Dear God

Our school prayer, recited together every morning before the beginning of classes and often fondly remembered by me and my schoolmates now, went like this:

Dear God,
Thank you for everything;
Bless me and help me to be good,
And to do my studies well.

I stopped believing in god when I was very small. I don’t even remember how far back that was; I was probably about eight or nine then. I faintly remember that I used to harbour a mild irritation for this prayer as a reaction from this atheism. Along with some other funny stuff I used to do. Like I remember that in all my essays and elsewhere I never capitalized the word ‘god’ or pronouns referring to god, as is the norm (I still stick to that). One of my aunts, very religious, used to give me on my exam days a little paper-wrapped bundle of flowers from her puja, for luck. My schoolmates who brought these used to brush them over all the pages of their answer scripts. I remember throwing it out the window once, and then feeling crap about it because my aunt had only wished me well.

Where many of my friends had pictures of gods and goddesses on the inside of their pencil-boxes, I had pasted pictures of Einstein and Donald Duck.

On visits to temples, I used to refuse to toll the bell. I was very little then. I was forced to do it once, “just to be nice”, by another aunt. Although I remember faintly, and this is one of my oldest memories, that I used to enjoy vigorously tolling the bell at a nearby temple when I was very small and before I stopped believing in god. But I guess at that age I had no clue what it was about.

I don’t remember at all why I stopped believing in god; it happened a long time back when memory starts failing. But it has stood for that long. Right now I won’t offhand say that I don’t believe in god. I don’t believe in organized religion. But god, well, it’s complicated, I’m not sure, and I don’t have very good arguments for whatever little ideas I have. I haven’t thought about it as much as I should. But yeah, for all practical purposes (which includes praying, visiting temples, fear of sin, trust on god etc) I am an atheist.

Coming back to that school prayer. Some friends were circulating it on facebook as a way to reminisce fond memories, and it suddenly struck me how wrong that prayer was in a way.

In an educational institute such as a school where the very foundations of a great many characters are laid, why would you put that prayer in everyone’s mouth? Educators need to know that theism is an opinion, that too without substantial arguments and a lot of bad past. Furthermore, thanking this elusive god character for ‘everything’ is so demeaning of oneself and one’s achievements and all other good things that happen in one’s life. And that ‘help me to be good’ really drives home the point that morality must be attained with assistance from this character. In the early constructive stages of so many children’s lives, this reiterated appointment of an absent character as the overseer of their lives to whom all credit for good things, good academic performance and morality must be channelled, suddenly seems very wrong to me now.

Is it part of an enforcement of conduct, this repeated chanting every morning of god as the controller of tidiness and goodness in oneself? If this is just an aid to discipline students, it was a bad choice. A dangerous, careless, morally incorrect choice.

I am no child psychologist, but attributing the credit for good behaviour to the one who exhibits it makes more sense to me. By Occam’s razor, there’s no need for an invention of an intermediate god to take over that credit. More important, it emphasizes that the ultimate person responsible for one’s actions is oneself, just as all things to be thankful for originate from life itself, from the doings of oneself and others. No divine assistance or intervention is needed to ‘be good’. Children are capable of goodness that comes from their own self. Isn’t that something important to let them realize instead of this ritual? Later on in their lives their spiritual and religious beliefs could grow independently from their experiences and thoughts; there’s no need to so crudely enforce that so early via a daily prayer.

But then, theism is expected to manifest in just such things.

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15 thoughts on “Dear God

  1. A nontheistic version, which could convey the same message:
    I am grateful for all I have,
    May I get inspiration from the world,
    To be good
    and to do my studies well.

    • That’s more like it. But then it’s no longer a prayer and school authorities would probably fail to see the point of saying this every morning. Which kind of brings out the irony completely.

  2. Well, its a good article. However, i would like to mention an incident that occurred in Einstein’s life whose picture you had on your pencil box…

    Professor : You are a Christian, aren’t you, son ?

    Student : Yes, sir.

    Professor: So, you believe in GOD ?

    Student : Absolutely, sir.

    Professor : Is GOD good ?

    Student : Sure.

    Professor: Is GOD all powerful ?

    Student : Yes.

    Professor: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to GOD to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But GOD didn’t. How is this GOD good then? Hmm?

    (Student was silent.)

    Professor: You can’t answer, can you ? Let’s start again, young fella. Is GOD good?

    Student : Yes.

    Professor: Is satan good ?

    Student : No.

    Professor: Where does satan come from ?

    Student : From … GOD …

    Professor: That’s right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?

    Student : Yes.

    Professor: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it ? And GOD did make everything. Correct?

    Student : Yes.

    Professor: So who created evil ?

    (Student did not answer.)

    Professor: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?

    Student : Yes, sir.

    Professor: So, who created them ?

    (Student had no answer.)

    Professor: Science says you have 5 Senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son, have you ever seen GOD?

    Student : No, sir.

    Professor: Tell us if you have ever heard your GOD?

    Student : No , sir.

    Professor: Have you ever felt your GOD, tasted your GOD, smelt your GOD? Have you ever had any sensory perception of GOD for that matter?

    Student : No, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.

    Professor: Yet you still believe in Him?

    Student : Yes.

    Professor : According to Empirical, Testable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says your GOD doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?

    Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.

    Professor: Yes, faith. And that is the problem Science has.

    Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?

    Professor: Yes.

    Student : And is there such a thing as cold?

    Professor: Yes.

    Student : No, sir. There isn’t.

    (The lecture theater became very quiet with this turn of events.)

    Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

    (There was pin-drop silence in the lecture theater.)

    Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?

    Professor: Yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?

    Student : You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light. But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and its called darkness, isn’t it? In reality, darkness isn’t. If it is, well you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

    Professor: So what is the point you are making, young man ?

    Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.

    Professor: Flawed ? Can you explain how?

    Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good GOD and a bad GOD. You are viewing the concept of GOD as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, Science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing.

    Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. Now tell me, Professor, do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?

    Professor: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.

    Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?

    (The Professor shook his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument was going.)

    Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor. Are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?

    (The class was in uproar.)

    Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?

    (The class broke out into laughter. )

    Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it? No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established Rules of Empirical, Stable, Demonstrable Protocol, Science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

    (The room was silent. The Professor stared at the student, his face unfathomable.)

    Professor: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.

    Student : That is it sir … Exactly ! The link between man & GOD is FAITH. That is all that keeps things alive and moving.

    That student was EINSTEIN.

    • Thanks Mangesh for your comment. For this particular comment, especially. I found this story on facebook and I wanted to bash it right away but I couldn’t comment there. So thank you for this opportunity to finally have a go at it.
      This story isn’t real. It’s just net-lore that has been circulating online for a long time (I’ve myself seen it a long time back), but only recently it peaked again on facebook, this time with Einstein’s name slapped on it. Nowadays I see a lot of urban legends and folklore ending with the name of some well-known person slapped on at the end. The favourite candidates appear to be Einstein, APJ Abdul Kalam and Bill Gates.
      There are some obvious reasons why it’s not true. I thought it’s common knowledge that Einstein was persecuted in Nazi Germany because he was Jewish. That student says he’s Christian.
      Anyway, a whole list of errors and inconsistencies of this story can be found on the Religious Tolerance website, so I won’t write any more about that here. I’d just like to point out that it’s perhaps not a good idea to spread such folklore without verification, assuming that ‘someone wrote it on facebook’ is substantial evidence.
      Coming to the argument itself, it’s completely rigged to conclude in some ideas that the author of the story believes in and wants others to believe. If I were the Professor, I’d bash the hell out of that student. For example, if necessary, one could define cold. And how some stuff not being the opposite of others suddenly constitutes proof of God is beyond me. And yes, evolution has been observed with eyes in the lab in many long-term evolution experiments like that of Richard Lenski.
      Also, never having seen a certain person’s brain doesn’t require faith of the religious kind to believe it is there. Inductive logic is one of the first principles of science in which you prove it for some cases and generalize to similar ones. Nobody can argue that not a single human brain has ever been seen, right? But one could easily state that there hasn’t been one ounce of undisputed evidence so far establishing the existence of God. So that requires religious faith.
      But Mangesh, please don’t take this personally. I’m bashing the story, not you. Do keep coming back to my blog and please do comment. We can have interesting discussions and if I screw up, you’re welcome to bash me all you want 🙂

  3. A good point kept here about the school prayers. If we compare, it’s kind of similar to the fairy tales that we force children to read, that good things always happen to good people though no one has the clue why it happens in the hardest way. We make children believe that they can’t completely control their lives and that ‘God’ does. I guess no one has any idea how right it is.
    This was a question I was thinking to put, after seeing your photograph of Goddess Durga, that whether you believe in God or not. Got the answer 🙂 .

    • It’s funny that you were thinking that after seeing that photograph. I kind of thought that people would think something or the other, especially after I named it ‘Light of the Goddess’, which sounds very bhaktiful. 😉
      Yes, it’s interesting what you say about fairy tales. But I guess childhood is a time for happy and straightforward things; that things go all twisted in life is a lecture that could be preserved until high school, I guess 🙂

    • Okay, Swasti, I don’t know you, but have one request for you. Go read the *original* Grimm’s or even Perrault’s fairy tales. They’re grisly, morbid, full of death, sickness, poverty and darkness, and certainly, in the medieval, brutal worlds where fairy tales (originally oral folklores, later collected and preserved in writing) first started, these definitely were not meant to demonstrate that “good things always happen to good people.” In fact, they were true to life in many ways, such as referring to the contemporary high infant mortility rates and broken families (women dying at childbirth, for instance, and hence, stepmothers) that existed before advanced medical practices became the norm.

      The fairy tales you’re referring to are the sanitised, safe ones with altered “happy endings” that were manufactured later when adults deemed that these were too dark for kids. The basic thing with kid’s books is that they’re meant for children but written by adults who determine what’s “suitable” for kids, and this definition varies with different times and locations. It’s about politics really, about control over who gets to read what and have access to what books, but there have always been writers who have recognised that in many cases, childhood is precisely the opposite of a “time for happy and straightforward things”, and have written books that reflect this. Sankho, look up Maurice Sendak, for instance, or Robert Cormier, or Terry Pratchett’s kid’s books, or a dozen others I could name. It’s not all Enid Blyton out there.

  4. As for this post: Janish Sankho, I’d actually entirely FORGOTTEN this prayer they made us say in South Point? I’m pretty sure we only said it in junior school, and I guess it had zero impact on me because I was an atheist from a very young age too. Actually, tui nijeke ja describe korli, the term for you is not atheist per se (ie, no god, full stop), but agnostic. Surely you know it — if not, look it up.

    And unlike you, I remember precisely when I stopped believing in the gods and goddesses and rituals and stuff that Hinduism routinely shoves down our collective throats. I’ve always been a bookworm, and by the time I was nine or so, I’d finished reading all the purana and jataka tales I could get my hands on — huge volumes upon volumes of them. Learning all the mythological tales at a very early age actually led me to see how petty and self-serving and vainglorious a lot of these characters are, endowed with superpowers yes but also bickering and insecure and jealous of each other and engaging in constant infighting and sabotage to secure their own positions in the divine pantheon. For example, all those gods up in heaven routinely sent down apsaras to tempt and break the meditation of sadhus who had been meditating for aeons and acquired too much power for the gods to be comfortable with. Low sexual politics, there you go.

    Anyway, even at that young age, I was like … waitaminute, I’m supposed to worship *these* characters? They’re barely better than petty humans, just worse, because they have superpowers and can make life pretty uncomfortable for you if you don’t declare allegiance. So basically, super powerful bullies at worst and small, petty people at best. And it was that simple, I was like, nope, not doing it, it’s all stories and it’s bullshit. That was it for organised religion where I was concerned.

    The older I grew, the more disgusted I was by the rituals etc. too, so that helped in maintaining the distance. For instance, did you know that girls aren’t allowed to enter temples and offer pujas/anjalis if they’re menstruating, because they’re considered “unclean” while they’re having their periods? When I first encountered this, I was furious and sarcastic — I told my dida, ok yeahhh riiiight, and I suppose Ma Durga doesn’t ever menstruate either. Got my ears boxed for that!

    So, perverse kid that I was, although I’d stopped giving anjali etc or performing any Hindu rituals since around the time I was 9 or so, I’d make very sure to go give anjali ONLY when I had my periods, and make sure to declare it to everyone around me. The gasps of shock and censure were sheer music to my ears 😀 It was childish of me I suppose, but whatever, I got a lot of fun out of it.

    I do like the social aspects of religions, though. I love the artwork and creativity associated with the excesses of Durgapuja, and the family spirit of Christmas, for example, and all the foods associated with the different festivals, how they bring people together and provide an excuse for merrymaking, all of that. Organised religions are useful as belief systems — they act as safety valves, I think, for people’s insecurities and worries, and provide a ready made set of beliefs to counter the realisation of the essential random and meaningless nature of existence. So they’re useful in this regard, I suppose, but it’s never really been something I’ve been into. And you too, it seems 🙂

    • About the perversions you mentioned, I have some stories of my own too that I don’t have the balls to speak of here, but yeah, I’ve done some stuff that would earn me a quick multipass to hell if it exists. 😉
      I liked the Mohasthobir Jatak though. I remember it was an interesting read about a guy almost my age. But it was written by a good writer and isn’t exactly mythology.
      I think too that Durga Puja and the whole ambience around it is the single greatest invention of the Bengalis. I love the time of the year, more so because there is almost no smell of religion to it, and that’s one reason why I’d like the Bengali community to take bow.
      And yeah, I’ll try to take a look at the fairy stories you mentioned.
      You are being sorely missed on facebook. But I guess it was a well-thought-out decision.

  5. Tahole toh dekha korte hochhei, to hear about tor misdeed, heh heh. I guess my observations were more about the puranas and other Hindu myths than the jatakas, which were rather lovely, and very philosophical on the whole, and demonstrates the cyclical nature of things rather beautifully if you think of them at the level of metaphor.

    Amio fb majhe majhe miss kori, or rather, I miss proper interactions and substantial conversations I used to have with certain friends. But 90% of it was bullshit and unhealthy, and I haven’t, on the whole, regretted the decision. I might change my mind and come back though, but probably won’t stay for very long. Bhaggish tor ei blog-ta acche, tai kotha bolar sujog paoa gyalo 🙂 Anwesha goto soptahei bolchhilo je tui keyboards shikchhish — I want a demo when I come back and meet you later this year!!

      • 🙂 🙂

        For a first attempt via youtube video tutorials, well done my boy! Seriously bolchhi, bar khaoachhi na. Obviously legions of room for improvement, but you know it as well as I do, and so not harping on that. So glad you’ve decided to take up keyboards as well! *tupi khola*

  6. The title of your post immediately reminds me of A7x’s song Dear God but the similarity ends with the name.
    You have rightly pointed out how wrong it is to teach young minds that it is that super power over there who controls what we do. Instead those prayers should have taught the kids to take responsibility for what they do and not happily shift it to some vague concept. My school prayers were in Sanskrit, so fortunately or unfortunately we hardly understood what we recited every morning. 🙂

    • Yeah, we also used to have an Om Sahana Vavatu in our school diaries along with its translation and a couple of other prayers, but we didn’t say those.

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