ByÂ Thomson Chakramakkil:
It would be a grave mistake to leave that sentence dangling up there, because being agnostic, in this age, has come to mean many things.
To begin with, Agnosticism has become a mainstream fashion label, a cleverly crafted badge for the internet secularists apathetic about God and religion. The word is scribbled across cyberspace like impotent graffiti, reduced into one of those big, meaningless words liberally thrown about by geeky cool cats.Â I’m not an agnostic because it’s chic to be one. I wasn’t slapped into being one by my hipster-peers who listen to the sermons of Richard Dawkins, or any of those keyboard-emancipators indulging in their enlightenment and upward-mobility.
Not so long ago, as a devoted and severe Christian, I successfully warded off the identity crisis generated by my beliefs, in the secular, liberal spiritual-wasteland, otherwise known by the name of a university. As a matter of fact, I don’t think my agnostic inclination requires me to be hermetically sealed from the cultural ambience I grew up in. I love closing my eyes in the tranquillity of a cathedral, singing along with Tim Hughes while driving, or reading the gospels on a Sunday afternoon. I believe that the rich ceremonial side of Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, is abundantly fascinating. Then again, like other nice things, there is more to religion than cakes and carols, and most of it, as you may have observed, grows on a mountain of ignorance.
I haven’t planned on going up that mountain and weeding out ignorance. I’m scarcely interested in shooting holes in people’s beliefs or convincing someone on the internet that religion is a didactic social-construct. More often than not, this juvenile typing exercise proves to be a way of pissing away valuable time, ending in a slanging match where offended people shower abuses and verbiage at each other.
Religions aren’t all that complex. You don’t need to be a neuro-theologian to figure out how they work. What we secularists have missed, all the same, is such a basic understanding of religion. For starters, religions aren’t just a bunch of beliefs. In spite of starting from a very basic premise, they are powerful social establishments. For better or worse, they teach people how to see the world around them. They lay down social and moral codes and dictate the way people think. They build communities and cultures. They condemn and comfort. They destroy and create. And, at the end of the day, they juggernaut on, regardless of the flacks and boos. The bottomline is distinct- they work, and it’s time we admitted that. What I’m interested in, however, is to be clear and honest about why I reject them.
From the very beginning, the cut-throat doctrine that came along with religion went against my grain. Some of it, I later understood, had some social function or the other. But, the rest of it was blatantly ridiculous. In my case, as a kid, I was never allowed to read any of the Harry Potter books that smiled down at me from my friends’ bookshelves. Apparently, it involved wizards, magic and all kinds of things that were generically “satanic”. The same logic was mercilessly applied to blacklist a whole array of fun stuff, starting from movies, TV shows and all the rest of it. This sort of crass censorship on many such wonderful things, things which defined the very bounds of my imagination, never fitted into my idea of getting closer to God. Nevertheless, I didn’t bother taking any revolutionary road to claim my freedom or breaking free from the shackles of raw conservatism. I simply wasn’t ready to take that chance. I’d had my share of “hell vs. heaven” sermons, and, with all my “born-again” heart, I knew I’d be in deep trouble if I were to end up in the eternal inferno. All the more, there was hope. Regardless of how vehemently counter-intuitive it was, I could blissfully eat the “forbidden fruit(s)” all week long and repent my “sin(s)” on the subsequent Sunday.
Here’s the logic for all who missed the sermon; as long as you feel guilty about what you did, and then confess it to your personal saviour, what you did is okay.
Soon, the whole Sunday gimmick turned into a very convenient but boring tradition. I grew heartily sick of this formality and wanted to get to the bottom of it. I had already started grilling my beliefs. At first, I resorted to denial. I read a bit of Kierkegaard to get my head around “blind faith”. I prayed with all my heart and fought off doubts with all my might. As a final, frantic attempt, I hid behind the smokescreen of “revealed truth” and retreated into an inaccessible intellectual space where I could subsist on a regular dose of ad hoc reasoning and empty rhetoric. But, even after orchestrating these illusions to keep my fear-induced squeamishness intact, I couldn’t circumnavigate my intellect or be anywhere in the proximity of being convinced. In the course of over a decade, I hadn’t had a miracle, healing or any distant spiritual experience to serve as a ground for my faith. None of the arguments I had reserved, out of my sheer cognitive dissonance, held water in front of my own scepticism. To top it all, as someone who was clinging on to the last feeble root of blind faith available, just to avert the (perhaps inevitable) fate of falling into the cavernous abyss of atheism, it was terribly dampening to be woken up at 7’o clock in the morning, every Saturday, demanding my participation in the mass cultural phenomenon known as the ‘weekend prayer meeting’. When it was obtrusively clear that I was stuck in a groove and none of my band-aid solutions were working out, I made up my mind about quitting this absurd cycle and started thinking more seriously about the actual plausibility of “someone up there” judging me 24/7.
For one thing, there wasn’t much evidence to prove that he was there in the first place, apart from the regular load of rubbish you find in the 9th grade Sunday-school textbook. But, this wasn’t enough to push me to conclude that there was no God.
I remembered walking into the Bio-Chemistry lab in the University at which my father taught, when I was 7 or 8, and discovering this intriguing piece of contraption known as a centrifuge. Though I didn’t quite get the point of this machine, I was thoroughly fascinated by it. You could pour water into the test-tubes mounted onto this thing, make the same test tubes go around in circles parallel to the floor, and still discover that not a single drop has been spilled out of the test-tubes. The absence of any known logic in this entire process was absolutely incredible. Of course, my father later told me about sedimentation principle, centripetal acceleration and the other laws of physics. But, as far as I was concerned, the way this machine worked was against all conventions of logic. After all that I could figure out with my 1300g brain, this is how it had to be broken down- “Well, there’s some principle to explain that.”
This is all I mean to say; I’m pretty much struck by the same wonder when I think of God. Maybe, and all intellectual property rights here go to Pagans, God is another one of those principles. Natural and incredible, just like the vastness of the universe or the intricateness of human anatomy. And maybe, if discovered, we can explain this force just as scientifically as we explained the sedimentation principle.
I know men and women who strive in the hope for ‘the kingdom of God’ on a day-to-day basis. You may call them delusional or naÃ¯ve. And maybe, they are.
But, regardless of your educated opinion, they are well aware of how the rational world ridicules them. They know they can’t quibble or make a convincing case for what they believe in. They hold close to their hearts what they put their faith in, despite being repeatedly silenced by the so-called rationalists. When I see their commitment and dedication to spreading “the word of God”, I know there’s more to it than mere indoctrination or cognitive dissonance. When I try to fathom their perseverance at doing what they do, I know there’s something about spirituality that has worked for them and not for me. And I don’t want to disrespect that out of my intellectual arrogance or sense of superiority. I have neither the authority, nor the rational grounds to label their faith. My failure at understanding their God doesn’t disprove their God’s existence. Even after a colossal extent of research on this topic, there is no way by which I can be sure of the absence of God.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating ignorance. I’m selling doubt. If I’m certain about something, it’s how little I know.