What Purpose Religions Serve in Human Life?

Faith and Religion

by Jayaram V

Many people use their religion whereas it should be practiced rather than used.

There is an increasing awareness among people about their religious beliefs. Public surveys show that people’s attitude towards their faiths and religious beliefs have been gradually changing. A recent survey conducted in the USA revealed that many educated people drew their inspiration from multiple religions, instead of a single faith. Some even prefer to renounce their religious beliefs to follow spirituality. Sri Aurobindo suggested that at some stage in their progress people should give up their religious identities and practice spirituality to transcend their limited consciousness.

However, for most people religions are still important and form the core of their worldviews. Each religion has a social dimension and a personal dimension. It has aspects that appeal to a whole group of people and aspects that are purely personal and inspirational. When they represent groups and classes, religions come under the dark and heavy influence of human passions and aggression whereas in their relationship to individuals they play a significant role in transforming and improving their character and conduct.

Unfortunately, the social dimension takes precedence in public affairs and attracts wider attention as it creates more noise and conflicts. Religions lose their shine and sanctity when they are dragged into human conflicts and used by power players to further their aims. When people are drawn into the medley of group loyalties and resultant confusion and conflicts, it degrades them and leads to crises of faith. In the conflicts of human egos, religions are mute witnesses, whose authority is frequently invoked by morally corrupt minds to justify their acts of violence, passion and incitement. In the chaos it creates, even the quiet ones cannot remain quiet as they are obliged to defend their faith and stand their ground.

History proves that religious fundamentalism has been a major source of violence, wars, and aggression. Religions in the hands of evil people can incite the worst of the human passions and draw even the sane ones into the middle of it. Unfortunately, there is no immediate solution to it because you cannot easily reason with those whose minds are clouded by the darkness of ignorance and prejudice. It is even more difficult when it helps a few to invoke religious authority and control people for selfish ends.

Your faith has the potential to transform your life and elevate your consciousness. Your affinity with your religion is part of your destiny. You can use it to become a better human being and forge a deeply personal connection with the God you worship. Problems arise only when you do not practice your religion or do not live its ideals but use it to express your anger or incite passions for egoistic reasons.

Why do people practice their faith? What purpose it serves? If you are a religious person, have you ever wondered why you should practice your faith and what you might expect from it? What is important to you, practicing your faith for self-transformation or denigrating the faiths of others for your ego satisfaction? Are you one of those who provoke others by telling them that their faith is inferior and they need to convert to your faith? Many people do it and do not even realize how offensive it is, and how it will set in motion a chain negative of thoughts and reactions. If someone comes to you and tells you that you need to convert to another faith, is it not that in the estimate of that person you are an ignorant fool who cannot choose what is good for you even in the information age?

They are important questions, which everyone needs to answer to stay away from the destructive influence of religious sociopaths. You should not practice religion to gain the approval of others or secure social benefits. Your connection with your religion is purely personal, and you must practice it to improve your thinking and behavior. Faith is important, to keep yourself motivated, calm, and on the right side of life. In the following discussion we will examine the importance of religions, and why people should practice them.

Religions help you fulfill your desires

From the time you wake up until you go to bed you are subject to numerous desires. Desire for food, water, comfort, rest and sleep are the basic desires, which you cannot ignore. Then, you are subject to higher desires such as desire for success, recognition, happiness, satisfaction, love, belongingness, status, esteem, and self-actualization. They cannot be ignored. You need them to enrich your life and experience peace and fulfillment.

However, you know that with your limited abilities and resources you cannot fulfill all your desires. It is an important lesson which you learn from your early childhood. For your own peace of mind, you learn to choose within your limitations, and live with feelings of failure and frustration. When those desires are not fulfilled, how can you cope with them?

It is where your faith comes to your help. Your scriptures do not discourage you from pursuing desires. They ask you to choose wisely so that your actions do not violate the order and regularity of the world or lead to your own suffering. You have the permission from scriptures to pursue your goals and desires according to the laws they prescribe. They give you the assurance that if you want your desires and wishes to be fulfilled, you should look to God and pray to him with faith and devotion.

Your faith gives you the power to manifest your thoughts and desires and overcome any obstacles that you may face in realizing them. It gives you strength, courage, and the power of conviction to pursue your dreams and goals. With your limited abilities, you may not achieve much in your life, but when you bring God and faith into your thoughts, you greatly improve your chances of success. Through prayers and worship you can offset your limitations and bring God into your life to be your guide and protector. It is not an exaggeration to say that people would not practice any religion if they had no desires or if they do not have any hope or faith in the ability of their prayers to invoke divine help.

They make you feel secure

What is your biggest fear in life? It is always the loss of something, a friendship, a relationship, a gain or a possession, status, name and fame, virtue, peace, and life. Hindu scriptures say that this world is ruled by the Lord of Death, who devours everything. Even gods are afraid him. Impermanence characterizes our existence, which is a great source of fear and insecurity. Fear rules our minds. Truly, it is the lord of our wakeful consciousness. We perceive the impermanence of the world and live between the dualities of pain and pleasure, loss and gain, and birth and death. We cannot hold on to anything, and we cannot feel secure in this world even with the best of amenities and protection. The unpredictability of human nature, and the depths to which human wickedness can sink are themselves sources of anxiety and fear.

The main concern of people in this world is mostly how to secure their lives and feel protected. They are motivated by fear rather than anything else. In the process they raise around them physical and mental barriers and restrict themselves further. Whether you forge relationships, seek wealth, power or status, it is done mainly to secure your life against the wrath of Nature and the uncertainties of life. Yet, none of that make you feel secure since life is so uncertain and unpredictable. Material possessions do not guarantee you freedom from fear. This is an important lesson which many people learn in their lives.

Religions teach you how to cope with fear and endure the impermanence and uncertainty of life. Through prayers and worship and seeking divine help, you can greatly reduce your fear and anxiety. Since God is considered the protector and preserver of good, and destroyer of evil, for many people the very thought of him is assuring and comforting. Alternatively, you can practice detachment and renunciation to suppress your fears and cultivate indifference towards the uncertainties of life. For mentally normal people, there is no better antidote than having faith in God’s help and protection.

They make you feel good

What does "feeling good" mean? It is the feeling that you are on the right side of things, you are not corrupted by evil, and you are making right choices and progressing in the right direction. It also means having peace, happiness, and moral strength to be yourself and live in your mind and body without feeling conflicted and remorseful. How can you have that when you live in a world that is driven by relative values and selfish interests? Even if you are leading a virtuous life, people may criticize you because they are jealous of you or unhappy that you are a good person. How can you be certain that you are making right choices and your actions are not creating negative consequences? Since there is a lot of confusion about our values and morality, it is difficult in this world to be free from guilt, remorse and fear of sin. There is no way that you can be truly certain about anything in this world. You may use reason and discretion, but they cannot be effectively applied to every situation.

It is where your faith comes to your rescue. Through scriptures and through the examples of seers and saints who exemplify it in the past and by presenting to you an ideal code of conduct, it tells you how to conduct yourself and lead a virtuous life. Your religion offers you many role models whom you can safely emulate. Every seer, sage, prophet and incarnation gives you the same message. They set examples and provide you with laws, teachings, and ethical standards to live virtuously.

You will not get that much clarity about virtue and morality anywhere else. One of the rewards of being religious and a follower of God is that it makes you feel good. It empowers you to use the tenets of your faith in your daily life and feel assured that in the battle of life you are on the side of righteousness. You may not be rich. You may not have all the things that you need in life. Yet, being a religious person and living virtuously, you will have the comfortable feeling that you are closer to God, and he is guiding your life and actions. One of the greatest comforts of life is the belief that God is in on your side, and you are with him.

They help you endure suffering

Suffering comes to you in many ways. Whenever you perform any action against your will, it produces suffering. Whenever you fail to fulfill your desires, you experience suffering. From the time you wake up from the bed, and as you keep pushing yourself during the day against unpleasant feelings, and until you return bed, you remain in the grip of suffering. Suffering is universal. Everyone is its victim. Whether he is a billionaire, a minimum wage earner, young or old, illiterate or literate, male or female, one thing that is common to them is that they all suffer in their individual ways, nurse their wounds, and cope with physical and mental disturbance.

No one is free from the oppression of life and the helplessness which they experience against the forces of the world. Yet, people learn to cope with their problems and manage to keep their depression and dissatisfaction within limits. From where does they get this strength? It arises mainly from their religious beliefs. There is an invisible connection between a person’s ability to endure suffering and the strength of his faith. If you believe in God and practice your religion, you are less likely feel oppressed by the pressures of life. Your faith gives you courage and strength to endure your suffering and accept it as part of your life. You may learn to view it as a direct consequent of your past actions, past sins, divine retribution, karma, or even a learning and correcting mechanism.

Religious people know that suffering is a cleansing process, and with each suffering they become purer and grow in divine light. Religions also give hope and solace to those who are terminally ill. Their faith helps them cope with the fear of death and accept their suffering, with the positive belief that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. The scriptures are a great source of comfort to those who go through periods of darkness in their lives. They explain why suffering arises and how you can resolve it. Religions prepare you to accept suffering and endure it by teaching you how you may cultivate the virtues of detachment, dispassion, sameness and compassion towards both pain and pleasure. They also encourage you to serve those who are suffering from problems and need help. Many people find relief and comfort in the scriptures and words of God, and in serving the devotees of God.

They encourage you to live a virtuous life

Is there is any practical reason why in this world anyone should be virtuous or practice morality? Why do you think that world is still largely peaceful, and why the humanity is still surviving? It is because people still have faith in the rule of God and the fear of divine punishment. They still believe that God is watching over the world, and he is the ultimate witness, enforcer, protector and upholder of righteousness. They know that at some point in their existence they become answerable to their actions, and therefore they need to be on the right side of things. Who wants to be an object of divine wrath and retribution? Without religious values and morality, it will be difficult for anyone to practice virtue or pursue the path of righteousness.

Is there any rational basis why you should be moral for morality sake or good at your own expense? What happens when you are honest, but others are not? When you have many selfish and dishonest people around you how far it is practical to be their opposite? You can see with your own eyes how this world treats good people. Its ways are not comforting to anyone who wants to exemplify the virtues of humanity. For example, what happens if you have a business competitor to whom means do not matter but only the end? How can you compete with him from your moral high ground and how far you can sacrifice your interests to give up your fight? Most likely, if you stick to your values, you will lose your competitive edge and suffer great losses. It may even cripple your financial status and hurt your family.

The fact is, in worldly life you do not find rational justification to practice morality. If you are a straightforward person most certainly you will have more enemies than friends and you will not be trusted by many. If you speak truth without discretion, you will be shunned by the world. We see how the world worships success and ignores the questionable methods used by people to achieve it. The only justification to be morally righteous comes to you from your faith or your belief in God and his eternal justice. Religions are the basis of human morality.

Without religions this world will be a chaotic place. You do not find any morality in Nature. It does not care whether your methods are morally correct or not. It only cares whether your methods ensure your survival and success. Even deception is part of Nature’s design to protect the species. Religions are therefore, the moral guardians of the world. Unfortunately, many people in today’s world are not committed to the morality they preach. Yet, the situation will be worse if religions are completely suppressed and replaced by political ideologies and materialistic values.

They inspire you to think beyond life

If you think that your life is for a day, you will pay attention to the day and think no more. If you think that it will last for a year, you will plan for that period and try to spend it carefully and purposefully. Most religions suggest to the possibility of an eternal life. If you are a truly religious person, it should naturally expand your vision and your thinking. People will not take the idea lightly if they believe that they have a life after death and it depends upon how they live upon earth. When you believe in that possibility, you will plan for it and make sure that your journey into the next life will be smoother and without any problems.

If you believe in karma and rebirth, you will be even more responsible in your thinking and behavior. You will avoid sinful conduct and try to secure a better future for yourself. Most importantly, when you view your life on a broader time scale that extends beyond this lifetime, you will automatically transcend your small thinking and narrow-mindedness. As you view your life on the scale of eternity, you will see your life and your problems differently. You will develop insight, discernment, patience and courage as you become acutely aware of your spirituality, your unity with others, and your true purpose upon earth.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Image Attribution: Image for this essay has been adapted from the work of Jesus-zambrano-mdq under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. The essay is © Hinduwebsite.com

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