Even though I was brought up steeped in religious traditions—of the orthodox north Karnataka Madhwa Brahmin variety, no less—I grew out of them in college and have never really felt the need to seek any comfort in imagining a supernatural deity of any sort watching over me ever since. Of course, the broad and ambiguous philosophical traditions of Hinduism allow for atheists to remain part of the fold, because it doesn’t require firm belief in any particular (of its thousands of) deities, but rather emphasizes practice, or karma. In this, Hinduism may be closer to being a philosophy and culture more than an organized religion, unlike Bill O’Reilly’s latest delusions about Christianity. In recent years, especially after two decades of mostly living in the US, I have drifted away from much of the cultural practice as well, and find myself nonplussed by Hinduism as much as by any other of the world’s religious traditions. As to the dominant / mainstream (fundamentalist/supremacist) practitioners of these religious traditions… that’s another story.
These late night reflections on religion may seem rather odd on this blog, but they’re triggered in part by a nocturnal viewing of the sun (more on that below), and a recent essay by Indian environmental historian Ramachandra Guha where he tracks the rise of Hindutvawadi trolls on the internet, as part of the overall rise in Hindu supremacist (which may be a better term than fundamentalist, given Hinduism’s lack of singular fundamental texts or beliefs) movements in India. It was interesting to learn that my own upbringing was somewhat similar to Guha’s – except that my father in his later years joined the urban middle class throngs voting for the right-wing parties. I am glad, though, that in raising our own family now in America, we have managed to avoid what appears to be a common trajectory for many immigrant communities: a tracking back to a more rigid form of religious/cultural practices, often coupled with support for more conservative/religious politics in the US, all of which seems driven by the search for identity in a foreign land. I don’t go to the temple, for example, and have given up on attending various “cultural events” organized by local Hindu communities because I cannot stand their politics (which too often refract Indian communal identity politics in strange colors); or the trolls who show up to defend their interpretation of Hindutva in the manner Guha describes.
So how do I deal with that immigrant’s identity void? And how will I deal with questions about our culture and tradition that may come as my daughters grow up and face their own inevitable struggles with identity?
Science and secular humanism have served us well so far, and I hope they will provide strength to my girls when they come into their own as individuals embedded in a society that remains far too beholden to outdated religious ideas worldwide. I’m confident that we will find some ways to figure things our using these frameworks without having to resort to belief in some supernatural divinity.
But if that long-dead religious impulse ever gets resurrected (can’t imagine why, but the faithful keep telling me the day will come!), and I find myself in some spiritual void seeking an emotional crutch, I think I will probably take up Sun Worship. After all, the Sun actually exists, and is largely responsible for powering the evolution of life on Earth, and will keep life going here until it expands and swallows the planet in a distant but inevitable future – long, long, long after we are all gone, recycled back into the stardust that was forged in the interiors of other, older suns.
Here’s my prophet of choice, George Carlin, describing how, overnight, he became a Sun Worshipper (at around the 3:30 mark in this clip):
Of course, Carlin jokes that his conversion wasn’t actually overnight because you can’t see the Sun at night!
How Carlin would have loved this video, then, which showed up on my computer screen late last night, making me suddenly feel a strong urge to worship the power of the Sun (and triggering this blog post):
Isn’t that truly awe-inspiringly spectacular? And to think that the Sun was tossing off that little flare at the same time as I was sitting in my living room late at night, peering at my laptop screen in my insomniac way, looking for inspiration to finish a bit of writing on a long-overdue research manuscript!
The video comes from the Helioviewer project, which allows one to visualize and explore the surface and inner heliosphere of the Sun from the comfort of one’s living room, using imagery data from NASA and the European Space Agency (the other ESA)! So not only do we not need to build any temples or churches to worship the Sun—who doesn’t give a shit about what we do anyway, because the Sun just IS—we don’t even need to wait until dawn to spend some quality time contemplating the face of this wondrous and powerful deity!
So that’s the other reason why I am up at night now, rambling on about religious impulses in this blog post!
Let me leave you with another awesome little video from just a couple of minutes ago:
How can you not worship that?