Though religions were started thousands of years ago, though the originators of all religions are said to be great people endowed with divine powers and foresight and thought all religious doctrines are claimed to be sent to the world by the gods through saints and religious heads, all religious people are afraid that if constant propaganda is not done, their religions will perish. This nervous fear has been there right from the ancient times in the minds of the followers of all religions, without exception.
Suppose we have ten or twenty millions of rupees and we employe one or two thousand men, publish newspapers and journals in five or six languages, start a religion in the name of an animal of a low breed, endow that animal with divinity, concoct dirty and incredible stories of the miracles performed by that “divine” animal and go on doing propaganda, in a few years we can make millions of people follow that new religion. When many people follow that religion, if anyone criticises that religion, he will be abused, beaten or even murdered by the followers that religion.
Therefore we can say that money and propaganda serve as the basis and vital forces behind all religions. Nobody can claim that religions are supported by divinity or by any noble and reasonable principles.
Recently in a village, people said that a woman was ‘possessed’ by an evil spirit and she was dancing wildly. When a sorcerer took two days to trace the nature of the evil spirit and finally said that a man from Maharashtra who had died 5 or 6 years ago by slipping into a well in that village, was reborn as a dog and was brought up in that woman’s house and that the dog also had slipped into a well and died. He finally declared that the woman was possessed by the spirit of that dog. The villagers believed his words and influenced by his words, the ‘possessed’ woman began to bark like a dog, and speak with other dogs and also tasting human refuse. On observing all this, the villagers were convinced that the woman was possessed by the spirit of the dead dog.
The influence of religion works in the same way. Everyone who is devoted to his religion conducts himself in the way the religious leaders or religious propagandists expect a good devotee to conduct himself, so that he may get a good name. Since people of all religions say that religion is based on faith, that scientific and rationalistic principles should not be applied to it and that the words of great religious leaders should be respected and obeyed unquestioningly, any stupid fellow can venture to say anything in the name of religion and many dirty and dishonest activities may get perpetuated in the world. In this situation, some people indulge in religious propaganda in order to establish numerical superiority for their religion. Such dealing only makes the already illiterate people more stupid. 92 per cent of our people are illiterate and 90 per cent of them have no means of livelihood. Religious propaganda and religious conversion can be very easily carried on among such people.
In India, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsees, Sikhs, Arya Samajists, Vaishanavites, Saivits, Smarthas and various other religious groups have been carrying on their propagandist and conversion activities from a distant past to this day. There is no much difference between one religion and another in their influence on the lives of people. The followers of all religions believe in one god, an upper world, heaven and hell and the soul. In practical life, we find rogues, and dishonest persons in all religious groups. In all religions there are the rich and the poor, master and servant, festivals and different celebrations, and all kinds of prayer and worship. There is also a deep faith in the minds of the devotees that their worship and prayers will absolve them of all their sins. Though the devotees of all religions claim that their scriptures have been given to them by god, the religious books differ from one another. When religions are in this state, I am not able to understand why people are indulging in religious propaganda and conversions.
Now, in India there are eighty million Muslims, ten million Christians, hundred million Vaishnavites and fifty million Saivites. There are also some who don’t belong to any religion. During the past thousand or two thousand years many might have gone from one religion to another. Socially, politically and economically, the followers of one religion are not very different from the followers of other religions. We cannot say that any religion has enabled its followers to derive any special benefits. In this situation, it becomes the duty of every right thinking person to consider it at all we need any religion or religious propaganda or religious conversion.
Some years ago, in many parts of the world and particularly in South India, religious propaganda and attempts at religious conversion resulted in violence, stabbing, murders and torture. If the Rationalist Movement and Self-Respect Movement spread throughout the world and the followers of these movements form governments, useless activities connected with religion will be stopped and people will be able to live with perfect equality. I am very sure of that.
Religion just nurtures superstition
Human beings first started living in the forests like animals, each person looking after himself. Then they crossed that stage and started living affectionately in groups. Even at that stage they felt the need for some principles. If people living in a certain area start an association for common benefit, they feel they need frame certain rules for the management of that association. So too in the ancient days when people started living together, they had to frame some rules or agree on certain principles for community life. Those principles have now come to be called religion. To prevent people from going against those principles, they framed certain rules of conduct. Probably because those who framed the rules and principles were either unwilling or not in a position to punish those who broke the rules or for personal benefit or for exploiting others, or because they felt that common people could be deceived only if the rules were association with god. They had to say that the rules are framed by god and those who broke the rules would be punished by god. (It was here man erred first). If we examine on what basis these rules were framed, we will have to come to the conclusion that the spirit of the time, the climate, the brain power of the people the stupidity of the majority and the scheming nature of the few determined the rules.
Further, when a particular principle does not suit a group of people belonging to a later age or when it is found inconvenient by certain selfish people, a clever or a cunning person may try to change that principle. If the superstitious common people obstinately object to the change, those who want to have the change form another group and they either modify the old rules or add new ones; the result is considered a new religion. If two or more new religions arise, the blind followers of these religions claim that their own religion is superior to the others and thus religious feuds arise.
Some wise elders have tried to avoid clashes and keep everybody contended by giving new interpretations to the old principles. Still their attempts also have given rise to branch religions and have not helped people to understand the real significance of each of the principles originally evolved. Since these processes of changing, modifying or giving new interpretations have been going on, people have not understood the nature of the religions and their need; as a result religion has come to be taken as a set of rituals. If we ask any person belonging to any religion what the basic principles of his religion are, he cannot give a satisfactory answer. He will give only the details about the rituals connected with his religion. This kind of ignorance about religion has led to some evils in society. Some people have exploited the ignorance of the masses for personal benefit.
The so-called major religions of the world have not been beneficial to mankind in any way. They have only helped the priests, the government and the right people to deceive or illtreat the common people and benefit thereby. Further, we find that these religions have given rise to some evils in society. Primarily, religion perverts the intelligence of the common man. Everyone thinks that his religion has been given by god. He does not pause to think that people belonging to other religions also think that their respective religions have been given rise to by god. How can the same god start many religions which are different from one another? Nobody seems to think about this! The heads of religions and lovers of religion are all in the same position. From this alone we can understand how far religion has obstructed the thinking power of people. Secondly instead of uniting people, religion helps only to separate them from one another. Thirdly, religion makes man derive satisfaction from outward appearances and does not lay emphasis on character. It is in the nature of religion, however good it is, to force people to accept as truth, something or some idea which we cannot scrutinise. If we blindly accept one idea because it is related to religion, we tend to accept many others in the same way.
Further, religion trains us to give great importance to people like priests who act as intermediaries between us and god, and we accept even their unreasonable words as being more dependable than what we have learned from our experience or what our intellect finds as truth. Religion encourages people to believe that by spending money lavishly they can get their sins pardoned and that they can go to heaven. Since it makes people believe that through prayer, god’s pardon can be obtained, they are tempted to indulge in evil actions, if, thereby, they can earn money. For lazy life, religion gives great scope. It also makes people cowards. Because it discourages independent thought, people are not able to judge what is right and what is wrong in worldly affairs. It enables some cunning people to benefit by the labour of others. Those who belong to the Saivaite religion claim that the moment a little of the sacred ash falls on their bodies, all their sins leave them and they become fit for heaven.
Those who work as advocates of religion and those who give public discourses on the false puranic consider themselves as Saivaits simply because they apply ash to their foreheads; they also wish others to take them to the Saivaites. From this we can understand the nature of the Saivaites and the Saivaite religion.
The Vaishnavite claims that if a person, utters the name ‘Rama’ once, all his sins are washed out and that there is no god other than Rama. Similarly one who claims to be a true Christian says that if a person firmly believes in Jesus, he will be free from all his sins and that pardon for sins can be got from Jesus alone.
Following the same trend, a Muslim says the Koran is a compilation of god’s utterances, suitable for all countries and all periods and if the least change is made in the Koran, the changed version will not apply to Islam.
Thus the people of every religion claim that their religion is the true religion and that it has been evolved by an incarnation of god or god’s son or a messenger of god.
(Kudi Arasu 11-9-1929 – Translation by R. Sundararaju)