Some Indian men get it wrong [again]

Yes, the title is clickbait. There are men everywhere who will try to make excuses.

One of my guilty pleasures is reading analyses and opinions of the political climate in the USA and the UK. I would very much love to read analyses of the political climate in India, but two things stop me: I am only conversant in English, and finding analyses in the language is really hard; and, frankly, I live here and sometimes not knowing what’s going on keeps me sane.

Recently I found the Daily O, a site that caters to India. And I’m very happy to have found it. And today’s post will be about two opinions on the site that I find incredibly ignorant. What prompted me to actually sit down an write this post was the most recent news on James D. Watson.

The two opinion pieces deal with sexist comments made by a current Indian cricketers on a talk show. I’m not a fan of cricket, nor do I particularly like the talk show on question. The opinions basically indulge in two deplorable behaviours: whataboutism and an appeal to skill.

One piece argues that the body that penalised them does not have the authority to do so, and anyway, many sportsmen are this way, so why pick on these two? It goes further in arguing that they are payed to play cricket and they play it well – so well that they have won deals worth hundreds of thousands of euros.

The other piece is arguably the more insidious of the two. It says that we should definitely have a conversation about sexism, but the cricketers shouldn’t face any consequences because that will make people keep their opinions to themselves. It is phrased as a threat to feminism, in that these cricketers are being victimised for speaking the truth.

And now, contrast this with what has happened to James D. Watson. He is famous as one of the people who discovered the structure of DNA. He is also an unrepentant racist. In 2007 he claimed that people of African heritage naturally possess lower IQs. As a result the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory removed him as chancellor. He apologised, then, but took back the apology in a recent documentary. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has now revoked all of his titles and honours.

Just compare the two situations. Both are about bigotry. In the former case, a case is made for excusing sexism. In the latter, so action is taken, even if it doesn’t actually amount to much. What really matters is that these three individuals are powerful and are role models, so how you treat them sends a message to everyone.

For the record, I am strongly opposed to the views expressed by the authors of the opinion pieces. I consider myself a feminist, but I acknowledge that I have much to improve upon: calling bullspit on stuff like this is one of those things.

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A reply to “7 Ways to Reach the ‘Nones’ for Jesus”

I often read a number of blogs on the Patheos platform, almost exclusively from the Non-Religious channel. But every now and then I click on the headline article on the main site. Yesterday was one such day, when the headline article was 7 Ways to Reach the ‘Nones’ for Jesus.

So before we jump in, two disclaimers. One, I am an avowed atheist. Two, the author of the post, Josh Daffern, comes from the a evangelical Baptist tradition, while 9 come from a (lapsed) Roman Catholic tradition. I shall be stating my thoughts using his headings; for his statements do pop over to the original post.

1. Live Authentically. The issue, here, is not that the Christian god allows suffering, but rather the claim that god is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (I shall be using the word omnimax, hereafter). Such a god cannot appear suffering.

2. Change the way we talk about the Bible. The author makes a point of distinguishing between the old and new Testaments. I don’t buy this distinction, since it is the same god throughout the Bible. But for the sake of argument, let’s say I accept the distinction. The problem then arises that there are extremely objectionable points – particularly about women.

The other point he tries to make is that the faith is not based in the Bible, but in Jesus. This is a feint. The Bible is claimed to be the authoritative source on Jesus, since we have no other records of him. Both Baptist and Roman Catholic traditions are anchored in the Bible, and they have to account for the issues contained therein.

3. Make the Church irresistible. Yeah. No. Not ever. Decorating the Church, welcoming people, central heating – these are just lipstick on a pig (My apologies to pigs). There are systemic problems with the Church (in every Christian tradition) that need to be addressed first. The church will never be irresistible without them.

4. Assume they are in the room. Actually I completely agree with this. In fact, I’d take it further: treat all the members of your church like this. Not just the Nones you are trying to recruit.

5. Don’t “go” to church. Be a family. Sounds lovely except that, in my limited experience, families are far more authoritarian and conformist, and much more willing to trample on one’s boundaries. Not a good role model at all. I am personally deeply suspicious of any organisation that claims to treat its employees/members as family.

6. Make it practical. The biggest issue with this is that the church has shown, time and again, that it cannot make things practical in a meaningful way. Turn to God/Jesus is not a solution to anyone’s issues.

7. Speak to their deeper needs. But how? The only needs the author states are assumed needs, with no evidence for his assertions:

  • Know God. Most Nones either do not believe in god, do not believe god is knowable, or do not want to know god. That they do is a false assumption.
  • Find freedom. I strongly disagree that the best way to be free is to have a small, vibrant ministry. Freedom is what one defines it to be, and it is different for everyone.
  • Discover purpose. Humans have no inherent purpose in this life. There is no purpose to discover. We make our purpose, we choose it.
  • Make a difference. Most of us do want to make a difference, but the church is not conducive to this.

A misunderstanding of privilege

I often think about inequalities and privileges inherent the cultural and socio-economic structures of India. I will, of course, be the first to admit that I don’t actually do anything to counter them, but I do try to bring them into the light, to talk about them, to expose them. In that vein, a recent post on LinkedIn really riled me up.

Before I go into why it bothered me, let me be clear in that I understand it is unlikely to have been the author’s intention to belittle those lacking privilege, indicated by the use of quotes around the word privilege. He also states that he grew up in a middle-class family, which makes him part of a privileged class – a fact of which he appears unaware. That said, let’s get stuck in.

One of his privileges is using his sister’s old textbooks. That is not a privilege, it’s economically common sense, but it also indicates that they went to the same school, or at least studied under the same board of education. Which is not a privilege many have.

Another is spending the holidays at his grandparents. It is undeniably a privilege to have grandparents who are financially independent, own their own house (and presumably, land), and who are healthy. Not mention getting along with them.

The third is enjoying long train journeys over cramped airplane journeys. Again the privilege of being able to afford the seats in a train (although cheap, many still can not) is overlooked. I am assuming that he meant at least second class sleeper, as the unreserved class is by no means roomy (inferred from the statement about cramped airlines).

He considers a communal enjoyment of watching a cricket match and celebrating his team’s achievements better than watching it alone on a 4K screen. Leaving aside the fact that 4K screens were yet to be innovated when I was a child, the two are not mutually exclusive!

In conclusion, yes, I know I’m being a bit petty, but I grew up in a solidly middle-class family, too. And I am aware of that it has afforded me privileges, some which I have recognised, and many which I never will.

The Onge, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese

So a while back, one John Allan Chau went and got himself killed on the North Sentinel Islands. He claimed his desire was to introduce the Christian god to the Sentinelese people. People who are renowned for three things: being the last truly uncontacted native autochthonous population in the world; having been isolated from the rest of world for up to 60000 years (estimates vary); and for being really, violently isolationist. Additionally, their language is completely unknown. In going to the island and dying there, it is possible, even likely, that Chau has brought about the genocide of the Sentinelese, who are currently believed to number about 50 individuals – it is understood that they have no resistance to diseases we would consider common or minor and Chau may have been carrying these.

All that is a lead-in to what I actually want to talk about today: the three tribal peoples in India: the Onge, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese. These individuals are considered citizens of India, but I posit that they are both more and less than that. They did not choose to be citizens, and broadly speaking they do not want to be involved in India, be it in concept or in practice. But they are culturally unique, they are vulnerable, and it is our [collective] responsibility to ensure that they are allowed to live their lives in the way they wish, and must be protected from the fallout of our actions. Unfortunately, the law has recently been moving in the opposite direction. I say that not only should contact with these peoples be limited, we must in fact buy out any non-autochthonous residents and interdict the islands, limiting contact to what the tribes themselves desire.

As a scientist, I will admit that this would appear to run counter to my interest in evolution – especially as these tribes may hold some answers to the prehistorical spread of humanity. But really, it’s not. I hold that science done ethically should be rejected, no matter how rigourous, how significant, how vital.

This particular piece was inspired by an article on the Daily O, which challenged our perceptions of the Sentinelese people. I found it a very good piece, but I reject the conclusion of that article.

India’s contentious issues with affirmative action

This is another one of those posts that I write after my world-view has undergone a momentous (to me) paradigm shift. I’ve kind of gotten used to them now; if there’s one thing I have learned to cultivate, it is being open to the evidence. It is key to being a scientist, after all.

For those who aren’t clear, the concept of affirmative action at it’s simplest attempts to ensure that every individual has equality of opportunity, regardless of their socio-economic background. In India, socio-economic background has historically been intertwined with caste and creed. Thus, India’s version of affirmative action, enshrined in its constitution, takes the form of reservations of positions in various governmental institutions for those hails from a legislated list of disadvantaged castes.

I have been against the reservation system as long as I can remember. I seem to remember actually qualifying for some categories, as my family belongs to a religious minority in India – simply, they aren’t Hindu – but I have always felt distaste using it. It’s an unfair advantage for me, especially as I come from a somewhat privileged family. And truth be told, it is only recently that I made the connection between reservation and affirmative action.

What changed is that I truly understood what affirmative action seeks to achieve, and more to the point, I realised what the reservation system was initially created to achieve. The caste system in India is a self-created evil, which the British Raj had no hand in – for a change. And when India was forging its Constitution, the idea – as I understand it – was to ensure that those who had no voice, who were ostracised by society simply due to the accident of birth. But there are a couple of problems.

First, in hindsight, this seems like a stopgap measure, especially when one considers how the system works: there are fixed number of positions reserved for disadvantaged classes, but the only criteria is that the applicant must belong to that class, with little consideration for their suitability for the actual position they are applying for. This is necessary as a starting position, simply because addressing systemic inequalities takes time, and that risks making the current generation a lost generation: addressing the root causes of systemic inequalities ensures that the next generation will not suffer, but it does nothing for those already suffering.

Second, this system has enshrined the caste system in Indian law, despite the entire point being to get rid of the caste system. As a result, the intended equality of opportunity has not been achieved in our 60+ years as a republic. Moreover, the laws have been exploited both by the privileged few belonging to the disadvantaged classes, and by other castes who have fought to be recognised as disadvantaged – whether or not that was in fact the case – simply so that they could take advantage of the existing legislation.

As a result, the people whom this legislation was created to aid are the ones who benefit the least from it. As I may have mentioned before, India has an extensive and elaborate constitution, but it isn’t really enforced, which takes all the meaning out of it.

The reservation system has served its purpose and overstayed its time. India needs reformation in the way it approaches affirmative action to ensure that socio-economic factors do not occlude equality of opportunity for all. It is a hard road to walk, and a very long one – a few generations, at the very least – but it is a worthy path to take.

Musings on civil disobedience

In this age where populism and xenophobia seem to be riding on a global surge, I’d like muse on what I understand civil disobedience to be, and what I think may be effective in furthering its purpose.

Civil disobedience, by its very name, brings to mind an act of deliberate and non-violent law-breaking, with the intention of highlighting the unfairness, inhumaneness or simply the stupidity of a law. A key point here is that this involves law-breaking, so one can legally be prosecuted to the full extent allowable. An example: In India it is a crime to outrage religious sentiments and the law is extremely broad in what it considers outrageous (I talked about this somewhat here). As an atheist, if I were to openly claim my atheism, and criticise a religious practice, it would be completely legal to prosecute and sentence me for outraging sentiments. As another example, if I were to refuse to stand at attention for the Indian national anthem, I could be prosecuted and sentence for being anti-nationalist — provided, of course, that I survived the lynch mob. It is partly this realisation that kept me from participating in any protests – the others I may talk about some other time.

Also, with civil disobedience, the kind of government one is protesting matters very much. The outcome under a totalitarian government is completely different from one under a democracy or republic. I think of the Tiananmen Square protests are an example of the former. I really want to read The Last Article by Harry Turtledove, which addresses the shortcoming of peaceful protests by creating an alternate history where Gandhi attempts civil disobedience against Nazi Germany, who have annexed India from the British Raj.

Finally, civil disobedience must grow with the times. Social media is a very big thing in today’s world and it should be used to turn domestic and international attention towrds a cause, as was most recently done with the Dakota Access Pipeline, a fight which is far from over.I believe that embracing the new and the non-traditional holds the greatest promise for the success of a civil disobedience movement.

My thoughts on India’s ‘de-monetization’ drive

It has been busy couple months, which culminated in my opting for a three-month extension to my degree. Finally got study stuff sorted out, so I’m back again, and I’ll try to stick to my schedule somewhat more reliably this year. That is not a resolution, however.

It has been just over two months since the government of India implemented a ‘de-monetization’ drive: on 09. November 2016, without any warning, banknotes of 500 and 1000 were declared as invalid for any and all transactions. The original stated reason for this was to get rid of black money – money on which tax has not been paid: in essence, to catch the tax-dodgers. Since then, it has morphed into an attempt to encourage digital transactions and thereafter I lost track of the reasons. It’s really no help that the government and the Reserve Bank of India issue contradicting memoranda as to how and when to exchange the old notes for legal tender.

There are a host of reasons that this is a bad idea, and numerous critiques have been written about them. I would like to address an issue that, until now, I haven’t seen any critiques about: the digital transcations aspect. Let me begin by saying that if the goal is to encourage digital transactions, the means used should be to make it simple, intuitive and easy to access, thus making it an attractive option. Nuking paper currency is a disastrous way to go about it.

However.

This is India we are talking about. The country that is proud of having the longest written constitution, but which is – simulatenously – selectively and rarely enforced. The biggest draw of cash transactions are the anonymity and privacy entailed. India – the government and the country – have very little respect for either. In such an environment, the security of digital transactions cannot be guaranteed. I would go so far as to say that assuming they are secure is wholly unwarranted. I live outside India, but when I go back, I shall stick to non-digital transactions as much as possible, and only use digital transactions when they are unavoidable, or with money I can afford to lose.

The core issue in India – at least in this aspect – is systemic corruption. Until that is addressed, it is unlikely that anything will change for the better, and I am of the opinion that it is a bad idea to believe any such claim without evidence.

Ten Questions for Atheists about Christianity

Primarily because this is a rather busy month for me, and partly as a follow-up to my post What being an Atheist means to me, here are 10 questions about Christianity. Other bloggers I am aware have posted answers to these are Neil Carter, Captain Cassidy, Andrew Hall and Mason Lynch. I understand these questions were received by Amber Barnhill from a student from a local Bible college.

My only caveat, before I begin, is that I include Roman Catholicism under the Christian label.

1) Have you ever been to church?

Quite often until around the time I turned 14 or 15.

2) Do you have any Christian friends or family members? If so, what do you think of their faith?

Yes, my parents are Catholic, as are most of the extended family, but there are various other denominations interspersed there, as well.

3) What do you think of Christians?

Of Christians, as individuals, I make no calls. I expect them to be human – that is, to have moments of greatness, and moments of egotism. However, should one declare oneself Christian without any apparent reason, I become wary: I respect another’s right to believe what they want, but Christians also proselytise, which I see as an infringement of my right to believe what I want. Christians, as a whole, I see as, well, hypocritical – quick to judge others, but refusing to judge themselves.

4) What do you think of Jesus?

Not much, honestly. A confusing person. The only thing I can truly claim to have learnt from Jesus’ example is to despise hypocrisy. And there were some parables I never really got: the top two of these are the one about the prodigal son (I feel the son who wasn’t prodigal got the short end of the stick) and the one about the steward given charge of his master’s finances (couldn’t see where god came into the picture at all).

5) What do you think of the Bible?

It is an interesting collection of stories that I really should read completely. I am well aware there are contradictions – in fact I used to quote them in Sunday school – and I think more people should be informed that the Song of Solomon is a love song. I mean really, have you ever considered that?

6) Has anyone ever preached to you personally?

Attempted to, yes, a few times, but they could never convince me. This was when I still considered myself Catholic and the preachers were family who were Seventh Day Adventists, so that was weird. It was some 10 years ago when I was in my late teens.

7) How would you feel if someone tried to persuade you to believe in Jesus? Would it make a difference if that person were a stranger or if they were close to you?

I would feel irritated. Proselytising is the one aspect of religion, in general, that I detest. It is a clear violation of boundaries that I do not appreciate. Strangers I would kindly disabuse of the notion; if the attempt was made by someone close to me, I would make my position clear and disengage.

8) What are your biggest objections to Christianity?

Hypocrisy. That’s right at the top. And then there are the whole number of scandals that the RCC have covered up. The paedophilia issue, the sexism, the money issue, the corruption… I’m pretty sure the list, in full, is longer than the bible itself – and that’s just the Roman Catholic Church. With 42000 denominations, the issues are exponential (hyperbole, but I do not think by much). Also there’s the persecution. I’m from India, and we have this thing called the Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code:

272 [295A. Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.—Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of273 [citizens of India], 274 [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 4[three years], or with fine, or with both.]

This is essentially a blasphemy law that Christians make as much use of as anybody.

9) Hypothetically speaking, if the claims of the Christian faith were proven true beyond a shadow of a doubt, would you become a Christian?

Absolutely not. First, I don’t require them the be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt. As a soon-to-be-scientist, all one would have to do is show that it is the most likely interpretation of the facts. But that would mean that the god of the bible is real and quite frankly, that god is a singularly despicable entity whom I would oppose.

10) Describe your beliefs about God, salvation, the afterlife, etc.

There are no gods. Not Christian, nor any other. Salvation is therefore meaningless. The afterlife doesn’t exist. All that we have is the here and now, and I, for one, know some of what I wish to accomplish in my finite span. On the whole though, I don’t consider there is an underlying meaning or purpose to existence or reality.

Suicide – Why I won’t do it (yet).

Every now and then, I wonder about committing suicide. It’s more in a philosophical frame of mind, these days, in contrast to the desperation of 10+ years earlier. But in the end, I suppose that in the near future, I won’t go ahead with it. Longer term – 50 to 70 years down the line – it becomes more likely.

One aspect of this is my belief in the right to die. Everyone, I believe, should have the right to live and to die as they please, as long as it does not infringe upon another’s right to do so. I do realise that reality is a little more demanding than that, but I posit about an ideal case.

Another aspect is an examination of why I should like to terminate my existence. In days gone by, I felt trapped, with no means of escape. And these were no physical shackles, but mental ones, cast upon myself by the milieu of my upbringing. Specifically, I felt trapped by my assumptions of what was desired of me, and how I had absolutely no interest or intention of walking such set paths. But these days, those issues are mostly marginal, although they do rear their heads and impinge upon me from time to time. What is more relevant to me now is the reason for it all. One day I will die, whether I want to or not. And after that I will be forgotten, all I achieved in this world as nothing. It is said that one should attempt to leave a mark on this world, but I have no desire for greatness, for fame or notoriety; I have few good friends that I am grateful for – I would like to think the sentiment is mutual – and that is sufficient for me. That goal has already been achieved. When younger, I would have nothing to do with the betterment of mankind; now that I am older, I would like to do something, but I am far too cynical to imagine whatever I could do as having even the slightest benefit. But then, this is another philosophical issue for me: not to get involved, under any circumstance. To be involved never leads to anything good; at best, nothing changes.

And then there are my dreams. I have many, very many, but they are only dreams, not goals. In fact I have only one goal, as of now, and that does keep me going; but when I achieve it, I will likely be at a complete loss for what to do with myself. For the lesser of my dreams, the paths to the destination are vague; the skills I need are so foreign to me that I would have to relearn much. And here we come to what I consider as perhaps my greatest failing: I have never learnt the value of hard worknever employed it in service of attaining a goal I desire. Then there are the greater dreams – one great dreamto accomplish which I possess not the first idea of what I must do, nor do I believe I have any skills that my help me achieve it. And frankly, I don’t know that I am willing to make the effort to try.

Another reason I wouldn’t, and in fact I didn’t, is logistics. What methods would I use? I am very pain-averse, so I would prefer a painless method. I don’t have a will, so how would I ensure everyone would get what I wanted to give them, with handing it out beforehand and perhaps raising suspicions? Until recently, I was not financially independent, so I had to factor that in. I would like to donate my organs when I die, so how would I arrange things such that all my attempt would be successful while leaving my organs intact for harvesting? As one can see, I intellectualise.

But the most important reason I won’t commit suicide, yet, is that I have promises to keep. I have every intention of graduating, of finishing what I started. I have a friend’s wedding to attend. I have at least two dozen friends around the world I have promised to see at least one more time, and I fully intend to do so. I have yet to achieve my goal of returning all the money my parents spent on my higher education, thus liberating myself of any indebtedness towards them. And I do not wish to cause anyone worry, doubt, sadness, or heartbreak on my account. I do not wish to get involved.

Then again, is this really worth it? I can’t think of a single reason to live that is for myself. I exist, I survive, but it is mechanical, automatic. Completely neutral. I do not live for myself but for the sake of others. And I really don’t know what to make of it. For all that I claim to embrace change, I am very resistant to internal change. Thanks to inertia, I will go on as I have been, unless I have a shock. And I almost certainly won’t.

What being an Atheist means to me

I am an atheist. I have been an atheist for a few years now, but I’m not completely open about it – most of my extended family does not know. Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about this. I live very far away from said extended family and thus my interaction with them is limited; but hiding my atheism in the face of all the religious stuff I get thrown my way via the channels through which I interact with them is, quite simply, exhausting.

I am a Roman Catholic Atheist. To me, this is significant. My Atheism arose as a rejection of the mores and values and the hypocrisy of the RCC. Moreover, I haven’t done much research within atheism, so I can relate much better to problems with the RCC — and to a larger extent Christianity — than, say, from Hinduism or Islam, or any of the thousands of other religions.

And what does Atheism mean to me? It’s not just that I do not believe that there is a god. It is that even in the miniscule possibility that the RRC god was proven to exist, I would consider that entity beneath my belief. My line of reasoning has been stated much more succintly and elegantly in Libby Anne’s Wager. To me, this is a restatement of the Epicurean Paradox, or the Epicurean Trilemma, attributed to the philosopher Epicurus, whose general philosophy I also tend towards.

Additionally, to me, atheism is not just a stance on existence of god. I believe atheism must go hand-in-hand with a number of other issues. This I shall address in a future post, as I haven’t quite thought out my entire position on this.