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.

 

Driving through the Desert

One of the most formative experiences of my life — maybe because it was borderline traumatic — happened to me when I first drove out to the beautiful state of California to start on my new job back in the year 2000.

At the time, I was working in St. Louis, MO, and had only just accepted a job in Northern California. I had a few days before I started, so I decided to drive across the country from Missouri to California in my bright blue Pontiac Grand Am. I drove through Missouri, Kansas and Colorado on the I-70 going westwards. It was a pleasant enough drive. I can still remember driving through the vast expanse of the Kansas prairie — I had never before driven through such a vast plain in my life — and enjoying the sunset on the flattest, widest horizon I had ever seen. I also remember the quaint country hotel where I overnighted and the breathtaking snow-capped peaks in the distance as I drove through Colorado the following day, after passing through Denver.

Pretty soon, I arrived in Utah and took the I-15 northwards to Salt Lake City, where I got onto the I-80 going westwards towards California. Leaving Salt Lake City, what awaited me was a long stretch of driving through a barren wasteland — the deserts of Utah and Nevada — a tough, relentless drive. I still remember checking my gas as I left Salt Lake City — the gas gauge read half-full (or half-empty, depending on how you look at it)! “No problem,” I thought to myself. “This should be enough gas to get me to the next town, where I can fill up.” And so, I began my fateful drive through the barren Bonneville Salt Flats, a dreaded stretch of desert west of Salt Lake City.

As I drove on, the desert yawned out ahead of me — a vast, parched wasteland. Not the least hint of civilization or culture for miles. I continued along the highway, glancing nervously at the gas gauge. The sun beat down mercilessly. I passed by the occasional truck on the otherwise empty road. Not a car to be seen. The gas gauge continued to fall, and still there was nothing. I began to wonder if I would ever get to the next town. I began to imagine terrible scenarios — being stranded in the middle of the desert without food, water or gas for my car. Even if I had a cell phone on me — and I didn’t at the time — it would probably have been useless in the middle of the Salt Flats!

In the end, I was literally driving on fumes and praying to Jesus Christ with all my might, but still, pushing forward through the desert, hoping for a miracle! And a miracle did come! Just as I heard my car engine begin to sputter, I arrived at a gas station, frequented by truckers. It seemed like the only gas station in that desert for miles — a run-down establishment overcharging for gasoline and other provisions — but it was, at the time, a veritable Godsend! An oasis! Nirvana! I whispered my thanks to God as the gas tank in my car greedily swallowed the gasoline I pumped into it!

I continued my drive through the deserts of Nevada and, as I approached California, from a distance, it truly seemed to be the Promised Land — a green haze seemed to have settled over the verdant hills of Northern California, signifying the promise of salvation from the relentless arid wasteland that I had left behind me. And as I drove through a hilly stretch of road in California, approaching my destination, it truly seemed like “a land flowing with milk and honey!” It may sound somewhat na├»ve, but that experience has stayed with me ever since then. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if I had chickened out on the desert road, with the gas gauge reading empty and nothing but vast stretches of barren desert in all directions! That experience makes me think twice about taking anything for granted and makes me appreciate art, culture and civilization all the more!

The vast prairie horizons of Kansas, the majestic mountainous horizons of Colorado and the desert horizons of Utah and Nevada are ingrained in my memory and partly became my inspiration in launching Horizon Cybermedia several years later. The experience continues to inspire me to push forward in life even when it seems as if I am driving through the desert on an empty gas tank — because if you push forward, you just might make it to the deserted gas station in the middle of nowhere that will save your life and enable you to continue on your journey, all the way to the Promised Land you are hoping for!

Please do check out my series of web videos, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar, inspiring one to continue to travel and explore and pass through new horizons and into unexplored territory. In this modern world, with all the amenities that civilization offers us, one might imagine that there is no more room for exploration or adventure, but that notion couldn’t be further from the truth! As long as there are human beings on the earth, there will continue to be new horizons to explore, because all experience is subjective and civilization is always in flux!

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.

300 Years

300 years is a long time.

300 years ago, America was still a British colony. There was no Declaration of Independence or U.S. Constitution. 300 years ago, France was still ruled by an oppressive monarchy and aristocracy. 300 years ago, the steam engine was considered to be cutting-edge technology. 300 years ago, the British Empire was expanding world-wide and Europe was just entering the Age of Enlightenment.

And yet, the earliest complete extant version of the Christian New Testament dates from about 300 years after the crucifixion of Christ. The Codex Sinaiticus was probably commissioned by and produced at the behest of the Roman emperor Constantine, after the First Council of Nicaea was convened to establish Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

This leads one to wonder—how much does the familiar figure of Jesus Christ from the modern editions of the Bible actually resemble the historical figure of Yeshua, the Nazarene (or Essene)—the Hebrew prophet who preached in Jerusalem in 30 AD and was brutally executed by Roman occupying forces for heresy at the behest of the orthodox temple priests of Jerusalem? The prophet who subsequently came to be known as “Kristos” (or “Christ”)—Greek for “anointed one”—when he came to be widely renowned as the “Son of God?”

How much of Christianity, as we know of it today, is an accurate reflection and representation of the life and teachings of Yeshua? How much of it is a distortion, possibly inspired by political propaganda, cultural shifts, errors in translation (from Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek to Latin, the Romance languages and, finally, to English)? Not to mention centuries of religious pogroms and inquisitions and the banning and destruction of who knows how many texts!

The simple fact is that we don’t really know. For centuries, Christianity has based its knowledge of the life and deeds of Jesus, the primary architect of the Christian faith, on the authority and credibility of the New Testament. But how credible is the New Testament when we really take a long, hard look at it? The version that survives today dates from the time that Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman empire. When we think of Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of the separation of church and state, one has to wonder about the very origins of modern Christianity, arising out of the politicization of a persecuted religion. The irony is that Constantine, the Roman emperor who established Christianity as the Roman state religion, was, in many ways, no less ruthless and psychotic than his predecessors, such as Caligula and Nero, who were notorious for persecuting, scapegoating and murdering Christians whenever it was politically expedient for them.

When you think about the fact that Christianity is, in its origins, the most apolitical of religions—as epitomized by the Biblical story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness—the devil offering Jesus all the world’s kingdoms as a reward for Satan-worship—one has to wonder to what degree Christianity itself was distorted and corrupted by the very political forces that made it such a powerful world religion. By becoming a “world religion” or “state religion,” did Christianity, in effect, become worldly and corrupt, thereby undermining its own message of rejecting worldly corruption in favor of the spiritual “kingdom of God,” at the very moment it began to take shape as the modern religion we know of today?

In essence, would it be too radical to suggest that “Jesus Christ”—a Biblical personality with a Latin name—is, in fact, a pagan idol and that Christianity, as we know of it today, is a false religion? If the modern “Jesus Christ” is a corrupt, distorted representation of “Yeshua, the Nazarene,” the Hebrew prophet who preached in Jerusalem in the first century C.E., then perhaps millions of ardent Christian believers worldwide are inadvertently worshipping a false, pagan idol!

These are some of the ideas entertained by Ashwin Sanghi’s ingenious and fascinating novel, The Rozabal Line. The novel examines the intricacies of religion and human motivation, against the unfolding tapestry of history, all told in the vein of a nail-biting modern thriller.

Stay tuned to this blog for an upcoming announcement concerning my association with this novel and my reconnection, after several years (decades, even), with the book’s author.

Until then, check out Horizon Cybermedia’s website at http://www.explorationtheseries.com for the engaging travel video series, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar. The current video in the series visits Big Bear Lake, CA. The upcoming video in the series visits the Buddhist sculptures of the Kanheri cave temples at the Borivli National Park near Mumbai, India.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

– Posted using WordPress from my iPad