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Where Art Thou?

Chetan Tewari | June 10, 2021
Where Art Thou?

God our Lord and saviour: these words mean more today than ever before. One and half years on, the world continues to reel from the effects of COVID-19. The only reprieve for most has been to look up to the heavens and pray. But pray as one might, it seems the human race had been abandoned by the gods. It is as if a catastrophic punishment has been meted out to human beings. The mortality rates are soaring and just when a hint of normalcy seemed a possibility, there was a crippling second wave of the virus.

The medical science and virology communities are hard pressed to find solutions. But in what is possibly a first, several countries worldwide have made vaccine breakthroughs in record time. Most governments are now ramping up vaccination drives for their citizens. On the same right, the long-term efficacy of these vaccines is vague. There are already reports of vaccinated individuals contracting and even succumbing to COVID-19. In this race against time, economies have been hard hit, unemployment rates have registered record highs, and both national and individual reserves are running low.

Amid this quagmire, it is interesting to note that religions–although diverse–are all united by a common thread. The virus did not make exceptions; it affected and killed humans of all faiths. In this context, there was, let’s say, no discrimination.

To place into perspective, consider the example of three nations that start with the letter ‘I’. Italy, India and Iran practice Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, respectively. Of course, there are other religions practised in these countries but for simplicity in comparison, consider the majority faiths.

Although these three countries are vastly different from one another, their populations are known to be deeply religious. But all three countries suffered among the most severe outbreaks with thousands of lives lost. So why did God abandon us? Are our prayers just mere words and are hymns only to be heard by our ears alone?

The gods of yore

In the 2nd century BCE, Northern European settlers–such as the Vikings–prayed to the Norse god Odin. It was professed that after death, Odin would reserve a place for them in Valhalla — the Norse equivalent of heaven. More importantly, if one was killed in battle, the final journey would be accompanied by valkyries.

In case of the Romans, their main deities were Jupiter, Jun and Minerva. The Pantheon–built in 25 BCE–was a temple dedicated to all Roman gods. Pan meant ‘all’ and theos meant ‘gods’. The Greeks, meanwhile, prayed to Zeus; he was the Olympian king of the gods. He was widely worshipped in ancient Greece and there were numerous shrines and sanctuaries dedicated to him.

With time, the “before current era” gods in Europe were lost in the annals of history. They lost relevance perhaps with the advent of newer religions in the world. At the time, the people had maybe found “better gods” who listened to them.

For most of recorded history, Hinduism was always the dominant religion of the Indian subcontinent. Hindus hold thousands of deities in reverence. There are currently an estimated 1.6 billion followers of Hinduism worldwide, making it the world’s third largest.

Islam has the second largest following with about 1.9 billion followers. Christianity is numero uno in terms of followers with approximately 2.3 billion devotees. These are the dominant religions of the present world. A large share of their followers are pious individuals who observe their religious festivals with equal zeal. Besides, there are rituals aplenty, large dollops of superstitious beliefs, and associations with the supernatural. But beliefs are strong and dogmas cannot be questioned. Generations have prayed and who are we to question, right?

There are new waves in the offing

The realm beyond human understanding is often expressed in the form of quotes alluding to the heaven residing superpower. “God works in mysterious ways” is a common one. “When God speaks, mountains move,” says mortals. If one is losing patience, faith is restored by recounting that “God is always listening, and so keep praying.” And so on and so forth.

But the quintessential question that come to mind here is, “Is the Lord up above listening to our prayers and looking after us?” This sphere is shrouded in mystery. There can never be an affirmative answer and mostly, there is only rhetoric used as an attempt.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting trend beginning to unfold. While the three major religions boast billions in followers, there is a fourth one making swift inroads. Its followers are sometimes called ‘nones’ — derived from the phrase ‘not religiously affiliated’. Nones comprise atheists and agnostics, and “none-ism” currently enjoys the second highest following in North America and Europe. China has the maximum nones, numbering an estimated 400-500 million.

Atheists typically bank on science to further their view that there is no God. Their hypotheses are often very convincing when you read or listen to them. For the most part, however, they are disregarded by the majority of the religiously affiliated.

Are morals innate to humans?

One outspoken, albeit eloquent, atheist is Richard Dawkins. He is an evolutionary biologist and author of the book called The God Delusion. Dawkins suggests that when many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion. He cites scientific theories and propagates that our genes have a natural selection. This, he says, trumps the so-called prophecies of God. Dawkins goes on to argue that atheists should be proud and not apologetic, because atheism is evidence of an independent and healthy mind.

On similar lines, the late Christopher Hitchens–a noted speaker–says all religions cannot be right. In his view, either one religion is right or they are all fake. I truly agree with him. More importantly, Hitchens touched upon a basic element: that you do not need to follow any religion to be morally good. Moral goodness comes naturally to human beings. An individual is either morally poor or is a morally good human. Hitchens also argued for free expression and scientific discovery.

Amid the recent pandemic, I think at one point or another, we have taken God to court in our minds. I request you, dear reader, to not jump to a quick conclusion. Rather, I implore you to enact the role of both judge and jury. I suggest you take your time and let the voices in your mind also play the role of prosecutor and defendant. This case can drag on for months, perhaps years, and when you are convinced “beyond reasonable doubt,” only then pass your verdict on God. You needn’t shun Him but on the same right, is He really there listening to us and answering our prayers?

 

 


Chetan Tewari

Mr. Chetan Tewari is the owner and Principal of St. Anthony’s School in Kurseong, West Bengal. He is a voracious reader and he firmly believes that we must adapt as best we can to the prevailing circumstances. Mr. Tewari has been moulding young minds for over two decades now and he has several distinguished alumni to his credit.

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Anupam Gupta
Anupam Gupta
4 days ago

Very true Chetan we humans have been left helpless..well expressed

Sudip Martin Sinha
Sudip Martin Sinha
4 days ago

Difficult times… nicely written.

Kuldip Agarwal
Kuldip Agarwal
4 days ago

Very nicely written and expressed!!!to get to the core of all this it must have taken quite some time!! It’s your passion and your talent which makes your pen going!!! Great!!!

Bishal Gurung
Bishal Gurung
4 days ago

Well written.. Even though atheists may take pride on being independent and healthy in their thinking.. the rest of us always look up to God to bail us out of trouble.And when our problems our resolved our faith in the Almighty is renewed..

Viresh Agarwala
Viresh Agarwala
4 days ago

To elucidate which more than many of us think about God in today’s world requires courage. And to write it with such clarity is an excellent attempt at a parallel way of thinking.
Food for thought at all levels and as a reader look forward to more .

setu sarkar
setu sarkar
4 days ago

I may be crazy but ,the idea has been nagging me for some time that perhaps the biggest favour me can do is learn ways to overcome current pandemic situation,and have faith on God

Setu Sarkar
Setu Sarkar
4 days ago

very well explained ,looking forward to your next article sir …

Avi Ag
Avi Ag
4 days ago

Absolutely thought provoking my friend… It’s not our fault, we have all grown up in religious environments where we were taught to look upwards in times of trouble. Since, the times when people had nothing to hold on to, the Innocent Brains were systematically hacked and fear installed in them. It’s by default we turn towards that unknown force only in times of need or when we want something in return. The majority only believe in ritualistic practices and not implementation of moral values and religion is just a set of rules. I personally am an agnostic and I don’t believe In having faith sheerly out of fear. Also if someone is atheist, it doesn’t mean that he or she is not spiritual. Thankfully as mankind is progressing, we will certainly reach a point where a free thinking Spiritual society will evolve and all humans will be one. With god or without God by our side.

Last edited 4 days ago by Avi Ag
Nupur Das
Nupur Das
4 days ago

…when Sreejana told me about you and your articles and she sent me the above I was kind of quite shaken by your logical, interesting and witty writeup. It is not easy to take on God. Gosh! You have done a splendid job.
Coming down to ground zero….I know your family and I can’t believe a kid like you is doing such great writing. I knew Promod who is of my age….and I knew Tiwari Uncle. I also have extremely vague memories of your grandfather as a child….It was indeed a pleasure reading your words. Words have always been a weakness for me. For an areligious person like me…it made wonderful reading. Food for thought I guess. I write to…mostly snippets though. Would be grateful to have them published. Take care. All the best for more intrigued words from you in the future.
Dr. Nupur Das

Pramod Tewari
Pramod Tewari
3 days ago

Chetan, it’s very well articulated and I must say that it’s a brave effort to even touch this “subject”. Whenever mankind has been put to intense test, God’s existence has been questioned. I wouldn’t want to get into a debate on this issue because in my opinion, God is created within us by our belief.

kunal Gupta
kunal Gupta
3 days ago

Sir, it’s a serious article to ponder upon. On the other hand I feel that when a devotee prays earnestly to God, he/she feels that someone from above is paying serious attention to his/her prayers and has automatically taken over responsibility to remove the crisis from his/her life whatever the magnitude of the crisis may be. And there are cases when a prayer has shown result (science might argue against it). In the book ‘Life After Life’ there are anecdotes about near death experiences from around the world where everyone who had a near death experience claims to have met a blue light from which a kind voice spoke to them.

Dogyal Tshering Lepcha
Dogyal Tshering Lepcha
1 day ago

Has God really abandoned us to our fate? It is a question that leads to more questions. One thing is certain though ; we have learnt that the world is a very tiny place indeed. One moment it was an unknown disease that was afflicting some faraway place in China and BANG…there it was at our doorstep. We did all we were told to do, to rid this pesky virus, taalis and thalis ,lit candles and diyas and rang bells and blew whistles with all the energy that we could muster. We even chanted Go Corona Go as if expressing our displeasure at some unpopular world leader on a state visit. In fact when the rest of the world reeled under the devastation that was Covid 19 in 2020, we Indians thought we had succeeded with our thalis and bartans and driven the virus away.We even naively claimed that we are immune to the virus, attributing it to  the special powers that we seemed to have in our being prone to dirty and unhygienic habits. Then in March 2021 when we least expected it, things hit the fan and we found ourselves totally unprepared for the tsunami that hit us.We blamed all and sundry for the horrific calamity that took place. We blamed the politicians (rightly so I may add) and we even blamed God for abandoning us and so we ask accusingly ….God.God.Where art thou? Why and  How have You allowed all this to happen?
But is it really  fair to blame God and to expect Him to emerge from the clouds in his flowing white beard and white robes to bail us out from this disaster ?
There are no easy answers to this question. We do not even know if the question can be asked in the first place. For example, there are amongst us people who do not even believe in His existence. Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) says that God can’t be all that simple, if he is capable of, among things, simultaneously  monitoring the thoughts of all His creatures and answering their prayers.(“Such bandwidth! ”the author exclaims)
It is said that there are no atheists in a foxhole. In times of trouble we conveniently turn to God for deliverance from this virus which recognizes no borders or religions It does not ask you whether you are agnostic, atheist, theist (or none) The only thing we can do is to try to find answers as to how it happened and how we can be freed from it all.
The ones of us who are more spiritually active are the ones who will search even more. If you have questions, by all means we must ask them. If we want answers we have to pursue and seek for answers read, discuss, pray and worship. You aren’t the first nor the last person to walk this journey and the overwhelming majority of human experience tells us that there are real answers to be found.
Chetan, you are on the right track…Seek and Ye shall find. We have to ask the questions . We are all dealing with the ineffable here, we are there somewhere between the known and the unknown and trying to reel in both for a closer look.
We need people like you who will ask the questions…perchance one day we will have the answer, till then keep on with the exemplary work whilst we lesser informed and lesser motivated  mortals will be content to read and learn from people like you.
Looking forward to your next.

Sudeshna Mitra
Sudeshna Mitra
1 day ago

Very well articulated sir…..the topic is thought provoking.

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