Ever since I was a little girl, I have wondered about God. I have prayed with my mom, watched people perform little rituals and wondered, perhaps in ways that even many grown-ups don’t, whether any of these little things that we do in the name of God are ever up to any good; wouldn’t it just be better if people just did the kind of things that God would appreciate? Like show kindness and compassion, be sincere and good-willed and hard working instead of donating to a temple or going inside one and observing rituals only to go back out and break every rule that God seems to represent. I noticed, early on, that God is more of an industry than an honest sense of ethereal peace and love inside our hearts. I don’t know why I turned out this way so young; maybe it was because I have loved to stare at the night sky and think about the millions of stars out there and everything they represent. Either way, from since I had my senses about me, God became to me a personal sense of rational judgement. Faith? I have always had blind faith in life’s ability to bounce me back up every time I fall- and it has never failed me so far. But I have also wondered how people who suffer from great personal losses continue to believe in an entity that is supposed to save them. I have justified this to myself by telling myself that there is a reason for everything and we all have our moment of enlightenment; even if we reach it on our deathbed or just before the light is extinguished from our eyes.
Where all this is leading is that I recently read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion; a book I really enjoyed. I am probably not in a position to appreciate everything written in it; and while I agreed with most of it, there were parts of it where I couldn’t agree with his arguments.
Religion and Faith
I agree of course, that the socio-cultural aspects of religion that are haunting our world through the likes of terrorists and fundamentalists, need to be discarded and done away with. It makes NO sense for people in today’s world to fight wars over Mesiahs and sons of God who may or may not have existed a couple of thousand years ago. It makes no sense to fight over religious texts which are interspersed with fascinating stories of events that science cannot support. And yes, if in the future we can come up with satisfactory physical and biological laws and proofs to support these tall claims, the science community wouldn’t be close-minded enough to dismiss proof the way religious fanatics do, when it doesn’t fit in with what they believe in.
Which brings me to the topic of faith. It seems extremely stupid to me, as Dawkins points out -that whereas a scientist needs to support every theory with a lot of practical data and proofs before it can be accepted, religion seems to have no such prerequisite. To be sufficiently religious, all you need to say is you have ‘faith’ or you ‘believe’ in such and such Gods with an air of condescending I-dare-you-to-question-me and you cannot come up with any retort in the face of it, because religious sentiments are too gossamer, too easily ‘hurt’. So how then, are we supposed to believe in things which cannot be proven, just because our ancestors believed in them? Why are we supposed to have blind faith in something that nobody can prove; just because our ancient books say that it is true?
Is God for Real?
Dawkins raises questions about how he believes God doesn’t exist- and he means the kind of God who is sitting on the clouds, sorting out matters on earth and deciding the amount of suffering each individual should undergo, or the amount of atonement they require before passing through the doors of heaven; or as we Hindu’s believe- the karma of a new life (which, for some reason-which has nothing to do with the fact that I am a Hindu-makes sense to me because the possibilities of rebirths and reincarnations is something I cannot completely overrule. At no point did Dawkins pay special attention to this theory-except for pointing out that he doesn’t believe the soul moves on after the physical body, whether it is to go to heaven or to a new life). Well, it seems rather hard to believe that a Big Brother-ly figure is sitting up on the clouds or existing in general, all around us and governing all our moves and sending his messengers to guide us. One question which makes a lot of sense to me-something I had never thought of before, perhaps because I am scientifically a little unimaginative-is that if such a figure exists and controls the universe and our lives, then a person capable of controlling such complex phenomenon in such complex ways, has to be complex enough himself. He has to possess a complex mind, for one thing. Which leads us to the question: how could his complexity have come to exist in the first place? Who created our Creator? Because the questions we ask for our Universe can in the same way be asked for the Universe’s creator. Of course, sometimes I find it quite entertaining to believe the very plausible venture that we are, as such, existing inside a falsely created realm. A simulation, perhaps, given how nothing we have found in the universe so far is indivisible. But even if that were true, somebody created the simulation ( I imagine a huge lab with scientists wearing lab coats working continuously on universe as big as a room) and then, who created the creator(s) of the simulation?
Here, in fact, is an interesting link on Huffpost Tech offering a theory that our universe maybe behaving like a brain-a network, in which case its not hard to imagine some rather interesting possibilities along the lines of us existing as a brain inside someone else!
Religion and Evolution
Dawkins explores the origin of religion through both, historic as well as Darwinismic means. Since my religion has never been in direct contradiction with the theory of evolution, I have never first-handedly experienced any dogma relating to this particular aspect the way Christians do. To me, evolution is and always will be brilliant and Darwin more so for coming up with it (though I never successfully finished reading The Origin of Species). It was interesting however, to ponder upon why we, as a race came to need religion in the first place. Was it because we needed a moral code of conduct to guide us through the generations? If so, why do we need to be good at all? As a spin-off from evolution, Dawkins argues about the need to be good perhaps in order to encourage altruism within a community-in order to preserve a set of genes. Because during evolution, genes fight for self-preservation. That would mean siblings and closely-related communities would develop a sense of protection towards one another in order to protect their genes.
Dawkins also explores the evolution of memes in much the same way as genes evolve–in a environment best suited to cultivate them. And he talked about the concept of Zeitgeist- how we move forward through the ages to a point where Hitler, if you really compare him with someone like Genghis Khan, might come out looking like the better man to our modern eyes.
One of the most interesting facts about this book was the Cargo Cults of Pacific Melanesia and New Guinea where the original inhabitants were so impressed with the presence of huge ships and planes bringing in cargo while their supervisors sat back on seats doing seemingly nothing but observing ‘rituals’ such as ruffling through sheets of paper and making people march up and down in long lines, that they built a whole religion out of it. Fascinating indeed, but more than that, it is terrifying in a way if you think that all the suffering in the name of religion could have its origins in a culture that grew out of something just as silly!
God Consoles- Why I Need SOMETHING to believe in, even though it feels like I am my own psychology experiment
Dawkins talks about the need for religion. One of the areas which I don’t think he touched satisfactorily was explaining how we can get consolation without religion. It is true, that for many people-including me- God is just a means of self-comfort when I am really sad and crying and don’t have anyone to talk to. Since I am emotionally weak, it makes me feel secure to think that I have a friend out there who is listening; to whom I am important enough and my petty problems worth the trouble. It is making me sad to have to question whether this ‘friend’ could just a voice inside my head. And that is the only real sense in which I need religion-not because I need to want to have a higher purpose for my existence but just because I cannot bear the possibility that I am completely alone in this cosmos; that I arose from nothingness and will go back to it without having a helping hand to ease my transition through the unavoidable.
When I was small, I read a story about a little girl called Lucy who discovered a secret door in a tree behind her garden. This door led her to a world of fairies and imps and elves who told her stories, showed her magic tricks and made her delicious scones to eat. One day she decided to share the secret place with a friend; when she took her friend to the garden however, the door was gone and so was all the magic. Returning to her room, Lucy cried and cried for days and felt silly for being laughed at by her friend. Then one day, all her magical creatures came back to her and told her that her friend couldn’t see them because she didn’t have any faith! And they only appear in front of people like her, people who believe in their existence and have faith in them. The next morning, she went back and the door was there again. She went in and found all her magical friends waiting for her. After that, she always continued to visit them in secret and never forgot to believe in them.
I remember this story fondly. I even spent some time looking around my own house for a similar door and telling myself ‘I believe in magic, I believe in magic.’ But it is so sad that a beautiful childhood story like that which taught me to have faith, can suddenly feel like its crumbling to pieces. Because every time I think about having faith, I would find myself wondering why. And no rational argument in the world would explain why exactly I should have faith in something that has no proof- why is it considered so ethereal and wonderful to have faith in something-just anything-that is unexplained (especially when we know there are hundreds of different kinds of faith in the world; Muslims destroyed Hindu idols and consider it childish to worship ‘pieces of stones’ whereas we are equally likely to find it quite incredible that a virgin could give birth to the savior of the world) but to have faith in something we can easily prove can still be questioned, condemned, boycotted.
In the end, I am starting to go back to my earlier conclusion regarding ‘God’- a conclusion Dawkins couldn’t shake. Something that came to me during reading Dan Brown’s books and later when I began to indulge in Ayn Rand’s objectivism- the real powers to love and live and create and be powerful exist within US. We might be a teeny tiny dot in one corner of the universe, but this earth has been given to us somehow and we have been gifted with the powers to create and dream and exist. So our ultimate reasons to exist should revolve around happiness in this life. You love someone? Do it for yourself. You want to be kind to a stranger? It will make you feel good. You can create something wonderful? Do it for the satisfaction. You want to work hard? Do it for the sense of fulfillment.