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Spiritual Meditations (21 Mar 2012 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Why I No Longer Envy Born Believers

By Yoginder Sikand for New Age Islam

For many years, I harboured a deep-rooted envy for people who unquestioningly believed in whatever religion they happened to be born into. Their seemingly unshakable belief gave them, or so I thought, remarkable confidence, which I sorely lacked and desperately craved for. How I wished I could have the same uncritical faith! How I agonized about why my parents had never insisted that I follow any religious tradition, including their own! Surely, with the sort of commitment that the ‘born believers’ I knew displayed, weathering the storms that I had to confront in my life—and there were many—would have been infinitely less painful. How much suffering I would have been spared—or so I used to think.

Although I tried to experiment with various religions over the years—not very seriously, I must admit—I could never arrive at the same state of belief (or what critics would call ‘blind faith’) as that of ardent ‘born believers’. Lack of sincerity and commitment was certainly one factor. That it was solace or an end to my inner suffering, rather than truth, that I was searching for was another. But, equally, the fact that I simply could not bring myself to believe in and assent to the absurd, unacceptable and immoral claims, beliefs and tenets of some of the religions that I sought to engage with ruled out the sort of faith that I so desperately craved for.

Today, after years of studying different religions and religious communities, I no longer feel the way I used to about people with seemingly unshakable belief in the religions they were born and socialized by their parents into. Indeed, I am now profoundly thankful to have been spared the ideological brainwashing that billions of ‘born believers’ throughout history have been—and continue to be—subjected to.

True religion, as I understand it, ought to provide ultimate truths concerning existence, life, death and beyond and the divine realms. Surely, accessing or realising these truths should be a matter of ultimate importance for those who claim to be religious. Nothing else, I presume, would be of greater importance to a sincere seeker. But, as I have painfully discovered, this is something that the vast majority of ‘born believers’ are simply not interested in or concerned about at all. For them, unflinching loyalty to the diktats of the religion they happened to be born into—even if what their religions teach on a range of issues may be patently absurd, unscientific or morally reprehensible —is of fundamental importance. Loyal adherence to the faith that they have inherited from their parents, rather than the desire to realize the truth as it is, underlies their religious life.

Since it is unquestioning adherence to the faith of one’s parents, rather than an honest search for truth, that drives the ‘born believer’, one can be sure that had he or she been born into a different religion instead he or she would have believed in it with equal passion. Consider the case of a born Christian, who insists that Christ is the only way to salvation and regards Mohammad as an imposter. Had the same person been born a Muslim instead, it is almost certain that he would insist that Islam was the only true religion and that Mohammad was the greatest prophet. He would also fervently believe that Christians would perish in hell for what he would consider as their disbelief. Likewise, a born Muslim might very likely believe that Hinduism is polytheistic nonsense. However, had she been born into an orthodox Brahmin household instead, she might well have regarded Islam as wholly false and considered Hinduism as the epitome of truth. Similarly, a born Muslim might regard the Sikh form of worship completely unacceptable in the eyes of God and the Sikh custom of leaving one’s hair unshorn absurd, but it is very possible that had he been born into a Sikh family instead he would have considered the Muslims’ five compulsory daily prayers as a tiresome burden and a meaningless ritual and the Islamic practice of male circumcision as barbaric. 

As these hypothetical examples illustrate, most blind believers are not guided by the quest for truth at all. Indeed, they are inimically opposed to that very quest. Most such believers follow their particular inherited religion and claim it to be the best simply because they were born into it and feel compelled to defend its teachings (no matter how absurd they may be) at any cost. They have been socialized into believing that the religion of their parents is the only valid repository of ultimate or divine truth, or, at least, the most superior one. At the same time, they are also trained to believe that all other religions are perversely wrong, wicked and immoral or, at the very least, definitely inferior to their own. That is why the blind believer can never generously admit the merits and truths of other religions. If he reluctantly does so, you can be sure that he still feels compelled to insist (to himself, if not to others) that his own religion remains the best. Blind belief of this sort is at the very basis of bloody conflicts in the name of religion the world over.

Blind believers are psychologically compelled to regard that every word of their scriptures, prophets, avatars and gurus as absolute divine truths. This belief is not based on any objective examination of their religions or of the lives of the key figures of their religious traditions, but simply on unquestioning belief. For even a shadow of doubt or skepticism to emerge in the minds of such believers about their religious texts or the personalities of their founding figures is regarded as the most heinous crime possible—which, they are forced into believing, will provoke the wrath of the divine. Instigating and instilling fear of divine punishment for daring to doubt or question is how most religions manage to maintain their stranglehold on the minds of blind believers.

Many widely-revered religious scriptures abound with absurd and unscientific claims, but blind believers do not dare question them. Some such texts depict a violent, hate-driven and vengeful God, who drives his followers to declare war on those who do not accept what they claim is the sole true religion. Others are replete with stories of deities who engage in adulterous affairs or are habitual drunkards and rapists. The narratives of the founders and key-figures of several religious traditions indicate that some of them suffered terrible moral flaws and were hardly the models of virtue that their followers imagine them to have been. Some are recorded as having engaged in looting, adultery and rape, others in incest, murder and widespread slaughter—crimes that would surely have landed them into jail or into mental asylums had they been around today.

In the face of all of this, blind believers are often compelled to engage in painful struggles to retain their faith in their religious traditions. This explains the frantic efforts they are forced to make to defend, cover-up, explain away or excuse the absurd claims and immoralities which some of their religious texts themselves record and even uphold as normative. Had their religiosity been based on the quest for truth, rather than unquestioning loyalty to the religion they have been born into and blindly accept, they would have been spared this painful torment of struggling to defend the indefensible.

True seekers are the polar opposite of blind believers. A true seeker refuses to be bound by or unquestioningly accept the religion that his forefathers have cherished, for he recognizes that this can be a major fetter in his search for truth. Indeed, he is open to the possibility that most or even every religious tradition, including the one he was born into, maybe flawed, while at the same time he recognizes that truth may well be found outside the boundaries of conventional religion.

Unlike the born or blind believer, the true seeker refuses to seek truth only in what are conventionally regarded as ‘holy’ scriptures or to be bound and confined by them. For such a seeker, the whole of the cosmos, including, and most importantly, his own self, is the arena for discovering and experiencing truth. What drives the true seeker on is the quest for the truth about the fundamental questions about the divine and about life and death, and in this search he refuses to blindly accept anything in any religion—including the one he happened to be born into—that does not conform to his experience, personal realization, the confirmed findings of science and the demands of basic morality.

True seekers are few—and have always been so. The harsh reality is that the vast majority of people who consider themselves religious are blind believers, almost all believers in whatever religion they happened to be born into and reared by their families to believe in. Why this has been so is not difficult to understand. Parents would like nothing more than their children to believe as they do, and so insist that they blindly accept their religious beliefs and practices. This continues over the generations in such a way as to completely rob children of their right to believe as they want or to seek truth for themselves. By the time they have grown up, most people have been firmly brainwashed into an uncritical, robotic acceptance of the religious beliefs of their ancestors. Even if some of them harbor doubts about these beliefs, few would dare to voice them for fear of being scorned by their families and peers, ostracized from their communities, or, in some cases, even killed for their dissenting views.

Believing what one’s family insists is true is thus the infinitely easier option for most folks. It spares them the agony of searching for truth, which is a quest that inevitably entails painful struggle, including against the absurdities and prejudices that one has been reared on since childhood in the name of religion. How much more convenient it seems is it to simply acquiesce in the prejudices of one’s family and unquestioningly accept the religious beliefs that they have clung to for generations—even if this means being shackled by absurd and unacceptable beliefs and rituals! For people too petrified of the hurdles that must be crossed in the search for truth or too lazy to even think of setting out on that path, blindly accepting the religion one is born into seems a tantalizing option, and one that is too tempting to be resisted.

But succumbing to this temptation comes at a very heavy cost—at the cost of truth itself. Remaining shackled by ignorance, prejudice and burdensome beliefs and rituals is the heavy price one inevitably has to pay for choosing to be a blind believer, passively accepting what one has been socialised into believing since infancy and simply too frightened to contemplate of thinking beyond it or critically analysing it. Clinging to a belief system simply because one is born into it clearly indicates, as nothing else can, that such religiosity is in no way impelled by a quest for discovering the truth—or, to use the language of God-centric religions, of knowing or realizing God. Inevitably, then, such belief, I suspect, can never lead one to the truth—or, if you prefer the term, God.

Having realized the futility of blind belief, no longer do I now envy ‘born believers’ for their seemingly unshakable faith. I now realize that it is not truth that they seek or know, but, rather, simply the prejudices they have inherited from their families in the name of religion which they spend their entire lives worshipping and defending. How much better, then, the freedom of the path of the seeker—despite the heavy odds on the way—than the shackles of blind faith, which I once so desperately craved to be imprisoned by!

Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore

URL:  http://www.newageislam.com/spiritual-meditations/yoginder-sikand-for-new-age-islam/why-i-no-longer-envy-born-believers/d/6889


  • Your observations are generally correct. However, in my case, I researched the various religions and re-affirmed my Catholic beliefs because of a doctrine only found in Catholicism - Baptism of Desire. Simply stated anyone whom firmly and truly believes their religion is the true religion, and follows its dictates as it prescribes, will be saved because of "the Baptism of Desire"!
    By Derek De Souza - 3/25/2012 10:40:08 AM

  • I as born in to a Sunni family. After realizing the fact that I am a Sunni Muslim just because I happened to be born in one, upon growing up I studies different faiths and my own. I concluded, to me a faith that invites people to think, to use their senses, to ask questions, to believe on basis of conviction, to say no to superstition and excessive rituals, to believe in personal accountability without having any intermediaries, to read a Book that openly and clearly claims it is from the Lord of the Universe and speaks to me in First Person, is compatible to science, a Book that asks me to weigh the evidence before believing, etc. etc. was Qur'anic based Islam. I don't claim to have all the answers to my questions but the list has grown real small. I believe in an Islam that is free of the baggage of "secondary sources" written down and collected hundreds of years after and an Islam that has something to say not only by personal ethics but economic ethics as well. After studying the Qur'an, I slowly walked out of Sunni Islam and have found comfort in an Islam based on Al Furqan "The Criterion of Right and Wrong" which is the Qur'an. Each to themselves, but it is good to question and not accept blindly which faith we happened to be born in. We must carefully examine it and should we find intellectual relief and inner comfort, then only continue to practice it. All the best.
    By Mubashir - 3/23/2012 8:45:24 AM

  • Dear Brother Yoginder, the answer is very simple . Surely, those who believed and the Jews and Sabians and Christians - whosoever believed in God and the Last Day, and worked righteousness, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. Holy Quran 5:72 Salvation is through your strong faith in God and your good deeds. Search for truth. Do research on Hindu holy scriptures, you will fidn truth
    By Rizwana R Tharola - 3/23/2012 12:09:00 AM

  • @yoginder In fact i have a great attraction towards christians as they are the only religion where the scholars are open to look into other religion. Most of my own reading about great hindu literature is in english done by maxmuller. In hindu tradition god is kept in the fourth place with mother, father, teacher and god. New born child knows mother by instint, mother introduce father, father introduce guru and guru introduce god. However the new gurus who are english educated has moved the hinduism back to monethism and scientific enquiry. However they are not the most popular among hindus and they also land making god of those gurus.
    By satwa gunam - 3/22/2012 11:32:09 PM

  • Dear Yoginder, in classical Indian culture, spiritual and material education were based on the tantra-chatushtya, i.e. the four disciplines, which included Mimamsa (analysis), Vyakarana (semantics and linguistic structure), Nyaya (logic) and Vedanta (spiritual principles) + training in meditation, which is as natural as breathing. This is a good operating system for all religions.
    By Vishal - 3/22/2012 8:59:31 PM

  • DearMr. Yoginder Sikand,

     What is ‘Truth’? And what is truth about‘Truth’? And about what is this truth required for? And about what is that‘Truth’ required for?

     I find all these questions absolutely absurd.And to me all this sounds rather fashionable words to flaunt that ‘see, even Ican dabble in philosophy’.

     ‘Manavta hi manav ka dharm hai’. That’s it. Isit wrong that elders feed this in child’s mind? And fashionably, is it not‘Truth’? Is anything else is manav’s dharm? May be. All I would say is ‘just goand figure it out’. May be the Truth is ‘Jo jeeta wohi Sikander’ or ‘Winnertakes it all’.

     My understanding is that all theseChristianity and Islam and Hinduism and Sikhism or just any other ‘ism’ is notto be taken seriously and I agree that everyone takes it so because they havebeen born to a family who maintained that they were followers of any particularso called ‘religion’ among Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or Sikhism etc. Inyour case since your parents never insisted on any particular tag, you, justlike any other regular child very sincerely followed the footsteps of yourparents. You do not insist on any tag. Had you come up one day saying to dad,‘See daddy so far you never insisted on having any religion, now I feel Ishould have a religion’, then that would have been something like breaking thetrend of following parent’s beliefs and not being a born believer. That way youwould have been a convert and a real ‘Truth Seeker’.

     I can say this because I understand thatconverts are the real ‘Truth Seekers’ who go to any extent for it, includingthat of officially converting and facing the wrath of everyone.

    ButSir, I found something lacking in your search for ‘Truth’ whatever you may meanit to be but on the basis of what I understood from your particular assertionand then the contradiction therein in the conclusion.


    ‘Thatis why the blind believer can never generously admit the merits and truths ofother religions. If he reluctantly does so, you can be sure that he still feelscompelled to insist (to himself, if not to others) that his own religionremains the best.’

    Havingrealized the futility of blind belief, no longer do I now envy ‘born believers’for their seemingly unshakable faith. I now realize that it is not truth thatthey seek or know, but, rather, simply the prejudices they have inherited fromtheir families in the name of religion which they spend their entire livesworshipping and defending. How much better, then, the freedom of the path ofthe seeker…’

     Let me ask you a question.

     Don’t you feel that whatever you believe isthe best?

    Atleast I know of many atheists who feel themselves superior to non-atheists andthink of non-atheists to be believing in absurdities. A true atheist from myunderstanding of atheism should be questioning his/her own concept of ‘No–God’. If there doesn’t exist a God or Gods, then whyHe/She/He-She/Genderless/Formless, doesn’t exist? He would question this, Iguess.

     As for me, please do not assume that I believemy parents beliefs. Since I assume you have not come up to your dad to say that‘what you don’t believe I believe in it or what you believe I do not believe init’, you might not know the real agony to have taken your father head-on. Butsince I have done it, I know how does it feel before that and how liberating itfeels then after.

     At least in Islam the best thing is that youcan follow any path of your choice, the other Muslim is going to think you tobe an unbeliever. But from my viewpoint, it doesn’t necessarily make anyoneunbeliever as it cannot be decided by just any.

    Mybeliefs are at odds with majority of Muslims and yet I think myself to be aMuslim. All the absurd rituals mean nothing much to me.

    Justtoday, a fool who thinks himself too learned updated his Facebook status withthis caricature. I am putting the word ‘fool’ to send you a clear message thatI have my own bias against such atheists who are not atheist in true sense butblind believer in atheism. I’ll explain you the reason once you go through hisfoolish ranting.

    hereare two speakers. Speaker ‘A’: ‘If you are a pre-choice you are a baby killer!Arrest somebody’!

    Speaker‘A’ again: ‘Gays and Lesbians are unnatural abominations! Stop them fromgetting married’.

    Speaker‘A’ again: ‘Atheists are amoral agents of Satan! Put God in schools and courts!Show them we are Christian nation’!

     Speaker ‘A’ again: ‘Somebody ban this obsceneart exhibit’!

    NowSpeaker ‘B’ says: ‘If you want to believe in God and teach your kids aboutChristianity, that’s your right. Please just let the rest of us make our ownchoices too’.

     At this Speaker ‘A’ goes mad and startsshouting: ‘Stop persecuting me! Stop disrespecting my beliefs! Why are youwaging a war against Christianity?’

    Ireplied, ‘To you be your Way, and to me mine. But of course Mullas disagree.’

    Myresponse was cold-shouldered. It had to be, given his bias. Had he been trueatheist, he would have appreciated the freedom to have any way you wish tohave. But he is a Mullah in garb of atheist and he knew that he cannot agree tolet anyone have his way. Stupid fellow.

    Sir,atheism is not easy. You have got to not believe in your very own wisdom.

    Onthis forum, mostly you will find Muslims ‘who want a change’ and Muslims ‘whodo not want a change’ argue and also non-Muslims who want to fulfill theirperversion of peeping into Muslim’s world, but you have less probability toencounter someone who having given decades in understanding atheism now knowsit inside out.

    Thelate response for your post is because it really doesn’t excite me anymoretalking on this subject and no response from other readers is for anotherreason that here nobody is interested in seeing a ‘War within Atheism or Warbetween Atheism and Theism’ but clearly they are interested in ‘War withinIslam’. Most of the commentators here agree on the subject to be debated anddiffer only in their opinion while some simply like to run down Islam. I thinkyour this write-up is more suitable elsewhere. It however doesn’t mean that itis not of any worth. It only doesn’t fit in here.

    Iin person have respect for you and for all your contribution in giving voice tothe ideas of Muslims. I as a Muslim respect you for that and then I respect youas a ‘Truth’ Seeker who just bumped into another ‘Free Thinker’, the one whohas discovered a rule that ‘follow a ‘Truth Seeker’ as long as he continuesseeking it but run away from him the moment he declares that he has found it’.I think I should run away and not reply to you if you insist that all yourconcepts are correct and there is no gunjaaish to find any more perspectives ofthe much seekable and much seeked ‘Truth’.

    Whenyou say ‘True religion, as I understand it, ought to provide ultimate truthsconcerning existence, life, death and beyond and the divine realms. Surely,accessing or realizing these truths should be a matter of ultimate importancefor those who claim to be religious. Nothing else, I presume, would be ofgreater importance to a sincere seeker.

    Ifound your presumption flawed. I think true religion is the one that teachesyou that ‘Manavta hi manav ka dharm hai’. It doesn’t necessarily dabble innon-sense philosophizing but even if it does, it does no harm unless someMullas- Atheist as well theist Mullahs take it too seriously and then quarrelover it. ‘Alfaaz ke peinchon mein ulajhta nahi daana, Ghawas ko matlab hai nagauhar se na sadaf se’. (Loosely translated : ‘Wise doesn’t get stuck with‘isms’, they have jobs to do.)

    By sadaf_shahbaz@yahoo.com - 3/22/2012 4:09:26 PM

  • dear satwa,
    you write, 'Probably you could articulate the concept of independent thinking among all including hindus as many hindus are stuck in the rut of ritualism.' ....i would not single out hindus as particularly guilty of ritualism......i think almost all communities are plagued by it.....look at the muslims and jews, for instance. the christians aren't that bad, though....and probably the best of the lot are the buddhists!

    By yoginder sikand - 3/22/2012 10:24:21 AM

  • I liked this article. This is a very good article.
    By Rajiv Kumar Gupta - 3/22/2012 9:59:05 AM

  • @yoginder sikand Thanks for your feedback. Probably you could articulate the concept of independent thinking among all including hindus as many hindus are stuck in the rut of ritualism. Independent think might make a person less religious ritualist but certainly more human.
    By satwa gunam - 3/21/2012 10:15:57 PM

  • dear satwaji and ashokji, thanks for your valuable comments--i entirely agree with what you have to say.
    By yoginder sikand - 3/21/2012 7:40:26 PM

  • An equally valid distinction is between blind believers and thinking believers. The latter try to expand their minds trying to understand other belief systems including scientific insights, try to under-emphasize or eradicate aspects of their religion which appear to be unfair, outdated or incorrect, do not use faith to create frictions between people, and try to make their religion the best that it can be.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 3/21/2012 3:43:02 PM

  • Author has nicely put across the thought process of believers of various faith. Actually the author is also one among the believers as he had not taken great efforts to read into the details of various religions to make a conclusion. Probably he must spend some of his time, if he has an open mind to read thought process of philosophers like j krishnamoorthy. Probably he can start with the following : Am i the body Am i the mind Am i the intellect. From experience perspective am i the waker am i the dreamer am i the sleeper. What is the am i ? How is it related the world. Is the world the perception of the perceiver or it exist independent of human perception ? From the world perspective what is the reason for the difference in the world and suffering. Questioning is the beginning of the search of truth and not judgements.
    By satwa gunam - 3/21/2012 9:27:41 AM

  • Kudos to Mr. Sikand and newageislam.com for such a wonderful article. Born in an orthodox Brahmin family, I had a similar experience. However, I realised that not only the religions, the ideologies like communism also fall in the same category. Even after realising that these ideas are futile, people keep clinging to them for the sake of identity or, peer pressure. Ghalib had rightly said - "Humko bhi maloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin, Dil ke bahlaane ko Ghalib ye khayaal achchaa hai." One needs courage to accept the truth and be completely rational and liberated.
    By Ashok Sharma - 3/21/2012 9:09:50 AM

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