One of the biggest drawbacks about not believing in god—God, if you like—is the whole heaven thing. Such a nice comforting thing: it’s okay if someone you love dies, because you’ll see them again when you die. Heaven is like a giant cocktail party, filled with people you haven’t thought about in years, and people you miss every day. To accompany them are masses of pets, all waiting for you “under the rainbow bridge” every single dog or cat you’ve ever owned, the streams flooded with all the goldfish you briefly possessed, no poop, no feeding, just eternal pets and eternal you.
This is, of course, very Christian-leaning of me (or Islam, they also have Paradise you can reach through good deeds). In Hinduism, you shed one body to gain another, keep repeating the cycle of life until you’re enlightened enough to quit it altogether. I always found the later stories in the Mahabharata quite heartless, you know, where everyone fucks off and goes and lives in the forest or the Pandavas climb up a mountain and they keep falling and Yudhishtra (prig that he is) tells them all that they deserve their fate, they are not enlightened enough. Enlightenment sounds lonely, shedding all human connection even more so. Why can’t I love and love hard, why is that a bad thing?
I’ve been thinking about god these days. It seems a good enough time as any. It’s two days after Diwali, the air is cloudy with pollution and thick with dust. The night of Diwali I lay in bed wondering where everyone was getting their crackers from, weren’t they banned? So naive, even at almost forty. I took to Twitter, searching for “firecrackers” to see if anyone else was complaining besides like three of the people I follow, and I saw a long list of tweets from “Hindus” saying “We have to protect our culture from wokes and liberals so we will light crackers.” That’s their relationship with god, defiance against some imaginary threat.
SIDEBAR: Don’t we hate how “woke” has become a way to describe people? Don’t we hate it and also use it ourselves? Hasn’t it become somewhat derogatory? Why is being a traditional Hindu somehow not a woke thing? Why can’t you be both? (I’ll tell you why: because they associate any sort of questioning with “wokeness” and so for them, the only way that works is if you blindly follow any person they have adopted as a leader or themselves.) (I wish though that we had not all polarised ourselves so much into different camps of opinions so I could have an actual conversation with someone who identified as a super traditional Hindu and ask them all these things. But alas, all we do is yell at each other online.)
I don’t believe in god/s, rituals feel like playacting (all of them. Some are fun playacting: lighting your candles for Diwali, putting fairy lights around a potted plant and pretending it’s a Christmas tree, occasionally getting high on Holi), it’s one of the main reasons—I tell my friends—I didn’t want to have a big Indian wedding: so many little rituals, when all we wanted to do was be married. I am so anti-ritual, in fact, and I can tell you this here because wow, nothing hurts sentiments more than someone being against stuff you believe in, but remember this is about me not you, I am so anti-ritual that if someone mentions any sort of puja to me: housewarming, Diwali, random, I am off, my eyes are rolling so hard they practically fall out of my face. I wonder though why I have such a strong visceral reaction to them. It doesn’t hurt me when someone is doing something I don’t believe in, so why not just shrug and be cool about it? Because what I understand, even if I don’t get it, is that there is a comfort in rituals. People need them to feel secure, to have a sense of community, to have company. I missed believing in something through the pandemic, I miss believing that if I am good and kind, I will be rewarded, if I fold my hands and give up meat on Tuesdays, if I shave my hair off, if I wear a ring with a purple stone, if I call a fellow to come and inagurate my new house with a fire and muttered chantings in Sanskrit, if if if, all of these things, then my life will be okay. That’s all we all want: a promise that our lives will be okay. That’s why god/s were invented.
A lot of the literature I read: early 19th century mostly, is obsessed with god. Anne of Green Gables learns to pray straight off, a lot of their scandals are minister and church related. And see, if you look at it in context, it makes a lot of sense. You live in a small village in Canada. CANADA. Freezing cold, remote, only your neighbours for company Canada. What else is there to do but hold on to hope and say your prayers? While Anthony Trollope had the luxury of making fun of the church in his Barchestershire (that may not be spelt right but I’m in the zone so I won’t Google it) Chronicles, it was all right for him because he was in England, which even in those days was pretty crowded. More modern: in Donna Tartt’s A Little Friend, a road preacher, someone who uses snakes to prove miracles, is a central character. Erich Segal’s Acts of Faith is about a Jewish family entangled with a Catholic priest. I am listening to a (terrific) podcast called Astray about foreigners who come to India for spiritual enlightenment and wind up disappearing into the world of sadhus. If you think of Osho and all the other Oshos, what do we want, we want someone to give us answers.
And no one is as confused as our generation. We swing from astrology to meditation to crystals to Goop to yoga to homeopathy, anything, anything that will take away from our ordinary lives, we were promised so much and yet our lives have unfolded any old way. We thought we could control the future but we can’t. We turned away from the religion of our parents and grandparents thinking it old fashioned and now we are stuck with no life vest at all. “Just tell me my future,” we whisper to tarot cards, to our birth charts, “Just tell me it’s going to be fine.”
I don’t even believe in the paranormal (because you can’t, logically, if you don’t believe in god. When we’re dead, we’re dead, so no ghosts, nothing to haunt you) which makes it sad for all the ghost stories I love. I have wrapped myself up in a cold hard cloak of science, which makes me a little cold and hard too—unwilling to listen, ready to dismiss. I will indulge anyone who says anything re: belief to me as I would a child talking about the Tooth Fairy: “it’s sweet that you still believe in magic.” I am obsessed with my own horoscope, but also I want to fall between the cracks in my own head, suspend my own disbelief for like five seconds so I can enjoy it. With great force of will, sometimes I manage. People tell me what I’m like with a Sagittarius sun and a Cancer moon and a Libra rising, and they are accurate, but would they not be just as accurate if I said I was a Leo sun and a Scorpio moon and a Taurus rising? Isn’t all astrology like a personality quiz, you take what you want from the vagueness and leave the rest? I love things and I hate things. You love things and you hate things. Some of our things intersect and maybe our birthdays do too. How much of it is the stars (none, none says my head) and how much of it is just plain old human experience?
Anyway. Just some short, swift stream-of-conciousness ideas about the Great Beyond. Not many life updates recently (plus a new idea for a new book which is occupying a lot of my head space while I try and figure it out) so this is slow news week. Let’s discuss god! Tell me your thoughts.
I wanted to talk about how Indians are so reluctant to share praise or a platform with anyone else unless they’re besties, so I tweeted about it. (Thread: click through to read.)
Speaking of my own work, haaaaave you considered leaving me a tip on Buy Me A Coffee? It is immensely validating and makes me super happy when you do! Here is a link.
LINKS GLORIOUS LINKS:
Jezebel’s annual scary story contest!
Brilliant long read about early human politics!
Margaret Atwood on her beloved cats!
A funny astrology dilemma on Reddit!
Future animals are terrifying but luckily we’ll all be dead!
I made a playlist for our anniversary party a couple of weeks ago which is really good!
It would be nice if you’d share this post with your friends and enemies!
That’s all I’ve got—slow week, but I had to write to you, it’s been too long.
Have a great week, speak soon!
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Plus my book recommendation Instagram!)
Got sent this newsletter? Sign up here to subscribe!
Forward to your friends if you liked this and to the super religious if you didn’t.
Also, write back to me! I love to hear from you.