Equality, Shmequality

Rick Santorum had this to say a few days ago:

“Where do you think the concept of equality comes from?” Santorum said on the campaign trail last Friday (Jan. 20). “It doesn’t come from Islam. It doesn’t come from the East and Eastern religions. It comes from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

This resulted in the mouthpiece of the Hindu American Foundation calling Santorum’s comments bigotry.

Now I am no fan of Santorum (link NSFW), but is equality really such an important concept in Hinduism? Do Dalits and Brahmins drink wine from the same cup? Do the Hindu religious texts and figures teach Brahmins and Shudras to marry each other?

Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and Buddhists were also outraged according to the article.

Does religion really teach equality of all? Seems to me that all these religious spokesmen doth protest too much. Their religions preach equality. Except when they don’t (which is often).

Eid and Rosh Hashanah

Eid Mubarak and Shanah Tovah!

Here in Atlanta, Eid is today. We wish everyone a very happy Eid. Eid Mubarak to you!

The Jewish new year started at sundown last night. So Eid and Rosh Hashanah are on the same day. Shanah Tovah, everyone!

god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Christopher Hitchens is a good polemicist and it shows in his book. This is not a book presenting research or theological discussion, but it does present forceful arguments against religion and the religious.

First of all, I like the title god is not Great which alludes to the Arabic Allahu Akbar (God is Great).

Secondly, Christopher Hitchens is a polemicist by his own admission and one should keep that in mind while reading this book. This is not an analysis of religion (going over its evolutionary origins for example) or even a high-minded atheist response to religion like The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Keeping that in mind, I actually liked god is not Great. Hitchens is a good writer. He knows how to turn a phrase and his allusions to literature references were also clever and interesting.

His case against religion is flawed but not completely wrong. There are lots of bad and evil things the religious and organized religion have done or condoned. Despite all those issues, I think we can only say that religion does not make one better or worse. This in itself is a major indictment of religion.

However, as discussed in Religion Explained, religion and religious beliefs have natural evolutionary origins and arise out of how our mind works. So religion is here to stay. Even people who do not consider themselves religious usually have beliefs that can be classified as religion.

You can read some excerpts from the book on Slate.

When I was reading god is not Great, I decided to live-blog (or live-forum) it at UrduWeb.

Religion Explained

This is one of the best books I have read. It explains the origins of religious thought based on how our mind works. Highly recommended.

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer is a great book about a very interesting topic.

It is a book about why most humans are religious. Pascal Boyer takes an evolutionary and cognitive psychology approach to the problem. The discussion in this book about how our mind works was fascinating enough by itself. As a parent, I found the description of how children think and how their thoughts develop as they grow to be the most interesting parts of the book.

Overall, Pascal Boyer explains the development of religious thought in humans in an easily accessible way that a casual reader can understand as well. Therefore, I would recommend this book to everyone who is interested in religion and/or cognitive sciences. I must thank Razib for suggesting this book to me and making my thinking about religion so much more coherent.

Here is an article Why is Religion Natural? by Boyer that gives a flavor of the book.

Other interesting works on this topic are:

I must note here that religion being natural does not necessarily mean that religion is true.