Why I don't think God believes in me
If you tell me that the apple is the best fruit, but it's the only fruit you've ever eaten - why should I believe you?
My friends, Nasir and his wife Shanta, were on vacation with us. He is one of the most thoughtful, critically reflective and intelligent men I know. He considers all angles before he takes any decision. Their two-year-old son Rafik was playing in a sandbox nearby. It was a brilliant blue-sky summer day in Nairobi.
"What will Rafik's religion be when he grows up?" I asked Nasir.
"Muslim, of course," he said.
I turned to his Hindu wife Shanta.
"Better Muslim than Hindu," she said. "I was raised Hindu but our family wasn't particularly religious. But Muslims have a strong sense of togetherness and community. So I don't mind if Rafik growsup Muslim."
I turned back to Nasir. "But why Islam then? Why couldn't he choose to be Buddhist? Or Zoroastrian?"
I told you he thinks a lot. He thought a lot. "I think," he said at length, choosing each word, "that Islam is the best religion." I don't think he was really enjoying this.
My turn to think. I gave up Hinduism long ago and omitted to replace it with anything else. I would have a difficult time rating any religion against any other religion. They all sound equally politicised and vile and seem to lead only to hate, bloodshed, divisions and wars.
Plus, I didn't want to get into a fight with Nasir. I liked himtoo much.
"You, my friend," I said mildly, "have just said something that makes no sense at all to me."
Imagine you were arguing with a friend about which fruit was the tastiest. You say dragon fruit, he says banana. Upon closer questioning, it comes out that the only fruit he has ever eaten is the banana. He has not tried any other fruit.
How credible is a man who claims supremacy for the only fruit he has ever tasted?
Yet, curiously, as a species, we seem to have no questions about one particular 'fruit' that was simply chosen for us by someone else who themselves hadn't thought about it much when it was given to them — namely, religion.
You inherit your religion, no questions asked, then, now or ever.
But Nasir wouldn't buy a car without checking its fuel efficiency, price, maintenance contract, instalment plan and a host of other details. And then comparing it with half a dozen other cars.
Ram Kumar wouldn't put his money on a house without asking a thousand questions first.
Archana would not buy a puppy without a careful selection process.
How much time and research would you put into choosing a place for your next vacation?
Or the next restaurant to eat out?
So how do we explain that nine out of 10 people are not particularly bothered that they follow a religion they did not choose? Or that their faith was casually selected for them by parents who weren't religious scholars themselves? How do we explain people who have barely had the time to study the precepts and tenets of their inherited religion — and yet somehow stand ready to fight fiercely for its superiority, while vilifying others who, equally unthinkingly, went along with some other religion their parents handed down to them.
It was a long time before I could bring myself to write Atheist in the Religion field of official forms. It felt like a dreadful admission of some guilt. But today even if I don't have answers, I certainly have questions. One of them is why we should believe that a tiny, miserable dust-mote of a planet amidst an infinity of swirling stars, suns and planets should have such supreme importance to the so-called 'gods'?
And if it was so important to the 'gods', why do they watch without intervening while savagery, bloodshed, corruption and wars are conducted in their name?
Another question is why a myopic, self-centred and suicidal species like Homo sapiens should matter even a little bit to those 'gods' if they existed. No answer comes.
When my children came of age, I told them that they would not be inheriting any religion from me. I cautioned them that without a convenient god to answer their prayers and forgive their sins, they would be on their own, and their only weapons would be their principles and values. Which too they would have to somehow seek and find ontheir own.
Today I stand alone on my own feet — and I hope they do too. I take what I can from wise scriptures about how to live this life without causing too much harm and being compassionate. I try not to misplace my moral compass. It doesn't seem terribly difficult to do. Not having a religion seems to have helped.
I certainly don't believe in today's politicised gods. Those gods, if they exist, probably don't believe much in me either.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at email@example.com
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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