As published in the Times of India
Asked about the paedophilia scandal currently sweeping the Catholic church, biologist and leader of the anti-god tirade in the Judeo-Christian world, Richard Dawkins, replied that he didn’t so much mind priests messing with the bodies of the children as he minded their messing with children’s minds, infecting them with the virus of religion. In other words, as evil as the sexual abuse of children was, the abuse of their minds – or spiritual paedophilia – was much worse. Why is it that over 150 years after Nietzsche announced the death of god, the war against the Supreme Creator has escalated so sharply in the 21st century?
Perhaps never before in history – not excluding the time of the Inquisition and the persecution of Galileo for his ‘blasphemous’ contention that the Earth revolves around the Sun – have science and religion been engaged in such dubious battle. The increasingly challenging claims of science – including that of being able to create life itself, thereby usurping the unique status of a Supreme Originator – have invited the inevitable backlash of a militant religiosity, which in turn has provoked an assault on any form of religious faith. Indeed, anti-religionism has itself become a dogmatic religion.
At the core of the controversy are two fundamental questions: the origin of the universe, and the evolution of the species. The provisional answers according to science – for in science there are no absolute answers, only working hypotheses waiting to be disproved – are the Big Bang theory (which the Hadron collider experiment seeks to validate),and Darwinian selection, respectively. Religion credits the origin of the universe to a supernatural creator and the evolution of species to ‘intelligent design’. To say that this miraculously complex universe was created out of molecular chance is like imagining a whirlwind passing through a junkyard and coming up with a fully functioning 747 aircraft. Therefore, there has to be a God, a Supreme Creator, says religion. “And who created the Supreme Creator?” ask Dawkins and his fellow anti-theists.
One of the most vocal of these is the American neuropsychologist, Sam Harris, who warns against the ‘slippery slope’ of tolerance. It is not enough to deny the existence of god for yourself; you must deny god on behalf of everyone, particularly children who are especially susceptible to the superstitious sickness called religion.
Anti-theists have put religion, or ‘godism’, in the dock because of the irrational violence and suffering it has inflicted on humanity over the millennia through wars and the persecution of ‘heretics’. In all fairness, the church militant has not been restricted to Judeo-Christianity. Even discarding the tendentious term ‘Islamic terrorism’, Talibanised Islam has a lot to answer for in its brutal repression of women and its suppression of education and knowledge. The vicious and protracted civil war in the island paradise of Sri Lanka, the scars of which will take generations to heal, was largely attributable to the intransigence of the Buddhist clergy to the legitimate demands of Lankan Tamils.
On behalf of god, religion retorts that anti-theists like Stalin and Mao have far more blood on their hands than any church. Moreover, say the advocates of religion, the modern plague of AIDS and the universal cataclysm of climate change are the karmic retribution of the deification of science and technology.
The god/anti-god controversy is largely foreign to Indian thought, which, traditionally, has been equally comfortable with 330 million deities and none at all. The loftiest conjecture in Hindu philosophy is an expression of ultimate scepticism: “How was the world made, and how will it end? Only the gods know. Or perhaps even they know not.”
When his disciples gathered around the dying Buddha and asked for his final words of wisdom, he replied by turning down his empty rice bowl. The empty bowl was full of nothing. Or no-thing. Humans, ants, the cosmos are all no-things, not separate entities, but a seamless continuation of consciousness. This is a view dangerously close to the farthest frontiers of scientific speculation and experimentation.
The god/anti-god problem is the result of inexact terminology. What the anti-godists are against is not god, but a church which claims to represent god. All the ‘sins’ of god – from crusades to the burning of unbelievers – are really the sins of the organised church. This is the argument of Philip Pullman’s allegory, The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ. Jesus was a mystic who preached that heaven was within us; heaven was self-realisation. Christ, his twin, was the arch manipulator who betrayed Jesus in order to found an all-powerful and all-exploiting church.
The anti-godist’s true enemy is not god but the church,any church. Churches are established on the basis of congregational worship. To the extent that Hinduism has never been a congregational belief system, it has largely been free of church dogma, despite the efforts of the Sangh parivar who seek to semitise and politicise Hinduism and turn it into Hindutva.
In its highest form, what might be called Indic thought teaches that ultimately there is no difference between science and spirituality: they are parallel paths to the same goal of enlightenment. Or as a scientist might put it,a scientist is nothing but a means by which atoms seek to explain themselves to themselves.
The cosmos and the questing mind are not two, but inseparably one, together forming a narrative, without beginning or end, which has no goal or purpose other than its narration. Theist and anti-theist, god and anti-god, are no-thing but the ghost of words in this wordless and never-ending story.