The below text is the kind of matter that people read selectively. Accepting what they like to accept and ignoring the rest. Please don't read it that way. Try to understand the true essence of it.
When elephants are young, they are tied to a strong tree. They try hard to break free and learn that they cannot.
Even when they grow up to become extremely strong, they don't bother challenging this belief. You can tie the elephant to a twig, and it won't try to escape (unless it's in musth, I suppose).
All of us are no different from those elephants. As children, we are taught things and threatened with consequences. Even as adults who have the capability to access information and understand the world, we remain stuck with those childhood beliefs. Rarely daring to challenge them.
But even among those who do accept new information, there's always the danger of falling prey to the opinions of others.
I remember a story of volunteers distributing contraceptives to women in a rural area. To make it easy to remember, they converted the procedures for using the contraceptive, into a rhyming song which the women could sing and remember.
Many months later when the volunteers returned, the women complained that it wasn't working. They were still getting pregnant.
On inquiring, the volunteers were both amused and surprised that one of the women had managed to convince everyone else that they could avoid getting pregnant by simply singing the song!
That's the captivating power of social opinion. If you don't conform to what the group says, you'll be ridiculed, ostracized and constantly shamed for everything you do. People find it simpler to just sheepishly conform and have their peace of mind.
I see religious people all over the world tied to twigs. Having been taught never to question their beliefs. The incentive being, to please their family and people in the religious circle.
Who wants to be socially ostracized, excommunicated, threatened, denied of help and sometimes killed just because they asked "so who created god. Who created the god who created god....".
It's about fear. It's about the social acceptance that's thoroughly immersed in fear. It's easier to frighten and threaten someone and then forcibly thrust religion down their throat than answer their questions and help them understand the essence of religion.
...is not about fear. It's about acceptance, compassion and harmony (feel free to add to this as per your understanding).
A Truly Religious Person (let's call them TRP's) realizes that it is not the rituals that matter. It is the intention behind the ritual that matters. So if they don't celebrate their festival grandly once a year and instead spend the entire year helping people and contributing to society whenever they can, they are being religious. Remember the women who thought they could avoid getting pregnant by singing the song? I see people following religious rituals the same way. Even though the rituals have their significance, what really matters is how you live your life.
A TRP realizes that high enthusiasm and spending is not an indicator of dedication to god. It's just an indicator that you want to make a show of being religious.
A TRP does not feel the need to impose their religion on other people or feel hurt and defend their religion from criticism because they know that religion is not about a bunch of rules, practices and rituals. They also know that the real reason people believe in a particular religion is because they were born into such a family. Being born into a different family, they'd have believed something else.
A TRP realizes that everything written above is just a bunch of Navin's opinions born of observation, and that instead of taking it as an absolute truth or denouncing it, the TRP would benefit from breaking free from the twig they were tied to and think for themselves about life, human and social psychology to understand why the world is what it is.
The TRP would then probably get a little closer to being a wiser person. Some people call it "Spirituality".
Let pseudo-religious people be:
All that being said, technically, the wise thing to do is to let people follow their religious beliefs and practices. It's too emotionally and intellectually draining for them to break free from what they have been taught for decades as the absolute truth. The fear is a very binding force. Why risk going to that imaginary place called hell eh?
For others, it's just a plain lack of intelligence and/or greed for power.
Religion is in essence an intellectual pursuit. A realization that we don't know why we are here, that there may be a creating force and the understanding that we are here to help each other. That's how religion begins.
But intellectual is boring. That's where the pseudo-religious people contribute to religion. Add rituals, colour, sound and enthusiasm (sometimes even violence) to religion and totally ignore what the religion actually wanted you to do. It's more fun this way, isn't it? Who cares about the boring intellectual part!
"Piety is not what the lessons bring to people; it's the mistake they bring to the lessons"
- The man from Earth
Thankfully, with better education and intelligent sharing of ideas across the world, many people have been able to break free from the twigs. Sometimes during their teens itself.
Together we move toward a better, more intelligent, more helpful, accepting and compassionate world!
True religion is important. Understanding it correctly is even more important.
Let me leave you with this interesting thought from Zen: http://zenpencils.com/comic/nerdist/