Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Da Vinci Dilemma

I picked up the paperback edition of “The Da-Vinci Code” in sometime around the middle of 2004 before all the maelstroms surrounding the book were unleashed. When I first picked up the red-colored book with an interesting subject at Landmark book shop at Bangalore, little did I realize that this book would become such a popular book it is right now. There have been other books and initiatives that have equal if not more temerity with which they hit back at the Catholic Church at a place where it hurts the most. Perhaps what separates “The Da-Vinci Code” from the others is how the author has put together a work which seems like a fictional thriller and at the same time has enough ratiocination to shake the basics of a person’s Christian faith.
When I first read it, I must say (so did several millions of book readers who made it a best seller) that it was a novel par excellence. The work did not shake my faith whatsoever as there was nothing much of faith left in me anyways to be shaken. Perhaps it was my college. Or perhaps it was my daredevil friends who had the guts to question everything. Or perhaps it was also myself. Whatever the reason, during my engineering studies, I have clearly grown out of faith. Looking back, I don’t know how it happened. But I remember one day at church as I was waiting for the sermon to get over, I remember a strange logic which was trying its best to get itself heard within me. I think I just watched the movie “Matrix” and it had set me thinking. Suddenly I had this notion that what if all this stuff which is being preached was factually wrong. Why should I unquestioningly believe that this/that scripture was true? When I clearly lived in an era/place where I cannot know/experience a truth/fiction that was written, how can I be expected to accept it as a belief? It sounded simple at that moment so I was just wondering why I should be the only person to have these doubts. Whether the belief was factually true or not is a different matter. My dilemma was simple: How can I accept or believe something which cannot be verified. All I am ready to do is a little experimentation in the hope of experiencing some truth. In other words, all I was ready to do was set aside my preconceived and comfortable notions for some time so that I can be opened up to some truth. Now talk like this to any Christian authority and you are asking for serious trouble. As I did. Strangely very few of my family/school friends could relate to these questions as my college friends did. I must say I scared a couple of my close Christian friends during this time. Some of them ended their conversations with me by saying “Anto, I will pray for your faith…” Looking at them, it was clear that they were looking into someone walking off the charted path for the righteous. Perhaps the intensity of my questions springs from the very way Christianity has been defined to me. You can be a Christian only as long as you believe. What you do is not irrelevant but not as important as what you believe. If you believe in the Christ, what you do is not very important. Though Christianity has some of the most formal Do’s and Don’ts, some of which comes all the way from the papal office, in the name of divine mercy, most of the crap which you do can be easily discounted. And if you lived several hundred years ago, you could buy yourself out of Hell with the help of the papal office. At the same time, if you don’t believe in Christ, you are doomed to Hell no matter how good you are.
Thus Christianity is a classic example of belief system. Morality and rituals take a humble backseat. I have asked the following question to several people who claim that their Christian faith is tenable no matter what Dan brown writes. The question is simple: “Let’s say there was a man who as an infant was stranded on a highly remote island. He was living there all alone. He somehow learnt the knack of keeping himself alive. And devoid of any human contact, he thought he was the only human in the world and lived his life as the situation demanded and one fine day he died. Will this person go to Hell because he never knew Christ let alone believe in Him?” Some of the people whom I asked will sound confused. Some of them will out rightly say Yes to this question. Some of them will spin fantastic tales on how Christ will reach out to every human being no matter where he is. Almost all of the Christians say “Yes”. Some of them who were very close to me won’t dare say “Yes” to this question to me. So they will hesitantly say “No, God will forgive…blah blah..”. Ultimately none of their answers satisfied me. Like this my questioning went on... Finally I came to a calm but firm conclusion: “I do not know”. Mind you I did not reject Christ or whatever. All I said to myself was “I really do not know whether this is true or not. It could be true or It could be false. Jesus could have been God himself. Jesus could have been just another prophet. Maybe he married Mary Magdalene. Maybe he was just a normal human being who wanted to change the society for the better. I am equally open to any of this. But I will accept any one of them only when I experience it as a truth in my life. I do not want to settle for a belief system.”
This indeed is the dilemma of every person who believes. Seems like this iconic novel is made into a full-length movie and the other day I was watching an interview in which some Christian figures were discussing the potential ramifications of such a movie in a new channel. A lot of them were sensible enough to understand that banning the movie even among Christians will be simply fruitless. People will watch this blockbuster. Some were looking really belligerent that this thing is made into such a hit. Some of them simply could not accept it. They are not ready to look into any of it. For them, their belief exists for its own sake. It exists outside the ordinary realm of reality, science, facts and the logic. While I could frankly say that I cannot be like them, I must say that I respect their way of life and let them be their way. Reminiscing on this, I want to quote the following article by Vivekananda. Even though I have said that I respect the people who believe, I can’t but make the following observation here: there is one reason why Osama Bin Laden is killing around people in the same evangelistic zeal as did the Papal office when it squashed the scientific community in the Dark Ages (And who can forget the White man’s burden) .

I believe it is because of these belief systems. Belief by definition is not bound by reality. Hence one Belief naturally tend to be contradictory with respect to another. Hence the strife.
In the end all I am asking is: “Let you be the way you are. Let me be the way I am. A Believer needs company. A Seeker doesn’t.”


Arvind Sharma said...

Beautifully expressed! I can clearly understand the dilemma you are facing(and probably even every beleiver is facing somewhere in the subconcious). I whole-heartedly hope that you succeed in your search and wish you the very best in the journey...

Parthiban said...

Antoji, well said. Excellently said. I only hope you have read the Holy Blood Holy Grail, which tries to justify the human nature of Christ. As you rightly said, a Christ, a Krishna, and a Prophet were needed for those who cannot carry their lives themselves. For seekers and livers(live + ers), their own self was sufficient.

Rams said...

That cud easily be one of the best pieces u hav penned down...And I can see some targetted audience too ;) If only the readers have some openness in their minds to first allow this piece to go through their gates...

That's a stunning piece which I'll proudly show to ppl for the clarity and thought in it...

And I sincerely hope that ppl jus don't see it targetting the "believers" of one particular religion, but targetting to those who are "blind" believers (NOT Bhakti yogis)

Gokulakrishnan S said...

Well written piece... wouldnt call DaVinci as a potential shaker of Christian faith. But the human nature of religious founders and the power structures that came up later are interesting. A parallel would be the Gurus of Sikhism and the power structures that came behind it like the Akal Takht etc.

"How can I accept or believe something which cannot be verified?"
The wellness(for want of a better word) after prayer is verifyable thought it is inexplicable. The whole of Bhakti movement rests on this idea, doesnt it?

A.J.Anto said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
A.J.Anto said...

Gokul, I think the word that you need here is solace.
Unfortunately i am a demanding seeker. And Solace is not the only thing i need from Divinity. :-)

Deepak said...


I can see that this subject is something close to your heart.

Some of what you've written applies to me as well (growing out of faith - but in my case, this is not Christian faith). This happened long time back, I was spoilt mostly by Osho... :)

I hope you find what you're searching for - and from your post on Samyama, I feel you know where you're going :)

shiva said...

Nice post. Another dimension to look at the people who are 'believers' is that they could have felt the presence of divine and we being non-seekers or non-bhakti yogis just don't get a chance to feel it. For people like us the best way is through Raja yoga which is what the Kriya-yoga, Isha-yoga and other such practices tend to take people towards.

The ultimate aim of yoga is to make human feel and be the divine. There are a wide range of yogic practices targeted at different types of people and the trick is to find the one that suits the individual the best.

Prasanna said...

Anto, post is awesome...well thought of and nicely constructed.

I can relate to what is going on within you, as I went through the same recently....Only difference is that I was a believer initially…My beliefs were tattered into pieces by you know who...

Now I am a big I DON'T KNOW!

Mind Swapper said...

"I b'liev in a belief...

Nt evryone believes in wat I b'liev...

Bt my beliefs dont require them to..."

------ Guess who said ths ???

[Aama, u r a christian ?? Sollavae illa !! Ada paavi !! No offense intended...].

Chandra said...

Anto, there are two kinds of beliefs that one can have, one is the belief in oneself of ones abilities and the other the belief that the goal that you are chasing is achievable. If God is want you want to experience, then you need to believe/have faith that God exists, without that you are never going to try hard enough to experience and this is the fundamental principle on which all religions rest on. Now how do you percieve god is left to the devotee which is want Hinduism says.

Chandra said...

Neverthless a poignant post indeed.

Prasanna SV said...

You have been gifted with a clear thought process and a neat way of presenting it.
Regarding the content, the question you had asked about whether the loner be gifted with heaven or punished with hell left me guessing and the sample answers left me laughing. The answers themselves helped me understand that its all "making up the mind" stuff. Its like follow some thing which ur heart says and try to justify it whenever shaken/feel bad about the task. The reasons don't have any importance as long as u do what u love to do.
Belief and faith, I feel, are very important. It sometimes weeds out unaiding (that which doesn't help u grow spiritually) fear. I feel let down when it comes to expressing myself out here, but I find it difficult to accept that belief system is unnatural.
And I didn't understand rams comments on multiple fronts. 1. I didn't understand the targetted audience. 2. I didnt understand the diff between believers and blind believers. Am a bunch of ignorant stock out here!

Anonymous said...

One marvellous piece da Anto ...Will be my chicken soup on one fine day ... :-)

- Karthik R (Enthu)

nearfar said...

The Buddha has clearly put it -

For me, it's all in meditation (with the *help* of eightfold noble path). I think, whatever we think/comtemplate are bound by the limitation of "self" vs "no-self".

Anonymous said...

fantastic piece...I came across this blog thanks to Karthik Rathinavelu.I have christian friends who told me'God will punish Dan Brown'.Why? Just cos the poor guy wrote a novel that captured the attention of even ppl who dont read novels?As Gokul said the solace after prayer is verifiable though inexplicable.Lets just say faith , be it in God or fellow humans or a power beyond human understanding, is something that is the basis of humanity.Maybe cos we need hope to live & for that we need to believe in something?

Gokulakrishnan S said...

Why dont the churches give the artistic license to screen the film as the Vatican has already dismissed it as a 'work of fiction'. Tis acts like these that give fodder for hate propaganda by fundamentalists of other faiths.

A.J.Anto said...

Well Gokul, The thing the church authorities are worried about is (at least according to the article) is that this film "alters the very root of Christian faith ".
This is what i say: If a person's faith can be shaked by nothing greater than a novel, then it is better to be shaken.

A.J.Anto said...

@Sharma: Thanks. :-)
@Partiban: Actually the facts surrounding Jesus is only of historical importance to me. I used "Da Vinci Code" as a sort of a device to see what people will go through when thier beliefs are proved factually incorrect.
@Rams: Thanks Bud. :-)
@Prasanna: Thanks Ma'aam.. :-D
@Deepak: :-)
@intuitor: Well said. Thanks for visiting.
@Mind Swapper: "I believe in beliefs": This looks like some self-fulfuling prophecy to me :-)
@Chandi Anna: Actually Divinity is only a sort of philosophical curiosity to me.. What i am really interested right now is my own freedom. Maybe Dinvity and freedom are related.. I dunno...:-)
@Prasanna Srini: You wanted to know the targetted audience? Will tell ya when i meet you in Hyd..;-)The difference between convenient believers and true bhakti yogis are that the former uses devotion as thier escape from painful reality and they use god as thier "Genie in the bottle". To the best of my bookish knowledge, Bhakti yogis are childlike people who have intense emotional craving for the divine. I am not good at explaining this as i really don't know what true Bhakti is. I think there have been good number of christian mystics who were true bhakts.
@Enthu: Thanks Machi..:-) To be mailed as the chicken soup is indeed a honor.
@Sreedhar: Well said. That was a insightful comment.
@anonymous: Thanks. Keep coming... :-)
Having acknowledged all my readers, i need to clarify something. Some of you might already know that i am into this Isha yoga thing. So you might ask me whether i am just jumping from one belief to another. That's a natural question. To answer I want to quote what was told to us at the end of BSP: "If you come thristy, we won't give water. Rather we put salt at your throats. This is so because the thirst has come from inside and if it has to be quenched for once and all it has to be quenced from source that is within. We want you to get to that source by yourself. All we can do is increase your thirst" In my experience, Isha yoga has never involved any belief systems. Also please note that the post "The Da Vinci Dilemma" portrays my mindspace during the time of those mentioned changes. i.e.during my college. It is not indicative of my present mindset. I must say my hyper-logical mind has been numbed by the constant stream of intoxication i received from you know who.....

Gokulakrishnan S said...

"mindspace" ! its a lovely word !
... can smell its origins in "workspace" but totally ossum word :)

Thendral said...

Very nice post. You might like this.
"Why I Am An Atheist?" by Bhagat Singh

Anonymous said...

"“Let you be the way you are. Let me be the way I am. A Believer needs company. A Seeker doesn’t.” "

Well Said

kalai said...


kinda reflects my i outgrew my "belief" in hinduism...

many ppl r hopelessly dependent on the system...they r scared to even come out and question....

even now when i speak buddhism or quantum physics...they immediately claim its hoax...coz it gives them a satisfaction that what they feel is real! :)

am reading abt brain structure says that human brain needs "some belief" to "normally" proceed...

we need yoga/meditation to come out of our "well trained" brain to seek the truth!

Swapna said...

Well-written and well-thought out. Though I'm not a christian, I can easily understand what you mean. I've had a lot of arguments about faith and belief with my family and friends and most of them blindly stick to faith without really understanding if that is the way to God.

My way to God is different from most other people's but does that mean I won't reach God if I don't believe?

"In the end all I am asking is: "Let you be the way you are. Let me be the way I am. A Believer needs company. A Seeker doesn’t.""

This is a beautiful way of putting it.

mishi said...

Very well written Anto! A seeker needs no company, only a believer does. And that applies to all of us in what we do, not just in what we believe.
Religion is only a vehicle for realising the higher truth, and different people take different vehicles and different paths, but ultimately leading to the same destination. And what takes one there is not one's faith or religion, but his own actions.

Very well written, Anto ji!

Anonymous said...

The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, despite minor dents.
WITH A Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, five members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 40 corporators in Hyderabad and 95-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city's Muslims and the most powerful Muslim party in India and one can see the partys strenghth if it goes to Hyderabads Old city everywhere u look u can see MIM written on walls ,lightpoles and buildings leaving aside flags and posters of its Leadership. The Majlis has brought lot of development to the Old part of the city even after it is said it hasnt done anything by its opponents who are mostly Ex Majlis workers.
The Majlis was formed in 1927 "for educational and social uplift of Muslims". But it articulated the position that "the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community... (and) this status must continue forever".
The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam's rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.
By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the "independence" of this "Muslim" State from merger with the Indian Union.
According to historians, over 1,50,000 such `volunteers' were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State's defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Hindu populations, the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam's "go it alone" policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar `agitation', over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these `volunteers'.
But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and did not even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a famous lawyer and an Islamic scholar who also was jailed for nearly 10 months after he took over the Majlis leadership as the then govt wanted to abolish the Majlis party but Owaisi refused to do so and was seen as a person who had financially supported the party when it was a bankrupt and weak one after the Police Action in Hyderabad State.
Owaisi is credited with having "re-written" the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and "the realities of Muslim minority in independent India", according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this "reinvention", the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.
The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis' political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the New City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women's degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father's demise.
This started an important phase in the history of the Majlis as it continued expanding its educational institutions,Hospitals,Banks, including the first Muslim minority Engineering College and Medical College. Courses in MBA, MCA ,Nursing, Pharmacy and other professional degrees followed and now a daily newspaper known as Etemaad Daily. The 1970s were also a watershed in Majlis' history as after a long period of 31 years, Hyderabad witnessed large-scale communal rioting in 1979. The Majlis came to the forefront in "defending" Muslim life and property Majlis workers could be seen at these moments defending the properties of Muslims in the wake of riots and these workers were very hard even for the police to control them even now it is a known fact that there are nearly about 2500 units of strong members who only act if there is a seirous threat to the Owaisi family and these members are under the direct orders of the Owaisi family which leads the Majlis party leaving aside thousands of workers and informers throughout the State and even outside the country far away till America and the Gulf countries.
Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as "Salar-e-Millat" (commander of the community), has repeatedly alleged in his speeches that the Indian state has "abandoned" the Muslims to their fate. Therefore, "Muslims should stand on their own feet, rather than look to the State for help'', he argues.
This policy has been an unambiguous success in leveraging the Majlis today to its position of being practically the "sole spokesman" of the Muslims in Hyderabad and its environs.
Voting figures show this clearly. From 58,000 votes in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections for the Hyderabad seat, Majlis votes rose to 1,12,000 in 1980. The clear articulation of this "stand on one's feet" policy in education and `protection' during riots doubled its vote-share by 1984. Salahuddin Owaisi won the seat for the first time, polling 2.22 lakh votes. This vote-share doubled in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to over four lakhs.
The Majlis has since continued its hold on the Hyderabad seat winning about five-and-a-half lakh votes each time.
Despite remarkable economic prosperity and negligible communal violence in the past decade, the hold of the Majlis on the Muslims of Hyderabad remains, despite minor dents. And despite widespread allegations of Majlis leaders having "made money", most ordinary Muslims continue to support them because, as one bank executive put it "they represent our issues clearly and unambiguously''. An old Historian Bakhtiyar khan says the Owaisi family was a rich family even before entering Politics and he says he had seen the late Majlis leader Abdul Wahed Owaisi in an American Buick car at a time when rarely cars were seen on Hyderabad Roads and the family had strong relations with the ersthwhile Nizams of Hyderabad and the Paighs even now the family is considered to be one of the richest familes in Hyderabad.
A university teacher says that the Majlis helped Muslims live with dignity and security at a time when they were under attack and even took the fear out of them after the Police action and adds that he has seen Majlis leaders in the front at times confronting with the Police and the Govt.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate UK educated barrister son of Salahuddin Owaisi and Former leader of the Majlis' Legislature party and now an MP himself who has travelled across the globe meeting world leaders and organizatons and even in war zones compares the Majlis to the Black Power movement of America.
The Majlis that emerged after 1957 is a completely different entity from its pre-independence edition, he says adding that comparisons with that bloody past are "misleading and mischievous". "That Majlis was fighting for state power, while we have no such ambitions or illusions".
He stoutly defends the need for "an independent political voice" for the minorities, which is willing to defend them and project their issues "firmly".
"How can an independent articulation of minority interests and aspirations be termed communal," he asks and contests any definition of democracy which questions the loyalty of minorities if they assert their independent political identity. "We are a threat not only to the BJP and Hindu communalism, but also to Muslim extremism," Asaduddin claims. "By providing a legitimate political vent for Muslims to voice their aspirations and fears, we are preventing the rise of political extremism and religious obscurantism when the community is under unprecedented attack from Hindu communalists and the state''. He can be seen in his speeches speaking against terrorism in the Country and says if the time arises Majlis will stand side by side in defending the Nation.

Richard said...

Great article by Vivekananda. He spoke very eloquently on the underlying unity of world religions at the parliament of world religions in 1893