UDDHAV THACKERAY, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the worst Covid-affected state of India, went this week to the temple town of Pandharpur on the occasion of Ashadashi Ekadashi and asked the deity there for a miracle, not just for Maharashtra but the whole of mankind, to get rid of Covid-19. A Times of India article reported on it: ‘Referring to Lord Vitthal as Mauli, or mother, he said: “On behalf of the universe, I am offering prayers to Mauli for a miracle to put an end to the Covid pandemic from this day of Ashadhi Ekadashi. How are we to carry on with life like this, covering our mouth with a cloth strip?” Later, he reiterated the sentiment on Twitter, where he added heft to his appeal to Lord Vitthal by saying man was down on his knees and there was no medicine or any other cure for the disease yet.’
Who, even if he is an atheist, can quarrel with such a sentiment? If god doesn’t exist, it doesn’t matter. And if he does, then what’s the harm in entreating his services? As the great mathematician Blaise Pascal argued, you lose nothing by believing and stand eternity to gain if it is true. However, the matter is not settled so easily for Thackeray’s request. Let us assume for the purposes of the present that god exists and that he actually hears the prayer. What would he do then? Almost certainly nothing. From the standpoint of god, why would human life have any more value than that of a virus? They are both part of his creation and, going by the numbers alone, he probably is more partial to viruses. They were there hundreds of millions of years before man and outnumber us by trillions and trillions.
Religions have got out of this impasse by postulating that man is the final creation of god. That everything from the virus to dinosaur onwards was leading to our species. Since god never really explains anything in clear terms, this is probably as good an argument as any. Except, there is the issue of space. If man in a small planet called earth was the end of creation, then what was the rest of the universe all about? You want to build a house and have your favorite folks residing in it, you don’t buy a billion acres of desert around it. In fact, it probably indicates the opposite—the end objective was the desert and the house an unintended accident, a bug in the operating system that took life.
The unimaginable scale of everything in the universe and the minuteness of humans in it is the biggest argument against man being the centre of anything. Why should a virus think any less of itself just because of size when man’s size is as small in relation to bigger things around? The purpose of prayer, however, does have psychological utility. If you believe there is someone out there only waiting for your request to take a novel coronavirus out of his blueprint, then you will feel better. And without a vaccine that is a salve.