On God and religion!

I have always believed in God. For me, God is a supernatural power that keeps a track of the good and bad things in life.  I believe that religion and faith is a personal thing, and I don’t like to talk much about it. I follow what I like, and believe that other people should have the same right. I grew up in a religious family, and to a great extent, we believed in customs and rituals and superstitions. And growing up, a lot of festivals and celebrations were related to specific religious reasons, so a lot of traditions that I like are centered around religious festivals.

One such festival is Navratras – it’s basically a 9 day festival twice a year when people worship Goddess Durga and her multiple forms, and of course, the victory of good over evil. When I was a little kid, I started fasting during Navratras. I don’t exactly know when or why. My family mentions that I started fasting when I was 6 or 7 years old, even though nobody else at home did, and I continued to do that till a few years ago.  I have a lot of fond memories of fasting during Navratras and on some other major Indian festivals from the time I lived at home. In my college hostel, special food was provided during this festival, so I continued to fast. And then, I moved to the US almost five years ago. It was hard to fast everyday, so I started fasting only for the first and last day. I’m a vegetarian by choice, so I would refrain from eggs and alcohol during those nine days.

Since the last year or so, I have been questioning the reasons for my fasting. As I look back and try to understand why I fasted, the earliest memory is striking a deal with God that this is something that I would do, and in return, I wanted God to grant whatever I wanted at that time. My wishes varied – from a stable job for my dad, to peace at home, to doing well during exams, to a relationship working out with one of my boyfriends, and so on. At times, I was just thankful for what I had, and didn’t demand anything from God, and again fasting was my way of expressing gratitude. I think that religion was my family’s way of dealing with our situation, of somehow thinking that things can change if we try hard enough and God is happy with us.

Another thing that I remember was that I told people that I fast and/or pray regularly, people have always appreciated that and that made me feel like on a moral high ground, that I was a good person. I still pray everyday, but I choose not to mention it to people anymore – it’s just a way of life for me and I like to start my day with a small prayer. While I was being religious and following all these things, I also refused to follow some customs. For e.g., I continued to pray/fast/visit the temple when I was menstruating because I didn’t see any reason not to. I also would not care about showering before praying and other such rules.

The last few years have been specially tough for me, academically and personally. I was always a good student and did well at school and my struggle through graduate school and the PhD degree have led to low self confidence and self esteem over time. To add to that, there has been the adjustment to growing up, living independently, and dealing with a complicated relationship. I have also started questioning everything that I grew up with and the popular culture and values surrounding me now, which adds to constant internal conflict and a feeling of alienation.

One of these conflicts that has come up has been my religious values. I have recently realized that a part of what I follow is driven by fear. When I think about things logically, it seems like we have made God into this strict warden who will punish you if you don’t follow certain rules and rituals. For e.g., when I was living at home, we were told not to cut hair/nails/etc. on specific days of the week; and if you did, a minor thing that would go wrong that day would be attributed to being punished for not following that rule. Or now, if I would eat eggs/drink alcohol on any specific religious day, God will punish me with consequences. When I think about it logically, it makes no sense.

But there is this fear that what if I do something and things do go wrong. I’m exhausted dealing with all that I have to, and really don’t want to add anything on to it. And maybe there’s also a guilt for not following the specific rituals that I have cherished over the years. This time, I will be in San Diego during Navratras. While I’m OK not fasting, initially, I was considering not following any dietary restrictions.. A few weeks ago, I mentioned it to my mom and she freaked out. One of the things she said during that conversation was, “You’ve done so much for so many years, why do you want to ruin everything now?!” And that made me think, I did all this earlier out of choice – it was my way of negotiating with God, and/or thanking God. But I’m not sure if I feel the same way now. I have come to a point in life where I feel that as long as I’m a good human being and kind to other people, that should be enough. And even if I want to do something, it should be out of choice rather than compulsion. But I feel that I’m not brave enough to actually live with this decision and still continue to do things based on my earlier beliefs..

Over the last year, there are also times that I have questioned God’s existence. When I see human rights abuses and discrimination and the amount of cruelty that human beings show towards other people, I feel that God can’t exist. If God existed, there wouldn’t be so much pain and suffering in the world. But that’s a totally different story, and I don’t want to go into that right now.

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5 Responses to On God and religion!

  1. Tatsat says:

    I read the whole of it, which- I must tell you- is rare. I am turned off by long posts 😦 You are right about religion being a personal thing. It is, until in pursuance of your personal thing you don’t encroach the same right for other people. THIS is the part which is far more difficult than anything else 🙂
    Questioning things we have done over time is good. I am an evolutionist myself, against those creationists. But in the process, as you already know by now, there will be uncomfortable times. All I can say is this: totally worth it 🙂
    As for God, ahh well… 🙂 If you can read hindi, this is what I can say:
    और मेरे देवता भी वे नहीं हैं,
    जो की ऊँचे स्वर्ग में हैं वास करते,
    और जो अपनी महत्ता छोड सत्ता में किसी की भी नहीं विश्वास करते,
    देवता मेरे वही हैं जो की जीवन में पड़े संघर्ष करते, गीत गाते, मुस्कुराते,
    और जो छाती बढ़ाते एक होने के लिए हर दिलजले से…
    — हरिवंश राय बच्‍चन

    • kinmin says:

      Hey Tatsat, thank you for reading.. It sure was a long post, but I had so much to say..
      I agree about the ‘not encroaching on other people’s rights part.. I didn’t realize this until a few years ago, friend of mine mentioned that most of the problems in our world are a byproduct of religion and religious superiority and biases.. That conversation sort of made me think about things logically and question them…
      Thank you for quoting the poem, I really liked it! So far, the only poem I had read by Harivansh Rai Bachchan was Madhushala, and I really like that one! 🙂

      • Tatsat says:

        It is easier said than done, right? People find funny ways of justifying that encroachment. But it remains what is is- just that! There are just so many things that am “supposed to do”- even when I have not really stepped into the ‘responsible’ shoes. As if, I have everything but the freedom of choice. Suffocating, till I learned how to say no.
        You should read more of Hindi poetry, if you can. I almost failed Hindi in my board exams 😦 10 years down the line, it is the single most inspiring thing which helps me stay high 🙂 There is this collection ‘ Meri Shreshtha Kavitaayein’- see if you can get hold of it somehow. Who knows… you might like it 🙂 Our tastes and preferences, after all, are a reflection of our free will, if there is any…

        • kinmin says:

          It definitely easier said than done.. but I think the reason people want to convince other people to follow their faith or any other way of life is because they think that it’s better than what the other person is doing.. And hence, we are asked to do certain things so that our life is better as well..
          I hear your feelings about doing things you are ‘supposed to do’, that’s why I’m sometimes happy about living far away from family where I don’t have to deal with all that..
          Haha about Hindi in board exams, I’ve actually not read any Hindi literature or poems.. I’m coming to India in April, so might get the book when I’m there!

          “tastes and preferences are a reflection of our free will’ – true to some extent, but in the current day, I feel like we’re constantly influenced by so many external sources..

          • Tatsat says:

            They totally are. And its a good.thing. Without the world trying to infect us, I believe we will be a miserable lot. But there has to be an element of choice wherever possible . And I would like to offer that to everyone I come across in this lifetime or the next. But of course that leaves us vulnerable 🙂

            I think its an insult on my intelligence ( whatever there is ) if I am overruled in decisions concerning me. To think that parents or whoever can take decisions for me, essentially makes me as redundant as male breast 😛 It was ok when we were kids but the moment we are ready to take responsibility for our actions , we should be allowed to make our choices… The road is not easy, I must admit that though .

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