Consider this: a baby chimp and a baby human are marooned on an island somewhere south of the boondocks. Who do you think stands a better chance at survival? If our common sense is aligned, you’ll bet on the chimp (don’t let Tarzan and Brooke Shields cloud your judgment).
Now consider a hundred chimps and a hundred humans marooned on the same island. Since our common sense is still aligned, you’ll see the odds quickly gravitate in favor of the humans.
The key reason behind this shift in perception is the universally acknowledged ability of humans to create and tell stories.
Stories help us devise a common narrative which in turn helps us cooperate, collaborate, and communicate with one another in large numbers. Such stories are also known as social constructs or imagined realities (Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens).
God & government, nation & human rights, law & money, liberty & morality, etc are all social constructs created by us to bind people together.
Fiction isn’t bad. In fact, it’s vital to integrate people in large numbers.
Without commonly accepted stories, no complex human society can function.
You can’t play cricket, tennis, or football unless everyone believes in the same made-up rules.
You can’t have law, order, and justice unless everyone follows a common narrative.
You can’t have jobs, marriages, and education unless everyone believes in the same fantastical stories.
But but but… end of the day, these rules, these narratives, these stories are 100% fiction. Their relevance has a limited shelf life.
All social constructs, by design, are tools, not goals.
We invented them to serve us.
Sadly, we are now sacrificing our lives in their service.
Imagine how easy it was for Osama Bin Laden to convince people in some remote corner of the world — to kill and die in the name of an intangible concept like religion, without ever meeting them!
Religion — an imagined reality — floated by humans centuries ago was meant to bring people together in large numbers. In the absence of a concrete option like science, it quickly became a binding glue for the masses — also a single channel for people to approach or appreciate another social construct: God.
God, thanks to our proclivity to ‘humanize’ inanimate objects, soon acquired human traits.
He grew into a divine monolith you could attribute all cosmic mysteries and existential abstractions to; a latticework you could hang all your fears and insecurities on; a deity, you could beseech when you coveted something and blame when you lost something.
Meanwhile, religion widened its umbrella to include benevolent ideas such as morality, compassion, sympathy, and empathy.
Religious texts became the last word in morality, and religiosity turned into a much sought-after virtue.
God-fearing people were hailed as moral, virtuous; the poor odd atheist was ostracised as the devil’s first cousin.
As religion became a rich and powerful moral industry, greedy unscrupulous forces jumped into the bandwagon to exploit vulnerable believers through concocted religious rituals, myths, and sub-stories.
For centuries, the story of religion continued to enjoy an unprecedented monopoly.
Then the inevitable happened.
Science came along and dented that monopoly.
Scientific solutions demystified cosmic mysteries.
Rational ideas debunked religious myths.
And science, with its cerebral flourish, wiped much sheen off the story of religion.
To withstand and accommodate the onslaught of science, a makeover became incumbent on the story of religion.
It was invited to shed its dated ritualistic robes and abandon the notion of a sky god who thrives on sycophancy.
But the unscrupulous forces were having too much fun.
And a makeover didn’t seem like fun.
The scientifically inclined moved on from the story of religion which unfortunately got hijacked by fanaticism and extremism.
This abetted misogyny and fuelled intolerance, hatred, violence, and gender bias.
Vested interests twisted the interpretation of religious texts to serve their agendas, and clamped a status quo forbidding any changes to the situation.
Whenever a change is forbidden, rot sets in and smothers all scope for improvement.
As a result, we’re now living in gloriously flammable times where religion, a concept created by humans, is being used to kill other humans …while we suffer at the hands of the gods that we have ourselves created!
And here’s a fun fact…
Religion may have become a bane for us thanks to the scientific strides made by humanity but research reveals that science, with its in-your-face frankness, has stripped us of the sense of meaningfulness that religion’s abstractions provided.
Humans, as a species, strive not just for survival, but also for significance.
And this significance is difficult to replicate in non-religious settings.
Lack of meaning makes us psychologically vulnerable.
We want lives that matter.
Suicide, depression, and anxiety are on the rise and we are facing a new, contemporary “crisis of meaninglessness.” Old social constructs have lost their relevance but we haven’t yet come up with any new powerful story with universal appeal.
So where do we go from here?
If science and religion are both conducive to human progress, maybe we should simply weed out the irrational parts of religion and marry it with science.
Here’s an abstract but aesthetic roadmap proposed by Elif Shafak in her book ‘3 Daughters of Eve’:
– Let’s knit together different disciplines like maths & music, art & architecture, painting & poetry to create a marvelous science of our own.
– Let’s merge our talents & passions, knowledge & beliefs, limitations & fears to create a solid, reliable whole.
– Let’s think of God as like a lego set that comes in many pieces and colors so we can put them together in any way we like.
A customized, personal, ‘Flexi-god’ anyone?
Complement this with Atheist?OMG!!, the humorous dilemmas faced by someone who has the courage to own up to her atheistic bent of mind.