September 18, 2009

When Babies Die

When celebrities die — and these past few months seem to have seen more than the usual quota of celebrity deaths — we see an overwhelming outpouring of public grief and grieving and reminiscing.

What a contrast this is to a true tragedy such as when a baby dies.

The doctors at AIIMS recently performed a rare surgery to treat an infant who had been born with her heart outside her rib cage.

The doctors created a cavity inside her chest and put the heart where it belongs. However, 22 days later, the baby dies.

One story of death in a nation of billion-plus people which didn’t get the attention it deserved. Because of the unique nature of the problem and the treatment, it at least made it to the news media.

What I want to say here though is this: what does this story tell us about life? Is there anything we should learn about life or question — does this story have the power to unhinge us to our cores?

It’s easy to read about this news item and forget about it in due course. But I’m sure we would not forget it in a hurry if the kid was our own kid. Then, it would stay with the parents forever. Although, even then, time being the great healer that it is, the intensity of their grief would vanish over time, though perhaps they would never forget.

But the baby not being my baby, the life and death of such an infant at least tells me that at some level life is meaningless. We try to make what we can of our lives but at the end of the day, in the larger scheme of things, when looked at in terms of the unending vistas of time, our lives are very insignificant things indeed.

I am therefore astonished when all too often people tend to attach “cosmic” significant to their own lives by saying that the Almighty is looking after them or watching over them. The universe we inhabit is plainly too big for any god to be able to keep track of all the insignificant triflings who inhabit it.

The entire premise behind religion is that there is a beneficent God who has created us and all of creation and who is looking after us and who cares about our wellbeing. This is ridiculous as well as funny. In a universe run by an “intelligent” creator, there would not have been instances of kids being born with their hearts outside their rib cages and kids getting leukemia and dying from the same and many other similar instances of meaningless tragedy.

We humans have a unique capacity to make light of tragedies that others are suffering and only tend to focus on our own lives. We are mightily pleased when we achieve something trivial in our lives … but we are hardly bothered when someone else is faced with a life-altering tragedy.

The other argument about the non-existence of god is of course articulated very beautifully by Richard Dawkins. He says that in a universe that has evolved according to the laws of physics and following the uncertainties and randomness of the evolutionary process, God is redundant.

Of course, Dawkins is not going to “convert” any believer into a non-believer. But, at least, for congenital skeptics like me, his persuasive presentation of what all of us atheists understand and agree with is very empowering. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one in a planet of 6.5 billion people who thinks that the concept of God is totally ridiculous.

When I observe the growing tide of skepticism towards the mythology of the Christian faith in intellectually advanced Europe — unlike the intellectually impoverished landscape of the United States — I take heart in the fact that such skepticism shall also grow in my own God-crazy country.

Alas, I won’t be alive when the people of India come to the inevitable realization that there never was a God looking after them … and that all this while they were merely worshipping … well, they were worshipping nothing basically — fictional creations of a fertile human mind.
Hinduism holds the record of being the oldest of the existing world religions. That’s unfortunate as the age of the religion is showing in its concepts. Hinduism is full of anthropomorphic gods and silly concepts which clearly originated thousands of years ago when our ancestors were extraordinarily ill-informed and primitive compared to us.

With all the advances in science and in our understanding of the working of nature, it has become silly to consider the Sun, or the Moon as gods. Hinduism is full of numerous gods, in fact. There’s a god of rain, a god of wind, a “king” of all the gods who ‘runs’ heaven and similar silly concepts. They all appear so quaint in the 21st century! And yet people are willing to suspend disbelief and worship gods some of whom have ten heads while some others have ten hands!

500 years from now, I’m sure, humans will look back with a measure of disbelief at our gullibility. They’ll have some fun also I’m sure at our expense. Jay Lenos of the 26th century will crack jokes at the silly belief systems of the people of the 21st century.

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