Friday, 28 December 2012
That Post About Religion
I have always believed that religion has been an essential part of human evolution and has played a defining role in all spheres of life – scientific, military, spiritual, cultural etc. But when people stick too closely to it and forget the reason for its existence in the first place, it becomes a little frustrating and very humorous.
Forget everything that I just said. The bottom-line is: Religious fanatics are hilarious.
Every time I reach this part of the world, I am fortunate enough to be subjected to a diatribe or two about the higher values of life and our raison d’être. The last time it happened, I was walking down a crowded marketplace in downtown Cairo when a bunch of hawkers stopped me and began coaching me about the truths of life. Back then, I was a naïve fool and I was so stunned by their actions that I failed to recognize the humour in the incident. Well, this time was different.
I began my innocuous walk back to the tea-room along with my engineer-friend to make myself a refreshing cup of piping hot chai after another day of brute-force labour when I ran into the Equipment Operator I shall henceforth refer to only as Mr. M. He had, several times in the past, tried to incite me into conversing with him about religion but I tactfully evaded the talk every single time. This time he took a very direct approach.
Mr. M: You know, Anirudh, I used to preach before to those who are blind. And I’d like to use this opportunity to tell you a little about the truth about God and life. I only want to open your eyes.
I was shocked by the sudden manner in which he brought up the topic and I managed to spill copious amounts of boiling hot liquid on my coveralls. Thank God (whichever one you choose to believe in) for making Nomex coveralls thick!
Mr. M: (quickly correcting himself) No, no… Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean you cannot see this cup of tea or this table in front of you. I want to enlighten your mind. There is nothing wrong in being blind; I too was blind before (he consoled me).
Me: What about this guy? (I asked pointing at my engineer friend) Don’t you want to give him eyes as well?
Mr. M: (Pointing to the other engineer in the room) My friend here is from a holy city and a land of several preachers. I am sure that there are several people more learned than me who can teach him. If he remains blind even after that, then I cannot help him anyway. But you, my friend… You are from the distant land of India and it is my duty to enlighten you.
Me: (I chuckled involuntarily) So you think that the distant land of India is dark and people there are blind? Let me tell you one thing, Mr. M… No one in this world is blind. There are people who believe in the same things as you do and there are people who believe differently. There is no reason to call people different from you as blind!
Mr. M: You don’t understand me fully… We are all one and we all evolved from the same people. But somewhere along the line, some of us went astray. Do you realize that this is why we have conflicts these days? Imagine if we all followed the same religion and the one true God… Imagine how peaceful and powerful we will be!
Me: (nonchalantly) Okay then, why don’t you follow my religion? Then also, we can be peaceful, as you say.
Mr. M: (thoroughly shocked) No! Your religion does not follow the code… Tell me what is good about your religion?
Me: There are several things good and bad about any religion. What specifically do you want to know?
Mr. M: Does your God tell you the way of the righteous man? Does He tell you how to live?
Me: Of course, we have two magnificent concepts called dharma – which is the definition of the righteous path – and karma – which defines the fruits of your actions. (Realizing that I was getting way too philosophical) I can explain these in detail if you want, but that’s the gist.
Mr. M: Is this Dharma your God?
Me: No, it is the path of righteousness. Why should you care about God if your religion defines a good way to live? Isn’t that the entire point?
Mr. M: No, your God defines everything. Let me educate you… What do you know about your origins?
I was confused now. Did he want me to talk about Darwinian evolution, about the Aryan invasion of India, about Zoroastrianism and Hinduism in the pre-Vedic times? Luckily, he qualified the question further.
Mr. M: Do you know about Adam and Eve?
Of course, I should have guessed – Adam and Eve! The problem with any kind of debate is that in order to create any sort of meaningful clash, you need to agree on some topic in the first place. This is Debating 101. Using that point as a mutually agreed position, you can go on to debate everything else. However, if there is no meeting place, then both parties can go on endless tirades, all of which will be futile. Sigh, so I have to agree with Adam and Eve now.
Me: Yes, we too have a first man. It’s just that we call him Manu and not Adam. They probably gave him an Indian name to make him sound local.
Mr. M: How can you have a first man of a different name? This is not true then!
Me: Dude, my religion came up with all these stories some four-thousand years ago. I have no idea how they traced people back to the first man with his name. That being said, your version of the origin of Man came some two-thousand years after mine. I wonder why they changed his name in your tale?
Mr. M: Okay, okay (he said in a hurry) So far, you have agreed upon the fact that we all came from the same origin. Now, why do you insist on believing something different? Come to our path…
My Engineer Friend: (turning this into a tag-team match) You understand that every new religion came in order to make up for a void left by another, right? I accept that your faith dates back to several thousand years ago but think about this… Judaism came first, and then Christianity, and finally Islam. Each one filled the gap left by the rest. Same applies to your faith too.
Me: Maybe, whatever you say applies to Abrahamic religions but India is some three thousand miles away. None of this filled a void in India and China back then! Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s consider that what you say is right. Then, I should believe in Scientology, no? That’s the latest religion, not Islam.
My Engineer Friend: That’s blasphemy. They ought to be killed!
Mr. M to My Engineer Friend: (in Arabic) Scientology aish?
My Engineer Friend: Humans came from aliens, not from Adaam.
They both laugh heartily.
Mr. M: These fellows are funnier than the Chinese guys! (Then, turning to me) Do you know Chinese don’t believe in Adam? They think we just came into this world, like it was no one’s business… Like we evolved from camels or something.
I smiled and put my hands on Mr. M’s shoulder.
Me: I sincerely believe that all people of any faith, if they are completely true to what has been preached to them, can do no wrong. Wrongdoers are anomalies of a system and not the results of them.
Mr. M: That is a wrong belief, my friend… Look at the western society! If people see the light, then we won’t have the evils of the West plaguing us! If you go to the beach, you have to see naked ladies taking bath in the sea… They need to be reformed.
Sigh, now I have to accept that bikinis are bad for this world.
Me: Are you trying to tell me that the church tells these women to wear bikinis to the beach? I don’t think so… I think the Pope will be very upset if he hears this. (My engineer friend laughed) But just for the sake of conversation, if you think women dress badly, what about the men?
Mr. M: For men, it is different, my Indian friend. But when women dress like that and when they go nude, they trigger many evils in the society. We are filled with bad emotions and this will lead to the downfall of Mankind.
Me: Aren’t you supposed to control yourself? I mean – how is a woman responsible if you are the one committing the evils?
Mr. M: All that you speak now – they are the Devil’s words. This desire that they trigger in us is the Devil’s work as well. It is all written in the code: if only you will understand.
Me: As I told you, everyone talks about the same things… These stories are just packaged differently to suit local needs. All I ask of you is not try to impose your faith on me. Believing in the same thing is not a prerequisite for harmonious existence. I come from a secular nation and I can assure you that much. I never once have tried to enlighten you… I only ask you to similarly keep your views unto yourself.
Mr. M gave up on his efforts to make me see the true path of light and glory. For today.
Mr. M: One day, my friend… We will all truly be brothers.
Me: But we are already brothers.
Mr. M: I don’t believe it.
Me: Well, I do.
P.S. On a normal day, I wouldn't give a damn about religion and faith. But these conversations have a strange way about them. They make you want to desperately return to your roots although you aren't all that passionate about it. These religious people – they make you religious too, by one way or the other. God save Humanity.