Saturday, August 27, 2011

Answerable Questions or Questionable Answers?

Science: Who, what, when, why, where, how?
Religion: Him!

As demonstrated above, the key difference between Science and Religion is that Science asks and provides answers to many questions, while Religion starts with an answer that invites many questions. Interestingly, that one answer is all encompassing, and even Science cannot escape its clutches - how else do we explain the search for the 'God' particle via a $10 billion, 17 mile-long Large Hadron Collider? The sheer scale of the universe and the need to regularly deal with innumerable forces beyond control (weather, housing, jobs, debt, GNR's next album, the meandering Ikea shopping cart with all-wheel mobility) makes human beings question their very being and seek solace by attributing structure (if not always form) to the unknown.

Facts and Factions
Where's the fun in fighting about facts? If everyone worshipped the sun (a very elegant solution by George Carlin - too bad people are not interested), the only deaths that would occur would be related to too much sun exposure [while on the t(r)opic of cancer], and the only religious factions that would exist would be around sunscreen SPF ratings (my SPF30 is better than your SPF15!). The human race unites in the face of common danger (as Reagan said about the earth coming together in the face of an alien invasion), and quickly degenerates into adopting inane causes to fight about when there is none. The fight against corruption takes a backseat to the quest for ethnic renaming of cities and landmarks in India. So let's accept it - factions are an undeniable state of human being and are invariably based on some fictitious interpretation.

Every tough question invites a lot of passion and conflict till it resolves to an answer which is irrefutable fact. The priest class survives by constructing semi-factual answers that can be force-fed to the masses and keep them contentious with other schools of thought. Reaction to discovery of new information is very strong because that could potentially destabilize the seat of power and the steady revenue stream, as Galileo discovered when he proved metalhead Nickels Copper-Nickels' theory that earth is not the center of the universe.

Gotta have Faith?
This brings us to the crux of this article. The key to exploring a polarizing and explosive topic is to temper it down with analogies and obscure references so that you have plausible deniability in the end. I don't have that key. This is a largely negative point-of-view on the machinations of Religion, and not a comment on the personal strength and comfort it provides to individuals. If you are in violent disagreement (thus proving my point regarding a topic like this), please write your own article.

Religion is a topic that has been explored to death literally and figuratively. I struggle to think of another concept built on an unknown and unseen force that works in mysterious ways with no guaranteed outcome (if this is not a giant leap of faith, what is?) wielding so much control over life and wreaking so much havoc in the process. While suspension of disbelief is a prime requirement of faith, a melding of that with unbridled passion results in fundamentalism which ironically is grossly lacking in fundamentals. So what is it about religion that evokes such strong passion? I think it's about the uncontrollable tendency of human beings to force their conjectures and faith on others and then get defensive to the point of being offensive when asked to substantiate those conjectures. That is why Inquisitions were never about questions and answers. The pressure to conform is intensified manifold when accompanied by the unstated (or grossly overstated, depending on the part of the world you live in) threat of persecution.

With ego and commerce steamrolling the original tenets of faith and spirituality, the economic model of religion thrives on two basic emotions: fear and guilt. Pay up to avoid suffering the wrath of God, and pay up to atone for and wash away the sins you find yourself returning to at every opportunity. This is a far cry from what religion was touted to be if not intended to be: attaining spirituality, illumination, salvation, or just peace of mind - unfortunately some people mistook peace of mind for piece of mind and considered themselves superior enough to give a piece of their mind to the less aware and get a piece of gold in return. Every great cause gets trivialized in the long run.

Road to Hell
The path to God is peppered with toll-booths where oversized gas-guzzling vehicles, having driven off that energy-efficient but low acceleration vehicle called spirituality off the road a long while back, repeatedly pay extra toll to atone for their incurable road-rage tendencies. There are also trains driven by sinister ministers and saints with taints of all religions, full of raging fan(atic)s holding a one-way ticket to their glorious destination which generally unbeknownst to them happens to be a cliff. Not to forget zealot pilots promising a speedy but ill-fated ascent to heaven.

Adventures of InstantGratifix
This world of instant gratification has resulted in the quest for spiritual ecstasy degenerate into a drink of the 'spirit' kind and a pill called ecstasy. Instant gratification has become a fix. Here's an ode to InstantGratifix, the indomitable Gaul in relentless pursuit of an easy and instant fix:

Sole Intention of a Soul In Tension
The sole intention of a soul in tension is learning to fly 
No patience to try, shoots straight for the sky 
Comes crashing down to the amusement of passers-by

Maybe it was a pig on the wing that met its fate befitting  
Or maybe a soul with unscrupulous underpinning  
Unwilling to take baby steps in the beginning

Condition grounded, still determined to try  
The optimist, shat upon by a bird  
Thanks god that elephants don't fly

The key to ascension is Good Orderly Direction  
Heaven can't wait and provides people bait  
Wanting to get an instant high on the sly

Good Orderly Direction
A wise friend once said that GOD is Good Orderly Direction. We live in a world obssessed with setting and achieving goals (for soccer fanatics that takes on a more literal meaning). Words like salvation, nirvana, spirituality are allocated a lot more weight than they should be and their quest defeats their very purpose. What if we just focused on the following commandments/rules/laws culled from multiple religions and not get caught up in all the hype?

· Do unto others as you would have others do unto you - Masochists need not apply.
· Do your work, and don't worry about the fruits of your labor (Gita) - Unless you are an apple farmer and your work is your fruit.
· A human being may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm (Isaac Asi'Moses' laws of Humanics) - Originally written for robots but effortlessly extensible to human beings.

There's Chauncey Gardner from 'Being There', an electric little movie that showed Peter Sellers in an entirely different (and brilliant) light. The defining moment comes when he, having gained fame as 'Chance The Gardener' with his simple vegetative observations getting interpreted as profound spiritual principles, just walks unaware onto a pond and on realizing that he is standing on water, dips his umbrella in the water and finds it go straight in. He smiles and just walks on, not even realizing the significance of what he did.

People are expected to do good things selflessly - I don't quite understand that. What's the harm in feeling proud when you do a good thing and being applauded for it? Maybe it will prompt the fundamentalists to learn some fundamentals.

To emphasize the point made above: while there is no 'I' in team, there are 2 I's in Spirit, be it of the ethereal or the alcoholic kind! Is this a questionable answer?