Archive for the ‘ General ’ Category

Gods that are made of Glass

I’m not a Hindu, nor do I have any real admiration for the philosophies of Vedanta. There is one story, however, that I’m quite fond of.

Swami Vivekananda during his journey through Kashmir, described as the “Earthly paradise”, came across a number of temples burnt to the ground by invaders. Countless images of the gods and goddesses, and other sacred relics, forever lost. It was at the temple of the Divine Mother Kali, that he fell down on his knees, overwhelmed by anguish. Anguish over his inability to prevent such desecration, and confusion over how the Goddess had allowed this sacrilege.

The Divine Mother Herself appeared before him and whispered, “Why does it it worry you, Vivekananda, if the invaders break my images? Do you protect me or do I protect you?”

In recent years, this story has gained immense popularity due to its relevancy to the raging debate on how to deal with blasphemers. I do not expect practising Muslims to be easily swayed by Hindu philosophies, but I do hope they’d  meditate on the message it bears. Continue reading

Moderate-Fanatic Relationship

Religion: All in the Mind

Further info on these cognitive mechanisms and their propensity to “misfire”: Why Do We Believe in God?

What Happens After We Die?

In a recent online discussion with a theist, I had to endure a twenty-minute lecture on the afterlife and what it’s going to be like. He rambled on about what heaven is like in remarkable detail, from the fruits that grow over there to the rivers of milk. Then he proceeded to explain to me about hell, with all its fiery pits and multi-headed snakes.

I inquired him if he were a zombie. He said he wasn’t, so as politely as my aching head would allow me to, I asked him to come back later and tell me all about it after he’s returned from the dead. I’m sick of theists talking about afterlife with such confidence as if they just came from the grave.

Whatever happened to those beautiful words, “I don’t know”? Doubt is humble. It teaches us to be open minded about new information as it unfolds before our eyes. It’s a folly to be certain about things that we have no reason to be certain about.

A theist speaks of God with such self-assurance, it seems as if he just had coffee with God, and had a chat with Him about Inception not getting as many Oscar nominations as it deserved. Such pigheadedness alone should disqualify one from being thought of as a rational being. Likewise, any Atheist who’s absolutely certain about God’s non-existence is irrational.

When a person asks me what I think happens after we die, I do not offer him/her an enema of discombobulating, philosophical statements which sound wiser than they actually are, but I just say these three brilliant little words: “I don’t know”.

As far as we can tell, dying is like never being born. Mark Twain once said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Humans are so used to the idea of existing, that they find it hard to imagine nothingness. The closest idea we have of death is a calm, dreamless sleep. Other than that, many find it difficult to comprehend what it’s like to be non-existent.

For instance, most people believe that a blind man sees nothing but a curtain of darkness before him, just like we see darkness when we close our eyes. Dead wrong. A blind man sees absolutely nothing…not even the black color that we see with our eyes closed. To help you understand this better, let me ask you what you see behind your head. Do you see a black space? No! You see nothing there because there’s no eye at the back of your head to help detect any light coming from that direction.

It is impossible for a living person to tell precisely what it’s like to be dead. But the best estimate that we can make is that being dead means being nothing.

So go ahead and try it! Say, “I don’t know!”. If you like say something like, “I don’t know for sure, but I have a good hunch that God exists.” or maybe, “I don’t know for sure, but it’s highly unlikely that God exists” (the latter happens to be my stance).

Voltaire once said, “He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he’s asked.” You’re a genius, Volty!

Morality Fail

I recently had a rather disconcerting discussion with a Muslim who’s been advocating crucifixion. The focus of the debate was the following Quranic verse:

“Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment,” (5:33)

He argued that:

1) heinous criminal acts deserve heinous punishments.

2) the criteria set for this kind of punishment is such that hardly any criminal qualifies for crucifixion

The first argument is the product of a depraved, vengeance-centric mind, rather than one interested in seeking justice. The purpose of justice is to isolate or vanquish the undesirable element from the society, so that he/she may cause no further harm to it. If this process of vanquishing is carried out in the same inhuman fashion as the criminal employed for his victim, then the punisher cannot claim to be any more civilized than the criminal himself.

The second argument is the equivalent of saying, “Murder isn’t immoral as long as I kill only one person each year!”. The fact that God condones such a barbaric punishment says a lot about how “compassionate” he really is.

Ironically, it’s the Atheists who usually get an earful from religious people, who walk around pretending to be the guardians of morality.

Morality is relative to time and populace. We base our moral values on the verdicts of our conscience and the information made available to us through science. Deriving your moral code from an ancient book and adhering to it unwaveringly makes you a direct threat to mankind’s progress.

Some moderate theists believe that these punishments, though clearly not applicable in the 21st century, were okay for olden days. However, that is not how most religious people see it, nor is it meant to be seen that way. Islam, for example, claims to be a universal religion meant for all time. No devoted Muslim reads the Quran and says, “Oh, this command was okay for the Prophet’s time, but I don’t have to follow it today.” If it’s in the Quran, then it has got to be followed.

Believing in a book that condones crucifixion, lashing and chopping off body parts as acceptable forms of punishment, does not make you evil…but if does make you a mafia wife (stoning is not mentioned in the Quran itself, but it supported through sunnah).

I wonder what it feels to be part of an organization, the mission statement of which includes the words: “We shall crucify all those who dare fight against our President”.

Why Blame God?

Theists often accuse people of refusing to accept their own faults and blame God instead for all misery in the world. They call it escapism.

Following is a dialogue between a policeman and a witness to a horrible crime. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out who’s right and who’s not.

Policeman: Can you explain what happened here?

Witness : Officer, I saw a man break into my house, torture my daughter for ten minutes, and then stab her in the neck.

Policeman: And where were you at the time?

Witness : Sitting right there in the room.

Policeman: I see. And what did you do?

Witness : Nothing.

Policeman: Nothing? You didn’t try to help?

Witness : Nope. It was none of my business.

Policeman: Oh. You were afraid for your own safety?

Witness : Nope. Actually, I have a powerful stun gun that I keep with me at all times. He couldn’t possibly have harmed me.

Policeman: So why didn’t you shoot the killer and save the poor girl?

Witness : Why didn’t YOU save her officer? Don’t try to blame your inefficiencies on me.

Policeman: Sir, we had to drive half way across the city to reach this place. We weren’t even aware of the crime until it was too late! You were sitting right here with your finger on the trigger! Why didn’t you help the girl?

Witness : (sighs) Escapism. I already told you, it wasn’t my responsibility to save my child. It’s your job. Get a faster mode of transport. Improve security or something. Why blaming me?

Policeman: But…but…you were right there! You didn’t even have to make any major effort! Why didn’t you do something?!

Witness : (Brief silence) Would you believe I was testing the response time of the city’s finest?

Policeman: At the risk of your beloved daughter’s own life?!!

Witness : Meh.

Policeman: Sir, what did you say your name was again?

Witness : Al Goddman, the Merciful One.

Freedom of Speech: "Leave Brittany Alone" Conundrum

This is a short play intended to explain the concept of free speech, and how it’s irrational to ban people from saying certain things because they “deeply offend” a specific group of people.

—————————————

(An angry Muslim appears in front a judge)

Muslim: Your honor, I’ve had enough. I’m tired of these blasphemous fools making a mockery of my faith all the time! I’d like you to help pass a new law that forbids people from using derogatory remarks against religious personalities.

Judge: Why should I do that?

Muslim: Because the things these people say are extremely offensive to me and my people! We love our Prophet (PBUH) more than we love our parents…our brothers and sisters…our own lives! Freedom of speech does not mean that people go around uttering obscenities against a figure held sacred by over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world! We don’t deserve this kind of harassment! I implore you to help protect our sentiments.

Judge: Hmm..you make an excellent case. I’ll see what I can do.

(A few months later, an anti-blasphemy law is passed, making blasphemy against Allah or His Prophet punishable by death. A Hindu comes to the judge)

Hindu: Sir, this is an outrage! You have immunized the Muslims, but what about us? Who shall protect the non-Muslims from blasphemy against their respective faiths? How come Muslims keep sending sms jokes about our beloved gods like Kali Maa and Hanuman, but the moment one of us shows even the slightest bit of disrespect for Muhammad, we get dragged off to court or have a fatwa issued against us by the dominant Islamic clerics?”

Judge: Fair enough! I’ll make sure that the anti-blasphemy law is extended to cover all religions.

Hindu: Including Scientology?

Judge: What?!

Hindu: Your honor, that has got the most frequently abused religion in the world!

Judge: Okay! Okay! Henceforth, nobody’s allowed to make fun of the Galactic Confederacy, as well as any other religion.

(Law is successfully amended to immunize all religions. Chris Crocker now barges into the judge’s office, sobbing uncontrollably)

Chris: LEAVE BRITTANY ALONE!!

Judge: What is the meaning of this? Ma’am, I’m going to hold you in contempt of court, if you don’t lower your voice right now!

Chris: How f***ing dare anyone of you make fun of Brittany Spears!  She lost her aunt! She went through a divorce! She..

Judge: I’m sorry to hear that, but do you want from me?

Chris: (wipes his tears with his sleeve) It offends me deeply when these bastards make fun of Brittany! I love Brittany! She’s my idol. There’s nobody in the world I respect more than her! And to think of all these f****d up things people say about her…it just…(burst into tears again).

Judge: Okay, so?

Chris: I want you to ban people from making fun of Brittany! I mean it!

Judge: (gasps) Nonsense! Why would I do that?

Chris: Because it hurts my sentiments! And the sentiments of all hardcore Brittany fans out there! I want you to put a stop to this harassment! You did the same for the religious whiners! Why not for us?

Judge: Hurting religious sentiments is not the same as hurting sentiments of a pop artist’s fans!

Chris: How the hell do you know that?! How do you know who is offended more by what? Did you climb inside their heads and see how much they’ve been “hurt” on the inside? As far as you can tell, I’ve been hurt by insult to Britanny more than the Muslims have been hurt by insult to their Prophet!

Judge: Well, yes…but, see…look there are billions of religious people out there! And the pain caused by derogatory remarks against religious personalities is shared by ALL these people! So that’s a much bigger issue than yours.

Chris: Wait, let me get this straight. You’re saying that because there are more religious people in the world than non-religious ones, so the majority’s gonna have its sentiments protected by the government while the minorities can go f**k themselves? Just because we die-hard Britanny fans are a smaller group than the religious people, means that we will not be protected from having our feelings hurt, but they will? You call that justice?!

Judge: No, that’s not what I…it’s just that…what you’re demanding is just so damn ridiculous!

Chris: It may seem ridiculous to you, but it isn’t to me! Dude, you have no idea how much it hurts me when people make fun of poor, poor Brittany. Listen to me! Either you grant us all, religious AND non-religious, immunity against having our feelings hurt, by whatever cause that may be..

Judge: That’s not possible! That would mean the end of free-speech! Nobody will be able to criticize anything or anybody! Because everybody is offended deeply by something in the world! Anybody can claim that he or she is having his or her sentiments hurt by something and try to get that thing banned. (exhales) You know what, I’m having this law revoked.

Chris: What? No, don’t that! Let the blasphemy law stay, but extend it to include Brittany! I love her so much! Please respect my feelings! Why would you allow something that causes me so much mental pain?

Judge: Because through this whole “protecting of sentiments” crap, we’ll just end up immunizing the majority which has the greater volume, and leave the non-religious minorities with the lesser volume completely open to insult and ridicule. When it comes to free speech, either all of it is okay, or none of it is. Because when we pick out one group and pass a law to protect it from having its feelings hurt, then we would have to do the same for everybody else to maintain justice. And that would simply be impossible!

(Blasphemy law gets repealed. New law introduced. Section 295-X: Citizens shall be encouraged to grow thicker skin and get real)