Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Roman Catholic Hindu actress

I actually started a post about NRIs and India-ranting. But midway I read an interview excerpt and decided this was more important to write about. But before I get to that, answer this question:

Which religion do the following celebrities belong to: 
a) Javed Akhtar 
b) Daniel Radcliffe 
c) Kamal Hassan 
d) Stephen Hawkings 
e) Angelina Jolie?

(We will come back to this in a while)

******
The footnote I read was an excerpt from an interview of Milkha Singh about 'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' and the question was "How do you feel about a Muslim actor playing the role of a Sikh?"
This question was wrong at so many levels- why should a Muslim actor not play a Sikh? Wasn't he "acting" by definition? How did this question even have any significance?

But what really bugged me was the fact that they called Farhan Akhtar a Muslim. For anyone who doesn't know- he is an atheist. He was also brought up an atheist. Javed Akhtar was born into a Muslim family but declared himself an atheist. (Some sites say Farhan's agnostic, but he is definitely not 'Muslim'!)
And no, he is NOT a Muslim atheist. Nor is Kamal Hassan an Iyengar atheist. Or George Carlin a Roman Catholic atheist. In fact, they are all just plain atheists. One might argue that they all belong to the same religion (I am defining religion VERY loosely here). So going back to the question I asked at the beginning- Javed Akhtar, Kamal Hassan, Hawkings, and Radcliffe are in fact united by their religious beliefs or the lack thereof. (Angelina does not subscribe to any religion.)

Now I can hear someone think- "How does it matter? It's a minor mistake. If he were not an atheist, he would be a Muslim!". It matters because this statement is equivalent to saying- "If I were not born Hindu, I would be a Christian". or "If I were not born an Indian, I would be Chinese". That's a ridiculous argument because if you were not an Indian you might have been an African or American or Eskimo or a hundred other things. Just because Farhan Akhtar's grandfather was a Muslim, it does not mean he is one. Also, saying he is an atheist Muslim is a contradiction in terms.

Which brings me to the real issue- why should people be identified based on their religion? Do you identify people based on their favorite beverage or favorite color? Religion is a far more personal choice than that. If you judge a person based on his religion, you might as well say "All people who like the color purple are violent maniacs who mistreat their women." or identify people as- "He is a Diet-Coke drinker.","She is a strong believer of green tea." , etc. Religion is a more important choice, but it is still a personal one.

Ok. If you really want to judge people on their religion, so be it. But why judge them on their ancestors' religions, when they have expressly said they don't follow it? Calling someone a Muslim because his grandfather was one is like saying "Your grandfather hated pani puris. So you must hate pani puri too".  It reminds me of Dawkins writing- 'That's all fine. But are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?' Well, I hope you can at least see how ridiculous this sounds. It is hard for most people to look at atheists as non-religious people. I know I also used to identify some popular atheists by their former religion. It is too easy a trap to fall into. Religion is an easy way to categorize people- have them in neat slots that you can generalize about. But most often, we tend to get carried away by the slots and forget what it really means.

So, let me state it here. RELIGION IS NOT SOMETHING YOU BELONG TO AUTOMATICALLY because your parents do. RELIGION IS SOMETHING YOU DECIDE TO FOLLOW (or not) based on what you want to believe about certain questions. And the next time you see an atheist, don't classify him/her into a religion based on his/her name, family, or place of origin. 

Preferably, try not to poke into their religion at all.

P.S: I forgot to mention- the Roman catholic Hindu actress is Julia Roberts. Born a Roman Catholic and currently practicing Hinduism. 

9 comments:

  1. I've been fascinated by the fact that the "correct" religion for you is inherited from your parents.

    "If you judge a person based on his religion, you might as well say "All people who like the color purple are violent maniacs who mistreat their women." or identify people as- "He is a Diet-Coke drinker.","She is a strong believer of green tea." , etc. Religion is a more important choice, but it is still a personal one."

    :)

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  2. I've been fascinated by the fact that the "correct" religion for you is inherited from your parents.

    "If you judge a person based on his religion, you might as well say "All people who like the color purple are violent maniacs who mistreat their women." or identify people as- "He is a Diet-Coke drinker.","She is a strong believer of green tea." , etc. Religion is a more important choice, but it is still a personal one."

    :)

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  3. @Akhil: Ya, it's sad. It's also sad that people automatically push their children into the religion they follow- you are allowed to try different cuisines, learn different languages etc as a child. But nobody tries to leave the choice of religion to their children at least until they grow up..

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    1. Thats probably because in general people consider religion to be a factor which holds them together.So if a child is born into a family (esp an indian one)8/10 times he's reminded that he belongs to this religion/caste/sect as if its part of your identity.Religion is a sensitive issue even today.It spurs passion/hatred like none other..Religious ideologies are not parallel.They do clash at times It's these clashes which are magnified out of proportion and causes strife....Good arcticle ..

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    2. Thanks.. I agree parents do it because they want the religion to be a part of your identity. But then, it is the same mistake as pushing children into engineering because the parents think that is the best choice!

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  5. Unfortunately all parents seem to take it for granted that their children will follow their own religion. In fact they take offense at the mere suggestion that kids might want to experiment and give up on the value system prescribed for them. Ideally, parents should introduce all available choices, including atheism, and let the kids decide. And allow this decision to be fluid. i.e.,as they grow, let them make or change their own choices.

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    1. Ah yes... in an ideal world...
      Actually I am even ok with parents not introducing all the choices. But they should at least mention that it is a "choice". It is not part of your personality or anything. And of course, most parents hate the idea that their children want to "try" or move out of their faith- they tend to think of it as a personal affront, "they have failed as a parent"! In fact, IMO, if the most successful parents are those who have taught their children to think rationally and make their own choices.. (Of course, a parent would argue that this is my take precisely BECAUSE I am the experimentng kind...)

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  6. Unfortunately all parents not only expect that their kids take up their own religion, but they also seem to take offense at the mere suggestion that they might want to experiment. Ideally parents should introduce their kids to all available choices including atheism and let their children decide. And allow this decision to be fluid as they grow up and choose something that works for them.

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