Many years back, I was made to question my beliefs of whether or not God exists. After a troubling inquiry into the subject, I held an agnostic view for some time, slowly transitioning into atheism. At the same time, I started questioning my morals. I felt bad for eating eggs, fish and chicken. I don’t know how the vegetarians do it, but I started falling sick after I went vegetarian for some years. I started eating eggs again and then slowly chicken and fish. I’m better now.
Traditions for me used to be synonymous to religion, and religion had become synonymous to superstition. I’m not sure when exactly I found the gray area between these extreme points of view. I remember multiples instances of connecting traditions to logic. There were some who would point out the importance of traditions but mostly masking them under ‘something we ought to do’. Sometimes I would find this message in unexpected places – such as movies and some common places on the Internet, some without the mask.
Taking from the internet, Alain de Botton’s take on religion for atheists — he calls it Atheism 2.0 — it incorporates religious forms and traditions to satisfy our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence.
And here’s one from the movies. In Life of Pi, little Pi (short for Piscine) was shown to be an explorer of faiths. I have picked two conversations from this movie that I found were at an intersection of faith, exploration, and science.
Santosh Patel: Piscine, you cannot follow three different religions at the same time.
Pi Patel : Why not?
Santosh Patel: Because, believing in everything at once is the same thing as believing in nothing.
Gita Patel: He is young, Santosh. He is still trying to find his own way.
Santosh Patel: And how can he find his own way if he does not learn to choose a path? Instead of leaping from one religion to the next, why not start with reason? In ten years science has taught us more about the universe than religion has in ten-thousand.
Gita Patel: Yes, that is true. Science is very good at teaching us what is out there…
Gita Patel: [puts her hand over her heart] But not what is in here.
Santosh Patel: Some eat meat, some vegetarian. I do not expect us to agree about everything, but I would much rather have you believe in something I don’t agree with, than to accept everything blindly.
[we see young Pi under the blanket in his bed reading a Hindu comic book telling the story of Krishna]
Adult Pi Patel: The Gods were my superheroes, growing up. Hanuman, the monkey God, lifting an entire mountain to save his friend, Lakshmana. Ganesh, the elephant headed, risking his life to defend the honor of his mother, Parvati. Vishnu, the supreme soul, the source of all things. Vishnu sleeps, floating on the shoreless cosmic ocean, and we are the stuff of his dreaming.
[we see young Pi and his family sitting among a crowd for a religious tank ceremony]
Santosh Patel: Spectacle. Don’t let the stories and pretty lies fool you, boys. Religion is darkness.
Adult Pi Patel: My dear Appa believed himself part of the new India. As a child, he’d had polio. He used to lie in bed wracked with pain, wondering where God was. In the end, God didn’t save him, Western medicine did.
Coming to science, a study was able to show that there are “bright” spots among the world’s coral reefs and we have a chance here to learn from them. In these spots, reefs have more fish than expected, considering circumstances such as human population, poverty and unfavourable environmental conditions. Strong local sea traditions, which include ownership rights and/or customary practices such as periodically closing a reef to fishing are helping the coral reefs remain in better shape considering the existing climatic conditions.
In India, some people prefer vegetarian on some days and non-vegetarian on the other. Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday are marked for non-vegetarian meals. Through an angle of sustainability, this practice keeps the species in good numbers and prevent them from going extinct and upsetting the food chain. I for one would follow it for this reason, not because of superstition which many still believe.
What other traditions have we left behind and what have we embraced blindly? From time to time, I go back to the traditions I neglected as I explored my faiths. I’m sure they are many more to come. I hope that when I find them I will understand sustainability in a different light.