I will begin this blog post with a small anecdote, if you may.
But apart from all the above ‘short cuts’, I came to know that many affluent people would pay bribes to the tune of a few thousand rupees to the watchmen manning the gates close to the sanctum and gain a direct access. Now, I do not need to elaborate further.
There were very few devotees (my estimate would be ~ 0.5%; yes, around 1 in 200) who used to harbor a sentiment akin to “if I have to meet my God, I must not indulge in any dishonesty in the process and that I must bear some hardship”. Others did not bribe, because they did not have sufficient money or they felt that in terms of ‘input-output’, bribing or getting the receipt were not worth it, as as it is, they would have set aside the entire day for Sai Darshan, so “what was the hurry?”.
That some devotees used to bribe and others used to accept them, and that young men were bribing the Trustees to land up a job as watchman is one aspect of the problem. What is really disconcerting is, that the devotees were the people who used to think that their Sai Baba was omniscient and omnipotent. That their Sai Baba could see all these wrong-doings, could punish for the same, and yet, either these devotees found nothing wrong with bribing thus, or much worse, they felt, that by being servile, offering prayers, garlands, prashad and some money/jewelry they could cajole and flatter their omnipotent and omniscient Sai Baba into not just forgiving them for bribing the watchmen right before His watchful eyes (and for all other ‘sins’ they might have committed from time-to-time), but also persuade Him into being so benevolent and generous that He would even make them rich, or would cure of some terminal illness (which He only would have cursed them with in the first place), or would get them a good life-partner!
For all practical purposes, there exists no God. And even if there were one to exist, we do not know what that God is like. It is no surprise that different religions, civilizations and cultures have come up with myriads of varieties of gods. Also, within the same culture, and even within the same family, different individuals ascribe different traits to their God/gods. That is something that should surprise us a lot. Because all the above forces – religions, cultures, traditions, religious leaders, religious books propound the same/similar ideas about God and that act as a homogenizing force. Moreover, even those who believe in God/gods out of what they believe to be their own convictions, do so, it must be remembered, after living in the same world with comparable if not identical things to observe and draw conclusions from. Yet, in midst of relentless homogenizing factors, every believer’s individuality manifests itself in the subtle ways in which their god differs from the next believer.
Why do people come to believe in different God/gods despite the above homogenizing forces?
I had believed since long that God you believe in is what you are! In my previous blog post (click), I had described my journey from being a passionately devout theist to turning an atheist. At the end I realized that whatever I thought the God to be, were in fact, my own prejudices and convictions projected (click) on to the God. If I am hateful, my God would be hateful; if I am practical person, so would be my God; if I am idealistic and believe that the purpose of human life is to live for one ideal or the other, so would my God be, so on and so forth.
However, my above conclusion was based solely on introspection and observing people around. I had not been confident of my hypothesis. A year back, I had come across a blog post titled ‘My Imaginary Friend’ (click) that had carried a very good analysis of the same phenomenon, which in turn had also contained an excerpt of a study involving brain-imaging, providing a lot more objective data to buttress what had been my suspicion. Also, not all the prejudices are projected on to the God per se, some are also ascribed to the highly vague-sounding ‘nature’. E.g., “it is against the order of nature to allow carnal co-habitation of same-sex individuals” – conveniently forgetting that if a person feels an urge, that in itself proves that the Nature had ‘willed’ it thus. This argument based on what we think the ‘intent’ of nature was, is termed as appealing to ‘nature’ (click).
I leave the readers with a few illustrative paragraphs from Matt McCormick’s blog post as well as the brain-imaging study carried out:
Subjects consistently made the most egocentric attributions to God. No matter what their views were, God shared them across the board. But these same subjects would not do that when making estimations of the moral views of other humans. Even fMRI scans showed that when people were thinking about God’s beliefs the brain activity was most similar to that when they were reflecting on their own views, in contrast to areas of the brain that were active when subjects thought about other humans’ beliefs. Who would have thought that God is just like me, no matter who I am or what I believe? How could that be? Maybe it’s because God is imaginary?
In both nationally representative and more local samples, people’s own beliefs on important social and ethical issues were consistently correlated more strongly with estimates of God’s beliefs than with estimates of other people’s beliefs (Studies 1–4). Manipulating people’s beliefs similarly influenced estimates of God’s beliefs but did not as consistently influence estimates of other people’s beliefs (Studies 5 and 6). A final neuroimaging study demonstrated a clear convergence in neural activity when reasoning about one’s own beliefs and God’s beliefs, but clear divergences when reasoning about another person’s beliefs (Study 7). In particular, reasoning about God’s beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person’s beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences about God’s beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears especially dependent on one’s own existing beliefs.
Source: Believers’ estimates of God’s beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people’s beliefs. (click) by Epley N, Converse BA, Delbosc A, Monteleone GA, Cacioppo JT.
So well, the truth may be very bitter. If my guesses and estimates from the Shirdi experience are correct, the majority of population is so unscrupulous that it has no qualms even believing in and worshiping a morally challenged and compromised God. And to think of it, is not the God (at least for the theists) the highest, the best, the most perfect that could have been conceived or could exist? You see what our “highest”, “best” and “the most perfect” is like?
Apart from my getting to rant against belief in God (which I do with some regularity), the implications of above observation when it comes to the moral fabric of our society are very grim, indeed. How can we expect a populace to truly hate the politicians, bureaucrats and other government employees for being corrupt, when the same people do not find anything wrong with a God amenable to bribery and flattery? How will people find it a disincentive to indulge in corruption, when money and associated power is all we worship, and despite the platitudes that we air against corruption, we covet the same corrupt people privately? Are not jugaad and ‘contacts’ coveted? Do we not take pride in announcing how we would have shaken hands with someone high and mighty? Do we not see people framing their photographs taken with some corrupt politician and hanging them prominently on some wall of their living room or office or both?
When will we truly develop respect for practice of ethics and contempt towards lack thereof? That is something I wish the readers would think over. For I believe, perhaps too optimistically so, that if enough people would think over this, World would be much better place to live in.