A rational superstition

If it is true that superstitions keep man sharp, then one proof is found in the rationalist. The rationalist in his anti-religious superstition is always kept sharp about religious “deviancies”. He is never lazy when it comes to this particular human “deviant”.

But here is an idea. What does it take for a rationalist to be alert about the religious? Religion, in India at least, is everywhere.  Most people are religious. So perhaps I must rethink about the little light I lit at the end of a rational tunnel. The rationalist need not be sharp about religious “deviance(s)”. He simply needs to look at his neighbor.

An olde’ friend alerted me to this interview in the ToI.

As the blurb would have it –

“As president of the Indian chapter of the Centre for Inquiry, Innaiah Narisetti has come up with the controversial thesis that children’s rights should include complete freedom from religious belief or conditioning.”

The interview says so much about the rationalist’s mind that I’ll publish it in full.

– Namaste

Your latest book, Forced into Faith, has a rather provocative subtitle: ‘How religion abuses children’s rights.’ How do you justify that?

Child marriages are prohibited. Voting rights are denied to kids. The same restraint is, however, not observed when it comes to stamping children into religion. Parents treat their children as property and impose their belief system. It’s time parents refrained from indoctrinating their children into their religious beliefs so that they have the freedom to adopt or reject religion when they become adults. The conditioning they suffer in their childhood renders them incapable of exercising choice in the matter.

Why do you argue for a UN convention on what you describe as the religious abuse of children?

The UN convention on children’s rights adopted in 1989 is observed more in the breach. Though the UN has come out against child abuses like genital mutilation of girls and deploying children in wars, it is shy of holding religion guilty of polluting the minds of children with retrograde beliefs. Children accept without question whatever the parents dictate. They carry that habit into their adulthood. Leaders practising superstitions set a bad example. It was sad that somebody like Abdul Kalam, when he was president, thought it fit to touch the feet of Sathya Sai Baba. That to my mind was more outrageous than his being frisked at an airport for security reasons despite his former office.

Is a rationalist necessarily an atheist?

One need not declare that he or she is an atheist while thinking rationally. Scientific temper demands proof and evidence. The god proposition came from religious persons. The burden of proof lies with the proposer. If they fail to prove, the rationalists question the authenticity of the original proposal. All beliefs and superstitions about god are nice stories but there is no proof. All scientific rationality leads to atheism even if many do not actually opt for that word.

“Pseudo sciences” like vaastu, feng shui, astrology and tarot card reading seem to be growing in popularity. What explains the weakness for irrationality despite the growth in scientific knowledge?

The reinforcement of belief systems from early childhood is the root cause for the present-day behaviour. When we fail to reason, when we face emotional problems, our weaknesses lead us to depend on unknown, superstitious powers. Lack of self-reliance, and not tempering emotion with reason leads us to blind beliefs. That is why we get pulled into alternative unscientific systems and religious rituals.


Palahalli S writes – The problem with rationalists are they are really usurpers. Usurpers of rational thought. They have taken a noble virtue and twisted it to mean against anything that that does not suite their ideology. So the rationalist is against God and ritual, hence the rationalist cannot obviously find “scientific evidences” for; and so will oppose as irrational superstition.

If it were not for some intrepid explorers, rationalists would have still believed the Earth was flat. Why? Because no one would have produced “evidence” to say otherwise.

Conversely, some religious folk fall flat into this trap set by rationalists and claim to have scientific evidence for any pin they pick.

Coming to the subject of the interview, it must be plain to any (ir)rational mind that Shri Narisetti is setting sons against fathers. Daughters against mothers.

I’ve believed this – The thing about a child or for that matter, an adult, is curiosity. The human trait is not rational or irrational. It is curious. We have questions, find and/or receive answers and experience  effects and after-effects of our choices. It is this wise accumulation of experience(s) that make a society, nation and a civilization strong and healthy. Shortly, we say don’t keep re-inventing the wheel.

One method that humanity invents to “memorize” it’s collective experiences is, of the many, superstition itself.

Let me take a mundane superstition – “Walking under a drawn ladder brings you bad luck”. Think about this.

The word “luck” is a bad word in the rationalist’s book because it cannot be tested as fact. But that’s the language normal human beings understand and communicate with.

So yes. A superstitious person will flatly avoid walking under a drawn ladder but a rationalist will scoff at this superstition and walk and will get his head thumped by a pail of paint or whatever. (The possibility of an accident are multiplied manifold by this act of the rationalist. )

This only means that an ancestor of the superstitious man DID make the mistake of walking under a drawn ladder..and learnt from that experience, was wise enough to pass it on creatively.

Let’s now take a more common place example – divorce

We know that the religious have been opposed to easy divorce laws. (Please note that they are not against divorce per say but only opposed to easy legal grant of divorce.) That’s because they value most the institutions of marriage and family. These are the bedrock of a healthy society.

Rationalists and their comrades, the feminists have always opposed this good sense as “denial of rights” to women and religious imposition. Any forewarning by the religious has been derided as that of “weak minds”.

Here’s some news for the rationalists again.

“Getting married and remaining married can contribute to your well-being, but remarriage may never heal those burning separation scars, suggests a new study. “

And so I ask. Now that somebody has told these lazy seekers that the Earth is spherical, will they at least now pay heed to the religious and the superstitious?

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