A Question of Belief

I take my beliefs seriously, and sometimes, I feel compelled to express what I believe and why. I'm not sure if it has any impact on the rest of the world — maybe it's a way of clarifying my own thoughts about my beliefs in my own mind.

In the 21st Century, the biggest challenge — really, the only significant challenge — to Christian ideas and beliefs is science and the scientific method. As Neal Degrasse Tyson stated in the first episode of the brilliant new television program Cosmos, the scientific method is so powerful that, in a matter of a few centuries, it has taken us from Galileo's telescope to the moon and beyond — to nuclear power, Wifi and to the edge of quantum computing and biotechnology. Who can honestly foresee where it will continue to lead us?

But even though science continues to push the boundaries of explanation of the observable universe, and pushes the limits of observation of the universe itself, there still remain some kinds of questions about human experience that science is incapable of addressing adequately — philosophical concerns such as the purpose of human existence, the nature of human consciousness and identity, the metaphysics of human morality, the role in our lives of the humanities and arts, and, most notably, the nature of the human heart.

I don't want to delve into the details of the philosophical questions I grappled with on my journey towards my Christian faith because doing so would be an arduous trek into some obscure conceits. Ultimately, what I personally find most compelling about Christianity, is an intangible, undefinable sense of veracity that seems to transcend any purely intellectual attempt to grasp it. Perhaps that is what a leap of faith amounts to — making a decision to believe in something without complete knowledge, but with a reasonable, reasoned sense of the authenticity of the object of one's faith. At the same time, one must be careful to keep an open mind and always ask questions, not allowing oneself to become trapped by dogma.

Like Giordano Bruno, whose life and vision were dramatically portrayed in episode 1 of the television show Cosmos, I guess my own faith is inspired by a sort of personal vision or insight that helps me reconcile what I know in the context of my scientific background and education and what I believe in the context of my faith. The difference is that my vision seeks to transcend science and religion (even as it is a concrete idea, not a mystical vision), and I hope that I do not meet with the same level of derision among skeptical scientific thinkers as Bruno did among religious people for his vision of a universe modeled after Copernican ideas.

The idea that inspires me is that the creation of the universe may be analogized with a more mundane act of creativity that we are more familiar with. If God's creation of the observable universe can be thought of as something like, e.g., J.R.R. Tolkein's creation of middle earth or C.S. Lewis' creation of Narnia, it somehow makes more sense. If we think of God as existing beyond space and time and creating the universe as a continuity, in the way that an author writes a book, then the universe may have a history of billions of years, even if it was, in a sense, created only a few millennia ago, from God's point of view. This would be similar, in a sense, to Tolkein writing his books 60 years ago, but his middle earth having a chronology or history of, perhaps, thousands of years.

We human beings, trapped in the continuity of our universe, would be incapable of comprehending or appreciating the space-time continuum that God might operate in even as the characters in a book might be incapable of comprehending the continuity of the universe inhabited by the book's author and readers. The difference, of course, is that the drama played out in our universe is seemingly impromptu and unscripted — real life happens as a product of human free agency, not, as far as we know, because it has been pre-determined or scripted by God (though some philosophers might argue to the contrary).

Anyway, to speak in simple terms, it helps me to think of the universe as something between a novel and a dream — a product of the creative imagination of an omnipotent intelligence beyond space and time, i.e. God. But because the characters in God's “novel” have free will and, as such, could influence the “plot” of the story with their own actions, things started going wrong when the “characters” started violently attacking and killing one another — depicted in the Bible as being initiated by a primordial act of fratricide — the story of Cain and Abel. Naturally, God, the author of this “imagined” universe, becomes concerned and attempts a series of interventions, which the characters in the “novel” perceive as supernatural events. Ultimately, God decides to write himself into the story as the protagonist to bring order to the chaos — and so, he creates Christ, who, though he is no different from any of the other characters in the story, happens to have God's own consciousness projected onto him. God identifies with the protagonist of his story, even as an author might identify with the lead character in his novel, and, in that sense, Christ is perceived as the very son of God, with a Divinely inspired mission to redeem mankind from its unfortunate condition.

Do I have any evidence to support these ideas? No, but it is a theory that attempts to explain certain facts about the universe, such as the origins of human consciousness and morality, man's relationship with God, etc. And even though it may not have any mathematical underpinnings to elucidate its meaning, it has the virtue of providing a coherent explanation of some Christian ideas. Much as the theories posited by major scientific theorists (Newton, Einstein, etc.) attempt to explain the observable scientific facts of our universe.

In that context, the miraculous and the marvelous are well within the realm of possibility. If one is limited only by the extent of our imaginations in our power to disrupt the fictional universes we might create, then a God, with an infinite imagination, would have an infinite power of intervention into the universe of his creation — our universe. Perhaps, some day, we might see such a display of his powers! In any case, it remains interesting to note that one of the New Testament gospels begins with the phrase, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God . . . .”

Thus, I am inspired by this somewhat grandiose cosmological vision, which may appear to be bordering on the fantastic, but is, ultimately, no more fantastic than one of Einstein's thought experiments! And while it is lacking in specificity, it is, at least, no less empirically verifiable! Ultimately, it inspires me and gives me faith along with some speculative answers to some of the questions that I am faced with. And while it may be far from the truth, at least it works as a theory, providing an explanation, however imperfect, of the observable facts, in a way that, perhaps, Newtonian physics provided answers before Einstein appeared on the scene!

Meanwhile, even as we reflect on these profound themes, I encourage you to check out Horizon Cybermedia's current, ongoing production — a multi-part web series entitled American Castle: The Secret World of William Randolph Hearst. I hope you enjoy it!

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

 

The Medium is the Message

In my previous blog post, I promised that I would be making a major announcement about my friend, novelist Ashwin Sanghi’s first novel The Rozabal Line, and my reconnection with him after several decades.

So here goes:

For the last several months, I have been developing a feature-length screenplay based on the novel. I have collaborated with the novelist, Ashwin, on this project, in an attempt to capture his authorial vision as authentically as possible in the cinematic medium and language of screenwriting. If you happen to have followed the news in India, you might even have read a news article in the Indian newspapers in which Ashwin made press statement to this effect.

If you have read The Rozabal Line, you would have noticed that, in spite of being a pretty brief novel, it is extremely dense and complex–packing more ideas into its two hundred or so pages than most novels do in twice as many. As such, adapting the novel into a screenplay, with its interweaving plot-lines and its non-sequential structure, was particularly challenging. However, I am proud to say that I think we have succeeded in developing a really engaging and enjoyable fast-paced thriller screenplay that is currently undergoing its final edits and should be complete very soon.

If you are familiar with this novel and the content of the story, it would be pretty apparent to you that it is very controversial in its subject matter. It is the sort of story that challenges all your assumptions and dares to take you to places you might never have imagined before. Truly, the story is about challenging and engaging you at every level, daring you to question your belief system and ask yourself some pretty tough questions, such as, “Why do I believe what I do? Am I accurate in my beliefs and assumptions?” and so forth.

This story is not and never has been about undermining anyone’s faith or beliefs. However, I realize that when one asks difficult questions or addresses sensitive issues, such as religion, one will inevitably provoke a hostile response from some quarters. In an attempt to anticipate and preempt any such misinformed or ill-informed assessment of this screenplay, I am going to attempt to clarify some points here and, hopefully, prevent the kind of uproar generated by novels like The DaVinci Code, which, in fact, treads on similar territory as The Rozabal Line, though the two novels are completely different in most other respects, such as theme, style and structure.

Firstly, this is a work of speculative fiction. Spelling out what that means–it is a story, a narrative, meant to entertain you, the audience, while, hopefully, broadening your horizons at the same time. So in no way should this story be regarded as factual or journalistic, though it contains many factual and historical elements embedded within its narrative thread. Basically, it is intended to be a fun exercise in which one speculates on certain possibilities and, in doing so, one comes to a deeper understanding of the way things are by asking oneself some tough questions through the process of suspension of disbelief.

Secondly, this story is not intended to preach any kind of doctrine to you or dogma at you. I fully understand that there are people out there who don’t get what this means and who perceive any sort of narrative as some sort of religious tract or testament of faith. That’s not what this is! Rather, it is designed to challenge and encourage you to think critically! “The medium is the message,” to quote Marshall McLuhan. There is no explicit message here other than the challenge to ask difficult questions! If you pay close attention, you will notice that the story undermines itself at every level. This is by design–it is about challenging you, the audience, to play the detective and dig up the clues to what’s really going on here!

Finally, as I suggested earlier, this story should not be regarded as a statement of our personal belief systems. The words and ideas expressed by any of the characters in the story cannot and should not be ascribed to the novelist and/or screenwriter themselves! Personally, I consider myself to be a moderate Christian (who believes in the tolerance of all religions, philosophies and belief systems–even ones I may disagree with or object to–as long as they don’t violate the law or human rights). And as for Ashwin Sanghi, I believe he is a practising Hindu, who shares many of my own points of view on matters of tolerance and human rights.

One of the central themes in this story is the distortion of words and ideas, and how a nuanced, accurate view of history and current events is essential to promoting peace and understanding across the world. I can only hope that the same principles apply to my words and those of Ashwin Sanghi! The reality is that we live in an age of mass media, and in this echo chamber, distortion and oversimplification are inescapable! I can only hope that when people realize the true consequences of distortions and inaccuracies, they will make a greater attempt to discover the truth!

That said, I hope to get this movie made in Hollywood, once the screenplay is completed. Stay tuned for further announcements!

Meanwhile, please feel free to check out Horizon Cybermedia’s website, http://www.explorationtheseries.com, for our ongoing video series, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar. A new episode is currently in the editing room and should be online pretty soon.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

Science and Religion

It’s been way too long since I last updated my blog, so I figured it was about time I posted something—even if it’s just filler material, pending the next major project that I’m currently working on for Horizon Cybermedia. A quick update on what’s to come—I recently started editing the next film in my Exploration series, which will visit the outstanding rock-cut Kanheri Buddhist cave temples located in the Borivli National Park near Mumbai, India. At the same time, I plan to post a review of a fascinating novel I have been reading, written by a friend I have known since childhood. The novel is The Rozabal Line by Ashwin Sanghi. It is a remarkable work of speculative fiction that delves into the deepest, hidden recesses of the human psyche and dares to address one of the most controversial, difficult subjects of all—religion! The novel ties in very neatly with my film, as Buddhism plays a crucial role in the story—one that I will address in greater depth when I am ready to publish my review.

As it happens, I have also been reading another very interesting book on the subject of comparative religion, namely God is Not One by Stephen Prothero, in which the author does a comparative analysis of the eight major world religions, emphasizing their differences. He suggests how unlikely and even dangerous it is to assume that it is at all possible to envision a world in which all the world’s major religions could be unified into some sort of harmonious whole or molded into a global world religion. He strikes many interesting chords, and I am inclined to agree with his point of view in many respects. 

However, I think he neglects to address what I believe to be some basic truths—namely, that, in the end, all religions, however diverse they may be, are essentially the product of the human psyche, which is fundamentally similar. So at the core of all religions are some very fundamental, universal truths and these truths, I think, could be a foundation to establish some sort of common ground between religious systems—not so much in an attempt to promote a “global world religion” as to promote understanding, peace and fellowship among human beings of all creeds, backgrounds or ethnic origins. As a Christian myself, I interpret Christ’s message to be this very theme—after all, wasn’t Jesus Christ most critical of doctrinal orthodoxy and dogma to the exclusion of basic humanity and human decency? Would not Christ, if He was with us right now, be sharply critical of so-called religious authoritarians, whatever their credo, who use doctrinal orthodoxy to justify or rationalize a basic lack of decency, humanity and compassion? Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the whole point of the Christian message is to move away from the head and towards the heart—away from petty doctrinal divisiveness and towards basic humanity and compassion.

Interestingly, another project I am currently working on, quite independent from anything to do with Horizon Cybermedia, is a novel based on a screenplay I had written a couple of years ago. This novel is more about science than religion—it tackles the other great subject of our age. It brings to my mind how fundamental this dichotomy between science and religion is—the more so in this 21st century, when science and technology continue to advance at an ever increasing pace. For some reason, nevertheless, religion is proving to be no less relevant even in this era of supposed enlightenment—an enlightenment to be inspired, in part, at least, by scientific and technological advancement. So where will it all lead us? What does the future hold? The end of religion, in a world where scientific knowledge reigns supreme and abolishes the superstitions of the past? Or will religion make a dramatic comeback and have the final say? After all, in a world in which “Scientology” is itself a religion, one cannot—one dare not—underestimate the power of religion over the human psyche! Truly religion is a force to be reckoned with, but even so, does it have a place in a progressive, technologically advanced society, and if so, what is it’s role?

These are some of the questions I hope to address in future blog posts. Consider this one to be a starter—a foretaste or foreshadowing of blog entries to come!

Meanwhile, I welcome your feedback. If you happen to be reading this blog entry or following this blog, I welcome you to reflect on these weighty issues and post a comment or two with your insights. Religion is a sensitive subject and is liable to provoke a passionate response from some quarters, so I urge you to measure your words carefully before posting them. Of course, I will be moderating all comments to ensure that nothing offensive or inflammatory gets posted on my blog so that the spirit of congenial dialog is in no way compromised!

I look forward to hearing from you! Meanwhile, do keep on the lookout for the next film in the Exploration series, coming soon, and, of course, my review of Ashwin Sanghi’s brilliant novel, The Rozabal Line and even, possibly, of Stephen Prothero’s book God is Not One. Meanwhile, do continue to visit http://www.explorationtheseries.com and check out the current and archived videos in the film series Exploration with Uday Gunjikar, which takes you to fascinating sites around the world right from your armchair by the fire at home!

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.