Wednesday, October 3, 2012

God (and yoga) is made in China

Disclaimer: If you are the sort of God-fearing religious person who takes offense at any jokes made at God's expense, you might want to not read this post.

[Image taken from here]

I don't normally write about things that come up in the course of my working life. I generally believe in the doctrine of Separation of Blog and Work (although this may be changing, in light of recent posts such as this one). But I just read something in a paper by one of my students in my business ethics class that made me smile. Maybe it'll make you smile too.

A little background might be useful here. At the beginning of every semester in my business ethics classes, I always get my students to read Bertrand Russell's lecture, "Why I am not a Christian" (WIANC). Personally, I don't think too much of this lecture; it's written for a mass audience, and one which is very much sympathetic to his views, to boot. Which means that Russell is basically preaching to the chorus here, and taking a whole bunch of rather cheap shots at Christianity (not that I have much to say for Christianity, but I don't have much to say for taking cheap shots either...). Which might make the lecture a nice read if you are having a bad day and are in the mood to take cheap shots at somebody or something. But if you are looking to do some serious philosophy of religion, well, there are other places to look...

But I get my business ethics students to start the semester by reading WIANC, just because I have this suspicion that many business students don't read very much beyond their business school textbooks, and WIANC would be something that would get their feet wet in philosophy in a way that is stimulating and engaging. And I have been right so far. Many students start by expressing shock and disbelief ("What has not believing in God to do with business ethics?!"), but most quickly buckle down to the task of listening to what Russell has to say, and many are quite serious and earnest about responding to Rusell's cheap shots: I've had students come to class with Bibles in hand, bookmarked to the exact pages and passages that they believe would refute Russell's blasphemous claims (this is the upper Midwest, remember...). Which, honestly, makes for a much more engaging and entertaining learning experience than talking about things like stockholder/stakeholder management and insider trading... gosh, I often wonder how business people even get through the day.

But I need to get to my main story. A couple of days ago, a Chinese student in my business ethics class wrote a paper responding to Russell's arguments in WIANC. He opened the paper in this way: 

'Once, I asked a friend where God was from. He responded, "You know, since everything is made in China, I'm guessing God must be from China."'

This student--whom, I take it, is an agnostic--meant this as a witty opening line to his paper. And it worked, at least for me: It made me smile, and is, at any rate, much more refreshing than the sort of fillers that so many people use to start their papers ("Bertrand Russell was a famous philosopher who was almost as famous as Socrates...", etc., etc.).

Of course, if you are a serious God-believing, God-fearing person, then you cannot possibly believe that God could have been made in China (although I do have to admit that the thought does have a certain seductive kitschy quality to it, and is getting more kitschily seductive by the minute as I run it through my head...); if God had to be made anywhere (much less China, God forbid), then God is not all-powerful.

But let us suppose a matrix-like scenario is true: Suppose God is not actually who the Bible says He is. Suppose that, unbeknownst to all of us believers and unbelievers alike, God is actually the owner of a very powerful factory in China. Like the powerful mechanism in the Matrix that manufactures for ordinary people the illusion that they are living in a "real" world, this powerful God-factory also manufactures the illusion that we are who we are, living the lives that we seem to be living. And doing the yoga(s) that we seem to be doing: Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Bikram, you name it. Which means that everything, even yoga, is made in this Chinese God-factory. Which means that yoga is ultimately also made in China. Which means that China is, quite literally, the center of the universe. Which means that whatever it is you are devoting yourself to when you practice Ishvara Pranidhana, you are ultimately pranidhana-ing yourself to this Chinese God-factory.

Scary, no? Hey, don't get me wrong: I'm not some Chinese ultra-nationalist or anything. But anything is possible, right? Think about it.        


  1. OMG - you mean G*d ISN't made in China. I'm so disillusioned. LOL I found this post very funny - get those students off their mental arses. My students usually tried to 'think' outside the box by creating a bigger box - doesn't work. (I taught chemistry and physics and am now retired). But at the same time, you do have a point. What if.........

    1. Wow, you taught chemistry and physics? I still have nightmares of flunking my high-school physics exams, or of not knowing the venue for the exams, or other similar anxiety-inducing nightmares associated with high-school physics (chemistry, not so much...). None of this has anything to do with the physics teachers; they were great people who were always worried about me, because I was such an under-performing student. Which is why I turned my attention to philosophy :-)

      But this is neither here nor there. Yes, it is not easy to get students who engage seriously with the material. Can't really blame them, actually, considering how badly written so many textbooks are (I sometimes think they are written more for professors than for students...).

      But this is also neither-here-nor-there. Maybe we really do live in a Chinese God-factory, and are being fed thoughts that are not always coherent...

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