The vast majority of the world’s population believes in the existence of God. It is true that people are becoming increasingly sceptical of the dogmatic aspects of religion; however, it does not affect their faith in God.
According to Pew Research centre, 8 per cent of the self-described American atheists believe in God. Moreover, 2 per cent of these atheists claim that they are absolutely certain about the existence of God.
Our inclination to believe in God is natural. Sri Aurobindo was one of the earliest philosophers to understand this. In his book, ‘The Synthesis of Yoga’, Aurobindo has written about man’s primitive instinct to anthropomorphise God.
Aurobindo’s observations have deep scientific basis. In 2011, an Oxford research project led by Dr Justin Barrett concluded that human beings across all cultures show the proclivity to believe in God and the afterlife. The researchers further concluded that this predisposition of ours is nested in nature.
The definition of God rests on the individual defining it. The writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky captures this beautifully in ‘Crime and Punishment’. The protagonist of the work, Raskolnikov, shuns his religious upbringing and becomes a nihilist. This acceptance of the futility of existence leads him to commit murder. In the absence of religion, the murder seems to be morally justified for Raskolnikov. In a nihilistic society, morality is just a social construct.
Dostoyevsky doesn’t claim that without the belief in God people will start doing immoral acts; on the contrary he shows us that without the belief in a divine law, there would be no justification for us to do charitable acts. The logical conclusion of this worldview is a bleak, cold and uncaring universe.
Many atheists have tried to tackle this problem, although unsuccessfully. Atheist and sceptic Sam Harris tried to make the case for an objective secular morality. He defined morality in terms of well-being. For Harris, anything that maximises the well-being of the individual is good and anything that causes the individual pain is bad. This modern version of utilitarianism faces the same problem as nihilism.
The definition of well-being is subjective. For instance, one individual might become happy by harming another. How are we supposed to grapple with a situation where the only way to maximise the well-being of the majority is to harm the minority of innocents?
Religious individuals tend to be morally and mentally stronger than atheists. Sociologist Ning Hsieh has found that 1 per cent of increased religious activity in Latin America led to 3 per cent decrease in suicide rates.
This could be explained by the emphasis of all religions on suffering. All religion in the world accept suffering as an essential part of life. They do disagree on the solution but all forbid suicide as the solution to suffering. The lack of moral value structures makes suicide permissible to nihilists.
In the last century, humanity witnessed man’s attempts to overthrow and replace already existing social and religious values. The experiments ended in disaster. The attempt to create an egalitarian society in Soviet Union was a catastrophic failure. Stalin’s regime ruthlessly killed civilians, deported individuals and tortured dissenters.
Stalin, too, was a militant atheist who persecuted and demonised religious believers. Stalin indoctrinated the children by including propaganda in the textbooks that referred to religious behaviour as a mental disorder.
But a world without religion will be a chaotic one. Religion provides us with an integral value structure. Religions are powerful motivators of unity and peace. They also foster respect towards individuals with different viewpoints.
We need God, now, more than ever. The teachings of religion are enough to propagate unity in diversity. Swami Vivekananda has rightly said: “Humankind ought to be taught that religions are but varied expressions of the religion which is oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.”