Monday, September 14, 2009

Through the stained glass, darkly...

In support of the oft-repeated phrase;
‘Too many wars have been waged in the name of religion.’

And in consideration of the statement;
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

- In the introduction to ‘Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right’ - Karl Marx, 1843.


If you visit the doctor for a certain ailment, the physician begins his/her examination by asking you a series of questions related to the discomfiture you are experiencing. There are a number of assumptions attached to the line of questioning, all aimed at deciding what the patient should actually be tested for, related to the ailment in question. This is because of the presumption that the patient has actually incurred an illness that is yet to be ascertained and which can only be determined upon further inquiry. If the symptoms point to a certain number of empirical factors commonly associated with a known medical condition and the subsequent tests confirm the suspicion, the appropriate medication and advice on the practical measures to be followed by the patient is meted out, and hospitalisation or a follow-up visit is scheduled. All this is due to the very nature of the medical profession; which is far from fool-proof wherein there are many subjective factors concomitant to the treatment of a certain illness based on the individual patient – as related to lifestyle choices, type of diet, genetic predispositions, geographical proximity to known sources of disease, etc.

Consider a hypothetical case wherein a person is a known user of the purest form of heroin known to man, and is entirely self-sufficient. Detailed studies point to the fact that heroin, as a base substance, possesses preservative qualities on the human physiology. The same studies also confirm that because the procurement of heroin is very difficult (leading inevitably to crime), and that the distribution of the substance is volatile and given to much dilution due to the economic factors involved, the life expectancy of a heroin user does not amount to as much as the average human lifespan. The studies further point to the sociological effects of the addictive properties of heroin; in that the user cannot function as a member of society simply because of his/her physical addiction.
Reverting to the medical profession in the hypothetical case of the self-sufficient user of ‘pure’ heroin, a doctor cannot diagnose this person as inherently in risk of anything significantly harmful, physiologically, based on the known effects that a non-life threatening dosage of undiluted heroin has on the human body. And the question of treatment, therefore, does not arise.

A particular religion presumes on the spiritual health of an individual. What one believes to be the true faith is non-negotiable in many societies because the dangers one poses by not acquiescing to the faith practiced by the many can supposedly pose a threat to the spiritual health of the community as a whole. The common belief is that something must be wrong with someone who chooses not to be advised by the religion of his/her society and follows his/her own path towards the universal goal of ‘salvation’. Towards the cause of the ‘profession’ of a certain faith, the most benign theory put forward is that; the precepts of a faith must be taught to all those who haven’t been fortunate enough to receive its message of true grace. The common practice of the said religion must follow, therefore, in society.

Allegorically, this practice of the profession of a certain faith points to goals shared by the average heroin user, subject to the conditions of the junkie on the street. The junkie will naturally want to get others addicted to his/her own brand of street heroin because it would make the procurement of the substance much easier for himself/herself, so long as there is a captive market for it in a certain region.

An enlightened being (or the self-sufficient ‘pure’ heroin user), meanwhile, may not see it fit to profess his/her faith simply because he/she possesses it and is aware of its true value. He/she is comfortable in the ‘state of grace’ he/she has come by and is loath to want to impose it on others and trouble his/her own existence.

There is another specimen of humanity, of course - one who does not require heroin/religion for a sense of spirituality and is happy to live a life without conforming to the theory that there is something inherently wrong with his/her spiritual condition simply because of the absence of heroin/religion in his/her own life. But on this strange specimen, it is incumbent upon us that we remain silent.


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