Monday, July 5, 2010

Early morning wake-up call

Religion has good and bad aspects. The tendency of people to think that anything and everything that is religious should be docilely accepted by everybody whether they like it or not does not sit well with me. You will have loudspeakers blaring religious music in the middle of the night or a place of worship springs up in the middle of a road but no one will protest.

One night, I woke up at around one thirty to pass urine. Producing a few grunts to wake somebody up takes a lot of effort and my sleep goes for a toss. I usually get back to sleep in less than an hour but that night, sleep eluded me. I tossed and turned (figuratively speaking), thinking about this and that. You know my methods. Apply them. It was around five (I could see faint shafts of daylight), when I finally dozed off. Almost immediately (it was still quite dark outside), I was woken up by loud noises. In my hypnopompic state I thought someone was being murdered. When the mist finally cleared, I realised that it was a religious procession, the crowd oblivious to the fact that their raucous behavior was causing a huge disturbance.To say that I was annoyed would be an understatement. It was more like a sneaky hate spiral.

I used to come across such behavior when I used to travel in trains. Some pilgrims will enter the train, make a lot of noise waking up sleeping children, empty the water tank, dirty the compartment, etc. "If you prick us, do we not bleed?", is the thought that occurs to me at these times. Believers by their actions seem to suggest, "We are as like to call thee so again, to spit on thee and to spurn thee too and for thus much mercies we demand your respect."

Being a devotee of Schrödinger's God, I am ok with 'strident' atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris criticising religion at every opportunity. They are not 'just' preaching to the converted. They help to shift the Overton Window.The Internet has helped push the issues they raise from the sphere of deviance to the sphere of legitimate controversy. For people who think that their atheism is like religion, James Randi has a quote: "If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby." If some people don't like their combative tones, too bad. As Dan Dennet said:
“I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.”
You can see that I am not thrilled about having had to listen silently for over a decade to Miss India beauty pageant type twaddle about how religion is great. I had more exposure to religion after my stroke than I had had before it and I didn't like it at all. Folks at home know that I am not religiously inclined but it was news to many visitors. Religion comforts many people but I find it boring, which used to leave many nonplussed. Some people could be very persistent in pushing their antediluvian ideas. I soon realised that arguing with them would be as frustrating as asking Senthil about the second banana so I generally kept quiet. Of course, the believers I meet are pleasant people who genuinely want to help me and are very far removed from the fundamentalist types one reads about in newspapers. But I often felt that many of their thought processes were circumscribed by impregnable mental walls whose foundations were laid in childhood. The reluctance to let go is difficult to overcome.

Recently I read The Emerging Mind which describes an interesting experiment on a split-brain patient:
We also tried testing the personality and aesthetic preferences of the two hemispheres independently using the same procedure – namely by training the right hemisphere to communicate ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ non-verbally to us by picking one of three abstract shapes with the left hand. Imagine our surprise when we noticed that in patient LB the left hemisphere said it believed in God whereas the right hemisphere signaled that it was an atheist. The inter-trial consistency of this needs to be verified but at the very least it shows that the two hemispheres can simultaneously hold contradictory views on God: an observation that should send shock waves through the theological community. When a patient like this eventually dies, will one hemisphere end up in hell and the other in heaven?


  1. What a great post! What a smooth transition from one idea to another, without losing track of the main point! I want to write a longer response, but that would involve some deeper thinking and I shudder at the idea that my post will be compared to the great one above!

    ps: in case you have not watched the youtube video of Sam Harris and the diamond buried in the backyard, pls look it up

  2. "But I often felt that many of their thought processes were circumscribed by impregnable mental walls whose foundations were laid in childhood. The reluctance to let go is difficult to overcome."
    So rightly said....Our childhood lays the foundation for all our beliefs and thoughts.Experience does colour our thinking.
    You talk of religion so much.How do you define it,buddy???I think it is a way of life and one is free to live his/her life the way he/she wishes to.THAT becomes his/her religion,according to me.FULL STOP.Would love to hear your definition...

  3. Leela - I think religion is too complicated to define in one sentence. You will have to wait for my posts!