Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Change in attitude towards religion - I

Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that 'God is the ultimate' or 'God is our better nature' or 'God is the universe.' Of course, like any other word, the word 'God' can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal. - Steven Weinberg

 People find many purposes in life, most of them religious. Many people keep analysing religious belief and coming to various conclusions. I had never thought about these issues before my stroke. Religious belief is a complicated phenomenon that I luckily escaped from. I was a latitudinarian in the Jefferson mould -  "it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg". I still am like that but my views about religion being a benign force that can always be given a pass has undergone a change.The Internet has helped.

I have given some reasons in earlier posts. I will give some more in the next few  posts. Obviously it feels awkward criticizing the cherished views of good people. Bear in mind that many of the people I like the most are religious. But I felt that some harsh words cannot be left unsaid. I sometimes felt like deleting some of those sentences after meeting those nice believers because they were not the ones I had in mind while writing them but I ultimately decided to retain them. As Johan Hari said, 'All people deserve respect but not all ideas do.' And generally, when I say religion, I mean organised religion not religion as a place-holder term for human rights, charity, love, etc.

It is often seen that in difficult times people become more religious. It was thus thought that after the stroke, I would shed my earlier  indifference to religion and become more spiritually inclined. Many people seem to have the idea that their god has the same mindset as one of Richard Nixon's advisers who had a poster in his room with the slogan "When you've got 'em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." But I don't recall having any interest in religion following my stroke. It was years later, after becoming more aware of and irritated by the tyranny of organized religion, I began to read a bit more about it.

A typical instance of the situations I began to dislike was when some people came home, corralled Jaya in one corner of the room and told her in breathless tones how various miracles had had happened at some temple when certain rituals were performed there. They then turned their attention to me at which point they were told that I was not religiously inclined. They seemed to be somewhat nonplussed that someone could live peacefully without god (many people do) especially one who had slipped on life's banana skin (as Wodehouse would have put it). Inevitably, they finally said, ' He will find god someday.' I had visions of the climax scene in Deewar when Amitabh Bachachan staggers into a temple and pants, 'mein aa gaya hoon maa.' I would have liked to say what Jeeves told BertieWooster on some occasion, 'The contingency, sir, is a remote one.'

On one occasion, some  strange guy came home, made me sit in front of the of some gods, stuck flowers on one of my earlobes, lit an incense stick and kept circling around me muttering something. I resented having to sit like a dumb doll and subject myself to these strange rituals being conducted by a strange guy strutting around with an expression of 'wisdom, gravity, profound conceit'. I felt particularly riled by the fact that these guys blithely assumed that I would have no objection to being the focus of such rituals. They ignore Julia Sweeney's version of the Golden Rule:' Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but ask them first if it’s okay.' (Such 'faith pimping' also seems to be common in the US.)

I finally came to the conclusion there is some truth to the statement that if u don’t protest u lose by default. The meek don’t inherit anything.The superstitious beliefs that I  have mentioned in various posts were given by people out of solicitousness and force of habit rather than because of any malicious intent but the prospect of politely agreeing to their suggestions forever was not appealing. I informed Jaya that I didn't like being put in such situations and I didn't mind if she managed to wriggle out of them in any way she saw fit.Of course, I knew that there will be times when she will have no choice but to accede to the requests. In 'The Code of the Woosters' when Jeeves puts Bertie in a sticky spot, the latter muses:
I don’t know if you were ever told as a kid that story about the fellow whose dog chewed up the priceless manuscript of the book he was writing. The blow – out, if you remember, was that he gave the animal a pained look and said: ‘Oh, Diamond, Diamond, you – or it may have been thou – little know – or possibly knowest – what you – or thou - has – or hast – done.’ I heard it in the nursery, and it has always lingered in my mind.  And why I bring it up now is that this was how I looked at Jeeves as I  passed from the room. I didn’t actually speak the gag, but I fancy he knew what I was thinking.
I knew that there will be times when I will have to be satisfied with giving the Bertie look. But over time, word spread that I was one of those crazy chaps like Oscar Wilde who thought that "The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” The zeal to make me enthralled by the rites and symbols of religion gradually withered away not fully but in great measure.

It is often noticed that god is said to be close to people with various disabilities and ailments. I once asked the nurse to do some channel surfing when I saw a program entitled 'God's children'. I need not have guessed the general theme of the program - it was about a genetic disease that made teenagers look like seventy (Progeria, the disease that the character played by Amitabh Bachchan in the movie  'Paa' suffered from.) God's children indeed!

So it was not surprising that I was sometimes told 'God loves you' or 'You are touched by God'. This god character has a bizarre sense of humour. Religions have a huge support structure that ensures that the same pablum get repeated unquestioningly ad infinitum. George Carlin mocked it in typically caustic fashion.Believers seem to suspend their critical faculties when echoing what their religious leaders tell them thus spreading memes like the just world hypothesis.

It is astonishing how sheep-like some people become when in front of their favourite saffron robed chap.They seem to be primed to get dazzled by deepities (see this Deepak Chopra random quote generator) or by promises of a Spiritual Disneyland or do silly things. Their leaders would like them to lead an unconsidered life and be satisfied with what Kierkegaard called 'tranquilizing itself with the trivial'. Many would probably end up singing, 'Ghungroo ki tarah...'.

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