Saturday, February 20, 2010

Religion is Great, 'God' doesn't exist and doesn't matter

I just read a piece by one Sujatha Desikan in the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan. He quotes from a discussion between writer Sujatha Rangarajan and Rangarajan's brother.

The crux, Rangarajan was thrilled while visiting the Sri Rangam temple becos it brought back childhood memories. But more importantly becos his ancestors had worshiped at that very temple, roamed its precincts and touched the very stones, Rangarajan was touching.

Its true. I have felt the same way while visiting the Big Temple in Thanjavur and have written about it here. Curiously I have no childhood memories of Thanjvur. I have visited that temple only twice in my life and that too only recently. But the thrill I feel in my spine while visiting the temple, cannot be put in words.

I don't believe in 'God' and don't remember believing in anything super natural even as a kid. But the fascination with Thanjavur temple is unmistakable. Yes, I like history and the fact that Rajaraja Cholan built and roamed about the temple, adds to the intrique. But the instinct to do something closely related to my family is probably the leading emotion.

Similarly, I'm fascinated not just by Adi Sankara's Advaita but also the Smartha brahmin tradition he spawned. Again, becos I know that my ancestors have followed that tradition. And quite likely from the days of Adi Sankara himself! Advaita, Jainism and Epicureanism are philosophies I tend to agree with. Mostly becos I believe they reject the notion of 'God'.

But I have critiqued myself that the Smartha Brahmin caste affinity also lies at the root of my fascination with Adi Sankara. And I agrue with my conscience that, I hate Brahmanism. Not becos its convenient but also becos I realize the injustice and hypocrisy inherent in Brahmanism. While anything associated with Sankara and Advaith thrills, I feel pure hatred towards the scoundrels who run the Kanchi Sankara mutt now. If Jayendra is convicted and sentenced to death, I wud gladly volunteer to be his hangman.

I understand my anger is becos these Kanchi scoundrels violated something I hold sacred and personal. Afterall, at my Upanayanam ceremony, my dad passed on a family tradition hundreds if not thousands of years old. And this (wud be) murderer Jayendra was invoked as the Guru.

I have once ridiculed (some) Sikhs for claiming sanctity for their cult while denying the same to an offshoot. I believe Sikh affinity with their ancestors is understandable and is a cause to be celebrated. But that doesn't make their Gurus immune to scrutiny and even ridicule.

In my case, I'm open to the idea that Adi Shankara committed suicide having lost a debate. And another advaitin Vivekananda called Adi Shankara, a blood thirsty Brahmin who enjoyed defeating Buddhist scholars which resulted in their suicides. I agree with that assessment. Elsewhere, Jain monks have weird views on laity and women, and are rightly criticised for it.

I have seriously considered throwing away the 'thread' I wear. It has no practical use other than to brandish my caste. I try to hide it in temples and in water bodies where I have to take my shirt off. I'm told, Udupi Krishna temple offers food separately to people with and without the thread. I recommend a terrorist bombing of the place.

But I haven't had the balls to cast the thread aside. My father initiated me into this institution and I'll have to perform animist rituals for our ancestors when he is no more. I know its irrational. All my ancestors are dead and gone. They don't need any food. Any connection there is, is entirely in my mind and nowhere else.

But this irrationality has practical uses. I have attended five funerals in the last two years and I know its inevitable that I'll attend more. The irrational rituals at funerals and later on, seem very helpful in going thru the trauma. That I think is the most important reason to persist with religion. Animist rituals in my family tend to be about ancestors going somewhere (?!) and living there. But I'm even ok with animist rituals that claim going to 'God' or sleeping with 72 virgins (4 at a time).

Daniel Dennet, philosopher and one of the four horsemen, calls religion a continuation of our tribal identities. I agree. While indulging in 'God' and other irrational beliefs, we shud never forget the rational for indulging in such irrationality. Go for it!


altered egos said...

Nothing religious about it..but temple visits... i really love them....though i realised tht for some strange reasons this feeling is there only for some temples (mostly down south). I loved the tanjavur temples and also the meenakshi amman temple in madurai.. the dark galleries, large stone pillars, bats hiding in the crevices and the glow of lamps in far corners :)

kamala natarajan said...

how do you say that whatever you say or think is rational?

there are many fake rationalists who, when they dont understand something, deny its existence.

Balaji said...

funeral rituals are irrational to the extent that they have no relevance to the dead person. any physician or philosopher will vouch for it.

but i have already acknowledged that such irrational rituals help those left behind to go thru the trauma. so I recommend practicing them.

if your comment was about all things supernatural, then I think an overwhelming amount of evidence exists to render all claims of 'God' as bogus.

your claim to understand things which 'fake rationalists' apparently can't understand, i assume, has not been put to test.

scientific mysteries, which we can't understand, aren't any guide to prove the existence of something supernatural. as the famous 'flying spagetti monster' argument goes, if I claim there is such a monster going around a heavenly body, you may never be able to disprove me!

two centuries ago, you cud have claimed an apple falling to the ground to be an act of God and I wud have struggled to argue with you. today I merely have to utter "Gravitation" to probably win the argument. now if you claim physical constants are determined by 'God', then I might struggle a little but physicists might be able to win that argument.

now finally, pls don't advice me to read Indian philosophy, as if that wud clinch the argument. i read too much of it already :-)

kamala said...

when ppl didnt know about gravitation, they wouldnt have believed in the same if told about it. ppl woudnt have believed about nuclear power when it was not known.

similarly, when ppl come to know about god, they understand.

but for ignorant ppl, it is good not to know too much, their minds cannot take anything other than what they find convenient to believe.

as per an indian proverb, the owl always believes that there is nothing ike sun. (but maybe you dont believe in indian proverbs being too influenced by western thought)

as they say, those who claim to be rationalists are anything but rationalists becuz its impossible to reason with them unless the reasoning matches their own poor and narrow understanding. any answer you give will prove my point.

Balaji said...

ok, what is your definition of 'God' and how do you know it exists?

k.n. said...

god is indefinable and cannot be constrained in limited minds.

if someone doesnt believe in God, it does not affect God or others who do believe in God.

Balaji said...

Sankara did explain what he thought was 'Brahman'? so did Ramanuja, Mohammad et al with their monotheist God.

Buddha, Mahavira and Epicurus expressed disinterest in the notion of God[s].

Caraka, Keshakambali and scores of others presented their critique of the notion of 'God'.

Krishna presented himself as a metaphor for Brahman.

Jesus claimed to be the son of God, the father who presides over judgment day.

Einstein made some controversial claims about 'God' and quoted Spinoza's definition of God.

people have proposed everything from monotheism, pantheism, monism, deism, polytheism, animism to outright scientology.

its hard to believe they were all talking about something which you seem to have mastered but can't define. and I don't think they were all constrained minds.

k said...

and the point of this irrelevant blabber is?

Balaji said...

"its hard to believe they were all talking about something which you seem to have mastered but can't define."

if they can define 'God', so can you.

kn said...

whats the logic ? if a few ppl can define something, i must too?

enuf yaaaaaawns

Balaji said...

you claimed that you understand 'God' and that I'm a fake rationalist. but when asked to explain your 'rational God', you are not forthcoming.

anyway, its better this way. i don't want to rock your world by putting your religious beliefs to test.