Sometimes, I read Chuck Lorre’s vanity card at the tail end of The Big Bang Theory. The last one was about how much he was influenced by science fiction. Earlier that same day a friend asked me why I didn’t perform all the usual religious acts, as people seem to be doing, mostly unconsciously _ going to temple, church, performing rituals, which are addictively mind numbing and therefore I suppose tranquilising like a drug.
My answer was vague. I told her how I used to do the religious routine a long time ago just as I was taught. I trailed off with something about reading books by Carl Sagan.
My childhood memories feature documentary series like Horizon made by the BBC, natural history programmes by David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, books, short stories by Ray Bradbury, Professor Jayant Narlikar, Star Wars, Star Trek and Dr Who. Mr Spock and the curly-haired, crazy-scarf wearing fourth doctor Tom Baker are vivid icons from my childhood past. I fear the brightly-coloured omnipresent god tableaux of today will become iconic in the mind of the modern Indian child as these objects of present culture have aggressively captured our current zeitgeist more than science. If need is felt for science it is only for the products and applications of science and not for the most important by-product of science: scientific inquiry.
Childhood is vital in how we turn out and I am so glad that religion is not part of that old memory bank though I am sure it was present for the most part. I understand now that religion, whosever’s religion it is, not just mine, has an ossifying effect on the brain. I have seen this again and again at the level of the individual and nations as a whole. By not permitting critical enquiry it shuts off personal growth, leaving us behind with only religious texts and rituals that soothe through repetition, drone, chants, trance and rapture. I have nothing against meditation. Surrounded by trees and bird call I often experience something close to spiritual bliss. Brain studies have shown these states to exist. And as Richard Dawkins and others have pointed out, this particular state of mind is the wellspring of all the world’s religions and even the fictitive jedi force. Differing regions, varied cultures and geo-politics created the myriad sects and cults we know today.
If culture is palimpsest, the traditional stories and myths of valour of our gods and goddesses form a kind of background text that surface every other decade, century or so depending on which zeitgeist prevails in that era. I imagine the current doctor would put it like this: Earth happens to be passing through a particularly god-infested epoch. If only the Doctor could go back in time in the Tardis to a crucial point in the 1980s when a whole nation became obsessed with televised Sunday mythologicals. But that’s just one country, mine. The Doctor would need to nation hop and do his thing across religions. The earth today in many countries feels more like the planet of the Daleks than a benign human Earth. Or to borrow phraseology from Star Trek, it feels like a nation of the Borg, mechanised organic automatons, similar to Daleks from Dr Who, but a little less in your face. The Borg function with a hive mind. Fact is sometimes more absurd than fiction. The Borg and Dalek are among us now, and everywhere you hear, especially on abusive twitter feeds: “You Will be Assimilated/Exterminated. Or else”. If you are not willing to assimilate, watch out. Faces will be inked, you could face assault, physical or verbal, or just be plain killed as we have seen now in both India and Bangladesh recently. If you like Star Wars instead, and prefer analogies from a galaxy far, far away, you could say we are passing through an age that should be titled `The Empire Strikes Back’.