Category Archives: Religion

Making the Case Against Happiness: Societal and Religious Expectations

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts dealing with society’s incomplete, unfair and misplaced perception of happiness. 

The Happiness Industry is everywhere. It exists because we all want to be happy all the time. From the self help books, to the ‘Lead your life’ seminars, to the daily inspirational quotes, to all the websites and blogs giving you their own unique tips, to the religion sponsored salvation guarantees, to the different schools of thought offering that elusive ‘inner peace’, to the innumerable God Men who claim to know the path to enlightenment, to the beauty products that guarantee your confidence, to the prescription pills promising to alleviate your stress, to the never ending advertisements that promise you happiness in exchange for some of your money. 

The Happiness Industry’s Product is now for sale: EVERYWHERE

IT IS EVERYWHERE.

It is also completely missing the point.

It starts off with parents telling their kids that everyone should be happy in life. That is then upgraded to be a requirement. Subsequently, it becomes an order. Then there is talk of REAL HAPPINESS and that it comes from within. Materialistic objects are then perceived to be providing only temporary pleasure and are apparently never fully satisfying. Then there is the sudden realization that maybe REAL HAPPINESS lies in religion and God. Then there is an alternative school of thought that promises that elusive ‘inner peace’. How about living in the present? Or how about that really charismatic person who apparently performs miracles and who seems to want to help everybody be happy? He can surely make people happy? Perhaps falling in love is the key to fulfillment. Having children and starting a family is maybe what is missing. That promotion should help things get better. No? Then perhaps go back to religion and God. That is always a safe bet, right?

How hard people try….. All the places they look…. All the things they believe in…..

All searching for HAPPINESS. All the time.

I have only one question: WHY?

The answer to that is not a WHY NOT? The answer to the question ‘Why are people always looking to be happy?’ is  that wanting to be happy is simply a consequence of societal and religious expectations. Same as getting an education, getting a job, starting a family, etc. This expectation of being happy is so deeply ingrained in us that it is extremely hard to justify to somebody that being happy should never be considered a necessity. The idea that, as a human being, the objective in life is to  be happy is an extremely fundamental and fixed frame of reference. Everything everybody ever sees is through this frame of reference.

Just one question: WHY?

Just one question: WHY?

A few instances: when we are not feeling good, we are encouraged to talk to people to feel better – nobody says it is OK to feel down; when a friend has lost someone, we tell them everything is going to be OK – nobody reminds them of what a big loss they have just had; when someone is feeling down, we make it our responsibility to make them feel better – we don’t suggest that they try to express it through a form of art; a therapist is always expected to solve other people’s problems so that they feel better; counselling is always encouraged for people to get out of traumatic situations; when we are angry we are told to calm down because being calm makes it easier to be happy – nobody encourages us to listen to heavy metal music in that state of mind.

Ultimately, every state of mind that is not directly linked to being ‘happy’ is always judged to be something inferior – and people are expected to rise above it, whatever it takes. If we are unable to rise above it, we are then considered weak. If we are not considered weak, we are shown a lot of sympathy and/or pity. Being treated with sympathy or being considered weak – fact is that both these are still going to consider us to be inferior and as somebody who needs help. Note that both society and religion has already decided that every individual personally desires to be happy all the time. If there is an exception, then, well, there is apparently something wrong with that person. Right?

And this is where I have a problem. I realize everyone likes being happy – if happy things happened to them. I only question the deeply ingrained dogma of a society to judge a person who is not ‘happy’ as someone inferior to the rest. I also question the even more fundamental idea that everyone in this world should actively strive for happiness all the time and that everything else is a bad idea.

Being a human being is not just about being happy. We have evolved to be able to experience an unbelievable spectrum of emotions. Happiness is only one small part of it. Being happy makes you experience a certain specific sensation or feeling. If the sum total of all the feelings that we have experienced in our life is restricted to this one specific feeling, then can we even claim to have fully lived like a human being?

Happiness is good. But this should never imply the converse – that anything apart from happiness is miserable and unacceptable. And it should never make it acceptable for the society to simply demand and expect people to be happy all the time and consider them inferior if they are not. And so I personally reject all schools of thought that make happiness/salvation/enlightenment as the fundamental objective of a human being during his or her lifetime.

Come to think of it, if everyone from the beginning of time was happy all the time, how do you think our history would read? It would perhaps comprise of one sentence: “And then Mankind lived happily ever after”. That would be such a boring and one dimensional history and I would not want to be any part of it – even if it had made me happy.

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In the next post, I will explore the role of ART in explaining why the societal and religious perception of happiness is incomplete and completely misplaced. 

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Why be happy when you can be sad?

Sigur Ros Live at Starlight Theater, Kansas City : A Journey into the Unknown

A Truly Depressing Winter in Iowa

Terrorist Organizations Express Unanimous Disappointment over Failed Gun Control Bill

Terrorist organizations all around the world joined hands for the first time to condemn and express disappointment over the failure of gun control legislation in the United State Senate. Media outlets all around the world, but predominantly in the middle east and Africa, have been receiving a barrage of video tapes and CDs showing terrorists from different terrorist groups expressing shock, disbelief and ultimately disappointment over the apparent hypocrisy of the US.

The Other Al-Qaeda dude

Al-Jazeera beamed an image of that Al-Qaeda guy, whom the US have not yet caught, in a prerecorded tape trying to imitate the late Osama Bin Laden.

We the surviving members of Al-Qaeda condemn the United States (well, Duh!) for their failure to pass any gun control measures even after the shooting of many school going kids. This inaction is goes beyond all morally accepted double standards and hypocrisy all around the world!

In what appeared to be a prepared statement, the man went on to explain why this was totally unacceptable and unfair – to the terrorists.

Guns have been killing people in America at a rate of more than 10,000 a year. But the Government doesn’t find the need to do anything about it – not even pass a stupid expanded background check bill. We terrorists have not done ANYTHING for more than a decade and we are still being hunted down! How is this fair?

More than a decade ago, we killed some 2000 Americans. OK I get it. That was a big deal. But now it has been so long since our last attack that I don’t even remember why we want to kill Americans anymore! In spite of this we are being hunted down. But then during all this time, there have been so many mass shootings killing so many people in the process and nobody wants to do anything to stop it.

If we terrorists had carried out those mass shootings, we would have been wiped off this planet. The USA would have gone to war against all of us and finished us off once and for all! But when it comes to guns, they don’t want to do anything about it!

This is disgraceful! This hypocrisy is worse than what I am used to.

The Perfect Argument, Right?

A spokesman for another terrorist group founded on religious extremism also condemned the US Senators for yielding to the NRA.

I can’t believe all the ridiculous reasons and ‘logic’ that all these pro-gun activists and the people from the NRA have been screaming about – tyrannical government? good guy with a gun shooting bad guy with a gun? second amendment violations?? Really??

And all this time I thought MY arguments were bad!

Yet another terrorist organization, which has pledged to end “American dominance” pointed out to the overwhelming opinion in the US for expanded background checks.

90% of Americans want expanded background checks for gun sales. 90% of Americans also want people like us killed. So why is it that background checks do not get expanded but we are getting killed? This is just not fair to the terrorists around the world. This hypocrisy will not stand man!

When asked about the terrorists’ demands, President Obama started on a long and inspiring speech that made sure everybody forgot what they had initially asked and instead started crying and yelling and clapping and generally behaving like 6 year old kids who have just been promised candy.

Oh well, that’s how it works I suppose….

 

Breaking News: Kapil Sibal declares only Religious people have Right to feel Offended

In a bid to reinforce his image as the most clever minister in the ruling government (and as the official spokesperson for the Royal Family of India), Minister of Communications and Information Technology Kapil Sibal today came up with a new proposal which declared that only the religious people of the country have the right to feel offended. In a hurriedly called press conference, the minister read from his statement:

After ‘holding talks’ with the religious ‘heads and authorities’, we have come to a ‘consensus’ that only the religious people of this country will henceforth have the right to feel offended. Religious sentiments are something everyone should respect and nobody should offend. We just decided to take it a step further and draw the line there. So, conversely speaking, one cannot claim to be offended unless they are religious and their religious sentiments are involved.

Kapil Sibal talking to news reporters

Mr. Sibal clarified that he would be tabling this bill in the parliament in the next session and expected it to pass through with absolutely no objection.

We can expect for the first time this session, the opposition NOT to bring the proceedings to a halt. This is such a populist and secular bill that nobody will even dare to raise their voice against it! This will become a law by New Year!

The reporters were buzzing with questions and trying to make themselves heard. One eventually asked, “How is it fair to leave out non-believers and non-religious people out of their right to feel offended? Isn’t this blatant discrimination?”

To this, Mr. Sibal was quick to respond:

Well, I asked this question to all the religious heads and authorities too. And they pointed out that while religious people believe in something, irrespective of which God it is, non-religious people do not believe in anything at all! And so if they don’t believe in anything in the first place, then why would they ever feel offended at all? It seemed to make perfect sense to me. So I just agreed with them!

“But atheists and non-believers do believe in reason and this little thing called common f***ing sense! What are they supposed to do when religious people repeatedly say that the atheists are the most ignorant people on this planet? Not feel offended?”, yelled out one reporter.

Mr. Sibal seemed to consider this question with some weight. After a long pause, he replied enthusiastically,

That is the most intelligent question I have ever been asked! And the answer is in your question itself! Well, if you are a reasonable person with common sense, then only you are capable of understanding that other people – i.e the believers and religious people – need to have their right to freedom of speech and expression, right? And so since you can understand this, you are reasonable enough NOT to get upset about it!

On the other hand, have you ever tried reasoning with a religious person about different viewpoints? I mean, seriously, when has a religious person ever NOT gotten upset or angry or offended over ANYTHING you might have said that was contrary to his beliefs? I am sure that right now, at this moment, all of them want to smash my head to pieces because of what I just said – thus proving my very point!

So you see, the atheists and the non-believers are the only group of people who are even capable of not getting offended when others express different views. So if you are a reasonable person, you will NOT get offended if you are called the most ignorant person on this planet!

Of course, what this means is that you cannot ask the religious people to compromise on this and so it had to be the non-religious people!

There seemed to be a murmur of assent and agreement over what Mr. Sibal had just said. Even Mr. Sibal himself seemed to be in a state of sudden enlightenment trying to come to terms with what he had just said. After a brief pause, a reporter asked him, “So how do you intend to deal with the wide variety of cases that people usually tend to feel offended about?”

Kapil Sibal seemed to already have an answer ready for this:

Well, that is an easy question to answer. You see, the trick is to eventually attribute  whatever is being said to be offensive to religion. Take for example, girls wearing skirts. Many find it ‘morally’ and ‘culturally’ offensive. But then once they say that their moral values and culture is derived from religion, they have a case and can now go ahead and feel legally offended! In fact, all those people claiming to be the ‘moral’ police will now be rechristened as ‘religiously-easily-offended’ police!

And when it comes to more indirect cases of feeling offended, well, just use your brains I suppose! Just find a way to relate whatever offended you to religion and Booyah! You can legally feel offended and pursue the person offending you in court! Of course, the Govt is going to use this ploy to prosecute anyone and everyone who has anything bad to say about the Royal family of India. We will always find a way to make it a religious thing! Have you seen Glenn Beck? Have you seen his ability to relate ANYTHING on this planet to the Nazis? That man has a talent! We will even go the extent of hiring him to exploit this law!

For the last question of the press conference, a journalist from an unknown newspaper stood up to ask, “So what about all the people who claim to be spiritual but NOT religious? Do  they fall under the same category?”

Mr. Sibal appeared to get suddenly excited about the question.

Woah! These people are even more difficult to manage! Not only do they get offended with what is said, they also then double their efforts to force their beliefs upon you! They apparently believe that they have a spiritual obligation to save us all from the ignorant path we have taken! You really do not want to piss off those people for sure! So yes, they do come under this law. Thanks for asking this!

Later in the day Superstar Rajnikanth was asked what he would do if someone offended him. He replied,

Nobody has the balls.

Karma and the Just World Fallacy

The Just World Fallacy (or JWF hereon) is a fairly well known idea among psychology circles, even though outside of it, it hasn’t really created waves. It probably should. It has the power to make you feel horrible about the world.

Consider this:

YOU are walking by a busy street in Bangalore and spot two beggars, who are evidently in need of money and help. One is blind and the other is completely weak and malnourished. Of course you do not know the background or history of either of them. All you see are two beggars on a street begging for money.

Your friend next to you asks you, “Do they deserve to be so miserable?” What are YOUR first thoughts?

Consider another scenario:

YOU are glancing through a magazine not really reading any of the stories in depth, when you happen to see the cover story: “Two of the richest women in the country”. You take a look at both the women in it, acknowledge that they have a lot of money and then just move on to a different story. So you are completely unaware of the backgrounds of either of them.

A person sitting next to you asks you, “Wonder if those women deserve all that money?” What are your first thoughts?

Without knowing the background of each of the beggars, the first place your mind goes to is to think that these beggars had at some point made choices that made them deserve their current plight. And without knowing the history of the two women, the first place your mind goes to is that these two women must have made the right choices at some point that made them deserve all the money that they currently had.

THIS rationalization that you just did is what is called as the Just World Fallacy. The tendency of human beings to attribute good outcomes to good actions and bad outcomes to bad actions lies at the heart of this fallacy. We all do it – all the time. We make judgments on how each person deserved what they got or are going to deserve what they WILL get. We want to believe that making good choices in life will result in good outcomes and that making the bad choices is going to result in bad outcomes.

In other words, we want to believe that this world is ‘just’ and ‘fair’ and that whatever goes around comes around. And that ” …you want to believe hard work and virtue will lead to success, and laziness, evil and manipulation will lead to ruin, so you go ahead and edit the world to match those expectations.”  However, our failure to take into account chance and luck into the outcomes of the choices made is a clear demonstration of our own need for a just and fair world. We like to believe that we are in control of our lives – by making the right choices and by not making any bad choices. We do not like the results of our actions to be dependent upon chance. Hence, we embrace the Just World Fallacy.

Lady Of Justice

As much as this appears obvious, leading you to believe that YOU have never fallen prey to it, the truth is likely to be otherwise. This phenomenon is part of being human. So don’t blame yourself if you find you are guilty of it.

Now lets go back to the beggars and the women. You have already worked it out in your head that the beggars must have done something horribly wrong at some point of time to deserve this and that the women too, must have done something right at some point of time to deserve all that money.

Later, you learn about the beggars’ history and life. This is what you learn:

BEGGAR 1: A man bets all his life savings on a cricket match and loses it – all of it. He is bankrupt, cannot feed his family and is eventually deserted by his wife and kids. He becomes an alcoholic, loses his job and his life in general, becomes miserable. He now makes a living begging on the streets.

BEGGAR 2: Another man loses his parents when he was young in a car accident with a truck whose driver was drunk. This led him to be sent to an orphanage where he was a model boy leading a disciplined life. He then becomes a victim of human trafficking and ends up working as a slave to a wealthy man, occasionally molested  during the time. He then has his eyes taken out and is forced into begging. His ‘owners’  leave him to himself after a few years and he has since made a life out of begging on the streets.

Curious about the 2 women, you then decide to read the entire cover story. This is what you learn:

Woman 1: A middle class couple have a girl baby. They bring her up and give her all the education and love they can. She grows up to be an A-grade student at school, topping her class and getting into the best universities. She works hard and lands a well paying job and has now established a company by herself which is doing tremendously well. She is featured on the cover of a popular magazine as one of the richest women in the country.

Woman 2: Another middle class couple have a girl baby at about the same time. She is given a good education as well but she drops out of school and college as she does not make the grades – possibly due to her constant partying and neglect of her academics. She grows up to be a woman with very loose morals,  becomes an alcoholic and eventually gets into prostitution. She does not make any effort to start a new life and continues to make a living out of prostitution. One day she wins a Jackpot at the lottery and goes gambling. She wins all her hands and overnight becomes one of the richest women in the country. She is also featured on the same magazine cover . She now lives in a big mansion with a lot of servants and with her money safely stashed away.

NOW, what are your thoughts?

There are 4 scenarios here, with each scenario being a combination of the kind of choices one makes, and the eventual outcome. The possibilities are fairly evident: Bad choices/bad outcomes (Beggar 1); good choices/bad outcomes (Beggar 2); good choices/good outcomes (Woman 1); bad choices/good outcomes (Woman 2).

Our Just World Fallacy works perfectly well for Beggar 1 and Woman 1. For they both appear to get what they deserved. After all, the Beggar 1 did make the bad choice of betting all his money –  which is clearly a bad choice. And also that Woman 1 worked her way up the society with hard work, discipline and making the most out of what was given to her. On first thoughts, it appears that this is how the world functions and in fact, should function – the good getting rewarded while the bad getting punished.

Now lets get to the tricky part about the other beggar and the other woman.  Now that you are aware of the choices these two have made previously, do you still think they deserved what they got? Do you still want to believe that chance and luck have no bearing on the outcomes and that it is dependent only upon the choices you made?

Maybe deep down inside you know many times it just boils down to dumb luck and chance. But that knowledge doesn’t make you feel good about the world you live in. After all, how can someone who has made no wrong choice in his life end up on the streets as a blind beggar? Or how can someone who has wasted away their life and indulged in immoral activities become one of the richest women in the country?

So how does one explain this glaring anomaly in what we consider a fair and just world? The known causes and effects are not sufficient to explain, justify or rationalize what happened to these 2 people. But the fallacy is so strong that you WANT to believe in it –  no matter what. This is because you believe this world works under the just and fair laws of the entity we have come to refer to as God. And God always makes it right.

So then, how does God make his laws such that the situation with this seemingly unfortunate beggar and seemingly undeserving woman are justified?

Now, for a moment, let us go back in time – a few thousand years ago, when organized religion was still on the horizon and people were still preaching their God and their religion to their people. Now imagine if, during one of these preaching sessions, someone got up and asked the preacher something along these lines: “I have never committed a single misdeed that you have described in your teachings, but I lost my wife and son last week. My neighbor steals, cheats, kills and harasses people, but he is living perfectly well. How is this fair? My only daughter asks me why she lost her mother when she has been a good girl and did everything she was told? What do I tell her?”

Now if you are the preacher, you know that you have been preaching that this is a just and fair world and that God is always just – rewarding the good and punishing the bad. Then how do you explain to this man that what you have been preaching is still right?

Thousands of years ago, the preacher DID come up with an answer. And it was a masterstroke!

The answer comes in the form of Karmic retribution – or simply Karma.

Now do not underestimate the reach of this Karma. Unlike the straight forward manifestations of the JWF, Karma goes out and beyond to enforce it! Karma takes into account not just  the actions of the individual that they have committed in this life. No Sir! The Gods (or maybe just that charming preacher) have realized that, in order to make anomalies like the above two cases appear completely just and fair, Karma has to take into account the actions of the individual in his previous lives too!

Because you see, by including the activities performed by the individual in his previous life as potential ’causes’, one can explain and justify EVERYTHING that has ever occurred on this planet from the beginning of time and forever and ever!

Show me a man who has had the life much akin to Beggar 2, suffering bad outcomes after bad outcomes for absolutely nothing wrong he may have done in this life – and I will show you a religion which tells you that he is suffering because of something bad he must have committed in his previous lives. (Actually you can just look at Hinduism).

Show me a woman who gets rewarded even after having lived a wrongful and immoral life filled with neglect of responsibility  – and I will tell you that she had done something tremendously good in her previous life for her to deserve that sudden change of fortune!

And Karma doesn’t just stop there!

Show me a man who is getting away with crimes against humanity and is still living a luxurious care free life –  and I will tell you that he WILL SUFFER …. albeit in his NEXT life!

Show me a man who is doing all good deeds in this life but not getting rewarded in any way – and I will tell you that he WILL be REWARDED … albeit in his NEXT life!

The fact that the scriptures say you will go to hell if you do not believe this, coupled with the complete inability to know what EXACTLY the individual did in his/her previous life – gives rise to a tremendous masterstroke!

You now have an explanation for every seeming violation of God’s ‘just and fair’ laws while at the same time, there is no way that non-believers can disprove this – as the burden of proof (of choices in previous lives) is thrown upon the shoulders of the non-believers!

The preacher had told the skeptic: “You prove to me that your actions in the previous lives DO NOT affect your present outcomes and I will take back what I said. I believe that it does because God said so. And I believe in everything God says!”

To which the skeptic said, “Ok preacher. I believe in God now too. Because if I don’t, I might go to hell.”

So you see, the idea of Karma is a masterstroke. There is no way of disproving it for those who do not believe in it. And for those who do, well, there IS NO necessity for proof!

And so the world goes on, with people attributing every seeming violation of a just world law of God to some action the individual must have done in his previous lives. They convince themselves that he/she deserved whatever they got because God is only giving out justice by making them suffer!

Truly, what a sick world we live in….

 

Updates: Abiding…

“….or how I embraced Dudeism, unwound myself and became happy..”

Yeah. So I have now officially converted my religion to Dudeism. This merits a complete post to itself containing all my fundamental realizations and changes and thats what I aim to do now. Let me first state that I have never found more peace, contentment and happiness in whatever I may have been practicing so far. I have gone through different stages of believing and non-believing in my lifetime. From an ignorant kid ready to believe whatever my parents told me to an outright rebel atheist in high school to a gradual transformation back to belief eventually leading to 3 years of total cult-like worship and practice of ‘authentic spirituality’, saved only by the 80 page John Galt speech in Atlas Shrugged to become a skeptical believer and then finally to completely understand the inherent atheistic nature of this world and man’s own need for a God. Through all this, I never felt that satisfaction or happiness in being at peace with the world even once. I tried in all places, tried to convince myself that I was already happy, performed many diverse activities, looked for meaning in every school of thought I ever came across- but all to no avail.

Now, I just say, “Ah! Fuck it!” and get on with my life.

 

The Dude Abides

As the Dudeism website says:

Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man. Stop worrying so much whether you’ll make it into the finals. Kick back with some friends and some oat soda and whether you roll strikes or gutters, do your best to be true to yourself and others – that is to say, abide.

There is more truth in that quote than what appears. There are simply so many schools of thought on this planet and all of them are equally convinced their explanation of the world is the correct one and all others can, NO make that NEED TO, eat shit. Earlier I used to sharply defend whatever I believed in at that time while painstakingly point out the flaws in their line of thinking.

Now, I just say, “Ah! Fuck it!” and get on with my life.

In all seriousness, life is indeed short. It is almost a crime to spend even the smallest amount of time worrying about which God is the authentic one while rendering the other Gods unauthentic by default. And as I learnt it the hard way some time back, you never know if you are going to wake up from your sleep tomorrow. So as it is said in my mother tongue Kannada..

CHILL MAGA….

So what does this mean apart from me deciding not to give a fuck about religion and everything associated with it? For one, I feel different. I spent a lot of time thinking about WHY I was feeling so different. Eventually I realized something very fundamental.

All my life, everytime I met somebody new, the first thing I did was to pass some judgment upon them and/or frame some kind of an opinion. As one of my ex-roomies put it,

Everyone’s a dick until proven otherwise.

Damn! Think of it. Thats pretty much how most of us look at others. Simply put, we look at everyone as a dick until they prove otherwise to us. Thats how fucked up we are. Well at least thats how fucked up I was. And thats really sad. And then the difference I was noticing in myself became evident.

I had simply stopped judging people. Suddenly every single person around me looked as a potential good friend to me. This could never have happened earlier. Earlier, I used to judge people on so many parameters and so easily conclude that one person is worth talking to while another isn’t. These ‘parameters’ used to include things such as taste in music, books, movies, sports, activities, age, views on religion, views on alcohol and drugs, liberal/conservative, food preference, where they studied and their level of ambition..You name it!

Now, I just say, “Hey man! Whats up?!?” and get on with the conversation.

And this has helped me make so many new friends here in a place which has been tried, tested and certified by many Indians to be the “…best place to start and raise families.” Point being I was finding it extremely difficult to make new friends of my age who I can talk freely to and get drunk with. And now I have an awesome group of friends around my age and I still get drunk with people a lot older than me.

The idea of judging is not restricted to just people. Even other things like music, books, movies and the like are not spared of our judgments. There is this issue of ‘taste’ and then there is this issue of ‘elitism’. I just dont get it. I was actually feeling ashamed and embarrassed that I liked some music, book or a movie when it was being considered as too ‘popular’, ‘cheesy’ or that it simply did not qualify for being explored because it was associated with somebody who didn’t make the cut.

Now, I just say, “Ah! Fuck it!” and go ahead to see what the book, music or movie is all about.

There is a word I recently came across. UPTIGHT. Go look it up. Dudeism simply helped me NOT to be that. It is so damn easy to just stay in your comfort zone and not explore whats out there. Again, life is indeed to short. You need to go out, see places and do things. And its not gonna happen if you are just too damn uptight! I was so damn uptight before, not willing to let go of some routines and lines of thinking. Now I realize I have only been imposing rules on myself- with no tangible reward.

For instance, my Saturdays and Sunday mornings were mandatorily filled with Premier League, Serie A and La Liga matches. Then one day I just said, “Ah! Fuck it!” and I found myself in Minneapolis eating an Octopus and feeling the cold air pierce my eyes while I was sliding down a snow slope in a tube at breakneck speed!

And I was like “FUCK YEAH!!”.

Simply put, I was just too damn uptight in my thinking. I needed to stop passing judgments on people and things. I needed to accept and acknowledge whatever I was feeling irrespective of how others viewed it. I feel some way about something? Well…Fuck it! I feel that way about that thing! End of story. I am not going to apologize for who I am and what I feel.

Dudeism has helped me get so damn relaxed and at peace with the world now. I don’t remember the last time I got upset about something. And knowing how I was before, that means I have come a long way.

And I am Happy…..

 

 

 

On My Disappearance

Ok seriously, not that anyone actually noticed. But I have been away from blogging for a while now- about 1.5 months to be precise. (The interpretation of the previous sentence ranges between I-have-been-too-damn-busy-for-this to I-have-a-cheap-excuse-and-it-is-called-laziness). And so for those who did notice, which would probably include 3 people on this planet, I have been both busy and lazy in the past few weeks. Of course the most significant part is that I am done with my Masters. And because of this, I believe I need to give some kind of a closure to a few of the things that have been on my mind over the past few months.

First of all, during the months of November and December, I realized that I can take the definition of working hard to a whole new level. This included running a code some 200 odd times processing over 16000 files in all. The process was so damn mechanical and automated, that it took me the entire 4th season of The Wire and the first season of Six Feet Under to be playing on the TV while I ran the code — just for me not to go insane. The other aspect of my ‘hard working’ included preparation for my Masters exam and the complete anticlimax during the actual test. Some other consequences of extreme levels of work included the act of what I call – ‘Simply Forgetting’. This largely refers to my complete forgetting of performing many of the day to day activities- like eating, sleeping, bathing, brushing teeth. Its not that I was too busy to find time for it. It was just that I SIMPLY FORGOT to do it. (You can throw in some other metabolic processes into it too).

But perhaps one of the most useful discoveries during this period was with regard to the food that I ate during those weeks. Initially, my diet primarily consisted of eggs/bread/cheese for breakfast, eggs/bread/cheese for lunch and eggs/bread/cheese for dinner. And then, for reasons I really cannot remember, I prepared Dal Tadka Fry. Little did I know at that time that this particular dish is going to save me so much damn time and help me get so much more work done-while all the time still helping me eat tasty and good food. You see, when you make, say, 1 container of Dal Tadka Fry, you are essentially making some 7-8 containers of the same. This dish, friggin thickens and it thickens a whole damn lot! All you need to do is keep it overnight in the fridge and it becomes so thick and dry that you need to add a whole lot of water just to get it back to edible consistencies, which consequently increases the quantity of the dal significantly. And this happens every single time. So next time, you are hard pressed for time and need to put in a lot of work, I strongly recommend preparing this and eating it for the next many days. (I personally made 1 container last for about 2.5 weeks!)

But in all seriousness, looking back at my Masters, I can now say that I really worked hard for it. So much so, I felt for the first time in my life, that I had actually achieved something of real significance. When I learnt that I had to spend close to $100 in order to do the graduation walk, I initially had to think twice about it. But then I told myself: “I have worked too damn hard and been through too much shit not to do the walk.” And so I did my graduation walk. Where I was at that point may not have been what I had imagined when I first came to the US. But still there I was. Without dramatizing too much, let me quote Atlas Shrugged: “The feeling was a sum, and he did not have to count again the parts that had gone to make it. But the parts, unrecalled, were there, within that feeling.” That was something to the effect what I felt then. But, now I am done.

Well, after my exams were done, came the holidays- perhaps the last break I will have in a long long time. And for me, it meant an opportunity to do nothing- which is what I exactly did, at least for about 2-3 weeks. Then I traveled. The temporary access to a car worked wonders and I am making the best use of it. Apart from that, my bass guitar seems to be seeing more than just the inside of the bass guitar bag. The combination of Sabbath, Dire Straits, Cream, Floyd, Deep Purple, PTree, and Guitar Pro seems to work wonders for my bliss factor. And I do not have any plans to cut down on it.

There is one thing of some importance that helped me get through the demanding times of the past 2 months. I first came to know about it when my cousin blogged about it. I am talking about DUDEISM. It is perhaps the most awesome thing anyone has ever come up with. If the universe gave existence to the Coen brothers just to create The Dude’s character, then I bow to the divine plan. I really cannot do justice to the whole idea here in a blog post. One can truly appreciate the idea only when you experience it first hand. The fact that there is really absolutely no friggin point in worrying about anything at any point in life, irrespective of how fucked up the situation may be, is something that has to be realized first hand. And I have been fortunate enough to be one of them. Just as long as you keep doing whatever is necessary, there is really nothing to worry about.  This realization eventually got me to get ordained as a priest at the “Church of the Latter Day Dude”!

If you have been following my posts of late (redefine ‘of late’ to whenever the last time I was writing), you will find some strong and passionate opinions expressed by me with regard to religion. Over the course of the past semester, I went through different phases of belief and non-belief. And now, I can finally state, without any apprehension or doubt, that I am an Atheist. I have framed some more very strong beliefs and opinions about religion and God since whatever I wrote before. But I do not aim to make more blog posts about them. Many of these new ideas have stemmed from some very long and intense phone conversations with His Holiness. I aim to document all these ideas and opinions in some substantial form in the near future-which brings me to something important.

I have decided to write a book. When, how, why, I have no idea. This is not my priority but it is something I hope to get done in about 3-4 years time. Looking at it this way, I want to get something out by the time I turn 30. On whether I actually possess the skills to do it, I will only know after I have tried.

One more thing. This is about by far the best TV Series ever made. I am talking about THE WIRE. There is absolutely no point in talking or elaborating about what the show is about or why one should watch it. Let me just say this: GO WATCH IT! I was fortunate enough to find all the 5 seasons in my University Library and made the best use of it. There simply cannot be a more realistic portrayal of anything ever. But if I were to give one reason why you should watch it, I would point out the Casting. Not just the acting, but the casting of the actors for those roles. The casting for the characters Omar, Marlo and Proposition Joe have got to be the perfect casting ever made. But really, every single character is so very detailed and perfectly cast that it is very easy to forget that one is actually watching a TV Show and not some documentary with perfectly hidden cameras.

And with regard to my (redundant) New Year resolution, I have decided to blog more regularly. Yeah…whatever.

How to Build your own Religious Scriptures

This is a fairly simple job. The time involved will essentially depend upon the level of detail you want to put in. Rest of it is quite straightforward. Here I am going to present to you a template upon which you can build your own Religious Scriptures- and authentic ones at that. The primary idea is to generate a religion which can be believed to be authentic. You can create your scriptures based on the template below and compare it with all the other established scriptures and feel smug about how similar yours is.

So here is the template:

1. Date your scriptures sometime in the BC years: This is the first step in the process. Your religious scriptures has to necessarily be old. Older the better. It gives a higher sense of authenticity and validity to the whole thing. Think of it. Look at all the new religions like Scientology and other cults. (It really is a big list!). People do not consider them to be mainstream and treat them as something that is not authentic. The primary reason for this is that their scriptures are not old enough. So date yours to something atleast 1000 years old – so that noone can verify- and you will be safe.

2. God ALWAYS speaks to a few select people: This is the next important part. Your God speaks and sends out his message to the masses through a single person or a select few. The rest of the scriptures will be WHAT your God said to those select people. Your God can never make an appearance to the masses. There are only a few select people in your storyline who can bear witness to God because they had tremendous faith in him. This is important because you can later always claim that your religion followers are not feeling or seeing God because they do not exhibit the faith and belief that those few people in the scriptures did. So this will make them feel more guilty and will compel them to be more religious. WIN!!

3. Creationism Rocks: Screw Evolution! Screw the Big Bang Theory! All Darwinists, Evolutionary scientists and Big Bang Theory propagators need to take a hike! Creationism is THE SHIT! Your God should proclaim that he himself created the entire universe in some number of milliseconds and that he created man at some other time. (Dont bother about the fact that the whole concept of measuring time , let alone the term ‘milliseconds’, was evolved a long time AFTER human civilization had started. Believers will believe whatever you write- just because you are including the statement that God himself said all these things.)  You can also improvise and add stuff like “God created the universe just by blinking”- all these things only add to the awesomeness and invincibility of your God.

4. Rules about certain activities: This is a very critical part of your religious scripture. These are the things that people will look at in times of moral crisis and try to derive comfort from. The more you keep these rules open ended and ambiguous, the more your religion is bound to become popular. People will read the scriptures and go through the process of Subjective Validation to feel good about themselves. As a minimum, you will have to include rules about food, ritualistic activities, sex, peace etc. But more importantly, you should include that people who follow these rules properly will go to heaven and those who do not follow them will burn in hell. (Give detailed descriptions about each of the consequences).

5. Create and solve the mystery of Birth and Death: These are your sureshot attempts at gaining authenticity. Hype the ideas of birth, death and rebirth. Create the mysteries about these things and give some explanation for them which necessarily include your previous lives and/or original home etc. Every religious guy fears that after their death, they might end up suffering for their sins. This is something that has to be exploited by saying that it can be prevented if you follow the above mentioned rules.

6. Miracles and Mythology: Your God is just too damn powerful and invincible. So make him do stuff that is totally impossible for us regular mortals. It can be anything- lift a mountain, bring back the dead, bring rain, create fire etc. The more impossible it appears, the more authenticity you bring to your God. Also, your scriptures must include some mythological stories about people – some who believe and are the good guys and the others who dont believe and are the bad guys- fighting each other and getting the good guys to eventually triumph over the evil ones. The level of detail is up to you but these stories will surely help to put more belief in the followers and at the same time make the scriptures look more authentic simply because the followers will believe that those events actually took place.

7. Denounce Sex: Sex is a big Boo-Boo for all parties involved. The more you restrict sex, the more people will feel that your religion is mainstream and will not brand you as a cult. Pre-marital sex has to necessarily be banned. Even post marriage sex should be looked upon as something that should take place only for getting a child. So if a follower is impotent or cannot have a baby, too bad they will die a virgin! The more you curb sexual activity, the more the men are going to get frustrated and the more they will get passionate about their religion and the more they will spread it! WIN!

8. Women are Inferior: This also serves the same purpose in that it is going to give your religion a more mainstream feel. Restrict the activities and rights of women and you will see people feeling more at home with your religion. Keep the rules for women open ended and ambiguous so that you dont lose out on women followers.

9. Include a Lineage: This is the ultimate authenticity generator. If you can somehow show a lineage stretching all the way back to your God telling that one dude the scriptures, then your religion is fully validated and authentic. You can even include some historical figures in that lineage which will make people believe it even more. The best part about this is that you can show that all the people in the lineage did exist by mentioning their names in the scriptures themselves. The ultimate self referential validation technique!

So there you have it! The perfect template to generate the perfect religious scriptures! So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and start your own “Authentic” Religion!!!

Verifiability and Repeatability : The Two Dead Ends for Religion

My good friend Sravan once again left a long and passionate comment to my previous post questioning the authenticity of religion (though he may not agree on the passionate part!). He raises a lot of important issues but unfortunately for him, he does not contest my primary assertion that there is no independent validation of the scriptures. He makes a good genuine effort to circumvent the issue by working within the scriptures and the nature of it while continuing to give analogies. Some of the points he raised got me thinking more and realized that there are a couple of ideas that religion simply cannot circumvent. Those are the ideas of verifiability and repeatability.

One of the important points my friend raises is regarding “assumptions-based-theory”. He has got it spot on when he says that all of the current theories that are in place in science and engineering are all based on some or the other assumptions. And that we build our theory based on these assumptions as we are very keen on learning the bigger implications of these assumptions. I totally agree with him upto this point. But what he says further is totally flawed and acts as a starting point for the two ideas I mentioned above.

Religious scriptures are built on certain assumptions that are present in the scriptures themselves. A bigger ‘theory’, so to speak, is built based on these assumptions. This theory is extremely elaborate and highly meticulous in detail and covers practically all aspects of life and the universe. My previous post questioned the very authenticity and validity of of these assumptions. My friend contests that all modern theories are also based on a similar structure wherein the larger theory emanates from a set of assumptions. True. But where he has got it completely wrong is when he says “Why haven’t you questioned these assumptions?”.

This line of counter argument is totally wrong for many reasons. Firstly and most importantly, modern theories DO question these assumptions before building their theories on it. And there are very stringent criteria that have to be met before it can be branded as an assumption. The two necessary, and most of the times, sufficient criteria are those of Verifiability and Repeatability.

Each assumption must first be verified to be true for all conditions it is being considered. For example, the whole of Electronics is based on the assumption that Ohm’s Law is valid. If someone asks a question WHY Ohm’s Law is valid, we can very readily DEMONSTRATE that V is indeed equal to IR through simple experiments (which I am sure my friend remember from LP’s lab classes!). Similarly, the entire realm of geometry is based on a few axioms/postulates. If one wants to question the veracity of these assumptions, they can always verify it themselves. For example, when a line passes through two parallel lines, the corresponding angles are equal. That is an assumption. This assumption can be readily and easily proved by drawing two parallel lines and an intersecting line and MEASURING the corresponding angles. You will find them to be equal, no matter who you are or under what circumstances you do so.

Each assumption must also satisfy the criterion of Repeatability. This means that whatever assumptions a theory is based on can be verified repeatedly, at any time and anywhere. You can verify Ohm’s law long after Ohm died. You can verify the corresponding angles assumption anywhere in this world and even hundreds of years after Euclid’s death. And you can see that they are valid because you can actually MEASURE the parameters.

Thus, it can be established, without a doubt that all modern theories are based on assumptions that can be verified and verified repeatedly. And this is where religion and religious scriptures fail.

The scriptures, as my friend pointed out, contain the theories and the case studies which show how to apply those theories. And all these theories are based on certain assumptions. But the only difference between scriptures and modern theories is that the assumptions in the scriptures offer neither verifiability nor repeatability.

There is no known method or test to verify the claim that God does exist. And even if it does exist, it has surely failed in the repeatability criteria. I am sure there are a lot of tests that can establish the existence of God, but all of these tests are part of the scriptures themselves and are based on the assumption that God indeed exists. There are also many instances of repeatability , but all are inevitably part of the scriptures, which are built on the very assumptions that they claim to prove. So it is a scenario wherein the existence of something is proved by assuming the existence in the first place. Which really should not make sense to anyone.

Every claim that is made by the religious scriptures is thus based on assumptions that are neither verifiable nor repeatable independently. Of course, there is a very predictable line of counter argument that is often used.

It is said that, as you cannot measure the stiffness or strength of a material using a Voltmeter, similarly you cannot verify God’s existence using instruments or gadgets available in this world. It also says that the only way to realize the truth is by following the instructions of a well qualified Guru as he has the necessary expertise to guide one through the whole process. Fair enough.

Say a non-believer goes to the guru and does exactly what he tells him to do and he does it for a long time. What happens then? Do you suddenly SEE God? Perhaps the entire universe will make more sense if you begin to read and believe the scriptures for what they are. But what we are enquiring here is what will happen to the follower with respect to being able to PROVE or Verify that God does indeed exist? He will essentially have to take the Guru’s word on everything and trust him to have read all the scriptures and that he is well versed in them. Even if the Guru is indeed qualified, the question remains- exactly what is it that you will experience that will prove the existence and influence of God? What is that result that you will see from a scripture- prescribed test that will prove that God does exist?

Perhaps it is in being able to attain salvation from this materialistic world and return to the God’s abode that is the result of practicing the Guru’s instructions. Perhaps it is a better life that you will get in your next birth if you have not fully followed the instructions. Or in the other cases, maybe a life of tremendous pain and suffering in your next birth if you lead a sinful life now. These are some of the guaranteed ‘results’ or consequences one can expect as a result of leading our life now. But don’t you see it?

All the results/consequences can be realized in what the scriptures term as your “next life”. And that we are reaping the rewards and punishments of our “previous life”. The scriptures no doubt detail many instances of these results demonstrating the existence of God and more. But is there one single person who has actually “experienced it” (and lived to tell it???!!!!?) ? Is there a first hand account of rebirth and a correlation to the deeds he or she may have committed in his/her previous birth?

Or talking of the bigger picture, is there one single way to verify the assumptions of the scriptures wherein the results and the consequences of the test can be seen in THIS very lifetime?

I am also not going to buy the argument that once you start practicing what the scriptures say from a qualified Guru, you are going to experience a bliss and happiness that you have not experienced before. The fact that people do experience happiness and bliss after beginning to take instructions is completely true. But it should not be attributed to, or serve as a means of verification of, the existence of God. This feeling is no different than any of the experiences of the followers of hundreds of religious cults around the world. This is the same feeling that one can find people experiencing and talking about during evangelistic gatherings.

This happiness arises primarily out of reinforcing a pre-existing belief.

You already believe the scriptures based on some level of faith. Then you are repeatedly told that if you perform a certain activity, happiness is guaranteed to you because that is what the scriptures say and that the scriptures are the ultimate truth. And you hear this from someone whom you believe to have studied and mastered the scriptures and learnt it from his Master who is also properly qualified. You choose to look at all the impressive level of the authenticity of the whole process and begin to perform the activities. Lo and behold! You suddenly feel all happy and joyful about everything! And you attribute it to the existence and mercy of God.

If this is your experience, you just fell prey to a combination of  The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, Confirmation Bias and Subjective Validation. I will not elaborate here as the 3 articles are really worth a read. Just suffice it to say that the happiness that one gets out of following these scriptures arise simply because you are already told to expect (true) happiness as a result of these activities because you are going to feel the presence of God etc. And you are told  this repeatedly by someone you believe knows the answers, and also while being surrounded by people who hold similar beliefs. You meet more regularly among these very people and it further reinforces your belief that what you are doing is the right and the only way to go ahead.

(The same idea is used by athletes all around the world (believers and non-believers) to improve themselves. They repeatedly tell themselves that they are capable of achieving better, which eventually convinces them that they are indeed capable, thus helping them get a better mental state in which to compete. This is called positive feedback. It is just a means of believing in something by reinforcing  repeatedly what you want to believe. )

But in reality, the only thing that is happening is you are getting more and more sucked into the illusion that you perceive as happiness. Of course the big irony here is that the exact reverse is what is taught in the scriptures. That the material world can only give rise to illusory happiness and that following spiritual activities under proper guidance is the only way you can achieve proper happiness.

If you want to  believe in these consequences and results as a way to verify the existence and influence of God, then you are in no position to be reasoned with. And even if you can be reasoned, the entire reasoning process will lie in the domain of the scriptures, for believing the authenticity and validity of the scriptures requires blind faith. And this is where reason stops. Thus, it can be rightly said that unlike modern theories which are accepted because they can be proven, the scriptures are to be ultimately accepted not based on any verifiable independent proof, but solely on blind faith.

To wind up my post, I will continue on the counter argument of my friend to the Doctor-Civil Engineer analogy in the previous post.

But first let me clarify myself fully that I do not believe that the purpose of religion is to create a more civilized society and generate more discipline among people. This, as I have mentioned previously, is a by product of the whole process. (Well that is if you discount all the violence that is happening in the name of religion). As the scriptures say, the purpose of all these activities is to get liberated from this material world, end the cycle of birth and death and go back to God. I get that yes. But I just dont believe it thats all.

Returning to the analogy, my friend contends that if the book claimed that a bridge could be built of straw and that it could withstand an aircraft, the Civil Engineer would have developed apprehensions and doubts himself. And that he would have gone on to verify the authenticity of the book from someone who is well versed with that book. And that similarly, any claims from a religious scripture should be verified with a person well versed in the religious scriptures.

Again, there is a fundamental flaw in this argument.

You see, if a book says that such a bridge is possible and even a person who is well versed with that book says that it is possible, it is possible to actually TRY BUILDING that bridge to VERIFY if it is the truth or not. However, with religious scriptures, there is no verification. You can have a Guru who can tell you that there are a lot of things that are true and that it has to be taken on faith. But there is no way you can prove (or even disprove- which makes it more invalid) the claims of religious scriptures. If the argument here is that the verification has to be done as it is said in the scriptures, then you should read what I have written before this in the previous paragraphs.

The Recursive Nature of All Religious Scriptures

Motivated strongly by my good friend Sravan’s comment in my previous post about Religious activities, I decided to write more on the subject. The best part about having a debate is that new ideas and flaws are revealed during the process. And I hit upon one such realization when I was responding to my friend’s comment. You can find the essence of it in that comment but here I shall elaborate it further.

All religions, and I mean every single established religion, have their own respective collection of books which are referred to as “scriptures” or “word of God” etc. I will be dealing with Hinduism and  its scriptures in this blog post. But the argument can be easily extrapolated to accommodate other religions as well.

Scriptures include every known collection of religious texts which is accepted by the religion as sacred to them in one form or another. They are said to contain the ultimate truth and an explanation for every single religious/spiritual/ritualistic activity that people do in the present day. I strongly believe in the second part of the previous sentence.

Scriptures definitely offer a very specific explanation for every single activity that we do or are supposed to be doing. They maybe spiritual, religious or ritualistic in nature. But each of them have an explanation somewhere in the scriptures. And I am NOT contesting this fact. But what I aim to discuss in this blog post is the ‘validity’ and ‘authenticity’ of these scriptures upon which the entire religion is built.

The scriptures claim to offer an explanation to everything that we may wonder about. And many of these explanations are quite elaborate and meticulous. So much so, it can appear convincing just because it is so elaborate and meticulous. They can also be convincing if you are ready to accept the axioms upon which they are based. (Which have really been exactly where religion stopped making sense to me.)

Now say one goes to inquire about Life, Universe and Everything with a ‘Guru’ who has actually read all the scriptures, obtained his knowledge from his Guru who is part of an ‘authentic’ chain of Gurus dating all the way back to God himself. Now such an inquiry would be deemed valid by religious or spiritual people I am sure. And so when one asks questions to the Guru, the Guru in turn replies drawing his knowledge from all the scriptures he has studied and been taught about. He cites the scriptures every now and then, for every single inquiry, thus giving the impression that the scriptures are indeed complete and ultimate.  So essentially, every single question has an answer in these scriptures and one is expected to accept that answer without any further question.This makes the scriptures as the starting point for all answers. Or in other words, the axioms to the scriptures and to the entire religion are found in the scriptures themselves.

My question here is this: Why should we assume that what is said in these scriptures is indeed the truth, let alone the ultimate truth?

The only possible answer to this question is that the scriptures themselves say so. I am sure you can find somewhere in the scriptures that the scriptures are the final word and everything that they say is the ultimate truth. (And perhaps somewhere it is also said that those who doubt it or do not believe in it will face a lot of bad consequences.)

Here is where religion loses it. So all of religion and all of the practices and beliefs are written down in the scriptures and the scriptures are said to provide the knowledge needed to ‘liberate’ one from this world. But the only source that corroborates the validity of these scriptures in the first place –  are the scriptures themselves!

The scriptures apparently validate themselves by simply asserting it in their own writings! And all the Gurus and Saints draw from THESE scriptures to guide ‘humanity’ so that they be ‘liberated’ from this world!

So you see where the Recursive part comes into play here.

The scriptures are widely considered to be the ultimate source of truth and knowledge and etc. But the only thing that says that these are actually the real deal are the scriptures themselves. Since every single piece of knowledge that is available in religion is based on some or the other scriptures, the impending  and inevitable conclusion is that all religious knowledge is drawn from a source which does not have an independent source of validation.

The only way this can be disproved is if hard evidence is presented which proves the existence of independent authorities who can validate the scriptures. And here is where religion has a problem.

It is believed that the only source from which religious or spiritual knowledge is to be gained is through an authentic chain of command. This would essentially refer to the chain of Gurus that I mentioned earlier. If the Gurus or anyone justifies the scriptures by quoting someone or something independent of the scriptures, then the whole justification becomes void because the scriptures themselves say that the only authentic knowledge is to be found INSIDE the scriptures and from the people who have read it and quote it. And so what this implies is that any proof of independent validation of the scriptures cannot be provided by religion by itself. It is some kind of a Catch 22 situation, but hey, dont look at me like I wrote the scriptures or anything!

Also one other point that my friend makes in his (long) comment is that I should not be commenting on issues of religion as I do not have the necessary expertise in the field. He gives the analogy of how a doctor should not tell a fashion designer what is right and wrong in his field because he does not have the necessary knowledge or expertise to do so.

Well, this argument is flawed at various levels. Let me continue with the same analogy but let me replace the fashion designer with a Civil Engineer (which I am one btw :P). It is true the doctor should not guide the Civil Engineer and tell him what is right or wrong in his field. But when the Civil Engineer tells the doctor that he can build a bridge across a large river using only straws and says that the bridge can withstand an aircraft, the doctor is compelled to feel apprehensive about the knowledge and awareness of the Civil Engineer. The doctor asks the Civil Engineer for proof and the Civil Engineer says that what he has said is true because some book which he refers and draws all his knowledge from says so and that the doctor should accept it as it is. The doctor (and you) knows that what the Civil Engineer is claiming is not and cannot be true.

So when you have people with expertise in one subject claim a lot of things that range from maybe-possible to ridiculously impossible, you really dont need someone of expertise in the same field to question their assumptions and axioms.

Which is exactly what I have been doing. And I am sure any reasonable open minded person can understand this.

Call me ignorant or whatever you may like. But the way I see it, questioning the very axioms which religion is based on is the real inquiry- it does not attribute to being ignorant.

Why performing Religious Activities is like drinking Coffee….

Recently I came across this extremely informative, thought provoking and useful blog, written by a journalist who is interested in psychology as well. The blog is called You Are Not So Smart. I strongly recommend subscribing to this blog as well as going through all the previous posts. Anyway, a few months back, I came across an article about Coffee in the same blog. The post was as mind altering and paradigm shift initiating as many of the previous articles I had read in there. I am not going to be summarizing that post in here. It is worth a read in its entirety. But as the title suggests, what I WILL be doing is to explain why practicing any religious activity is like drinking coffee.

And before I start out, let me assure you that this post is worth a read only if you are open to possibilities different from what you may be accustomed to. So while non-believers will (and perhaps should) have absolutely no issue  in seeing my point of view, I wouldn’t be surprised if all the believers who read this post strongly disagree with me. I wont exactly call myself an atheist but I am kind of hovering around the edge of late. And some of my realizations are now getting manifested in this post.

Anyway, before I digress to the point of you closing this window/tab, let me get to the point.

All of us at some point of time, or perhaps even now, would have gone to temples, churches or other places of worship. You would have also prayed at home soon after taking bath, perhaps prostrating yourself in front of some God photographs, praying that the day go well for you.  You may have the habit of praying to God when you are about to embark on something important for the day. You may even go to Sunday masses or some other religious/spiritual gathering on a regular basis. Perhaps you may even make that trip to Tirupathi/Shabarimala/Haridwara/Hrishikesh etc once in a while, donating money to the God and praying for good health and peace of you and your family members or maybe as a gesture of gratitude for some good luck that may have come your way. Maybe you make the effort to wake up early in the morning just so you perform a particular religious activity at the auspicious time. You or your family members may hold one or more religious ceremonies at your home once in a while, inviting family and friends for the occasion. You would probably have the habit of fasting on certain days or if you are a non- vegetarian, you make sure not to eat meat on certain days of the week or month.

The list is endless and I am sure you can add your own specific activities to that list. We may not have (or in my case, will probably never have) a fully convincing reason for doing all the things that I have listed above but we still do it because we believe that there must be SOME reason for it. (Rest assured, my argument is not going to question the validity of the ‘reason’. ) We do not thoroughly inquire about this reason because our belief accommodates the possibility that the actual reason is ‘out there’ in some scriptures or in some other religious book. Fair enough. And so whatever may be the ‘reason’, we continue to perform some or the other religious activities on a regular or irregular basis.

Continuing in the same train of thought, the logically correct thing to discuss next would be how performing these religious activities influence us.

Our parents have constantly reminded us that performing these religious activities help us in many direct ways such as improving our concentration, discipline, control of mind and in reducing distractions. And it would probably have come as no surprise when we found friends or other fellow students who were religious and were able to focus on the task at hand and not yield to short term temptations. ( Whether or not they ‘scored’ well was a different issue altogether.) Perhaps our parents would have even taken their examples to teach us the usefulness and importance of performing religious/spiritual activities. Again, fair enough.

But there is a fundamental flaw in the whole matter. You see, correlating the discipline and the ability to focus to the regularity and/or sincerity of the performance of religious activities is valid. And I also believe that this does exist very predominantly. But claiming that the performance of RELIGIOUS activities is the actual CAUSE for that discipline and focus is completely and utterly false.

Let me elaborate.

You see, discipline and focus stems not from the regular performance of ‘religious’ activities. They stem from the regular performance of ANY constructive activity. And since we have been told from our childhood that ‘religious’ activities are, by default, the most constructive activity, they also tend to yield the same results.

We wake up in the morning, take bath, go to the Sacred Pooja room and spend some time praying to God and asking for his blessings in all our deeds and actions. We do this mainly because we have been told from our childhood that we are SUPPOSED to be doing it for whatever ‘reason’ that we spoke about earlier. We go about doing all the other activities in the list above at some regularity and we do it because there is SOME reason for it and we are SUPPOSED to be doing it. Whether you actually find out what this reason is is totally irrelevant. You will continue to do the same activities either way.

So what happens when you do these activities on a regular basis? You are essentially doing something, which in your mind, you are SUPPOSED to be doing and which you perceive to be constructive. And what happens when ANYONE does ANYTHING constructive that they are ‘supposed’ to be doing? Its simple. They gain some happiness. They increase their self esteem. They become more confident about themselves. And as a consequence, we can see them get more disciplined and focused in their work and studies.

Think of it. Instead of being told to perform the early morning ceremonies without fail, what if our parents had pushed us to take an early morning jog or walk everyday? If that had become part of our daily activities, then we would have reaped the same rewards as performing religious activities on a regular basis. Hell! We would have in fact reaped a lot more rewards in the long term. Our fitness levels would have increased, our body gets healthier, a  lot lesser number of people would have diabetes and most significantly, it would have vastly reduced the number of pot bellied middle aged uncles in our families!

There are so many more activities that one can think of, which if performed regularly, would not only improve our discipline, focus, self esteem and confidence, but also provide benefits in a lot more ways as well. We could explore our hobbies, passions and interests which definitely yield a lot more tangible results than religious activities.

And this is where the idea of drinking coffee comes in.

You see, coffee does not really stimulate you. If you have read the article, you would have understood what I am trying to say. It only temporarily cures your withdrawal symptoms that arise from the effects of the previous cup of coffee wearing off. Caffeine replaces adenosine, the chemical required to induce sleep in the body, in the receptor sites in the brain and makes you feel stimulated. The way the brain responds is by creating a lot more sites having a lot more adenosine which makes you feel a lot more sleepy, thereby requiring you to consume a lot more Coffee to just feel Normal. And everytime you drink coffee, this effects adds up and you end up getting addicted to it.

So how is this analogous to our present discussion? Think of it. If you at any point of time, stop performing religious activities, you will feel crappy about it. You will feel crappy about it because you believe you are NOT doing something that you are supposed to be doing. And if you become extremely irregular in doing those activities, you begin to lose your confidence in yourself, your self esteem and ultimately your discipline and focus takes a beating, which may end up reflecting at your work or in your studies.

And so to ‘fix’ this, you end up performing more religious activities. More activities, because you believe you  have neglected your duties and that you need to make up for it. And it makes you feel happy for a while, thus getting you back to ‘normal’. After this, you will feel even more crappy if you end up becoming irregular at performing those religious activities. This time it will be worse because you will take your previous neglecting into account here as well, thus making a bigger neglect of duty. And after this reaches a certain point, you go perform some other (maybe bigger) religious activity wherein you pray to God to condone your neglect of duty- here duty being performing some or the other religious activity that you were expected to do on a regular basis.

And thus, this vicious cycle goes on and on and on. You will continue to do the activities for the same reason (or the lack thereof) you have been doing from the beginning: just because you are SUPPOSED to.

If any believer or a religious reader points out that this kind of a phenomenon is possible with ANY other kind of activity as well, then he is essentially retreating to the “Not only mine, but even your examples are wrong!” line of argument. There is just one problem with this argument. If you argue this way, you yourself are essentially negating the very things about religion that I am contesting! In other words, if you argue this way, then you are essentially accepting that all religious activities are for the sole purpose of generating discipline and focus among people through the performance of religious activities. This way, there is no higher REASON that needs to be found in any scripture or religious book.

But come to think of it, there is a much larger implication in all of this. In the entire post, I have never argued the fact that the generation of discipline and focus among religious people can be correlated to their regular and sincere performance of religious activity. But lets take it a bit further.

It is extremely plausible that religion and religious activities started out with this very intention- the intention to help people generate more discipline, focus and self esteem, thus leading to a more civilized society. Random people over the centuries preaching the masses that they are ‘supposed’ to be doing these activities, failing which, they will accrue sins for neglecting to do the same.  Every single religion on this planet expects its followers to perform some or the other religious activity which gives rise to the whole phenomenon that I have described here. But over time, this original idea takes a beating and  religion becomes what it is today. This, of course, directly implies that religion is man made!

As much as I have come to accept this in recent times, the high levels of logical certainty that exists in that statement is really daunting and scary. Especially if you look around at the scale of violence that is occurring in the name of religion. But that is for another day.

I am open to reason. I do not consider faith as a good enough substitute for reason. Feel free to leave any comments arguing my line of thinking. But please make some effort at least to include some reason in them.

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