I vividly remember that day of August 1998 when Maothong asked me, “What is the necessity of religion?” i.e. “Can’t we live without religion?” Although Maothong’s pertinent question urged me to give a prompt reply there only, but I thought it would be inappropriate at the moment to do so. That’s why I told her,” I will answer your question on my forthcoming visit to the campus. Please wait until then.” And it was after 10 months during my next visit to the Campus of the PSU, Pattani, Thailand when I got an opportunity to answer the question of Maothong in brief by citing a real example. I also tried to clarify those points, which according to me were at the root of the question of Maothong. Hereunder is the full text of my reply:
First of all, the question that Maothong asked regarding ‘necessity of religion’ was in fact related to religious-community. Religion and religious-community, both, differ in their meaning, subject, scope etc. It is possible for you and me to be members of different religious-communities and at the same time be adherents of the same religion. Therefore, it is imperative for all of us, students of religion and philosophy, to get well acquainted with the meaning, subject, scope etc. of religion and religious-community.
Secondly, Maothong was repulsed by certain inhuman acts that were perpetrated under the cover of religious-community. This repulsion created anguish. I believe that’s why she had asked the question. I request you to understand the establishment of a religious-community, the reality of its goals and the circumstances also. By doing so, you will become aware of the real situation. You will be able to reconsider the anguish caused by the above mentioned repulsion.
And, thirdly, you should be aware that one can terminate one’s affiliation with a religious-community; one can even change one’s religious-community. All over the world, there are many, who are not a part of any religious-community. This is their personal matter. Contrary to this, one is always attached with religion. It is almost impossible to separate oneself from religion Therefore your question is unreal. Convert it into a real one by amending, “What is the necessity of religion?” to “what is the necessity of religious-community?”
After clarifying the three points mentioned above, I would like to give an authentic example as I have stated in the beginning. It occurred about 52 years back. A country was divided based on two religious-communities. As a result, there was large-scale migration of population from one part to another and along with that, there was looting and innumerable incidents of inhuman atrocities. Violence was the worst that included mass inhuman massacre of the innocents.
Amidst this chain of events, in a village, two families with a total of eleven members could not migrate with people of their own community in time. As a result, around midnight they were surrounded by a group of fanatics of the opposite community who locked the houses of both families from outside and started preparing to loot them and kill them by burning down their houses. According to their plan, majority of them went to their home to fetch kerosene and other materials. Only four or five persons were left to guard the families. The helpless people locked inside the houses, awaited their end with bated breath. Suddenly for some unknown reason, the men guarding the house threw open the doors, probably to know what the people inside were doing. There might be some other reason too, behind the doors that were opened.
Now there were eleven people inside and only four or five outside, those too were not physically sturdy. Thus making use, of the opportunity, the family members pushed aside the guards and made good their escape. But soon the fanatics regrouped. Those who had gone to fetch kerosene etc. had returned.
The eleven family members now fled for their lives with the fanatics hot in pursuit. There was a church about half a kilometer from the village. Father Thomas was in charge and Sister Elizabeth, a model of selfless service, lived along with him. That day father was not present at the church. The main door of the church was open. Sister was peacefully reading ‘The Sermon on the Mount’, and meditating on each word that she read. Suddenly, eleven people rushed in through the already open door of the church. Sister was quick to realize that those people had arrived, in order to save their lives.
Immediately ‘sister’ applied the message of ‘Faith in God’, heartily. She stood up and closed the main door from inside. She took the eleven members towards the back of the church and sealed them in a chamber. After that, she again continued studying the Holy Bible.
The murderous crowd following the families reached the church. They knocked at the door. Sister opened the door. Many from the crowd shouted:
“Where are they?”
“Who?” Sister enquired nonchalantly.
“The same people who came running this way.”
“…But nobody came here. I was reading the Bible all by myself… “.
“So nobody came here?”
“No, nobody at all.”
“Do you swear by the Bible?”
Sister was well aware of the admonition given by Lord Jesus in his ‘Sermon’ regarding taking ‘Oath without delay, silently she touched the Bible to her forehead. The crowd went back. Eleven lives were saved. Let me tell you that the eleven people who were saved were not Christians i.e. they did not belong to sister’s religious-community. Moreover, the fanatics who were intent on killing and looting them were not Christians either.
By keeping complete faith in God and touching the Bible to her forehead, Sister Elizabeth saved not one but eleven lives that did not belong to her religious-community. What do we call this? Certainly, this was an exercise of carrying out her religious duty.
In the definition of religion, ‘Goodness’ is to be adopted. At that time, it was ‘good’ for Sister Elizabeth to save the lives of eleven humans. This was her religion and she carried it out properly and beautifully.
Religion is above the religious-community. Its scope is extensive and involves welfare of all. Contrary to this, religious-community is limited and is below religion. Even if you are not affiliated with any religious-community, but if you claim to be a human being you cannot disassociate yourself from religion. Religion is the essential condition for both humanity and existence. The reason is clear. If goodness, which is the definition of religion, is not complete; then what will be the consequences? You can well understand. Therefore, we cannot rule out the necessity of religion under any circumstance. The only requirement is that you understand it properly.
I agree that no religious-community, in its original form, obstructs the path of religion. It is even helpful in carrying out one’s religious duties. Sister Elizabeth was a good Christian. She adopted the teachings and the principal value of Christian Religious-Community. That is why she had risen to the level where and when it was required; she was able to carry out her duties. Had she not been a good Christian, I suspect she probably would have failed in carrying out her religious duties. But sister did not fail and she did the ‘good’ work of saving lives.
It is true that under the veil of religious-communities, many inhuman acts were perpetrated. Mankind was thrown into the flame of violence. There are not one but many instances to prove the above. Even then, shall I believe that any religious-community would really encourage its adherents to commit inhuman acts or violence? I cannot believe so. Why? Because I am well aware of the aim behind the establishment of religious-communities and the circumstances involved. I know that needs in particular periods, gave birth to religious-communities for the welfare of specific human communities. This was thought over by one or more than one great personage, saint or reincarnate and keeping the best possible values, under the existing circumstances, chiefly in mind, urged the people to model their day-to-day activities in accordance with that.
I request you not to be distracted by one or two incidents that were inhuman and were committed under the cover of religious-community.
Do not foster hatred for religious-community either. Do not let anguish develop inside you. As already mentioned, religious-communities are not devoid of a person behind their establishment. How good it will be if we become true adherents of our religious-community i.e., adopt its teachings fully and then proceed in the field of religion and make ourselves adaptable there also. This is what is really needed.