Monday, March 6, 2017


Sci-fi isn't a far-fetched genre. Most of it is becoming fact. We see the seeds in technological advances and inventions, a few of which have already left the drawing board and are in the prototype stage. Too many unrefuted, credible reports of alien existence have been making the rounds for people to scoff with any certainty. There is a growing sense of interconnectedness that humans are waking up to. Besides all this, I am fascinated by the cultural, socioreligious aspects of this as well.

Many of the sci-fi plots that touch on this dimension envision a society of the future that have elements of what we have today, but that have morphed and combined with each other in numerous ways.

As Wikipedia so beautifully puts it-

"Science fiction will sometimes address the topic of religion. Often religious themes are used to convey a broader message, but others confront the subject head-on—contemplating, for example, how attitudes towards faith might shift in the wake of ever-advancing technological progress, or offering creative scientific explanations for the apparently mystical events related in religious texts (gods as aliens, prophets as time travelers, etc.). As an exploratory medium, science fiction rarely takes religion at face value by simply accepting or rejecting it; when religious themes are presented, they tend to be investigated deeply.
Some science fiction works portray invented religions, either placed into a contemporary Earth society (such as the Earthseed religion in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower), or in the far future (as seen in Dune by Frank Herbert, with its Orange Catholic Bible)." 
I've read these books and others which touch on this, and I cannot emphasize enough how much they expand the mind even as they fascinate it. When I stated in the beginning that these concepts are not far-fetched, I meant it. Not only does our past provide innumerable examples, our present itself is proof. I am thrilled to be able to see an example of this for myself, which is what prompted this write-up.

It's a phenomenon that's creeping into the poorer sections of the population. A religious amalgam of sorts. These are 'recent Christians', if I may call them that. Usually, this is how the conversion happens- These people are traditional Hindus. They go through a tough time and a neighbor tells them to go pray in the church. 'Good things will happen,' they are told. They do happen. Full of gratitude and relief, the family starts going regularly and begin to identify themselves as Christian. However, generations of Hindu customs and rituals cannot be given up in a wink. They follow them to the tee. But ingeniously, they tweak it just enough so that both Gods have no cause for offence. Also, the extended family is usually still Hindu.

I've seen many families who have 'converted' in this fashion. My family usually employs individuals from them in some capacity. When they say they've been to the temple on Sunday, they mean the church. The word 'church', you see, is still too new and full of diagraphs (ch, fl, tr) to be comfortable. They still wear holy ash on their foreheads in a decidedly Hindu style. Most of the women wear a bindi and their marital symbol is still the thali, though they do exchange rings.

I went to a funeral recently. The father had passed away. As the relatives started pouring in from remote villages, they brought with them garlands, plates of rice, legumes, coconuts and other offerings, clothes for the family- all according to Hindu custom. Then right at the end, a Christian priest turned up, did his blessings etc. and they put the body in a coffin and buried it in a Christian graveyard.

If this isn't sci-fi turned reality, then I don't know what is! A 100 years, 500 years down the line, these religions are going to be so blurred, it's going to be hard to differentiate them. It's what's happened throughout our civilized history.

Alchemy was practised for centuries before science evolved. They co-existed for a long period of time before science, having absorbed the most logical parts of alchemy, discarded it completely. Shamanistic magic, similarly, was assimilated into festivals and branches of medicine, and then shunned.

Touching on custom in this context, no other example is as powerful to me as the evolution of the Indian sari. Let's pretend civilization started with women covering their torso in some fashion and begin there. Down south, the sari was worn over bare breasts. My grandma still refuses to wear a blouse. Let me tell you, however securely she wears it, it bunches up or loosens from time to time... which means she flashes the world occasionally. Even if she doesn't, her arms, her stomach area and most of her back are still uncovered. Funnily enough, not one 'traditional' man bats an eyelid at all this, and yet tank tops, evening gowns and such 'scandalous' Western clothes have 'degraded' 'Indian culture'. Decades from now, I predict it will be seen as primitive to want to cover oneself completely. Full circle. Let's repeat that for effect. Full Circle. Human memory is that easily corruptible, and that short.

Granted, times are different. Our history was more malleable to change because it could be conveniently forgotten: a universally accessible database of rules did not exist, nor did a reliable method of recording facts or customs. Even the most sacred religious texts have been obviously modified at different stages.

Today, though, we have the Internet. However, I think that even with the internet and it's factual, almost unforgiving recording of what is and isn't, change of this nature cannot be arrested or prevented. Time WILL create change, for as much as human stubbornness seeks to retain belief systems as they are, progress will push through and open too many windows. Inter religious marriages and the children they produce, conversions that are incomplete (retaining the flavor of both religions), people who wish to rise above the restrictions of a single religion and embrace more than one faith, people who create their own path by borrowing from established ones... The present that we live in is not just the 'now', it's a fascinating, breathtaking unfolding of the future, where anything is possible. Let's savor that.

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