[ Asok Pillai ]
Well, at least two different entities are killing it right now for different reasons: life insurance salesmen on TV, who are using the fear generated by Covid-19 to peddle their policies, and the atheists, for reasons we will explore in a moment.
Without delving into its longwinded etymology and history, here are the basic nuts and bolts of atheism: An atheist is a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods. Needless to say, in the olden days, it wasn’t a good idea to be one. From the little superficial ‘research’ that I have conducted, it appears that atheism was first used to describe a self-avowed belief in nonexistence of god in late 18th century Europe, during the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, as a matter of fact (a highly suggestive term, viewed against the backdrop of religious postulations.)
At any rate, there has rarely been a better time than now for the atheists to have their day in the sun, and they are, indeed, making hay, throwing all kinds of shades at religious zealots, who have, it is to be hoped, realized that mass prayers and congregations aren’t exactly what the heavens prescribed to deal with Covid-19.
In their defence, however, one is obligated to acknowledge that it is the religious organizations that have opened their coffers, not to seek but to donate for the wellbeing of all, irrespective of the faiths they profess; for the wellbeing of atheists, too, come to think of it. It is not known how many atheist organizations have made such contributions to tide over the bind we’ve found ourselves in.
What is known is that the atheists are laying great vengeance and fury upon the whole spectrum of faiths for their apparent lack of regard for rationality and scientific temper over the ages. It’s never a dull day on Facebook these days with atheists posting memes and taunts, challenging the religious to prove the existence of god by praying away the coronavirus. Well, as it happens, they are praying, by god, but in isolation, having learnt from example that it is perhaps wiser for the flocks to remain separated for the moment, possess themselves in patience against the deluge of memes, and repose their trust in the doctors. This is one battle that’s prejudiced on the side of the atheists – they who exult in the knowledge that they are not taken in by the false arguments and constrictive dogmas of religions, and are, therefore, as free as free could be.
Or are they?…
Now, I am by no means a religious man – I believe in the existence of UFOs and aliens – but then again, unlike the atheists, I don’t entirely subscribe to the idea that science as we know it explains everything. I believe the universe is alive with some form of intelligence and is not just a random, cold, dark, dumb, endless nothingness, cradling stars and galaxies and planets in its vastness with nary a purpose. In thus thinking, I’m not being original but merely echoing what a highly evolved human being said a long time ago: “God does not play dice with the universe.”
Albert Einstein was that man. And before the religious rise for a round of applause, I must add that Einstein used the word ‘god’ not literally but as a metaphor for the mathematical precision that seems to be woven into the fabric of the universe.
If one were to accept Einstein’s proposition, it would be reasonable to assume that the universe operates not by default but by design. It would also perhaps suggest that things like wars, poverty, inequity, racism, karma, pandemics and all that jazz on Earth are part of a larger process that we are as yet unable to grasp.
As to how free we are in the way we think, as politicians and dictators have demonstrated time and again, people’s will can, in fact, be bent, as long as you can mould them in separate categories by means fair or foul.
Even otherwise, once you start willingly identifying with the convictions of a group or an organization, you are apt, sooner or later, to develop a herd mentality and reject ideas that run contrary to your and your fellows’ core beliefs. Thus, we have religious groups with their tenets on the one hand, and atheist organizations with theirs on the other, each stubbornly sticking to their ironclad perception of the world, to the exclusion of any alternative way of thinking.
In their difference they behave alike.
Some philosophers describe atheism, as also the belief in the existence of god(s), as nothing more than a state of mind. As a friend of mine put it on his WhatsApp status, one way or another, all meaning in the universe is created by the minds of those that perceive it. I’m not sure if the notion is original with him, but there you have it.
The corollary is that your beliefs do not make you a better person; your actions do. In these hard times, choose wisely.