Sunday, March 04, 2012

Anthropomorphism and religion

In the course of looking up for material for my presentation in the seminar I came across the term anti anthropomorphism among tribals of Nilgiri districts and a preference for a cosmic religion. Anthropomorphism pertains to attributing human traits to gods as we see in the commonly accepted and practiced form of Hinduism. Yes, we do have saguna and nirguna forms of meditation and the explanation given is that it is easier to concentrate on a deity with a form in the initial stages and one could graduate to worshipping the formless cosmic energy (call it God) later. I do agree. As children we did look for illustrations in our lessons and only when we reached higher classes could we understand lessons on a conceptual basis.

Attributing a form to our gods makes us recognize gods by certain traits. Lord Rama is visualized as bearing a bow and arrow, Lord Krishna with a flute and Lord Ganesh with an elephant face. Worshippers of nature and the elements like the tribals of Jharkhand worship the Sal tree during Sarhul and Karam tree during Karma Puja. I remember being confused when my Christian friends would question our wisdom in worshipping the sun and the sacred basil saying that they were creations of god and need not be worshipped. I could not defend myself then nor do I want to now because religion to me is a way of life and god is not a formidable task master waiting to punish his children for their mistakes. Nature worship needs to be seen as man’s way of conserving biodiversity. Heaven and hell do not await us after death. We experience hell when we suffer and heaven when we get the fruit of our labor in this very life.

Coming to anthropomorphism, I have just one problem with it. When we give our gods a human form don’t we also imagine that they have human qualities? Don’t we ask for wish fulfillment and offer to break coconuts or feed the poor in lieu of the boon that is granted? Don’t we think that god’s need to be pleased with offerings for favors? Don’t we fear the worst if for some reason one is not able to fulfill a promise he/she made to god. To my mind God understands everything including our unjust demands and if a particular incident that is not acceptable does happen, with the passage of time we do realize that whatever happened was for good. I have seen this happen umpteen times in my own life.

Feeding the poor, distributing blankets in winter, donating for a good cause need to be done spontaneously with an inner desire to give back to society a little of what society gave to us. The God factor is good as long as it helps us lead a purposeful, honest life with concern for the world around us. If one’s faith in God enables a balanced approach to life, enabling one to treat success and failure as part of our learning purpose, it hardly matters if our God has a form or not. But when I see God being used to flaunt one’s power, to cover up one’s mistakes to look down upon fellow men I cannot help wondering if such people are truly God fearing? Aren’t those among us who are true to their conscience better advocates of the God factor?


radha said...

I totally agree with you.Religious beliefs (whichever it may be) are more to instil values and discipline in a person. As for charity, it is more a show for many.Those who do not make a noise about it are perhaps the ones who do it out of real concern for the people.

dr.antony said...

I wish if God had feelings too,to save us from all the pains we go through!

Ugich Konitari said...

HHG, I so agree with this post ! So many of the supposed customs followed today are actually parodies of what was actually intended. And then there is this thing of doing something good out of fear of God, not as part of a thoughtful lifestyle on a sustained basis. This business of feeling threatened into doing some ritual , and attributing some non happening to it. It really takes away from exercising our own minds into discovering the good and bad ways of doing things.

Anonymous said...

Even God has not been spared by humans in their game of corruption and greed.

hillgrandmom said...

I think anthropomorphism is certainly a part of man's attempt to understand such an infinite subject as God. But then the God someone constructs is, I think, very much influenced by the largeness--or not--of that person's mind and that person's world view.