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The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan​

Why are we building Altars? Richard and Sundar Discuss Religion

Richard is a philosophy undergraduate student with ambitions towards a career in jurisprudence. He likes banter and debating but can be impatient and at times unsympathetic to the question of God. Sundar is a student in electrical engineering with hopes of working in the field of wireless communications. Both young men enjoy each other’s company and discussion even though one is an atheist and the other a committed follower of Jesus and the Christian way.

Richard: hey man, you get a good workout in?

Sundar: yeah, working stuff out by hitting the Muay Thai pads a bit

Richard: Man, what’s with that face, did someone do something bad in your corn flakes?

Sundar: My Mom is wearing me out again.

Richard: What’s going on? Man you are in college, she needs to chill and realize you are not her little boy any more. 

Sundar: No, my mom is cool, she really does treat me like a grown up for the most part [smiles thoughtfully]. It’s actually a little complicated.

Richard: Well, my next class is in an hour and a half. I mean, I don’t want to hear you whine for an hour but if it helps to talk about it, I’m good to listen.

Sundar:  She is wanting me to do some Diwali celebrations with the family.

Richard: Nice!!! Bollywood dancing!?! [awkwardly stands, screws in light bulb and pets the cat]

Sundar: no, Hinduism…it kinda creates some tension for me. I mean, I love my family but they worship before these statues and get so superstitious about everything, and…[Richard interrupts him]

Richard: so chill out, can’t you just join in for the food and dancing [laughs a bit]

Sundar: yes and no…I told you it is sort of complicated…especially after becoming a follower of Jesus. I can hang, enjoy the festiveness but my Mom really wants me to join in with all the pujas

Richard: poojawhat?

Sundar: it’s an act of honor or devotion to a deity or a person of honor. I’m not really down with that anymore and my Mom thinks I’m rejecting her and the whole family. I love them but they just don’t get why I no longer jump in to worshiping avatars and Hindu deities.

Richard: your family is really religious

Sundar: we are Indian bro [moment of silence and both break out in laughter] Even studying for school is expected to be an act of devotion.

Richard: religion just divides people, I’m sorry this sucks so bad for you.

Sundar: I kinda think religion connects all people in a common humanity on one level…but divides on another.

Richard: you mean all religions teach basically the same things - be good, make the gods happy, be nice to your fellow monkeys?

Sundar: I wouldn’t say something ignorant like that - the major religions are actually nothing alike.

Richard: Well, they might disagree on some minor stuff but say similar things about the big stuff.

Sundar: it’s actually the exact opposite…they disagree on things like: god, the problem with the world, humanity’s role in it, what solutions we need, what happens when we die, and our eternal destiny…

Richard: [Smiles] These are sort of biggies in god-world aren’t they?

Sundar: Yeah…it is usually secular people who say “all religions teach the same thing.” A devout Muslim wouldn’t say that. It is also imperialistic for secular people to define the religions of other people for them. Don’t you think? Buddhists don’t claim to be orthodox in Jewish faith you know. The truth claims of the religions actually make them distinct not the same.

Richard: Well, I think people in the West just want to try and point out some unity in religion so religious people will stop finding reasons to blow each other up.

Sundar: It’s more than religious people blowing stuff up. I don’t think it was First Baptist Church fighting the Vietnam War or filling Stalin’s camps, creating the killing fields of the Khamir Rouge, or creating cultural revolutions that slaughtered millions.

Richard: fair enough, can we say that it seems a human tendency is to want to blow each other up?

Sundar: man is sinful and separated from God

Richard: ok…don’t go preaching…get back to why you think there is a common humanity found due to religion. I can’t wait to hear this one [laughs in a dismissive way]

Sundar: Well, I’m not going to make some fantastic claim. I do want to simply say to be human, IS to be religious. We cannot help ourselves.

Richard: I’m not religious at all

Sundar: Except for when the political season comes around, or when your week is ruined because the NY Giants loose to the Cowboys or when you wanted to smash that guy who was saying Foo Fighters were a greater band than Pearl Jam, or when you declare your atheism superior to all views of life heaping condemnation upon religious people.

Richard: [Sheepishly] Am I that bad?

Sundar: Dude, you don’t make friends easily. But you are deeply religious – you can’t help to worship stuff either. It IS human to worship.

Richard: But I don’t worship dumb stuff like you and your parents…not meaning to offend

Sundar: Yeah, worshipping young men playing football is soooo sophisticated.

Sundar: Human beings throughout time have been very religious in every culture and every time. They seem to want to transcend themselves and circumstances, have minds that seem to be able to do so and create gods and goddesses like it’s going out of style.

Richard: Katy Perry is a goddess.

Sundar: And you’re an idiot [the two laugh, Richard stops and has a serious look on his face]

Richard: I actually get what you are saying man. The very nature of homo sapiens seems to be this way. It is hard to deny that.

Sundar: You could name the species homo adorans. Worshipping man. The really interesting question for me is WHY we are this way.

Richard: Haven’t recent brain scan studies shown that god-stuff happens in a certain region of the brain. 

Sundar: Actually other research has shown that several regions of the brain get activated by questions about god(s). That isn’t my point. My question is WHY are we this way? We don’t have to be this way you know. According to your beliefs we are only a biological monkey that evolved to survive and propagate our DNA to the next generation. But we have a species that in every environment and every time is profoundly religious.

Richard: Well, religion must have had an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors to help them make it through the day. Those creatures with this sort of tendency survived and here we are.

Sundar: But you say religious people are stupid, should get Darwin awards and are less fit than those like yourselves. The books you give me to read by the Rev Sam Harris and his posse all talk about religion as it is evil, worthless and dangerous to people. But now you say it must be awesome because evolution selected it?

Richard: We are smarter now then then so we no longer need it.

Sundar: You should record and listen to yourself sometime. In your view the religious nature of human beings is a historical accident of DNA that was AWESOME and now it is not awesome to our genes any longer? That totally makes no sense at all.

Sundar: The religious sense that we all have, this desire to worship, can be explained by an accident of biochemistry or it could be that we are worshippers by nature, by our very make up and design. We were made to worship.  One of the leaders of the European Protestant Reformation called this the sensus divinitatis, the sense of the divine.  It seems to me that this sense can either correspond to something real or it is an illusion without any sort of explanation.

Richard: OK, let me grant that for a second. There is something real “out there” that we were made to worship. Man, it seems like we don’t have a clue what that is.  Look at how many gods there are just in Hinduism let alone all the world’s religions. Then you add to that all the other religions and their deities: Jesus, Allah, Tom Cruise.

Sundar: hahahaha – don’t even get me started on Scientology – I’m reading a great book on that right now – had it on my iPhone while hitting the pads just a few minutes ago. Have you seen that song “Tom Cruise, is Tom Cruise crazy” – classic.

Richard: [laughing]  Don’t change the subject though, it seems that this religious sense only gets you so far. It launches you into a loony world of gods, goddesses, demi-gods, weirdos and confusion. So if I grant you this religious sense in us, for whatever its cause, you still don’t get to “I believe in God the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?”

Sundar: Well, I did say it unites us in a common humanity as worshippers…but I never said that “all religions are the same” or “all are equally true in all aspects” or “all gods worshipped are real.” I consider much religion a misguided fiction because we seem to have bad aim in our religious devotion and worship. I mean, you mentioned Katy Perry, there are better things to worship.

Richard: I’m not so sure about that [goofing off again]

Sundar: I believe that we are made by our creator to know and worship him. Yet we choose to worship everything but him. The biblical terminology is idolatry.  This is precisely why I have this dilemma with my Mom. I love her; I want to be with her. But I think it is wrong to worship avatars and statues and concocted deities.  I think it is as misguided as you would think and more because I do believe we should worship God.

Richard: Well, you could just fake it, go through the motions of the…what did you call it

Sundar: Puja

Richard: Just cross yourself and light some candles like we do when we go to Mass with grandma.

Sundar: There is too much faking in the world already Richard. I really don’t want to put on a show, particularly falsely posing to worship idols. Come on, I want to have integrity – we have too much lying and fake crap in the world for me to join in that dance. Plus, I really believe the gospel and I’m not down with religion.

Richard: You just tried to convince me that we are all religious! Just about worked too. Now you say religion ain’t no good? Hey, welcome to my team!  [laughing]

Sundar: No, I think religion is a human creation to try to please god, gods or connect with ultimate reality. It depends upon our effort, typically depends on the ability to keep some rule and it usually crushes the human spirit

Richard: You are on my team!

Sundar: There is a third option between my Mom’s worship of the gods and your atheism. A couple of years ago I became a follower of Jesus. He did not claim to bring a religion to the world but to bring good news. He taught that God loves and pursues people, forgives their sin and rebellion…[pause]…even our idolatry. He died for our sin to bring us into relationship with God and rightly fulfill our desire for worship. One theologian said this way long ago “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee” Jesus said he came to seek and save people and bring them into a living relationship with God. He makes them worshippers in spirit and in truth.  So the desire to worship can be aimed not at Katy Perry but the one who created and sustains all things.

Richard: [long pause] – that’s not the thing I heard from Father Joe growing up. He was always telling me about how sinful I am and how I needed to make up for that by doing good stuff. I got sick of that and wanted to be free of that noise.  

Sundar: Sin is real, but there is more than one sort of way to be free…

Richard: Dang, I gotta go get some food and get to class.  I sort of miss Aquinas after gargling on Kant for a few weeks now. Seriously man, I understand why you feel in a pickle with your family. If I was a praying dude I’d pray for you. But, since I ain’t, hang in there [gives a man hug to Sundar]