Monday, June 25, 2018

My Journey Away From God

I recently got this whatsapp message
“Pope Francis needs our prayers. Pope Francis has suffered from illness and this is the second time he has fallen in a month. Pope  Francis has only one lungs because the other has been removed due to infections. He needs more of our prayers than ever. We ask all Catholics and non Catholics all over the world to pray for Pope Francis so that he can continue his reforms and helping the poor as the leader of humanity. 
Our goal is to reach ten  million Hail Mary for Pope. The campaign has just began. Share this message to 5 groups in order to support Pope Francis' work. Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you. You are blessed among women and Jesus the fruit of your womb is blessed. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us poor sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Don't forget to share to help us reach our goal of  10miillion Holy Mary. 
We can achieve it.”
Now, I’m almost sure that the information on the pope’s sickness is fake. Even if it is true, the below opinions remain. And also, such messages are common to all religions. Since I was brought up a Christian, I know some basics and so this message brings some logical questions to mind. For example, I have a hard time understanding the concept underlying this logic of praying to heal the pope’s lung. I can think of 3 logics behind it from a believer’s perspective,
1.    This is a fight between good and evil. God being the leader of good and the devil being the leader of evil. Now the evil army is getting stronger and thus has affected the pope’s lung. By reaching 10 million Holy Mary, the good army will reach enough strength to combat the evil army and restore his lung or heal him temporary till the next war. Point to be noted that it is somehow calculated that the evil is currently leading the good by approximately 10 million holy Mary.

2.  God has forgotten about the pope’s lung. Since God is in control of everything that is happening in this world, the pope’s sickness can perhaps be attributed to his slip in attention and therefore the people will pray to remind God. Perhaps 10 million holy Mary is the decibel level that is audible to God in heaven.

3.   God needs convincing. So somedays back, God was doing his usual thing and suddenly felt like he wanted some praise or prayers. He thought, “what better way than giving the pope a bad lung.” Or rather God does not decide what has to happen but takes decision based on feedback from people at every step. A good leadership skill none the less.
I was not always this way. I used to believe in God and Jesus even without the miracles. I believed that the miracle of birth that happens every day around us is enough proof of God. Though I believed in God, my belief in religion was mostly shaky. Because religion had rules, some of them without logic and I have interacted with people of different religions and refused to believe that people of any specific religion were superior or deserved more than the others. And when I thought over it, the whole idea of God that I believed in was actually painted by the religion that I follow. So one cannot believe in God without a religion, but religions would make you think that God created religion. There are clear but flimsy efforts to this effect.
Before I go any further I would like to make some disclaimers,
1.    I believe that following any religion or following none, is a matter of personal choice and one should believe what he/she wants to believe and whatever belief gives him/her comfort, happiness, confidence etc.

2.   My opinions and beliefs are a result of many environmental factors like my education, books I have read, people I’ve listened to or admired, movies I’ve seen, what I think is cool and as many people would judge, “How my parents failed to bring me up in good faith”. 

3.    I found the transformation from being a Christian to a non-religious person (I’m not saying atheist because maybe atheism is not so simple and I need to understand it before I can say that I’m an Atheist) very difficult and would not want anyone to go through that unless they are unhappy with their religion. So I’m not trying to convince anyone here.

4.   I was religious and now I do not believe. So there is a chance that in a few years I may change back or change to something that is trending at the time.
What I really mean to say is that if you find any of this disturbing or uncomfortable, please stop reading. 
I can’t really say that it was a single incident or day that changed this belief of mine. It has been happening over the last 4-5 months and some of the components of the transformation have happened long time before and has gained a new perspective today. A few years back, when my wife Jaisy was in Australia and before we had kids, My friend Nikhil visited me and we spent a considerable time discussing religion and he was against it while I supported it. Today, many of his points seem very true and I even think that discussion may have played a minor role in my switching teams. At the same time, I’m not even sure if the transformation is complete. My mom knows that I do not believe in God so that is a big hurdle that I crossed. I’m still a member of my church. Maybe when I remove myself, I would consider it complete. 
But I could say that one incident actually triggered this transformation. We have some distant relatives who are priests or nuns and one day, a nun from Jaisy’s relation, who was posted to our church, visited us. Initially she said and I believed that she came just to meet us. Then she started saying things to encourage us to pray more and stuff, which I was also fine with. Actually I was sort of ok with the whole encounter. Bored a bit but ok. It was actually after she left and as I thought about the things she said that something really clicked. I kept coming back to the different things she had said and felt that each one was a tactic to get me more attached to religion. And for each one of them I developed a reaction, cumulation of which is my journey away from God.
She said: She started by saying that we as a family have to pray more because I have daughters and there is a lot of love jihad happening and there are so many rapes happening. So in order to protect my kids, I need to pray more.
My Reaction: This I feel is an indirect threat. Religions use this fear tactic to avoid people from going away from religion. Can anyone else come to your home and tell you that if you do not do an activity they say, your children (who were not older than 2 years mind you) would be raped? The fear is so inbuilt that as I was transforming, there would be automatic thoughts in my mind that, “What if I’m wrong and God is watching me? What would be my punishment?”. I later told myself that not all humans are Christians, and that I’ll live with whatever punishment will be meted out to Hindus, Muslims and non-believers.
She said: Then she recounted her personal experience where she believes that because of their family’s habit of praying every day at a fixed time, it saved her father’s life. She said that he met with the accident on the highway and fell on the road around 8 P.M., their prayer time, and as long as they were praying, no vehicles came that way which would have run over him. Before the prayer was over, someone found him and saved him before the vehicles came. She strongly believed that their prayers saved her father.
My reaction: Why did God not save him from the accident in the first place? There was a similar skit in church some months back, where there is drunkard father, praying mother and a son who cannot walk because of an accident. The mother prays every day for her son to walk but to no avail, then one day the drunk father thrashes the son and Mary appears and cures the son and also scolds the father. While they said that the moral is to never stop praying, I feel the story’s hero is the drunk father who finally managed to bring God to his house.
She said: She explained how Hindus and Muslims are very strict about their religious practices. She was admiring how the Muslims fast and was saying that we too need to be strict about the rules of our Christian sub category which is not to be mingled with other sub categories.
My reaction: While her first assault I was not prepared for, and the second one was personal to her, I did not react to her directly at the time. But by the third round I was starting to get involved and express my thoughts. I asked her why do we have to compare to other religions. All religions are unique and they all have their positives and negatives. Tomorrow would you say that like Muslim terrorists, we also need to be willing to die and kill in the name of God? It seems that later when she was talking to my mom, she asked to stay away from Muslims, that her inner spirit thinks that a Muslim guy is trying to hurt our family. My mom said that when we started business in Chennai in a rented building, it was the Muslim house owner that became best friends, almost like family and stood with us through many troubles that we faced at the time. I know the Muslim owner and his family and I can say that they loved and cared for us more than we did for them. When I asked her the importance of sub categories when we all say that we are Christians, she said it has something to do with miscommunication among communities a long time ago, which I felt is even more absurd.
She said: We used to pray at home in Malayalam, since I do not know to read Malayalam, I never used to read the bible during family prayer. There was a time that me and Jaisy would ensure that we prayed every day, if not with parents, then alone and then, I would read the bible. The nun said that while reading bible I have to read it aloud in front of an audience.
My reaction: I argued what is the difference between a person who reads the bible in his mind, in a low voice, in a high voice and someone who listens to someone else reading it. For some reason she asked me to find a specific verse and read it. It said that, “In the beginning there was the word of God”. She explained that this book in my hand, its contents, were there even before the creation of the world. A smile escaped my mouth as I thought, “I could write that on any book or any piece of paper, would it make that piece of paper as good as the bible?” She saw me and gauged that I was not convinced. Now it was time for the secret weapon.
God’s magical army: I was not prepared for this last phase. She held my hands and said we shall pray. I prayed, trying to repeat her words and suddenly she was like, “Do you sleep well at night?”. I said I sleep fine. But I’m thinking, “Did I enter some clinic? Why is she worried about my sleep?”. Then we do the thing again and she suddenly stops to ask if I’ve ever fallen off a bicycle. I honestly didn’t recollect any such incident and said so. So we went to round 3 and 4 and so on. Most of my responses were in the negative and I was really trying to give her something to be satisfied with. She said she is getting a vision of me as a small kid standing near the altar at church in front of a candle or a bunch of candles. I said I do not recollect any such cinematic scene in my life, all though I used to stand in the first 2-3 lines as a kid and even as a teenager. She felt that was close enough and stopped the session. I left to office and then she proceeded with a similar session with my mom and dad. She didn’t get time with Jaisy though. My mom later said that the nun said to her that her son was someone who thinks a lot.
The magic really put me off that time. I have always hated these so called religious miracles and have never understood why people were so crazy about it. Because we have 2 very young children, she must have thought we sleep less. But Agatha used to sleep through the night at the time and Hridaya too. And the rare times that any of them woke up, Jaisy was the go to person. I’m known in my family circles for my deep sleep. Once I volunteered to stay as attendant to a cousin who was admitted at the hospital. Let’s just say that no one has ever asked me to stay the night after that.
About the cycle accident, I think everyone has a couple in their lifetime if they have learnt to ride a bike. But I honestly didn’t remember any. Now I do recollect that I had a couple of bike accidents and one of them was a near miss and I could have died. If she had asked if I have had a bike accident, she would have hit jackpot, but she didn’t. Maybe because she didn’t see any bike at my home.
Though I was very affected by her words soon after the encounter and was disturbed for some days, I later felt and still feel a little pity for her. Maybe she truly believes that God saved her dad and that may have been the trigger for her journey towards God and sisterhood. She is even more bound to religion and all its ties than me. It is impossible for her to choose not to believe. That set me thinking about the religion itself. Its origins and the different types of people that are involved in it.
Around that time and after it, I was reading a book, “The better angels of our nature”. It’s a big book and was actually recommended by Bill Gates to university students. It is a great book and I have been recommending it to almost everyone. In that book, the author, Steven Pinker, talks about how humans have become so much less violent over the centuries and religion had played an important role, both in promoting and reducing violence. While it reduced violence within the religious community, there was increased violence among communities to prove religious superiority. Religion can also be credited for teaching basic moral values to the society before there were governments and law enforcement agencies. Even in today’s context, religion is very handy in teaching your kids what is right and wrong and few other altruistic values. But this is the same for all religions of the world, not just Christians, and if you really think about it, you could devise a way to teach these values without being religious. Why do we need such a way? Because we have evolved as a society where religion is causing more bad than good. If the violence has to reduce further as per the trend, we have to stop fighting for religion, for which we have to stop believing. The Greek gods have been reduced to Marvel and DC comic characters over time. I also personally believe that humans will evolve to a non-religious population because that is a better future.
Do not have any doubt in your mind. If you belong to a religion, you are contributing towards the fight to religious superiority in many ways. I remember on my wedding and almost all the Christian weddings that I have seen, the priest at some point would advise the newlyweds to have as many kids as possible. I was told before my marriage by a priest that as per our laws (laws of our sub category), any marriage where the couple have previously agreed not to have kids, is considered null and void. This concept of more kids = more power to the religion is not limited to any specific religion. Nor are any of the concepts that I’m writing about. My experience is in this religion and I’m too lazy to research into other religions to provide a balanced article.
The money in form of donations given to any church does not go into just maintaining that single church. Each church is part of a sub category of Christianity which has a head office church. It is in no way less complicated or less structured than an MNC. Some of the money goes into maintaining that specific church. Some of it goes “mission activities” where modern day Christian missionaries go into the lowest strata of society and help them with basic needs and preach the word of God, in other words get more conversions to increase the power of religion. Some of the funds are used to build churches for the above said converted people. Some of the funds are used to build businesses like schools and colleges and hospitals. Some of the funds are used to acquire assets. I’m sure all this was instructed somewhere in the bible (sarcasm). The believers go one step further and build bigger and more beautiful churches as a symbol of how much they love God more than the other Christians.
All these activities are interpretations of the bible and what people understand from it. By participating in Mission activities, people believe they are doing what Jesus had instructed his apostles to do. Some of them believe the concept that if you know the path to salvation, it is your duty to share this information with as many people as possible. They honestly think that they are doing a favor to the people by helping them convert to Christianity. I can understand such people, but the system is not made of only such people. There are people in the system that have a clear agenda and use these brainwashed individuals for these purposes. 
Just after the nun’s visit, mom went to a prayer retreat along with my sister in law. I picked them up on their return and on the way they were explaining their experience. I did not share my opinion because by that time I had realized that faith was not a debatable topic to them and many find it offensive when someone tries to argue that there is a chance that something they have been believing all their life could be false. Some years back during an MBA class, the professor posed a mathematical problem to the class. The problem was unique, such that there were 2 possible solutions to the problem. So the class was split on the answer. He asked a few students to come up and debate for their answer and debate they did, heating up occasionally. His point was that though both answers were correct, we are so attached to one of them because we have physically and mentally worked on it. This also makes us aggressive towards anything on the contrary.

My Mom experienced the prophecy thing again and this time she said their deductions were highly improbable to be by chance. There was something else that my sister in law said that had triggered another chain of thought. She said that the priest explained how even looking at someone with sexual intention was like committing adultery. Further he said that when a women wears something like a legging, she gives men the chance to stare and commit adultery by thought. The women have given the men the opportunity to violate them. This is where I feel that religion has played another important role in shaping the society we live in. Religion has perhaps contributed majorly towards the gender inequality or the notion that the female gender is the property of the male, made from his bone, for him.
All major characters in the bible and all the religious scriptures are men, because they are all written by men. And still, it is the women who are more religious and god fearing than men. The western world as they move away from religion witness more equality than the other countries. Which supports my thought that humans have to leave behind religion in the path of evolution.
If you think about it logically, religions and superstitions are based on such flimsy concepts. Even non-religious people believe in Karma. Rightly so because we are brought up to believe that if we do something wrong, we will be punished, if not immediately, eventually. While it is a good way to teach kids to be good, as we grow up and mature and see the world around us, we should understand that there is no such thing as karma. People do bad stuff and get away with it all the time. Bad things, when they happen, do not differentiate between good and bad people. There is no disease in the world that spreads only to bad people. Say karma existed, it would be so damn complicated. Image the amount of data that would be running through the system. As mature human beings that respect each other, helping each other and not hurting anyone is a natural way of living. You don’t need a reward and punishment system to reinforce that behavior in fully developed humans.
If we come to the basics, Christians believe that God created man in his form. But man actually created gods in his form to reinforce his superiority over other animals. To imagine that this super power that created this whole universe including this solar system with its sun and planets and moons, would actually look anything like us is just plain funny. The worst part is that they have given this God all human emotions of anger, love and narcissism. This God that they have created monitors each human being and records their activities for judgement. He also forgives people if they pray really hard or confess or make up with some good activities. He also like praise for everything he has done. People singing songs for him and calling him names like savior, king etc. really get him in a good mood apparently.
In the pursuit to give humans a purpose in life, they made a god with no purpose of himself, Obviously God is a male. What is the purpose for God? Why did he go through all this trouble in the first place?
I can’t say I have ever been a good Christian. I have attended most of the Sunday masses in my life thus far although I was late to almost all of them. I’ve never taken lent and all other stuff seriously. I do not know which book belongs to which testament and in what order. I do not even know the hierarchy of the different sub groups of Christianity. Some people ask me if I’m a Roman Catholic or a protestant. Initially I would say I’m catholic because my sub group also has the term catholic in it although preceded by another term. But as I grew up, I would admit that I do not know. I have asked and clarified this with my mom a couple of times and she had explained it to me but I tend to forget it again by the time another person asks me. 
I tell very often to my friends that after having 2 kids, I can understand why some couples choose not to have kids or to postpone them. Not that I regret having kids. I understand there are advantages and disadvantages to having or not having kids and that these advantages and disadvantages are subjective and carry different weightages to different people. Similarly, I can understand people who like going to a church every Sunday where they are well known and even appreciated for something. They have a status and respect there in the community. Myself with very less social skills would naturally turn away from such a place. I understand people who derive hope and happiness from prayers. I can empathize with people who turn to god for their problems and seem to find answers or help. 

The fact that I cannot get out of this easily troubles me the most. Jaisy says that she agrees with most of my points but cannot come out of it because we have kids. They need religion to have a good name in the society. And when the time comes to get married, they would get a good alliance or would not be rejected on the grounds of being non-religious. But she also said that she will not force our kids to follow any religion beyond a certain age. We as adults have reached that age but are unable to change even though our parents could not object to it. My point is that religious freedom does not mean walking up to your 18 year old son/daughter and asking them to choose their religion. By that time there are many societal pressures for them to remain in the faith. Real Religious freedom is bringing up children with information of all religions possible and then asking them to choose. And if a child is brought up this way in today’s world and sees the religions from an external point of view, I think he/she will choose none.