This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

Old, Not Gold

Today I had kind of an unusual visitor at the clinic.

Yes, he was a sadhu, a "holy man" of Hinduism.

He looked more or less like the clown in the photo on the left, although he had rather more beads around his neck and a curly black beard. He waltzed in while I was between specimens, I mean patients, rattling a small stick on the usual metal pot with a handle these characters carry around.

I knew what he was there for, of course - money . All the things he could do with just a little money...

So right off, before he even opened his mouth, I told him, in Hindi, "No, I'm not going to donate anything."

He came right round the side of my desk. "Touch my beads," he said, rattling them at me. They were large and really crude, streaked with dirt. "Touch my beads and every problem of yours will be instantly cured."
"I can see you if you want treatment," I said, "otherwise don't waste your time and mine."

He wasn't fazed for an instant. "You're the doctor?" he said (not asked, said. Of course I was the doctor. What else?) "Doctors are all right, but god is greater than doctors". The word "god" was in English.

"I don't believe in god."

"All right, you don't believe in god, but you believe in religion, right? Religion is the supreme thing." Again, "religion" was in well-pronounced English.

"I don't," I said with as much patience as I could muster, "believe in religion."

"What do you believe in then?"

"Nothing. I believe in nothing." I picked up my Journal of the Indian Dental Association and opened it.

"Oh so that's how it've been brainwashed by your studies, you believe only in science." ("Science " in English, naturally.)  He stood there for a while but I kept my eyes firmly fixed on my magazine. In the end, reluctantly, he left.

Back when I worked for the Ramakrishna  Mission Polyclinic I remember one of these creatures getting a tooth filled by me and trying to pay me with a blessing...

Religion, I submit, is the first refuge of the scoundrel.

One of the more annoying comments I’ve come across, coming from theists, goes something like this: “Oh, you’re an atheist now, but just wait till you’re old. Then you’re going to be praying for your spiritual health.”
I’ve never been able to get this: just what makes these people think that there’s some kind of default setting in us that make religion kick in as we grow older?
I know young people who are as theistic as old people and I know old atheists as I know young ones. And while I have never seen an atheist convert to theism with age, I have seen the obverse, even within my own family.
Since, personally speaking, I have never believed that we lose our intelligence and rational thinking ability as we age, and since I believe atheism is a product of rational thinking above all else, I can’t possibly think of any way in which someone who’s genuinely an atheist can – to coin a word – theistify him/herself as he or she grows old.
Now, as we grow older, all of us get knocks from life – the loss of friends and relatives, the fading of dreams, the shedding of illusions. Of course, if one’s weak minded enough and isn’t really convinced of the non-existence of some supreme deity, one can imagine one’s being punished at one’s unbelief and revert to worship of that supreme deity. However, if there’s any rational thinking at all in one’s head, one need only to look at the theists one knows and see if they’re better off in their lives. Taken as a body, they won’t be.
In case there’s any theist around with a gambling streak, I’m willing to lay a bet that in fifty years, if I should live that long, I shall be as unconvinced of the existence of a god as I am now.
What odds are you willing to offer?

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