Axioms and fear

So it is around the time when I’m taking part in religious ceremonies that I question my religion, or lack of it. That’s when I need to interact with priests regularly, and sometimes talking to them is frightening. What is most frightening is their level of belief in certain things that I find absurd.

Every major religion is founded on a basic set of axioms. These axioms are designed in a way that they cannot be disproved scientifically.

Sure, there is no way to prove these axioms either, but then given that religion is the “defending champion” it has fallen upon the atheist to disprove the religious axioms. But the way these axioms are stated makes it extremely hard to disprove them. The best that most rational people can do is to call the axioms “absurd” and leave it at that, but that does nothing to convert people on the fence.

For example, take this concept of rebirth and reincarnation which forms the basis of a lot of Hindu thoughts. I find it absurd, and there is no scientific way to prove it (especially since the “universe” is so large since you could be reborn as any species). But there is no scientific way to disprove it either, which is what gives the proponents of this axiom more mileage.

The other thing I observe is that the easiest way to propagate religious thoughts is to create a sense of fear. Stuff like “say your prayers daily else god will punish you”. And then there are some selective examples (with heavy bias in selection) given of people who didn’t make the right religious noises and hence had to suffer. When faced with all this, the young child has no option but to comply with what the religious elders are telling him.

Then I realize that the way you are “taught” religion is extremely absurd. Growing up, you are simply taught a set of processes that you need to go through, without ever going to the significance of any of them. Even the axioms that form the basis of the religion are not exactly taught. In some cases, even the parents would have simply “mugged up the religious practices” and are in no position answer when kids ask them questions about these practices.

For example, when I read Dawkins’s book a couple of years back, I was shocked that there are people that actually believe that there was some “god” who created the universe. I’d always taken evolution as a given. Similarly while talking to priests yesterday (my mother’s first year death anniversary ceremonies are going on) I was shocked to find they actually believe in rebirth, and life after death. Of course, I do believe in Live After Death and think it’s an awesome album.

I just hope I’ll be able to inculcate a sense of questioning and rational reasoning in my kids, and help them protect themselves from blind faith.

Work Etc.

There are these days when you wake up and start wondering what the fuck you are upto. You start asking yourself why you are where you are, doing what you are doing. You ask yourself why you are not on that monthlong roadtrip of rural Karnataka, with the hope of maybe producing a shelf of books at the end of it. You ask yourself why you haven’t been doing stuff that you had promised yourself that you would do.

That new guitar has already started rusting, and the left index finger that you had cut the last time you played has long healed. The car mileage grows only in small increments – which approximately represents the distance you go to work. Half the days you cook rice, and mix it with copious quantities of Mother Dairy Dahi, and some pickle that has been sent from home. The other days you go to the same restaurant, sit at the same table and order the same set of items.

You are doing it for the sake of your career, you tell yourself. Career. Tha FUBAR thing. Which you are trying to marginally resurrect and repair by doing what you are doing, and trying to bring back to it some vague sense of recognition. You meet your friends. You hear them shag about their jobs. You hear about all the cool things that they are doing, and about how they are fast moving up the corporate ladder. About how you are a failure in life if you don’t work hard at this stage of life, and if you can’t win the rat race.

You meet friends’ friends. The first thing they ask you is what you do – and you are likely to get judged on that. So you need to make sure that you have a good story to tell about your job, which makes you sound cool. Coming up with formulae to price the movement of sacks of rice is not cool, as I found out. Financial services is usually met with a question asking you to predict the direction of the index. Sales is usually met with “the sun is very hot nowadays, no?”. And IT is met with “are you a Java coder or a C# coder?”.

Occasionally you want to get away from all this. These are the times when you accept that you are doing what you are doing because of the increments it produces in your bank balance. Sometimes you realize that the monthly increments in your bank balance are not enough; and some of those times you console yourself saying that you are doing this in expectation of larger inflows in the future. You consider your job to be an investment – that the dough you are not getting now will get more than compensated for later in your life. 

So when on certain days you wake up and ask yourself why the fuck you are where you are and doing what you are doing, you usually don’t have an answer. In those states of mind, “career”, “development”, “investment”, “corporate” etc. all don’t matter at all. Neither does “net present value of expected future earnings”. Your total costs look inflated. Your benefits look deflated. Every line of thought that runs in your head then tells you that you should go off into the Himalayas. You go to office instead. 

I’ll stop this essay here. In a forthcoming essay I’ll explain about how a job is essentially about costs and benefits, and why they use the word “compensation” to describe your salary. I have occasionally argued in the other direction, but thinking about it again, I think the word “compensation” with reference to salary package does make a lot of sense.