Sunday, November 08, 2015

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

I went to the bookstore the other day to buy a hotly debated book on religion.  Oddly enough, there was no religion section for me to browse through.

"Excuse me," I said approaching the nerdy-looking woman who was working behind the counter.  "I can't seem to find any book on religion?" I ended with that questioning tone that is how we seem to talk these days?

The eager-beaver worker that she was, she offered to take me to the shelves.  Turned out that she led me straight to the classics/fiction shelves, and boy there were plenty of books on religion!

She left me in peace, while I scanned through the books.  But, there was nothing on Scientology, which is what I was looking for.

Well, back to the counter, and back to that woman.  "There is nothing on Scientology?"

"Oh, we have plenty" she said.  And took me to the section titled science fiction.

Of course, this never happened.  Who goes to the bookstore anymore--that was a dead giveaway ;)

I have merely pieced together a number of such jokes that were often sprinkled into discussions on religion through my graduate school days and during the early years of life after the doctorate.  One friend who was an anthropologist repeated his favorite over and over again  at dinner table conversations:
Question: What is the difference between a religion and a cult?
Answer: Two hundred years!
Every religion provides stories on how all these came to be, and what happens after death.  I suppose humans started conjecturing various hypotheses the moment we, unlike other animals, sensed that we die at some time and that we won't be around after that.  One minute the kid is all playful swinging from tree branch to tree branch and the next minute he falls and he is motionless.  While playfully fighting, one delivers a sucker punch and the friend does not breathe after that.  Parents died. Everybody seems to die.  Even the most primitive humans, I am sure, created stories of birth and death in order to make sense of this randomness of existence.

Along the way, many such stories have been thrown out.  Once, not too long ago, Zeus and Thor were all too powerful gods in Europe.  Could those powerful gods, too, have died?

Seasoned politicians know that they cannot and should not engage too much in the public about their religions because that will mean reminding the audience about the stories that are integral to their faith.  Seasoned politicians, that is.  The novices, on the other hand, commit the Kinsley gaffe, which is what happened to Ben Carson.  He said this about the pyramids in Egypt: "My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain."  Yes, the biblical Joseph.
Carson, a famed neurosurgeon, is no stranger to controversy. He has made a string of incendiary comments in recent years. Carson has claimed that homosexuality is a choice, evolution is an idea encouraged by the devil
As one who does not believe the religious narratives that explain everything in this cosmos to the faithful, I work with evidence and know that there is no devil behind evolution.  The pyramids of Egypt vastly pre-date the biblical Joseph.

Any religious believer needs to think twice before laughing at Carson because their respective religious stories are full of myths as well.  Hinduism, which is the religion that I was born into and later exited from, has all kinds of strange stories that the faithful believe in.  Those stories then lead to a number of religious celebrations, like Deepavali that is coming up in a couple of days.

Tyler Cowen notes about this Kinsley gaffe:
What Ben Carson has done is to commit the unpardonable sin of talking about his religion as if he actually takes it seriously.
And, hence:
But what I find strangest of all is not Ben Carson’s pyramids beliefs, but rather the notion that we should selectively pick on some religious claims rather than others.  The notion that it is fine to believe something about a deity or deities, or a divine book, as long as you do not take that said belief very seriously and treat it only as a social affiliation or an ornamental badge of honor.
Bully for Ben Carson for reminding us that a religion actually consists of beliefs about the world.
Imagine if the faithful always spoke in the public about their faiths!

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