Friday, April 3, 2009

Of Faith and Fate

The following arguments contain some rather contradictory and confused views of two intensely philosophical and spiritual issues. I, being something between an atheist and an agnostic, find it rather hard to hold steady to my beliefs when I ponder these issues. For I believe in Fate, or Destiny, not to the tune that every person in the world has one purpose, one reason for existence, but to the effect that the course of history as a whole is determined by Who was Where, and When. For example, in Iraq in the 1960’s, if a young firebrand named Saddam Hussein hadn’t risen to power after the Ba’ath Party coup, the Iraqi invasions into Kuwait, and the slaughter of the Iranian Kurds may never have happened, and consequently the Gulf Wars of 1990-91 and 2003 might never had taken place. History is replete with such situations, and the world as we know it today, was shaped by the hand of this particular brand of Fate.

So now I hope we are agreed on the point that Destiny is shaped by a number of variables coming together at an appointed time to give a particular result. Obviously, the outcome of an event is decided by which of these variables actually play a major role, and what exactly that role may be. This argument can be likened to the immensely popular and romanticised Chaos Theory, made famous by the hypothesis of The Butterfly Effect: “A butterfly flapping its wings in one corner of the world may cause hurricanes in another corner of the world...”. To wit, one seemingly insignificant action can set of a chain of consequences which can affect the future in unforeseeable ways. Cause and Effect, a stack of dominos in line, waiting for the gentle nudge which sends the entire elaborate set up come toppling down.

I’ll explain this with an example, the same example in fact, which got me thinking along this line. I do not know how many of you might have read a book called Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. To those who haven’t, I highly recommend it. The book is the first person account of an Australian man who escaped from prison and in his bid to escape the authorities, lands in Mumbai on a false passport. Here, the visa on his fake passport expires, and to evade the Immigration authorities, he ends up living in a slum in Colaba. Earlier in the course of the story, he mentions that his friends in Australia had gifted him a large and elaborate first-aid kit. From his young days, he had always been good at first-aid, and took a series of CPR classes which made him a rather competent paramedic (not in the professional sense, of course). On his first day in the slum, a fire breaks out, injuring many people and Roberts, having a first aid kit, volunteers to treat some of the burn victims, and this snowballs into him becoming a sort of doctor in the slums, treating small wounds, trivial ailments etc. Now let’s consider each of the following facts as one domino.

  1. Roberts is a wanted man who is driven to living in the slums of Mumbai.
  2. He happens to be in possession of a sophisticated first aid kit, and also happens to be well versed in emergency procedures.
  3. No doctor would live in a slum, and the slum dwellers cannot afford their treatment anyhow.
  4. Just a few minutes after Roberts moves into the slum, a fire breaks out, necessitating first aid for the burn victims, et voila, Roberts is at hand to provide it!

If indeed it was to be another man, with his training in first aid, what are the chances that he would’ve been forced by crime and a prison break to live in the slum? And if there was another criminal, ready to live there with the poor, what are the chances that he would have had Roberts training in first aid? Quite simply, WHAT ARE THE ODDS???

And thus does each piece fall into the puzzle, each domino fall against the other, in such a way that no other domino could have fit this cascade of chance. Fate. It rules our lives in a way we cannot possibly comprehend. Every event in our lives has probably changed our lives beyond recognition, and possibly changed the course of History itself.

So the next question is this. Who determines the course of events, actions and consequences? Is there a Superior Power who has calculated and arranged the dominos with infinite planning and care? Or is it all just a random play of chance, a roll of the celestial dice? As with many arguments, this particular one boils down to the same question which humankind has been asking of each other for Time Immemorial, with some people replying vehemently in the positive, backing up their answers with deeds of extreme faith, some others in the negative with a sceptical snort, and some choosing to remain neutral. Does God exist?

I’m sure this question has been discussed many times over and would probably be considered as beating as dead horse many times over. Yet, after all the debate, I still find a lack of a convincing answer. The fact that most views on this particular topic are extreme and highly biased ones does not help to reach any conclusion. I am sure even if one camp (i.e. the theists or the atheists) somehow manage to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that God does or does not exist, the other camp would still vehemently oppose them out of pure obstinacy. Such is the nature of prejudice. But I digress. Now, as far as my views are concerned, God is not an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, or for that matter, a conscious or sentient Super Being. God is the Force that binds the Universe, that drives the winds, that causes thunder and lightning and torrential rainfall, that spark within each of us which we call Life. In other words, God is the synonymous with miraculous Nature. The names and embodiments we give to our gods are merely physical manifestations, points of reference if you must, that allow mankind to revere and worship the awesome power of nature. The pagans and so called heathens of old had it right. The names and representations they gave to these forces of Nature was merely a form of sanctifying them, to instil in people respect for them. Religious rites and customs were functional tasks which were ways of life which were generally region-specific. Then came the politicization of religions, which further led to religious discrimination and intolerance and all that ballyhoo which has landed the world at what it is today, a crucible of a hundred religions, each claiming to be superior to the other, and fostering more hatred and drawing deeper lines of division in an already fragmented and divided world. But that discussion is for another day. Now, assuming that God and Nature are one and the same, we return to the earlier part of the discussion on Fate.

If God is not a conscious, sentient being, sitting up there in heaven, pulling the strings that are attached to everyone’s daily lives, Who or What, then, controls the complex vagaries of Fate? Is our world today a result of chance happenings here and there, a grand culmination of a million probabilities? Did billions of unrelated events cohere to dictate the course of history and guide the world to where it is today? It is an implication of stupendous proportions, one that I, for one, cannot readily digest.


Anonymous said...

You were right when you said it's like beating a dead horse many times over.I somehow find this a very heavy topic to think about.My advice to you after being in the blogosphere for almost a year: don't write anything which might even be suggestive of boring until you get a wide readership

Anirudh Ganapathy said...

i'm not trying to sell to a wide audience. i'm merely trying to voice my thoughts on a subject i've been thinking about. thats my intention on this blog. anyway, advice duly noted :)