There are many religious societies, organizations and institutions preaching Sikh faith. However, the indifferent attitude of the youth towards religion continues to be a major concern of the elders. To motivate Sikh youth to value their heritage, Guru Gobind Singh Study Circle, Ludhiana, Panjab has organized many student-units in different schools and colleges. One such unit at P.A.U., Ludhiana invited me during the spring semester of 1997, for a talk on the Sikh faith. Keeping in mind the disinterest of students towards faith, out of the many topics listed, 'Do we need religion today?' was chosen for open discussion in the Students Home auditorium there.
Though it was a Sikh study forum, the topic of the talk attracted a large number of clean-shaven youth as well. I could read from the faces of some students that they did not believe in God or in the philosophy of religion. Therefore, I decided to provide a twist in my lecture. Instead of justifying the need of religion, I passed on this responsibility to the youth. It made the discussion very lively and the results were much better than expected.
My introduction to the topic may be stated briefly as below:
1. Friends, many of you know that I am a strong believer of religion and I try to live up to the principles of my faith. However, being a scientist, I have some problems in accepting what I was told to believe and practice. The scientists now know a lot of what was unknown when the religions were founded and developed. History of the earth and evolution of man is no longer the field of faith alone. It is a subject taught in schools and colleges. Earth is no longer accepted to be the center of the universe; the sun and moon are no longer gods to be worshipped by human beings. As a child I was taught to bow to the moon, our good uncle, 'Chanda Mama'. Bathing in 'sacred' rivers and giving charity during solar and lunar eclipses were then religious requirements. Of course, some people out of ignorance do it even today to continue the tradition.
In the west, Galileo was declared guilty and imprisoned for reporting his scientific discovery that the earth revolves around the sun. His observation challenged the Bible, 'the word of God', and hence he had to suffer. (In 1986, the Pope confessed before scientists, in a televised speech that Galileo was right and the Pope, who punished him, was wrong. He regretted the punishment given to the scientist.)
Similarly there was a strong protest by Christians against the theory of evolution. Darwin was even abused for suggesting that man, as we find this species (Homo sapiens) today, was not created by God but has evolved over time. Scientists have found that the earliest human being, Homo erectus, who was the first human to walk erect on two feet, is already extinct. Now, Darwin's theory has become the foundation for the study of the evolution of life on earth.
2. Leaving aside that some beliefs of religions are unacceptable to science, history reports that their contributions to society have been negative. Let us start from our own country. In 1947 India was divided into Hindu India and Muslim India followed by bloodshed on a vast scale. It also involved untold miseries to millions of people who moved from one side of the border to the other. Violent sporadic clashes between Hindus and Muslims continue even today. In the Middle East, some Jews and Muslims (Palestinians) are thirsty for each other's blood. Killings are reported there every week. The violent clashes among Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are a long standing problem for the U.K. government.
You may look at any country and find that religion has caused and is still causing bitterness among human relations. Everywhere it has resulted in the unnecessary loss of life. Maybe, all this bloodshed in the world could have been avoided if there was no division of people into different religions.
3. Thirdly, religions were founded to keep society in social and moral discipline. It told people not to steal, rob, or tell lies. Religion requires an individual to earn his living honestly. It prohibits strong people from bullying or bothering the weak by declaring such acts as sins. Now, all this discipline is being imposed by the government. Law prohibits all anti-social activities and prescribes punishment for those who ignore it.
Another advantage of religion is that it directs people to give charity for the welfare of the needy, weak and poor. This responsibility, too, has been taken over by the government. Out of the tax collected from the people, government provides relief to the sick, old and poor.
In other words, the present social and political structure of society has made religion unnecessary. What we have been left with as religion is a set of rituals only. Many of these rituals make little sense to the people of the science and computer age. Religion, therefore, appears to be irrelevant for leading peaceful and happy lives. This thought is well reflected in the life of people, particularly, the modern youth.
4. Lastly, some persons openly say that they do not believe in God. Further, many of those who claim to believe in religion are seen not practicing it. People generally show blatant disregard to the instructions of their faith. This sends a clear signal to the youth that religion is no longer the need of the day.
Let us talk about Sikhs as an example. Sikh Maryada requires a disciple to recite Gurbani regularly. Sikhs are directed not to drink alcohol or use any other drug. Many Sikhs are seen, however, disrespecting these instructions. Can you guess how many Sikhs have even read that Maryada? Leave aside its study, just let me ask, "How many of you sitting here know that there is a pamphlet called Sikh Reht Maryada (Sikh code of conduct)?" It was finalized by the Panthic scholars and published by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar after it was approved by its general body.
It is common knowledge that many Sikhs drink alcohol without any hesitation even though they know that it is prohibited by their faith. Unfortunately, in the recent gurdwara elections alcohol was distributed to Sikh voters by candidates seeking election to the Sikh statutory body. If a large majority of believers and their leaders do not follow their faith and still live their lives without any problem, then where does the necessity of religion for our modern society lie? In the age of Science there seems to be no reason for us to hold on to the religion.
Of course, it was needed by the primitive, uneducated and unorganized society. Those periods are over, we are now ready to enter the 21st century. Let us shake off this unnecessary and out-of-date philosophy of faith and found a homogeneous society without religion to enter into the modern era of science.
Having presented the reasons which youth generally give for not believing in faith, I concluded my talk by asking, "Is there anybody who will like to plead the case of those who are in favor of retaining religion as it is? Any questions? Any observations please? Thank you."
Nothing was left to be said by the youth to challenge the necessity of religion. To carry on the discussion, they had no alternative but to justify the need for religion. They did perform that responsibility very ably leading to an interesting and creative discussion. The purpose of my talk was thus achieved.
To the surprise of everyone, particularly the organizers of the talk, a clean-shaven student gave the first and the final answer. (He was awarded a book, The Sikh Faith, Questions and Answers by the author.) It helped the youth to jointly conclude:
We humans go through the same biological functions as other animals yet we are considered different and superior than all of them. We claim this because we have the unique faculty to understand that we humans have a mission or purpose in life other than to just exist, procreate and die as other living beings do. This mission is provided only by religion. Actually religion provides a lot more than mere discipline to keep peace in society. It gives meaning to the life of human beings. Religion tells what human beings are to achieve besides just completing the biological cycle as Homo sapiens.
Humans live not only to enjoy their life and continue their species but they have a purpose in life as well. No scientist, sociologist or scholar can tell that purpose. What one is expected to do with one's life can only be explained by a holy person, whom we call a prophet or guide. The mission and the path advised to be followed by a devotee is named religion or faith. That is how we have so many religions today.
Discussing the negative aspect of religion, as a cause of hatred and war, it was found that it is politicians who misuse religion, otherwise, there is nothing inherently wrong in the philosophy of religion. Also, politicians split people into nations, ethnic groups, linguistic divisions, regional units, etc., to make people fight with each other. They even divide professional people to create conflicts amongst them. The groups fight for their economic and political benefits. Politicians will use anything and everything to divide humanity; religion is just one of them. It is the people who must stand up against corrupt politicians when they misuse it.
In the end, everyone was happy and left the auditorium with great satisfaction. The youth were pleased that they could meet the expectations of the speaker and prove them to be scholars of their faith. They had developed an answer that was acceptable to everyone at the gathering. The speaker was happy that he was successful in convincing the youth that believing in faith is essential to raise the status of Homo sapiens above the animal kingdom. It is only the practiceof our faith, which gives us the title of human beings, otherwise, biologically we are no different from animals.