I was born and brought up in a traditional Catholic family in Kerala. Because of this Catholic upbringing I opted to be a priest at the age of eighteen. The adventure of becoming a missionary in a faraway region and passion for converting ‘pagans’ to Christianity led me to Madhya Pradesh. Ten long years of seminary training further cemented my beliefs in Catholic dogma and made me a fanatic in the practice of routine church rituals. The initial years of my priestly life were full of activities to expand and establish the Church in as many villages as possible. The parish activities, retreats and various welfare activities in the villages were aimed at proclamation of the belief in Christ, the only saviour and spreading of Catholic Church. Much before charismatic retreats started I had initiated preaching mission among the people of other faith in the villages, various devotions and novenas in the parishes. My loyalty to the Church was expressed by hoisting papal flag and singing papal anthem with firecrackers in my parish when Pope John Paul landed in New Delhi airport in 1986. I wore the traditional clergy attire, cassock, at all times because I believed it as witness of my faith and priestly identity. I criticized the nuns who abandoned their traditional religious habit to Indian sari in the name of inculturation as proposed by the 2nd Vatican council . The list of my religious eccentricity and fanaticism is endless.
My appointment as the regional youth director and especially as the chaplain of the student Movement, YCS/YSM was a turning point in my life. This provided opportunity to travel and participate in various meetings with youth and interact with people from all walks of life. My public relations and interactions with people of other faith helped me to introspect on my life and activities. YCS/YSM methodology of awareness, reflection and action helped me to look at my own life critically and question many of my beliefs. The opportunity to visit and learn the life of many people in different countries in Europe provided further insights. The authentic life of people in Europe with values of sensitivity, honesty and respect for human dignity despite their absence in the church rituals made me to review my own life and life of people of India who are so obsessed with rituals and religious practices. Moreover I started contemplating on the life and teachings of Christ to know how he intervened in the socio-political and religious context of his time.
Seeing and analyzing the socio-political and religious realties of our country I started asking the following questions to myself in my daily contemplation: Why do people fight in the name of God? Why does the priestly class make religion a business? How did the religion become opium (drug) of people? Why do religions make God a commodity for sale and an industry to earn wealth and power? Gradually I received the answer to all these questions: People have not understood the distinction between religiosity and spirituality. Religiosity has to do with rituals, rules, devotions and infrastructure, whereas spirituality promotes values of justice, peace, fraternity, sensitivity and innovation. Religious people worship Christ, whereas, spiritual people follow the way of Christ, practicing his values instead of merely shouting in his name.
When people fail to follow Christ they start worshipping God. They take easy path of building numerous statues, big churches spending many millions of rupees and introducing more and more devotions with commercial interest . Every religion does the same in different forms. They build big temples, churches and mosques, killing many people of other faith. They introduce festivals and religious practices which fetch money, silver and gold as offerings to please gods without knowing that gods are not pleased with their worship and expensive offerings.
Religions which originated as spiritual movements to show the simple path of realizing God are made into complicated rituals. People are brainwashed and conditioned to follow the superstitious practices, oppressive rules and exploitative rituals to attain God and receive his favours. While the simple people follow these rituals and rules blindly, the intelligent people with scientific temper question them. Priestocracy and those who run the business of selling God condemn them as heretics and silence or eliminate them.
Contrary to the popular perception and traditional catechism Jesus Christ did not establish the imperial Christianity as it exists today. Jesus launched a spiritual movement, THE WAY. Aware of the oppression and burden of innumerable religious laws which exploited common people Jesus abandoned all the existing laws and rituals and gave his disciples just one single law: “Love one another as I have loved you”. He gave them the uniform of LOVE for their identity: “By your love the world will know that you are my disciples”. Though the early Christians practiced the commandment of Christ heroically in the most hostile situations, those who came under the influence of emperors established the imperial and institutional religion with numerous laws and religious practices. Many unintelligent beliefs were given the shape of dogmas with the seal of infallibility. Everything which Jesus had condemned and rejected were brought in to Christian religion and given a sacred place.
The same thing happened in all other religions. Only the degree of superstition and fanaticism varies. If people follow the way of spirituality without the institutional religions the priestly class will be unemployed and the multimillion religious industry will be closed. Hence they create fear of God in people. People of all faith are terrorized by God’s punishment and curse. Priestly class also presents innumerable rituals and other superstitious practices as a solution to their miseries such as sickness, mental stress, breakdown in relationships and all other negative influences.
People with courage and conviction question the hypocrisy and superstition promoted by all these religions with economic and political interest. Many others just quit these religious practices and yet practice the spiritual values in action. They worship God in truth and spirit. They believe that God dwells in human beings, Aham bramasmi! They worship God by giving selfless service to every human being irrespective of caste, creed and nationality. They stand up speak fearlessly against any form of violence, discrimination, prejudice and hatred. They are deeply spiritual without any religion.
Fed up with violence and conflicts in the name of God several young people ask in various meetings, “why can’t we have only one religion?” My counter question is why should there be any religion at all? What Dr. Radhakrishnan had said years ago is very relevant to the present times: “This place would be more religious if all religions go”. That is what Christ envisaged when he said, “the days will come when you will worship God in truth and spirit”. Time has come where humanity has to embrace a RELIGONLESS SPIRITUALITY! People will be more spiritual practicing morals and ethics, following the voice of their conscience. They will be more innovative and original by maximizing the DIVINE within them. There will be no more violence, hatred and rapes because they start honouring the God who dwells in the other person. The religious industry of selling the ‘drug’ of religion will end. It will be the dawn of a civilization of love: Kingdom of God! Dharma Rajya! Rama Rajya! Islam!(Published on 14th August 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 33)