Happy Diwali, friends. Season’s greetings. At this time of the year, we pray for wealth to the Goddess in the fond belief that She is a kind, generous Indian woman who shares our love for wealth and gold, and therefore understands.
I too pray. However, my Goddess barely resembles a human being or even a vertebrate creature. He/She/It has no reason to value gold, currency, cars and houses; my genderless God stares coldly at me as I pray for wealth. “53,737 species are going extinct this year on your planet my dear, thanks to your never-ending quest for all sorts of stuff, and their death groans are all that I hear,” my God says, responding non-verbally. I squirm and shuffle in discomfort.
Then I proceed to pray for the health and welfare of my family, but I hear my God saying, “You have stashed enough to provide for your family for your foreseeable future. That’s quite enough my boy, because that’s more security many times over than most creatures on earth can even imagine having.”
And then my God turns the many points of His/Her/Its consciousness — which resembles that of no other creature that I have every known or interacted with — to something else.
What prayers shall I utter? I am tonguetied, and so I fall silent. I shall pray no longer but shall reflect on the nature of humankind and its cockeyed perception of divinity.
Chief Seattle said in 1854, speaking on the demise of the Red Indians in America:
“Your God is not our God! Your God loves your people and hates mine! He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the white man and leads him by the hand as a father leads an infant son. But, He has forsaken His Red children - if they really are His.
Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us. Your God makes your people wax stronger every day. Soon they will fill all the land. Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return.
The white man’s God cannot love our people or He would protect them. They seem to be orphans who can look nowhere for help. How can then we be brothers?
How can your God become our God and renew our prosperity and awaken in us dreams of returning greatness? If we have a common Heavenly Father He must be partial, for He came to His white children. We never saw Him. He gave you laws but had no word for His red children whose teeming multitudes once filled this vast continent as stars fill the firmament.”
When I first read Chief Seattle’s speech, what I heard in my mind was not a Red Indian leader. I heard the voice of somebody speaking on behalf of the billions of creatures that we humans are driving to extinction by colonizing the lands and oceans that belonged to them for billions of years. Like the Red Indians, the plants and animals on earth should wonder whether God is only the God of humans, and has forsaken other creatures.
Students of philosophy are warned to beware of a logical bias called anthropomorphism — the tendency to think of all things, including nature and God, in the image of humans. It is extremely difficult not to think of everything in human terms.
The People of the Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — staunchly believe that God made Man in His own image. Other religions hold this belief in varying degrees. Actually, man imagined God in his own puny image. Human imagination fails to comprehend the grandeur and complexity of Creation/Reality, and therefore settles for human-like imagery.
I doubt there are many educated people who think that God is ACTUALLY like a big Ram, Krishna, Ganesha or Jesus figure. But even those who see God as a formless super-mind think that He/She has human qualities and cherishes human values like love, charity, compassion for the weak, respect for those who are older and more knowledgeable, rules that enable everybody to live in harmony etc. So we can’t help thinking that humans are God’s favourite creatures.
This is natural human subjectivity and tribal mentality at work. Throughout history, each religious sect or ethnic group has fondly believed that God is their God — that He was on their side and wanted them to win and prevail over all the other human beings on earth, and all odds of nature. Hence the stories like that of the Red Sea parting to let Moses and the Jews escape, and then coming together to kill the pursuing troops of Pharaoh.
Admittedly, most of my own spiritual thinking is anthropomorphic and anthropocentric. Most of the time, I too relate to God as a rather human-like figure. I fondly believe that human behaviour and human thinking are important from a God’s-Eye View.
My sincere good wishes to you all this Diwali! Please join me in wishing that the world prospers, and that prosperity is not of humans alone.
Let us pray that the concept of Prosperity has some meaning to creatures like dolphins, trees and coral polyps. Let us hope that prosperity of all creatures on earth is a possible concept.
Otherwise, speaking for myself, I would like to forget and forgo prosperity, and drop that word from my dictionary. If prosperity of humans only means exploitation, deprivation and death of numerous fellow-inhabitants of earth, I don’t want it.