Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The God of small things

A friend was in hospital, undergoing treatment for a severe infection and I called him up on his mobile phone, prudently deciding not to visit him. He told me that he had gone, the previous week, to his ancestral village, to take part in a festival in the local temple. In the midst of all the cult worship and myriad rituals, he had gorged on the temple food and bathed in the pond nearby along with hundreds of other human beings and assorted animals..

The doctors attending on him, and while waiting for the blood reports, suspected that he must have picked up the infection from the contaminated food there, or worse still, it could be a case of leptospirosis from the bacteria-infected pond.

Friend ruled out this diagnosis as absurd. His strong belief was that God does not punish devotees or inflict suffering on those who have come all the way to worship him. When one goes to a temple and eats the food offered to the gods, or takes a dip in the pond there, one does so unquestioningly and with full faith. The compassionate, benevolent God reciprocates in full measure and does not let down his worthy devotees.

I told this friend on whom sixteen years of science education had been wasted, “Granting, for a moment, that there is a compassionate, benevolent God up there, what makes you think that He is on your side all the time? The omnipotent, almighty God presides over everything in the Universe, not just the human beings, and is equitable in His protection of all living beings. Do you know that virus and bacteria have been around for a much longer time than we human beings have and therefore have had a head start with God when it comes to seeking favours from Him? God, with His divine sense of fairness, doesn’t see you as a higher life form and doesn’t discriminate between you and an insect or the bacteria. So, it is utterly fatuous to presume that he will support you in your endeavor to finish off millions of bacteria with your arsenal of antibiotics. So, when you entered the contaminated temple pond or ate the food made in low-hygiene conditions, you invited trouble and I am afraid that God will not intervene in the battle between one life form and another. You are on your own. Good luck to you”

After hanging up, I realized that it was a stupid thing to do. This friend’s world was such an uncomplicated place, where he could simply shift the burden of everyday existence on to a superior being called God. If you fall ill, He will take care of you, whether or not you have controlled your diet, exercised regularly, avoided contaminated food or taken your medicines as prescribed by the doctors. If you have your exams coming up, He will see to it that you get through. If you are starting on a new building, you just need to perform the Bhoomi Pooja and He will take care of the structure from that point onwards. Such a blind belief transferred the responsibility of maintenance and sustenance from one’s shoulders on to God and made you feel a lot lighter.

Science, unfortunately, wants you to believe that you can control your destiny to a large extent and holds you accountable for your own actions. The rigour that Science demands, the constant observation of what’s going on around you, the analysis of data that assault your senses and the need to find patterns – all these place a huge burden on your narrow shoulders and disturbs your peace of mind.

So, I should have let my friend wallow in his own blissful world, instead of trying to effect a disruptive change in his belief systems. He is probably a lot happier as he is.


Sunita Venkatachalam said...

Thanks for dropping by to my blog..! This is too serious topic for me to comment on :) I am so used to (and love) your irreverent posting style :D

Anonymous said...

He sounds happy enough!I guess his faith will certainly aid in his recovery. Many things in this world are inexplicable!

rajeev said...

well, its not easy to explain why only him (or maybe a handful more) from that congregation of hundreds got the infection :).
Probly that explains the root of your friend's belief.

Raj said...

Poppins : I am branded as irreverent .Sigh.

Dipali : As Niel Bohr remarked about the horseshoe outside his house, " They say it works, whether you believe in it or not."

rajeev : Maybe you are right. Why should bacteria be selective in their attack?

Anonymous said...

Rajeev, isn't there something called immune system ?