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A Slave to God

May 12, 2009

A couple of weeks back, my wife and I visited a friend of mine, who lives in the same city as us. I have known this friend (I will call her BD) since my undergrad years and I knew  about her amaurotic passion towards anything religious. In an earlier life, we have had lots of discussions on the topic of God, religion, Hindu philosophy etc. but as time progressed, I found myself slowly drifting away from the path of unquestioning faith and blind devotion.  In the meantime, she seemed to have got sucked into the black vortex of religious blindness by a inexorable force .

Since, we were in different parts of the country then and were also busy with our own lives, we didn’t talk very often. Even when we did,  we hardly discussed religion because I realized after a while that it was a waste of time.  She had erected such a stubborn wall in her mind, between the worlds of logic and blind faith, that any attempt at showing her reason was dismally futile. While she continued to work on her PhD in Bioengineering, she seemed to have jumped headlong into the dark, bottomless abyss of supernatural nonsense. I watched in disappointment, as she got more and more entangled in the affairs of a Hindu religious organization (I will call it ‘CultX‘).



Not having met her for a long time, finally a few weeks ago, we decided to meet her in person. I was happy to see her after more than a year and we talked for quite a few hours. During the meeting, she informed us that she had recently decided to take her vows as a nun and join CultX . I knew she had always wanted to be one and have been living as a virtual nun for quite a few years now. Getting inducted into the fold of a convent was merely a formality for her. Since, I had known about her inclination for a long time, the news didn’t come to me as a surprise. She is a great person and she has always been a good friend. A small part of me was happy that she could finally follow her passion, but I also felt that she could have achieved so much more without joining a convent.

I thought of congratulating her but I didn’t. It wasn’t something I felt I should congratulate her for. I would have felt like a hypocrite if I did. To me, it seemed a total waste of a perfectly worthy life. A life which could have been used to achieve so many other things. The same life which could have been used to serve so many people would probably now end up being wasted in proselytizing dogmatic, bronze-age, religious nonsense or spent teaching and propagating unscientific, superstitious garbage. Yes, she definitely had the right to do whatever she wanted with her life, but for me to support it would have definitely been disingenuous.

The next day, when I called up my mom to chat with her I informed her about BD (my mom knew her from my undergrad days) .This is how the conversation went

Me:Ma, you remember BD ?

Mom: Yes, of course  I remember.  She came to our house with a bunch of your other friends. Isn’t she living in the same city as you? I think you told me about her some time back.

Me: Yes, she is here. Last weekend I called her up as I hadn’t met her for more than a year. She asked us to come over for lunch. So we paid her a visit last Sunday. When I asked her about her future plans she informed us that she had decided to join the convent.

Mom: Finally, huh? Didn’t she always want to join the convent? Good for her. Not everyone can sacrifice his/her life to God.

Me: How is it a sacrifice ma? And what’s the big deal about sacrificing  one’s life to an unseen, unknown, imagined entity?Well OK. Maybe you *can* call it sacrifice, if you call suicide bombing for Allah a sacrifice. But, such ‘sacrifice’ in my dictionary is an act of appalling stupidity. If she joined it to serve humanity, she could have done it outside’s the convent’s fold. There are thousands of tireless social workers who have really “sacrificed” their life to social causes without joining a monastery or convent, but we don’t always put them on a pedestal or look at them with such rosy eyes.

Mom: I don’t think she is stupid. Didn’t you mention sometime back that she completed her PhD? I don’t think a stupid person can get a PhD. And, it’s not easy either. Life is tough for these nuns. There’s a lot of sacrifice involved in leading such a life. Only an elevated soul can lead such a life.

Me: (not surprised by my mom’s comment) Ma, I am not saying it is easy. I know how tough it is for them and even though they chose that life, I really empathize with them. In fact, I know the convent is glorified jail – just without the bars. All I am asking is the premise under which it is considered a sacrifice by most people.Why use the word ‘sacrifice’, when they are doing it purely for their *own* salvation? How is their work (not that proseletyzing can be considered social work) any different from the thousands of other social workers who are working tirelessly for the improvement of society without any ulterior motives .

And, why are the people, who choose to join monasteries/nunneries, looked upon as “elevated souls” ? Why should it be our default opinion? Why not call them “brainwashed”? Why not “certifiably insane”? With a PhD and a decent job, what couldn’t she have done outside the fold of a convent ? Did she really need to join a convent?

Btw, I wonder where her critical-thinking faculties disappeared when it came to critically review the claims of CultX.  She could have easily seen through the utter nonsense of their claims, if only she had used the same standard to critically review their claims as she used for her  own research. But this is how god-believing scientists operate –

“Oh, the earth revolves around the sun?”

” I will need 100 references from 50 different credible scientific journals to prove it to me. ”

“Oh, the Guru is the 29th incarnation of Krishna, eats iron nails for breakfast and can produce watches out of thin air?”

“That must be true. He must be the one. Jai Shri Krishna !! ”

What a waste of a PhD degree and tax-payers money.

Mom: Well she could have done so many things, but she didn’t. Instead she chose to join the convent and work for society. That according to me is sacrifice ?

Me:Ok, if you want to call it a sacrifice. Fine. However, there are thousands of people who have given up a lot in their lives to work for the upliftment of the masses, but how many Hindus do you see slavishly falling at their feet and asking for their blessings, just as they do for these monks or nuns? I know a guy with a PhD from UC-Berkeley who left his plush job at IBM to go and work for villages in India. Another guy left his high paying job at Morgan Stanley to do the same? How many people do we see falling at their feet?

Mom:To me, anyone who works for god is worthy of respect. And, I think the convent probably gives her stability and support. It is very difficult to live as a single woman in this world. People need emotional support also. And, when God decides to pull people towards Him there’s nothing much we could do. It’s already been decided.

Me :(laughing) Maaaaaa??? I am sure this is exactly what D thought when she decided to join the convent. Even now, she probably thinks that she is being pulled by the ‘invisible hand of God’ to serve Him. She probably thinks God has some secret yet exalted plan for her. A plan for her ‘moksha’. When, in reality, she will just be leading the life of a serf. As far as I know, she will be working tirelessly to spread the ludicrous claims of an organization while at the same time surrendering her independence to the despotic ‘mothers’ (that’s what they call the senior nuns) of the convent. And these crazy ‘mothers’ will be watching over her and controlling her every move, every word and every action.

And, Ma you are probably right about the emotional support part, but I think, even that didn’t necessitate joining a convent. I understand the need for people to belong to a community or an organization. In fact,  that is why so many people who grow up in non-religious households or to atheist parents become religious later in life. Not because they believe in a God but because they need some emotional comfort and a sense of belonging to a community. But if she really wanted to dedicate her life to society, couldn’t she have joined some other secular organization and done the same thing?

Mom: Probably she could have. But, being a nun is a result of ages and several lifetimes of good karma. Only people who have earned a lot of karma are rewarded by such devotion.

Me: Devotion rewarded with what – more devotion? Doesn’t that mean God is a narcissist? And how do we know that her previous karma is responsible for it? Because some stupid, half-educated swami said so?

Mom:Forget it. You won’t understand it……Btw did I tell you what your nephew did yesterday ?

Me: *sighing* No Ma, what did he do?……


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29 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2009 2:31 am

    While I personally cannot relate to somebody ‘sacrificing’ their life for god.. I have met people who feel strongly about this. My aunt- to whom I am very close, has a guru – who, thankfully is not the kind of guru that you have talked about.. He is extremely down to earth.. does not call himself any avataar or anything, calls his people – his friends – he does not like that ‘elevated status’.. so when my aunt talks about giving up worldy living and stuff, she has not done it yet, though I don’t understand it – I feel that if it gives her peace – so be it.. But at the same time, had he been one of those publicity crazy ‘gurus’, I probably would not have felt the same…
    Another reason why it is considered a noble thing and a sacrifice is because in the Hindu thinking, Bhakti is considered the highest form of worship – wherein you don’t question – you just accept everything.. That might be why people find it easy to accept and laud..
    I have been lurking at your blog – and have to say – have really liked your posts..

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 13, 2009 1:07 pm

      Hi Smitha, Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment and your kind words (btw when you said you “really” liked my posts did you really mean “really”? never mind. I was just kidding 😉 😀 ). It’s great to hear that you could finally come out of the shadows and comment on my blog. It’s always nice to see proof that people are actually reading your posts.

      On the topic of Bhakti, I understand why people consider it a noble thing (although to me it’s a vice and a liability more than a virtue). It’s a no-brainer why we have been brainwashed from time immemorial by saints and books like the gita to consider it as a virtue. The reason why these saints have glorified bhakti or unquestioning devotion is because it helps them wield their power over their subjects. An intransigent follower is not a follower at all since he/she undermines the power of a guru. I am not against respect, but once devotion and respect becomes unquestioning, they can pretty much get away with anything. Once the doubts from believers have been subdued under the excuse of bhakti, people can be manipulated to do anything or believe any ridiculous stuff . There’s a quote I read sometime back that is ascribed to Buddha (I didn’t verify it) and which I very much agree with ( The Buddha is probably one of those exceptions. It’s a pity that present day buddhism is so far removed from what Buddha envisioned it to be )

      “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings – that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.”

      — Buddha

      • May 15, 2009 6:16 am

        Totally agree with you – I cannot relate to a concept of Bhakti – which tells us not to question. But I keep getting surprised at how many people blindly believe everything that is followed in the name of faith!
        And I totally agree that people are taken advantage of – in the name of this ‘unconditional, unquestioning faith’.. It still surprises me to see how many people are swayed by it.. The social conditioning has a lot to do with it , I suppose.
        Last time I visited India, I had been a village – quite remote – the nearest decent hospital is around 5 hours away and the road is attrocious. One of the women I met, was pregnant, and had been told by one such person ( who apparently has some Devi in her) that she was not supposed to leave the in-laws house to go to her parent’s place(which was closer to the hospital) for the delivery. So this girl was supposed to travel at the very last minute to the hospital – 5 hrs away – just coz they believe in this spiritual lady.. I was astounded to say the least.. Nobody even thought of the dangers involved – to the mother and child – just that the ‘Devi’ would take care of everything!!!!

        • nitwitnastik permalink*
          May 16, 2009 2:16 pm

          Sad story Smitha. Thanks for sharing. I hope everything turned out fine for her. I wish that someday we can come out of such darkness and see the light.

          • Badz permalink
            May 16, 2009 3:20 pm

            NN! May I ask, Have you ever came across such people that say they have “Devi Maa” inside of them or that have taken over their body? Or shall I ask, do you believe in such people or that is atually possible?

          • nitwitnastik permalink*
            May 16, 2009 3:37 pm

            Badz, I have actually come across many people who do and have seen such people quite a few times. Needless to say, I don’t believe in them. Some of them are imposters while others behave under self-hypnosis where they put themselves in a trance. It’s not too difficult to do and I have had mild trances myself during my mediation bouts. You can do it too if you try. That doesn’t mean devi maa is inside you but it is a simple change in your brain chemistry. In fact, do you know that there are drugs which causes people to hallucinate and go into trance states where they think they are experiencing God.

            Btw I wrote about something similar a while back. Check the videos out.


          • Badz permalink
            May 17, 2009 6:30 pm

            Yes. I am aware of those drugs and know how the work. (not tried it myself though). Can I just ask, I understand the science behind it, BUT how is it possible for those people to predict something and it somehow comes true or that incident happens?

          • nitwitnastik permalink*
            May 17, 2009 8:36 pm

            Badz, can you give me a few examples.

            And when you say their predictions come true ask yourself – do they really? Look at their entire prediction record than just one prediction. Most of us when we look at predictions, we generally count the hits and forget the misses which are much more than the hits(astrology is a good example). If a person is really god or knows the future wouldn’t he/she be able to predict everything 100% of the time or atleast close to 90%. Yet we know from history that no one has ever predicted anything which has turned out to be true consistently or in
            statistically large numbers. In fact not even close to 50% which is worse that what you would get if you predict by tossing a coin(if you know probability theory you will know what I am talking about. If not let me know and I can explain it).

            In fact if you notice their predictions most of them are “post-dictions”. i.e they say things after it has happened and say something like “I told you so” or “I already knew this was supposed to happen” Duh?

            Also notice how most people who claim to see the future talk in very general terms or are vague in their predictions or talk in riddles. That is a deliberate ploy so that their predictions can be interpreted in any manner they choose. In fact, rationalists have challenged astrologers and god-men for a long time to prove they can predict things better than a coin flip and till date no one has been successful.

            In fact next time, you see someone tring to predict the future challenge him/her to
            1. Give his/her predictions in exact terms and avoid vague language – date, time, people, exact event etc
            2. Take into account more than 1 prediction. Anyone can get 1 prediction correct by chance or luck but only when we look at a statistically significant number of them – say 10 or 100 (the larger the better) we can ascertain whether that person really has any power to predict the future.

            I can’t almost gurantee you they will fail when you put them to that test.

            Btw check this video about astrology and how astrologers fool us with their vague language.


          • May 21, 2009 11:21 am

            Badz, I have seen plently of this all my life. It happens very often in my ancestoral village in Rajasthan. It is so evidently fake. Each time it happened, it was “performed” by rather attention seeking women who “caught up” on this by watching other women do it.

  2. Badz permalink
    May 13, 2009 5:15 am

    Hmm… Interesting conversation with your mother. Strangely enough, I agree with a lot of your views. And the way I’m seeing it, why did your friend get such a good education if she wanted to become a nun? Wouldn’t it have made sense that she goes straight to becoming a nun without going to university and save a lot of her money? And what’s the point of having such good qualifications if you are not going to use them?

    BTW, I’ve replied to your comment on Indyeah’s blog.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 13, 2009 1:26 pm

      Hey Badz, just because we disagree on some other stuff doesn’t mean we cannot agree on anything :-). Even though, I haven’t met you, I am sure we agree on a lot more things than we disagree about. It’s true for majority of people. All I try to do on my blog is to have an honest conversation and I like people who are open-minded and try the same. So I commend you on your honesty and please feel free to disagree with me if you find something objectionable. I am not always correct and I have always been the first to admit my mistake when it has been pointed out.

  3. May 13, 2009 8:40 am

    I totally agree with you. I can never understand how anything we do with pleasure be a sacrifice, and if it isn’t a pleasure why do it in the first place?!
    Also the necessity and glorification of suffering is really sad. You should read (not watch the movie!) Chocolat, one of the things I love about the book, is how it shows what a pleasure life can be.

    But despite my horror at such a waste of life, like you, I feel in the end it’s her right to to do whatever she does with her precious life 😦

  4. nitwitnastik permalink*
    May 13, 2009 2:08 pm

    Thanks for the suggestion IHM. Will try to read it.

    Btw, yes you are correct, it’s her right to do what she wants with her life but my post was more about how we perceive this monks and nuns. The false ideas we harbor, that these people are somehow better than the rest of us just because they chose to become monks/nuns.

    • May 13, 2009 4:04 pm

      Oh I agree completely with the entire post Nitwit Nastik, including, that monks or nuns are not any better than other people.

  5. May 14, 2009 10:10 am

    Nitwit, congratulations that you’re so close to your mother that you could discuss such issues unabashedly with her. I’m farthest from reaching that level as possible. Fortunately for me though, my parents are also likely to see this as some kind of wastage of human life. Their views are closer to being of monotheist types.

    I was searching for an alternative term for ‘sacrifice’ in case of what your friend did. I think IHM’ ‘suffering’ comes close to that. I can’t think of calling it a sacrifice, simply because in any kind of favor/ help/compromise/sacrifice (with discomfort increasing in that order) someone in NEED gets benefited. Devoting one’s life to any kind of religious activity doesn’t meet this criterion.

    Second thing I want to point out is that the quality of ‘EDUCATION’ in India is totally deplorable. Being able to add a string of degrees is no guarantee that one is really intelligent, knowledgeable and original in their thinking. That’s why no GENUINE research happens in India (sic, however much it might be tempting to believe the contrary).


    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 14, 2009 10:56 am

      I’m farthest from reaching that level as possible.

      Do you mean you are afraid it will hurt them? Maybe you can try talking to them.

      Second thing I want to point out is that the quality of ‘EDUCATION’ in India is totally deplorable

      Ketan, I avoided mentioning the name of the university because that would have made it too easy to find this friend, which I didn’t want. But it is not an Indian University. In fact, it’s one of the top universities in the US in our area – Electrical Engineering. That’s why I am so disappointed with this friend. After all the trouble she and her family had to go through to come here ( and I know what she had to go through because she told me), she finally decided to join a convent.

      You know what will happen now? She will be used a marketing tool to recruit more people to this cult and paraded by this cult as a PhD from a top US school who chose to give up everything to join it. And, more stupid, brainwashed people will be taking her example and throwing away their precious lives for an unworthy cause.

  6. May 15, 2009 10:11 am

    Totally agree with you..and really really disappointed that an ‘educated’ individual should do this…

    How does this benefit society/her fellow human beings/anyone needy in any way? 😦

    Anything that cannot be questioned is suspicious…
    remembered this quote while reading this post
    Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned. ~Author Unknown

    BTW I can understand the conversation coz some of the dearest and quite sensible people in my life think the same way 🙂

    its doesnt take away anything from them..they just ‘happen’ to think that way… 🙂
    one has to grin and bear it 🙂
    with long bouts of argument in between of course 😀

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 16, 2009 2:21 pm

      Thanks for sharing the quote. Very true. I always watch my bull-o-meter when people use religion to justify something.

      one has to grin and bear it

      You actually seem to be very polite. I am generally diplomatic with outsiders (Try to point the problems with their logic without excessive confrontation) but with my own family I am pretty frank and do give them a piece of my mind if they forward baseless arguments (without being rude that is 🙂 )

  7. May 15, 2009 1:48 pm

    Problem with talking to my parents is that I’ll have start too much from the basics, like the human psychology, evolution, genetics, laws of conservation in physics, probability, anthropology, history, philosophical principles like Ockham’s razor, etc. Plus, they’re very likely to be offended by the fact that their son less than half their age is trying to ‘teach them’! Most practical difficulty–I live in a hostel, quite away from my parents.

    Paraded, your friend most definitely will be. We can only give a standing ovation 😦


    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 16, 2009 2:12 pm

      Problem with talking to my parents is that I’ll have start too much from the basics, like the human psychology, evolution, genetics, laws of conservation in physics, probability, anthropology, history, philosophical principles like Ockham’s razor

      LOL ! Believe me. My parents don’t know everything you have metioned either and things were not the same. But if you are patient and polite and give your logic why you reject faith, they may not embrace it, but will slowly get around to understanding your point of view.

      Btw, I live 13,000 kms away from home. So I am sure distance wouldn’t be a problem. Start by pointing out the injustice in the name of religion e.g. subjugation of women (can anyone show an instance of subjugation of women in history where religion wasn’t used as an excuse – god said so or the high priest said so), caste system (mandated by religious books again).

      Anyway that’s how I started and I am not saying you should or must talk to your parents. I am sure you are smart enough to know what’s best for you and your family. I am sure your parents,like my parents, are not in-the-face religious fanatics. Generally, I let them be and let them do what they want as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves.

  8. May 17, 2009 2:22 pm

    I dunno. I don’t believe that my sacrifices for God have anything to do with my salvation, and I don’t see that the Bible teaches that I must sacrifice in order to be saved. I believe that I get to serve God out of love and commitment. I think that’s a whole different scenario than being forced to or working for salvation.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 17, 2009 7:28 pm

      Hey Kreit. How are your doing buddy? Nice to hear from you after a while. Glad you checked in on the dark side. 😀 I noticed you moved to a new website. Cool design.

      Well as for your questions, I think we will again go into a loop if I give a lengthy answer so let me try to be brief. If someone feels the need to serve an unseen entity out of love and commitment, I cannot stop him/her from doing so but as for me I find it a waste of my time. My basic criteria to love someone is to be able to see that entity (physically I mean) and until that happens I will reserve my love for entities I can see or feel with my 5 senses.

      • May 17, 2009 8:14 pm

        Yeah, it’s been awhile, though I do check out your blog once a week to see what’s new.

        We’ve discussed all of this in length on both of our blogs, so I won’t rehash everything all over again. I doubt either of us have time for that. I will say that long-distance relationships work out quite well for some people because communication is present even if there the beloved isn’t physically present. There are ways to think God’s thoughts after Him, to know Him without actually getting to see Him yet.

        • nitwitnastik permalink*
          May 18, 2009 3:38 pm

          Thanks for checking in Kreit. Yes I agree that there are people who won’t mind a long distance relationship but as for me, I would be very interested in continuing a long distance relationship ONLY if I have at least met that person once. That definitely helps the credibility a lot :-D.

          Btw, Kreit, since we have debated these topics many many times before we may not have much to discuss on this topic. But if you would like to discuss these topics with more erudite atheists, let me suggest a few places you may be interested in.

          The first is a highly recommended blog called Pharyngula

          which is run by Prof. PZ Myers who is a biology professor at University of Minnesota and also an atheist (you may have heard of him already). It’s probably the most visited atheist blog and is probably more popular than Dawkin’s website. Try discussing your views there. It may help increase the traffic to your blog but I must also warn you that people there can be quite tough to argue with as some of the readers are pretty well versed in science and Christianity. Check it out if you are interested.

          The second is a weekly live call-in show called the Atheist Experience which is hosted by the atheist association of Austin, Texas. You can check out their videos or you can call them live and try to discuss your views on Christianity( if you are interested that is). They are generally quite patient with theists who want to discuss their religion, unless of course people are talking on top of each other or being rude. Check it out when you have time.

          Btw, I read sometime back one of your comments that you were trying to adopt a kid. Hope that is going well and Congratulations if you are already a dad !! 🙂

          • May 23, 2009 1:16 pm

            We’re all but approved to adopt a kid, Nit. It turns out that there is a ridiculously long process, but I can understand since the government doesn’t want to take kids out of problematic homes just to put them into another one.

            Thanks for the well-wishing!

  9. Badz permalink
    May 18, 2009 4:37 am

    Well, unfortunetly, I can’t give you any examples. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such people. To be honest, I try and avoid them. I’ve seen/heard people misuse such abilties for their own benefits (plus I personally have had bad experiences with such people). And also like yourself, I have had mild trance myself. So I am aware of such things. In fact, I have lots of people in my family (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) that get them. Hence I’ve grown up seeing it all.

    So you are saying to use maths (probablity and stats) to work out how accurate and how often their predictions are correct and how often they are wrong and work out a percentage. And yes I am aware of the flipping a coin theory.

    I know I’m going off the subject a bit, but aren’t astrologers basically good mathematicians and physicists?

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 18, 2009 6:25 am

      aren’t astrologers basically good mathematicians and physicists

      I don’t think so. Most of them use some kind of a software these days and even in previous years, I found that their knowledge of maths and science were rudimentary.

      Btw, did you know that majority of the world’s top scientists and nobel laureates are atheists/agnostics.

      • May 18, 2009 6:59 am

        I know of the software. My dad purchased it from india. BUT he doesn’t use it tp look at other peoples or as a business, just because he was interested in the subject as a young adult so uses it for himself. I believe they call it a “kundli”.

        And yes I am aware that the majority of Scientists and nobel laureates are atheists/agnostics.

        I just thought (not many astrologers today) they were good mathematicians and physicists.

  10. Ananya permalink
    June 26, 2010 2:44 pm

    You: Well OK. Maybe you *can* call it sacrifice, if you call suicide bombing for Allah a sacrifice.

    I don’t exactly see your mom’s responce on this statement. Even a few suicide bombers and master minds behind it are well educated and qualified, might be even holding PhDs from good universities.

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