There are two kinds of truths: (1) objective truth, given by various branches of science, and (2) subjective truth, discovered by each individual within him-/herself. Mother Teresa’s conviction that we have to do good though the world may be unkind and Mahatma Gandhi’s faith in non-violence are examples of subjective truths.
An individual’s contentment in life comes from discovering one’s subjective truths and living by them.
The world of objective truths follow clear rules. Science formulates those rules in various ways such as Newton’s laws of motion or Einstein’s famous equation. There is an interesting hierarchy among those truths. The more mathematical the truth is, the more precise it is considered to be. That is why mathematics and physics rule the hierarchy while psychology and sociology hit the bottom. 4+3 = 7 is an irrefutable truth while Aaron Beck’s psychological contention that ‘people with emotional difficulties tend to commit characteristic “logical errors” that tilt objective reality in the direction of self-deprecation’ can be subjected to much debate.
Many people don’t even consider sociology and psychology as science. Literature has never made any scientific claims. Literature is art. Literature delves into the human psyche and tries to make sense of the welter of emotions that oppresses people. Isn’t literature dealing with truths?
Literature deals with subjective truths. Literature takes the reader to an inward journey.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets… [T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock]
That’s the invitation of literature: a journey through the half-deserted streets of the inner world. A journey that will “lead you to an overwhelming question…” [from the same poem]. What is the question? Eliot says: “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit.”
The question and the answer will all have to be discovered by each one of us. This is that realm of human existence where the truths are entirely your own. Science won’t be able to enlighten you in this world of inner truths.
Religion can. And religion is the antithesis of science. If science discovers the rules that hold the universe in discipline, religion believes in miracles that will shatter the rules. Miracle, as Barrows Dunham has pointed out in Man Against Myth, is a contravention of the course of things, of rules. If miracles really existed the world wouldn’t be a system, but a chaos that is subjected to the whim of some supernatural being. The sorcerer would triumph over the scientist in such a world.
Yet, I argue that religion can enlighten people when it comes to the inner world. Religion, like literature and other arts, is a vehicle for making the inward journey. If people stop viewing gods as whimsical supernatural powers and rituals as magic, and use religion for looking within and making the necessary transformation there, then the miracle will take place. It is a miracle in the inner world. The sorcerer is yourself, none else. You change yourself; religion is merely a tool, even as literature is.
The inner world is too unique for science to make universal rules about. The truths there are highly subjective. Worse, those truths lie encrusted by many experiences which contradicted them. “Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, stains the white radiance of eternity,” as poet Shelley said. Life installs many mental filters within us. Experiences make us think in dichotomous ways: in black or white, without any shades of grey. In those half-deserted alleys within lie many distortions like over-generalisations, jumping to conclusion, magnification and minimisation, emotional logic, labelling and mislabelling, personalisation, accepting the tyranny of the ‘must’ (e.g. I must do well and win over others’ approval)…
A journey through those streets of the mind can liberate us from many illusions and delusions. The arts help in the process. Religion can help if we know how to use it properly. Religion does work miracles, but not in the world that follows scientific rules; in the inner world that has its own unique rules. The miracle worker is not any god; it’s each one of us.
I don’t believe in any religion. I use literature for making inward journeys because literature is more potent for me. But I wrote this merely to say that religion can play a significant role in people’s lives.
If we take my logic one step ahead, religion will become redundant once the enlightenment really takes place. Imagine a world where every individual is an enlightened person, where everyone follows his inner truth. Religion won’t be required there. Nor will literature be. In fact, without emotional conflicts there will be no literature. Even psychology (the lowliest of sciences) will be redundant. Only science will be required – pure as well as applied. That will be a world of pure orderliness and predictability where every human being will simply obey the commands within even as a planet does by moving within its own orbit.
That’s the paradise that religious texts dreamed of and many of us still look back to with nostalgia in the collective unconscious.