Monday, October 04, 2010

The Business of Religion

Most of you who read my blog will probably be shocked to see a topic like this. I work with Oracle technologies and my blogs have been predominantly about that (well, actually always about that). But I am also a human being living in societies and there are other thoughts that cross my mind. So here is something very, very different. This is not about Oracle, or IT, or even working in general. Please stop reading if you are not interested.

One of the activities I perform outside of my work is mentoring. These are not just rookies trying to go up in their careers; but accomplished professional (some more accomplished than me) trying to get some sense from a different perspective and I am willing to help. One such mentee (I will not name him to protect his privacy) mentioned something about religion that got me thinking. It was about a debate on religion and the threats on Americans travelling internationally and some other assorted topics. As a rule, I do not engage in debates about religion. Don't get me wrong, I love to debate passionately on topics I find interesting or important; but with some exceptions - religion being one of them.

It's rather sad to see how some reasonably intelligent or outwardly sound people justify the killing of innocent people as a manifestation of their religious obligations. One could argue that that act by itself is not religious or even spiritual; it's fanatical bordering on lunacy. But from the perspective of the perpetrators, that's what it is - sanctioned religious beliefs. Religion is a very dangerous double edged sword. On one hand it brings discipline, moral values and, for the lack of a better term - "humanity" to humans. Consider this - why would you not steal from thy neighbor?  It makes your act profitable and your actions immensely efficient (a lot of gain from a small effort); but you won't; because it's against established morality. Belief system - whether in the form of religion or otherwise, pours the very foundation of morality - a fact most of us probably do not realize. It differentiates us from other animals.

But the root of problem is that there is no boundary. Where should the belief system stop? Religion is after all a set of rituals and behavioral standards formed by human beings (although in some cases presumed or claimed vetted by supreme beings). Its specific actions are defined by the leaders, like any other group, but with an important difference. Belief systems adapt to situations - making the process forming the set of acceptable activities of religion highly fluid and devoid of specific direction. Some adapt it to their interpretation, in so much so, that they actually believe in their interpretation. Contrary to popular belief, these people may not be illiterate goat herding nomads; they may be at the top echelons of established societies, with a firm belief in their own direction of the religious activities.

And that makes the business of religion highly dangerous. While on one hand we cherish the extremely positive role religion plays in forming societies, we also witness the catastrophic consequence of the abuse of religion. That's why I avoid debating about religion in any form - there is a fine line between being spiritual and fanatical - and with each side deciding where the line should be. The debate has at least one attribute - logic and reason take a backseat to emotion and sentiment.
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