I read for knowledge, and to enhance my understanding of the world around me, and to figure out the thinkings/actions of human beings! Yes, many times you will think I am a Sheldon Cooper or a Sherlock Holmes (immodest much? 😛 ) I always wonder why people behave, think, or act the way they do. Take politics and religion as two examples – a lot of people are quite self-righteous about their beliefs and find their way of thinking to be so obvious and cannot imagine why someone else doesn’t see their way. It happens on both sides of the political spectrum, and for all religions. “How can that person not see it?!” is a common phrase. Through my years of reading on neuroscience, psychology, history, literature, and religious scriptures…it has been quite fun to figure out why we behave/believe the way we do. And it has also led me to be more open-minded and question the things I might feel are self-evident. I feel that to understand something, you have to read everything about it and around it. You cannot limit yourself to only a certain field, or books in that field. Its like…one must study all the leaves to get a complete idea of the tree…not just a few leaves or a branch of the tree. To get an idea of the world, of existence, of humanity…one cannot limit their knowledge to only a few things. Therefore, I read and read and read.
Everyone knows about my stance on issues like child abuse, women’s rights, homosexuality, science, place of religion in the public square etc. And the Catholic church deserved getting bashed for the child sexual abuse. But I also get angry when it is only the Catholic church/Christianity that keeps getting bashed for things that are not unique to them. After a while, constantly picking on an institution that doesn’t respond back in violence is cowardice. There are at least 76 nations that have same or worse laws than Russia about homosexuality. There is a huge chunk of the planet that sees women as subservient to men. Take an anonymous survey about sexual abuse and you will find how prevalent it is in the world and how easily it is hidden under the carpet in closed communities/societies. So just picking on one side because it is politically incorrect to pick on others is not cool. Adam and Eve have no meaning for half the planet. But the fundamentalists of the other half that take it literally are not all Christians. Picking on someone because it is easy to pick on them is not bravery.
If it is part of the natural world, it must follow the laws of nature. If it does not follow the laws of nature, it is not part of the natural world. And if it is not part of the natural world, then no sentient being of the natural world can understand or quantify something that is beyond the laws of nature. The cruelest irony of our existence is that the answers we have sought for millennia will always be beyond us. Either we have to change our idea of the answers we seek, or the laws of nature will have to break, or we will stay forever in ignorance of that we search the most.
For an artist, a painting, a photograph, or a sculpture is a work of art, of imagination, of talent, and of passion. For an artist of visual arts, the joy is in making the work aesthetically pleasing. For an artist of literary art, the joy is in making the work intellectually pleasing. An artist doesn’t understand why a subject can be forbidden or why a piece of imagination can be offensive. For many non-artists, many things are offensive, or sacred, or forbidden to be depicted by artists. Well, it is the artists, not the non-artists, who leave behind work that are seared in our brains.
Opening your mind can be a scary proposition. Everything we have come to know or believe can come crashing down around us. Things we were told in childhood might turn out to be fairy tales and fantasies. Losing the innocence of childhood is the scariest part of opening up our minds. If the things we believed for so long could be fiction or lies, then how can we trust anything else? How can we know that what we see or hear now is true? The black and white of right and wrong, morals and sins, Truth and Lies, beliefs and myths, all fade into an infinite shades of grey. The dichotomy of black and white gives people a sense of control and meaning over their existence. Such was my case too. Till around the ages of 18-22, life for me was pretty straight forward. I knew what I should do and shouldn’t do, what I should eat, what I should drink, what I should believe. I was taught right and wrong that shouldn’t be questioned. I questioned the abstract, but never questioned the path set by my parents and society. I might have asked questions, but I wasn’t prepared to take a divergent path from what was set for my culture/society/religion. In short, I was the “good, obedient child”. Just like children don’t question the existence of Santa or the mythologies of various religions, I followed what was taught.
But a funny thing happens when you live in the United States, and in a diverse city like New York. You meet people from every corner of the planet with all the different cultures, beliefs, and thinkings that one can imagine. When you meet these people who are different than you but as good a human being as any you know, you do start to doubt and question your thinking. Why can they eat beef but I cannot? If eating beef was a sin, shouldn’t that sin be universal? Is this amazing human being committing a sin for the simple act of eating a cow when I don’t commit any sin for eating a goat? If my religion is the True one, is my best friend a sinner for not believing in it? Is there a Creator who will condemn a human being for the act of belief, not actions? How could a Creator punish a person who has served his/her fellow human beings for an entire life, for the sole purpose of having a different belief or no belief? Then such a Creator seems more like a narcissistic, egomaniacal, insecure dictator than a benevolent Creator. If what I knew about eating and believing is false, what else isn’t true? It was a scary thought. Seeing my entire reality crumble around me was a scary and torturous phase for a few years.
But something else happens when you start opening your mind. The world starts appearing more beautiful, more inviting, less stressful. One gets to appreciate the beauty of diversity. Instead of living a life full of fear and paranoia if you are committing a sin or a wrong, you start to experience everything the world has to offer with a free mind. Nothing is forbidden because it is different or from the “others”. You get to appreciate different thinking, different cultures, and different cuisines. You start to understand the existence of different beliefs in different geographical places. When you open your mind, nationality, race, ethnicity, caste and gender ceases to exist and you see a fellow human being for who he/she is – a fellow human being. You bond over your shared humanity rather than you shared tribal roots. When your identity becomes a homo sapien, you no longer have a rival or an enemy based on religion or nationality or ethnicity. The world no longer exists in black and white, but the infinite shades of grey are less terrifying than falling afoul of the morality of black and white. Opening of the mind is a continuous journey where everyday is a learning experience, where every possibility becomes possible. Maybe the answers aren’t as straight forward as we thought, but the journey of life becomes a search for answers from every corner of the Earth, not just my own. Opening of the mind allows us to experience the beauty of life in all its glory, without obsessing about the next life and neglecting the one we are living. For a non-believer, opening of the mind unleashes the full potential of existence. For a believer, opening of the mind allows a person to experience the magnificence of a Creation that is meant for everyone, not just a select few. Starting on this journey might be a scary prospect, but the journey of life through an open mind is an exquisite spectacle to behold, with mysteries and surprises on every corner. It is a beautiful life, a life worth cherishing.
Scholarship is studying the entire tree, not a single leaf. Because if you are studying a rotten leaf, you’ll be a “scholar” of rotten. And studying functioning leaves isn’t going to give a complete picture of the tree either. My point – I am irritated by the liberal use of the word “scholar” just because someone has spent X amount of time on Y subject. I can spend a lifetime studying palmistry and still be “scholar” of rotten (in a quatum universe where everything is X probability, there is no such thing as magic or foretelling).
fear…the most primal of emotions. it is an even bigger instinct than love. fear of the unknown in the bushes helped us survive predators. so everyone has fears, whether they show it or not. cowardice is giving in to fear and saying I can’t do anything about it. courage is facing your fear, acknowledging you are afraid, and working to fight it and overcome it, but not giving in to it. face the fear that comes in your path and walk over it. once you do, you will never ever be afraid of that particular thing, because then the unknown became the known and you survived it. fear…the primal emotion of the unknown.
what if more people stopped living for the next world or stopped being obsessed about the next world and actually appreciated this world, actually lived for this world…
let’s say this world is all there is. if there is a next world, it is an added and amazing bonus. but if we assume this world is all there is, maybe we will be more appreciative of each other, more loving, more caring, more tolerant, and more open. maybe we wont accept injustice and fight for justice in this world. maybe we will become intolerant to intolerance. instead of using the next world as an excuse for utopia, we will try to make this world into an utopia. so why not live for this world? why be obsessed with the next world and forget about the world we are living in?
Religious freedom is the freedom to practice a personal belief. No one should be forced to do anything that goes against their desire/wishes/beliefs. But religious freedom does not mean imposing one’s beliefs on others. Neither does it mean practicing something that negatively affects others. For example, if someone is against gay marriage, they should be not forced to get “gay-married”. If someone is against contraception, they should not be forced to use contraception. But that does not mean that those people have the right to impose their beliefs on society. Because that might go against the beliefs of others.
Slavery and racial inequality was justified under the pretext of religion. But our society has gone past that. It was once acceptable for a private business to discriminate against minorities because of their beliefs. But their beliefs went against human equality and the Civil Rights Act ended discrimination in places that served the general public. Today, religion is again used to discriminate against the LGBT community. No one is forcing a religious person to become gay, neither is anyone forcing a religious leader to perform a gay marriage.
Yet discrimination still exists. Catholic hospitals have the right to deny contraception. If someone is against contraception, it doesn’t give them the right to deny it others. Catholic hospitals do not choose their patients based on religion. They are a public sphere and they serve the general public. They do not have the right to impose their beliefs on their patients. If it is okay for a church, a temple, or a mosque to deny someone contraception, would it be okay for me to deny a Christian, a Hindu, or a Muslim food if I own a restaurant, or medicine if I own a pharmacy? It would be not. I would be charged with religious discrimination. In the same way, it is religious discrimination and intolerance when a religious institution or an individual imposes their personal beliefs on others – whether it is racial equality, gender equality, different sexual orientation, or the right to marry the one you love. Religious freedom is the freedom to practice your beliefs in your personal life – not in the lives of your spouse, your children, your siblings, your community, your society, or your nation. Because then you transgress on the freedom of others. And that to me is religious intolerance.
Imagine a world if we removed just one sentence from our existence – “My _____ is better/True-er/Right-er/ compared to yours”. Such a simple sentence, with so much power. That blank could be anything – nationality, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, and even sports team. Imagine how much hatred, prejudice, bigotry, and violence would go down with the deletion of that one sentence. That sentence exists because we evolved as a tribal society. It was a means of distinguishing oneself from “others”. And “others” are never as good as us. It persisted because we lived apart, where someone in Arabia would not know of someone’s existence in Argentina. Or someone in Alaska would not know of Africa. Distinguishing ourselves from other tribes maintained pride and tribal unity. It was useful during conflicts over resources. I do not think it was ever right, but that is the way we have evolved. Where our culture is superior, our religion is True, our ethnicity is the best. And the glue that held those feelings together was Fear – fear of others, fear of the unknown. And every individual or institution exploited that fear to perpetuate division, and power.
One might say that it is better for us to change, but will we change? I think we will, for a very simple reason – we are not a tribal society anymore. Globalization has made travel easier. It has made learning and knowing other people easier. Today metropolises all over the world are multi-cultural and much more liberal than rural or tribal areas. The more we know and learn about others, the less we feel they are below us. Globalization has opened up the world, and it is opening up the minds. Today jingoism and nationalism is much diminished compared to history. Racism and discrimination has no place in pluralistic societies. The fastest growing population of the world is “spiritual, not religious” instead of “mine is the only True religion”. The more we learn, the less the differences make sense. It was the same thing about being left-handed, today it is being the same thing with lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community. The more we learn, the less we fear the unknown, the less we fear “others”.
Change isn’t just coming, this change is inevitable. The world, and Time itself, is progressive when looked through the arc of history. The pace of change will vary by individual societies. Those with diverse populations will change much faster than homogeneous societies. Those with freedom of thought will change much faster than autocratic or theocratic societies. Those with access to globalization will change much faster than societies that look inwards. But the winds of change always blows in the direction of progress. Time always moves forward, never backwards. Some of these societies can fight it, but they won’t stop the change.
I dream a world where an Indian won’t think they are better than a Pakistani. I dream a world where a Muslim or a Christian won’t say their’s is the only True religion. I dream a world where a white person won’t say non-whites are not as good as them. I dream where men won’t say women are a step lower than them. I dream a world where we can learn and study about each other’s past differences and see how it came into existence – and how it is no longer valid.
Is it possible? Progress isn’t impossible, it is inevitable. I dream a world where all of us are equal and where were all of us celebrate our diversity. Forces in power will fight it. Older generations will be scandalized by such “blasphemous” thinking. But it is coming. I dream a world where you can be who you are, love whom you want, and live a life the way you want…with everyone celebrating your happiness, not criticizing your “otherness”. I dream a world of absolute equality, and where our only identity is humanity.