I am not an atheist. Atheism is as uncompromising a religion as Christianity or Islam or, of late, Hinduism is. I have a strong suspicion that there is a God. Whether he lurks in all of us as micro cells with a huge amount of collective wisdom or is a unique macro organism of massive intelligence, I am yet to find out. I am just an irreligious man with a deeply (and sadly for me) religious family..
Mahatma Gandhi was right when he said all religions are different roads to the same goal. So are all brands of alcohol and psychotropic substances.
Many years ago, I knew a lanky middle-aged drunkard called Anthony. One day he landed up in my house.
“Victoria always talks about you,” he said.
Who is Victoria?
“Oh, you don’t know? Don’t tell me. She is the tall girl who goes to St. Fatima school. She is seventeen and pretty, but is in class six. Misses her examination when she has her periods, you see. So she is in class six, poor girl, but, you see, she is so pretty.”
I nodded uncomfortably, guessing what was coming. I had noticed this plump and large girl in blue-and-white school uniform walking to the convent school where my little girl was learning her alphabets. Almost always I found that girl walking alone while other girls walked in groups.
“She speaks about you all the time,” he repeated. “You should certainly meet her.”
What good would that do to her getting her periods just on the examination dates?
He ignored the sarcasm and asked me for money. Just ten rupees to a true Christian. Victoria speaks about me all the time.
“Aren’t you ashamed?,” I asked. I had seen him walking to the nearby church in an ill-fitting suit.
“Don’t you think what you are doing – taking your daughter’s name like this is sin?”
Anthony laughed uncomfortably.
“Of course it is sin,” he said, shuffling in his seat. “I take my poor daughter’s name to get money for a drink. But, you see, I am a Christian. All my sins will be washed away like this,” he snapped his bony fingers, “when I repent on the day of my death. The priest will clear me of all my sins”.
“How can you be sure?”
“It’s all in the Bible,” he said: “But Hindus like you have no hope unless you give some money to a Christian like me. I can at least pray for you.”
That was funny. I said, “Oh, Hindus like me have a simple solution. If I bathe in the Ganges, all my sins will be washed away.”
I threw Anthony out before he had time to scoff.
To accept Jesus as the Son of God, and that he died to prevent you from going to hell just so you would recognize him and repent in your death bed after all the crimes you had committed, is to be rewarded with heaven. But that will only come on the day of judgment. On that day, you will have the pleasure of washing your feet in the blood of the sinners – meaning those who didn’t recognize Jesus as the son of God and a martyr for your sake.
More recently I watched an Islamic religious meeting on television. There were the bearded and well-attired clerics on the stage, and well-dressed men among the audience. Clearly, this was an elite, educated, well-informed audience. I realized I was listening in on an open house after a sermon; the most knowledgeable of the ones on the platform were answering questions.
“Can it be said,” asked one from the audience in chaste English: “ That a man who has done only good deeds in his life, and committed no sin, but is not a Muslim will go to heaven?”
‘You can save your money in a pot for years,” came the answer in just as chaste English:. “You’d get back nothing but the money you put away. What you put into a bank, you will get back with compounded interest. Trusting your good deeds to Allah is like putting money into a bank. If you trust in Allah and are a true Muslim, each of your good deeds will be counted as ten, and each of your sins counted as one.”
That was an interest rate of 900 per cent. It was no use shouting into a television. Otherwise I would have told the learned cleric that banking for interest was a sin in Islam. Allah would be breaking his own rules if he paid interest – whatever the percentage. Unfortunately, televisions have no ears nor microphones.
Perhaps that occurred to another cleric. “Is there a greater sin than praying to thousand gods and not praying to Allah? Isn’t finding partners for Allah the greatest of all sins?” he interpolated.
If someone in the crowd disagreed, or had doubts about it, he didn’t air it. It is perfectly known: All non-believers, irrespective of their deeds, will walk a thin thread that leads to heaven and fall down by the way side where hell fire blazes eternally. They would be made to drink boiling water and – close your nostrils and be ready to puke – the fluid that oozes from festered wounds. ( I am just quoting from the Holy Book). Believers will walk a broad bridge and be defended by the Prophet. Believe, and you are saved. You kill a thousand innocents, mutilate infants and children, stone women who had been raped, and rape women if their bodies are not covered, you will be rewarded.
Rewards for stoning such women and killing the non-believers? A Hadith (Ibn Kathir) says : “‘The smallest reward [each] for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are 80,000 servants and 72 wives, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from [Damascus] to [Yemen].’”
Hindus have a dozen ways of avoiding hell and going to heaven. Heaven is eternal sleep at the feet of Lord Vishnu, who is in near-eternal snooze in the middle of an ocean. Hell is being reborn as dogs, rodents (but not cows) , invalids, beggars and low-castes. The worst punishment one can get – even the god of death once got it – is to be born in a Shudra (lowest of Aryan castes; others, now honourably known as Dalits, are supposed to be even lower) woman’s womb. Good deeds might take you to a higher level in the animal kingdom or to a higher caste. What about the higher castes who sin? Simple. Bathe in the Ganges, never mind the dead carcass or even human body floating by. (These days bodies don’t float, only their charred bones do. The holy ones are interred in a packing case and lowered into the bosom of Mother Ganges to remain there and rot slowly). The lower castes can hope for some redemption – even the quick ending of solar eclipse – by giving away alms and food-for-money for Brahmins and cows. Cows, though they are human’s mothers, can’t count money – so the Brahmin priests do that service for them.
What if you were a Jew and sinned? First thing, you need to be born a Jew, you can’t be converted into one. Not any more. Going by the Old Bible, which is pretty close to Torah, God hates all those who were not Jews, and particularly the Pharaoh (who gave refuge to Jews but made them work too hard later) and, of Course, Hitler (though his name in not mentioned in the Biblical prophesies). In the Old Bible, which simply describes the Jewish version of God’s ways and life and death of Jews, nothing much happens after death. Kane killed Abel; the latter simply died without a trace. So did Moses, Abraham, David, even Joseph, the step father of Jesus. However, There are several biblical references to a place called Sheol (cf. Numbers 30, 33). It is described as a region “dark and deep,” “the Pit,” and “the Land of Forgetfulness,” where human beings -good or bad – descend after death. The suggestion is that in the netherworld of Sheol, the deceased, although cut off from God and humankind, live on in some shadowy state of existence. As per the Old Testament and the Torah, it didn’t matter whether you did good deeds or bad, which is why God didn’t want Adam or Eve to eat the fruit of knowledge.
According to another modernized version, when a Jew dies, he is shown two videos : One of what he had done in is life, and one describing what he could have done when down there. If the two videos match, you are led to a divine concert. If you had been a good Jew, you get the front row without paying for the tickets like the VIPs of India. Depending on the level of your good deeds, and if those deeds were not of the highest caliber, you go to the back rows. The concert is eternal, and the hell for those waiting outside are eternal too. Can you imagine opera singers howling into your ears for eternity while you are squirming in the front seat? After a couple of hours, you’d wish you were in hell. Every human carries God’s breath as his soul, so the soul is eternal, but some breaths –albeit originally from God – stink and stay out in the cold for eternity, but spared of God’s eternal opera.
So what is the good deed? Be friendly with the European Christians who persecuted you through centuries and ultimately killed your six millions. Don’t mention Henry Ford of the United States who published a tabloid, week after week, denouncing your race and actually said to have inspired the deadly antagonism of Nazis towards Jews. Take it out on the Palestinians who did no wrong against you (though their Prophet was not particularly fond of your ancestors) , but were thrown out of their homes. Kill and maim their babies when someone takes a potshot at you. God won’t forgive you if you don’t take (at least ) an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If you take a hundred lives for one, that would be fine with God. God’s Concert is waiting for you.
You blame fundamentalism in each religion for the evils that are happening. But tell me, how can you shun the fundamentals of a religion and still say you believe in it? True believers in any religion have to believe in its fundamentals. If you are a true Christian and believe in the words of Jesus Christ, you should not marry a divorced woman, for she is a whore. (Jesus never said a divorce man is a gigolo, so that is fine). He did not want witches to be let to live. Christians of Europe faithfully followed this command till the eighteenth century; if you did not like a woman, you called her a witch and burnt her on the stakes. To those who did not accept his preachers, he promised a fate worse than that befell Sodom and Gomorrah. Fundamentalists are the beloved of God. When Western Countries reached a certain degree of true civilization, they ceased to be religious; fewer people go to Church. Unfortunately, most Islamic nations refused to give up the practices and punishments described in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy rather than the “if you forgive, Allah is merciful” caveat provided by their Prophet. Today if a Mullah or a terrorist (what is the difference?) desires a woman and she refuses to give in, she could be called an adulteress and stoned to death.
Bible (Old and New) are the words of God; so it can’t be wrong. Run a crusade for three centuries Throw atom bombs on a couple of Japanese towns. Burn cities down to dust. If you are a Catholic, kill protestants and if you are a protestant, kill Catholics. Preach and be saved.
Quran is the words of God, so it can’t be wrong either. So kill every non-believer if you do not have a contract with him. If you have, wait till the contract is finished, and then chase him and slay him.
Gita is the words of God, compiled in beautify verses, so how can it be wrong? Killing is no sin because it is helping someone change his worn-out clothes. That you get to grab his property in the process is a bonus. Ask any one in Delhi who killed his Sikh neighbour and got his colour TV, fridge and gas cylinder. Delhi tried it in the first week of November 1984 and came away with gas cylinders, refrigeratoers, televisions, VCRs and microwave ovens. That the police confiscated some of them was for mere show. Helping three thousand Sikhs change their clothes was no bad deed; so hardly anyone was punished by law. Hindus are vegetarians and even if they are not, they don’t eat the mother cow. whom they worship when they (the cows) wander foraging for food in the busy streets of towns and cities. So Hindus can’t be cruel like Muslims and Christians who eat beef. In Gandhi’s Gujarat, in 2002, they helped a couple of thousand discard their worn Muslim clothes. In both places, when you made people discard their bodies like old clothes, the respective parties who did the cleaning act won with thumping majority. A victory for democracy. The smaller versions of Lord Krishna who led you in the battle became ministers and minister-makers. Hindus are a peaceful people; they never attacked another country; they close their prayers chanting Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu : May the whole world be happy.
ISS put a young man in a cage and burnt him alive. The young man was a fighter pilot who had flown in to wage war with them. The act was brutal, bizarre and inhuman. My Indian fellow citizen, don’t cluck-cluck about the heinous crime. In our own Country, a Christian priest and his sons were burnt alive when they were sleeping inside their van. Their crime? Trying to give the lower castes Hindus an upper hand. Granted, during their waking hours they might have been trying to convert the poor low-caste souls to their faith. With no particular respect to Christianity as a religion, I would still have 30 million well-fed Christians among us than as many starving low caste Hindus. Most Hindus wouldn’t accept that view, of course, although they swear by the constitution that grants everyone the right to propagate their faith. Haven’t you heard what Arjuna told Lord Krishna when he got some time to breathe in between listening to the Lord’s endless self-praise? Arjuna said: “if non-righteousness prevails, the four-caste system would crumple and that would be disastrous”. The Lord nodded his concurrence.
I heard somebody say this on a television programme : “Not all religious persons are extremists, but all extremists are religious persons”. Bal Thakeray was a religious person (“Emperor of Hindu hearts”) although he occasionally pronounced that he didn’t believe in God. God believed in him. Although he had publicly stated that the man who assassinated the Father of the Nation had done the right thing, his funeral was celebrated as if he was a National hero. Politicians and celebrities of all faiths and ideologues stood in a line to pay tributes to the man who was little more than a popular goon. Amitabh Bachhan, the well-known actor of Hindi films, said he was overwhelmed when he read the word “Swargiya” (Heaven-resident) against the name of Thackeray. I would be overwhelmed too. I wouldn’t want to be in that heaven.
God also believed in Pope Benedict, who once guarded prison cells that locked up and possibly exterminated German Jews. When he was quietly eased out of the exalted throne of the Papacy, everybody knew something was behind it, but no one dared ask what. If you see a connection between his assumed name of Benedict XVI with that of Pope Benedict VIII, Click this link. You realize that God does play pranks.
God believes in the Shankaracharya who is a peaceful saint, who benignly made his own manager discard his body like so much worn clothes, just as Lord Krishna suggested. Shankarachary has not been hanged, and never will he be. He is a saint.
Postscript : Some time after this blog was first published, the holy Hindu man Shankaracharya was acquitted by the Court. The worry whether his God will acquit him probably will continue to haunt him.