Category Archives: Questions

Spirituality?

Do I believe in spirituality?

That depends on what you mean by spirituality.

Death Valley National Park is just a two hour drive away from Las Vegas. In between the nights of bacchanalian revelry, we decide to spend one late afternoon driving as far as we can towards the national park.

On our way back, the sky begins to darken and by the time it is 7, it is pitch black. We decide to pull over on to the shoulder of the deserted road.

We step out into the chilly air and kill the lights and we look up towards the sky.

The desert sky is unaffected by light pollution. It is a cloudless night and the perfect time to be out looking at the skies. Even so, the sight almost knocks me off my feet.

I have never seen a more beautiful sight. There are more stars than I have ever seen before. They fill the entire sky. There are so many of them that the constellations that we can barely make out in our urban skies have all but disappeared. I can just discern Cassiopeia and Cepheus.

But the stars themselves. One needs no patterns to be awed by their beauty. And we can make out the individual stars that are relatively close to us. But in the distance, the stars are far away and so numerous that their light blends and they are blurred in the shape of a band. A great band that stretches from the north to the south of the entire night sky with a great rift in the middle. That is no ordinary band. It is the great spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy.

It is a sight I have waited 14 years to see. I am speechless with emotion. It is perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. I look at all those stars and I think about our universe. About everything that it has gone through in almost 14 billion years. I think of the births and deaths of entire clusters of stars. The sheer scale of it all boggles the mind.

The immense stars of eons past that exploded spectacularly scattering their insides through the universe, seeding the creation of the sun and the solar system. All that matter from dying stars came together to form everything we know and see and feel and touch and breathe and eat. The sun, the earth, the moon, the trees, the rocks, the grass and us.

I look the all those stars and think about the civilizations that perhaps exist there, far beyond our detection. I think of those that might have already been destroyed and those that might still be created.

All the problems that we have ever faced seem to fade away. It’s beauty is indescribable. It is truly one of those sights that has to be seen to be believed. I stare silently for the better part of an hour.

As we reluctantly get back into the car, I realize that if that spectacular sight is what spirituality means, then I do believe in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Questions, Random

The Ultimate Question

Being a skeptic comes at a price – you have few romantic notions about life.  We are dead for billions of years then, apparently without any rhyme or reason, we are born, gain consciousness and all too soon, we die again and considering the evidence we have, or rather the lack of evidence, we never live again. The ultimate question for me is, what is the purpose of life?

Everyone has probably asked this question. The religious have their explanations but no evidence to back it up. The Hindu would tell me the purpose of life is to accumulate good karma, then die, be reborn ad infinity till  you finally break out of this cycle and gain a place in heaven. The followers of the Abrahamic religions also have their improbable tales of being born to not violate the “10 things we should not do” laws and finally meet God in paradise. Oh and if you are Muslim, you get 72 virgins to rape in the bargain.

Perhaps the most annoying point some people cutely try to make is, “The answer is 42! We should figure out the question!”. Up to a point, Douglas Adams fans are tolerable except when they stop asking the important questions and go on and on about the number 42 and about Adams’ genius. He clearly was a genius. You are not if you don’t stop.

This of course brings one back to the question itself. You can phrase it in any way, but for me the ultimate question will always remain, “What is the purpose of Life?”

While we waste our time fighting futile wars, supporting and living in an unsustainable monetary system and arguing over petty points like spelling mistakes, there may be a simple answer. I am an atheist but that does not mean I claim with certainty that God does not exist. I just say that I don’t see any evidence for it and hence do not believe in his existence. If anyone out there can show me incontrovertible and scientific evidence that there is God, I will become a man of faith. Show me any evidence for the purpose of life and I will believe in you.

Perhaps there isn’t any purpose to life and this is what I am inclined to believe in because there is no evidence to believe there is one. But like every other thing that we humans come up with, I propose a simple answer. How about we as a species for once agree that perhaps, for now, the ultimate purpose of life is to discover the ultimate purpose of life?

 

10 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Life, Questions

Religion and the Flying Spaghetti Monster

“Our only dogma is the rejection of all dogmas”, goes the general philosophy of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and this, my favourite religious organization, always makes me wonder – what defines a religion?

To quote the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is ” a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith”. Another definition is “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.”

An interesting case was decided in the US Supreme Court in 1965. In United States vs. Seeger, the Supreme Court ruled for Daniel Seeger, who sought exemption from the military draft for conscientious objectors, without express belief in a Supreme Power. In its opinion, the supreme court said, “[The] test of belief “in a relation to a Supreme Being” [in a law providing for conscientious objector status from military service] is whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God . . . .” (source).

The facts of this case were that Seeger was a student who claimed exception from the military draft because his religious belief, he objected to war and that he should be granted exemption from serving in the military. He did not specify that his religion submitted to the belief in a “supreme being” and that his skepticism or disbelief in a God did not necessarily mean lack of faith in anything whatsoever. He was convicted by a lower court on account of his disbelief in a “Supreme Being”, but the Supreme Court reversed the judgement of the lower court on appeal. (Source)

There is no definition of “religion” in the constitution of either India or the US and many other countries. Which is why I don’t see any reason for anyone to take the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as just satire. It has all the aspects of any mainstream religion, plus the God tastes delicious!

If anyone can come up with a legal reason as to why the Church of the FSM is not a religion, I will be happy to hear you out.

Leave a comment

Filed under Atheism, Opinion, Questions

The Unending Debt

I have long held the view that when it comes to all matters ridiculous, the Shiv Sena and the MNS are usually at the head of the pack. For two parties that are constantly at loggerheads, they seem to be in agreement on one thing – Maria Susairaj should never act again.

While the representative from the MNS says, “Maria is convicted for a heinous crime and we will not allow her to work at any cost”, the Shiv Sena says, “People with a criminal background come out of the jail and become stars in television shows”. This of course coming from two parties which have never thought twice about fielding candidates who have criminal records and convictions. Apparently, you need an “untainted” record to work in television but can be a career criminal for the simple task of running a state.

And so the parties try to dictate terms to producers like Ram Gopal Varma about whom he chooses to cast in his movies. If every convicted criminal were to be prevented from working after serving a sentence, at least the Lok Sabha would have fewer scams to worry about.

The important issue that is raised here is, when does a criminal completely pay off his debt to society? Susairaj, was convicted not for murder but for destruction of evidence was sentenced to three years. She has already been jailed for that period of time and has been let go. In the eyes of the law, it is immaterial how grisly a crime and how much publicity it garners. The fact remains that an eminent member of the judiciary, which is one of the last respectable institutions in India, decided that her crime merited a certain sentence and delivered the said judgement.

But it is never that simple. As if one judgement is not enough, a convicted criminal is judged by every single person he comes in contact with. They find it difficult to get employment, to rejoin society as they left it and are subject to prejudice.

Some may say that they ought to have thought about it before they broke the law but the question is, is it really society to whom criminals owe a debt? To some extent, a punishment can be viewed as a surety that criminals offer in exchange for being reintegrated into society. But is it so simple?

Susairaj will soon pass out of public consciousness and so will the murder of Neeraj Grover but wherever she goes, the fact that Maria was part of something horrific might probably never let her be at peace with herself. The debt to yourself is surely one that can never be repaid in full.

4 Comments

Filed under India, Questions, Ramblings

The Dogs of War

In his novel The Dogs of War which came out in 1974, Frederick Forsyth tells the story of a rich businessman in England who hires a mercenary named Cat Shannon to stage a coup in an African nation which has a ten billion dollar platinum deposit. He wants Cat to take out the ruler and install a puppet regime which would grant his company the exclusive rights to mine in the country.

A story like that is very likely to be true in Africa where coups are ten a penny. Indeed the book itself has been based around a coup in Equitorial Guinea and there were allegations that Forsyth was behind the attempt.

No one raises an eyebrow when you read about a coup in an unheard of African nation where rich mineral deposits are “suddenly discovered” and a major multinational company is awarded the rights to exploit these deposits.

Then what can one make of this piece of news that mineral deposits worth one trillion dollars were recently “discovered” in Afghanistan by the US  government? Isn’t what happened in Afghanistan merely a coup just made to look like the Jesus Christ sanctioned “War Against Terror”? Not to mention that a puppet regime is already in place and ready to award the mining contracts to American and British companies in which key proponents of the war hold major stakes.

In his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, filmmaker Michael Moore points out that as soon as the US gained control over Afghanistan, a natural gas pipeline was built from Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. Also, once the US gained control of Iraq, oilfield services company Halliburton was awarded what was essentially a no-bid contract to plan oil well fire fighting in Iraq. Of course under the contract, Halliburton could also pump and distribute Iraqi oil.

For the clueless, President George Bush’s vice president Dick Cheney was the chairman and CEO of Halliburton during the Clinton administration and had major interests in the company during the war. George Bush also has interests in Halliburton as Dresser Industries, where he held several positions, merged with Halliburton in the 1990s.

It is just a matter of time before a company with some secret and some not so secret links to American politicians will be awarded contracts to start mining in Afghanistan. In the meantime several hundred more American soldiers and thousands of civilians will die for a war they did not want and did not really need while the ignorant American masses will continue to be delusional about the real purpose of these wars and America’s supposed role as the guardians of the free world.

All for a few dollars more.

1 Comment

Filed under Questions

About Groups

Since the time of Ogg the Neanderthal, humans have felt the need to belong to groups. The herd mentality as it is termed. Its not so bad. In fact it makes a lot of sense to stick to others. United we stand, divided we fall. If we were lonely nomads, we would have died off long ago. The question that begs to be answered is, how do we choose which groups we belong to? Safety? Some common bond? Love for something?

But we cannot always choose to be a part of a group. A person who is born Chinese does not have any choice in the matter. He will look like other Chinese people, will speak in Chinese and in general would feel more comfortable with people who look, talk and behave like him. This is the case with everyone.

So it boggles my mind when people come up with crazy groups on facebook like “I’m from Mumbai. That automatically makes me 10 times cooler than you.” The response to this would be a similar group for Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore, etc. How does the fact that your parents or grandparents decided to settle down in Mumbai and had kids make you cool? You had no choice in this. I understand people who support football clubs and the like joining their groups because they consciously take the decision to be a part of something. But for the rest of us who think we are cooler than someone else just because we are from XYZ place or speak ABC language, wake up guys, its really lame.

2 Comments

Filed under Questions

Mirror does it again

Aah Mumbai Mirror! What would life be without you? This article illustrates why democracy in India is such a farce. Well not democracy per se. But the principle of equality. Why is it a big issue when Hrithik Roshan, who is a tax paying citizen much like the faceless Mr. Bhayandar or Mr. Mira Road or Mr. Anywhere in Mumbai where contaminated water flows out of the tap, is facing such a problem? Is everyone else a second rate citizen just because he or she pays lesser amounts as tax?

Really speaking this is more a complaint about the government than about the Mirror. I accept that their job is to sensationalize things. At least they keep me entertained.

Reminds me of that famous line from Animal Farm. “All animals are equal. But some are more equal than others”.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Questions