Note: I'll insert some limericks later. Seriously, I'll do it. :-)
Today, the Times of India carried the results of a national survey about faith, and the belief in God. The results are multi-faceted: here's a link to the article(s). In this post, I'm not going to talk about them... they're just an inspiration for writing, and chronicling (since they may change in a few months or years) my own thoughts about faith, religion, and God.
Formerly, my thoughts on religion were those of Bertrand Russell (less extremist, though) : I viewed it as a plague to mankind. But I was young, and young minds are easily misled. Today, I have a more open-minded attitude towards religion. I don't call myself an atheist anymore, and prefer the less used but more accurate "agnostic".
About God, I believe scientific evidence doesn't point to one, and so we're free to choose either belief. For me personally, the idea of God seems unnecessary: Science has the ability to explain everything. The things some feel science cannot explain, like love, consciousness, or even life, I view as a kind of magic: it is explicable, but it is we who are in awe of these experiences. Even scientists tell us to "forget the optics and enjoy the rainbow". Most people like the idea of a higher power, a creator, a superior consciousness. I don't feel it is necessary, nature already has enough wonder. But you, and I, should be free to choose.
Sometimes the need for a higher power is felt in order to punish evil and diminish sufering. Most of us believe that evil is punished in this life or after it. But, I feel God has failed here, if there is one. It is humans who need to help other humans, because there isn't much evidence of God in this regard. We can be angels ourselves.
Another need for "God" is felt during times of personal sufferings. I haven't felt the need yet, but I cannot say I have been through terrible suffering. But I observe countless suffering in the many lives I see everyday, and (maybe pessimistically) I believe a God won't allow that. Maybe everything is just (un-pre-determined) fate. It just happens. Maybe if an idea of a higher consciousness makes you feeling awed, if you feel the need for a guide during suffering, or if the concept of a "lonely world in space" makes you afraid, go ahead, believe in God. Even if you believe in science. It's not necessary to be internally consistent. Humans can live with that.
But religion causes two things which are definitely harmful: one, that it breeds dogma, the firm belief that this religion, and this book, are true, and every other religion and sect, is false (and a bane to the earth). This is something which is noxious to the ideals of free speech and secularism. Secondly, religion makes us gullible to all sorts of beliefs in useless rituals like exorcism and pseudo-science. Most rituals are beneficial, though... they are, indeed, comforting, even joyful. But let me just say that what science says is impossible, is impossible. Science is the least error-prone way we have to get at truth, and if religious truths conflict with scientific ones, let science win.
That is all for my current thoughts on religion... but, let me add some points on the fruitlessness of such an exercise. Whatever we believe, if it doesn't harm other humans, if it gives us comfort and happiness, is good. We, as, humans, can be self-contradictory. It helps sometimes. So, without thinking too much about God, let's think about Good.