NT: Nature of Religion

I had written at length about my views on religion here.

Last few months I spent studying (superficially) Christianity. Rather than relying on the actual texts I preferred to read commentary on those texts. Based on those texts I referred to online biblical sources. From what I understood from those efforts, I realized that the way Christianity is practiced in Goa, is many times different from what is really expected out of a pious Christian. Whatever may be the reasons.

An interesting letter was published in Navhind Times, the Author was Mr. Bosco Vaz.

JESUS Christ came into this world to do away with false beliefs and paganisms. Even during the time of Moses, Jewish culture was full of paganism and hence the need for God’s Commandments. The Mapusa Church encourages pouring of oil on statues. Can someone explain this with reference to the text on the Bible? I am a Roman Catholic and so have right to know whether we are serving the true God or indulging in several gods.

Another two letters was published subsequently endorsing the view expressed by Mr. Vaz

I FULLY endorse the views expressed by Mr Bosco Vaz in his letter ‘Paganism in the Church’ (NT, April 20). Idolatry and pagan practices, such as the pouring of oil over the statue of Mother Mary have been flourishing in the Catholic Church as well as in the hundreds of Marian shrines in India and abroad.

The Church may not agree with this, but such practices do not find legitimacy in our scriptures and are also explicitly forbidden by God in the Old Testament. This is precisely why several Christian sects are convinced that Mother Mary of the Catholic Church is different from the Mary of the Bible. While there may not be truth in this, such a view assumes greater significance and credibility, particularly during the Milagres Feast celebrated in Mapusa every year, where according to popular legend, Our Lady of Miracles (Milagres Saibinn) is none other than the transformed Mirabai, one of the seven sisters worshipped by both Hindus and Catholics alike.

I was expecting that someone especially a non-Christian would get surprised as this and will reply. That was my theory and one Mrs. Angle proved it also. She wrote:

THIS is in reference to the letters written by Mr A F Nazareth and Mr Sebastian D’Souza on ‘Pagan practices in the Church’ (NT, April 21). The zatra of Goddess Lairai and the Milagres Feast of Mapusa fall on the same day–as both are supposed to be sisters.

Both communities exchange oil, flowers and other gifts on this day. What a fine example of communal harmony. In these troubled times this is something to be welcomed and celebrated. But Mr Nazareth’s letter implies that all other religions other than Christianity are pagan religions and as far as Mr D’Sousa’s letter goes, he makes us believe that his God has human like qualities like jealousy, when God is supposed to be above all this.

If one would recall the speeches given by our secular leaders they are precisely saying what this lady is trying to say. The only difference is that the leaders make it sound so obvious. The reality however is explained in the previous three letters, what Mrs. Angle is saying is her ignorance and wishful thinking. A careful thought would reveal how dangerous this ignorance can be for her and others who live in that ignorance.

I was waiting only have a final say summarizing what all 4 letters tried to show and contrast them against the reality that is often portrayed by our leaders and media. In doing so I had to be careful that Navhind Times will publish it as well.

MS Aruna Pai Angle’s views (NT, April 23) resonate with mine. All monotheist religions decry poly-atheism, paganism and animism. Since these religions (monotheist) are dogmatic rather than evolutionary, followers tread in the path laid down by its founder.In that sense a christian must give up the paganism practices if he or she wants to profess himself/herself as Christian. As Ms Angle points out; any common thread that exists due to strong traditions and influence of ancestral beliefs helps build communal harmony. However this is only a politically convenient argument, because in practice monotheist religions try their best to break this common thread.That is the command they have got from their God or Prophet and it’s their sacred duty to fulfill it. In Christian theology God has made man in his own image and hence God is indeed like a man. Also, God himself proclaims that he is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5).

In contrast to well-organised religions, native religions and belief systems which come under the broader term of Hinduism are hardly dogmatic. Traditions and beliefs in such religions are subject to evolution and change. They give full freedom to their worshipers to chose their path of worship.Vedic and Upanishadic writings indicate how thee systems evolved from rituals to symbolism and from symbolism to contemplations. Conflicts are short-lived and society adjusts itself to the changes very soon. A century back, eating meat was a blasphemy for Brahmins; today most can’t live without it. Alcohol consumption has become a norm under the pretext of social pressure.On the contrary, Islam’s stand on pork and alcohol remains the same. The Church’s stand on abortions and homosexuality is fixed.

Fault lines of communal disharmony often lie in one group’s insistence to force their wishes on others. This can be within a community itself. The Semitic religions were born from the same source but they varied very much in their core ideology and continue to fight within themselves. On the contrary a structureless religion like Hinduism continues to sustain itself despite the radically different schools of thought that continue to exist within it.

It will be very interesting to see how different religions continue to address the issues of faith over the next few decades. I feel they will undergo changes to the extent that they will not be identifiable with their current form.

The italic text is the one which was present originally in my mail but the editor probably removed it from going to print.

Readers are expected to draw their own conclusions. I will be very happy to host any discussion here, including a theological one.

My opinion on Liberhan Report : Print Media

I have read a lot of literature on Ayodhya issue and followed it very closely right from year 2001. The first article I wrote on this topic is still with my father. It gave me insights into our history and more importantly History writing in India. I was not aware that history writing in India is so much biased and polluted by Marxists historians of doubtful credentials.

What is true about our history writing is also true about our Judiciary system. The governments from time to time have tried to milk this system for their own benefit. Liberhan who took 17 years to compile this report seems to have fallen prey to the same trap, but one point I fail to understand is why did he take such a long time for that?

Government reports especially the inquiry reports are expected to be based of evidence and logic rather than personal opinion and prejudice. Unfortunately like in software industry there is no way of expressing gathered facts in a formal way. Any ways after quickly running through important sections of the Justice Liberhan Report on Ayodhya issue I feel that the report is similar to a shoddy seminar report written by an inexperience student.

Even before I could point out to several flaws in it, eminent people have already declared this report a dud. My personal opinion about the whole issue is a lot different from the big mouth media and the general political class. But I reproduce here my letter that was published in NT-07-12-2009.

Justice Liberhan’s report of Ayodhya issue has several fundamental flaws. As per article 8b(Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952) any person whose reputation might get harmed due to the report needs to be sent a notice. We see Atal Bihari Vajpeyi being called a “pseudo-moderate” but no notice was served to him. Liberhan has blamed these leaders under the pure assumption of “they should have known”. He claims that the actual destruction was carried out by a small group of Karsevaks specially trained for that purpose but also admits that he doesn’t know their identity. How is it possible to comment about the character of those whom you dont know? Liberhan maintains that Karsevak’s could not be identified but claims that they were from Hindi speaking belt but the leaders made to feel that they were actually from south India and hence did not understand Hindi.
While he had full doubts on the motives of Kalyan Singh’s government that time, he claim’s that the Central government was fooled by the undertakings submitted by Swami Chinmayananda and Vijay Raje Scindia. There is no logic here to believe that if Kalyan Singh supported Karsevaks in a proxy manner Mr. Narsimha Rao did it out of negligence. I also did not encounter any references of Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to open the locks and to start election campaign from Ayodhya.
Liberhan being a high court judge has no authority to comment on Supreme Court’s verdicts or conduct. But Justice Liberhan takes the liberty and makes use of words such as “inexplicable irresponsibility” with respect to supreme court.

In the Print 2:Our Beliefs must be Open to Change

Reproducing my letter published in today’s Navhind Times:

THIS is in response to ‘Bible and Science Compatible’ (NT, November 11). The concept of ‘the book’ in monotheist religions is based on a completely unscientific premise that there exists a God, who writes books through writers referred to as prophets, messengers or messiahs. Most of the things in these books are to be accepted as true purely because of the premise that it is the Word of God. Let us say the God indeed felt the need to give a message. Consider the second commandment ‘Thou shall not erect any graven images’. Is this really the second most important thing that the God wanted future generations of human beings to believe in? Is this as good as it gets spiritually and ethically? But more than the actual content, the subscription to the idea that a particular book is not merely a piece of literature but a product of some omnipotent power is more dangerous. All the progress, scientific as well as non-scientific is a search, where one is expected to constantly challenge previously held beliefs in the light of new facts and improve the collective understanding of humanity. The idea of a sacrosanct book is a barrier to our growth. Science may not have all the answers or it may not have any answers to some of the most profound questions about life and happiness. Spirituality might be one way. But whatever way we chose needs to be open to change, improvement, reason and experimentation. It should not be based on beliefs that are to be assumed true on the merit of some book or person.

From the Print: Theory of evolution and Religion

Here is the reproduction of my letter published in Navhind Times today.

Rational Thinking over Religious Dogma
MR Michael Vaz has made very relevant comments in his letter Science and Religion (NT, October 27) in reference to a letter by Eduardo Manuel Sequeira (NT, Oct 16). Despite the scientific progress that the human race has achieved, many people tend to believe still believe in the Word of God. So firm is the belief that they start rejecting scientifically established theories such as Darwin’s theory of evolution etc. Several noted scholar’s like Mr Sam Harris and Mr Richard Dawkins–most of them atheists–have written ample on the topic. Like any other scientific theory, even the theory of evolution can be subjected to criticism and is open to challenge, but it is not a sign of intelligence to accept dogmatic propositions against a scientific theory. Despite this, a progressive and developed nation like the United States ran into a controversy. In 1925 the Tennessee Legislature overwhelmingly approved legislation making it a crime to teach ‘any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animal’. On a personal note, I have realised through my study that the theory of evolution is visible not just among the species but in many other problems. Several algorithms like ‘genetic algorithms’ based on this concept of evolution are very useful in ‘artificial intelligence’. Even fields likes economics, linguistics etc have made use of theories of evolution and ‘survival of fittest’. In fact several studies have been published about how evolution is affecting religious beliefs as well. Slowly but steadily, the rational thinking capabilities of human beings is winning over pure faith on religious dogma. If we go by ‘survival of the fittest’, religious dogma seems to be the lease fittest of all.

Regulating Higher Education In Goa?

In today’s Navhind Times, Dr. Nandkumar Kamar, a noted and genuine scholar from Goa argues the “need” to “regulate” the higher education space. I think the whole argument of regulating education is completely misplaced.

A DOCTORATE in any subject for Rs 2 lakhs, an MPhil in languages, natural or social sciences for Rs 1 lakh, any post-graduate degree for little less than Rs 50,000

Why would someone buy a Doctorate for Rs. 2 lakh instead of spending 4 years? The incentives are simple, you get a degree in so little time. Certainly thats illegal but people buy it because it works. The reason such fake degree manufacturers exist and flourish has two very important factors behind it.

Firstly, the acute shortage of educational resource. Our universities are abysmally equiped to meet demands and aspiration of our students. 4 lakh students appear for IIT-JEE, 8000 get through. The remaining 392000 students are not suckers. Most of them do deserve something equivalent to IITs but they dont get into it. They then try to opt for other opportunities, including buying out a degree.

Secondly, it works! The people who pass out from an institutes like Goa Engineering college, are not really in practice smarter than someone who has done a good course from NIIT or SEED. Both of them are considered as equivalent in Industry. In fact I can show examples where people with absolutely not engineering background have fared far better in real world than those who have degrees. Clearly, the fake degree is useless and doest make any value addition to individual, but then neither does the real degree.

Before blaming the mushrooms of educational institution promising quick and sure degree, we must question if an institution like Goa University is any better. Instead, Goa University is run by public funds. It is a complete farce. It is just a government authorized degree sale center where degrees are cheap but one has to only spend time in there. That is why people prefer to buy degrees instead of earning them.

Though Dr. Kamat argues that Goa needs more laws and regulations in Education field in order to prevent these malpractices, the solution he suggest doesnt go well with me.

The trade of selling degrees is booming because the government has not shown any practical interest to amend and arm the Goa University Act, 1984 suitably to bar competing profit-making private interests in higher education.

What scares me is that several intellectuals seem to be opposed to the idea of institutes making profit by providing education as a service. The taboo word being “profit”. I believe that India’s education policy is not only harmful for growth of private educational institutes but the degree with which government has controlled and regulated education and higher education is just scandalous.

Government has failed completely in building system of education which will give wise man to society. While it is hiding its failure by painting glossy fake pictures of India, it has prevented other people in building any alternate system. They have restricted access to the most vital resource of the country as well as an individual. No wonder the individuals find work around to get it.

The sorry state of higher education in India can be understood from Atanu’s posts.

Of the ten percent who do get post-secondary education in India’s around 300 universities (comprising of 17,000 colleges), their results are disheartening. India produces around two and a half million college graduates, including 400 thousand engineers annually. But the quality is so poor that only a quarter of them are actually unemployable. Stark statistics reveal the oversupply of raw graduates and the under supply of unemployable graduates. Infosys, an IT giant, last year sorted through 1.3 million applicants only to find around two percent were qualified for jobs, according to a recent report in The New Yorker.

The remaining 98% one must remember are mostly passed out from reputed institutions across the country with good marks spending 3-4 years of graduation. But what they have learned in those 4 years is as equivalent to getting a fake degree by paying 2 lakhs.

If we take Goa’s case, where industrialization is not a common phenomenon, if you want a better future you need to get out of this place. If you need a government job one has to show proof that he has so and so degree and pay a bribe to minister. Minister takes care of everything else. What you have learned, your competence in the subject hardly matters. Obviously buying a degree is much easier and better than earning it.

I think Goa has good potential to become an education hub for the country. Certainly laws can be passed and committees can be set up. But it should be to free education from Government control and make it more open and accessible. Once you allow private colleges to compete freely with government one’s, the only differentiating aspect will be the usefulness of degree awarded. The attempts to improve this usefulness will lead to improved quality of education.

What applies to India generally applies to Goa, but I feel Goa can always take up pioneering work because it is a small state. Atanu Dey’s Policy brief on the topic is an eye opener and I wonder why our policy makers cant accept it.

Education forms a very important feature and pre-requisite for economic and social development. A more and better educated society is likely to prosper and be peaceful than others. For this excellence should be the goal of system. A governmental setup can not struggle for excellence, it needs to happen by letting the entrepreneurs of our country invest in education. Let the Tatas , Ambanis start universities, also let the educational start-ups come up with sufficient funds. Government should act only as a facilitator and not a controller.

Who can put this in better words if not Mr. Arun Shourie?

he first thing to do is to stop counter-positioning primary, universal education against higher education. We need both. We can afford both. Second, we must see both — the threat as well as the opportunity: the threat that we may lose our best minds at an even faster rate than the rate at which we have been losing them in the past decades; on the other side, the opportunity that we can be educators to the world.Third, to ward off the threat and to tap into the opportunity, we require the same sort of measures. To arrest and reverse the alarming deterioration of standards in most of our institutions of higher learning. To ensure that in regard to both – students as well as faculty – merit, performance here and now, alone counts. To ensure that rewards are strictly commensurate with performance.

And resources. A large proportion of these will have to come from the government – for instance, private entrepreneurs just do not have the long horizons that basic research requires. Equally, government alone will just not have enough resources for this sector. Thus, one service that finance ministers can do is to give the most generous incentives and tax-breaks for industry to invest in education and in R&D. For every trifling misuse, a Manipal will come up.
And the resources have to be defrayed not just on equipment – that is what is done ever so often: and by the time the underpaid, under-motivated faculty learn to exploit the equipment to its full potential, the equipment is obsolete. A good proportion of the resources have to be set apart for making salaries and allowances of faculty and researchers and their work-environment attractive enough for them to forgo careers in private industry and to choose instead to be in universities and research institutions. [Read Full at Atanu Dey’s Blog]