Vanity thought #1530. Depressing death of the American Dream

Speaking of social studies, another eye catching one was published a week ago, by a Nobel Prize winner, nonetheless. Not for this study but still. It was on the suspiciously high mortality among middle aged white Americans and it was widely reported, here’s The Atlantic’s take on it.

These guys were looking at something else and noticed a strange increase in white American mortality. They investigated it further and found that it is really happening and not a fluke. It has been on the rise and, compared to the expected rates, practically doubled. Not in absolute numbers but everyone else, blacks and Hispanics, and pretty much the rest of the world, saw a significant decrease and, if you look at the charts in the article, American whites are twice as likely to die in middle age than any other group now, save for blacks.

What happened? No one knows for sure but the researches attribute it to increase in suicides and drug and alcohol poisoning. They discounted heart disease and diabetes but took note of side effects of increased drug consumption. I don’t know if it was justified and whether they missed some other possible connections but in their view it’s all due to legal drugs, like prescription medicine and alcohol. There’s also a significant rise in heroin consumption but I think it’s statistically low to affect the entire population.

Up until now everyone thought that drug abuse wasn’t a big problem, certainly not big enough to show any demographic effects but it turns out that it’s not the case anymore. They compared this increase in mortality to the effect of the AIDS epidemic, or to a sudden life expectancy drop in post-Soviet Russia.

The reasons are pretty much the same, too – people’s dreams crashed. Russians drank themselves to death, seeing their once great country going down the drain, and Americans had their inflation adjusted incomes shrink by 20% since the turn of the century.

Why whites, though? Because their expectations were unrealistically high. Hispanics can compare their present day life to what it could have been back in Latin America and they see an improvement. Blacks never had high hopes at all, nothing to be frustrated about, but white Americans were supposed to live the dream and it didn’t happen.

College educated ones are still doing okay, mortality wise, higher education still pays, I guess, but those without college degrees ruined it for the rest of the group. Perhaps in the near future debt laden graduates competing for part time jobs with fifty year olds will turn to drugs, too, who knows, but for now it hasn’t happened yet. They still have high hopes, being close to one percenters and eager to exploit income inequality for themselves.

For those who never went to college, however, life is essentially over and it won’t get better, there’s no hope. They fell through the cracks, they didn’t make it, they see themselves as losers in a society where everyone else projects only wealth and success.

Why different from the rest of the white world, especially Europe which, if you believe mainstream media, still hasn’t recovered from 2008 crisis? Because in Europe everyone’s retirement is guaranteed, thanks to socialist policies. Same whites in the US have no savings, no plan B, no comfort and safety in their future, and this drives them to drugs and suicidal thoughts.

There could also be a problem with religious disaffiliation, there are lots of studies showing that religious Americans have better health, but the authors of this one didn’t mention the correlation. It’s not difficult to find relevant studies on the subject, like this one, for example.

Depression is a big problem in itself and it affects the whole white world, not just the Americans. Recently I saw someone praising Iceland as an exemplary country where they do everything right. They jailed their bankers, for example. Some say that while the bankers are in jail, the money stolen from other countries are still in Iceland so it’s not really a perfect lesson in morality, but still, Iceland has a lot going for it on the surface and it’s one of the least religious countries in the world.

What it is the undisputed world leader, though, is in taking antidepressants. More than one in ten adults is hooked on them, more than in any other country in the world. 30% of their women over 65 are on antidepressants, everyone is taking “happy pills” all the time, twice as many as in Norway. Denmark, the other statistically happy country, is on antidepressants, too. Americans were not included in this article but they give the number of 23 million in 2010, which would make it ten percent of the white population. I would think that blacks and Hispanics do not use/can’t afford prescription drugs as much as the whites so it could be that whites are seriously depressed there and have been depressed for the past fifteen years. Consumption of these drugs has doubled.

What’s interesting in that article is that gays are twice as likely to be on antidepressants than straights. Why? I don’t know, but these past fifteen years have been very kind to them as a social group, they leaped from one victory to another. Somehow gay dream doesn’t pay off either.

You know what else has doubled since the turn of the century – the number of atheists (or “Nones”), as shown in this “Friendly Atheist” article.

Correlation doesn’t imply causation (hkcd) but it does gesture furtively while mouthing “look over there”.

Crash of the American dream is a significant step towards freeing people from the illusion of success but crash of atheism would be much more welcome. So far atheists are on the rise and they believe the future belongs to them but I think they ignore much deeper and potentially more dangerous problems, like the ones I discussed today. When these problems come to claim their toll no one would turn to atheism for solace, that’s for sure, and their rosy statistics will go down like Wall Street stock indices.

Hmm, I wonder if its true – that belief in atheism follows the same boom-bust cycle as people’s belief in stocks? Could be, but it’s beyond today’s post scope.

We shouldn’t shy away from capitalizing on people’s realization that the promised materialistic success is a mirage, now is the best time to appeal to their higher nature, otherwise they’d be too distracted by sense gratification. I bet lots of people have direct experience of these problems even if they do not admit so on the internet, or at least they personally know someone affected by these problems, so no matter their posturing, our message will get through and will make people think twice about importance of their spiritual health. They can deny God all they want, when going gets tough it will all be forgotten. We just have to make sure we delivered our message so they can remember it when the time comes. It’s not going to be in vain.

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Vanity thought #1515. Is religion good or bad?

It’s a fairly popular question and it naturally follows the debates like the one between Chopra and Dawkins I have been writing about this whole week. Frustrated with the inability to find any common ground between two sides people try a different approach and instead of asking whether religion is right or wrong they want to know whether it’s good or bad. The assumption here is that it could be wrong but as long as it’s good then it doesn’t really matter.

Atheists and believers have their own answers, of course, but it’s the common folk who is the target here – can they be converted or not, can they be persuaded by the promised good or will they be warned off religion by its “inherent evil”? This leads to axillary questions about the place for religion in modern society, to its authority, to its relation with the secular state and so on. These are practical questions meant to extract the most good while filtering out all the bad. And then people negotiate the exact terms with each other, and the assumption here is that there’s no one right answer.

What is our position here? Is it practical? What should be our public position? But let’s start with Chopra-Dawkins.

The debate went into overtime but this question was one of the preconditions for participation and the moderator was obliged to ask it. Chopra went first and chopred up a little more of his word salad. He is more into consciousness based science of self-awareness than in worshiping any particular God so in his view as long as religion allows for this kind of self-realization it’s okay, and various excesses committed in the name of God is just collateral damage, can’t have an omelet without breaking eggs, sorry for disgusting metaphor. Chopra only prefers and recommends vegetarian diet, btw, he hasn’t publicly declared that he is a vegetarian himself.

We can’t really expect anything more from Chopra and “spiritualists” of the same persuasion. Absolute Truth for them is their topmost realization – universe, consciousness, self etc. They won’t take Kṛṣṇa as God unless they know Him personally, and whatever is said in the Vedic literature is not authoritative enough for them. They do not disapprove of our worship as long as it brings results they can appreciate – sense of unity with the universe, sense of epistemological humility, mysterious non-symbolic awareness etc. Devotion itself is not on the list but they’ll take it if it leads to those “higher” forms of realization. If we were to choose between these spiritualists and atheists we know which side to support but, if possible, we should avoid association with both because they are non-devotees and, therefore, asuric by nature. There’s a nice śloka to support this point but I don’t want to bring it today, it deserves a post on its own.

Dawkins, for his part, used a few of typical atheist tricks and I think we should be aware of them because they are being rehashed over and over again. I don’t know what would be the good answers to them but at least they shouldn’t confuse us by their simplicity.

Paraphrasing: “The question is not whether individual people who happen to be religious or not religious are good or bad, the question is whether religion itself is”. Posing it in this form immediately disassociates totality of individual behavior from religion and I don’t think there’s justification for this. It is certainly possible to discuss it under this condition but there will be too much loss in this approach and therefore I don’t think it should be acceptable. Let’s look at it closely.

The assumption here is that on their own and on average people are equally moral regardless of their stance on the religion. Their individual good or bad behavior, therefore, should not be attributed to religion or atheism, and neither should be the totality of the individuals who make up the society. I happen to strongly disagree here. What makes religion good or bad is the sum total of all the individuals practicing it. Every time their religion urged them to do the right thing should be counted as a point for religion. Equally, every time people’s atheism encourages them to act morally should be counted towards atheism. I’m talking about situations where people actually contemplate their course of action and are tempted to do a less moral thing, and I’m also talking about habits and reflexes.

It is impossible to calculate the value of religion this way, simply because there are billions of people of all kinds of faiths out there, but this is the only valid measurement. We can try to approximate it but we can’t substitute it with measuring anything else, as Dawkins proposed here.

For religious people the answer is self-obvious, they are usually aware of their sinful selfish nature and they attribute all their conscious moral decisions to influence of God and no one else. Atheists say they also act morally and give their own reasons, and they sometimes say that if religious people don’t rape women just because God forbids them to then there’s something seriously wrong with them. I don’t think there’s a simple answer here but let’s propose this one – religious people are in the clear and overwhelming majority in the world and they say religion makes them good. The argument that if they were all atheists instead they would just as much good is hypothetical. In their own experience relying on arguments other than religious prescriptions often leads them to committing sins. So, if they say that if not for religion holding them back they’d commit sins more often we should probably trust their judgment.

Dawkins’ approach, OTOH, discounts religion’s practical effects on individual behavior and offers to talk about blind faith and using religion to justify people doing bad things. Why is it even an issue? How big of an issue it really is? How important is it if put next to countless good deeds performed by every religious person and attributed to their religion?

“Many many good and righteous people … have done terrible things precisely because they believed that they are doing it for their god.” How many? How many of roughly six billion religious people currently living on this planet are doing terrible things because their religion tells them so? How many of them are doing bad things PRECISELY because their religion tells them so and not for multiple other reasons? I’m confident Dawkins can give a few examples but how should they stack against the six billion doing good things all the time? I mean his argument might be valid but not that important in the overall scheme of things.

Dawkins then added another reason – religion teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding, satisfied with pseudo explanations which are not really explanations at all. I suppose that happens, but I, personally, don’t know any devotee who is satisfied with not understanding. I don’t know any Christian who is satisfied with not understanding either. It’s a rather bad caricature of the religion. In fact, I’d argue that there are far more people who are perfectly satisfied with not understanding science, even grade school math. No one chases them for the rest of their lives berating them for not doing better at school and calling them stupid. Why is Dawkins singling out religion here? Shouldn’t he try and fix far bigger problems with understanding in his own camp?

As for pseudo explanations – sometimes it happens. Actually quite a lot, if you read students exam papers. It probably happens in religious communities, too, but, overall, I’d say that the standard of knowledge as measured in their own community is higher among Christians then among atheists. Christians all know the Bible and can offer all kinds of quotes on a variety of subjects. How many formulas an average atheist can recall on the spot?

The pseudo part that Dawkins had in mind is different, of course, but how much of that can be put down to ideological disagreements that can’t be reconciled simply by reasoning? Natural selection looks like a pseudo theory to creationists and creationism looks like a pseudo theory to Darwinists. Dawkins shouldn’t use the label “pseudo” for the cases where it is still disputed and where he can’t prove it to the other side. I suppose he can use it in cases where simple trickery is being passed as miracle making but how many of those are out there? How many religious people abandon all skepticism when they hear about miracles? How strict is the Catholic church in examining those claims? Are they really satisfied with what could be easily determined as pseudo explanations? I don’t think so.

Dawkins also talked about explanations that appeal to one’s emotions but I don’t see religion as being the main culprit there. Everyone is abusing people’s emotions these days for all sorts of reasons. In many cases, like in politics, the perpetrators are aware of what they are doing but they argue that they manipulate people’s emotions for the greater good. How’s that different from religions controlling their flock by hook or by crook?

The last bit was a veiled personal attack on Chopra and I don’t want to comment on that, as well as on Chopra’s partying statement that these two are very unlikely to talk to each other ever again. It’s the common arguments against religion that I want to remember today – excluding individual behavior of religious people from the debate on the value of religions, seriously overestimating terrible things done in the name of the religion, the false statement that religious people are satisfied with not understanding things, and labeling religious beliefs as pseudo knowledge in cases where atheists can’t prove it to anyone but themselves.

Vanity thought #1355. Book sponges

Let’s take a short break from talking about Haridāsa Ṭhākura and talk about something else before it leaves my memory forever. There’s this media personality, Reza Aslan, who is doing circles of TV shows and writing articles for major newspapers who happens to be a Muslim and who defends Islam and religion in general against bigotry and stereotyping. I’ve never read his books but followed some of the controversies he has been involved in. Last night he was interviewed by Jon Stewart and it was the first time I had a chance to listen to him presenting his views without big interruptions.

Aslan made several very interesting points I had never heard before and offered new perspectives on familiar topics, something we, as ISKCON devotees, can keep in mind, too.

Depending on your browser, you might need to “unblock content”, this wordpress page is secure while the video below is linked to an unsecure Daily Show page. If that doesn’t work there’s a link further down the post.

Sorry about autoplay, I can’t find a way to disable it for this video, embedding it into the blog is hard enough because WP does not provide facilities for flash embeds for security reasons.

Disregarding the opening joke about religion providing comfort amidst strive caused by religion, Jon’s first question was a pertinent one – why doesn’t God just stop this and settle it once and for all, who is right and who is wrong? It’s a totally legitimate question from an atheist pov – why, if there’s one true God, there are so many religions at each other’s throats? How can we hope to convince non-believers if we can’t decide on who is God among ourselves?

Typical ISKCON answer would be that we are indifferent to all the isms in the world and we are not against or pro any particular religion either, we are not even Hindu. I always suspected that people never really believed us and considered us a part of Hindu tradition anyway.

Reza Aslan provides a different answer. First, he said that religions are a matter of identity more that they are a matter of beliefs and practices. As an example he gave a recent survey result saying that 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christian but a much smaller number of them actually practice Christianity as expected – attending mases, reading Bible every day etc. Religious identification goes much much deeper than that and encompasses all aspects of human behavior – nationality, ethnicity, world-views, politics etc. Religious identification, therefore, is a description of who you are as a person rather than a statement about your beliefs and rituals you practice.

He was then interrupted by Jon and the discussion veered a bit off into problems with Islamic extremism but then Reza got back to his point. It’s a common misconception, he said, that people derive their values from their scriptures while in reality very often it’s the case of people inserting their values into their books.

His arguments in support of this observation are compelling. If that wasn’t true all Christians would interpret the Bible in exactly the same way, which is obviously not the case. He said that in the US not even two hundred years ago not only slave owners and abolitionists used the same Bible, they used the same verses to justify their diametrically opposite positions.

His next step was even more radical – without interpretation of the scriptures they are just words on a page. They require somebody to read them, to interpret them, to encounter them in their lives to extract any kind of meaning, and in the process of this transaction people bring their views, their opinions, their politics, their social ideas INTO the text.

How people read the scriptures has everything to do with who they are. God, ie reading the scripture, doesn’t make you a bigot, you are just a bigot, you were a bigot before you even heard of the book.

That wasn’t the end of the interview, however, you can watch the rest of it here but the topics they discussed later were about “solving Middle East”. I want to pause on Aslan’s observation about religions carrying the will of the people instead.

It goes against conventional wisdom, we are pretty sure it’s not how it works in Kṛṣṇa consciousness but the truth it is that it’s not supposed to work like that and yet it always does.

I’m tempted to use the term (and blame everything on) “organized religion” here but religious institutions are just one step in a process that starts much earlier, it’s just an external form that is loaded with all other kinds of meanings. The “original sin” here is infusing our own material experiences into spiritual life, spiritual instructions we are supposed to accept without tampering from our ācāryas.

In fact, this is what ācāryas do themselves – they adapt current circumstances to fit with eternal principles and we praise them for it because otherwise no one would survive in ISKCON. We can’t practice Kṛṣṇa consciousness like Lord Caitanya and His associates did. We can’t practice it even as Guaḍīya Maṭhas did. And even if we did everything exactly like GM, we wouldn’t be able to preach as widely and as effectively, so changes and adaptations are necessary and unavoidable.

It is tempting to think that Śrīla Prabhupāda, as an ācārya, knew exactly what he was going to do with ISKCON but if we look at our real history we will see that it wasn’t the case. He wasn’t literally throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks but we can find plenty of ideas that didn’t pan out when he tried them. Or we can go back to his pre-ISCKON history and see how his attempts at preaching weren’t successful at all.

It isn’t a spot on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s unparalleled devotion, it’s only an observation that in the material world even overwhelming spiritual power does not always manifest in full.

Before he became successful no one knew he was an ācārya. Or, to put it in other way, he didn’t succeed with ISKCON because he was an ācārya but he became an ācārya because of his success. You’ll never know if someone’s is “The One” until he tries, and most likely his first attempts won’t be impressive.

So, when devotees in our movement try something new we cannot assume they are acting on a whim, they might be genuinely trying to move our mission forward. We can’t say “don’t even try because you are not an ācārya”.

My point is that while it’s obvious that infusing our books with our own interpretations is dangerous there are cases where it might just work, in fact there WILL be cases where it will work and everyone would then agree that a new ācārya has been born.

Treating our books like sponges absorbing all kinds of nonsense from our lives is obviously bad, but not if a devotee is sincere and the Lord accepts his efforts. That’s how Kṛṣṇa’s glories, or rather glories of His devotees, become ever-expanding. That’s why there’s no limit to spiritual knowledge, no limit to Bhagavad Gīta interpretations, for example. I mean devotional interpretations, of course, not the ones produced by atheists or impersonalists.

The problem arises when there are various competing interpretations floating around at the same time and everybody starts arguing which one is correct. Why doesn’t Kṛṣṇa interfere? Why doesn’t He settle our debates?

Hmm, why should He? Why should debates be settled at all? Those who are right are engaged in proper devotional service already and their arguments enlighten everyone who listens, why stop the preaching? Those who are wrong need to purify their motives, too, and it can only be done by engagement, not by being idle. They need debates to cleanse their hearts even if they end up on the losing side. We are not Buddhists to seek cessation of all activities, we absolutely must try to serve Kṛṣṇa regardless of being right or wrong.

In the end, Kṛṣṇa will sort it out and everyone will get their spiritual benefits. All we see here is only an illusion, material gunas agitating material elements, and affected minds producing words, don’t take it too seriously as long as it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa one way or another.

Vanity thought #1173. Storm in a teacup

There is a raging controversy that has even reached the pages of New York Times and CNN, and it’s all about religion so I thought it would be okay to mention it here. It has nothing to do with ISKCON or Kṛṣṇa and it’s probably not as serious as people feel about it right now but it might affect the slow flowing dialogue between atheists and religionists. All the characters in this story can be classified as opinion makers, all are well known in their circles, all appear on TV or in the news fairly often, so it’s not some unmoderated internet dead end for minor league trolls. I don’t want to rebuild the entire timeline here and I don’t want to mention each and every turn but I don’t think I’ve missed anything important. What has come to my attention is probably enough. My rational mind demands structure, however, it needs to connect the pieces, link causes and effects, so I’ll try to do that but beware that my narrative might be totally off. It all started a couple of months ago on Bill Maher’s show. Bill Maher is a comedian known for his liberal views and smoking lots of pot. He also imagines himself a specialist on religions. He had a documentary on the subject where he basically ridiculed religions and he even called it Religulous. So, on his show he mentioned female genital mutilation and blamed Islam for that. That was picked up by Reza Aslan, a dashing Muslim scholar with multiple degrees in theology and stuff, and a frequent guest of Bill Maher’s, btw. Reza responded by writing an opinion piece in NYTimes where he said that Bill Maher’s presentation was factually wrong. Female genital mutilation, he said, is an African problem, not a Muslim one. He cited examples of two Christian countries there with 75 to 90 percent of girls undergoing the procedure. This lead to a complaint about generalization and eventually bigotry – people like Bill Maher take a few bad examples and then tarnish the entire Muslim population with the same brush. There were other issues involved, too, something about ISIS, something about ex-Muslim woman being invited to talk about Islam, a lot of stuff. For objecting to this and for defending Islam Reza has been grilled on CNN where he defended himself pretty well but the controversy didn’t end there. About a month later Bill Maher invited Sam Harris to his show and Harris gave a long speech about Islam, nothing flattering, of course. Bill Maher totally supported him but then Ben Affleck, who was there, too, jumped on both of them accusing them of bigotry in the same vein Resa Aslan did earlier. There was a big sparring match right there on TV with Affleck practically jumping up and down and being all worked up. I don’t remember Harris saying anything substantial anymore but Bill Maher stuck to his guns, giving quotes about Muslims approving execution for those who leave Islam. That Ben Affleck segment generated only more discussion but no conclusions or reconciliation, as these things go. Then last week another Muslim, a woman, was on Bill Maher’s panel and she was just itching to bring this subject up. Maher tried to avoid the confrontation but she simply wouldn’t let it go. Maher was strangely quiet and he tried his stats about leaving Islam once again but eventually they just had to move onto the next topic. Meanwhile Reza Aslan went after Sam Harris on Twitter with something that I think deserves a place here:  Here we have an original tweet with Sam Harris’ quote being retweeted first by Glenn Greenwald, the gay journalist who made Snowden famous, and then retweeted again by Reza Aslan. Sam Harris’ fans were outraged, they claim that this quote is taken out of context and completely misrepresents the original idea. Sam Harris himself wrote about this on his blog. Twitter war continued for a while but it’s just bickering. I, however, do not buy Harris’ excuse. He had certainly been misrepresented but he meant exactly what he said, he actually defended this position and supported it with facts while Greenwald and Reza wanted it to mean something else, I don’t know. Here’s somewhat full quote from Harris’ response:

    The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live.

He then goes on to demonstrate that we’ve indeed been killing people for the danger they pose to the “free world” because they are beyond negotiating. In general sense, this is why people fight wars – they find beliefs of their opponents unacceptable to the point that they have to resort to force. Muslims’ response to that is totally predictable whether they understand Harris’ finer points or not – it’s a war on Islam, a war on their religious beliefs. Harris, strangely, doesn’t see it that way, and neither does Bill Maher, for that matter. They go out of their way to prove how Islam is full of bad and dangerous ideas but they would not concede that this is a generalization, they call it “facts”. Then they say that for these ideas people deserve to be killed but refuse to admit they are calling for a war on religion. This is the same defense they both presented when Ben Affleck attacked them for that. They want their cake and want to eat it, too. I just don’t get it. I mean I do, but not in a way that would put either Maher and Harris in a good light. I want to see rationality in their position but it eludes me. Factually, they are right – Muslims, as a whole, do not accept leaving their religion, they do consider death penalty as a fair punishment for that. They do become violent over religious cartoons. Maybe not all of them but certainly enough to make a generalization. Is it enough to call for a religious war, however? Umm, should it be a war at all? Don’t we have other things to do than fight Islam? Why there’s even a question of war here? Harris rightly said that this is what the West did in Afghanistan but that is not a valid justification, just an admission that democracies do indeed want to kill people for their beliefs. And here lies the main problem – atheism and democracy these days are far more bloodthirsty, far more fundamentalist in their approach to the world then any religion out there, total fanatics excluded. There’s one other example to illustrate this – in Aslan’s experience, of all his writing about Christianity (his book on JC is often thrashed by Christians, including on Fox News), Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, the most venomous insults come from atheists. Atheists, unfortunately, do not see themselves as bullies, and that is a problem with their perception that precludes any sincere dialogue even between such otherwise gentle and intelligent people like Aslan, Maher, and, indeed, Harris. We can’t expect to do any better ourselves, I’m afraid, we’d better avoid such confrontations altogether unless discussion becomes absolutely necessary, which is practically never. That’s why we are not supposed to preach to atheists but only to those who are favorable and receptive towards out message. These are the people we should be looking for despite our itch to defeat all infidels wherever we meet them. We have to restrain ourselves from doing that, it should be the case of using our intelligence to control our minds, instead of trying to control others. Ahh, what a mess of a post, I did the best I could, however.

Vanity thought #1069. Why can’t we get along?

Continuing yesterday’s topic – why can’t we get along? Why do we feel the need to stand up for what is “right” and destroy our opponents? I’m not talking about internet arguments here, I’m talking about countries going to holy wars against each other.

As I said yesterday – most modern wars are defensive. They might have valid offensive reasons as well but politicians keep those to themselves. To rally the public they always talk about protecting the country from external threat.

Sometimes these threats are very real, like terrorism, even if the whole “war on terror” idea is misguided, as some argue. Terrorists kill innocent people. Innocent people need to be protected. Easy.

But what makes people feeling threatened about religious aspects of their lives. Why do they feel the need to protect democracy in some country half around the world? Why do they feel the need to protect Islam from infidels? Why do they feel the need to protect the King from insults he doesn’t care about himself, like in Thailand? Why do they feel the need to correct abstract injustices that do not affect them directly, or even do not affect anyone directly but abstract ideas?

Why can’t all get along? Why can’t we live and let live? Why can’t we peacefully coexist with one another?

At this point I should say that this idea of peaceful coexistence is very popular. It forms the bedrock of modern vision of the world. It’s anthem is probably John Lennon’s song Imagine:

    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace

it goes. Peaceful coexistence is what everybody strives for, even beauty queens on Miss Fuflandistan pageants. It’s accepted as axiomatic. And yet it’s all a hoax. It’s just that – product of one’s imagination, it will never be possible as a matter of principle.

Why?

Well, for starters, it’s Kali Yuga, there will be no peace in this age. Or we can say that the struggle between devas and asuras is universal, it will never stop, and people will always act as agents for one side or another. We can quote Bhagavad Gīta as an example that religious wars must happen from time to time and the Lord must personally intervene to punish the wrongdoers.

Talking about subject at hand, modern religious wars, we can see how these eternal underlying causes manifest themselves in real life.

First of all, people do not just exist. They have wants, they have aspirations, they have dreams, and they work very hard towards fulfilling those dreams. They need to see progress, constant change for the better, they can’t just “be”.

Now, when you want something you tend to evaluate everything you see in relation to the object of your desire. Some things will be favorable, some will be seen as obstacles, and, perhaps, many would fall into the category “undetermined”, don’t care one way or the other.

Obstacles, however, will always be there. This is the world of duality, something will always, always be wrong, and the thing about obstacles is that we don’t co-exist with them.

We can try to remove them, we can try to go around them, we can try to ignore them, forget they are there, but we will never coexist. They will always, always elicit negative emotions and it’s only a matter of power how much resistance we put up.

Take modern liberal atheism. For some reason they want to convert the whole world into it and presence of religious people is seen as hindering this “progress”. They’d say things like “Religion kills science”, they’d say that unless everyone is brought up into rational atheism the society will not utilize its full potential.

When they see Muslim women staying home and being nice housewives they say it’s illogical, half of society’s productive force is wasted on trivialities like cooking and cleaning. Such a waste of human resources is unacceptable. Insisting on this way of life threatens the very foundation of atheism – rationality and logic. It doesn’t make sense, therefore it must be stopped.

Muslims, in their turn, do not want to lose control of their women, as atheists would say, but actually womens duties and place in the society is determined by their religion and emancipating them would go against God’s law. God’s laws cannot be violated, therefore it’s a sacred duty of every Muslim to rise against this external threat.

There’s a lot more to this then feminism, of course. Secular societies put personal happiness at the center of one’s life, worshiping God is being pushed to the side, preferably to the weekend, and it should never interfere with one’s supreme duty to please himself. Religious people obviously can’t accept that, they would never agree to treat their worship as a hobby and therefore they feel that their religion is under a threat.

Ultimately, all “holy wars” are fought to protect one’s idea of dharma, be it atheistic, Islamic, of Hindu. This idea is equally abstract for everyone but it’s nevertheless inviolable.

Even as devotees we have obstacles on the path of our devotional progress. We don’t even think about co-existing with them. We know all obstacles must be removed. Mostly they are within our own hearts but many of us also see them externally. We see other devotees as obstacles to Kṛṣṇa consciousness all the time, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.

We have our own idea of truth, which we claim is self-evident, and everything that goes against it is seen as our enemy. So we fight, to protect dharma.

Can this fighting be stopped? No, never, as long as we live in the material world our hearts will be impure and so there will always be obstacles to our progress, and, as I said, no one co-exists with his obstacles, no one puts up with threats, not for a long time.

What should we do about it? Should we try to solve this problem? I’d say looking for solution futile, a fools errand. Material world is unfixable or it wouldn’t be called material – duality will always be there. I’d say all we can do is manage the symptoms, sometimes quite skillfully, sometimes not, but that’s our only option.

Well, not the only option, because the ultimate solution is to become Kṛṣṇa conscious and liberate ourselves from material duality. Until that happens, however, our only option is try and keep our nose clean and accept that we will never succeed in that, too.

This might not sound very reassuring but we should always remember that the rest of our stay in the material world will never be problem-free and so we will always be compelled to fight to correct those problems.

Let this fight go on, I’d say, our success doesn’t depend on winning this battle anyway, it depends on becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious while all of it is going on.

Or let me present it like this – while this world is based on duality, as if we lived on a two-dimensional plane, our real progress should be done in the third dimension – up, towards Kṛṣṇa. No matter what our current X and Y coordinates are, it’s only Z that matters.

Vanity thought #340. Butchering dharma

Our local university is putting out a production of Ramayana with a modern twist – Lord Ramachandra now is an ordinary human being punished for his greed (when he chased the golden deer) and Ravana is not a vicious demon but a poor kid who was bullied at school for his birth defect (ten heads) who simply fell in love.

This way they explore “the humanity” of the story, stripped of religious moralizing.

On one hand this is clearly an abomination and an affront to religious feelings of the audience, but this angle of attack implies that there are people in the audience who actually care about religion.

I could also argue that Ravana wasn’t just an innocent dork, he unleashed untold suffering on a lot of people just for his own pleasure. You can’t pretend to be neutral and unbiased and have absolutely no sympathy for his victims. This is a great argument against any modern attempt at “neutrality” – there often aren’t two sides of the story, some things are just plain wrong.

The kids, though, could say that in their version Ravana isn’t terrorising anybody so no people or animals were hurt in their production.

So it is boils down to this – how much artistic freedom should be permissible and should interpretations of well established religious stories be allowed at all?

This is the sad side of our lives – religion is no more sacred. But we should also keep in mind that if we take our stories out to the public people would want to digest and internalize their lessons, they would want to own them in the same way we feel like we own Ramayana and feel that it’s our duty to protect it. It’s not a sign that they are malicious towards Lord Ramachandra, they just haven’t embraced his divinity yet.

We assume that if they like Ramayana they would become Ramachandra’s devotees right away but this is not very likely. People might like the story on its own and start playing with it, devotion, hopefully, might come later.

This is another sad sign of our times – simply attracting people with interesting stories is not enough, preaching should reach a lot deeper.

There’s always a chance that the story was changed because kids simply didn’t like to be “good” anymore, they didn’t like the rules, they were looking for a magical place where you can do whatever you want without any consequences. This would be really sad.

The worst outcome, in my view, is if neither the kids nor anyone in the audience had given it a second thought, if they just butchered Ramayana and went on with their lives as if nothing happened. Perhaps in the beginning someone thought that their rendition would be thought provoking but they failed and the only possible redeeming quality was lost somewhere in the process.

One thing is sure – when I was young messing with religion was unthinkable, it was simply rude towards people who take this stuff seriously. Times are a-changing.

Vanity thought #324. Higgs aberration

Everybody was talking about Higgs boson yesterday and it generated a wave of chest pumping and poignant remarks in the direction of believers in God. Even BBC ran an article with a tile about “nail in the coffin of religion” and the web was quickly filling up with people gloating the victory of science over religion as if they were following some football tournament.

The thing is it’s all just an illusion. Not in the general sense that the whole universe is an illusion, it’s an illusion to think Higgs boson has anything to do with science vs religion debate. Some people with huge chips on their shoulders just used its discovery to rant on their pet topics without bothering to check the connection.

Some rants were probably triggered by “God particle” moniker. The fact is, however, that “god” in “god particle” is a short for “goddamn particle” as in “goddamn impossible to find”. When it was first proposed it couldn’t be printed in full so an editor shortened it and “god particle” was born.

Some people assumed that discovery of this particular boson destroys the last remaining argument in favor of existence of God. Higgs boson is supposed to give matter its mass, that’s all. I’ve never heard anyone arguing that mass is the only thing created by God and it couldn’t come from anywhere else. This isn’t even an argument yet so many overly excited people were so happy to defeat it.

Some people assumed that discovery of Higgs boson finalized the unified theory of everything and so we don’t need God to fill gaps in our knowledge anymore. This is just a blazing display of ignorance.

First of all we don’t even know for sure that the observed particle was indeed Higgs. It might very well turn out to be a new particle that would create a lot more new questions than answers to our current problems. Secondly, there aren’t enough Higgs bosons in universe to fill all the gaps in particle physics. It’s an important step, sure, but it’s still just a step.

Another thing is that there are plenty of variations of a “string” theory and its adherents are waiting for their chance to unseat “standard model”, now validated by Higgs boson, from its pedestal. In fact one of the original inventors of Higgs mechanism has turned to string theory by now. These guys are going to be disappointed but I’m sure soon enough they will come up with explanations going around Higgs boson discovery and press on with their version of how the world works.

Some standard model fans are already sharpening their knives for stringers blood, comparing them to religious fanatics who raise the bar of proof after each defeat. String theory, on the other hand, is too big to succumb to one particle discovery. They will probably challenge the weight of the alleged Higgs boson first, saying that it falls outside the bounds where string theory could be proven wrong.

Speaking of raising the bar every time science presents us with another evidence – we, followers of Gaudiya vaishnavism, put the bar indefinitely high from the start. God and his potencies and energies are infinite, trying to understand Him via small steps will appear like progress to us but we still need an infinite number of steps and the infinity will still be unreachable. No matter how many steps we take we are still indefinitely removed from reaching our goal.

“Raising the bar” logic works only for people who assume that God is a finite, measurable entity, like one of us but bigger, and if we have 111 countries gang up together and build the largest particle collider ever we can surely blow God out of His hiding. Strange and deeply flawed understanding of what Absolute Truth is.

Don’t forget to look at the human aspect of this discovery, too – Higgs proposed his boson fifty years ago, in his prime youth, in his early thirties. Now he is an old man and some of his original collaborators have already died. The boson has been found, Higgs is vindicated, and all he could say for it was “Let’s put some champaign on ice.” That puts some perspective on the significance of this discovery to the man who is supposed to be the most invested in it.

What about the future? People cheering Higgs boson now refuse to admit to themselves that it will take only a few years to propose the next giant step for mankind and probably another fifty years to make it. For them yesterday’s celebration is as good as it gets, they won’t live long enough to see the next triumph. Pretty pathetic, really, to drown this realization with shouts of joy and mindless bashing of religion. Pretty barbaric, too.

If any of us had thought of what Higgs boson discovery would do to our faith – it shouldn’t do anything, it’s largely irrelevant either as a scientific discovery or as a philosophical point. We are just being trolled and flamed for a response, that’s all.

Vanity thought #238. Core illusions.

As I celebrate the end of the extended weekend I have nothing else to pontificate on but various lessons I’ve learned from popular entertainment. Generally it has been uninspiring though there was one thing that attracted my attention – religiosity.

There was a movie where the lead character was wondering if God really exists, it was an existential background for all the killings and revenge and quest for justice that made the actual story. Somehow his search for God appeared honest and that earned some respect from me until it was ruined by the whole purpose of the search – he prayed to God so he could ask Him for a nice, happy life for himself.

We have learned this about Christianity from the very first days in Krishna consciousness but it still surprises me how naturally people take to asking God to do things for them. “Prove that there’s God because I have a long list of things He has to do for me.” They don’t think about it twice, not a pause, not a question about God’s own existence. They naturally assume that if God exists then the purpose of His existence is to serve the men, mainly by taking them up to heaven and until He arranges that He should be running all kinds of errands to prove His usefulness.

This attitude is so natural that I don’t think it has anything to do with religion per se, I think it stems from the core illusions of the conditioned souls. Basically, we want to be happy. That’s all we are looking for – happiness. In Krishna consciousness we have our own ways to talk about happiness – it is not available in the material world, it’s only a temporary illusion, eternal happiness exists only in the spiritual world, everybody is searching for happiness because it’s in our nature as part of sat-chit-ananda composition of spiritual energy, and we can find this happiness by serving the Supreme.

These things can fly off our tongues in our sleep and I think they have become too familiar and have started losing deeper shades of meaning. I can’t claim to restore the washed out shades but looking at happiness from the POV of materialistic persons I think I can see slightly more of the picture than our memorized template and I think I also spot some of our own misconceptions that crept into our otherwise transcendental society.

What does happiness mean to people? Depending on the predominant modes of nature the definition varies, of course, but people still can understand each other’s thirst for happiness even if they might not feel it’s exactly like theirs.

Happiness in the mode of goodness lies in being content and free from troubles. They think that having a stable, harmonious family is a big part of it, having a satisfying and fulfilling career that does not distract them from being with their loved ones is also a big part of it. Having enough wealth not to worry about the future and not forcefully restrict their own desires is yet another component. Being in love is also mighty important.

When talking about humanity in general they think of justice and fairness and support for the weaker members, they think about respect, appreciation and unity in diversity, they talk about god given rights and personal liberties. Freedom, especially freedom from all kinds of oppression is also a must. Consequently they stress the loving, caring and inclusive side of the religions, they see humans as children of God and for them God’s expresses Himself mostly through love that we should all feel and appreciate.

People in the mode of passion want results, they want the chase, the rush, the feeling of being alive. Having worthy goals and working hard to achieve them is what they need most, they want everybody to have the opportunities. For them it’s not freedom from oppression, it’s freedom to do things that matters more. When they turn to God they want help in reaching their goals, they want God to empower them, they Him to arrange for success in each and every of their endeavors. Just half an hour ago I saw a footballer on TV praying to God after a lousy free kick. He genuinely thought that God’s main business is to watch over his precious feet.

Yes, we know they do that, but what strikes me here is that these are the exactly the same things that define happiness for the atheists! Freedom, justice, fulfillment, success, prosperity – you don’t need to be religious to appreciate those and you don’t need to be religious to achieve a reasonable degree of success.

Thus garden variety faithful are just as materialistic as followers of Richard Dawkings, QED.

And this is where it closely relates to our society, too, because these are exactly the same things we promise to people when we present our philosophy. We just say they are trying to achieve them in the wrong way. This is exactly the argument that both religionists and atheists throw at each other, too. We all want the same thing and we are all convinced in the superiority of our methods. That means that we are just as materialistic as them, too.

We also know, of course, that the eternal quality of the spirit soul is to be Krishna’s servant, meaning we are not interested in our own happiness but in Krishna’s. When Krishna happy, we are happy, but how often do we remember that when we have to deal with realities of this world, when we have to arrange all the justice and the fairness ourselves? We talk about varnashrama and leadership and caring and providing and we have numerous seminars on these topics as if it’s really what we want.

Even in our spiritual practices we talk about material criteria for success – how do we feel, how enthusiastic we are, how much mode of goodness we carry around. My inbox is filling up with advice on proper leadership and tips on better chanting, better reading and better everything. It all makes sense, there’s no denying it, but what makes me slightly uncomfortable is that it makes as lot of sense for materialistic people, too. There must be something wrong here if we indeed come to share the same goals and values.

After reading up on Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and Srila Vamsidasa Babaji I can’t help but notice how little any of those things meant for them. For Vamsidasa they were practically non-existent, he was incapable of maintaining a conversation let along dispensing advice on how to achieve happiness.

Of course we shouldn’t imitate them and so behave like normal humans while we are still on the normal human platform but I’m afraid we might also lose the sight of the priorities while engaged in this normal human behavior.

Crucial point – we still think of happiness in terms of what it means for us, not what it means for Krishna. We actually have no clue how to make Him happy, we only know that pleasing His dearmost devotees should be pleasing to Him also but that’s only because we assume that they know better. More often than not they are in the same situation as us, however, and as it comes down the chain the original values structure might get skewered. What is means practically is that we are on our own, we have instructions and we know our gurus’ tastes but it’s up to us to separate what is really pleasing to Krishna from what is also pleasing us as materialistic, conditioned souls.

Preparing tasty prasadam is one such thing, scrutinizing seven habits of successful people is another. Taking everything that comes our way and engaging it in Krishna’s service is what’s officially prescribed for us but it’s the second part – engaging it in Krishna’s service that can make of break our devotional progress. If, or rather when, we are not engaging things in an absolutely selfless manner we only fool ourselves, prolong our own suffering, and postpone our reunion with Krishna. We might even deserve a “promotion” to heavenly planets! Why not, if we are really obsessed with doing things right rather than doing things for Krishna?

What is the solution for navigating this mess and how does preaching fit with all of this is a thought for another day.

Vanity thought #215. Religious pluralism.

My local paper has been running this quiet debate about religious pluralism. A week ago there was an opinion piece by a Muslim guy who spoke about multiculturalism of the modern world and the types of religious pluralism that we should be aware of.

That’s two big words I’m not very comfortable with, to be honest, and in one sentence, too. I wish I knew what he was on about exactly but these are the concepts that everyone understands in his own way and still they are all correct at the same time, so I’m no exception if I offer my take on the matter.

The logic was more or less like this – we have different cultures around the world. Due to globalization, interconnectedness and free movement of the peoples these different cultures are learning to co-exist side by side.

Religions in the modern world are thought to be part of the national culture but the guy argues that they remain still independent. He points out that Islamic world has a wide variety of cultures, ideologies, political systems and cultures yet Islam itself remains relatively monolithic. The cultures and ideologies might depend on Islam but not the other way around, not to a degree the modern secularism lead us to believe.

I think he’s got a point here.

Anyway, he is more concerned with co-existence of religions and he analyzes various solutions. Pluralism can manifest in the followers as exclusive, inclusive and actually pluralistic.

We all sort of tolerate the existence of other religions but exclusivists quietly think that everybody else are going to hell, inclusivists think that they are dingo okay but true salvation still lies only in their own religion, and real pluralists think that all religions are equal. That’s the position he was trying to promote.

Most religions groups have moved on from exclusivism to inclusivism, at least outward tolerance of differing religions beliefs, but very very few people have reached the level of real pluralism. He rightly notes that it is a very difficult process to adjust to because it shakes the core religious convictions born of socio-religious conditioning form an early age. It might get easier for the future generations but at the moment nobody was ever taught that all religions are true and equal.

That observation is correct for me, too. I have a real trouble accepting that all religions are true and equal, that’s not how I’ve been brought up, but the guy really stakes the future of civilization on making this a common sense idea, like helping starving African children or democracy.

This week another pundit responded and he apparently has a problem with equality, too. First he has the problem with truth – all three Avraamic religions can’t all be simultaneously true. Either God is one, or He has a son and a spirit, either Mohammed is His latest prophet or not.

Religions are obviously not equal in how they are manifested, too. Some have significantly more followers, some have longer history, some appeal to the rich and some appeal to the poor, some demand more respect and some are dismissed as new age phenomena, like they did in Hungary recently. Some have moral values incompatible with modern civilization, like human sacrifices of the mayas.

Actually, there’s very little they agree upon unconditionally. Some deny God, like Buddhists, some make God very personal, like Catholics, some make God multiple manifestation of impersonal divinity, like Hindus.

What this guy proposes instead is equality of the practice, not equality of beliefs themselves. There are some moral principles, ethics that all religions subscribe to, and there are some methods of developing those that are not very different from one religion to another.

This guy brings in Dalai Lama with his book on the unity of all the religions, stressing the need to see things they have in common rather than fighting over the differences. He even quotes a verse from Mahabharata that I’ve never heard before – dharma unites people, adharma drives them away.

Then he admits being a fan of Ramakrishna, the guy who claimed to achieve perfection in practicing every religion he could lay his hands on. All the Deities in the world were eager to appear before Ramakrishna and unite with him in the bliss of devotion.

There’s even a claim that Sri Sri Banka Bihari in Vrindavan got of the altar and ran towards Ramakrishna and that’s why now they open the curtains for a very short time only.

Anyway, Ramakrishna proved that all religions of the world lead to the same goal and so all paths are equal. As far as I know he is the source of modern day pluralism. He, however, stressed bhakti as one unifying aspect of practice.

So, the second contributor to the debate refused to treat all religions as true and equal, but the best practices within them are. Ramakrishna never claimed that all religions he had mastered were equally true, he meant that bhakti works with all of them equally.

This is where I don’t really know what to say.

Is Ramakrishna some kind of religious authority? From my search through Prabhupada’s books Ramakrishna escaped being called a rascal and a cheater and we don’t have a definite word from Prabhupada how to deal with his theory. At one time, I remember Prabhupada avoided passing judgement on him and recommended to follow our path to be sure.

That’s a good point – if Ramakrishna was a real thing and a real acharya then how come no one has been able to follow his teachings and achieve similar success?

Then there’s a question of impersonalism. All his current followers are die hard impersonalists and just today sone “nonism” dude became a @fakekrishna follower on tweeter. We all come from nothing, we disappear into nothing, so we have to achieve happiness in between.

Why do they think there’s real happiness to be found between two nothings? Beats me.

Back to Ramakrishna and equality of all religions – I don’t buy it. Maybe he was a real paramahamsa and all the deities in the world were dying for his darshan, maybe he was really a messenger from the spiritual world to preach unity and equality in anticipation of globalization that came a hundred years later. Maybe he was all that but if he really thought that Sri Sri Banka Bihari came from the same source as Kali Maa I think I have all Prabupada given rights to call him a rascal and a cheat.

His teaching might have helped various religions to co-exist in the modern world but they co-exist on the shared premise that there’s no God anyway. That’s the common ground the secularists were able to put them together whether they like it or not.

Now we are forced to treat every deity equally for the sake of peace, now every deity has got equal rights, there’s no hierarchy between them anymore – they are all concoctions of the same human need to believe in higher powers or they are all permutations of the same non-differentiated Brahman.

Thanks to Ramakrishna we now have democracy among gods, too.

Why should I put up with this? Why is this approach becoming so popular? Why do I see Dalai Lama quotes in my tweetfeed, posted by devotees?

I accept that some people are very knowledgeable in their fields and so their opinions on those relevant subjects are worth quoting even if they are non-devotees, but why Dalai Lama of all people? As a religious authority he has nothing to compare to what Prabhupada taught us.

With all due respect, and I haven’t got much, I admit, I don’t see him as offering anything more than another quick fix for the problems of the material world. He doesn’t give a crap about trying to please Krishna, why should I care what he has to say? What can I learn from him I can’t learn in our parampara?

God is the witness I often try to find connections between various human endeavors and Krishna consciousness. I never found any in Dalai Lama quotes.

On the same note, I have another feed from devotees where I have noticed a slight pre-occupation with bringing peace and harmony to the world through compassion and better management. Nice try, but this is going to fail.

The only way to peace if everyone becomes Krishna conscious, otherwise it’s only a temporary cessation of hostilities.

There will be no peace until we all agree that we exist for Krishna’s pleasure and not for our own comfort.

There will be no peace in the material world and especially during Kali Yuga, why would anyone mislead people to believe it is possible? What kind of service to the humanity is this?

Is this what Prabhupada brought us Krishna consciousness for?

I believe is a gross misapplication of the best thing we could ever have in our material existence.

This rant is getting long and tedious and there’s no end in sight so I might just stop it right here.

I’ll have a fresh look at it tomorrow.

Vanity thought #189. Infatuation.

Continuing on the subject of love, actually on the subject of falling in love – how does that work?

We have experience, wisdom of the ages, science and religion all giving somewhat contradictory answers.

Anyone who have ever fallen in love at first sight knows the feeling. It hits you like a ton of bricks, it’s completely out of control. You can somewhat control symptoms and your behavior but you can’t lie to your heart. There’s certain inevitability and finality to it – resistance is futile.

I guess in this aspect it’s the same as young people first realizing they are gay – one would never find inner peace until he accepts the fact that he is in love, or gay. It’s something that can’t be swept under the rug or washed with bleach.

How one would act on such impulses is a totally different subject I’m not going to touch on today, though.

As love grows we learn more about it and we can observe it and discuss it and ponder and pontificate. That’s when wisdom of ages comes very handy. Love has been defined in great many ways but one striking feature of it that persists is selflessness. It’s especially prominent in eastern religions with their promotion of universal love and kindness. Personally I could never relate to that, I still have no idea what they are talking about. Lucky me – their love is the epitome of impersonalism and that would be a suicide according to our philosophy.

In the west, on the other hand, various definitions of love grow out of observing interpersonal relationships. I don’t recall anyone giving any praise to loving the universe but everyone knows about Romeo and Juliet. Love, especially between men and women, is given such a prominent stage that the sheer amount of examples makes it incomprehensible, I bet an average person on the street would give some cliche definitions like “Love is all you need” that don’t make much sense anymore.

Interestingly, defining love is easier if we start talking about what it is not – we describe love in relations to other feelings. There’s less sexual element than in lust, more attraction than in like and so on.

And then there’s science. Scientifically speaking, all of the above is absolute nonsense. From the traditional biology’s POV “love” consists of three stages characterized by release of certain kind of chemicals in the brain.

First there’s lust, testosterone/estrogen driven, it transforms into an attraction with its own set of chemicals. At this point people develop deeper, “romantic” kind of feelings for each other. Finally there’s attachment – sex drive is gone, romantic interests is gone, people stay with each other out of habit.

Evolutionary speaking, each stage plays its own role. Testosterone driven stage is for attracting best females, romantic dopamine stage is for securing services of a single, dedicated partner, and oxytocin influenced attachment is needed for raising children until they reach independence.

It sounds about right and I agree with this model but it totally misses some very important features of love like selflessness and sacrifice and unconditional desire to please the object of your affection.

The omission is even more striking if you consider that biology leaves no place for love between friends, or between family members or between servants and masters of various kinds. In all our human history love has always been bigger than the need to safely procreate.

Then there’s psychological explanation of love, but psychology is not science, strictly speaking. It can’t be successfully reduced to interactions between atoms and molecules and various formulas and equations.

Then there’s neuroscience that studies our brains and monitors our brains’ activities and responses in various situations. Their findings are incorporated into the biological model but they’ve made quite a few observations in the past decade that deserve special attention. It was them who discovered the release of certain chemicals in the brain at various stages of love and it was them who discovered that same areas of the brain are engaged in processing some aspects of love and religious devotion.

Then scientists looked at the DNA and found love and religion genes. Not religion genes per se, yet, but the genes responsible for our capacity of attachment and morality, for example.

Their findings led them to believe that religion is nothing but another manifestation of our desire to love and be loved. Great, I’ve learned the same thing at, probably, my first lecture on Krishna consciousness when MRA scanners hadn’t even been invented yet.

At this point scientists declare victory while we can congratulate them on catching pretty fast, but they still have a whole lot to learn.

My first argument against their narrative is that they can’t establish for sure whether chemicals cause love or love causes these chemicals to be released in the system.

They, of course, have been feeding people hormones for ages to “correct” their bodies’ sexual behavior, and there’s viagra, of course, but I haven’t heard of a single case where pills actually caused anyone to fall in love. Hold on, I take it back, it happens all the time but not in the sense scientists would want to.

Imagine they found chemicals that cause the feeling of being full, in a sense of being not hungry, and they also found how to stimulate certain areas in the brain that cause the person to feel as if he is enjoying great food. Imagine they applied both of these to simulate a dinner.

Would it recreate the symptoms? Sure it would, but would it substitute eating? Unless they supply the actual nutrients all those symptoms won’t be able to sustain the body.

Similarly, what makes them think that running electrical currents through certain areas of the brain would make person to love God? At best they would recreate a symptom and it would only be a temporary solution. Imagine they create a God pill like that – you take it and you feel as if you are in heaven. Hold on, they had pills like that fifty years ago already, didn’t work out very well, did it?

There’s another major problem with scientific approach – even if, or when, they find how to reproduce religious feelings in people’s brains they would still need to provide external stimuli to make it work while people’s actual devotion is causeless.

Most of us need churches and temples and masses and lectures to evoke our religious feelings but true devotion doesn’t depend on any of that. In fact we reject devotion that depends on external stimuli altogether. It’s not real, it’s only a shadow of the real thing.

So again, when scientists are proud to announce the proof that external symptoms we experience from time to time during our religious practices are not real and don’t come from God, we can say to them: “Duh! Thanks, Captain Obvious, we knew all along, thanks for reminding us again”.

Sometimes their arguments like that are very convincingly presented in respectable publications and they might shake our faith.

Well, two things – they are specifically designed with a goal like that, just like advertising is designed to provoke attraction to a certain brand or product. Religion or not but as long as we have material bodies they will respond to these kind of arguments/propaganda.

Second thing to keep in mind – these arguments display certain known propaganda tricks to appear more convincing then they really are. Most often they defeat religion as they imagine it themselves – they are fighting battles with their own imagination and they, predictably, win.

I’ve seen a few articles like this and they all fail to address religion as practitioners see it themselves and they fail to consider religious explanations for their findings, too. They really are arguing with themselves there.

They might find DNA evidence for the propensity towards religion and they might explain it as another expression of evolutionary battle for survival of species but that would only explain desire to engage in bettering our karma. We don’t put much value on karmic aspirations and our ultimate goal, love of God, is completely anti-social and self-destructive, as far as evolution is concerned.

They’ve been studying alcoholism, drug abuse and addition for a lot longer than brain imaging and still they have absolutely no idea how to explain this desire for self-destruction in evolutionary terms. I don’t see them explaining the need for selfless, evolutionary unrewarded devotion any time soon.

Even if they do find the basic inclination for love of God in our DNA and learn how to simulate it artificially, the basic problem will still remain – true devotion is causeless, it doesn’t need any external resources, you don’t have to go to work whole week to get a devotional pill on Sunday.

True devotion is not only causeless, it’s also unstoppable, we can’t take a break from it and do something else, it’s simply not possible to turn it off.

In the biological model the first two stages of love are temporary, the second, romantic stage, usually last only a couple of years at most. That’s not what happens with Krishna prema.

In ISKCON we had an experience with drugs being used as a substitute for devotion once, it didn’t end very well at all, even if external symptoms were very convincing and probably genuinely felt.

Bottom line – all these studies and all my efforts to refute them focus on what love of God isn’t and they’re of limited help if I want to find what loving Krishna really is.

Luckily, I should be able to resume my chanting tomorrow, can’t wait to get back into that routine again.