Before my stroke, I could have been classified as an 'indifferentist'. (I still am in many ways. I am just more aware of the deleterious effects of organised religion and the often subtle coercive actions it inspires.) I don't remember feeling the urge to go to a temple on my own but I had no problem accompanying relatives or friends to a temple, church or mosque if they wanted to go to one. While there I would do what I saw other people doing so that I didn't stick out like a sore thumb. But I was more likely to admire the architecture or wonder how those intricate carvings were made. ('Like Michelangelo carving David by chipping away all the bits that did not look like David' as I once heard V.S.Ramachandran say in a podcast.)
Like many people, I enjoyed the social aspects of religion, the meeting opportunities it provides, without bothering about scriptures. The rituals were preliminaries that I had to sit through before I got some good things to eat. I could never bellyfeel them as believers so obviously did. The fun element disappeared after my stroke. Now religious functions were occasions for imploring various gods to perform miracles. I gradually grew tired of sitting like a trussed chicken and listening quietly to the jeremiads and the false promises of cults (not the Cult of Apple). It was all too solemn and maudlin. As Wole Soyinka says:
“One of the things about religion and deities is that many of these Gods have a marvellous sense of humour. This entire creation is a piece of humour; the absurdity of human existence strikes me as a big joke. The deities without humour are the dangerous ones. Deities that represent the solemn, the profound, the grave can sometimes dangerously exaggerate one of these elements, which makes for a lack of balance, of letting the negative take over the positive. It is the fundamentalists who lack a sense of humour and are dangerous. It's important to see the comic side of existence to be able to recognise the profundity of human life.”
There was an incident that happened soon after Jaya and I got married that illustrated my indifference towards religion. While visiting some of her relatives, one of her cousins pointed to a building and said that when 'amma' had come there, the queue had stretched to a couple of adjacent streets. 'Amma'in Malayalam means 'mother' and I thought he was talking about his mother. I knew that his mother had passed away some time back but I knew nothing else about her and I wondered why she had been so famous. I did not ask any questions then, thinking that I will find out about her over the the next few days.
I found out that that he was referring to a religious leader who seemed to have a large following. My in-laws would have been shocked if they had learned that I had no idea who 'amma' was. I am sure someone would have mentioned something about her at sometime but the name never registered. I tend to switch off when matters of religion are being discussed.
Even now I read blog posts and articles concerning religion which I can complete in 10-15 min. Anything longer and I tend to get bored and start thinking of switching to reading about the photosynthetic slug or the the vegetarian spider. (I can listen to a podcast for a longer time. This is because, especially in the afternoon, it leaves the nurse free to do any work or sleep for a while without being disturbed by me for a while.) My main interest in reading these articles and listening to to the podcasts is to get a better idea about two questions:
- The puzzle of there being many smart people who are skeptical of god and religion while there are many other smart people who accept it wholeheartedly. This person has a similar interest although he seems to spend much more time on it than me.
- Religions tend to have men in positions of power and it devises various methods to subjugate women but women seem to be more religious than men. Why is it so?
I have not read any books that have to do mainly with religion. I don't think I will be able to devote so much time and effort to a topic that doesn't figure high on my list of priorities. When I see sentences like “Things known are in the knower according to the mode of the knower”, my eyes glaze over. So it can be said that I don't know much about the scriptures or the sophisticated arguments for religion. I think most believers don't either. In my experience, the belief model rather than the orientation model is prevalent to a greater extent. I have never been in a discussion where people were talking about the religious views of Einstein.