Home > Culture, God > God and a few other things

God and a few other things

A1 / A2 are entering a phase where some of the questions they ask lead to interesting discussions at the dinner table.  Given that the wife is a believer and I am.. well, you could say I am an atheist , an inevitable topic is on belief, or absence of belief, in god. Contrary to popular perception, an atheist is NOT someone who says there is no god,  but someone who dis-believes in the existence of god. The distinction is important. I am equally dis-believing on the existence of mermaids or unicorns for that matter, but I will change my belief if I ever see enough evidence proving the existence of any of them. My position on god is the same – there has not been any evidence to prove the existence of god, and hence I reject the existence of god. But if there is enough evidence anytime, I will change my position.

Its been fascinating to watch both of them, as 10 year olds, form their own views on the subject. At this point of time, A1 is somewhere in-between, not really wanting to force the issue with V or me, either way. A2 has clearly taken to the idea that there is no god, and even challenges his (mainly older) friends on this one – something i find amazing as on most other things, he gets influenced by their POV and comes home to relay it back to us.

This is probably going to be an ongoing dinner table conversation as the boys get older, with multiple nuances coming into our stated beliefs, as befits this very complex subject. I wanted to put down my thoughts using a slightly circular approach – stating my POV from the perspective of the general role that that i see god playing in the world around me.

So here goes:

God as a mechanism to deal with the insignificance / pointless-ness of our lives in the larger scheme of things, also known as the universe.

It is very difficult for us to come to terms with the fact that our existence is just a random occurrence, and has no meaning beyond the duration of our lifetime. When we die, we die. Thats it. Nothing more. This is a huge deal, and i see belief in god as a strong crutch for humanity in this process of reconciliation.

We believed earlier that the earth was the center of a universe created by god  (a universe which was then thought to be consisting of our Sun and a few other planets and stars). We now know that we are just one species among millions, in one average sized planet, which orbits around a star called the sun , which is a kind of average star among billions of other stars in a galaxy known as the Milky Way, which is one among billions of other galaxies, all of which together comprise the universe. Another fact: Humans as a species, have been in existence for only about 1 million years of the 4.5 billion years that the earth has been around, which is a negligible 0.02%.

Pause and reflect on all these numbers for a moment. To think that we have been put here by a Higher power for a purpose, is frankly akin to this very famous “puddle” idea from Douglas Adams :

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in —  fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

Those magnificent creatures that roamed the earth for over 160 million years (note: One Hundred And Sixty million years versus our pathetic 1 million years), till they were wiped out by a random event 65 million years ago – a passing meteorite gently nudging our planet which came in its way – those huge dinosaurs must have felt the same way, isn’t it? That the earth was created for them to rule. The bottomline is, we are all puddles, and to surmise anything else is clutching at straws.

And in this case, god and associated theology do provide some very useful straws to clutch at – karma, the soul continuing to live even after the body is dead and buried, heaven, hell – all very good ideas, but just that – ideas – to help  us to cope with the fact that there is no larger purpose or meaning to our existence.

God providing a moral compass for our lives

From childhood, we are conditioned via our parents and elders saying things like  “Don’t do that, or god will punish you”, “See, because you did not obey us, god punished you”, etc. God plays a very effective policeman to help us frame a moral compass by which we can supposedly live a virtuous and fulfilling life.

I have no problems with this, except that it also creates other, very undesirable perceptions. First, there is this implicit bias in some (from my experience, the majority of )  believers that tends to associate belief in god with “goodness” of character, and more importantly, the absence of belief, with “heretical-traits” which are frowned upon. The second and more critical fallacy of thought which arises from this mass conditioning, is best exemplified by this brilliant essay by Mr. Lizard, the first few lines of which are reproduced below (Hat tip: Amit Varma’s blog ‘India Uncut’):

“Presented for your consideration: Two gentlemen, both with what one might term a mild delusion — they are deeply involved with people who don’t exist. Both spend a lot of money on this obsession. Both can recite, at length, the putative words, thoughts, and deeds of their fictional obsessions. Both have allowed the ideals expressed by these non-existent beings to shape their lives, and both proudly proclaim their allegiance in a sect of followers. Despite this odd obsession, both men hold down jobs, have families, pay taxes, and commit no more than trivial crimes, such as jaywalking, or speeding, or ripping the tags off of mattresses.

One of these men, though, has a serious problem — he won’t acknowledge the fictitious nature of his fantasy friend. The other one has no such difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy.

Yet, in our society, the former is considered normal and healthy — while the latter is, at best, a figure of mockery, at worst, a reviled outcast. The former man, you see, is a ‘Christian’, and the fictious being he admires is called ‘God’. The latter is a ‘Trekker’ and his fictional focus is called ‘Mr. Spock’.

Neither God nor Mr. Spock exist. Both are creations of the imagination. There is no such thing as being ‘slightly fictitious’ — a thing, or a person, either exists, or it does not. God does not exist, making him as fictional as Spock, Fox Mulder, Tom Sawyer, Hamlet, Bart Simpson, or President Clinton’s ethical standards.”

( Read the whole essay here. )

Mr. Spock is as relevant to someone who wants live a purposeful life, as “god” is to a “believer” (both quotes intentional). As for me, I try to be brutally honest with my own conscience. For the most part, it has helped me sleep peacefully at night.

God helping us cope with extremes of life

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same”  (from Rudyard Kipling’s “If”).

A great line from one of my favourite poems, but a whole lot easier said than done. Life throws surprises at us – an untimely death of someone very dear to us, phases of extreme suffering which seem beyond our control, unexpected good fortune, and such like. In such scenarios, faith in god does provide a way to cope with the extreme vicissitudes of life (of course, we tend to invoke god’s support more during the bad times than the good).

The belief that its all “written”,  apparently enhances our capacity to deal with tragedy and trauma. On the contrary, it may also happen that such tragedy provokes us to question doctrines of theology (read this beautiful review of Arun Shourie’s book, to see what I mean).

I also am a staunch advocate of dealing with fortune & sorrow equally, except that destiny or faith doesn’t come anywhere in the picture for me. I call it luck. Life is not fair, and you have to expect, and deal with, the good, the bad and sometimes, the downright ugly. If an idea called god or a belief that whatever you do or don’t do, everything is pre-destined, makes coping easier, then good for you.  But in no way does it make a case for faith in god as a way of life.

I have to admit though, that my god has given me many moments of ecstasy, and some of sheer agony.

So long for now, and thanks for all the fish.

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Categories: Culture, God
  1. Anil
    August 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Great read, but feels like ” Satish Senti ho gaya… “!!!

  2. September 1, 2011 at 11:21 am

    NIce one Satish. A very complex issue indeed if you try and logically reason it out. Needs some amount of faith / belief, as one has to rely on experiences of other people who have seen / experienced God / Nirvana / bliss, whatever you call it. Else be a “seeker” yourself … which is a bit impractical for most of us !

    Yest, A 1 & A 2 asked Aish first and then Rams whether they believed in God. Aish clearly said No – to which they promptly agreed and said “Yes, its only imaginary”. And then Rams said she believed sometimes, so they quickly moderated their response and said “Yes, he half exists” !! It was so funny – I couldn’t help laughing aloud.

    My 2 bit .. don’t try too hard to make them understand, they will find their own truth : )

  3. Kartik
    April 12, 2012 at 3:35 am

    Nice write-up, mate. Big fan of Dawkins and Hitchens (I actually met Dawkins here in Melbourne and can confirm that whilst he is superbly cerebral and his arguments are compelling, he is a bit of a jerk). I’m in exactly the same predicament as you – I’m defly an atheist, while Aruna is a believer. I am absolutely clear that I *cannot* and should not impose my views on my children and they should form their own views; which is becoming increasingly difficult. I must mention that it is easier being an atheist when one lives outside of India; since making a trip to temples is a chore and holidays on account of ‘festivals’ don’t exist here.
    Just this New Year’s Eve; Mum, Shrikki, Aruna and I spent several hours discussing “God”. (sad way to spend New Year’s Eve, I know – but that is a reflection of our age, I guess…!). You and V should have been there…

    • April 13, 2012 at 11:49 am

      Yeah, we would’ve loved to be part of that.. About imposing one’e belief on our kids, i think its ok if you explain what you believe in and why and have a lot of communication going around it which includes all viewpoints, which is what we try to do at home. I actually don’t think festivals are that big an issue for us here, because these are seen (especailly by the kids) as more of a celebration /fun thing (e.g Diwali – crackers, Christmas – gifts, Holi – fun with friends) than any larger occassion related to theology.

  4. November 28, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Just a few minor details, Dinosaurs were not all wiped out by a meteorite, or global ice age. They are finding that over time due to unknown circumstances at this point, they began to go extinct. (Paleontology class-all about dinosaurs – KSU 2011) Humans have been around for about 3 million years (Current data based on skeletal findings in Africa) But you have all the other details right, make a good argument. Just thought to update you. 😀

    • December 30, 2012 at 11:13 pm

      Ah.. ok. Though I thought that the dinosaur one is still up in the air, and till we get more concrete evidence, the meteorite theory is the most widely held one. But will read up more on these, appreciate the pointers.
      And thanks for the nice words! 🙂

  1. February 16, 2014 at 8:58 am

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