Posts Tagged ‘science’

Pope Benedict XVI is all too eager to set his predecessor Pius XII on the fast track to sainthood. The latter is one of the most controversial of popes, particularly because of his alleged relations with the Nazi and Fascist regimes during the Second World War. The Vatican, under his papacy, is also suspected to have facilitated safe passages and refuges for Nazi war criminals. Many historians have written about Pius’s Nazi leanings, and many have also refuted these allegations. Amongst all this confusion, it is indeed difficult to get the true picture, more so because much of it is shrouded in wartime history. We can only believe one camp or the other, but the better thing to do would be to reserve our judgement. Pius’s complicity in the wartime excesses of Nazi Germany is not the real issue here. The point to be considered is that he is perceived as a very controversial figure, and by literary definition alone, not someone on whom the epithet of saint should apply. A saint, after all, is someone who is supposed to be above all controversies. Benedict’s undue eagerness to sanctify him is therefore showing him and the church he represents in a very bad light.

I would however like to question the very institution of sainthood and its relevance in the current times. The award of sainthood is based not on any achievements (though achievements might be a factor in considering the candidate for the award), but rather on the attestation of so-called ‘miracles’ performed by the candidate, either in life or in death. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest hoaxes to be perpetrated on thinking and reasoning minds. In an age in which science is helping us discover the most fantastic secrets about our world and to find solutions to the many problems which plague humanity, the Roman Catholic Church is openly propagating a pseudoscience which traces its origins to the age when rain was considered to be the tears of the rain-god, and the stars the angels’ daisy chain! What is more, one miracle gets you a ‘blessed’ status, while two make you a full-fledged ‘saint’. What can be more ridiculous than this? I wonder if three miracles can make you a demi-god, four a full-time practising god, and five a super-duper-god to beat all other gods! Even assuming for the sake of argument that these miracles are ‘divine’ interventions beyond our grasp, how can the testimony of mere mortals be sufficient to attest their veracity? For these reasons, I also do not see any reason to be upbeat about the prospective sainthood of Mother Teresa, howsoever genuine a social-worker she might have been. Before considering her, the Pope might as well consider P C Sorcar, and I’m sure there are thousands of people in Calcutta itself willing to testify in his favour, myself included!

The story of the human species has been one of a continuous conflict between ignorance and knowledge, the former manifested as religion and the latter as science. Ignorance is necessary in as much as it spurs the quest for knowledge. Thereafter, it must be discarded in favour of the revelations of that quest. With every step that we have taken forward in the scientific direction, religion has been progressively marginalized. With minor local fluctuations, this trend has been consistent so far. The obvious extrapolation of this in the foreseeable future leads us to pose a fundamental question to ourselves – that of the relevance or necessity of religion in human affairs. There are those who perceive this eventual showdown as a threat, and they are the ones who make an institution out of ignorance and champion the cause of religion like naïve candle-makers hoping to make a living in a land of eternal sunshine. Phenomena like ‘miracles’, ‘beatification’ and ‘canonization’ are products of this stupidity, and those who practice or profess them are stupid people.

The conflict between the miraculous and the natural, or between religion and science, is a futile one. “Science is only a Latin word for knowledge”, said the British mathematician Jacob Bronowski, “and knowledge is our destiny.” We, as an intelligent species, are destined to know more and more, and believe less and less. As far as miracles go, my thoughts are best expressed by Joseph Conrad in The Shadow Line:

“All my moral and intellectual being is penetrated by an invincible conviction that whatever falls under the dominion of our senses must be in nature and, however exceptional, cannot differ in its essence from all the other effects of the visible and tangible world of which we are a self-conscious part. The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is—marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state. No, I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvelous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; an outrage on our dignity.”


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