Saturday, January 24, 2009

Unbridled blasphemy

As I was gumming down a bowl of soup that some diet-friendly misanthropic nihilist might have invented, I glanced around the cafeteria to see if there were any of my friends or pretty girls nearby (Both groups are surprisingly not mutually exclusive!) There was this Latin-American female who monopolized my attention for a whole minute, after which she started walking, leaving me with her image still implanted in my head (persistence of vision is a blessing!); and after that I noticed a banner which read, "Maybe God is the answer?" That was the message verbatim.

Now, most of my regular readers know my cynicism about religion and might consider it hypocrisy that I joined a catholic university, but let's move past that for now. Please note that this is not a slight on Christianity but on religion in general. In fact, my kind of atheism is strangely ecumenical as it unites all religions while calling them crazy. What hurts me deeply is the marketing of religion that is done today. Many a graduate student can testify to being accosted by a missionary with the dangling carrot of free tuition in exchange for accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. "God wants you to give till it hurts" is one of the many lines smoothly delivered by buff evangelists as they continue to mercilessly fleece poor innocent people.

Another cheap shot especially practiced by religion is that it attacks people when they are the weakest. Terminally ill patients are often known to have complete conversions during their last hours. While the religiously fanatical lobby notches this in their victory column, it can also be explained as a form of mental anesthesia that people crave when their fear, desperation or pain gets too much to handle.

The Hindu, Muslim and other religions are not far behind in their hypocrisies and their endorsement (and sometimes instigation) of atrocities. They too captivate people when they are most mentally feeble.

Richard Dawkins, the geneticist & acclaimed atheist, says that religion is the best product to sell because neither its virtues nor its promises are vulnerable to scientific testing. This is a product whose qualities you cannot experience until you die. The funniest part is that the people who tell you what happens after death lack serious resume points in the experience category themselves. If, in a scientific discussion, someone throws conjecture after conjecture at you without a shred of data to back them up, you would show that person the door. Yet, we grant religion a free pass and complete immunity from all logical accusations.

Sam Harris says that most people who follow one religion are atheists with respect to others. They believe in no god but their own god. Atheists, Harris says, simply go one god further. Bill Maher notes the pejorative connotation of the word atheist in modern times, and prefers the word rationalist. A rationalist is simply a person who does not conform to an ideology in principle but questions everything and is a natural skeptic. You need to convince such people, and not preach to them or command them.

I have met many people who argue that as I cannot disprove the existence of god, there has to be a god. To this, the great philosopher Bertrand Russell proposed a theory that there is a small teapot orbiting the sun and that its orbit lies between that of Mars & Earth such that it is too tiny to be seen by the most powerful telescope. As we cannot disprove the existence of said teapot, it must exist, and we are free to worship it. This kind of juvenile logic would be rejected by most children if said in the context of the teapot, and rightly so, for it is impossible to prove a negative, and hence the burden of proof should be shouldered by the people who claim the existence of any object.

The least these religious people could admit is that they don't know. I would still respect that. It is their unwavering certainty in the face of many a contradictory proof that baffles me the most.

A friend of mine once gave me a patronizing smile during one such argument and said, "We must not critique these stories & fables in religious texts, but merely take the good out of them." Is that not a critique in itself? Does it not take critical thinking to separate the grain from the chaff? And who is to decide which is which? Are we free to choose?

I consider it an offense to be told to suspend my critical thinking for any reason whatsoever. Richard Dawkins opines that we can lead perfectly moral and decent lives without being taught so by religious scripture. Having considered that, let us weigh the damage wrought by religion against the little (not unique) good it does. It pains me to visit ground zero in NYC. That horror would not have happened if there was no religion. If there was no promise of an afterlife, no one could have convinced young men to throw their lives away and take many others with them. There would have been no Holocaust. Closer to home, we Indians have seen enough brutalities committed in communal riots to know what I'm talking about.

If you woke up one day and saw that Princess Diana was speaking to you, you would suspect that you were hallucinating. Substitute that with the voice of god (which, by the way, you have no way of identifying) and you might just be called a prophet or a messiah.

I am very cynical & venomous on this subject simply because of the time, money, energy and other resources I see being wasted on this selfish mental anesthetic. Let's face it. We humans fear the unknown. Death is the ultimate unknown. So no matter how incredible the explanations offered to us are, we swallow them down just like I swallowed that soup-we have a void to fill, and when we are really desperate, anything goes.


Phoenix said...

That was... quite heavy for my taste..
But good attempt.. And you know what, this is such a topic that anything and everything cannot ever justify either of the sides.. So at times it feels a waste of the time and the energy to even think about it.. just follow what you believe.. let others do what they feel like so far they dun interfere with ur path..
Anyways.. Hallelujah :) !!

Anonymous said...

I really look forward to read the new posts, for each one provides food for thought. I dont exactly remember where I heard the phrase but it said that "religion is an evolutionary byproduct" or something like that and I also remember reading something funny which was like " if one person suffers from delusion then it is insanity but if many people suffer from delusion it is religion". The thought that there is some supreme power on which you can blame your misdeeds or vicissitudes of life is highly attractive. ( I admit it I do it many times).Since you have quoted many great people i will take the liberty to quote, the only religious saying I have ever bothered to remember "If GOD did not exist it would be necessary to invent him."

avalok ishwar said...

i am still trying to resolve this.. if one stuck to the semantic definition of religion, one is left with something quite crass, and doctrinaire. i myself have been more interested in the religious scriptures, in that they are period time-capsules, intellectually challenging, and logically stated arguments (sometimes). .. yea, faith is hard to have. it doesn't conform to the physical laws - to have faith is like jumping off a bridge with a bungee rope (and having faith in its durability). but religion as peddled by the crass has never appealed to me. but spend some time considering that which you cannot grasp, or understand. after all being strictly atheistic is also doctrinaire, and a reasonable person should not subscribe to that any more than institutionalized religion.

buddy said...

"More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of"


Liberal said...

It is heavy I agree, but I needed to get it off my chest..

Thanks for the compliment

@avalok ishwar
Being dogmatically atheistic is wrong, but agnosticism does not imply a 50:50 chance of god existing

Just because prayer and a belief in god might bring people some peace (however false it may be) it is not reason enough to prove that god exists...given that, let us consider the harm that religion has done

sthitapragnya said...

Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by dozens.

- Montaigne (1553 - 1592)

dharmabum said...

i am not entirely religious, but i do tend to think religion has bits of goodness to it, too...

rambuna said...

can a human being construct a mosquito? can anyone stop tsunami from happening? why are some lucky not to have died in an accident while others died ? can we control nature caused disasters? can we critically analyze everything in our life? why is faith important? where does it come from? Do we hv all answers??