Monday, February 19, 2007

The moralist

One of the interesting points of view, or theories - fairly explicable, in Dawkin's The God Delusion is how morality, more than anything else, could be seen as a function of time. Of course, a more interesting study dedicated to understanding morality across geographies, cultures & other factors can be found in Moral Minds. However, it was interesting for me to note how what we currently view as morally impermissible acts were, in the time they were mainstream, not really examined from a moral perspective & were just viewed as social or political instruments.

A good case in point is hunting. Hunting has its roots in survival. It was important as a means of survival - both as the source of food & the ability to kill a predator. Later, this was an exercise in pleasure, a hobby or a pastime. At the time, I'm sure, nobody examined seriously the moral implications of killing another animal for fun. Later still, we discovered ecological reasons for maintaining the fauna & giving it a chance to survive & flourish - this again, was not a moral choice but more of long-term commitment to the well-being of the planet in general. Then we had laws against the wanton killing of endangered species.

Usha's post about animals for amusement is one example of seeing things hitherto unseen from a moral perspective. A circus traditionally is wonderful, it is entertaining & fills us with awe, or makes us laugh or aims to attend some such end. If dogs can be trained to sniff drugs, elephants should be able to kick a football - & the questions of morality alone had not crossed my mind. At the same time, the methods & the general condition of animals are important though I did not see monstrosity alone whenever I went to a circus.

The questions that Usha raises are legitimate, however. But my point is not about what she asks. My point is ultimately about looking at issues from a moral perspective where historically it has been absent.

I think that it is important to understand this evolution of morality & appreciate its context. The term "barbaric" is sometimes used very loosely in our histories. Imagine that tag being applied to us if the world turns completely vegetarian in the year 2050.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The atheist

My reading phase has entered some kind of pattern. Over the last one year, I've read at least 3 books on atheism. Well, that's not really true. We can say that these books, while only some of them are blatantly atheistic, primarily suggest, at the very least, a total lack of any conceivable reason or cause behind a continuation of belief in religions.

But my own transition towards a public denial of a supernatural God did not need these books. When I was in my early-twenties, I used to say I was an agnostic, without so much of a clue as to what that was supposed to mean, meaning that I do not care what you believe in as long as what you believe is something you don't want my participation in. So you could be a Hindu, Muslim or Christian, but what I really wanted to know was if you could be relied on for a smoke & a tea.

At the time, 9/11 was still fresh, the London bombings had not happened, & while there was considerable history of religious riots in India, I had no concrete idea of things & why they are the way they are.

Whatever has happened between those early years of this decade till now - & that includes both domestic & international incidents, & my own ways of thinking & understanding the world - has transformed me from the nonchalant apologist I pretended to be - I was always a non-believer, really - to someone who sees religions as totally useless & religiosity as downright vile.

Nevertheless, my wonder at how people can & do walk the middle-path so convincingly remains. I also think that the middle-path is a more complex experience.

Yet, I just don't think that these are questions of complexity anymore than performance-enhancing drugs make a case for general well-being.