Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bookshops, and especially those selling expensive books, are benevolent in one way. Nicely dress up, fake an air of intellect, choose a corner and you got the privilege: read much of the book. I infrequently visit Landmark, a really nice place to cuddle with books. Tolerate the pungent aroma around and noisy music for sometime and let the brain get accustomed to it and disregard it deliberately. And you have a whole lot of books, struggling for your attention.

In my recent visit, I picked up Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice. When I saw that the introduction was well around 20 pages, I was glad that I didn’t have to read the entire book. In it, as always, Sen stressed on creating a just society rather than just institutions. He adds that a society should let its members be and become what they are capable of. Sen seems to suggest that by knowing what injustice is we can arrive at a fair idea of justice.

Deciding what is child abuse we can know what is viable parent care, for example. I was just reading an article about how faith is hijacking medicine. Children, suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis that makes blood more acidic, were not given insulin shots to alleviate their condition. Instead, their parents chose to pray and save them. They sadly died later.

When an attorney in Wisconsin state charged the parents of second-degree reckless homicide, the judge alarmingly said that she could not charge them of child abuse. This was because “section 948 Wisconsin statutes provides criminal exemption from that crime for religious parents who choose to treat their children with nothing but prayer.”

Intercessory Prayer (IP) as it is called is a prayer done for others, a prominent practice of missionaries in India who plead others to send their problems that can be converted as prayers before a god. This has become too much of a recurring noise on TV where many ministries request audience to send their problems, effectively making individuals give up personal responsibility for their action. Paint these actions as sins and send it up for someone else to relieve the problem. Many research studies administered IP as one among the treatments to see how effective it is. In 2005, a pilot program chose 150 coronary patients undergoing angioplasty to receive one of the five treatments: imagery, stress relaxation, touch therapy, IP or standard care. The results showed not one statistically significant difference outside the standard medical treatment. Even another study in 2006 by Harvard Medical School researcher, Herbert Banson randomized 1,802 patients recovering from coronary bypass surgery into one of three groups: those who unknowingly received prayer from three mainstream religious groups, those who unknowingly did not and those who knew they are receiving prayer. Either way, the well-intended prayers had no effect. In the Four Quartets, the poet TS Eliot visits a church at Little Gidding, England and discovers that this is:

Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

Eliot here is talking about a place where a pious family sought salvation of mind, dipped into their inner self, did intense introspection and may have realized what their real calling was. This is not the prayer that a selfish mind does for personal gain, but a ritual where a mind cuts off from the outside world and immerses into its own territory within and attempts at self-realization. Even this is what Hindu scriptures really infer at. You worship an idol doing specific rituals, not just to vomit out mantras, without realizing the real idea behind them. You chant thousand names of Visnu, not just to finish off a daily ritual. But to feel the real enchantment of describing the god in various ways and angles, and remind yourself of how you have to be and become (and surpass Visnu). Mantras have this perennial purpose to let chanters chase the essence of what they really are by providing a role model in the idol being worshipped.

Ok then back to Amartya Sen. So definitely, the parent’s neglect however religiously strong their argument is I think assisted suicide. In this context, Sen makes the distinction in an interview between niti and nyaya:

Neeti’ is about rules and institutions and ‘nyaya’ is about their realisation. To cite an example, caste policy is driven by ‘neeti’ whereas I believe that we need a more ‘nyaya’-based perspective while dealing with caste distinctions as with other issues as well.

Reservations as a policy cannot be justified on grounds of redressing the past. It would be justified in terms of improving the present. Therefore we have to judge reservations as a ‘niti’ in the light of what it actually does rather than what it is theoretically expected to do.

So the parents had a religious neeti but the nyaya was otherwise.

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