Some facts first of all:
- Over 1.2 billion people – more than 15% of the world population – are non-religious or unaffiliated. These include agnostics and atheists as well.
- Every year over 4 million people convert to or from a religion. Some may convert to a different religion, while some – approx 2.5 million- may give up being religious altogether.
- Approximately 1 million people join a religion from the unaffiliated, non-religious group every year.
- By 2050, the count of non-religious people will go up to 1.3 billion as per current projections
But this post is not about religions and their superiority or inferiority. Nor is it about believers vs non-believers. It is about souls. Or rather, about the journey of souls. After all, isn’t this what religions are all about?
Every religion has its own pantheon of Gods and Saints, and holy texts that lay down how to conduct oneself in all worldly matters. But what is the end objective of any religion?
It is the promise of a living a quality life with the ultimate aim of reaching a state of being or place where we want our souls to land up in our afterlife : Heaven, Swarg, Jannat and so on, depending on which religion you belong to. Interestingly, all religions follow a carrot and stick policy to keep their flock in line, so the threat of a Hell, Narak, Jahannum etc or the possibility of being reborn as an animal or lowly being is also held out in each case. Promise of heaven alone does not seem to do the trick, so a negative reinforcement is always there to ensure compliance.
Now this is where things start getting interesting. The promised lands and the attractions they offer vary for each religion, as do the hells and their terrors. The paths to the promised lands also vary widely. For example, for Buddhism and Jainism any form of killing is abhorrent but for Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and most other religions sacrifices or even killings in the name of the Lord are a way of life. Some religions even sanction killing of non-believers as a guaranteed pass to heaven.
Obviously, the heavens and hells of all religions must be different places. Otherwise, how would it be possible for a person of one religion to land in hell for killing another living being while another person in another religion goes to heaven for a similar act?
So the heavens and hells of all religions would be floating somewhere in a multidimensional space, independent of each other. Accordingly, the Devils and Gods and their subordinate staff would also have to be different for each religion. The record-keeping mechanism of each religion would also have to be separate, so that the good and bad deeds of all souls under their own purview are properly maintained and accounted for.
And what about the 15% of the world population which is unaffiliated – or the non-believers? Who maintains their records and where? Where do their souls go in the after-life? Something or somebody created all their souls, so there must be a place for them to go once they leave the body. Without records, who or what determines where they go in the afterlife?
Perhaps they all end up as ghosts, you say? But that is a pretty dangerous supposition: having one destination for all such souls irrespective of what they do (their ‘karma‘, in other words) during their earthly sojourn negates all concepts of why we are supposed to do good or why we are not supposed to do evil. Evidently, this possibility negates the necessity of a religion altogether! Unthinkable, right?
While we are at it, here is another most interesting scenario to consider. Take the 4 million people who switch religions every year, the ‘converts‘. Say a Muslim converts to a Buddhist, or a Buddhist converts to a Christian. What happens to the account of good deeds and bad deeds of such souls? How are the records transferred between the record-keepers of different faiths? What happens to the 2.5 million souls who give up being religious altogether- what about their record of good and bad?
Queering the pitch are the different sets of rules of good and bad in each religion. For example, take scenarios where one religion bans any violence and killing of another living being (human or any living creature), while the second one permits and even selectively promises heaven for such deeds in select cases. Does a ‘good deed’ of such acts of one faith then get counted as bad karma in the other religion if a person converts? How is the record-keeping done? Who does all the administrative work involved in transferring a soul and its records from one religion to another? How to the back-end staff of various religions communicate with each other to enable this transfer without a hitch?
If we take the plea that souls start with a clean slate once people convert to or from a religion, that is also a very hazardous premise. This leaves us free to then lead a life a decadence and sin, secure in the knowledge that all we have to do at the end is to convert to another religion, or give up being religious altogether in order to escape the consequences of our bad karma. At the same time, those who have been good souls throughout, but are trying to escape from some form of oppression or dissatisfaction in their current religion will lose all their good karma earned in life so far. In other words, conversions will make sense only for the evil souls. Rather alarming!
The inescapable conclusion then is that different heavens and hells and pantheons of Gods etc is not really a workable model. We are thus left with two choices:
1.) We throw up our hands and proclaim that there is no heaven and no hell, and we live our lives purely by our choice made here. Nothing is carried forward beyond this life, and there is no certainty of a rebirth of any kind. Thus there is actually no need of protecting a religion or even working to increase a religion’s reach. After all, wouldn’t that be a useless exercise?
2) We believe in God and the immortality of souls, and therefore the necessary condition is that there is a single heaven and a single hell for all souls irrespective of religion. The accounting for good karma or bad karma is also common for all souls with common rules, and therefore it is complete foolishness for any religion to be fighting over who is superior and who is inferior. The aim should be to do the right thing in all conditions with the confidence that the one God watches over all. The most evil people thus are those who misuse religion to misguide their followers away from the good path and drive them to commit crimes in the name of protecting their religion or in spreading the name of their God at the cost of other religions. The sooner we realize this fact, the faster humankind will progress and prosper.