Sunday, August 22, 2010

A few more Ideas on God and Respect


Please read what I write here, slowly, with utmost concentration. It is alright if you don't reply or do so after a week or a month. I will remember almost every word of what I write here: so there will not be a need for context. What I write here represents a summary of over 30% of what I understand about the Universe. So, how can I forget it? :)

Thanks for sending the pic of Siddhivinaya! I truly appreciate that you consider me worthy of sharing your thoughts/emotions with and that you do wish me well.

In what I say here, my intent is not to hurt you, but I also have got to be honest. For, dishonesty and respect do not usually go hand-in-hand. And I respect you.

I'll start with an analogy. I respect Ayn Rand immensely, for her ideas mainly. How do I know her? Only through the two novels she had written. Her novels had contained some exemplary characters. E.g., Dominique Francon  (someone with impeccable sense of justice - she had punished herself by marrying a person she had greatest contempt for, only because she was deliberately depriving Howard Roark of herself, who she used to love, and who used to love her back) & Howard Roark (who used to worship architecture - it was his divine; it had stood for functionality, which is representative of honesty. He was ready to sacrifice everything for his joy of seeing his designs come up as buildings. His building designs did not have pretentiousness. He never lied about his love for architecture, and was never ashamed of it). Both were from the novel 'The Fountainhead'. Then, there was Francisco D'Anconia - a perfect human being in my view, perhaps, much more so that the main character of Atlas shrugged (John Galt). But you know, I never worshipped these characters. Why? Because I knew, they were merely the *mediums* (media) for Ayn Rand's thoughts, and not real persons. Whatever highest regard I hold, it is for the author and her thoughts and not the characters (i.e., the creation).

I can respect people largely for three reasons: thoughts, words and actions. If I do not know what the thoughts, words and actions of a person are, how do I respect or disrespect him/her? If I meet an alien, why will I respect/disrespect that alien by default without knowing what his/her thoughts/words/actions are? When I read Ayn Rand's words in her novels and other essays, I know all that are Ayn Rand's words, her ideas - perhaps, first thought by her or perhaps, assimilated from other sources and articulated so beautifully.

If you ask me to see a pic/statue of a deity, I can only think of the effort/feelings behind their making that the maker must have put. If I find that statue/pic is aesthetically beautiful, I would value the maker for the skill and dedication involved (just like I would think of the qualities in Ayn Rand that had enabled her to create the kind of characters she did in her novels). I would never forget that whatever attributes that Ayn Rand's characters had were put in them by Ayn Rand herself. Likewise, whatever attributes I see in a statue/picture would be put in by the sculptor! If I have to respect anything, it would have to be the sculptor.

If I have my mother's picture, I would not step on it, because I would've got accustomed to living with her. I largely know what her thoughts, words and actions are. If she had happened to be very tyrannical and cunning, unethical person and had treated me badly, perhaps I would have actually stepped on her picture. But there is a difference here, whatever attributes I attach with my mother would be in the real world. E.g., if I see her helping an injured pup, she's benevolent. If I see her get uncomfortable on neighbor buying new car, then she is jealous. If she tells me to leak question papers to score well, she is immoral. If she asks me to help a stranger in need, then she has an altruistic bent. Basically, whatever I think of her would be dependent on what she actually does. But, on what basis do I draw any conclusions about God? What does god think, say or do? On what basis do I judge God, who the picture you linked represents?

You said: "a power exists."

What kind of power? On what basis did you reach that conclusion? Perhaps, you feel that a power has to exist because the Universe is so complicated, and so it needs a power to create and maintain it?

If those are the strongest reasons you believe a Creator needs to exist, then let me tell you that more than 8 years back I also used to think the same. But as I understood the Universe better (through studying science and application of formal philosophy), I realized that both assertions were flawed.

We humans think that everything that exists has to be created from something and thus needs a creator. But this is just an illusion. Nothing actually ever gets created. It is only that one thing gets transformed into another. As children we see that by planting a seed, it 'becomes' a huge tree. But actually our senses are misleading us. The tree did not come from the seed! Yes, seed had contained the template (DNA and some nutrients for interim survival) along which the plant grew into tree. But in reality, it was carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen present in the soil and atmosphere that got 'converted' into the tree. But because we cannot see all those gases, we hastily conclude that the 'one who had planted the seed' had 'grown' the tree.

So, I believe that all the matter and energy of which the Universe that is known to us is composed, had always existed. They did not require a creator. Because if we say they had required a creator, we're faced with a much more difficult question - who created the creator, then? If such a complex Universe requires a creator, then that creator must be even more complex than the creation, right? If Universe cannot exist since 'eternity', 'all by itself', why should that creator be able to exist since 'eternity', 'all by itself'? So, at level of philosophy it becomes a better hypothesis to believe that the Universe or its 'raw materials' had always existed (not necessarily the same way we know it) as compared to introducing an intermediary like 'God' which does not make the hypothesis any more appealing, but only makes it bulkier.

The problem with human psyche is that we tend to view things in a very self-centric fashion. If we find that only planet Earth has human life, we hastily conclude that we are special. This psychology is reflected in, e.g., the Church's position that the Earth is the center of the Universe. It was proved false centuries back, but they did not accept it (they did not have much problem accepting that the Earth was round, so being proved wrong was not the only factor in their rejecting a geocentric Universe). I do not want to even go into the murder and persecution they had indulged in to suppress that truth the Sun was the center of the Solar system. But think about it, why was the Church so desperate to suppress the truth? It was because, they were afraid to admit that the Earth (which harbors the humans) is not all that special. Most of the religious persons feel that their religion is the best and that others' are inferior. Why? Because that serves as an ego massage. When I'd done that blog post on Islamophobia, I was not talking of persons born in Muslim families, but ONLY about the ideas contained in the book. Think carefully & *HONESTLY*, what is the biggest reason one would like to follow a book like the Quran (considering its intellectual level and the kind of verses it contains)? Is it because it contains immense wisdom, or is it because it is interesting, or is it because it gives some information that is very useful to the human race (e.g. Newton's law of gravitation)? Or is it simply because it makes the ones following that book feel 'SPECIAL' ("Allah will be with YOU, but those who are not with YOU will be fed to fire, and so YOU are 'SPECIAL'" - of course, no single verse says that, but that is the overall tone of the Book)? I suspect it is the latter. The book keeps on repeating that God will love you and consider you 'SPECIAL' if you follow that book. Imagine, how many would've followed that book had it spoken the unadulterated truth, i.e., "you humans are merely made of atoms and molecules; there is nothing special about your existence, that your Sun is just one of the tiny stars among billions of stars and planets, that your thoughts and emotions are nothing but simple physical-chemical reactions in your brain"? But no, every religion, directly or indirectly asserts that being a humans is special, that God takes special care of humans, because 'humans' are special. You might know a bit about Advaita Vedanta. I actually consider it an elegant (though, falsifiable) hypothesis. It is very close to deism which posits that a creator just created the Universe and left it at that. Which implies that prayers won't work. Which implies that God (that creator) does NOT consider you 'SPECIAL'. Advaita Vedanta likewise claims that all that exists is 'Brahmana'. The Brahmana itself is the creator of all that exists. But all that exists is not the same as what we perceive. What we perceive does not actually exist - it is merely a creation of an entity called 'Maya', which acts as a screen between our sense organs and what perhaps actually exists (this is similar to the concept used in the Matrix series, or rather Matrix makers had taken this concept from here!). Unlike the God of Quran or Bible, Brahmana does not ask us to do good or bad. The only truth is that Brahman (Universe) exists. The aim of the life is to be able to realize this truth. This is actually quite perfect a theory, and comes close to how I view the world (perhaps, it does not have major conflicts with science as we know it today). Of course, there is one major difference between scientists, people like me, Ayn Rand and other naturalist/materialist people v/s Advaita's precepts, i.e., we believe that whatever our sense organs convey to us does stand for some kind of reality, though the inference based on what we perceive may not be identical to what the reality is, Advaita Vedanta posits that there is no/little relation between what we perceive and what the absolute reality is. Okay, I won't go into these philosophical details. What I wanted to point out is that despite Advaita Vedanta having existed in India for over a millennium, how many have assimilated the philosophy, how many live by it? Perhaps, not even 1% of the Hindus. You know, why? Because it does not make humans seem special. It does not say that God will pay special attention to you. It does not say that God is personal. Look carefully, of all the religions that had originated in India and elsewhere, only those have survived the best that have made God personal, human-like. (Hinayana) Buddhism and Jainism hardly thrived in India simply because their Gods had not taken as much interest in human lives as did the gods like Ram, Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu or that of Islam and Christianity.

One of the bigger reasons people find it difficult to contemplate a Universe without a God that gives special treatment to humans is that, doing so will leave a big void in our lives. We will be forced to ask, "why did I take birth?", "what am I supposed to do in my life?", "what is the purpose of my life?", "what will happen to 'me' after I die?" As you might appreciate, these are difficult questions to answer, and when answered truthfully, their answers are extremely disturbing. Believing in a God solves all the problems. See, how:

1. "Why did I take birth?" ---> 'God (who is special and who likewise considers me special) willed so'.

2. "What am I supposed to do in my life?" ---> 'Whatever God has asked me to do or whatever would please the God'.

3. "What is the purpose of my life?" ---> 'To lead such a life that God would be pleased with me and put me in Heaven or award me salvation. Of course, only God fully knows what the purpose of my life is. I must be some 'IMPORTANT' spoke in some 'GRAND' scheme of God. I am important to God.'

4. "What will happen to 'me' after I die?" ---> 'Oh worry not, I will not die, because my soul is indestructible. I would be re-united with the God, or will get to lead life as some other organism or as human'.

But as against that the deist or Advaita Vedantist God (Brahmana) does not answer such questions. Atheism is the worst! With atheism as a caveat, we would answer the above questions thus:

1. "Why did I take birth?" ---> 'My parents wanted a progeny, for reasons best known to them'

2. "What am I supposed to do in my life?" ---> 'Erm... umm... I don't know. Perhaps, what I 'like' to do. Or perhaps, what I 'think' is the right thing to do. Or a combination thereof. But yaar, this thinking business is so bugging! How would I know what I like to do, or I think the right thing to do is indeed the right thing to do? Or perhaps, there is nothing like the 'absolutely right' thing to do?'

3. "What is the purpose of my life?" ---> 'Nothing really! That my conscious mind exists is an accident in the Universe: certain atoms, molecules and quanta of energy when behaving in their routing manner in concert ended being 'me'. There is no fundamental difference between me and a pebble lying on the road. If you heat pebble it gets hot and undergoes oxidation. If you heat me, I will get hot and undergo oxidation. If you drop the pebble from a cliff it will fall with the acceleration of 9.8 meter/second-squared. If you drop 'me' from a cliff, 'I' will fall with the acceleration of 9.8 meter/second-squared. So, just like there is no purpose for existence of pebble on the road, there is no purpose behind 'my' existing. That pebble and I, being composed of same elementary particles and energy and 'obeying' same laws of physics are equally 'SPECIAL' or equally mundane. However, since I am afraid of dying, I will have to survive. Since certain things give me displeasure/pain I will avoid doing them. Since certain things give me pleasure, happiness, I will try doing them. Having seen the way humans live, I feel a perfect human being should have attributes, 1, 2 & 3. A perfect human being should do a, b & c. So, let me try to become a perfect human being by what I think it is to be perfect human being. Let me try to develop attributes 1, 2 & 3 and let me try to to do things a, b & c. That will make me feel 'good' about myself, and I will love myself (narcissism). And that way, my life will pass smoothly till it is the time to die.'

4. "What will happen to 'me' after I die?" ---> 'Nothing, again! 'Me' is just an illusion created by the brain. When I die the brain would stop functioning. It will no longer be able to create that illusion. There would be no 'me' to feel what it is like to be dead. Perhaps, it might be somewhat like being in a deep sleep. Yes, this whole thing sounds frightening. I have so many plans about my life, so many things to achieve, so much to experience, so much to learn, so many people I love, so many people who want love me and want me to live - what will happen of all that? I would never like to die. I like the small pleasures in life - eating good food, blogging, tweeting, reading, joking, being with people I love and who love me, but all this will end the moment I die, but there is nothing really I can do about it.'

As you might see, with atheism as a caveat, answering all these questions become so difficult. Plus, those answers are so frightening and painful, so isn't it better to keep on believing in a God?
Perhaps, I might not mind doing that. But I would be insulting myself if I lie to myself and keep on believing in a God only because it gives me comfort. To paraphrase a philosopher/blogger, "however might I want the answer to be '5', I know 2+2 is 4 and NOT 5"!

Thanks for reading!