Genesis, is a word whose etymology remains perplexing to me. Meaning “in the beginning” in Hebrew, in the beginning it seemed quite an acceptable theory to me, when put forth by my nanny. Of course, I was about 5 at the time and I was also convinced that Frankfurt was in France and that I could catch the tooth fairy (this in my opinion is still not out of the realm of possibility). As a not entirely unbiased observer, however, the extent of difference in the levels of reconciliation between science and religion in different religions is quite startling.
I lived half my life in Nigeria, with most of my time being spent in the company of good-natured fanatic Christians who would insist that I should thank Jesus for dying for my sins. Growing up, I was quite the stickler for my religion - Hinduism, and had I been more creatively inclined I would have sported t-shirts that testified to this. However, I was also raised to believe quite simply that all Gods are equal, which in effect translated to respect for other religions. At least it ensured that I would never deny or undermine any other religion. A trait that I’ve found isn’t imbibed as easily in some others.
Maybe it is the lack of a competing theory to Genesis in most other religions that made Darwin less of an enemy and more of an intellectual acquaintance from beyond the grave, to some of us. For me, the Ramayana and Mahabharata were incorporated as bedtime stories in line with ‘survival of the fittest’. An incredibly embellished tale that in effect said ‘we evolved from monkeys and then Good triumphed over Evil, Rama built some bridges and Krishna and his wives lived happily ever after’.
The thought that these views could be so categorically accepted or dismissed occurred to me when I first saw a twenty Dollar bill and the words “In God we trust” jumped out at me (I was also a tad disappointed that the bill wasn’t as green as they looked in cartoons). It struck me as increasingly odd each time I was told conflicting tales from the Bible (courtesy of Grace, my friend and babysitter) and the Gita (mom mostly). The ‘my way is the only way’ attitude towards beliefs made me uncomfortable. Staying now in Chennai, where most of the time my company consists of hordes of Hindus, a special Sikh friend and a couple of Muslims none of whom are particularly religiously inclined, I hadn’t given much thought to this until a friend of mine from Nigeria, who is a very pious Muslim came by for a visit. For an incredibly naive second I wondered if my proposal of improved tolerance might just win me a Nobel prize, after all wouldn’t it solve an enormous chunk of our conflicts?