The importance of being incredulous

I recently read Kiran Nagarkar’s book ‘God’s Little Soldier’, and it made me think about doubt. To those who have not read the book, or the back cover,  I will explain this in a bit.

Not that I have not thought about doubt before. Ever since I mustered up enough brain cells to string thoughts together (okay, maybe a little after that) I have not really been convinced about God. Or religion. Or group identities. I don’t really think I am alone in this. It seems to be the bane of a lot of people.

But I see those that can believe, and I envy them. I envy them their peace of mind, their firm belief in the ‘right-ness’ of what they do, their ability to chant names and belong in a group.

But that brings me to the story in the book I mentioned. God’s Little Soldier is about two brothers. One a fanatic, who cannot but devote himself wholeheartedly to causes he takes up. The other is a liberal, plagued by doubt. Their lives are the anti-thesis of each other, even though they intersect at times.

Now this is not the only example of brothers who are anti-thesis of each other. I recollect wondering many-a-times whether the history of India, or its collective consciousness would be different if Darah Shiko had not been put to death the way he was. An erudite and moderate man, he worked so hard on bringing religions together. In fact he is famous for translating the Upanishads into Persian.

In a world where extremism is so rampant, it is hardly surprising that he was put to death, since he is even credited with saying, in a speculative hypothesis, that the work referred to in the Qur’an as the “Kitab al-maknun” (or the hidden book), is none other than the Upanishads.

Is that how greatness is supposed to die? Paraded in chains on a filthy elephant?

But then again he was beaten by a man who is called the ‘Alamgir’ (“world-seizer or universe-seizer”). Actually the latter seems to have done a pretty good job of ruling (religious persecution aside). Further, not dying is a very desirable quality in a king. (At least not dying for an extended period of time). But I ramble.

My point is that extremists seem to do pretty well, given that their world view is not always amenable to logic, reasonableness, or hell common decency.

Why then should one ‘be’ a liberal? (This question, you will point out makes the fatal assumption that one really chooses to be anything). Are extremists not extremists because of their mental make-up? And can heretics, apostates, and plain old doubters help themselves? If they could, perhaps a lot of people would chooses to be on the side that wins (by clubbing the opposition on the head).

But if one thinks about it, standing on the Sisyphean mountain of ones own doubt, just before the boulder of another person’s dogma rolls over you, is there no joy in freedom?