When one reads the arguments of atheists in our times, it invariably centers around the question -

"Does God exist"?

To me it is the wrong question.
A more fundamental question is -

Can man discriminate between right and wrong all by himself? Can he govern himself?
If the answer is an unqualified yes, then there arises an argument for atheism (regardless of whether god exists or not)

If the answer is no, then we need a law to govern man. That law ofcourse cannot be something like a Constitution as Constitutions are made by men
It has to be a religious law which is immutable and implacable, and whose origins are shrouded in time. Let's call this the abrahamic model
Or it can be a "traditional" way of life that has come down through the ages, and has stood the test of time. This model is more amenable to modification and tinkering and adaptation.

Yet it is nevertheless "ancient" and commands reverence.

Let's call this the Indian model.
There are other variants of either model. But these are the two poles.

But what's common to both models is the view that man is not the master of everything he surveys. Human reason has its limits. We don't have the "viveka" to figure out the "right thing" all by ourselves
The counter to both is the view that Man can indeed self-govern. He can make laws. Abrogate them. He can understand context, history, and every nuance that there is

There are no limits to Man

If that's true then you do inevitably move towards an atheistic conception of universe
This faith in human nature is what replaces faith in God.

And faith in human nature also inevitably means faith in discretion, policy, bureaucracy, intelligent design of institutions - in short a Big Brother state
So what the philosophy of "Enlightenment" has led us to is to develop this faith in human nature - a process that has accelerated over the past 300 years

As this faith has increased, the faith in God or the "eternal law" (saNatana Dharma) (as preferred by Indians) has eroded
The faith in human nature tends to disappoint us quite often.

Human nature produces beasts like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, Osama Bin Laden, Mohammad Atta

So faith in human nature is a dicey thing.
Which makes one wonder -

Why is human nature as good as it is? Why don't we have more Hitlers? More Bin Ladens? More number of Charles Sobhrajs and Jack the Rippers?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that human nature is conditioned by faith in God or the "eternal law"?
Could it be that "social conditioning" helps men retain their civilization?

In which case, how can we assert that the civilization will endure once the hold of religion and / or tradition erodes?
There are no easy answers to this.

As Man continues to proceed on the path to greater social "liberation", he cedes more and more freedom to the state.

What was once "God's domain" now becomes the domain of the State.
This begs the larger question

Is freedom from fellow men even theoretically possible if one doesnt believe in God?

The inexorable push of "Enlightenment" is to lessen one's faith in God and increase faith in fellow humans - which inevitably causes centralization of power
The challenge of the 21st century is to resolve this paradox of Freedom.

If we seek Freedom from God (or tradition), then you cede freedom to your fellow men.

If you seek freedom from your fellow men, you better surrender to God.
Having said that, the great "Enlightenment" project remains the application of human reason to create things anew. Start off with a fresh slate. So that the old rules don't matter. You make new beginnings.

The conceit here is that the past can be overcome
One instance of this is the idea of Charter Cities by @paulmromer who won the Nobel Prize earlier today #NobelPrize2018 #NobelPeacePrize2018
Charter cities are an attempt to populate unoccupied land with a new city governed by a new set of rules, where one voluntarily signs up to adhere to those rules.

While Romer's idea applies to cities, the same thing can be extended to apply to new religions, new nations...
The key conceit here is -

Human reason can break from the past. And create things anew. This goes contrary to the Burkean idea of society being a contrast between the dead, the living and the unborn.

It is also the supreme assertion of faith in human nature
It remains to be seen how these ideas progress.

Mr Nehru attempted to create a "new city" with new rules - Chandigarh.

Today it remains a dead pensioner's paradise lacking the vitality of say an old dirty town like Varanasi
In the 1500s, Akbar founded a new city - Fatehpur Sikri. It was all but abandoned

In the 1000s, Rajendra Chola attempted to move away from Tanjore and create a new capital - Gangaikonda Cholapuram

It is a dead town today

Instances where human vision and conceit fell short
The Free market represents one decentralized, unregulated, mechanism to rein in human conceit.

But the market can also go awry if it is swayed by mass irrationality.
In the ultimate analysis, human nature remains vulnerable and hard to trust, with an honorable exception that can be made for Adam Smith's Invisible Hand and the free market.

Which is why the idea of God as well as the hold of tradition remain extremely powerful
Post-script: Thanks for reading.

Correction: It should read "Burkean reading of a society being a contract" not "contrast"

Twitter should allow for edits

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More from @shrikanth_krish

Oct 8, 2018
One of the shifts in Hindu opinion that I see over the past 10 years or so (particularly in the Modi era) is the reduced interest in "Uniform Civil Code".

When I was growing up as a kid in the 90s, a prime talking point on the RIght was - Uniform Civil Code, and also Article 377
In the Modi era, that has changed. I am talking of general RW opinion as I gauge it from social media. And I am not saying this change is caused by RW leadership.
Today the average political Hindu is not as interested with how Muslims live. He is more self-aware and keen on pursuing his interests

In fact there seems to be a reaction against the idea of UCC. The Hindus would rather have codes for themselves as opposed to a common code
Read 9 tweets
Oct 8, 2018
Interesting that Hollywood remakes "A Star is Born" every few decades - '37, '54, '76, and now

Suggests that notwithstanding all the rhetoric on gender neutrality, the dilemmas posed by fluid gender roles, male unease with female careerism, etc remain themes that don't get dated
For Indians it is worth noting that the film was also made in Bollywood starring Amitabh Bachchan (titled "Abhimaan" in 1973)
This makes me wonder -

If the "progressive" vision of gender neutral society were indeed the "end of history" so to speak, why are these themes not going away?

Why does "A Star is born" get remade every few decades?
Read 4 tweets
Oct 7, 2018
Just got hold of this remarkable book by the American anthropologist Milton Singer.

Title : "When a Great Tradition modernizes" - An Anthropological approach to Indian civilization
The book is in the MN Srinivas mould, and examines the interaction between tradition and modernity in India soon after independence in the 50s/60s.

The focus is primarily on the changing character of brahminical HInduism in Madras city - his case study for the book
One interesting tidbit I came across is this conversation he has with the great Sankaracharya of Kanchi.

We know him better as Maha Periyava ofcourse. So this is what he told Singer in the 60s -
Read 18 tweets
Oct 6, 2018
One of the distinguishing features of the Supreme Court of United States is that there are no term limits. And the judges are appointed to serve for life

A sharp contrast to the Indian Supreme court where judges retire at 65.
Now there is clamour for term limits in US and also India.

But this would be a very bad idea. Why?
After all we have "term limits" for Presidents, Parliaments, Prime ministers who have to face election every few years to get back to power.

In the US, there is even a limit of two terms per President.

But the Supreme Court is different. Because it is an apolitical body
Read 20 tweets
Oct 6, 2018
Kuldeep Yadav is that rarity

A Left arm wrist spinner.

He has just started his career well - with 4 tests averaging 23 so far.

But the history of left-arm wrist spin is so bare and slim that he has a good chance to become the greatest Left-arm wrist spinner of all time!
A left arm wrist spinner is ofcourse one who bowls leg spin left arm as well as a googly. He typically brings the ball into the right hander and away from the left hander

Seems straightforward enough. But it is a bit hard to explain why there have been so few of them in history
Left arm wrist spinners are also called "Chinamen" bowlers.

A term that originated in the 30s, when Ellis Chong, a left arm orthodox spinner in the West Indian team of Chinese descent, dismissed Walter Robbins the English batsman by surprisingly swtching to wrist spin.
Read 9 tweets
Oct 6, 2018
One of the riddles in political discourse is to define the "C" word

What exactly is Conservatism?

For Liberalism it is possible to chart out a messy history, starting with Magna Carta and ending with Me-Too movement,

Conservatism doesn't lend itself to narratives
It doesn't even lend itself to a straightforward definition

A very simplistic way of defining a political conservative is to suggest that Conservatives are the ones who "resist" change. That's the definition that "liberals" like to foist upon conservatives
But that is a very problematic definition.

Going by that Stalinists in post-Khruschev Russia and Maoists in Deng Xiaoping's China would be the "conservatives" making the word practically meaningless.
Read 29 tweets

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