Can we reject as wrong numbers the rituals that don’t make sense? (PK QA 2)

by January 6, 2015

Evaluating the validity of rituals based on their sensibility seems like a sound criterion, but is it really? Let’s consider three factors:

  1. Are we ready to reject all rituals that don’t make sense?
  2. Is making sense the essence of rituals?
  3. Are we mature enough to properly evaluate the value of rituals?
  1. Are we ready to reject all rituals that don’t make sense?

Let’s consider the ritual of blowing candles during birthday celebrations. What is the sense in blowing candles? And what is the sense in blowing as many candles as the age of the birthday celebrant? If we investigate the history of this ritual, we find that it originated in a medieval European superstition that people were haunted by as many evil spirits as was their age; and with each candle that was extinguished, one spirit would be driven out. Makes terrific sense, doesn’t it? If all senseless rituals are to be rejected, then why make a caricature of religious rituals alone? Why not make a caricature of the birthday ritual of blowing candles? Stopping that ritual might even promote hygiene – it will save participants from consuming the birthday celebrant’s saliva droplets that may fall on the cake while blowing the candles.

  1. Is making sense the essence of rituals?

Rituals provide standardized templates to guide us towards emotions and actions appropriate for specific situations. Consider for example the ritual of shaking hands when we meet someone. From a strictly logical point of view, there’s no sense in this ritual – whatever is to be done in the subsequent meeting could well be done without an initial handshake. But the ritual of shaking hands when done properly sets a positive, warm emotional tone for the meeting.

Tribals living in forests whose greeting ritual is a nod or a hand-wave from a safe distance may well consider the physical proximity required for a handshake a threatening intrusion into their personal space. We moderns on the other hand may consider the tribals’ refusal to shake hands as a sign of their rudeness. Both arrive at wrong inferences because the rituals come from different frames of reference, frames within which the essence of rituals is not making sense but experiencing and conveying emotions. To unsympathetic observers who can’t or don’t want to experience those emotions, those rituals may make no sense even when they retain their validity for the ritual-performers.

  1. Are we mature enough to properly evaluate the value of rituals?

Say a child’s foot has been cut by a nail. When a doctor checks the wound, that doctor gives a preventive anti-tetanus injection. It makes no sense to the child: “I have pain in my foot and this doctor who is supposed to remove that pain is instead causing pain in one more place – the thigh.” The child doesn’t have the sense to make sense of the injection, but those who have more sense – the parents – will gently but firmly persuade the child to take the injection. And as the child grows up and understands how medicines work, then the child too will be able to make sense of what had earlier seemed like nonsense.

Similarly, we may feel that some rituals are insensible, but the problem may well be with us, not with the rituals – we may not be mature enough to understand their value, even when the rituals are deeply meaningful.


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  • Mukund
    January 26, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    Both Science and Religion have concepts and practices which seems illogical or senseless initially for a common man due to his ignorance about subject matter but once he is trained in particular subject matter everything starts making sense. Let’s take some examples in science,

    1. If you ask a mathematically ignorant person, how much is 5 minus 3. He will answer as 2. But if you ask same person how much is 3 minus 5. He may laugh at you for asking such illogical question. But person who knows some advance mathematics knows that answer is -2. For him it is not illogical. A more advanced person in mathematics may give exact reason for having negative number system.

    2. In field of astronomy, when scientists say a particular planet or star or galaxy is 1 million light years away. A common man may ask a question (nowadays people don’t question science or scientist because of their blind faith in science), if it takes us by the speed of light to reach 1 million light years, how did scientists measure it as first place. Because a common man is using his own experience of measuring distance between two objects by a measuring tape, he is applying same logic to measuring distance between to celestial objects. But scientist have their own scientific methods to calculate these distances.

    3. As per science, earth is round and it rotates around itself. So someone may ask question, in that case why don’t we fall down when earth is spinning. The scientist may answer this question by quoting gravity as the reason.

    Similarly my personal experience about concept of Soul, God, Reincarnation, Bhagvad-Gita, Ramayana, Mahabharata and rituals mentioned in scriptures is, when we get information from authorized scriptures and authorized people,
    everything makes sense. Indeed this training about religion is missing from modern education and that is why there is so much confusion, misunderstanding and violence happening all over the world.

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