Statistically, being born in India means you’re likely to be a religious person, probably a Hindu. In an environment where 99 percent of the people you meet are theistic in some respect, it is highly unlikely that you will turn out any different. And yet, through extraordinary luck and chance that is one of the things that did happen to me, and for that I consider myself extremely lucky. It is understandable for a young child to believe in whatever it is told by its parents and relatives in its formative years, and this generally means young children are likely to accept the beliefs of their elders. What is sad, however, is that not only do these beliefs persist even through adulthood, they actually become stronger.
Maybe being brought up in a city like Bombay in not the best of conditions leads to skepticism as an important part of your upbringing. But even with a trusting nature, I am always surprised by how people can so effortlessly reconcile the imagined miracles of the past with their complete absence in modern life. Of course, going through my science textbooks, and performing all the experiments that I could only made me want evidence for pretty much any claim I heard. I remember arguing with a friend in fourth grade that crossing a black cat’s path meant nothing. To prove my point, I did exactly that, and of course, nothing happened. What such small incidents did is give me courage to disagree with pretty much anyone. And then there were experiments that may sound silly to a religious adult person precisely because they are unable to think rationally about it. This is not to say that religious people are not rational, since there are plenty of brilliant people in the past as well as present who have been religious, (And no, Einstein was not one of them), but merely that people are able to compartmentalize two different ways of thinking, or rather, thinking and non-thinking together.
For example, I was told was that god was all powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, and very kind and nice. I remember asking my mom if he was present in the walls – yes, in food – yes, in the sky – yes; Yes, everywhere indeed. And yet, instead of impressing me, it only made me uncomfortable going to the bathroom. Somehow, I convinced myself that he wasn’t looking. But I digress. What I did was be a good boy like my parents wanted me to be. I did nice things like go to the temple, pray, and obey the elders. And then I experimented. My thought process went like this. If god is indeed nice and kind, he wouldn’t mind me asking the question whether he existed or not. And that was my first step toward doubt. The next step was experiment. I remember very vividly closing my eyes, opening my palms, and saying, “If you do indeed exist, then just place a quarter in my palm”. But of course, no quarter materialized. And I would wonder why, if indeed god was really everything I was told he was, could he not do such a simple thing. Now if you’re thinking that’s childish, well then you’re right. I was an 11 year old child. And yet, even today I feel that those expectations are more logical than what a religious adult expects. Any adult believer’s response to that would be that such an act from the heavens would mean proof and hence lead to a lack of faith. Which brings us back to the root of the problem – faith. This word has come to have a positive connotation, when really it should be associated with naivety, which even if it sounds cute, is not really a good way to be.
I also used to wonder why all the magical things happened only in the past. Why not today? If god could show himself/herself in so obvious a manner back in the past, why not today? I did not realize it then, but this leads to an important question. If religion is true, why has faith become so much more important today than in the past? For supposedly immortal gods, time surely has no meaning. So why did the people in the times when miracles were worked not have to pass any faith tests? Because if you perform a miracle like parting an entire sea before my eyes, I would surely be willing to believe you a lot more. But then, that’s not faith any longer, because you just convinced me through evidence. And that’s what it boils down to. Faith is not a good thing. All it really is, is believing in the complete absence of evidence, reason, and logic. Why would someone ask you to have faith in them? Simply because they know that they cannot rationally convince you of what they want you to believe. A common retort to this is something like “Can you prove you love your family?”. Well, not in an absolute sense, but you can provide evidence for it. When you say you have faith in someone you love, it’s not really faith. It’s what you have come to expect from that person based on your past experiences with him/her. If you’ve had a normal upbringing, then your parents have fed you, taught you, and taken care of you. You believe them and trust them, you say you have faith in them. But this is not faith in the religious sense. You have “faith”, or rather trust in them based on all their actions in the past.
Or, Faith is 1.412, Science is 2.