September 03, 2011

Sex and Religion

Clearly that brings together two important topics.

Greta Cristina writes wonderfully about a report that has come out that shows how atheists have it better in matters of sex. Good to hear.

But the survey is clearly confined to Western nations with their (already) rather liberal cultures and the three monotheistic religions.

I want to bring a bit of a different perspective to it. Here in India, I have observed an entire generation grow up during the 30 odd years of my own life.

It has been quite bewilderingly disappointing to see the way the younger generation deals with the existing cultural and religious value systems.

To be sure, while growing up, kids in India are incessantly bombarded with the idea that it's important to respect the elderly, that they are great storehouses of knowledge and experience and wisdom.

Clearly, the matter of respecting one's elders would have made sense in agrarian societies where the elderly would really have in fact more knowledge by virtue of their longer life experience. Knowledge used to be passed on from generation to generation.

We do not live in agrarian societies any more and we do not acquire our life skills from our parents. It's time therefore that youngsters in India learned to be a bit more skeptical about whatever their elders told them. Youngsters could learn to question the validity of the statements of their elders rather than just blindly accepting them.

The way it is right now, it is sad to see apparently educated youngsters doing nonsensical things.

Take the matter of marriage. In overwhelming numbers, marriages in India still happen via the arranged route. This is clearly absurd. I am curious if this is because youngsters prefer it to be this way or because this is the only option available to them. I am inclined to bet that it is the latter.

If youngsters had the option of having love affairs available to them, perhaps they would choose the route of exploring one's life partners on one's own. As it happens now, usually the parents fix up a marriage without much input from either the boy or the girl concerned.

It's a wonder that such arranged marriages appear to hold up quite well -- as divorce rates are quite low in India. But appearances can be deceiving. Just because two persons remain married to each other for life does not mean that they necessarily have a happy marriage. It is mostly a marriage of convenience.

Marriages in India are more of a social occurrence rather than a matter for individuals to decide. Therefore, it's difficult for marriages to break-up as there is a negative perception regarding that in traditional society.

Marriages also inevitably lead to babies in India. The responsibility for the upbringing up a baby is clearly divided between the husband and the wife. The husband tends to be the money earner who takes care of all stuff that is outside of the home. This might include going to various offices or bringing groceries and vegetables.

The wife is in charge of the home front. This would include taking care of the baby's needs and cooking and related homework.

This division of labor serves both the parties quite well. So, marriages continue to endure though they might be completely bereft of any emotional or physical content.

Also, people in India are mostly poor and living on the edge of a precipice. People do not have that many choices. They have nowhere else to go. Females are quite dependent on the husband for food since he makes all the money while she makes none. This is a sad reality that is changing only slowly. One of the saddest facts is to see young females even today willing to settle into familiar and traditional roles of a housewife. I find it infinitely baffling how someone can pursue an engineering degree and docilely accept the boring lifestyle of a housewife. Surely, young, educated girls have enough brains to look at their mothers who mostly tend to have been housewives themselves who spend 30 years in cooking and bringing up children. How can young girls not find the revolting that they themselves might spend 30 years doing nothing more than cooking and taking care of a baby or two?

The need or desire to have sex is a biological or evolutionary imperative that goes back millions of years and is much older than recent human cultures and traditions. This explains why absurdities such as arranged marriages can at all occur. In India, arranged marriages might often be the only game in town, the only option available. There is no Plan B, or Option B. So, youngsters might accept the choice as the alternative might be bachelorhood and worse, forced celibacy.

Religion is a strange soup that combines bits of culture, rituals, values, traditions, and morals. Why do youngsters accept their parent's religions so blindly? It's mostly a matter of habit and not the result of any great amount of intellectual reflection or debate.

Although India is a famously diverse nation, in fact, people tend to live in uniform communities. People mostly grow up surrounded by others who have the same sort of beliefs. People grow up worshiping the same gods and having the same sorts of religious celebrations from year to year.

Youngsters growing up are not exposed to any competing religious ideologies or belief systems. Clearly, parents are not smart/stupid enough to expose their kids to competing ideologies. Youngsters are not smart/stupid enough to question hand-me-down philosophies on their own. So the stupid belief systems endure.

Religion is rather deeply intertwined with the ebb and flow of life itself. Religion plays a key part in everything, from when babies are born to when folks marry to when they die.

People naturally have lots of intellectual diversions to keep themselves busy or to entertain themselves and do not necessarily wish to enter into heavy-duty matters such as questioning the validity of religious assumptions.

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