ON RATIONALISM, PERCEPTIONS AND MISCONCEPTIONS

This article was inspired (for want of a better word) by a spurious email that I received a few days ago from a suspect source. The email seemed to be a part of an argumentative chain discussing the demerits of eating beef amongst Hindus. This email, written in an equally suspect variety of the English language, made this rather unabashed statement The reasons for NOT EATING BEEF are SPIRITUAL rather than socio–economic. Did you know for every hair of the cow’s body so many times you will have to be born if you kill and eat a cow?”

Please read the content again if you are numb with shock or you are desperately trying to grasp the depth of philosophy hidden somewhere within the grammatical errors.

There are many edicts of life that I have given up trying to understand. Unlike my younger days, I have simply stopped caring. However, from time to time, statements like the one in the above email underlines my basic abhorrence of such presumptions and statements, that tend to paint social structures with a broad meaningless brush.

The first question that came to mind was “Do cows have hair?” Apparently they do. A dependable source told me that “hair is the accepted notation for the protein strand created by a follicle and unique to mammals. Fur is a dense covering of hair such that practically all skin is covered.” Now – with that doubt being out of the way, I now want to comment on the rest of the statement.

I do not have any issues with people being faithful to a religion and the consequent directives of that religion. I accept a Hindu not eating beef, a Muslim running away from pork or a Roman Catholic fainting at the mention of abortion. It is the prerogative of individuals to accept initiations of life as they please. After all, we live in a free world. However, I take exception when personal beliefs are thrust down my throat with sly connotations about the inexplicable and apparently dire consequences that I would face if I refuse to digest what has been rammed down.

Decades ago, I decided to walk the path of a rationalist and an agnostic. I have never despised those who choose to avoid these paths. It is my personal decision to accept the supremacy of reason and to follow a path of philosophy and ethics that is independent of arbitrary assumptions and authority. One of the corollaries is the refusal to accept religious dogmas before searching for alternative solutions based on reason.

A true example is the badly written email that I quoted at the start. At times, I have also been warned by some, that eating beef is one of the bigger sins that a Hindu would commit. In fact, religious upper classes among Hindus would declare this to be a definitive walk towards the burning gates of hell.

To start with, I would hasten to seek an answer to a very simple question: Would the error prone, beef eating Hindu be joined at the gates of Hell by the parish Catholic priest who had a beef steak the night before he died or would he be accompanied by the Muslim imam who had beef curry the day before? An affirmative answer to the question will imply that all religions other than Hinduism are blasphemous. A negative reply on the other hand will contradict the very essence of the question. This line of reasoning is  (I hope) is a corollary of common sense. But then, common sense is rather uncommon in my experience.

If, however, someone tells me that abstinence from eating meats (cows, goats, pigs, camels and other species) is based on humane reasons, I would accept it without any questions. That, to me, would be a personal choice and a lifestyle option. That answer would definitely not suggest that there is this bearded, scary, all-powerful and watchful individual sitting out in the clouds with a whip in the hand – ready to deliver severe punishment based on decrees that were laid out before the first human walked upright.

My personal God died quite young. It happened when I realized the impotency of the situation and when I refused to be inducted into religious doctrines that some sometimes border on being vengeful and malicious. And this preposterous attitude is, I suspect, a result of refusing to really comprehending what the real world is all about; best summed by Richard Dawkins when he wrote “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.

Rationalism cannot be taught – it has to be realized. One hopes that someday rationalists might win this battle; a battle that goes beyond religion and Gods and actually treads upon the morality of human beings. If (and when) that happens, hopefully there will be more charitable donations towards the eradication of poverty, fatal diseases, climate changes. One can then hope that the limitless wealth from the coffers of temples, churches, mosques and synagogues will flow to the real world and stem the real problems of this world. We must realize that we live in a dangerous world; in a society fraught with violence and devoid of empathy – much of it originating from meaningless religious doctrines.

I refrain from having arguments with others about this issue, simply because it often destroys friendship and wreaks havoc on my faith in humanity. There is also another reason – one that is best summed up by Mark Twain – “Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”

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