More often than not, I struggle having conversations in a large group with a lot of opinionated people. This isn’t because I can’t debate or have strong opinions, but because the more you talk to a majority of the opinionated crowd, you realize that their whole basis of being on one side of a debate is based on a minuscule amount of information, usually disseminated to them through word of mouth. I imagine that a person realizes they don’t have any opinion on a certain topic and with that FOMO, asks around for others’ opinions until that one specific point of view becomes their stance on the topic as well. I can’t have conversations with such people because I fail to contribute with an opinion of my own. I take time to process information through active listening, which involves sensitizing yourself to a wealth of information, parceling out things that then resonate with you, and most importantly: trying not to speak until you’re sure.
Religion, sexuality, and feminism were all topics that four years ago I had very little opinion on because my sources of information were scarce, and to be honest I didn’t think of them as much as I did about other things at the time. While both sexuality and feminism are conversations for another blog post, I wanted to write something about religion. With Diwali right around the corner and me being home to celebrate it for the first time in four years, there’s an air of tradition and celebration all around which really excites me. While the act of celebrating Diwali is a source of joy, understanding where I stand with the religion I apparently practice, seems a lot more pensive. Through active listening I have learnt a lot about others’ views on religion and found that their views have either influenced my thinking or have helped me create a counter view.
On the need for religion
Every other Sunday in college, Morgan and I would be invited to her host family’s house. Rob and Mary were both proud Denison Alums who lived a walking distance away from campus. Mary works at Denison, while Rob has a design studio, cooks amazing food, and also is a great musician. Conversations at these dinners were amazing. We would go on rants about the school, politics, and the recent shooting in god-knows-where-America. On one of these beautiful dinners we touched upon religion with Morgan’s argument being, “Why do we need religion?”. She believed that religion offers nothing to us anymore and that it could just be done away with. Now, I usually don’t disagree with Morgan. Sometimes I act like I disagree just to know more about her point of view. Plus, a passionate and angry Morgan is such an entertaining sight to watch. But usually, I’m on her side.
On this topic however, I disagreed. Here’s why I think religion is still needed. Most religions started because we didn’t have answers to life’s big epistemological questions: “Where did we come from?”, “What happens when we die?” and so on. At the time, science was far behind to help us answer anything, and so as humans typically do, we blamed someone else for all this. Here, it was a higher all-knowing, invisible being that lives somewhere above us but at the same time also in our hearts. As science progressed, our understanding on some of these questions have changed. Now most people don’t think the world was 6,000 years old but the scientific answer to “What happens when you die?” is still unsettling. Funnily enough, there are a lot of scientists (and Charles Darwin) who’ve written about how not being able to perceive death is in fact an attribute to evolution. Because scientific answers to our founding questions are so vague and unsettling, religion needs to exist. Religion acts like (and this is where I milk my B.S. in Biology) a beta blocker. It prevents us from thinking about those questions so that we continue to function as an otherwise complete human being.
Twisha was one the smartest people I met at Denison. She was a PPE major from Mumbai who studied at United World College. So not only was she smart, but also woke. We became friends in sophomore year since we were a part of the same club on campus. She used the ideologies of active listening really well. You would never hear her talk in a debate but when she would, it’d be these nuggets of golden information. One of the things she taught me was this term— “Cultural Hindu.” I vividly remember this scene: a white guy asked her and I if we followed a religion. I said that I’m Hindu, while Twisha hesitated and said, “I’m culturally Hindu,” to which both the white guy and I looked at her with the same face of utter confusion. She defined it as someone who is agnostic but participates in the traditions and lifestyles set by the religion.
I found this so interesting. Hinduism is so old that it precedes most modern governmental ways of life. People lived under the aegis of this religion and therefore the religion created everything that Indians eat, wear and celebrate. Today, for some of us religion isn’t a way of life but a part of life. It’s a fragment, not an umbrella that casts a presence on our whole being. Hence, we don’t have to believe in a higher power but our lifestyles can claim us to Hinduism. I don’t know where you stand on the idea of being claimed by a religion but if all it takes is some clothes and traditions, I don’t think it’s a bad deal.
Where does religion go wrong
My dad is not a religious person. He has no interest in understanding who is God, though he’s the best source of information on things that were written in the Mahabharata and Ramayana. He dislikes Navratri and is the happiest when no one in the house is fasting in the name of the Lord. Though, when you ask him what his true opinions are about religion he doesn’t flat out say that he hates it. He believes anything that provides people with inner peace and happiness shouldn’t be relegated, but celebrated. If religion does that for you, then you should openly practice your beliefs with one condition— don’t preach to others. This is something I have heard him say to many people and is also one of those opinions that has imprinted on my outlook about this topic.
So, am I a Hindu? Depends on who you ask and how you define it. I think I am living a life where I am proud of the traditions I chose to celebrate by the clothes I wear, the dialect of Hindi I speak, the food that I cook. Since these seem to all stem from a Hindu lifestyle, then I guess I do.
Of course I am just touching the tip of the iceberg with this conversation. And yes, this is coming from a person who is male, who is privileged and who lives in a liberal household. So, if you disliked this - comment! If you loved it - comment! But if you seriously think something is wrong in the way I am thinking about this, message me. I’d love to listen.