Prabuddha BharataLatest Issue


EditorialEditorial : Apologetic Believers


Belief is blind. It should be so. A doubting belief is no belief. To believe in someone, one cannot have even an iota of doubt. The moment doubt enters the mind, it is no more belief. Similar is the case with god or religion. If I believe in the tenets of a religion, I should believe them completely and only then can I call myself an adherent of that religion, not before that. One cannot put on the tag of a believer of a particular religion and then proceed to rationally test its precepts. It takes courage to believe and put one’s everything into what one believes. Weakness of mind deters such belief. Does all this mean that one has to be an idiot to believe? No, but the process of convincing oneself, of questioning should precede acceptance.


If we look at the lives of great prophets, great believers, we find that all of them had to undergo a phase of severe doubts and lack of conviction. They were stern sceptics and did not accept anything on hearsay. However, these very personalities metamorphosed into persons having an unshakeable belief in their chosen ideal. Another thing is common in their lives: They did not parade their beliefs while they were still struggling with doubts. They did not call themselves believers while they had yet to arrive at a firm conviction. This is the problem at hand. It is natural that doubt precedes belief. But, it is highly hypocritical to call oneself a believer while fighting with doubt. As no human being does anything without a purpose, this tendency of people also has a purpose and that is mainly to take advantage of the label of the particular religion one poses to be a believer of.


Acting as a believer while one is in reality not one, causes serious damage both to the genuine believers and also to the genuine sceptics. There can be doubt or there can be belief but there never can be belief mixed with doubt, which is just doubt. As it takes courage to believe, so does it take courage to doubt. When one lacks that courage, one tends to wear the comfortable overcoat of belief while trembling inside with doubt. How does one identify an apologetic believer? These are people who have no qualms in visiting institutions of a particular belief system, but shy away from identifying themselves as an adherent of that system when that community faces some problem, though at the slightest possibility of some benefit, they rush to proclaim their allegiance to that faith.


One argument of the apologetic believers is that they do not want to identify with a particular tradition because they are embarrassed by the wrongdoings of some persons belonging to that faith tradition. It is akin to the proverbial saying of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If you have a headache, cut off the head and the problem is solved! Any faith tradition becomes such after a long tradition of saints and mystics, people who have experiential wisdom and translate them into precepts for their followers to emulate. Wrongdoings are done due to wrong understanding. Should not a believer attempt to correct the understanding of the adherents of one’s faith tradition rather than taking pride in ridiculing the very ground one stands on? The apologetic believers do not do that because it needs effort to get firmly established in the rationality of one’s faith. It requires deep study, prayer, contemplation, meditation, or surrender—at least one of these to get an unshakeable faith. That is a difficult path to tread, so the majority take to the easiest path: Have your religion but do not talk about it!


It becomes worse if the religion one adheres to is not politically or economically strong, that is, people practising that religion do not have the upper hand in society. Then the apologetic believers start aligning their beliefs with those of the majority, at least in public, if not in private too. If God is believed to have many forms in a particular religion and a person lives in a society where the majority practise a different religion, probably monotheistic, then this person starts to speak exactly like the followers of that monotheistic religion. The reason is simple: Food and security are much more important than God!


There are some apologetic believers, to whose face any one can utter expletives about their faith, and yet not elicit even a mild rebuke. The reason given is: ‘Will my God be any lower because of this abuse?’ For them the answer is: ‘No, of course not. Your God will not become inferior, but you and your faith will.’ It would have been an altogether different case if the believer did not get affected by the insult. That would have been the behaviour of a saint. However, almost always, such insult does bring suffering to the believer, and yet she or he has no word of protest. That is not saintliness; it is the sign of lack of faith and courage.


The number of religious ‘seculars’ is on a rise for many years now. Such ‘secular’ believers would silently take in any amount of attack on their beliefs on the grounds that religion is only a private affair. That definitely sounds nice but what to do when people jeopardize your existence by wrongly understanding your, and more importantly, their own religions? You bring some understanding to them, by whatever means. This simple exercise would give more strength to both religions.


People defend themselves when attacked. An attack on one’s values, culture, and beliefs is an attack at a very basic level. It is surprising how often such attacks go undefended. The victims lack the conviction to defend themselves and mistakenly pride on being non-violent. That is not non-violence but ignorance and cowardice. Every person has a right to believe in God in her or his own way. Affirming one’s beliefs or talking about it can by no stretch of the imagination be called fundamentalism, until such avowal strikes or injures others. So being a believer does not make one a fanatic.


Swami Vivekananda believed that every person in the world should have a separate religion. This implies that he wanted us to have an independent faith system, beliefs that would not buckle under onslaughts by others. For that to happen, we need a thorough understanding, or a firm resolve to thoroughly understand ourselves and our relation with God and the world. Then our faith will not be apologetic. Most of us do not doubt that we will see the sun the next morning though death is the only certain event in our lives and can have an appointment with us at any time. Then why are we reluctant to adhere to a belief system? That is because we are afraid of losing our freedom, our individuality. Unless we give ourselves completely to what we believe in, there can be no faith in reality. Sri Ramakrishna was tested by Swami Vivekananda before he surrendered to him. That was no ordinary testing nor was it mild. It was a rigorous checking of the precepts and actions of the master. Thus faith was born. Steel gets its strength from the furnace. All apologetic believers should remember that they are neither sceptics nor believers. They don’t want to take sides or have definite opinions, and spend their lives uncertain about themselves and others. The question is: Do they really want to continue living like that?


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