Friday, March 23, 2012

Does Religion Divide or Unite People?

This is very complex and challenging question. What makes us ask this question? Why religion was created? What is its situation today? Is there any need of religion in today’s world? These are very relevant and important questions.

Many centuries ago when we didn't have proper understanding about nature, life- its complexity and many other things. People that time needed some system which can help them to solve these mysteries and religion was born to explain these things. It did the same thing which science does for us today (see my post science and religion). Another important question is if God/truth is one then why we have so many religions in the world? Before beginning of modern era modes of communication were not that well developed, knowledge or information generated was difficult to communicate and transfer, so people living in different regions developed their own way of understanding nature and its functioning. This gave birth to so many religions which we see around us today. They are very different in their approach but all try to explain nature of some super power which they think created and controls this universe. Religion is nothing but a belief system which was created to help people understand mysteries of universe, life and related things, to satisfy our curiosity about uncertainty and unpredictability in life. People who believe in certain set of ideas about creation of universe and its creator associate themselves with certain type of religion.

Now let’s try to understand why every religion claims that their way or method is correct/better than others and is their claim right. Suppose we assume that number 4 is ultimate truth (or God), so someone who discovers 2+2=4 will think he/she found the secret of ultimate truth and that’s the way to go, in a way he/she is right but if he/she thinks (as most of religious groups who believe in their scriptures blindly think) that’s the only way to reach to 4 then they are definitely wrong, 1+3=4, 5-1=4, 10-6=4 and like that there are so many ways to reach that ultimate target and each of them is unique and correct in their own way. By this logic I think that every person is entitled to have his/her own religion. What we do is we stick to one method which we like or feel is correct and say all other methods are wrong. All religions agree that God is one but then again fight on ways to reach or understand it, very strange. This simple example shows that there are many ways to reach same destination.

When I came across different faiths and tried to understand them I didn’t find anything fundamentally different in any of them, rather it amazed me that there are so many ways to teach basically same philosophy and actually it’s an amazing choice human beings have, if you don’t like one particular way just choose another, pretty simple. Either everyone is right or all are wrong, when we understand this then there won’t be any problem in understanding each others faiths and beliefs. The world will be beautiful place with no hatred no fight based on religion, there will be at least one less reason to kill each other. Hinduism is often criticized for its idol worship and having many Gods-demigods, or seeing god in everything (tree, fire, air, stones, etc.). Its written in Vedas that’s creator of universe is a formless, image-less and genderless entity, but if you assume there is a creator (God) then what’s wrong in having some image of God using our imagination and giving it some name. Already we created the religion then what’s wrong in creating God and then why not to have many forms of it. It’s like having vending machine from which one can choose whichever God he/she like and worship it. If they are different forms of same thing then what’s the problem? If you like, nothing wrong in worshiping God as formless entity and also nothing wrong in worshiping it in some form, everyone is entitled to have their own God, it's a personal thing. If we agree all religions lead to the same ultimate truth then why to question others method. In science there are different branches, all try to look for facts, but for eg. chemist doesn't ridicule physicist or try to convert them to chemist because they both know that even though their ways are different they are leading to same destination. If everyone is heading to same destination but just taking different path then is what's the problem? 

Why don’t we humans understand that religion was created to unite us, make us more civilized and tolerant towards each other but we are doing exactly opposite.  Today religion divides more than uniting people, and we have to blame ourselves for this situation not the religion, that's why I asked in the beginning do we need them anymore. We converted religion in exclusive societies, where people believing certain set of principals are welcomed but not others. Let’s stop this division and hatred based on religion and live like civilized humans are supposed to live. Humanity is the only religion everybody is born with now lets practice it also.

Thanks for reading and please share your views and questions on this topic.

Related links for further reading:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_persecution

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

40 comments:

  1. THere are so many comments and questions are raised in this discussion (interesting thought vinay) and I will comment on different points as different time as time permits. For now let me start with the following question.

    Do we need religion?
    I dont know about "we" but I would certainly feel need of it (only in its original form). What is its original form? As such I born in hindu family but is Hinduism an original from of hindu religion? I dont think so. I think hindu is not a region but a civilization (check the origin of word hindu). Does any so called hinduism scriptures (ramayana, mahabharata, geeta) used the word hindu? But the meaning of words changes with time and now a days people call it religion then it's fine as far as they practice the original believes. For convenience of communication, I will call my believes as hinduism.
    According to hinduism (not just a religion but a belief or more appropriately a theory) the word DHARMA (what we now think is a religion) has some different meaning. As I understand, DHARMA is never social but a personal concept. So I have to decided my dharma and you do yours.

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    1. continued from the comment...
      Coming back to the original point of why do I need it? Because history wittiness that those who have practiced DHARMA in it's true form have established very civilized society (at least during their time). And as a scientist I prefer "not to reinvent the wheel". Another simpler way to explain this is to use an example. A child has in born affection to his mother (human quality). At the same time he also get attracted to someone who lures him with candy (selfish and materialistic or animal instincts). The true development of the child will be the one when human qualities are nurtured and selfish instincts are minimized. Having well established guidelines (DHARMA) would help the child to diminish the animal instincts and evolve as a human.

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    2. Nitin problem here is nothing stays in its original form...everything evolves with time, thats the law of nature. Religion also evolved to some extent with time but people still try their best to stop its evolution. You are right that Hinduism is more like a culture than religion, the name has geographical significance. Religion originated as social phenomena, its belief and practice can be termed as personal matter but it didnt stay like that. Organized religion tries to preach, convince..and now there are so many organized religions selling their products to people that there is fierce rivalry between them.
      Everyone can not understand the concept of Dharma and its importance, thats why we need rules and regulations to run society smoothly. If you see in todays world we are more safe because of laws and regulations and not because of religion, if religion would have served its purpose we would have been living in harmony with each other, but it didnt work that way that's why I questioned is it (religion) relevant today?
      We have already reinvented the wheel and running it as per our need. Most people dont choose their religion they are born in it. You are right that child is born with affection (its natural quality) but that affection is for its surrounding and mother is one of them whatever he/she will see or whoever takes care of him/her child will get attached to them.
      Good points continue the discussion. We can do it of FB also if more people participate there lets see..

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    3. I am totally agree with you on the fact that nothing stays in its original form. Actually our religion (let's call hinduism for the discussion purpose) itself gives the message. After Ram avatara (if you belive), the next time the avatara was krishna not Rama again? Why so? Even the incarnation have changed their worldly appearance with age. So evolution is natural phenomena which is also supported spiritually. However during this process of evolution humanity is vanishing which is not suppose to happen (message from Ram vs. Krishna avatara). Most of the so called humans are selfish (wether they follow the religion or not). I think the original purpose of Veda is to try to attempt to maintain humanity during the evolution process.
      Second, I am OK with the society of rules and regulations not because it is best but it works for the present social system. However, I think, Vedantis were really smart. Instead of civilization with rules and punishment for breaking it, they built a civilization with PRINCIPLES and KRMA or KARMA PHAL (results). While society of rules need a policeman to make sure every one stays within the system, vedantis dont need any policemen since eveyone's mind does their job for them. Another advantage of the society of principles is that human mind will make it's own principles according to its own background (i.e. will not remain radical) and having it attached to spiritual thoughts will help keep the humanity as a core in the principle making process. So the question is which system is good for the future? RULES, PRINCIPLES or A NEW METHOD? The method of RULES the most suitable for the present time, it is not the best for the better future as requires the use of force. New method can be considered (reinventing the wheel), however it needs very through studies, similar to what vedantis did. However considering the huge size and division within society, this idea seems almost next to impossible. In such scenario, I would certainly vote for PRINCIPLES as it has already been tested before. The question is, can the whole society be made to follow their own principles?Well, if you try to change the society, then it no longer a method of principle but will become the method of rules. In the method of principles the success and failure is limited to oneself.
      Regarding people changing their religion from what they born as: That is the sign of thought process is in operation which is good. However it also means he/she is not satisfied with 1st religion and hopping to be satisfied with another. The only question I have to such person is has he understood the 1st religion to fullest? If yes, I would like to be his student :-). And if no or not capable of then what's the guaranty that the 2nd religion will satisfy him (Remember the grass is always greener on the other side or the river).

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    4. Good discussion here, I will chip in as recently converted logicist (atheist) from hinduism here. First of all, I accept hinduism as philosophy and I love that philosophy which simply says that everything is equal and there is god in everything. I follow the same philosophy and TRY to give respect to everything I see. But fact is, currently the system is messed up, and trying to resurrect same might take longer than building new one. Think as a industry person, lets drop something which is not working. Why chew it like a chewed chewing gum (no offence intended). If I have to spend my entire life learning about religion, then whats the point. I am already following laws which is enough for me, why bring other laws?

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    5. If people are wise enough to realize importance of their 'Karma' and 'Karma Phal' then we will need minimum rules and regulations but historically its not like that. Even in Mahabharat time we had laws and punishments, so one thing is for sure that our society can not function without laws. I think its too dangerous to depend on personal wisdom and judgement for smooth functioning of society. All four Yugas had their own rules and systems, we have ours.
      Nitin is right in mentioning futility about changing religions, it doesn't change anything but might help that person psychologically to feel better, I think its a personal matter and many times aggressive marketing or organized religions is the reason for these conversions.
      Good discussion, more people should participate in it. Invite more people to participate, more opinions, more knowledge...:)

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    6. You are right about each age (yuga) has its rules and we should have our own, but we need to make sure that they are in favor of humanity and don't harm the humanity. Clear example of different in rules is as you mentioned, the difference between RAM and KRISHNA incarnation. The question is what are the similarities??? We should learn this and then based on this learning propose new rules that fits the present.

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    7. And even if we succeed in making such rules. The approach will no longer be different then what religious people have pursued. i.e. "Make a rule and have every one follow it". The friction between them will remain same until one of the two is not extinct. So how would it solve the problem?

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    8. once these rules become law people will follow it as they follow other laws...friction will always there, it was there, it is there, so we cant avoid it only try to minimize it... frictionless society never existed and will never exist...thats the truth...and thats why its fun and challenge..:)

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    9. In such case on what basis you think this attempt will reduce the friction and not increase it? So far we have witnessed the frictions between two religions (between two radical thinkers). Such thing will trigger additional friction between religious and non-religious groups!! what about that?

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    10. once its law there is no question of religious or non-religious people fighting over it as both have to follow the same law...there is already enough friction between different sections of society only law is keeping them in control, its the only thing which seems to be working. Religion in its present form failed to bring social harmony. I am not proposing anything new, we are already practicing this thing, once you are outside your home all you follow is law...every country's constitution (which indirectly is law) is like their religion and where most people follow it without thinking about their religion those countries are doing good..others are still trying to figure out how to get there...

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    11. In Gita Krishna clearly says that ones Religon also is one binding ego that keeps a human soul in Perpetual Karma and from liberation and realizing the attainment of Moksha or Godhead. Religion is nothing but a social tool being exploited by few smarties to keep the foolish mass under some institutionalized tentacles and an obstacle of freedom of thought and attaining wisdom. The Sanatana Dharma clearly says that between God and a soul no third agent is required like what Christianity or Islam profess. Ihe objective of ones ultimate goal is to seek God by his own effort and quest and not by any written books or commands. So a human being should get out of the tenacle of religon for realising full spirituality and mental peace and freedom.

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    12. Thanks a lot neelamegan soundara rajan for your comment, I like your explanation, I hope people at least realize this much and come out of clutches of organized religion, but I think you know that this is a huge task and we should keep trying to help people to realize this.

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    13. I am confused with this topic i have been working on an essay about this question.it is basically in the middle it does divide different society's beliefs also it does unite certain people that are in the some religion

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  2. http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2010/05/25/does-religion-unite-or-divide/

    It does both, really. It alienates. People of a given faith are typically united with others of that faith, and often (although subtlely) it is around agreement on the accepted tabboos as much as agreement on the specifics of the faith. But if you are not a member of that faith, then barriers exist and typically get stronger.
    So religion can unite people who are in the 'In Crowd', and divide people who are in different 'In Crowds'.

    http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/the-question/does-religion-unite-or-divide-us-20110422-1drac.html

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    1. you are right sir..it does both..I liked the link you shared on facebook
      http://www.writespirit.net/inspirational_talks/spiritual/swami_vivekananda_talks/the-ideal-of-a-universal-religion/index.html
      we need to work on breaking those barriers, but they seem to be getting stronger thats why I raised the question if we need religion in today's world..

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  3. I think the reason why we see religion is dividing is because of the attitude of people that "What I think is right and everybody who thinks differently them me is wrong." People view the world from one perspective (according to me a typical western concept of). A novel thinking would be "I am right in my domain but others are right in their domain as well (i.e. applying theory of relativity in real life)".
    Different religion has similarities as well as differences. If you carefully analyze them one will find that all those similarities are resemblance of humanity while all the differences are the resemblance of our Identity (e.g. Hindu vs Muslim or Indian vs American etc.)

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    1. the problem with religion is, the way you see there are similarities in all of them, people see the differences in similar manure. One can not deny that the differences are also very sharp and obvious, that makes people to become hardcore fanatic when they start believing it totally with 100% conviction. So it has manufacturing defect according to me, we are trying to cover it but people will find it and then it becomes difficult to explain.

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    2. I have hard time believing the term "manufacturing defect" at least in the veda's thoughts (almost dont know any thing about other religion). I am very new fan of veds but more I think of the concepts veda's proposed more I become attracted and respectful to it (sometime we should discuss just veda's as a separate topic). I would rather prefer the word religion has deteriorated which is nature (I wonder how deep vedantis would have studied nature that they predicted Kaliyuga even before Satyuga!!). No one can avoid deterioration. The only thing we can do i renovate(upgrade) it and avoid its abuse of it so that the extinction can be pushed away. The thought of "it (religion) does not make sense to me so I am OK with its destruction" is also not convenencing to me.
      The core problem here is that we are trained for all the things (science, commerce and every thing else needed for routine life) but systematic study of religion (in it's actual form). The only method we follow to understand religion is through family members (who themselves are not trained by professionals) books (which may help to some extent, but still it is one way communication) and spiritual leaders (there is a huge gap between student and teacher in this method). So overall it becomes as if (using a metaphor) I tried hard but still don't understand certain concept/theory (e.g. religion), I dont have any better theory (i.e. a concept tested on rational basis) but I know that this theory is wrong. OR in simple words I dont know what is right but I know that you are wrong (which I think is the core of all problems).

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    3. Vedas are wonderful text to read, full of lot of knowledge...I didnt read it all but in bits and pieces but what I see its also full of contradictions where it justifies creation of varna system, which eventually resulted in casteism and we are still struggling to get rid of it.
      I know that they didnt mean it to be that way but what will you can if medicines side effect is dangerous than benefit it offers? There is interesting read 'Who were Shudras' by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (if you have patience to bear such a lengthy book with lots of quoted from Vedas and other ancient scriptures'). Even scanning few pages of that book (its available online) you will understand what I am talking about.
      If religion and God remains mystery to most of us then we have to depend on so called scholars to understand it and then they can misuse their position and information they have for their own benefit (which history shows they do). Religion needs to be simple and easy to understand, if it will take ones lifetime to study and understand it then we definitely need a new system which is within our grasp and everyone in today's world can understand and analyze it.
      We all are here in search of right path and I am sure we will get it...

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    4. I never read vedas but from some well versed person what I found about vedas is as follows.
      Ved's language is similar to the languages presently spoken in Austria or Hungary. To understand vedas, one need to also read and understand undgundu scripture (granth) which explains the grammar of vedas and to understand this scripture, one also need to read bhaskaracharya's bhasya. Attempting to read vedas without understanding the grammar of could result misunderstanding. e.g. believe of 33 crores god in hinduism is the result of such misunderstanding

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    5. thats why I think its collection of knowledge collected from different places and cultures which was combined together for development of better society...

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    6. well based on my reading, the cast system (that we call bad today) was originally present in Ramrajya, however it wasn't bad at that time. As far as veda's are concerned, I think they introduced several concept as a traditional rituals that scientifically make sense in present world. If you agree with this then couple of questions comes in mind. 1. How did they understood such things without any real technology at that time? 2. If they were really smart peoples they why they introduced cast system (especially when they have predicted the arrival of Kaliyuga)? Although case system is not good for today's society was their any science behind it?

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    7. They had the technology that time, we just dont have enough evidence to prove it...it may not be the same which we have with us today but something which was relevant to their era...and many rituals are based on environmental, social and economical condition of society and region so they make sense and if they can write medical science like veda, these rituals are nothing compared to. We often make mistake that people loving on this planet were not as advanced as we are but if you see civilizations like Mohenjo-daro there is ample proof that they were very good in planning and architecture and many other things which still surprise us (pyramids for example)...so they had technique and technology we just dont know much about it.
      These yuga cycle is just division for the sake of convenience, I dont see any difference in different yugas. They all look same to me with good and bad people around, rich and poor, healthy and sick. Every past generation thinks that their future generation is progressing materially but going downhill as far as moral values are concerned (which I dont agree many times) but thats how it works and thats what is generation gap. There is always science behind every thing we just need to figure it out...:)

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    8. I agree with your point about yuga cycle that there were good and bad people all the time. However I think the percentage (based on analogy and comparison of scriptures) and the localization of such population was different. For e.g. According to ramayana all the all of the bad people (except vibhishana) were in Lanka (and of course trying to spread) while in ayoudhya all the people (except manthara) were portrayed as good hearted. Now in Mahabhrata good and bad characters are found within the same families!!!?? In Kaliyuga it is a complete mix up. I think even one individual live in two personalities depending on situation and his needs. Certainly there is not perfect boundary between each yuga but I feel there is certain clear distinct features. Interestingly whey Mahabharata was followed by Ramayana and not vise versa?? Or in other words why there is a certain pattern in scriptures?? Is is merely a coincidence or a logic behind it?

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    9. We are only looking at recorded history and always that doesnt give clear picture of entire society existed that time. Ramayan and Mahabharat are exceptional stories/events with exceptional characters and there it self we see characters to which we can still relate (thats why I said human nature is still same)...as the time passed our record keeping and documentation improved and we have more detailed records of recent history than very distant past.
      There is nothing totally black and white in Ramayan and Mahabharat, doesnt matter which happened first. Infact in Mahabharat all characters are grey, even in Ramayan Ravan or Manthara is not outright villainous character. If you look at avatars of Vishnu (if you believe in them) there are 4 in Satyug, 3 in Treta, 2 in Dwapar and supposed to be only 1 in Kaliyug and in Gita Krishna says (Yada Yada di dharmasya....) so he has to come more often in initial yugas than in later (duration of yugas is also important here) but the ratio of avatars remains same...that makes me think that ranking of yugas is way to glorify our past (nothing wrong in it). At the same time I have no doubt that we are progressing and are better than yesterday...

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    10. The only thing I dont understand is, by looking at last 50-100 years, why corruption and crime is increasing every year? What kind of progress is it?

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    11. we see it more because population is more...normally this is not such a big problem in less populated and developed countries...crime and violence is with us since human race came to existence, only methods and weapons change...as I said because of excellent modes of communication we know whats happening in whole world this was not the case before thats why you feel like that...its more or less same..population is the only difference and thats what is magnifying all the problems...

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    12. I am totally confused now. If the issues what we see is just a magnification due to technology and not the real increase in problem then let things run as they are running till now. Why to bother?? If they have not changed then why to worry?

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  4. We never had any 'Gods' so to say...They and religion 'have' been made by 'man'(humans.The prehistoric or earlier humans believed in the 5 forces of nature ...and that too in India 5 forces but elsewhere they do not recognize 'Akash'.
    Air,Water,Land and Fire is all that the westerners talk about but not Akash!!These because Humans have no control over them.

    Then later on they worshiped Horse, Cow etc.. as they helped them fulfill so many needs...

    And then man made his own Religion and Gods so to say he manufactured them!.....All these are making of our own thoughts and ideas!...

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    1. totally agree, planning to write about God also very soon...:)

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    2. Why in india they believe in 5 forces and not 4?

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  5. Panchtatva .... We cannot do without space.... Ironically all the missions of understanding space are by westerners and Russians etc... 'Akash' is an important element of LIFE/Universe.

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  6. http://www.speakingtree.in/spiritual-blogs/seekers/philosophy/Panchtatva-The-Essence-Of-Life

    An interesting and informative read..

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  7. the gang of confused people , no one is talking here about "Arya sanatan vaidic Hindu Dhrma". the only religion in this world is "sanatan dharm". you can clearly get this word in the 1st lesson of BhagvadGita.

    all others are beliefs & group of certain people.

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    1. Can you tell me from where you devised the term "Arya sanatan vaidic Hindu Dharma"?? Do any vedik texts have this? The word Hindu has geographical significance check the history of the word, no ancient scriptures use this term and yes this post is not about any particular religion or sect that's why no religion in particular is mentioned here. In their current form they all are more or less same in many aspects.

      I know the word 'Sanatan Dharma' and also know that it's used in Bhagavad Gita, but who told you that that's the only religion in this world? Is there any evidence to prove this? There are and were many beliefs and faiths existed in this world at any given time, that's why different regions have different cultures and lifestyle. If you are interested then please study the history of human civilization and you will understand this.

      And if you think here is the gang of confused people try doing something to reduce or remove their confusion don't try to make them more confused :)

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  8. When we understand the God exists within, the world will know peace. God may be out there, but we will miss God altogether if we never see the hand of the Creator within the hearts of all creation - all peoples, creatures, trees, plants, soils, waters, air.

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    1. The problem is each organized religion give so different description and definition of God that it's obvious to have conflicts, as long as these religions exist and compete with each other to recruit people this fight will continue, people who know the truth don't fight or fell prey for all these things.

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  9. religions were created to unite people but what's going on in this world today is the complete opposite, people are getting far from each other, their opinions, their action, everything is what their religion tells them to do and not what they actually feel. we were send in this world for a purpose and instead of completing our divine purpose are blindly following religion, our actions are confined to only what is written in our holy scriptures and only doing things which our religion allows, some of them are soo into religion that they fear going against their religion just because they believe by doing so they are going against GOD's will. believe me friends GOD and religion are two different things. according to me the world is in turmoil just because of this stupid religion concept, seriously i have no intention to hurt anyone by saying this but i have to say this and you have to agree that the world would have been a better place if there weren't many religion but just one, and that's HUMANITY, because at the end of the day its humanity that matters and nothing else. i also agree that religion taught us many things in life, the individual we are today, the way we think is all because of religion... but seriously no one has the right to tell how we should live our life, NO ONE, not even GOD. though GOD gave us life but he also doesn't have the right to tell us what we should do with our life.after all the main motive of our life in this world is to complete the purpose for which we have been send to this world and spread happiness

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    1. Thanks a lot Harshraj for sharing your views on this topic. I completely agree with you, if each one of us starts believing in humanity and act accordingly then we can solve many problems which we are facing.

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