Marxism, one of the most powerful secular ideologies of the twentieth century denounced religion as the “opium of the people”. Many of the most influential thinkers and reformers till date, viewed religion not as an avenue to human liberation, but as an obstacle to progress. Today, in a scientific age in which religion strikes many as meaningless, what basis of inner values is left to us? How can we find a way of motivating ourselves ethically without recourse to traditional beliefs?
To my mind, although humans can manage without religion, they cannot manage without inner values. So my argument for the independence of ethics from religion is quite simple. As I see it, spirituality has two dimensions. The first dimension, that of basic spiritual well-being – by which I mean inner mental and emotional strength and balance – does not depend on religion but comes from our innate human nature as beings with a natural outlook toward compassion, kindness and caring for others. The second dimension is what may be considered religion-based spirituality, which is acquired from our upbringing and culture and it is tied to particular beliefs and practices. The difference between the two is something like the difference between water and tea. Ethics and inner values without religious content are like water, something we need every day for health and survival. Ethics and inner values based in a religious context are more like tea. The tea we drink is mostly composed of water, but it also contains some other ingredients – tea leaves, spices, perhaps some sugar – and this makes it more nutritious and sustaining and something we want every day. But however tea is prepared, the primary ingredient is always water. While we can live without tea, we can’t live without water. Likewise we are born free of religion, but we are not born free of the need for compassion. Here I would like to quote one couplet of Abhey Kumar “Abhey, which I really cherish:-
कुफ़्रो – ईमां के मैं दर्मियां – दर्मियां
कुछ इधर मिल गया कुछ उधर मिल गया
अभय कुमार “अभय”
कुफ़्रो – ईमां :- नास्तिकता और आस्था
I do not think that religion is indispensable to the spiritual life, while inner values are. We have an underlying disposition towards love, kindness and affection, irrespective of whether we have religious framework or not. When we nurture this most fundamental human resource – when we set about cultivating those inner values which we all appreciate in others – then we start to live SPIRITUALLY.