Friday, February 19, 2010

The Great Egg Controversy

What religion a man shall have is a historical accident, quite as much as what language he shall speak. -George Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Often I see on T.V. people seething with primordial passions stoked by the wild statements of some revanchist clergy. I will sometimes be present at an animated discussion about the best way to perform some ritual. Perhaps they are enterprises of great pitch and moment that protect the faithful from a sea of troubles but I for one will be befuddled. It is rather like The Great Egg Controversy in Gulliver's Travels between the little peoples of Lilliput and Blefuscu. The controversy was explained to Gulliver thus:
It began upon the following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his present majesty’s grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy: but the books of the Big-endians have been long forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments. During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefusca did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: ‘that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end.’ And which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion to be left to every man’s conscience, or at least in the power of the chief magistrate to determine. Now, the Big-endian exiles have found so much credit in the emperor of Blefuscu’s court, and so much private assistance and encouragement from their party here at home, that a bloody war has been carried on between the two empires for six-and-thirty moons, with various success; during which time we have lost forty capital ships, and a much a greater number of smaller vessels, together with thirty thousand of our best seamen and soldiers; and the damage received by the enemy is reckoned to be somewhat greater than ours. However, they have now equipped a numerous fleet, and are just preparing to make a descent upon us; and his imperial majesty, placing great confidence in your valour and strength, has commanded me to lay this account of his affairs before you.
Before my stroke, I wouldn't have been hanging around listening to religious talks. But now, with the stroke having severely circumscribed my freedom of action, I often listened to people going ballistic over how to perform some ceremony even though I won't have a dog in the fight. Before I started this blog, I would have probably slipped into my Walter Mitty mode. Nowadays I am just as likely to be pondering over what to write in a future post. While musing thus, it suddenly occurred to me that 'The Great Egg Controversy' might be a good analogy for many a religious kerfuffle that I often witnessed. What made the idea particularly attractive was that I could cut and paste a paragraph from an online edition of Gulliver's Travels which meant that I only had to dictate a few sentences and I had a new post which hopefully did not follow this blueprint. (I keep looking out for such short cuts.)

I sometimes wonder what makes so many people excited about religious issues while I struggle to stifle a yawn but I won't dwell on the issue for long because soon (apart from occasionally skimming through a post on religion) I will be immersed in an interesting post on dinosaur behaviour or a bizare exoparasitoid. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. (I keep thinking up excuses to link to posts that I liked!)


  1. as long as the muses keep coming!
    the egg analogy touched a chord at so many levels -- given where i live now!

  2. Ummon,

    I did not understand what you meant! Can u clarify it? (Unless it is too personal.)

  3. Kesu, how did you like Gulliver's Travels? Most of us in India are familiar with the book only because of Lilliput, but, as you point out with the example above, there is much more to it. I heard the audio book a few months back and I have to say, it was way ahead of its times in many ways.

    On your post itself - yes, agree with it in principle, but you are probably oversimplifying things for the sake of brevity.

  4. Hi Suresh,I completely understand your take on religion....When life takes you through HELL,then no religion,no GOD comes to your rescue...It is your inner and innate desire for survival that takes you through each day...Aise bahut din guzaare hai maine.And hence can understand only the religion of goodness...Just witnessed people going ballistic over some death rites of my pa-in-law...people who did not even bother to look him up or enquire about the man when he was alive...And then they say-It is our RELIGIOUS blah blah blah!!!
    Another definition for Religion????
    Hypocrisy at its best!!!

  5. Kailash- I am half-way through Gulliver's Travels.

    Leela - Sorry to hear about your Father-in-law's demise.

  6. Sorry, the last comment was from me.

  7. not personal at all. or rather not so personal i can't share. i live in the Gulf - SO...; my husband and i are of different faiths - SO...;
    I am always at the receiving end of advice on how to 'break the egg' :)