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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Theists aren't believers enough

Life as an atheist is uncomplicated. Let me speak in the first person here, as an atheist of at least 4 decades. I do not believe in a personal god. Indeed, I believe in no divine being that lies beyond the laws of science. Creation, existence and dissolution are phenomena arising from the laws of thermodynamics, the nature of space-time, the interaction of matter and energy and so on. Morality and ethics are neither motivated by nor subordinate to holy books or scriptural ordinance. They arise from evolutionary impulses for the healthy continuity of the species, an idea explored, with great scholarship and erudition, by Richard Dawkins in "The Selfish Gene". A moral compass rewards me richly in the one life that I have without having to rely on fantasies of an afterlife filled with milk, honey and mind-blowing sex. Above all, I have an abiding sense of breathless astonishment and wonder at the workings of the Universe at both ends of the scale- the gigaparsecs that separate us from the quasars and the infinitesimal dimensions of the superstrings that lie orders of magnitude below quarks. Even a passing thought of the workings of the world around us is enough to make me pause in wonder and leave me humbled  blow me away.

Believers seem to come broadly in two stripes. Those who consider themselves more evolved will talk about "a force that looks out for me, guides me, is all powerful". Less complicated believers frame their faith in images and rituals. The mini shrines on car dashboards, the taweez/amulet/ring that protects them or brings them good fortune, the pilgrimage to places of worship near or far, the prayers to be offered to <insert divine entity here> to secure <insert desired outcome here> are visible giveaways. For this lot, religious faith is as simple as a matter of accounting. They are virtuous ergo they win brownie points ergo divine entity is happy and rewards them. They do bad things ergo their brownie point balance is reduced ergo they need to make extra efforts to mollify deity with offerings and observances so that the equation may be set right again.

A peculiar feature common to both sorts is the willingness to privilege place/direction/time as more propitious and a deity that is personally interested in their welfare. 

Bringing me to my point. A human scale deity with human scale emotions isn't much of a deity. What could an insignificant, individual mortal do that impressed or perturbed a being that spans gigaparsecs in a blink and consumes a dozen galaxies in supergiant singularities? Conversely, how powerful is a deity that can be lured with puny blandishments or possession off by my sexual orientation?

Come on, believers. Your God, if she's there, has to be a squillion to the power of squillion times more powerful than a prescriber of vertical/horizontal caste marks, ritual genital mutilation or compensatory self-flagellation. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

She was 23

She had just been to see 'Life of Pi'. Immersed herself in magic realism where things often aren't exactly what they appear. Where the gentle bobbing and swaying of a ship on the high seas can turn in minutes into a super-storm that will capsize and sink it. Where a limpid pool on a deserted island hides a malevolent secret.  But also where a defenceless boy shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean manages to make peace, albeit somewhat restive, with a ferocious and frequently starving tiger.She would still have had vivid memories of a fluorescent whale somersaulting in an iridescent arc above a frail lifeboat on a pitch dark night. And of bright hued birds and animals cavorting in a tropical zoo.

A beautiful fantasy that must have lifted her spirits, brought a smile to her young countenance, given her the buoyancy to deal with another difficult week in college and in the oppressive city, turned in a second into a horror so unspeakable, we could not abide it if it were to be ever reported with the full extent of its brutality.

How fragile a dream was her life?