Sunday, September 23, 2012

Change in attitude towards religion - II

Men rarely (if ever) managed to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child. -Robert A. Heinlein, science-fiction author (1907-1988)

I will sometimes read an an article about very religious people having views opposite to what they normally preach. They tend to favour military action,  are against gun control, tend to be against universal health care, tend to be more tolerant of inequality etc. Sometimes Jaya will tell me about a flaming row between some people who I have never heard of and people who they consider beneath their station like the watchman or the driver. I will flippantly remark that they must be very religious. I used to be surprised at how often this turned out to be true. 'Religious tolerance' has become my favourite oxymoron. I also read about the many common arguments given by believers.

Many standard statements that people say for form's sake started sounding silly. For eg., while commentating during a cricket match soon after Raj Singh Dungarpur's death, Ravi Shastri said, 'I know you are watching, Rajbhai.' I know? How? There is the typical reaction after accidents which I began to find jarring. Lying for religion is often excused. The popular notion that god is required to guide our action seemed increasingly untenable.

I used to be puzzled by how religions make women feel privileged about being treated as second class citizens.All religions subjugate women in some way. The most religious men seem to have the most conservative views on women's issues.They seem to be insecure that women are becoming more independent. I increasingly found myself agreeing with Don Prothero's observations in Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters:
Psychologists have long shown that humans are very good at self - deception and trying to convince themselves of anything that they fervently want to believe in.  Given a strong belief system, humans can convince themselves that black is white or to ignore obvious evidence and focus only on what they want to see, and miss the forest for the trees.  As Gorge Orwell put it, "We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts as to show that we were right.  Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time; the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against a solid reality."
I used be struck by the fact that people spoke admiringly of mythological characters who seemed to be a lot less likable than they themselves were. In Does He Know A Mother's Heart?, Arun Shourie writes:
In the myths, just as many tragedies and catastrophes have resulted from curses hurled by evil persons as by saintly ones. It is of course ironic that rishis who, after all, have mastered their senses through long and severe austerities, fly off the handle at the slightest provocation or an even slighter mistake of someone, even some dear to them.
I didn't know much about the Bible (which can be said about my knowledge of any religious text) except for Biblical phrases that are commonly used in English and some random stories (is it a coincidence that I knew only the good stories?) so I was surprised to hear Julia Sweeney's account of how she lost her faith. Dan Dennett's suggestion that every child ought to be educated about the facts of all the major world religions has merit. Somebody rightly said that it is a blessing that most people are better than god. I can vouch for it from personal experience. For eg., I studied in a Catholic school (Little Flower School, Jamshedpur) and I have great respect for the nuns who administered my school and taught me. It is an example of the good effects of faith which is the only aspect that gets airtime.

The medieval laws in existence in many places to protect religion decrease the position of religion in my eyes. People get into a frenzy over stories. Is this a sign of confidence? Or do they have something to hide? Judging by the only book that I have read that has mainly to do with religion, they have plenty to hide. If you have some confidence in your beliefs, you won't mind criticism. In my experience, the most insecure show the maximum eagerness to proscribe any criticism. I've had about enough with religious zealots becoming apoplectic and screaming murder every time someone says 'boo' to them. Respect is commanded not demanded.  As Richard Dawkins said at the Jaipur Literature festival, 'Our whole society is soft on religion.'The tolerance of intolerance encourages intolerance, a point that Hitchens emphasises in this debate with Sashi Tharoor.  Having an invisible Super Boss creates problems.

One scene I remember clearly was of Manu Sharma (the killer of Jessica Lal) rushing off to some temple where he would no doubt have been blessed by some saffron-robed paragon of piety. The gods have a curious sense of humour. You often see politicians, royalty, film stars and businessmen getting special treatment at various temples with cameras in attendance. I don't know how devoted these people actually are but in a god-crazed country it doesn't hurt to display some piety.

If you can’t be any of those personages,  be an auditor in a Public Sector bank to gain easy access to the sanctum sanctorum without having to waste time in queues.This is because temple authorities know that nothing persuades believers to go easy on tough questions as giving them easy access to the sanctum sanctorum. Since most auditors will be believers, this is a useful strategy to avoid tricky questions.

Believers come up with Orwellian statements like atheists are arrogant and intolerant, science is also faith, doubt is part of faith, atheists are closed minded, science lacks imagination, scientists are dogmatic etc. The first thing that comes to my mind is what John McEnroe would have said, "You cannot be serious." In my readings and experience, it was all exactly opposite. They make hypocrisy look bad. I suppose it is a case of psychological projection. In Coming of Age in the Milky Way Timothy Ferris writes:
It is the grand, mystical systems of thought, couched in terminologies too vague to be wrong, that explain everything and seldom err and do not grow.
If there is a god, I think it is the height of arrogance to think that he or she will be bothered about what I do. Considering the scales of things in the universe, the god that believers describe is too boring for words. Being too religious primes you to accept simplistic explanations. (Of course my examples are the lowest of low hanging fruits.) Neil degrasse Tyson explains the problem with this line of thinking.

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