My relationship with God is gloriously fluid and unstructured. To me, God is sometimes a woman, sometimes a man, many times it’s just light or water or trees – you name it. Lately, I’ve felt God in my new washing machine. Sometimes I’m scared of Her, sometimes She’s my best friend – most times though, She is this unwavering presence I turn to, to either ask for help or to express gratitude. Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those people who sincerely believe that this entity listens to me and manipulates events to my favor.
However, it feels comforting to believe that when you’re scared or anxious, someone is egging you on to be your better self and just do things instead of agonizing over minutiae. To me, God is like a combination therapist/cheerleader. You can’t ask anyone else to take that role – they have their own lives and their own struggles. So God steps in to fill the vacuum. Atheists would probably say to me, “It’s not God. You just have a healthy relationship with your conscience.” I will just turn to them and pleasantly say, “Well, then I thank God for giving me a strong conscience.”
Ironically, it’s science that led me to God. I used to be ambiguous about my faith – was I believing in God because everyone says that there’s such an entity, or did I really believe in Her existence? It mattered to me to think for the right reasons. Even as a teenager (or maybe, mainly because I was a teenager), it didn’t sit well with me that I was believing in something just because others were doing it. At 15, I found my reason. I was reading about stem cells in a science magazine, and it just blew my mind. These cells are pluripotent – they transform into different kinds of cells like cardiac, liver, kidney, muscles, etc. as they divide, and eventually, a zygote full of stem cells transforms into a baby.
It wasn’t just the clockwork precision and complicated natural procedures that resulted in birth that awed me. It’s also the potential for revolutionary medicine that floored me. If doctors could find a way to ethically harvest stem cells of a baby and store them, when this baby eventually grows up and gets some serious health problems, her stem cells could be used to rescue her. Say, she has a heart problem – healthy cardiac cells could be developed to replace the diseased ones. So in a way, she could be her own donor. (This is an amateur description of cutting edge medical technology. Please google it and find out the correct procedure, if you’re interested).
It felt like God was showing off like She was egging us on to explore and wonder at Her wit, wisdom, and magic, like She, was mocking us for sitting still when there was so much to unlock and understand like She was saying “Solve my puzzle, and you will solve your problems!” I felt excitement surge through me. For the first time in my life, I felt this vast, intricate, beautiful miracle-working in me and around me – Millions and trillions of cells working in a sort of ineffable chaotic coordination to create life and maintain it. I believed in God because I felt this immeasurable joy and gratitude to be alive in the middle of this miracle and to be aware of it. I wanted to say “Thank you!” to someone. So that’s what God became for me. An entity to be thankful for.
From then on, science became a solace. Whenever I read about extraordinary adaptations of plants to attract pollinating insects or active nerves in an amputated arm that helped a bionic arm to work or elephants that returned years later to human-run sanctuaries to introduce their calves to their caretakers, I felt the persistence of life and the intricacy of design that enabled it. Unfortunately, bad marks in science scared me off the subject. My youth and inexperience stopped me from understanding that marks didn’t matter, that my passion and hard work could make up for an absence of natural aptitude. At that time, arts subjects seemed friendlier and more approachable.
History and Politics, however, shattered my delicate faith. No matter what I read, there was this constant thread of inequality and injustice. History is just one vast story about bad politics – might and greed overpowering common sense and kindness. Some people were born into overwhelming riches and comfort, and some people were born into abject poverty and humiliation. Most of the time, they died without ever coming face to face to each other. The mighty gave excuses for the plight of the weak – “they are lazy,” “they are not competent,” “they are not even properly human.” The extent of disease and poverty was and still is so vast and so endless to render one hopeless.
My joy in science got tainted. Any thrill I got from nature and its miracles was dampened by the thought that I got this knowledge through the comfort and education my parents gave me with their resources. I felt guilty that I was engaging in naïve and dilettante exploration when someone somewhere was engaged in the basic and critical question of getting their next meal or even taking their next breath, fleeing from terrible violence. I felt that God was being unfair. She gave me everything without ever having to work for it, and She cast others into hopeless pits of misery. Her mysterious and beautiful creation seemed pointless all of a sudden.
I kept reading. There was nothing else to do. Reading introduced me to God. Reading made me question Her. But reading was also the only thing I knew. So I kept reading one book after another, one article after another. I was not doing it deliberately – I wasn’t doing it to search for God or to find a solution to my questions. Some people sing, some people cook. I read. It was the only action I had any interest in or had any control over. And gradually, pieces started falling in place. I realized that turning to God is really an excuse. An excuse for inaction. An excuse for irresponsibility.
Basically, any person who blames God for the problems of this planet is denying the responsibility they have towards it. Take my case, for instance. If I had dissected my privilege instead of feeling guilty about it, I would have realized that it was the direct result of Dr. Ambedkar’s struggle. His fight ensured my parents’ place in the university, their education got them a good job, and that job paid for my books and my reading. Had he just accepted the Dalit plight as God’s judgment for the crimes of past lives or had he raged at God instead of looking at the society around him, my occupation would be ‘manual scavenger’ instead of the researcher.
I used to regret my decision to drop the sciences. But no longer. Sure, through science, I would have reveled in God’s miracle every day. But arts have shown me that there are stable, stubborn, sinister societal structures that exclude billions of people from experiencing God’s miracle. The foundations of these structures run deep and wide. My privilege is a gift from Dr. Ambedkar and not from God. I owe it to him and countless others who helped the excluded in the past and who still do it today, to take up the mantle of chipping away at the massive structure of inequity.
I still believe in God. But I don’t believe She will do anything to solve anyone’s problems. She has already given us the most excellent tool anyone could ever have – a humongous brain. Our brains have developed language, and this language has allowed us to share our dreams and fears. Together we have done the cruelest things anyone has ever imagined. But our capacity for collective action has also yielded beautiful legacies. To me, this brain is proof of God’s work, and it seems ungrateful and irresponsible to ask for anything else. God is everywhere because there is a brain everywhere. We have 7 billion gods on this planet. It is time to believe in ourselves and others and start working to solve this planet’s problems.
Featured Image Credits: Azra Bhagat