashoka emblem, India’s National emblem at the top).
The Importance of Religions
I’m not saying religion is useless. The biggest plus on religion’s side is that it has survived the test of time.
Thomas Hobbes once famously said, “Men are nasty, brutish, and short.” Religion provides a moral code of conduct that serves as a guideline for people to live by. It establishes a shared understanding of right and wrong, which can be a lifesaver in a world where opinions vary. Without religion, it would be like trying to herd cats to behave nicely with each other!
However, even the best moral code is susceptible to corruption. Like any organisation, religion is often controlled by a few individuals, making it essential for those in power to remain truthful. Enlightened individuals understand the importance of not becoming hard-liners about their own religions. But not everyone does.
Historically, religious corruption and exploitation have emerged, causing significant harm. For example, the Catholic Church once allowed prostitution on church grounds and received a commission from these practices. In Hinduism, priests became corrupted and imposed a caste system with themselves on the top, leaving deep scars in India to this day. In some Muslim societies, oppressive interpretations of religious law have led to significant restrictions on women’s rights.
One important aspect of religion is the stability it provides. Despite political rulers and leaders changing over time, religious teachings and rules often remain constant. A prime example of this can be seen in the concept of the week.4
Unlike months and years, which are based on celestial observations such as the lunar and solar calendars, the week does not have a corresponding celestial event. Instead, it is a wholly manufactured concept originating from the Bible. When Columbus first arrived in America, he observed that the indigenous people had no concept of days, as they tracked time based on the moon’s phases.
Even among advanced civilisations such as ancient India and Mesopotamia, the concept of a weekly cycle was not widely adopted. However, with the spread of Christianity during the Crusades, the seven-day week became widely adopted and is now observed worldwide. The concept of six days of work followed by one day of rest results from this influence.
This is only an example, and there are a lot more. The popularity of Christianity brought uniform weights, balances, and other measurement instruments to the world. Religion added to colonialism made English commonplace, and set the world for globalisation.
Religion encouraged charity like nothing else. Taxation by the government is not very effective; otherwise, we wouldn’t have the Income Taxes Department monitor our bank accounts. On the contrary, we wouldn’t have churches, temples and numerous charitable organisations if religion weren’t influential.
Stories and Culture
From the ancient myths and legends of Greece and Rome to the religious tales of the Bible and the Quran, religious beliefs have inspired countless narratives that have captured our imaginations and shaped our understanding of the world. Whether you’re in the mood for a classic showdown between gods and monsters or just a feel-good tale of divine intervention, religion has got you covered!
Dances, songs, and art become vital artefacts. Just look at these Madhubani artworks!
I must confess: this essay became a lot longer than I had initially thought.
I cannot prove that god exists. But I can argue why I can’t prove that. Gödel proved many years ago that every result is built on many axioms. Such axioms allow us to develop new theories, but they are incomplete. They don’t let us prove anything about the axioms. We just assume them.
Religion is a manufactured construct of stories. Arguing which religion is “better” is futile. They all say different things but mean the same: do good, avoid evil and be calm.
Finally, I would love to hear your thoughts. Shoot your comments below!
May all beings, visible or invisible, living or non-living, be at peace.
I borrowed elements from South Park’s “Cancelled” (S7E4, also known as “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe Redux”). ↩︎
Partly lying here. I didn’t finish for another week and with specific help from the sellers. Second, I still haven’t finished the files cabinet as I don’t have a driller. ↩︎
Deism is a belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. I like this belief. ↩︎
David M Henkin’s book “The Week: A History of the Unnatural Rhythms That Made Us Who We Are” talks about the history of weeks as we know it today. ↩︎