Middle Ground

They entered the house after their morning walk – the three of them. She had taken a detour to the kitchen to fetch herself her mandatory cup CUP of green tea, leaving them to their argument. Only, what they called intellectual debate, she carelessly labelled childish bickering. It was the same topic every time – God. One believed passionately, the other disbelieved equally passionately – and they fought for the sash of “I am right!” just as passionately – every damned time.

“Refusal of God is plain arrogance”

“Belief in God is plain ignorance”

“Your science does not, can not explain everything in the cosmos”

“That doesn’t justify blind conjectural ideas. Give science time – it is merely an infant as yet.”

“Bah..  Take centuries, millenia, your science would still not answer all questions. God is the answer.”

“Why should all questions be answered or even have an answer?”

“Hah.. look at the scientist who loves questions quickly pushing an inconvenient few under the carpet!”

“Na.. we offer a humble ‘I don’t know.. yet’. Not quote faith to kill difficult questions at birth.”

“Humankind would be miserable without faith my boy. Faith keeps man sane”

“Give me fact over faith anytime… bwoy.

“Your belief that your facts are facts is in itself mere faith dear.”

“Facts are facts until disproved – and unlike your faith, our facts are open to being disproved and/or amended. That –  is the point darrrrrrling!”

“Yayaya. . keep amending, stay confused. Your lives have no stability – no anchor”

They walked on to the terrace.

“We don’t need an anchor. We are free – free birds. Look up, look at the dawn sky. You see the green parrots? Full of energy and enthusiasm? Don’t they remind you of free children?”. Both sit down looking up at the sky.

“(nod) Screeching excitedly & hurrying as if an aunt called out that she had a basket of juicy mangoes and if they delay one moment, all the mangoes would be gone”

“(nod) A picture of unbridled glee. No fixed trajectory. We fly up, down, left, right – as we please, even aimlessly if we so wish. Our targets, our decisions, our choices, our mangoes – all are our own – very much our own. Not guided blindly or restricted by ‘words of God’ that some clever prankster in the mood for entertainment spread out centuries back.”

“Hmmm.. What about the pigeons?”

“Ah.. college students. Youth. Very much prone to peer pressure and stick loyally to their peer group, even if it means simply going around in the same trajectory pointlessly. Some of us are that – in the process of growing up.”

“Really? I’d say all of you are pigeons. (grin) Okay, most of you. Some of you have ‘grown’ up more – grouchy – see the eagles there? Flying purposefully, flaunting ‘intellectual’, ‘serious’ poise? Ready to pick at poor theist rodents for sport – just cos the rodents happen to believe in God. Rigid. Boring. Mindless fundamentalists – whose religion is science. And yeah, the green parrots are the younguns – open to both belief and science. Cheery. You pigeons & kites are the oldies.”

“Says who? The grandfather of all. The ugliest, most rigid of all. You religious are not even birds in the first place. You are the big ugly grey airplane. You fly straight lines – to pre-fixed targets, at pre-fixed timings. Is that even a way to live?”

“Even by that analogy, we serve a purpose. We serve mankind. We may not live with as much freedom as you do, but our belly is pregnant with life – many lives, others’ lives, the next generation’s cultural, moral & spiritual lives. What purpose does all your happy aimless wandering serve?”

“Uncertainty, aimlessness, instability and chaos are the very essence of life & meaning in the cosmos Bhraatr. Those are what create fun, frolic, variety, accidents, growth, art, philosophy and evolution in life. And we may appear aimless, but we choose – we decide – from our own thought process – every few miles. We seek challenge, adventure and fullness to life. The responsibility of our flights is ours and that is empowering – flying auto-pilot is NOT! Look at the bigger picture p(uh)lleaaz.”

“You want the bigger picture? I’ll show that one to you. You think you are a bird? Nay. Look there – right ahead. You are just a feather. You have no control on your life – all this freedom, free will, no rules, responsibility, own decision bullshit is mere Maya in the bigger picture.  You are just a stray feather floating in the air.. So are we. The only difference is that, you delude yourself that you fly. We know that we merely float – it is the air currents that take us wherever it does. You burdened by the “power” that you are carrying your weight somewhere. We are at peace with destiny – we are almost weightless. And finally, since we give in to God, He settles us down – the gravity pulls us to earth – safe…”

Before they heard footsteps, they heard a voice behind them “Time up. Shut up you morons. Don’t spoil my dawn with your nonsense”. Her majesty had appeared, ordered, kicked them apart and plonked herself between them.

So, today’s verbal war session ends here. To be continued the next time they meet up like this. There is no end to it – they enjoyed it, never tired of it.

Or did they? Get tired of it? May be they did – for they were using the silence to think, to introspect. When one tires of talking for the sake of talking, one thinks. Now, they were thinking.

“Am I really feeling weightlessness? Don’t I constantly worry about whether God will forget about me and let me land carelessly on muck or wet cement? Don’t I constantly pray and hope for the sudden fun pockets of air current that take me higher up – even if only for a while? Don’t I make myself miserable wondering if I am praying enough for God to make me land on the palm of a small child – who would treasure me, love me, keep me safe and comfortable? What kind of ‘happy surrender to destiny’ or ‘zen of weightlessness’ is that?”

“Am I really being an immature pigeon? Or worse, a scientific fundamentalist eagle?”

“Am I being narrow-minded and closed to the other point of view? Intolerant?”

“Am I being narrow-minded and closed to the other point of view? Intolerant?”

“Why do I keep talking about values, culture, what our religion tells us, our scriptures, our way of life, the stability they give etc when I talk about God?”

“Why do I keep harping about the superstitious beliefs, the religious terrorism, the communal hatred etc when I talk about God?”

“Am I unnecessarily mixing up God & religion?”

“Am I unnecessarily mixing up God & religion?”

“God is belief – a psychological concept, an emotional crutch. God has nothing to do with the rules and restrictions of religion.”

“Religion is a social construct. Political. A weapon for the corrupt and powerful to fight with – among themselves. To gamble for more power. God can’t possibly have anything to do with religion.”

“As long as I stick to religion to show loyalty towards God, I would continue to lose out on new thoughts, science and philosophies – intellectual growth. Stumped. I need to question, don’t I? And religion doesn’t like that – making it the first thing to be questioned. Questions lead to insights, abstractness, growth. Religion or no religion, rules or no rules, God isn’t going anywhere. My anchor will still be with me – an invisible one, one that lets me fly free as a parrot.”

“As long as I close my eyes and mind to God simply because religion happens to tag along, I would continue to lose out on old thoughts, culture and philosophies – intellectual growth. Handicapped to reinvent the wheel. I need to dig in to our treasure chest of philosophy, don’t I? The treasure chest that is Hindu mythology, for example? Plus, being open to devotion – an emotion that is merely love transcended beyond a level – can help me understand people, appreciate culture. Science doesn’t have any objections with emotions.”

By instinct, they turned to look at each other. Their eyes met. Their thoughts met – “Middle ground?”. They smiled.

And there it existed right in between them – a perfect example of middle ground. A female form – nodding head, smiling at birds, humming along with the music from downstairs – devotional music. A non-committal character who, for now, does not believe in God – not till God’s existence is proved. An arrogant character who would not pray to God even if God existed – because she has the self-confidence and ability to take care of herself and her life(!). A freako character  who is their culture guru when it comes to interesting temples, sculptures and Hindu mythology but is not a practicing hinduism herself. A relentless peacemaker during their fights who keeps yelling at them “Morons, why do you keep mixing up God & Religion. They are two. separate. concepts. Get that into your heads first – before you go all ‘intellectual’! Argue against organized religion if you wish – together. Not for or against God – for God belongs in each person’s personal space”.

She is an example of middle ground. And she made it seem easy, reachable, and worthwhile.

She is currently smiling not at the birds overhead, but at the song filling their morning from downstairs. There is Balamuralikrishna singing with passionate bhakti – “Sree rama nee namam emi ruchi ra”.   She smiles at the emotion – the bhaavam – in his singing. Of unadulterated devotion to Rama. She smiles as she remembers the video of him singing it – the smile on his lips and in his eyes as he enjoys singing to Rama. “Sree rama nee namam entha ruchi ra” – Hey Rama, just how sweet is your name! The poetry is beautiful in its simplicity; the music is beautiful in its flow; Balamurali’s singing it makes it much more beautiful – adorned with emotion, bhakti.

From today, they learn to open their eyes to the human side of bhakti and God – still standing opposite each other. They sigh. They smile.

Ayya Balamurali, nee gaanam, nee bhaavam, nee bhakti, entha ruchi ra!

P.S. : I may not respond to comments or respond very late – especially to long ones and ones for which I can’t readily think of an ‘intelligent’ reply. Pliss do excusse. I read & appreciate comments though.


10 thoughts on “Middle Ground

  1. It’s easy to agree with this, but only because you’re essentially stating the atheist opinion. I don’t know anyone who has a problem with a God in, as you say, “the personal space”. People may, offcourse, entertain whatever thoughts they damn well please in their own personal space.

    It’s whenthey demand, and get, special *public* consideration that I must protest, or when others suffer from their beliefs. When I can’t open my shop on sundays. When a child dies because blood-transfusions are denied. When simple vaccines are rejected and disease kills indiscriminately. When money itself, the primary symbol of wealth in society comes imprinted with “in God we trust”.

    I don’t care what people believe either. But I care a great deal about how they *act*.

    • Aren’t those acts a reflection of superstition? Of elements indulging in power-play? God is personal space & religion (in its most essential form) is just some organization brought into that space. What must be objected to, protested against & corrected are the former – not belief or religion.

      As long as we confuse the two sets, aren’t we only alienating a whole sect who simply become defensive and connect themselves & their belief/religion to the superstitions & power games all the more?

      I think only a clear delineation can help. It is a vicious cycle otherwise.

      • It depends who you ask. To take christianity as an example. (it’s the religion I know best since it’s predominant in western Europe)

        Protestants, believe, as you say, that God is personal, that the only thing that matters, in the end, is your personal relationship to God, more precisely, your personal faith in Jesus as saviour. All the rest, the churches, the bishops, the worship, the organizations is just meant to assist with developing your personal relationship to God. A priest, or a bishop is not “special” in God’s eyes, instead we’re all precisely equal.

        If you ask a Catholic, you get a very different answer. The supreme leader of their church, the pope, is (they claim) directly inspired by God. He is *not* merely a human being elected to lead, but the representative of God himself. Therefore when he speaks on matter of faith, he is *ALWAYS* without exception 100% infallible. They have an entire hierarchy of other beings, living and dead, who are somehow “between” ordinary human and God. Thus according to catholics, the religious organization is not “just some organization”, but instead *THE* organization of God himself, with an infallible messenger of God himself at the top.

        The way I’m thinking, atheists are generally arguing for the middle ground already.

        One extreme would be that the state mandates, and prefers one specific religion. The other extreme would be that the state *forbids* and discriminates against religious people. The “middle ground” (in my opinion) is that the state has no opinion on the matter, and neither prefers, nor discourages any particular belief or lack of belief.

        And that’s *precisely* what you see atheists arguing. For example, by printing “in God we Trust” on the official currency, the US government shows a clear preference for a certain belief, and so it’d be better if they’d stop doing that.

        Welcome back by the way. Missed you !

      • “Thus according to catholics, the religious organization is not “just some organization”, but instead *THE* organization of God himself, with an infallible messenger of God himself at the top.”
        That belief – is the effect of the power-game by religion. I’m sure there exist too many catholics who don’t give a damn of what the church wants them to believe, but practice the faith simply because they have been brought up to connect with ‘God’ through some basic rituals that the church prescribes. There is a difference between the religion that brainwashes people to swallow that belief and the simple man’s mysterious elusive emotional crutch who/which is his God – whether or not that God was given to him by that organized religion. ‘God’ never hurt – only religion did, and does.

        India is a secular state – it essentially doesn’t give a damn about what religion its people follow. But many Indians – not so. There is the fundamentalist believer who wants to protect ‘God’, and there is this fundamentalist atheist who wants to prove to all believers – fundamentalist or not – that they are fools to believe what they believes. What right does he have to do that? Asking a person to give up a faith that has been keeping him afloat for years without offering him a replacement is obnoxious.

        Am I ‘back’? I don’t know. 😉 Thanks 🙂

      • I mean to say..
        People blindly adore the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and somehow believe that they are ‘debating’ ‘brilliantly’ like them when they deal with the person next to them. Claiming that they are only helping him be showing him the ‘right path’. How different is that from a Christian priest coming to a tribal land and saying “Come, let me show you all barbarians the right path?”.
        Fight the state to drop religion from consideration. Fight the power centers of religion. Why fight the common man’s God – especially without even knowing the difference between religion & God?

  2. It’s different because the priest, the rabbi and the imam say: “here is what you should believe”, while the atheist, atleast the overwhelming majority of us, say: “you should think things through for yourself, and make up your own mind about what makes sense!”

    It’s different because the priest, the rabbi and the imam say: “we have the final, eternal, perfect answer, delivered by God himself, to question this answer is a sign of straying from the true path and as such is sinful.” while the atheist says: “we do not have final, eternal or perfect answers to any of the biggest questions in life. But here’s a few ideas. Please, feel free to question each and every one of these, we welcome critical debate.”

    It’s true that many members of religious organizations do not actually believe the things the organization preaches – I read that 88% of american catholic women use contraceptives for example, despite the fact that their church considers it a sin.

    I don’t know anyone who “blindly adhere” to Dawkins, indeed he’s been (rightfully!) heavily critiqued whenever he says things which are bullshit, or behave badly. For example Dawkins view on women is problematic, and he’s said several things which I consider completely wrongheaded on the topic of equal rights. Google “Elevatorgate” and you’ll find in excess of 30000 pages critiquing him on that single incident alone. (well, some of them support him, but my point is, it’s hardly uncritical blind adherence)

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