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- The Role of Religion in History & Society
Why do we Worship or Pray to God ?
Why do we worship?
All religions advocate worshipping the almighty Lord of Universe in some way or the other. Worship of God is a common thread that binds all religions, and has been a consistent feature of almost all societies and civilizations witnessed in the history of mankind till date. While religious masters of one particular religion may not agree with the philosophy of another, they all agree on the need to worship the Lord. In an age of science, where agnostics and atheists abound, where science can’t prove the existence of God, and where some people are even predicting extinction of religion from certain parts of the world, it is time we spare a thought about the meaning and benefits of prayer and worship, and do it ... before it is too late!
Worshiping God is a common feature across all human societies, cultures and civilizations. Irrespective of the name they use for addressing that almighty Lord of Universe and irrespective of the manner in which they conceptualize its existence, people of all religions indulge in worshiping God in some manner or the other. The near universal practice of worshiping to the almighty Lord is an indication that traditional human wisdom invariably endorses worshiping as a very important aspect of human life.
For a practice that has been indulged in by all human civilizations for as long as one can remember, it might seem strange to ask why it is done, and yet, it is a question that every person with any bit of scientific temperament must ask. Interestingly, the ordinary man or woman often ends up performing this as a ritual throughout his or her life, often with full faith, without even daring to ask this question. Maybe, he finds in his actions a solace that is more important to him than the intellectual quest for an answer to this question !
Praying to the Lord.... Praying for oneself !!
What is God?
God is supposed to be greatest power of the universe, the controller of everything, the creator, the omnipotent entity. To that extent, almost all religions share the same view. Beyond this, there may be many differences in their exact perception, which fortunately are not at the center of our discussion here. What is noteworthy is that irrespective of the manner in which different religions perceive God, or name it, all of them in some way or the other worship and pray to God.
What is meant by worshiping ?
“The absolute acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us—the glory that fills heaven and earth. It is the response that conscious beings make to their Creator, to the Eternal Reality from which they came forth; to God, however they may think of Him or recognize Him, and whether He be realized through religion, through nature, through history, through science, art, or human life and character.”
These words of Evelyn Underhill, written in 1946 provide a good idea about what we mean from the word ‘worship’. Simply put, it is an acknowledgement of human limitations and its dependence on the almighty Lord of Universe, by whatever name we may call him. Different religions, and at times different sects within the same religion, can have different ways by which human acknowledgement of the superlative qualities of the Lord are expressed. These different forms of worship usually include prayers, meditation and submissive posturing like bowing of head, apposition of palms, sitting on knees and touching the floor with one’s forehead and even prostration. They include speaking and listening about the greatness of the Lord, his (or her) benevolence and ultimate wisdom and caring nature, combined with acknowledgement of our shortcomings, and a prayer that the great Lord may be kind enough to grant us happiness, wisdom, success and prosperity.
Some of the ways in which people of one religion worship God may be unacceptable to people of other religions, and one can possibly discuss any number of examples in this regard. However, what is common to all forms of worshipping is an expression of greatness of God and our acceptance of the same. Another universal aspect of all worshipping is a desire that the great Lord may be benevolent towards us, which actually is just another form of an acknowledgement that our destiny, including our health, our prosperity, our happiness and our success in every single endeavour is actually dependent upon the will of that great Lord. It amounts to accepting that our whole existence lies at the mercy of that great Lord, who is the Master of the Universe.
W O R S H I P
What About You ?
Why do you Pray ?
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Why do common people worship God?
Most of us, who have faith in our respective religions, believe that there is a God. Most of us whom I know also believe that God does control our destiny. Given that belief, we feel it is our traditional duty to pay regards to our creator, the Master of Universe. Sometimes, people may be worshipping God because they fear his powers. Others, in dire need of some divine intervention, might be praying to him for some mercy and help. I also know some people who have turned religious to gain a greater peace of mind. For many, indulging in acts of worship is part of their common culture, family tradition or a matter of personal habit, which they keep following religiously whole of their life without even bothering to think about the purpose or objective of the same.
What are the benefits of worshiping God?
On a scientific basis, whether we can establish the presence of God or not, I do not know, neither is it my intention to start that debate here. Without getting into that discussion, I still believe that there are several benefits of worshiping God.
The primary benefit of worshiping the almighty power of the Universe is to bring a realization of one’s own limitations in the overall scheme of things. We, human beings, have a very brief existence in this universe, and yet, our thought process invariably tend to revolve around ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Our ego is what defines us. Our existence and our world has our own self at the center of everything. This absolute egoism can often make us blind about the world and people around us, resulting in selfishness, jealousy and animosities, traits that neither help any individual nor are preferable for the society as a whole. The act of worshiping God is one of the few things that can counter our obsession with ourselves. It makes us realize that we are just a dot in this universe and that we do not control even our own destiny. Worshiping brings us closer to reality and takes us away from adverse effects of egoism.
Another great contribution of indulging in worship is that it takes away a lot of pressure from our shoulders. In the modern competitive world, everyone is under immense pressure to prove herself or himself again and again. Every day of our life, we stare at possible failures, things that can possibly go wrong and this fear of failure can itself be a great obstacle to success. The realization that there is another greater entity, which is aware of the issues in our life, which can and does control the universe and which is fair, good and benevolent can actually let you leave the outcome of your efforts to his wishes, and allow you to do your part with much lesser pressure than what you would face otherwise. In this regard, I doubt if there is another instrument invented by mankind that can take care of the pressures arising from uncertainties of life in a better manner.
Benefits for Society too - Worshiping has a Positive Externality !
Then there are so many other benefits of worshiping God for the society. When people collect to worship and praise God, they equate him with good, thereby accepting the superiority of being good over everything else. Religion and worshiping God has been one of the most important factors that cement basic human values like truthfulness, honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness, benevolence and compassion in society. The belief that a great being is watching us makes us conscious of our own conduct, leading to a better society.
Traditional human wisdom has resulted in similar values and conclusions throughout all civilizations. The common tradition of worshiping God is a testimony to our commonness, in spite of the differences in the ways we express our devotion to him. It is an activity that helps mankind to realize and rise above the limitations of one’s narrow ego. At an individual level, it makes us enjoy the drama of life in a more mature way. At the common level, it helps us build and sustain a better human society.
I believe there is God. But, even if there wasn’t one, worshiping God would still be a worthwhile activity!
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© 2011 V Kumar