Reality, if there’s any, has been a prior preoccupation of human mind since antiquity. The story of civilization in its intellectual perspective is actually a tale of unending human endeavours to understand ourselves and the world we live in. We want to make sense out of things both within and without.
What is life? What’s existence? Does life hold a purpose? is religion possible? If evolution is true are we evolving any further? Whether nature leaves any room for such a “sense making process” is again a question of philosophical nature. Many writers argue that nature does not share an obligation of making sense. But is this proposition a mere scapegoat or does it have any firmer logical basis. Man is seemingly made to oscillate between the blind dance of matter and the grand narrative of telos.
Philosophy, science and religion are seen to be climbing the same ladder of meaning. The human quest for meaning has time and again manifested itself in varied forms. From the prehistoric cult worship to the later day militant atheism, man has not stopped and nothing has bowed down man’s courage to ask harder questions.
While as physicist makes sense out of mathematical equations that he believes to be holding the very fabric of cosmos, the philosopher, on the other hand weaves notions, sifts ideas and integrates things in an all-encompassing meta-narrative.
Religion, on the other hand sees life and reality in its own frame and it stops not only at providing a conceptual scheme of the universe we are living in but more importantly aims at establishing a living relationship between man and universe by positing both as active agents manifesting divine will.
As long as we succeed in understanding the respective role of science, religion and philosophy as independent streams of human thought we shall be at no odds. But the moment these three rivers start mixing and start creating eddies of conflict and contradiction, it is at this point that the respective, descriptive and perspective roles of each of these fields shall be kept in view.
Any endeavour that loses the sense of basic postulates of religion, science and philosophy and the context and necessities in which these postulates are made is sure to end up at chaos. Human err to understand the basic relation of science, religion and philosophy and the interrelationship they share with each other has done an irreparable harm to human civilization at least on ideological plane.
While the scientific progress shall be barred by no religious dictions and philosophy may continue its independent enquiry but care has to be exercised while favouring one against the other. True the boundaries between the three are pervious and matter shall continue to flow across their membranes in a bilateral fashion, but while this exchange takes place care has to be taken not to submerge one field under the other.
It is only in the mutual coexistence and cooperation of all the three fields of concerning human enquiry that we shall discover the basis of sustainable civilization. For science may not need religion and Philosophy may not need either of the two, but we as humans and participants to the process of civilization need all the three.
Allama Iqbal, thus noted with relevance that “Philosophy, no doubt has jurisdiction to judge religion, but what is to be judged is of such a nature that it will not submit to the jurisdiction of philosophy except on its own terms”.
Had this touchstone been maintained, many of the the later day conflicts arising out of the clash of religion and philosophy could have been navigated easily. The central object at the kernel of religion is the concept of God and this concept despite its all conceptual dimensions is in the last analysis a matter of perception. God is not a mathematical entity we can expect to be solved by the equations of algebra.
Neither is God an abstract concept like that of time in physics that can be quantified, if not qualified. God is, as a matter of religious philosophy a “perceptual concept”. This means that God is rather to be experienced and perceived rather than understood and conceived. The second important fact in religious life is the concept of revelation.
Revelation implies a living contact with the essence of life, often referred as God itself. Though different religions have different conception of revelation along with its extraneous and internal dimensions, but the notion of revelation is universal and is common to almost all religions. Though lot of progress has been made in the field of parapsychology to understand the import of revelation but it is a phenomenon that needs to be approached with utmost care and any misadventure on part of research is bound to end up in fiasco.
Another important aspect of religious life is that of ritual or worship. Modern researchers who have tried to understand the psychological underpinnings of worship have come up with some fascinating revelations bearing deep social and psychological significance.
The matter of the fact remains that the enlightened theologians, mystics and philosophers of the past have explicitly denounced the access of finite human mind to infinite cosmic intelligence. What God has informed us here and there in sacred texts is to contemplate the nature and our own selves.
This unbiased contemplation is sure to bring forth some indirect aspects of divine. Though we shall be fully conscious of the fact that within the physical universe and human civilization there are instances which are heartrending, discouraging and at times they run quite contrary to the notion of divine.
But the mystics and enlightened men throughout the history have been able to dissect the veil of appearance and have succeeded in looking at the essence of existence. On having this enlightened vision they bowed their heads and understood the essence of these apparent vagaries of nature. Ibrahim, the father of modern monotheism, Buddha a silent contemplator, Nanak, a socially conscious religious purgator amply demonstrate this state of enlightenment.
Modern scientific mind is highly welcome in questioning the authenticity of religion, aspects of divine and the apparent chaos that is witnessed everywhere in physical and social landscape. There can be no proper understanding in absence of questioning. Likewise doubt is an essential ingredient of faith.
But while one raises questions in atheist or any such frame one must have patience, tolerance and wide sightedness to understand theistic point of view.
To dub religion irrational for its simple disagreement with science seems a rather constricted opinion. Religion has been a great architect in shaping the course of human civilization and to unfasten our knots with this perennial source of wisdom, learning, inspiration and exaltation will amount to gross intellectual injustice. The need of hour is not to posit theists and atheists as antithetical but to encourage each to understand the point of other. Maybe in this collective endeavour humanity discovers a paradigm that has still not been thought of.
(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])