Why do we believe in God? What is it that prompts intelligent and educated people to silence their rational selves and submit to an often illogical belief system? These were the thoughts that went through my mind while attending the Good Friday celebrations at my church. I subscribe to the Indian Orthodox tradition which still adheres to the liturgy and procedures that were laid out thousands of years ago. While they may have made sense then, the six hour long celebrations look awfully out of place in today's fast paced world.
As a matter of principle, I have long learned not to debate faith to the pious. The pious fall into two camps - the really nice ones who get offended and the missionary-zeal ones who want to save your soul. I always try to gingerly stay away from the latter. Arguing with them is akin to wrestling with a pig - you get muddied and the pig likes it :). For any effective debate to take place, you need both the parties to be willing to hear the other side. Faith by its very nature defies logic. The educated faithful are often uncomfortable with this notion. So they try to inject their rational reasoning to spruce up their belief systems. The Internet is full of PhDs passionately trying to explain creationism, immaculate conception and reincarnation.
So why do we keep the faith? In my case, it is to preserve ties to my identity as an Indian Orthodox christian. I may be in the prime of my life now. But as I grow older I will start getting aware of my mortality. The belief in a life giving God will then act as an insurance policy for my after-life.
However I still have many gripes about religion in general. Religion is a man made strait jacket imposed on spirituality. It is too tribal - as long as you go forth and multiply, its OK to kill mlecchhas/infidels/heathens/species. It is also anthropocentric. The Bible teaches you to love everyone on Earth. But what if SETI succeeds and we find life on other planets?
I suspect that religion originated as a way to make sense of the world. Man is a hypothesis testing animal. Our early ancestors were able to make sense of their immediate surroundings using cause and effect. For e.g. I see smoke, so there must be fire somewhere. But there were happenings beyond their comprehension - thunderstorms, lightnings and earthquakes. So they ended up creating "God" to explain them. When the Sky God laughed, you will have an abundance of rain. The ancients then built up a whole system of faith based on the Gods. If there is a drought, that must be because the Sky God is unhappy. So let us do something to cheer him up like sacrificing nubile virgins. However we have come a long way from those dark, ignorant times. Today we have sophisticated satellites and supercomputers to map and predict weather patterns. Yet we continue to cling to our Gods.
The tragedy of our times is that the pursuit of Science has been sacrificed at the altar of Technology. In its primal form, Science and Spirituality share the same goal - that of making sense of the world and our place in it. Yet in today's India, the educated and increasingly wealthy fall prey to dubious godmen. Yesterday, the most notorious/famous godman of our times died at the age of 86. He was said to be omniscient and omnipresent. He had predicted his death at the ripe age of 96. Alas Fate wanted its say too and he has to bid farewell 10 years earlier. For those who are interested, Outlook has an interesting article on Satya Sai Baba.
I continue to hope that one day I will be able to find true Faith.
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