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To believe or not? God knows

Belief in god and religion is a kind of passion which generates both noble works and evil deeds. It has produced great literature, music, art and sculpture. It has also produced intolerance, civil strife, wars, cruelty and persecution, writes Khushwant Singh.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 13:47 IST

Our ancestors made a list of five deadly sins: kaam (lust), krodh (anger), lobh (greed), moh (attachment) and ahankaar (pride). Of these, four take a deadly toll on the one who indulges in them and marginally on their family and friends. However, greed (lobh) not only diminishes the greedy in the eyes of his fellow-beings, but also deprives thousands of others of their hard-earned livings. Greed is the deadliest of the five sins.

These thoughts crossed my mind when I read news of the Satyam scandal in Andhra Pradesh, Shibu Soren’s downfall in Jharkhand, Mayawati’s birthday bashes in Uttar Pradesh and the charges of corruption levelled against Vasundhara Raje when she was chief minister of Rajasthan. I have little doubt similar cases of greed leading to corrupt practices exist in all the states of our god-forsaken land.

What makes a person who has over hundreds of crores worth of assets — eats the tastiest of food, drinks the headiest of wines, lives in a large mansion with a retinue of servants, has a fleet of limousines and gets everything he wants — want more land, real estate and more money in different banks? He should know he can’t take it with him when he dies. Perhaps he wants to provide for his sons and daughters, grand-children down many generations. He should know inherited wealth is unearned wealth and is soon frittered away in contentious litigation. He would die a happier man if he spent what he cannot use in building schools, colleges or hospitals for the poor.

I am not sure what penalties will be imposed on these people if found guilty. Our judiciary has limited options: imprisonment for a limited period or a heavy fine. It has no corrective measures. Perhaps the guilty should also be given psychiatric treatment and asked in detail why they did what they did without there being any plausible reasons for doing it; or they should be made to sit in a dark room, shut their eyes and in their own minds, go over their doings. If they themselves come to believe they have done wrong, their minds would be cleansed and this would enable them to become better citizens.

O bligh me in Blighty

It is estimated that around 40 per cent of the population of England question the existence of god and do not go to any church. The figure of doubters in the younger generation is much higher, around 60 per cent. From the little I know of Europe, I would hazard a guess that the situation is the same in the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. The rest of Europe is largely Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox. Amongst them doubters do not come out openly, but it can be presumed that attendance at churches is significantly lower than it was 20 years ago.

Now the doubters in England have come out in the open. On four of London’s bus routes, buses carry huge sign-boards reading, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Doubters appealed for funds to step up their publicity. They expected to get around £5,500. They received more than £140,000. They plan to put up hoardings on underground stations, public places and all bus routes.

My estimate of doubters in India is around 2 per cent of the population. I belong to this miniscule minority. I am not an atheist but an agnostic. I accept the possibility of god’s existence but since there is no proof of there being one who creates, preserves and destroys life, and is at the same time almighty, just and merciful, I keep an open mind.

Belief in god and religion is a kind of passion which generates both noble works and evil deeds. It has produced great literature, music, art, architecture and sculpture. It has also produced intolerance, civil strife, wars, cruelty and persecution. On the one hand it provides a crutch for those who are stricken with sadness, disease and adversity — solace denied to atheists and agnostics; on the other it creates delusions of hope and betterment for which there is no basis. Men of faith believe in miracles, which those without faith do not accept. However, you can have a good time and enjoy life whether or not you believe in god. I enjoy the good things of life — tasty food, single malt Scotch, vintage wines and the company of the fairest of the fair.

At the wrong end

Two elderly ladies met every Saturday morning in a café to chat and have coffee. One of them was hard of hearing, used a hearing aid and suffered from constipation, requiring glycerine suppositories to clear her bowels. One morning she turned up with a suppository in her ear. She could hardly hear what her friend was saying. The friend shouted: “Mary, you have a suppository in your ear.”

Mary took it out and replied: “Now I know where I put my hearing aid.”

(Contributed by Amit Tuteja, Washington D. C.)