Monday, January 17, 2011

How much is a doctor worth

Recently, one of my friends who is the Medical Superintendent of a mission hospital asked me the question that is debated at some point in every medical circle - how much should a doctor be paid? The more I reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer! And having heard many opinions on the topic especially in the operating theatre lounge at Vellore, I know that there is no clear answer to the question. As far as I have understood from all the discussions I have had with different groups, the vast majority of doctors (at least in India) believe they are getting paid too little and I am sure that any view I express here to the contrary will not be taken kindly, especially as the majority of my readers are doctors in India!! But it is an area of great interest for me, as after all, working in a mission hospital will mean at some point becoming involved in these sort of discussions and I realise it is important to have some idea at least of the ground realities involved.

Now the first observation I have to make is one that I feel everyone will agree with. In a Utopian society, all men are equal and the nature of their work does not place them higher or lower on the social or financial scale. So in this ideal world, all men have their needs taken care of and the janitor knows his work is as important as the CEO. Thus there is camaraderie and justice for all and there is no major distinction between the 'biggest' and the 'smallest' person in the hospital - they are both valued for their work and both carry out their particular responsibilities to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, our country has been doggedly moving in exactly the opposite direction for so long that this ideal society will never be a reality until the New Jerusalem comes.

But there are a few places that seem to approach this ideal society. My limited knowledge leads me to believe that the Aurobindo ashram is one such place. But more interesting is the example of the Christian Fellowship Hospital, Oddanchatram. Here, even today, there is not a huge difference between the highest and the lowest salaries paid to employees of the hospital. There are 90 odd doctors working there, many of whom have made lifetime commitments. And some of my friends who work there are more than happy with their life, although their remuneration is about a quarter (or less!) of what they would get anywhere else! I am sure there will be discordant voices, but this is my general impression after spending a week there last year. And Christian Medical College, Vellore, itself had a similar policy till recently, when it was deemed impossible to retain doctors on those salaries.

But for the most part, doctors believe they should be on the higher end of the pay-scale and are unhappy when they are not. There are many reasons for this. The first argument is that a doctor spends more years in training than most other professions. This is true of course, and is my response to any young person asking me about my profession. It's just great to be a doctor provided you have the patience to struggle through a training period that lasts for 10 years or more. And of course, after your undergraduate studies, there is the huge hurdle of the post-graduate exams to cross. Unless you were born with a golden spoon, or are part of a community that has special reservations in the various colleges, admission into a medical undergraduate or postgraduate course is not really an easy thing. And often, when huge amounts of money change hands in the process of gaining admission to a course (and sometimes, even in the process of passing the exams to leave the same course!) there is a subconscious feeling that some payback is due. And so, every opportunity to make money is grabbed, often forgetting the greater issues at stake.

And what are these greater issues? In my mind (and as I say this I know there will be differences of opinion, for which I apologise!), the greatest issue that should engage the mind and heart of a medical professional is this - Is the purpose of spending so many years of my life in training to be a doctor just so that I can bank huge amounts of money and live a comfortable life? Or is there a greater purpose? Can I use the gift of my training and skills to change the lives of people who have nowhere else to go? There are many ways to do this. One is through groundbreaking research that will bring new knowledge into a particular disease process and its treatment. Another is by innovative utilisation of new technology that will bring diagnostic and therapeutic benefit in a particular field. These forms of medical involvement often call for skills and mental capability that are given only to few. Most of us have to find more of a 'mundane' way to utilise our skills and knowledge. And for most of us, that involves practice of medicine in the area we are trained in, to the best of our ability.

So here is the next question - where should I practice my skill? Am I like a commodity that is to be sold to the highest bidder? Or can I make a decision based on my understanding of where my services will be most worthwhile.... And work in an 'area of need'. Now, with the commercialisation of medicine and the huge investment being pumped into the health sector, new corporate hospitals are a dime a dozen. It is very easy to find a job that pays a 6-figure monthly salary as long as you have some basic skills and are good at public relations. But the problem with all our doctors clamouring for these jobs is that there are so few left to work where the need actually is. You see, the private hospitals cater mainly to the cream of our population. And they have all options open to them. It is the poor who have no options. And so very few doctors and health care systems in place to take care of them. Of course, our government health system is one of the best in the world on paper, but we all know that what is on paper is hardly what is the reality. And so, as is expected in a capitalistic society, the poor get marginalised even when it comes to health....

So that brings me back to the initial question - how much is a doctor worth? I guess, the figure is astronomical, considering the training and the effort involved. But that does not mean he or she needs to be paid as much. For the whole purpose of choosing to be make a difference means that something has to give somewhere. And the moment a doctor decides to work in a particular place without looking at the salary, his or her work takes on a new dimension. And the doctor will find the strange satisfaction that comes when our work is solely for the benefit of others and there are no strings attached. Of course, our needs have to be met, but in today's world, I do not think there is any place where the salary is so low that a doctor needs to struggle for existence. (As compared to the days when monthly packages were in the low 3-figures!).

So, my answer to the question - how much is a doctor is worth, is - priceless. But if you ask me how much he or she should be paid, my answer would be - it does not matter. So long as we are not begging for my daily bread, I believe there is great joy and satisfaction in knowing that our work is for a higher purpose than money. Of course, we may not have a mansion to live in, drive an expensive car or take holidays in the Bahamas. But our lives will begin to approach the abundance of joy that everyone erroneously seems to believe comes from huge amounts of money. Of course, money does bring many material things and with them, a form of happiness. And most of us are satisfied with this form of happiness, thus missing the even greater joy and satisfaction that can come when money is no longer in the picture. A joy that is independent of materialism. A satisfaction that is deeper than anything money can buy.

We need more people who can model this lifestyle for us right from our days in medical colleges. For in today's world, the majority of our doctors are seeking success solely from a monetary perspective. There is little or no interest in defining 'success' in any other way. And in this system, doctors will slowly lose their position of respect in society. For they become nothing more than vultures, seeking to profit from the suffering and (and sometimes, death) of others.......

(This is a rather long post, but, believe it or not, I have more to say on the subject!! Part 2 will follow sometime!!)

34 comments:

  1. But at the end its individual who can decide and say its enough not somebody else when it comes to money. we have no job or right to comment on someone's decision to work in a different set-up other than what you are working.There are first generation doctors unlike you who come from poorest communities of the society, who have to support siblings education and support manual labouring parents in old age. How can they do all this while working in a rural hospital which pays so less, with which he can barely live foget supporting anybody. So donot be judgemental.

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  2. Dear friend, if you are someone who is struggling to support his or her family, and have felt I was being judgemental towards you, my sincerest apologies - there was no judgement implied. As I mentioned, even most of the remote hospitals in India catering to the poor offer their doctors salaries that would allow for all the things you mentioned and then some, provided the lifestyle is not lavish. If you are interested in working in a rural hospital that pays better than some of the big, city hospitals, please email me and I will get you in touch with at least 5 of them. Or you could consider joining government service and getting a large salary along with perks to work in a CHC/PHC. The idea that rural hospitals, as you say, 'pay so less, with which he can barely live, forget supporting anybody' is outdated and I am sure the hospitals that follow this policy are few and far between (and probably dying out!). For that matter, there are few hospitals in every city too that cater mainly to the poor - those also could be an option. My point is that salary is used as a good excuse to escape from the realities that are hard to face up to. If you really want to serve the poor, there are enough places where you can do that as well as take care of your family.

    But the truth of the matter is that very, very few doctors come from the poorest communities. Most of us come from middle or upper class families. And, truth be told, the greater percentage of doctors that I know who actually come from poorer backgrounds do not choose the corporate lifestyle. Many of them go back to their own villages and towns to serve, some join the government and others a teaching hospital. The people who usually join the corporate sector where money is the determining factor are those who are middle or upper class from birth. This is what I have noticed from the doctors I know.

    So, friend, as I said in the beginning, if you are someone who is personally hurt by anything I have said, I sincerely apologise. But if you are merely using this argument to escape facing the reality, I must politely point out that there are many options to use your profession as a vocation that will not involve any sacrifice on your part except possibly the afore mentioned car and holiday!

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  3. Arpit, that was a great post. A doctor's worth is definitely priceless especially after undergoing the painful ordeal of biochemistry and pharmacology ;)
    I really appreciate the work and decication of all the doctors and friends from CMC who are serving at the grass root level. Every place of work, whether in India or in the US has its balances and imbalances with regards to finances, respect,tolerance,litigation etc. An Indian-Christian doctor from CMC will always have challenges adapting to any society where values and priorities are different from what is taught.[ It will be interesting to see if people agree!]. I believe that having a solid cultural and spiritual foundation will always guide us to the right decision. A doctor who has been given the blessing and opportunity of greater money,intellect,resources,etc can always give back to those who have been given the blessing and opportunity of direct service and pure gratitude from those in need-Indirect service through your own friends who you trust to be careful with what you give [and not be sceptical about funds that will "anyway go into someone's pocket"]. You cannot be 'less priceless' when what you do and can do is anyway 'priceless'!!

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  4. Arpit, that was a great post. A doctor's worth is definitely priceless especially after undergoing the painful ordeal of biochemistry and pharmacology ;)
    I really appreciate the work and decication of all the doctors and friends from CMC who are serving at the grass root level. Every place of work, whether in India or in the US has its balances and imbalances with regards to finances, respect,tolerance,litigation etc. An Indian-Christian doctor from CMC will always have challenges adapting to any society where values and priorities are different from what is taught.[ It will be interesting to see if people agree!]. I believe that having a solid cultural and spiritual foundation will always guide us to the right decision. A doctor who has been given the blessing and opportunity of greater money,intellect,resources,etc can always give back to those who have been given the blessing and opportunity of direct service and pure gratitude from those in need-Indirect service through your own friends who you trust to be careful with what you give [and not be sceptical about funds that will "anyway go into someone's pocket"]. You cannot be 'less priceless' when what you do and can do is anyway 'priceless'!!

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  5. I'm not a doctor, and I may not be qualified to comment on this post. However, having grown up in the community you quoted as an example, and seeing God's faithfulness and provision in our lives and in the lives of my friends, all I can say is this. Jehovah Jireh!
    when I was in 6th grade, my parents wanted to put me in a good Christian boarding school in Ooty as I was struggling with the Matriculation System. At that time, their combined earnings for a month about Rs3000!!! That school's fee was Rs.30,000 a year! They visited the school, loved it, but came back disappointed. I was disappointed too. They trusted God with my studies in the local school,and helped me the best they could. When I finished school, I got admitted into the college of my dreams, did my PG in a highly reputed institution and my 2nd job was at that very same school they wanted but couldn't have for me. When I look back, I can see that all the other children who grew up with me are in good places now. All following their dreams and living the life God wanted them to.

    When I go back home and see current doctors struggling with the poor teaching at the same school I studied in, and thinking of leaving on that account, I feel like shaking them up and saying "stop. look at us. listen to what God says. He says he will provide"

    I never thought my parents would be able to afford a nice wedding, and so for my engagement, i purposely chose a cheap sari. But then my parents showed me that God had enabled them to save even from the meager salary they earned! They may not have been 1st gen doctors, but neither of them came from families that owned land or money!

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  6. Thanks for those insights, Deepa. I think you of all people are most qualified to comment on this issue, coming from a family who has epitomised many of the things mentioned and whom we all look up to so much. What you and your family have lived out in your lives is what inspires so many of us to follow in whatever small way we can. We need more people who can say so clearly, 'Jehovah Jireh will provide.'

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  7. Arpit, have you considered the fact that a doctor who is single and unencumbered with the responsibilities of a family can afford to choose whether he wants to dedicate his life to community service/rural work/making lives better. I'm sure most of us at some stage of our lives, have some kind of desire - however small - to do something for the betterment of humanity but unfortunately, this is not practical for the majority. The salaries you speak of when providing this kind of service might be sufficient to sustain a doctor living solo, but add a non-working souse and a couple of children into the mix and the equation changes quite dramatically. It is no longer a case of "getting by" but rather, providing the best you possibly can for your family.

    Children do not choose to be born into this world and do not get to choose their parents. A doctor who opts to have kids for his/her own satisfaction has to ensure that he gives them the best he/she possibly can. If that means you give up a few of your ideals and work in a corporate setup so your child can have a better education and a better start in life, then that is absolutely the right thing to do. This does not equate to the concerned doctor being greedy - or maybe it does - but for the right reasons.

    I am religious, but not overly so. I cannot accept the fact that one can do the bare minimum and hope that "God will provide". God helps those who help themselves. So where does one draw the line and say "This is enough"? I guess that's not for you or me to say because there is no single answer. There are as many answers as there are doctors.

    Children are just one example of responsibility. Parents, unmarried siblings, loans, the spouse's family........... the list goes on......

    So how much is a doctor worth? - As much as his circumstances allow him to think he is worth.

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  8. Thank you for that measured and well-written comment. I do agree with you that each of us has to draw our own line. No one can tell me what is best for me, only I can decide that for myself. And no one can judge me for that decision, as what I decide is based upon my situation that no-one else can understand. So you are right, each of us has to decide what is best for us and for our family and do it.

    However, I have some disagreements with your other arguments. First of all, if I believe in God, then I have to accept He is all powerful. If I do not accept this, I do not believe in God. There are unfortunately no half-measures, only misguided people. And if I believe God is all powerful, then I have to believe He will provide for me. If I don't there is no real point in believing in God. The pages of history are rife with stories of people who have trusted God for everything and have lacked nothing.

    And if we leave God out of the picture, your argument that we should be selfish for the right reasons is what has brought our profession to its present morass. Unfortunately all of us believe this - no one is being selfish for personal gain, or at least there are very few. Most of us are just trying to get by and 'provide for our families.' So our world is full of people who are trying to survive in the best possible fashion and missing the opportunity to enjoy the fullness of life by serving others. To keep this short, I will quote the example of Baba Amte. He gave his life to the cause of the downtrodden. All his 3 children - 2 doctors and 1 engineer followed his footsteps. There are many more examples of parents who have chosen the road less travelled and whose children have been blessed because of it. I am one such person.

    Respected fellow traveler, you are obviously someone who has weighed these matters in your mind for some time. If, as you say, you have had a desire to do something for the betterment of humanity, can I suggest that you just do it. Not only will you never lack anything that you need, but you will be giving your children the greatest gift that a parent can give - the gift of God's blessings unencumbered by your striving. Which will be much greater than you can ever give them however hard you try.

    P.S. - as you have raised such important questions, I hope you will not mind if I discuss these in more detail in a coming post

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  9. P.S.2 - Please refer to the comment of Scatterbrain - she is someone who can vouch for the fact that life's greatest joys do not necessarily come from the depth of a parents' pockets.

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  10. A counterargument, if I may.

    I cannot accept your point that belief in God is an all-or-none scenario. Yes, God is all powerful, but that does not mean he is going to plan your life out for you. Unfortunately, the big man above has 7 billion humans to look after, each of whom are just as important as you or me. Include other living things and we are talking about gazillions of His subjects that He is responsible for. Sitting back and relaxing while we wait for Him to do his magic isn't my idea of religiousness. Like I said above, God helps those who help themselves. Success is supposedly 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration - the 99% comes from us and the 1% inspiration is where God's responsibility lies.

    You say - "The pages of history are rife with stories of people who have trusted God for everything and have lacked nothing." I say - the pages of life are rife with stories of people who trusted God and still suffered for it with sickness, starvation and death. Try and deny that if you can. In fact, these are the very people that form the foundation of this discussion - the people that we as doctors should be trying to help by giving up some of the creature comforts that we so enjoy.

    Whilst we are on this topic, can you honestly say that every person who truly believes in God is good and kind and that God will/should look after him? I know honest, kind-hearted people who don't bother to go to church/temples. That might make them bad Christians/Hindus but by no means does it make them bad human beings. On the other hand, you find corrupt politicians visiting various temples praying all the time - do these people deserve God's blessing just because they put in the time and believe in Him? I think not! Anecdotal evidence of people succeeding in spite of sacrifice is all fine and dandy but that is not a true representation of life's reality. For every Scatterbrain that succeeded in life, there are thousands of others who didn't. In fact it is only those success stories that we hear about as the people who don't succeed most likely don't know what a blog is and might not even have heard about the internet, so you won't find them posting their experiences here.

    Thanks for suggesting that I go ahead and do what I want to to serve my fellow human beings. I definitely plan to - but first, I will make sure my children are well provided for so that if God is busy elsewhere, my children won't be adversely affected by their dad's idiosyncrasies. After all, life is long enough for the two not to be mutually exclusive.

    Sorry if this post has drifted off topic. I just wanted to put in my 2 cents worth - or maybe it's now 4 cents with the 2 posts ;-)

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    1. God would not like to give us anything which we would not be happy with. He made water because the duck loves to swim. And so it is with everyone." I am totally in love with what I do" is what even God wants to hear. :)

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  11. Hey! Your post is certainly worth a lot more than 4 cents! And I apologise for the long delay in replying. Somehow, I feel that us humans tend to make God in our own image and hence we don't believe He can do what He claims He can. The decision how much we decide to trust God has to be our own. I believe if we trust God more, He is able to bless us more than we can arrange or contrive for ourselves. This is the story of all great men of God. The rest of us may have happy and successful lives, but we will never know the greatness of God unless we give Him the opening. He is only knocking at the door of our heart - we have to open it. There is no forced entry.

    Now once we trust God, there is no guarantee that life will be peaceful. In fact, as you mentioned, going by the history books, it is likely that our lives will have more problems than otherwise. Why, even the 12 apostles all were tortured and then martyred for their faith. So life with God is not going to be easy. But the promise is that it will be full. And there will be peace that passes understanding, despite the circumstances that will be our measure.

    Success is measured in 2 ways. In the eyes of the world success is measured in a totally different yardstick than in the eyes of God. I hope I will be able to give up the success that the world offers to find the success that God brings. If I can do that, my life will be worthwhile.

    Now I could decide to spend the first (and most productive) years of my working life going for earthly success and then next part going for heavenly success. But my heart tells me that I should make a more risky choice right now, which may or may not pay off. But then, I feel the greatest faith is that showed by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when the stood before King Nebuchadnezzer. We will not bow down to the statue, they said, even if God does not save us from the furnace. While I am still nowhere near this level of faith, it is my ultimate goal. And so far, whenever I have taken steps of faith, I have never ever found God's power and blessing lacking.

    So I think that is the crux of the matter. I can never explain to you how an apple tastes unless you have tasted it yourself. In our walk with God this holds true. I can tell you how it is in my life, but you have to taste for yourself and see that God is good. So take the plunge. I can promise you that you will not regret it. I know of no one who has.

    I look forward to hearing more from you on this.

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  12. We do indeed imagine God in our our image! So much so that the feminists among us may ask why God is considered to be a He and not a She? And fair play to them, that is a perfectly valid question.

    I'm afraid the focus of this discussion has turned from the rapacity and avarice of doctors to the topic of religion. But AJM, since you and I are the only ones discussing this thread at the moment, I'll carry on with this subject. Let me clarify that I am not trying to be contrarious for the sake of doing so - although I do love a healthy argument as long as it remains civil.

    As I have mentioned above somewhere, I definitely believe in God, although I am nowhere near as religious as you, or dedicated for that matter. You won't find me chanting hymns once a week or praying 5 times a day, although I do make it a point to speak to my maker at least once a day. Looking at your regular followers, I must say that I feel like I'm the odd one out - the black sheep in this family. Some may find the things I say sacrilegious but I must maintain that these are wholly my personal opinions and are not meant to offend or influence anybody.

    You spoke of the 12 apostles being tortured and martyred. Great as I admit they are, they are no greater than the countless other poor souls who gave up their lives for what they believed in - namely, their religion. But tell me AJM, how many of these people can you name? Twenty? Thirty? Why not all of them? Because they were unfortunate in that their lives and deaths went unnoticed and they weren't mentioned in the Bible? Is that what makes sacrifice worthwhile? Not martyrdom, surely, but the popularity of your martyrdom. That seems to be the difference between a great man and an unknown, not the degree of your faith.

    History has shown us that religion is the greatest killer there is. And that is still the case today. It has always been a case of "My religion is greater than your religion". And people are willing to kill for it and die for it. Millions have died and millions more will, all in the name of God. Be it the Holy wars, the Crusades, the Inquisition and modern day religious terrorism. Sorry to say (and this won't go down well), the Holy See has been responsible for more deaths than any other organisation in history. While the Vatican is quite at peace now, this has only been the case for the last 200 years or so. And now disgruntled and misinformed Islamists have taken over the mantle.

    Not for a minute am I suggesting that God is responsible for all this. I'm afraid it's his faithful follower who is. Humankind does not know where to draw the line, and so it pushes its boundaries. You may wonder why I'm saying all this - the reason is that I believe that religion in moderation is good. Take it further and it is a form of extremism. Not necessarily the weapon carrying kind, but extremism all the same.

    Being a man of science, I have to make a little space for Darwinism in my life. Unfortunately, religion and science have not seen eye to eye for the last two thousand years and although an uneasy truce has now been declared, it is more a case of "You ignore the holes in my theories and I'll ignore yours". I, personally, need both and have accommodated both in somewhat unequal measure. You as a doctor will have as well but to a different degree.

    An apple tastes the same to me as it does to you. Thanks to God's magic (or would that be evolution?!?), our taste buds enable us to feel the same taste. Our beliefs in God, on the other hand, do differ.


    - The Black Mamba (just so you know who I am, for continuity)

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  13. Hi Black Mamba! Thanks for providing a name - an interesting one at that! Your comments are full of things to think about and in fact, answering your comment takes more effort and thought than writing another post! Which is my excuse for the long delay in replying - apologies for that! As for it being just the 2 of us, I guess these things are not often particularly 'popular' thoughts - most people prefer to push these things under the carpet because as they are taken to greater and greater depth, there is a danger of major thought and life upheaval! So I hope we can continue this discussion and see where it leads - it has certainly been eye-opening for me.

    Now as to your assertion that you are not so 'religious' as someone else, I would ask you to clarify further. In our culture, we have made 'religion' as the goal-standard for assessing our spiritual life. But I totally disagree with that. For me, 'Christianity' is a confusing word. I would call myself a Christian not because I go to church or sit in the first row(which I don't generally!!) or do all the activities that have come to define a 'religious' person. I am a Christian because I have a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is certainly a very fledgeling one and full of major difficulties, but it is the complete essence of my faith. So though you may not see me in church and though you may notice all the faults and sins that I carry as a human being, I am on a path of transformation that is only possible because of my relationship with a real person called Jesus Christ. All that I think and a lot of what is put down here come from things that occur to me as a result of that relationship. So I am no more 'religious' than the next guy - I just make it a priority to build this relationship and am amazed at how it has begun to transform my life. If I had read some of the stuff I am writing when I was in college, I would have thought that the writer was some pretentious Holy Joe (or White Mafia) as we used to call it then!!

    So with regard to 'religiosity', I feel that those of us who can look beyond the general perception of the church and organised religion and see that it is all about relationship will find our lives beginning to make some sense after all. Otherwise, we will find it difficult to make our inside and outside tally. I hope you understand what I mean. The first step is what you have said - believing. The next one is building the relationship - and you are in fact doing better than me if you are able to speak to the Maker at least once a day. I must confess, I sometimes (though it is now rare) miss that opportunity. And as for being sacrilegious, I think that for an intellectual, it is often by asking 'sacrilegious' questions and then seeking the answer for them in the Bible and by waiting on God, that our faith is strengthened. In fact, the whole science of 'Apologetics' is based on this principle! Your questions allow me to think for myself and find the answers that strengthen my own faith. So feel free - God loves a sincere searcher. Ask Nicodemus. And the rich young ruler.

    (more in the next comment - this space was too small!)

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  14. (continued)
    I think you misunderstood my example of the apostles. I quoted them to say that even the so-called 'greatest' Christians did not have 'success' in human terms. Rather they had death. So humble, ordinary Christians should ask for no better. The hundreds of people who have given their lives for their faith are all written in the book of life and their reward will be great for sure. For us ordinary people, we need to remember that we have never been promised 'success' or a 'cushy life' on earth. The more we seek to serve Him, the more chance we will face difficulties. But through those difficulties we will have fullness of life, peace that passes understanding and overflowing joy. I hope I am clearer now.

    Regarding the crimes of Christians through the years, I believe it was because we did not understand that belief in God is only the first step. If our religious leaders had spent their lives in deepening this relationship rather than in building their earthly kingdoms, the history of the world would be different. It is for us to learn from those mistakes and chose correctly. Otherwise we will be just like them in our own small way.

    I feel that the extremism you are talking about is the wrong type. We certainly need to be extremists - extremists in following Jesus Christ. So we should be extreme in love, extreme in charity, extreme in sacrifice. If the church had more extremists, this world would be a better place.

    As to evolution and Darwinism, well, that's a whole new discussion topic and I guess we will keep it for a rainy day. There are a few thoughts on this matter already on the blog and in the comments. But there is a huge deal to discuss if we go into the details. Nuf Sed for now.

    Your ending point was great - turned my argument right back on me! But my suggestion is, take bigger and bigger bites of the apple. It is only by tasting more and more of His goodness and reality that we can move further in our relationship with Him. If we just take a few small nips at it, we may never reach the understanding that we could have otherwise.

    Look forward to your thoughts. Thanks for making me think and keeping me honest! Arpit

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  15. Again, you are right in that this is an uncomfortable discussion for most. Belief amongst the religious is for the most part, blind faith. Their principles are set in stone and most people are unwilling to listen to an opinion that contradicts their own convictions. I must thank you for bothering to do so and for humouring me. In my case, I don't think this is going to cause any major upheavals as I am quite secure in my relationship with God and know exactly where I stand.

    You say you are a Christian because you have a relationship with Jesus. But then, doesn't everybody (atheists and agnostics excepted)? Of course, the degree of attachment varies. To some, He may be a passing acquaintance, to others He may be their best friend. I have a relationship with Jesus - and I wasn't even born a Christian! I still pray to Jesus when I can and occasionally even go to church. To me, there is only one God and it doesn't matter what His name is. So much so that when I pray every morning, I have a little chat with Him and during the course of this discussion, I address him as 'God'. Not Ram, Jesus, Allah or any of the numerous other names we have for him, just God.

    Since you are so punctilious in following the Bible, I guess I can ask you this question that has often bothered me. Do we even know who actually wrote the books of the Bible? The Old Testament was written before the times of Jesus and has more in common with the teachings of Judaism, so let's leave that out. Is there actually any evidence to suggest that the apostles really had anything to do with the writing of the books of the New Testament? It is merely a collection of written works of unknown provenance that was carefully handpicked by those that had vested interests in the creation of the religion of Christianity. As a matter of fact, Christianity as an organised religion only came about at the time of the first council of Nicaea in 325 AD. This was about the time the four Canonical Gospels were selected from hundreds of gospels and who is to say what their criteria for selection were? I would say there was major bias involved here.

    This means that over 300 years had passed by the time these written works were accepted into Christianity. If you have ever played Chinese whispers as a child, you will know that it only takes 10 people 10 minutes to completely distort a single sentence into something that has very little resemblance to the original. When I've done a Viva exam and realise soon after that I have made a blunder, I keep thinking about it for the next few hours until the fear of failure finally manages to convince me that what I said was actually somewhat different and it isn't so bad anymore. That may just be me, but there you go. The point here is that 300 years of history would have enabled a significant distortion of reality with the end result that what ended up being written might have nothing to do with what Jesus said. I have no evidence to substantiate this but then you don't have any evidence to contradict it either.

    There are probably factual errors in my knowledge of history, so please feel free to correct me if that is the case (correct the facts, that is, not conjecture since your conjecture is only as good as mine - lol).

    Continued in the next post (due to lack of space).........

    - The Black Mamba

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  16. Continued from last post...........


    What I'm trying to say is that the Bible might not have all the answers. I hate it when people quote scripture (of any faith), as if that is supposed to give me the answers to my problems. A little bit of common sense goes a long way in doing this, and as long as you use the holy books as a guide, you should be ok.

    I only use Christianity as an example. The Bhagavad Gita is supposedly the spoken word of Krishna and was written between 3000 and 10000 BC (depending on who you want to believe) during the period of the Mahabharata. Now, is this fact or mythology? There is no hard evidence that Krishna ever lived or that the Mahabharata ever happened. But there is no denying that the Gita exists and that it says a great many cerebral (and outdated) things.

    These holy books were not written by God, they were written by men. Men who decided that this is how God meant these things - from a very subjective viewpoint. The Quran does not preach violence, but man interprets it otherwise. Extremist Islamists substantiate their stand by saying that the Quran authorises what they do. No it doesn't! All a matter of interpretation, which is why all of the teachings have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

    You say that the crimes of the Church through the ages is because of a lack of understanding of how to develop our relationship with God. If it hasn't happened in 40,000 years of human history, what makes you think it will improve now? What is the right way - your way? Or mine? At every stage of religious development, we have thought that we were doing it the right way. Time will prove that what we think today is considered wrong tomorrow. Doesn't the Book of Revelation say that we are getting worse in our relationship with God and that the apocalypse is supposed to straighten us out? Or do you not believe in that? ;-)

    Want to write more but this post has become longer than before (in spite of me promising to behave). I feel like I'm hijacking your blog - sorry. ;-(

    Also, apologies for any limitations in my knowledge of Christianity. I'm not a Christian, so hopefully God will forgive me for any errors. Or maybe I should read the Bible to atone for my sins ;-)


    - The Black Mamba

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  17. Hey! Please stop apologising!! This blog is just a small personal thing and there's no question of hijacking it!! In fact, I am really enjoying this discussion and I look forward to your comments when they come. It is rare to be able to conduct discussions of this nature in the measured and refined way you have adhered to. I guess, the medium makes it easier! Your last few points are received into my brain and the cogitation has begun. Once some clarity appears I will reply! And once again, please feel free to write all you feel like - after all, this is the blogosphere, it's free for all! I hold very little ownership to this small space on the world wide web.

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  18. Absolutely - it IS the medium that keeps this discussion cordial. It ensures that we take turns to give our point of view, we don't talk over each other and don't get into a fight about things we feel strongly about. Also, it allows us to think before we speak.

    I look forward to your reply.

    - The Black Mamba

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  19. Hi! This discussion is an easier one to handle than the abortion one as there are so many passionate issues involved there! Now, regarding your opinion that the Bible as we know it may have been put in place by vested interests, I would say that it is certainly possible. But in the same breath, let me say that I believe that God would have moved even in the hearts of wicked people to bring His will to pass though they may not have known it. As Joseph tells his brothers, you intended this for evil but God turned it out for good (paraphrased).

    But I must also say, that the word of God makes sense only to those who read it with the understanding that comes from God. If our lives are filled with the things of God, then the more we read, the more we are enlightened in His ways. If it is just by rote or as a routine, it will not make sense. My father used to always ask me - have you read the Bible today. And if I said yes, he would say, has the Bible read you! I could never understand it then, but now it makes sense. Unless there is a reading of the self made possible by enlightenment from God's word there is no real purpose in reading. Each of us has the opportunity - very few take it. I am not one who takes it regularly, but when I do, I am blessed. The challenge for us (and I come back to the same thins again) is to build our relationship with our maker. This involves hard work and some 'sacrifice' on our part. But it is well worth it. I wish I could point to myself as one who is building my relationship to the extent where my life constantly displays the truth of God. But that is unfortunately not the case. And so, we have hundreds of believers (of all faiths) who fool themselves into a false assurance of their faith. And hence we have a world that remains imperfect. If only there were more true followers.

    The thing is, once we decide that there is a God, then it logically follows that we need to make it our primary goal to get to know Him better. The Scripture is one way, but only by a personal relationship does this take place to the fullest extent. I may be wrong, but as far as I know, in most religions, God is so far above us that we cannot imagine a personal relationship with Him. But Jesus made this relationship possible by His incarnation on earth. The veil separating God and man was torn and we had the opportunity that we did not have before as sinful beings. To know God on a personal basis (in a very small way - given that we are small human beings). So whatever I can do to build this relationship, I must - and reading Scripture is one of the ways. If I do believe in GOd but do not prioritise Him in my life, I am fooling myself.

    Sorry this is a little rambling - I need to leave now and don't know if I will get a chance to answer later! Hope you can understand what I am saying.

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  20. P.S. I have not commented on the other scriptures as my knowledge on their history is not very strong. I have read the Quran and some parts of the Gita, but I did not find anything there that gave me as much freedom to approach God as did the way of the Cross

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  21. wow - looks like AJM and BM have exchanged a book between you two!

    For one milisecond I even wondered whether AJM was writing as an alter-ego - but the debate clearly is sharp (and congrats to both very civil - a rarity I guess).

    Just to say - Jesus Christ hears us when we pray to Him. I have experienced this in my life. I have seen it in the amazing lives of my parents (just like AJM has seen it in the amazing lives of his parents) - and Deepa has seen it in hers.

    If I can just say a small statement: I have had the joy and privilege of studying in a wide variety of institutions - in our dear country of Bharat and abroad - and have friends who are beggars and kings (ok just super rich). The happiest ones - the most real and down-to-earth content ones - are the ones who are sold-out followers of Jesus.

    AJM is one of them.

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  22. My parents have repeatedly made decisions that most of their contemporaries found foolish - but we as their children are so grateful for the courageous and sacrificial lives they lived. There was the occasional time when I wished my parents were more 'normal' but those were few and far between - and are totally washed away in the light of the legacy of what they have achieved by investing their lives in others - since they were quite young.

    And - here is the kicker - though they never coveted such a situation - today they live in a stunningly beautiful place (for just a small taste take a peek at: http://andi-sheba.blogspot.com/2010/03/hospitality.html). We can see so clearly Jesus words lived out in their lives - "Seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you."

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  23. Andi, the biggest compliment you could have paid me is to think (even if it was only for a millisecond) that I could have been AJM's alter ego. I'm afraid I just don't have the writing skills or the imagination that AJM has, hence why I restrict myself to commenting on his blog rather than having one of my own.

    AJM, I think this thread has drawn to its logical conclusion. I must say I greatly enjoyed this argument. However, "You can describe the world in all its glory to a blind man, yet all he sees is darkness" (a proverb that I thought up 2 minutes ago. Pats himself on back). Neither of us is going to change our opinions just because the other says so but it was nice to look at things from a different perspective.

    I'm afraid I'm also keeping you from making new posts since you spend so much time replying to my comments. I'd like to see more of what you have to say and there will be other days, other conversations. I look forward to those.

    To paraphrase one of your posters on another thread - "Religion is not for me. God maybe, but not religion". In my case, "God definitely, but not religion".

    - The Black Mamba

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  24. TBM - you have certainly piqued my curiosity (and Amy's!) as to your true identity! From what I know so far, I am looking for an old friend in the Delhi vicinity who works on a Mac - that narrows down things a lot!! Have enjoyed the discussion and like you said elsewhere it has been truly like iron sharpening iron. Look forward to more of this in the future and would love to get to discuss these things with you in greater detail personally - even if the thrill of suspens is then lost! How bout a trip to Shillong?!!

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  25. Happy hunting! Looks like you're almost there.

    I would love to make it to Shillong and visit you guys. Will try to as soon as I possibly can.

    Speaking of Amy, my love to her. Why don't you get your lovely better half to post here every now and then (maybe once a week) and by that, I don't mean you acting as her scribe. After all, this blog does have her name listed first on the title. I'm looking forward to hearing her thoughts.

    - The Black Mamba

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  26. Read the post and comments in awe. Call me cynical - everyone does things to benefit themselves - be it gain more money / fame / etc etc / look better in the eyes of god. The hunger within each one is different - we satisfy the hunger with "food" that fulfills us. At the end of the day, we all want to go to heaven - we all may just take a different route. No route is any better / worse than the other.

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  27. Hi there Black Mamba!!! This is the wife speakin! :) Well unlike my dear husband, I'm terrible at writing! I'm constantly amazed at how writing comes so easily to Arpit... and i must complement u on ur talent for debating! i thoroughly enjoy the exchanges between the both of u. I don think i could come up with anything half as interesting as wats on the blog... AND i'm terrified of debates ! :) So i'm sorry TBM.. i may not be writing here at all (much less once a week!!)..My names on the title cuz i'm woken up almost every other night to screen the posts before they're published!! :)Yeah but u never know... I might start writing sometime :) (Arpit's always telling me to write!) Thanx for the encouragement anyway... and do think bout dropping in sometime! :)- Love, the wife.

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  28. Dear Amy, while your humility is endearing, I'm sure you are a much better writer than you let on. After all, I know AJM quite well and I'm pretty sure he married you for more than just your good looks and your culinary skills. :)

    I'm amazed that you react so calmly to being woken up in the middle of the night. My other half would throw me out of bed after having bitten off my head and chewed on it first. I would love to see if you still react the same way after you two have kids. When AJM wakes you after you've already been woken up a half dozen times by the children, there is only one way that scene is going to pan out.

    So please do write. I can guarantee that you will definitely have at least one loyal follower. And I promise not to be difficult. I won't give you any trouble at all - scout's honour.

    I will definitely drop in as soon as the opportunity arises. Or maybe you guys can visit me in Delhi ;) (Wink, wink).

    - The Black Mamba

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  29. P.S. And when you do visit me, AJM and I can play with my Mac (Wink, wink again).

    Gosh, my eye is hurting from all that winking. ;)

    - The Black Mamba

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  30. Hey TBM, this is Arpit - remember the famous conversation between Bilbo and the dragon in Tolkein's 'The Hobbit'? This is becoming a little like that! But beware, you just may let slip something that you may regret later!! And btw, I think Chrome is a much better browser than Firefox!

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  31. Believe me AJM, I am very aware of what I write and that any one of my statements could give the game away. But that is exactly where the entertainment lies, don't you think? As a matter of fact, I have quite voluntarily let slip quite a bit already. Mind you, a few of those might just be red herrings. Time for a forage, eh?

    By the way, a word of advice - don't trust everything your friend Sitemeter tells you....... He lies!

    - The Black Mamba

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  32. Nice to have read your post. I am sorry that i have not read the other comments due to lack of time. I feel there are two major types of callings. One is to go out to a mission hospital and be a missionary of that sort( Paul Brand type). The second would be to be at the top( Ben Carson of John Hopkins type). Both boil down to the fact, of the influence that each can make to the community. Who knows? If there is a chance that a doctor in a tertiary care should be actually in a rural setting why not the other way and be the person God wants Him to be? By the way this is more or less a doubt than a statement.:) I don't consider this to be a valid excuse or to make people who are up in worthy positions stay there.

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