Subcontinental Divide - 2021


Losing My Religion: Who Do You Think You Are?

By Ahsen Jillani

I was born and got my early education in an era where science was starting to determine our destinies.

Modernism kind of collided head-first with everything from religion to conservatism to colonialism sometime after WW-II because America emerged victorious and its PR prowess was newly battling with the rising threat of socialism and communism.

A fresh-faced technocrat PhD fresh out of the University of Chicago, my dad was one of the few early culprits who brought a secular philosophy to a country barely 12 years out of British colonial rule. Truthfully, as he chaired the sociology department at Karachi University straight out of college, I don't have a single memory of participating in a religious ceremony of any sort (other than my circumcision, at age 4, which I still don't want to discuss due to trauma).

We actually could have been any family in America in the '60s. While the Pakistani President Ayub Khan was entertaining Jackie Kennedy and presenting her with race horses, we were traveling around town in evenings going for ice cream and burgers, my dad and uncles were having beers and watching American shows, and weekends, we might go to the beautiful Arabian Sea coast or the aquarium before driving to the drive-in for a western film.

Religion technically didn't exist in our lives. Religion actually was on vacation in the West as well, as America struggled with moral and ethical issues like civil and voting rights, and the raging Vietnam war that practically ate the soul of the nation. As America slid into an abyss, those who followed it globally went along with the early post-modernist tinges of what became symbolic of what we now admire about western thought.

Us, we left for Thailand in the early-70s on my dad's newest gig with the UN. Bangkok had no religion. It was a confusing mix of superstition and nightclubs. Even at a young age I started noting the confusion between people just being alive and religion.

The UN consisted of the usual diversity of people from all cultures and religions. It was liberal before liberal was cool. We attended Hindu festivals, Buddhist events, Christian celebrations, and Jewish bar mitzvahs. You drank and danced with all of humanity.

You didn't judge anybody; you were never better than anybody. And then American college happened. While my many religion and philosophy professors never expressly said anything about their views on god(s), I kind of got the impression over seven years of college that they were hinting something. Arguments about the physical nature of god, and the metaphysical nature of god, or just the importance of god to balance the brains of us wobbling idiots – none of that solidified into an argument on either side.

Last many, many months I've been spending my quality time reaching into the depths of space. We are such geniuses that we can't even decide if Pluto is a planet. It was a planet when I was growing up and isn't one now. Science changed its mind. But wait, another planet may fly by every 700 years, so that could be the 9th planet we haven't yet seen. That's where we are – infants. Maybe all the newly declassified UFO info will show that we are total morons about a billion years behind other star systems. And maybe those star systems don't believe in god, or have a deeply ingrained belief in god.

So, we geniuses now claim that the universe is 90 billion light years across. That's subject to change before this article is even printed, because we don't really know crock. We don't know much about god. We haven't seen the entity. It could be within us. It could be nature. It could be the invisible breeze. It could be an animal. It could be everything. It could be nothing.

Approaching the bitter end, I'm just breathing. I can pray, but can't understand what the various gods want – they want me to beg? Cry? Crawl? And then eternal life, or a new life happens? No thanks. You know, you god dudes are supposed to see everything.

Just see me birth to death – then rebirth me as something, send me to your own version of hell or heaven, turn me to ash.

Do something awesome. I'm bored. Hand me a beer – then do whatever god-like.

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Ahsen Jillani a former editor and publisher, is originally from Islamabad, Pakistan, and now lives in Mint Hill. He owns Must Media, a PR company focusing on both political and corporate clients.