Friday, February 4, 2011

The Presence of Faith



I had originally planned to give you a hypotyposis of my journey to the New York City in this heart-melting winter and my experience at watching the taping of The Daily Show on February 2nd, 2011 in the form of an epical travelogue, yet here I begin with a subject that has little or nothing to do with my actual Big Apple tour. I cannot fancy my reason behind composing this philosophical account, but starting from the time I disembarked at the Nashville airport my mind has been caught up in an eagre of faith related queries. A moment of epiphany illuminated me yesterday leading to the poor, agnostic self finding its answers in a way it had least anticipated. And I wished to write to write about it.

 Hovering over the snow-layered landscape underneath my feet, I was at one point mulling over human omnipresence priding myself at the idea that the world cannot hide its secrets from me anymore and the other feeling vulnerable and insecure at the thought that judging from the ground level this Wright-marvel is just a speck of blue and red, when the flight hit an air-pocket and started to shake. From where I sat I had a good view of the large right-wing, and seeing it shiver as if stricken by some demonic fear, I was a bit scared. I turned my face away and began confabulating with my spouse. A second later the seatbelt sign was on and we were instructed by the pilot to buckle up and grab our seats as we would hit some more air-pocket areas. No sooner had he issued the ominous warnings than we hit another jerky spot, the whole flight shook like a plaything in the hands of a child; I closed my eyes. A terrible weight followed by a sudden emptiness hit my heart as the flight shook and free-fell a bit and then regained balance only to lose it a trice later. I grabbed my husband's hand and waited for the worst. The flight became steady and stopped oscillating; I disentangled myself and brushed my off my fears. A moment later the fluctuations began once again, and this time the back of the flight where we were sitting shook real hard; a child began crying, and I caught sight of a middle-aged woman on the left side of the aisle wearing bright red polished nails sitting with clasped hands placed upon her lap looking out the window.  Somehow her posture made me think she was praying. As I appraised her, it struck me that I had not once thought of praying in this scary moment. The flight continued to shake and each jerk made me think of terrible things: a flight accident, death, a fire, a heap of rubble, news headlines, and then, amnesia. I wondered how it would feel to die in a man made aerodynamic zeppelin, a brightly painted metal box with wings! Will it hurt, the burning? Will I feel the pain? I saw my husband laugh at my fear-stricken face and that made me even sadder. "It's nothing," he said adding that he had experienced more jerky air travels in his life and that I was lucky not to be been caught up in an air-pocket situation before. But at this point even his words could not alleviate my fears; some time back I had been to Disney World, Florida, and, against my better judgment, rode the The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror thrill ride. The bumpy airplane brought back brutal memories of that awful thrill ride, and I grew even paler. Having no option at hand to calm myself I began to pray. I couldn’t tell you if everything turned out miraculously for the better or not, but I did buck up eventually. I started feeling warm, my cold, sweaty palms normalized, and before I knew it the bouncy drive gave way to a smooth landing at the Baltimore airport. The relief on disembarking the flight was stupendous. I called my mother in India and told her how much I had missed her; she was pretty startled and I was a bit embarrassed, still I did it. I wanted to call my sister-- my best friend with whom I have no physical resemblance, yet who is closer to me than a Siamese twin--but it being very late I decided to chuck it.

All the way home yesterday I thought about faith and the overwhelming presence of it in human lives. I have been a newly-formed agnostic who has very recently started to doubt the presence of God and the importance of religion in human lives. With Scientific theories presenting explanations for natural and unnatural phenomena, pointing out the attendance of the known unknowns more deftly, and getting ready to study the unknown unknowns, the future of solemn faith in divinity has began to look bleak and uncreative. A commonplace atheism has forked the once religious or agnostic minds of the people of our generation. The left liberal principle silently entails devotion to Darwin and the Goddess of knowledge and undermines, inaudibly, a loyalty to a divine spirit. A.N. Wilson in his God's Funeral says, "The closing decades of the nineteenth century were the true ere of the 'death of God.'" And I cannot agree with him more. The rise of Science and Technology has undermined the rise of Christianity in the Anglo-Saxon era. The barbarians of the past are dead; future is glittering in the glassy-palms of Science--the new God with explanations and answers brimming inside its cranium.

Logically speaking, faith has suffered terrible setbacks over the past couple of decades and with the virtual world usurping its altar; it has now been reduced to a trite impulse. The bloody wars and terror attacks have presented to us the dark side of faith and pointed to devotion as the reason propelling unhealthy causes and has further alienated Homo sapiens from the pulpit-world. Belief in afterlife and Judgment Day though still linger in the minds of the quadragenarians, but we duogenarians seldom give the tip of the hat to God. Even people with deep religious backgrounds have rebelled against the presence of an invisible God calling him listless, uncaring and tyrannical. The crumbling images of mythology could no longer bolster its tenement; religion is similar to a dying gadget like cassette players of tape recorders. A sociologist called Mark Chaves in a 1999 study pointed out that only a mere twenty-eight percent of Roman Catholics attend Mass on a given weekend. People prefer to be pontificated over the television and the internet. And whatever religion prevails, at least in the USA, it is a friendlier, less dignified service. My life in the buckle of the Bible belt, however, has proved otherwise. I see groups of deeply religious folks attending services every Sunday. These groups upholstered in dainty Sunday clothing will reinstate in your mind the presence of faith, but after a while you cannot help testifying to the fact that modern religion is highly democratic; we are free to belief and free to relinquish faith.

I have been born in a conservative Hindu family and in our plethora of deities have tried to find out a unifying force. My mother, a devoutly religious person, instructed me the ways of a religious life very early in my life. And every time I had found myself in the yellow walled prayer room in our Kolkata house with pictures of deities pegged to the walls, I have assented to the old Hindu mythological tales of gods and goddesses with four arms and three-eyes without the slightest sense of doubt. I have found belief in religion psychologically fitting and had not the wish to ever discard it. But reading scientific texts and taking part in discussions that point out the fallacies in a given religion, the invisibility of God, His or Her indifference to the fast-moving stream of pain we find ourselves drowning in, had sowed doubts in my mind.

But if religion has taught us anything is that it is more a quantum state than anything solidly made. It tends to become invisible when examined; it is our biggest known unknown. In my case my faith has suffered big set back in my immature past when I had falsely questioned the divine spirit to provide me answers as to why my in-laws always considered me a tchotchke; an unimportant part of their family life, unfit, unsuitable in many ways to their vainglorious lifestyle? Why after terrible efforts and an admission in a prestigious educational institution, my academic dreams were thwarted because of a dependent visa and lack of student assistantships in the English department?  I questioned my faith during those bleak hours and ended up turning away from it only to turn back when prospects seemed brighter, and new avenues made their presence known. I have tried to make amends for the past follies by following my mother's example and setting up a prayer room in my Nashville apartment and forcing myself to bow to the ancient Hindu religious practices ratified by academic and philosophical luminaries of the past.

Yesterday when I was caught up in the aeronautical adventure, I had turned to faith. Even though my husband pointed out all the scientific explanations to the oscillations that scared me stiff, he couldn’t reassure me. I had ultimately turned to the warm embracement of faith and found relief. I couldn’t locate a miracle in my disembarking safely at the airport; yet I found a miraculous silver lining in the idea that despite a fair chance of mishap threatening our lives everyday in so many ways, I am still alive and breathing. You could attribute it to Omega Point, but I decided to thank God for it all. In a moment of mild despair, I was happy to locate faith in me, and now I intend to stay on track and present myself as a moderately religious, left liberal.

Reference: The Future of Faith, Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism, By John Updike