Posts Tagged ‘Faith’

Pakistan-Australia: Alack!

March 20, 2015

By Anjum Altaf

First, the result – A disciplined, professional team easily took care of a ragged, mercurial bunch of individuals. Lightning did not strike. No miracles occurred.

As we watched the pathetic procession in the first half, lines from Macbeth came flooding back:

… a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. 

Then, as comments began to circulate, the dissension amongst the faithful was captured by the lines that immediately followed the above:

  • [Enter a Messenger]
    Macbeth. Thou comest to use thy tongue; thy story quickly.
  • Messenger. Gracious my lord,
    I should report that which I say I saw,
    But know not how to do it.
  • Macbeth. Well, say, sir.
  • Messenger. As I did stand my watch upon the hill,
    I look’d toward Birnam, and anon, methought,
    The wood began to move.
  • Macbeth. Liar and slave!
  • Messenger. Let me endure your wrath, if’t be not so:
    Within this three mile may you see it coming;
    I say, a moving grove.
  • Macbeth. If thou speak’st false,
    Upon the next tree shalt thou hang alive,
    Till famine cling thee: if thy speech be sooth,
    I care not if thou dost for me as much.
    I pull in resolution, and begin
    To doubt the equivocation of the fiend
    That lies like truth: ‘Fear not, till Birnam wood
    Do come to Dunsinane:’ and now a wood
    Comes toward Dunsinane. Arm, arm, and out!
    If this which he avouches does appear,
    There is nor flying hence nor tarrying here.
    I gin to be aweary of the sun,
    And wish the estate o’ the world were now undone.
    Ring the alarum-bell! Blow, wind! come, wrack!
    At least we’ll die with harness on our back.

We died. Amen.

The game epitomized the relationship of the audience to faith. As a signal, before the game began, pre-teen voices started taking turns on the loudspeaker of a nearby mosque with the refrain: “All my dreams will come true, I only have to take your name.” Viewers were in the same mood – hopeful the Almighty would bless the team, at the same time fearful the outcome might be otherwise. Having left it all to the Almighty, there was a strange sense of helplessness in the air – the sort when one trusts in God but fails to tie the camel.

That kind of sums up the fate of contemporary Pakistan – running on faith with nary a thought of the untied camels. The attitude does have a short-term upside, if one could call it so – once the verdict was in there was no postmortem of what led to such a sorry display, no inquiry into the myriad problems that beset all aspects of the game. So be it, Allah did not will it otherwise. Back to business.

Amongst the agnostics, talk naturally turned to India, now, deservedly so, the only South Asian representative in the tournament. There was acknowledgment that the Australia-India semi-final would probably be the first competitive match in the knock-out stage. People agreed the Indian team played with a lot more common sense in keeping with the situation of a match as it evolved. Someone observed the Indian players also sought blessings from goddesses – but only as insurance, after having tied their respective camels.

In the end it all boiled down to God, goddesses, and camels and their relationships to one another.

Good luck India.

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‘Craving Middleness’: A Critique

April 25, 2012

By Anjum Altaf

I have not read a piece as often in recent days as Craving Middleness. It identifies a problem that is central to the Pakistani predicament – the widening divide between those who consider religion a matter of private belief and those who consider it central to public life. And it recommends the eminently sensible need for a dialogue between the two if an impending confrontation is to be avoided.

While its two end points are so correctly located, the intervening argument seems entangled in claims that are contradicted by observable evidence. It is with reference to this middle that I hope to begin my conversation with the author for whom I have the utmost admiration. (more…)

Reflections: Shaped by the Times

July 16, 2009

By Viswam Kumar

When I look back to see what shaped me – I can see how much I am shaped by serendipitous circumstances and encounters with people.

Mental Discipline is perhaps the foundational trait behind all my meager achievements. I have the discipline required in focusing, concentrating and working hard to achieve a goal. This goal can be anything from finishing a project at work successfully to sticking with a fitness regime. This discipline has been a result of the grooming from my parents. They have always spoken highly about hard work and discipline and extolled these virtues. Over time, I have learnt that Discipline is something that adds to the quality of life, even if it is not materially rewarding – which was the initial motive for adopting discipline. I have learnt that it can give the courage needed to pursue goals that seem difficult to others. This foundational quality has enabled me to diligently pursue interests that have also contributed to shaping my life. (more…)

Is Faith Necessary for Progress?

November 16, 2008

The loss of religious faith (or deviation from the true path) is amongst the commonly cited reasons for the absence of economic or social progress in Pakistan. Is this another easy answer, a gross simplification of a complex reality, or does it capture some aspect of our predicament?

There are two components of this claim: faith and progress. Taken separately, they are relatively unproblematic. Most people consider progress to be good and a laudable goal for both individuals and societies. Faith is a matter of individual choice exercised freely.

It is the link between faith and progress that is controversial and in need of examination. I doubt if even diehard believers would suggest a one-to-one correspondence between the two because that would result in odd contradictions and unacceptable conclusions. Western countries are all more developed than Pakistan. Does that mean that their citizens are all more religiously upright than ours? If so, what then is the basis for condemning the West for its rejection of religion and its alleged loose morality?

There is also no logical reason for restricting the relationship between faith and progress to countries. It should apply just as well to individuals and regions within countries. Both applications would cast doubt on the proposition. In the case of individuals it is often lamented that success is inversely related to religious devotion. Within countries, some regions are more prosperous than others and cities are always more developed than rural areas. It would be absurd to claim that the people of Karachi are reaping the benefits of adhering to the true faith while Kohistanis are suffering because of a loss of faith. On the contrary, the believers of the theory are quite as likely to argue that cities are the seats of evil while rural areas remain the founts of faith.

Going even further, why should the equation not be applicable to activities like sports? Simply because it would be impossible to argue that the World Cup would be won by the team with the most religiously committed members. Pakistan’s rise and decline in cricket cannot be matched with any similar graph of religious purity. And the phenomenal improvement in China’s Olympic performance cannot be tied credibly to a concomitant increase in religious faith.

Such contradictions are not sufficient to challenge the veracity of the claim linking progress to faith. A more nuanced argument could be implied. Perhaps what is being stressed is that deviation from the true path alters our individual attitudes and behaviors and these in turn have negative effects on our collective output. For example, the weakening of religious belief could lead to increased corruption that could impede social and economic progress.

This is a serious proposition seemingly along the lines of Max Weber who argued that the Protestant work ethic was the major contributor to the rise and location of capitalist development. But Weber’s stress was on the work ethic implicit in Protestantism and not on the degree of religious belief in general. Thus, Weber could be interpreted to imply that Catholics, no matter how devout, would not have progressed as much because Catholicism lacked the work ethic of the Protestant faith.

By now it is more than obvious that corruption has an uneven relation to economic development and that the work ethic is independent of religious belief. It is commonly remarked that South Asians work much harder and more conscientiously in the Middle East and in the US than they do at home. The change does not arise from any sudden variation in the degree of faith. Rather, it is tied to the incentives that determine the nature of the effort offered by an individual and the accountability that ensures that what is promised is actually delivered.

A social and economic system that promotes productive activities and rewards effort would elicit a good work ethic and make progress possible. Perhaps we should interpret faith not in religious terms but as faith in the justness of social and economic arrangements. If people believe them to be fair, they would work hard to earn their rewards on earth. If they don’t, they would expect to be exploited and wait to go to heaven to find justice and equality.

It is reasonable to conclude that being the most devout competitor would not result in a gold medal. Being the best prepared, regardless of faith, would give one a fighting chance. The assurance that the judging would be fair would give one the motivation to try and the rewards of winning would provide the incentive. To the extent that a strong religious belief increases motivation and preparation, it can contribute to progress and achievement. But it is not essential to the equation. In theory, any arrangement with the right mix of incentives, equity and accountability should suffice.

The search for the causes of our underdevelopment in South Asia needs to continue.

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