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Some Ramblings - Religulous
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

God orders the patriarch Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, as an offering to Him and as measure to prove Abraham's commitment. Unflinching and unquestioning, Abraham taken his son to the top of a mountain, and before he brings down the sword on his son, a little angel appears and all ends well. This story from the Old Testament is quoted in the context of the resolve of the pious. A similar anecdote could be found in the Hindu mythology in the story of Siriyala, who offers himself up to quell the hunger of his house-guest (Lord Siva, in disguise). In both the stories, the case is made more for sacrifice and devotion. Their intentions are hailed as noble and their motivations, divine. A few years ago, a lady in Texas drowned her 3 infant kids in the bath tub and argued in the court that God had asked her to sacrifice her kids to prove her devotion to Him. Obviously, the court didn't buy the argument and instead committed her to a mental asylum on the grounds of post-partum depression. So the question arises, where does one draw a line between devotion and delusion? Why were the stories in religious texts accepted on the face value (and not denounced or excised from the texts) and why was reason brought into the court of law to condemn the lady's acts as that of a mad person's? Why was one a pious person of the highest order and the other, a certified nut? A few months after George Bush took over the office, he announced in a public gathering to a legion of Christian Evangelicals, that his faith was going to guide his foreign policy. That was quite a chilling statement coming from the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, casting all the disastrous decisions he made in matters relating to Middle East as ones made by a religious zealot in the pre-historic times instead of responsible leader heading the Free World in the age of reason. Which brings to the fore the questions - can personal faith ever be questioned, can reason be allowed to set religion on the right path, and importantly, has religion been beneficial or detrimental to the human cause, ever since man found faith?

"Religulous" (a combination of religion and ridiculous) offers a funny insight into the serious issue of faith, and its cloak, the religion. Coming from the stables of the caustic comic, Bill Maher, the documentary format of the feature tries to get under the skin of faith and religion, and what they mean to people (from a commoner to a Senator), and how they reconcile with the illogical parts of the religious texts in the current social context. And the results vary from hilarious to ridiculous. To start with, the issue was never about faith, or the lack of it. As long as one's beliefs didn't interfere with his neighbor's, it didn't matter if the person believed in a virgin giving birth, or a clay idol drinking milk out of a plate, or a piece of bread that bore the likeness of Jesus Christ. And only when faith started to come out in the open and started expressing itself in public fora, guiding public policies that affected a majority (even the ones who haven't subscribed to that school of thought), did it open up the Pandora's box, subjecting itself to scrutiny and ridicule, and the unwitting others to unwarranted duress. Many a voice of reason has been sacrificed at the altar of religion and there seems to be no signs of ebbing the religious tide any time soon, however much science fiction depicts future as a seat of reason, logic and deduction alone. So much for wishful thinking! When men occupying the highest seats of power mandate that religious texts (the stories, the messages, the morals etc) be taken literally, it becomes difficult to determine the direction of human progress - forward or backward.

No matter how one sees it, at its most basic level, faith is representation of hope and religion remains the expression of faith (without touching the subject of spirituality, which is completely different from faith). Legends, myths, stories and fables were created to support faith, and rules, principles, traditions and customs were put in place to regulate/channel the efforts of religion into finding faith. So far so good. One can believe that God created the world, Eve was created from Adam's rib and Earth is only 6000 years old. Absolutely no problem with that. But when the same people start forcing their beliefs on the rest of the society, like forcing schools to teach creationism along side evolution to impressionable kids, forcing the hand of the government to cut funding to scientific research that run against their belief system (stem cell research, sex education etc), or worse, believe that it is a service to God to spread democracy all over, even if it calls for waging wars, then reason has a right and responsibility to step in and denounce the very foundation of that delusion, and prevent humanity from spiraling down towards its own demise. When what was once considered (or brushed away) as a harmless indulgence, faith, starts questioning the roots of reality, the time is ripe to shake humanity from the spell of blind belief by casting the light of reason on it. And the most potent weapon at disposal - doubt.

Doubt is a pre-requisite to realization, doubt is catalyst to change, doubt is instrumental for instigating and inspiring a discussion, a debate. When proponents of faith cite lack of concrete evidence to side with science (grossly ignoring the glaring irony in that position), it is prudent of the Reasonists to start questioning the flimsiness of the premise that religion built to support faith. And a logical way to do it is to juxtapose all the illogical positions guiding all the religions, and expose faith for what it truly is - just a silly concept invented to keep oneself happy. Chemically, if the health hazards could be set aside for a second, the same effect/result could be produced by the ingestion of large amounts of chocolate. If blind beliefs were cooked up to fill in the gaps of knowledge in age old times, back when man hadn't yet stumbled upon science, it is high time to bid farewell to these concepts that have overstayed their welcome and started to rule over and subjugate man, instead of the other way around. Faith, for all the good it had done to the humankind, in terms of teaching humility, charity and nobility, seems to have done (and is continuing to do) even more harm, in terms of separating and segregating people, pitting one belief against another, and pulling back the humanity from progressing faster and evolving further. The benefit that humanity derives from hope/faith seems to pale in comparison to the devastating effect that religion has unleashed on the same. It could be argued that, if it is not faith/religion, humans would always find some other reason (caste, creed, sect, sub-sect, gender, class and many such) to tread on the path of self-destruction. If that be the case, and that destruction of humanity is an inevitability, it is better to have a stronger reason to be wiped out (like, getting swallowed up by a black hole created by the Large Hadron Collider like machine) than perish for a ridiculous reason like religion.

More Ramblings on films
The Dark Knight
Wall - E
The incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones and the kingdom of crystal skull
Speed Racer
Iron Man
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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