Tuesday, Jul 16, 2024 | Last Update : 02:51 AM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  29 Apr 2023  Shashi Warrier | Time to get under way a World Confusion Day

Shashi Warrier | Time to get under way a World Confusion Day

Shashi Warrier has written fairy tales, thrillers, a semi-fictional biography, satires, and a love story. Besides writing, he teaches strategic communication at a business school.
Published : Apr 30, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Apr 30, 2023, 12:05 am IST

“Faith is as much a part of our universe as physics”, I said. “It’s built into human nature, and thence into nature.”

Representational image. (Wikimedia Commons)
 Representational image. (Wikimedia Commons)

An old friend called the other day. “My son Viplabh is going to be in your town for a few days,” he said. “You might enjoy each other’s company. He reads a lot.”

I remembered Viplabh from a few years ago, as a quiet teenager. “Of course,” I said. “He can stay with us if it suits him.”

Viplabh turned up a couple of days later. He was taller and heavier and more aggressive, and his face was mostly hidden by hair. He was in his early twenties, doing a PhD at a well-known university, and liked to talk of serious matters. “We respect faith,” he said just after breakfast one holiday morning, “but not reason.”

“Right,” I said. It was, after all, Id, but it could as well have been Christmas or Dussehra or something. “Isn’t it reasonable to respect faith?”

“What do you mean?” he said, outraged. “How could you say such a thing?! Faith, by definition, has no basis!”

“Faith is as much a part of our universe as physics”, I said. “It’s built into human nature, and thence into nature.”

“Yes,” he replied, “but it’s a part of us that might get us all extinct. You know how most faiths have some sort of violent end to mankind? Well, respecting those faiths might bring on that violent end!”

“Fine,” I said. “But you’ve seen the violence, across societies, across countries, when believers think their faith is disrespected. It’s just that disrespecting faith – or even seeming to do so – often has unpleasant consequences. Riots, violence, deaths, and so on. The idea is to respect faiths until the faithful understand better.”

“But they never will!” he said. “This has been going on for centuries! It was only during the Renaissance that Europe began to think a bit! Before that, if you said the earth goes round the sun, you were likely to be executed! You know all about Galileo and Copernicus! Your position will just keep the superstitions going!”

“We have to hope that they’ll learn one day,” I said. “Otherwise we’ll be at war all the time!”

“How can you hope they’ll learn?” he said. “Our education system doesn’t encourage questions! People still believe in things that were outdated centuries ago! And the festivals! We have so many days to celebrate old fairytales, to commemorate horrible things like wars… They’ll never learn.” He chewed his lower lip for a while. “We have so many days to remember those fairytales,” he continued, “why can’t we have a day to celebrate thinking straight? A world penicillin day, for example. That’ll remind people.”

The doorbell rang, and I found my friend Murthy on the doorstep, which was doubly a surprise because, in the first place, it was too early for a drink, and, in the second, I’d just run out of Murthy’s favourite scotch: Viplabh and I had demolished it last night. “What’s up?” I asked, wondering whether his long-range scotch detection radar had failed.

“Passing by,” he replied. “I arrived early for a meeting so I thought I’d drop in. Just to see how you’re getting along… And if you’re thinking of offering me a drink, I’ll have to refuse because the man I’m going to meet doesn’t approve.”

“Right,” I said, relieved that his radar was probably all right. “Come in. I have a young friend here who feels strongly about some things. Perhaps you could talk to him.”

“Sure!” he replied, his eyebrows rising. “What does he do for a living?” he asked.

“He hasn’t got that far yet,” I said. “He’s doing a PhD in some social science, so I suppose he’ll end up a professor somewhere, and maybe write a few books.”

I led him to the drawing room, where I introduced them to each other. “Viplabh’s father and I were at college together, and I’ve known him all his life,” I told Murthy. “Murthy’s an old friend,” I told Viplabh, “and the most street-smart man I’ve ever known. I’m sure you’ll make more progress with this chat with him than with me.”

“Oh, I agree with you absolutely!” said Murthy when Viplabh had explained his position. “Our host doesn’t understand how to deal with these things! He’s too old.”

“Right,” said Viplabh, sitting back and eyeing me triumphantly.

in Paris? Or Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore? There’s no need to have people die for thinking straight, is there? We’re not asking for trouble here.”Charlie Hebdo“But there are a couple of problems, like he said,” he continued pensively. “Calling for everyone to celebrate rationalism or critical thinking… Well, that would invite opposition from practically every organised faith. And we don’t want that to turn violent, do we?Remember

“R-right,” said Viplabh.

“So what we have to do is to explain our position truly, but without inflaming people, ok?” Murthy said in his best peace-making manner.

“Right,” said Viplabh, not quite sure where this was leading to.

“So first let’s first understand our position,” Murthy said. “We ask questions, right? Like sceptics.”

“Exactly,” said Viplabh, perking up.

“And why do we ask questions?” Murthy continued relentlessly. “Because we’re not sure! Because we’re not fundamentalists, like those others. Right?”

“Yes,” said Viplabh.

“But we’re not ignorant, are we?” said Murthy.

“Certainly not!” said Viplabh.

“So what are we, then?” asked Murthy, rising and looking at his watch. “We’re not absolutely sure that God doesn’t exist, that those fairytales aren’t true, but there’s no evidence for them. Right?”

“Right,” said Viplabh.

“Well,” said Murthy, opening the front door and easing himself out, “the best word for our condition is ‘confused’. And I’m all for a day for confused people!”

 

Shashi Warrier has written fairy tales, thrillers, a semi-fictional biography, satires, and a love story. Besides writing, he teaches strategic communication at a business school.

Tags: faith, physics, education system, gauri lankesh, world confusion day