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Distinguishing Between Shallow and Deep Religion

In March 2007, I attended a talk by Dr. Steve Weinberg, the 1979 Nobel Laureate in physics for his work on electromagnetic and weak forces, on the topic "On Religion and Science" at Cornell University. Dr. Weinberg did not mince any words when he vehemently spoke about the hypocrisy and shallowness of religion, citing several evident episodes of scandals and violence in recent religious history.

At the end of his talk, he categorically stated that because of the problems that religion has created, one of the primary aspirations of science should be to cease the existence of religion. He made a strong appeal to the audience to take this seriously.

As a practitioner of Bhakti yoga, an ancient devotional school in the Hindu tradition, I was stung by Dr. Weinberg's strong comments. It felt like an assault on a paradigm that defined my outlook and the people whom I deeply loved and respected. At the same time, my rational faculties knew that Dr. Weinberg's citations were completely based on facts and thoroughly justified. Was I simply being a sentimental religionist turning a blind eye to the problems that religion has created? Or was there a deeper root to my adherence that Dr. Weinberg may not have had a chance to experience?

The key to resolving this conflict lay in one verse from the Bhagavata Purana, one of the primary texts in the Hindu tradition. The verse classifies religious faith or dharma into two categories: peripheral (kaithava) and essential (sanatana).

Gordon W. Allport, a Harvard psychologist, developed a similar scheme and categorized religious practice into extrinsic and intrinsic. The peripheral or extrinsic practice of religion refers to those expressions of faith that are motivated by self-directed desires: personal comfort, riches, power and status. The essential or intrinsic practice of religion is governed by the deep inquiry to uncover our true essence that results in profound personal transformation.

Growing up, my first experience of Hindu religion was extrinsic. I was exposed to Hindu rituals that enabled an individual's economic development and sensory pleasure, respectively known as artha and kama in Sanskrit. My parents taught me to pray twice everyday. The prayers usually were a means to please the gods to give me the best grades, good health and success in all endeavors.


It was six years later that a conversation with a good friend unexpectedly reopened the "religious" chapter. Manish was regarded as one of India's young scientific geniuses, but possessed a humble demeanor. In a casual conversation on a Monday evening, he convinced me to accompany him to a talk on the Bhagavad Gita. It was during that talk that I heard for the first time a clear explanation of the primary purpose of religion: deep inquiry and knowledge about our identity and the true purpose of our existence.

The talk systematically and logically pieced together the need for such inquiry and provided a deep philosophical look into the nature of consciousness and our quest for immortality. Sprinkled throughout the presentation were various scientific citations from the Hindu scriptures -- verses explaining a method of plastic surgery from the Rig Veda, the heliocentric model of the solar system from the Bhagavata Purana, and a description of time dilation and relativistic mechanics from the Upanishads.

The speaker was pleasant and humble, yet authoritative and confident. There was no trace of criticism, sentimentalism or fanaticism in his talk. I met with him personally after the presentation and I spent two hours critically questioning his paradigm.


Dr. Weinberg's citations were correct and his frustrations justified. But his conclusion that science should destroy religion completely was probably based on his very limited exposure to the intrinsic practice of religion. They probably sprung from his experiences of narrow-minded and ritualistic religious practices that lack philosophical rigor, progression of logic and a transformative lifestyle.

Instead of rejecting religion completely, it would be wise to discriminate between substance and shadow -- and encourage the substance. The pockets where intrinsic religion is practiced may be few, but they hold deep significance especially at a time when religious fundamentalism needs to be addressed with strong action. They may also offer the unique opportunity for science and religion to have meaningful dialogues and finally understand each other.


Please click HERE to read the entire article, and the author's experiences with "shallow" and "deep" religion

In The Urantia Book, religion is a central theme throughout. Please peruse the "Religion Papers," beginning HERE to understand the vital role that religion plays in the life of the individual.

And for a more comprehensive view of Urantia Book teachings about religion, please go HERE for our topical study

Finally, please see this section, an inspiring collection of Hindu religious thought

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