In one of a brilliant harangue, British comedian Stephen Fry deplored the very notion of there being a god, or if at all him (for the sake of this piece we will deal with god as a masculine entity, as he is so often presumed) having any real sense or intelligence at all. On being asked, as to what he would say to the god in case he ever met, Fry’s response was brilliant, “Bone cancer and children! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”
Come to think of it, indeed on assessing the misery that surrounds us all the time, it does make it a little tough to believe that all this is part of an ‘intelligent design‘. And as Fry points out that indeed if there is a god, would he not be a heartless brute? What sort of face he would have to do things like such?
It was this wily face of god that was invoked by many in the aftermath of the recent heart-breaking disaster in Nepal. As the crisis ballooned and reports streamed in of the horror of destruction, some ingenious souls were quick to blame the tragedy in Nepal on the ‘paganism’ pervasive there. According to a few of these gents, the Christian or the Jewish god up there was not too happy about the idolatry religious practices of the Nepalese (read Hindu). And so, decided to punish them with earthquake that caused mayhem all across. But don’t be sad, there is still a silver lining, as the Nepalese people can still had assuage the supreme being by walking down the road to perdition and seeking refuge from the very same god that had so brutally hammered them. Apparently, by a sprinkle of water on the head and repetition of his name, the same god that was so jealous, full of vengeance, and ready to hit with all spite, would turn into a benign shepherd, simply on being addressed as master.
That gets us to the central theme; of what is a god and can he be capable of human emotions like jealously, anger and murderous rage. Why does the Christian or the Jewish god (and even the Muslim Allah) lapse into such an inexplicable act, just because the people are not adhering to his words? What sort of fatherly god would kill and maim little children, just because they weren’t visiting his office or repeating his name? If there is indeed such a god, is he really fit enough to be called one?
Yet, in all fairness, the notion of a god who is murderous and not so benign is pretty common recurring theme since ancient times. Remember the Noah Ark? The floods to engulf all and destroy all were caused by none other than our dear Mr. God. The Biblical god, who created the world tirelessly in 6 days, was driven to destroy it because of the sin that abound. Though, even while killing all, he somehow wanted a sort of continuity thus made Noah build on a blueprint he supplied, and made him carry a gene pool of all animals and birds.
By the way, 500-year old Noah wasn’t really the first one sailing on a boat with a menagerie of animals. Some 2500 years earlier (BCE) in ancient Mesopotamia, another gent by the name Utnapishtim was similarly tasked by God Ea in a dream to build a grand boat and save self, family and whole set of relatives from the upcoming deluge. This is known as the Epic of Gilgamesh.
There’s even another flood/destruction myth from ancient Babylonia, in which Atrahasis gets to be the hero boatman. The tale from ancient Sumer, tells of how the human race had expanded like rabbits and overpopulated the world. Perturbed by the constant chitter-chatter, the supreme god Enlil decided to end it all. So, he sends famine, drought and then the grand flood. But there is a good god (love the sound of it) in the pantheon too, as Enki decides to save mankind by aiding Atrahasis build a boat and stay afloat for the 7 days of deluge. Thus, the idea of murderous god is certainly not unique and a new one, it has been around for ages. The narratives might have changed, and the pantheon of gods merged into one fiercely monotheistic entity by the time of Bible, yet, the travails of mankind remained more or less the same.
Angered murderous gods existed in Ancient Egypt too. There is this story of how Ra, the chief god, is piqued that the men are not paying adequate respect. He decides that the time has come to wreak havoc, so he first turns his fiery gaze upon mankind and next sent the goddess Hathor in the shape of lioness (Sekhmet) to gorge upon the humans. Though, when Hathor-Sekhmet who is now enjoying the bloody meal and going out of hand, Ra quickly decides to set things right, and trick the goddess into stopping her murderous ways. So, here we have the angry gods quickly turn into saviour one and try to undo the damage wrought by them.
The colourful gods at Mt. Olympus were equally capable of such fitfulness. So once, our good ol’ Zeus totally lost it. On finding that the human (more like slaves) were not offering oblations to the gods, he decided to destroy them all. And he would have been quite successful had it not been for the discrete intervention by Prometheus. The Titan Prometheus, advised his son Deucalion to build an ark so as to save himself. Deucalion constructed the ark and put in it all the necessary stuff. When it started pouring, he boarded the ark with Pyrra, and that is how mankind got saved.
Meanwhile, to the warring Norse gods, the humans living in Midgard were rather inconsequential and undeserving of any attention. These belligerent deities were just interested in beating the frost giants in the grand Ragnarok, and humans and their world was just collateral damage. Though, in the end, it is the human couple Lif and Lifrhasir that hid in the Yggdrasil were the only survivors of the grand war in which the mighty gods and wily giants all died. So here, you have a scenario in which the gods died themselves and the humans survived.
In contrast, the Hindu gods seem pretty benign. While there is a grand deluge mentioned, the mahapralaya, but it comes at the end of a manvantar or the cycle of four kalpas (Satya, Treta, Dwapar and Kaliyuga). It is a cyclical event that occurs at a fixed interval of time, a Brahma year or some 4.32 million human years. Yet, the pralaya (or the deluge) is not a punishment or an outcome of rage, but rather an assimilation that forms the foundation of the creation phase. The deluge or the Pralaya is inevitable, and would subsume all creation, only to begin afresh. In this phase, the god Vishnu takes a Matysa avataar (fish) and saves the Vedas and the 7 pious sages (sapta-rishis). There is no discrimination here or preference to mortals; it is as if the gods themselves are a part of the cosmic cycle and unable to break free of it.
Unlike other gods, the Hindu ones are not really those who spite or lash in anger. They don’t really strike down in vengeance if you don’t believe in their ways, neither do they banish their own followers to suffer in deserts for some silly mistake, or exhort men to kill those that follow other gods. Indeed, they are not short on temper and can be pretty gruff too, for instance Shiva who would behead a child who dares block his path or burn to ashes the god of love who tries to ignite physical yearnings in him. And yes, who can forget Shiva’s tandava, the dance of destruction. But then, note a thing here, the anger, the temper and the destruction is limited to their own. They are largely ambivalent to man and his machinations. In fact the very same destructive Rudra is the benign Bholenath to the fellowmen. Shiva is renowned to be a deity that is most easily appropriated.
Hence, it is highly unlikely that Lord Pashupatinath (Shiva) had any hand or role to play in the destruction that visited Nepal. Similarly, Lord Kedarnath (Shiva again) can’t be blamed for those flash floods that caused mayhem in Uttarakhand. And yes, Lord Amarnath (Shiva –sigh–again) is for sure not causing floods and death in Kashmir. The so-called Pagan gods are possibly as helpless in front of a calamity like say Christ was when Katrina struck US coast, or heat waves singed Europe.
If indeed a god can be so merciless and heartless (whatever might the reasoning be), so as to create tsunamis or fashion up earthquakes, he truly does not merit our devotion. Jealously, anger, possessiveness are human traits, you don’t expect the same from beings who lord upon a gazillion planets, and create uncreate stuff at a snap of the fingers. So, if there is indeed a divine connection to what happened in Nepal, and some god was playing mischief with the tectonic plates, then he merits punishment not oblations. We are better off without such gods than such having to live with them. So, if he gets angry, let him have our anger, if it is vengeance than let him have our ignorance.