Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war is: Do not march on Moscow. Napoleon did. Hitler did. Both perished. But Napoleon’s march and failure gave us Tolstoy’s ‘War & Peace’ at least. I wrote this because its winter and nothing else.
You know, we – homo sapiens – have a long history. Longer than the holy books of all the religions revealed to us. You may not believe in evolution – or devolution – but you cannot ignore other facts. Yet, you ignore.
Similarly, we have a long history of religions. Now for a second, forget what you have been told and let me give you a glimpse of religion from Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” along-with some extra information and my own insights. “Religion can thus be defined as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order.”
Imagine the sapiens evolving – gaining cognitive revolution – and there is no religion. Then, with miseries and queries, comes animism; the earliest form of religion. The earliest of the religions were based on plants, deities and rocks.
Gradually, animism evolved into polytheism, where there were gods and other powerful entities. “Animists thought that humans were just one of many creatures inhabiting the world. Polytheists, on the other hand, increasingly saw the world as a reflection of the relationship between gods and humans.”
Then came religions of monotheism, which we call Abrahamic religions as well. From Judaism to Christianity to Islam. But before that, remember there was a godless religion too: Buddhism. With time, this religion has evolved too, but Siddhartha didn’t focus on God. His focus was humans and their miseries and how to achieve nirvana. It is another story that 99% of Buddhists never attain nirvana.
Anyway, back to monotheism. Monotheist religions derived from one another. Yet, these three are rarely in bloodless agreement. With the power in the hands of monotheists for the last many centuries, polytheism has an image of an outdated and ignorant concept. However, as Harari has said, the central idea of polytheism is pretty much the same as monotheism with the concept of The One.
One of the differences in the history of the two – monotheism and polytheism – is that polytheist empires in the past didn’t force people to convert and monotheist empires had bloodbaths on conversions.
As Harari further elaborates that Rome was polytheist with different gods for different purposes; and then came Emperor Constantine. “In the 300 years from the crucifixion of Christ to the conversion of Emperor Constantine”. And with that, and a brief history ahead, we had Vatican inside Rome.
Apart from polytheism and monotheism, there is dualism. Good vs bad. Almost all the monotheist religions are based on dualism with the concept of God vs Satan as constant. This one is a little amusing because God is always in need of humans – and mass crowds – to have a victory against Satan under this concept. Yes, there can be so many interpretations but let’s stay macro here.
“Countless Christians, Muslims and Jews have gone so far as to imagine that the good God even needs our help in its struggle against the Devil, which inspired among other things the call for jihads and crusades.”
Another amusing concept in dualism is of “order” as Harari has explained. If evil throws a bomb on good – or vice versa – the rules don’t change. The law of gravity, the law of nature, the law of fission, and all other related laws of chemistry and physics don’t change. They remain the same. God doesn’t change the rules and neither do the followers expect Him to. But they do pray, obviously.
May lightning strike everyone except me. Right? Right.
Zoroastrianism, another religion, is specifically based on dualism. It’s hard to digest for believers of monotheist religions, but most of the concepts followed in the three major monotheist religions were pretty much introduced by Zoroastrianism. Daily prayers to fasting to other rituals.
Now if you look closely, every new religious concept has some mingling of the previous one. Let me quote Harari again exactly:
“In fact, monotheism, as it has played out in history, is a kaleidoscope of monotheist, dualist, polytheist and animist legacies, jumbling together under a single divine umbrella. The average Christian believes in the monotheist God, but also in the dualist Devil, in polytheist saints, and in animist ghosts. Scholars of religion have a name for this simultaneous avowal of different and even contradictory ideas and the combination of rituals and practices taken from different sources. It’s called syncretism. Syncretism might, in fact, be the single great world religion.”
You can further sense the sensibilities by comparing football to religions as Harari has compared. Defined rules. Defined time. Good vs bad. You vs them. Everyone running after the ball. From fun to serious business to depression. You can relate to the same with cricket.
That’s pretty much the history of religion. His Highness will tell you what he believes, but first, a historical story:
A Man once had a vision and He wanted to change the world. He had a Book which He wrote over the years. He had to leave His city and He lived in poverty but He never gave up on people and His ideas of equality for every human being. Gradually, people adopted his ideas and a mass population stood after Him. From one city to another to the entire country and then the whole region, His ideas spread. He was no more to see the vastness of His ideas or His empire but His book lived and remained as one of the holiest books in history. His followers took His ideas to new heights and the whole world was under it once, but gradually, it lost momentum and fell into pieces.
This is the story of Socialism. “He” was Karl Marx. The book is “Das Kapital”. You didn’t get it right, yes.
Aren’t these religions too? Socialism. Capitalism. Communism. Liberalism. Medicine. Physics. Commerce. Aren’t these followed more than the other mainstream religions? Too broad. Seems like everything is religion. Money too.
I had my own journey. From extreme right views to extreme left and I’ve hated both equally at times. Disgusted by the existence of my own ideas. But what is the purpose? Millions came and millions died and everyone is at the losing end. The rich, rulers, kings, emperors, presidents, CEOs, and overall, the elite remained elite.
That was deviation.
Every day I wake up as a man of religion and every night I sleep as an agnostic; and next day is the same day. The day starts with certain prayers, while at night, the exact opposite ideas numb my mind. Sometimes, comparing the both, I shudder when the later part of the day looks more sensible. Still, I offer Namaz at random times in random places but I don’t follow them ritually. I don’t leave Jumma or Roza, but then I leave everything. I consult Quran and Hadith time to time and other times, I don’t.
I used to cry in duas and then I stopped. Now I don’t ask anymore. And it works better. I do things better when I rely on myself. In sports. At work. In getting things done. In red-tapism. And in delivering perfectly lined yorkers.
But we are weak. We humans have no answer from where we came and where we will end up. I know you know the answers from your interpretations; I know that too. Not talking about that. And what about the others? The majority?
In the end, you need religion, be it anyone. It gives you hope and strength, nonetheless. It gives you patience to sustain. It gives you complete imaginary peace of meeting your loved dead ones. It gives you a lot.
But what does it take in return?
Read between the lines.