Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The Hindu carries a short report every day on some religious discourse or other that was delivered recently. Quoting from one such discourse , today’s edition said that due to the Lord’s inscrutable power of Maya, human beings were unable to comprehend his divine nature and power, but his compassion is nevertheless received and felt by his true believers. There are no calves which do not know their mothers, and the mother knows her calves too. Similarly, with God and believers, concluded the sermon.

To be a good salesman, wrote Mark Stevens in his book, “God is a salesman”, turn to God for a few lessons. Focus on educating and instilling faith, rather than on selling. Like God, the best salespersons are invisible. They never look like they are trying to sell anything.

Exponents of Harikatha and authors who resort to abstract metaphors and similes, rarely find it necessary to substantiate their statements with logic or reasoning.

But, the ‘scientist’ in me naturally militates against such nonsense. Why should the fact that a cow knows all its calves be used as an argument to claim that God knows all his believers? What is the evidence that something that works for God will also work for a salesman?

And even if we accept the fact of the invisibility of God, we hit another barrier. The Russian writer, Yakov Perelman, while discussing H.G.Wells’ famous story “Invisible Man” in his delightful book, Physics for Entertainment (1913), pointed out that the main drawback of the invisible man was that he would be blind himself, as the human eye could ‘see’ only through a medium that absorbs incoming light. So, even if were to grant the omnipotent God the powers to spot the right individuals to dispense his/her favours, then we should, at the very least, be able to spot his/her eyes somewhere, if not his/her entire self.

A friend of mine, a scientist and who is also deeply religious heard me out and said that I was only confirming what he knew all along, that I was an extremely confused individual. Why should I try to apply cold scientific reasoning in all areas of my life, he asked? He himself found his peace of mind by clearly compartmentalizing his work and his personal life into which he infused a generous dose of religion and worship of God. His 9-to5 work was all about scientific methods of questioning, collecting evidence, examining one variable at a time under controlled conditions, etc. The other part of his life involved unquestioning, total faith. These two were mutually exclusive. Problems arise only when you try to apply the rigour of scientific inquiry into the domain of religious matters and faith. Don’t waste your time in trying to cloak an ancient ritual or practice in the garb of scientific analysis. It does not require such validation.

He added that, incidentally, the history of pursuit of science itself was replete with examples of individuals who succeeded through irrational faith rather than proper reasoning. We praise Edison for his tenacity in perfecting the light bulb, when the odds were stacked up against him and it was completely irrational to battle with such improbability. “I succeeded in my 1000th attempt. I learned 999 ways of how not to develop a light bulb”, he famously proclaimed. He was guided by pure faith that his efforts would succeed. Not by reason.

Even in the argument between the creationists and evolutionists, it is not as if the former clearly comprise the religious-minded while the latter are all scientifically-trained. A fair portion of the scientific community is people of faith. So, the argument is not between believers and non-believers. The conflict is more between people of faith who insist on a literal reading of the Bible and those of faith who don’t.

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