So you don’t believe in any gods? Well neither do I. In fact the day I realised that there were no gods, I probably lost a great deal more of them than most other atheists, you see I am an ex-hindu. An atheist of a million denied gods and denier not of the original sin but of the Age of Kali. Hinduism is the religion I don’t believe in.
Hinduism claims that we live in the last age of the world. The Kali Yuga. Gone are honour and magic from the world. The grace of men has been lost leaving the world with more villains than heroes. It is the end of days and the fading of the asur… It is the twilight of the gods and of mankind. That the cruelty and injustice in the world exist due to the end being near and the breakdown of the mechanisms of dharma and karma.
I am a British medical student, ethnically Indian from the fair city of Manchester. City of football and Oasis. I do study in India and for me it is rather weird. I am expected to follow all these traditions solely because people expect it from someone who is brown. I am in the same boat as Hemant Mehta (the Friendly Atheist); both of us don’t really come from religious backgrounds that treat atheists as badly as the Abrahamic faiths. See Hindu gods are weird compared to the Abrahamic gods that we all know and love (or hate) so intimately. Islam, Christianity and Judaism are all essentially born out of the same original belief and so are familiar to us. The Ten Commandments, the bearded messiahs, the desert, misogyny, hate masquerading as love. Hinduism is different, it is old and primal, it is a religion of sex, drugs and magic while at the same time influenced heavily by Victorian culture which revels in the excesses and in ideas such as purity and women on pedestals. Hinduism is a contemporary of faiths such as the Greek and Roman ones. People who worshipped Ra were around at the same time as people who worshipped Rudra (a version of Shiva). It is ancient, and the most people know about it is that it has a million gods and you aren’t allowed to eat cows. A few people go further and may know something about the caste system and may even bring up Sati. It is a bipolar religion, the lack of a solid structure to Hinduism means that you don’t quite know how Hindus will respond, mainly because Hinduism is huge. Most of its followers do not have a holy book to read unlike the Bible or the Koran instead passing on practice by word of mouth. For instance the effect of missionaries on my grandmother means that she has a small picture of Jesus next to Krishna much to the chagrin of various christians who seek to stamp out the practice. Indeed in some churches like the one at St. Thomas Mount (St. Thomas the Apostle died and was buried in India. Christianity and Judaism in India certainly predate the arrival of post medieval Europeans.)
Hinduism’s followers used to be told (much like the Catholic Church) what to do by the priest caste. It still is. Few Hindus have read the Vedas and Upanishads, most cannot read Sanskrit which is the language of faith much like Latin is to the Church. The Bhagavad Gita is more of an extra chapter of the Mahabaratha (an epic) and not a book like the bible. Though it is well read due to its themes of duty and loyalty and honour, it is however not as important in the grand scheme of hindu literature. There is no Hindu pope and there is no central authority, thus creating wild variations of faith.
The Hindu gods are admittedly a tad more fun. There are jolly little gods such as Hanuman and Ganesh, there are trickster gods such as Krishna, there are wise old men such as Brahma, warriors such as Durga and Rama and monsters such as Kali. They make for a great ensemble cast of a soap opera with drama and love and fights between the myriad of gods, the devas and their enemies the asura. But this is forgetting the cost of their worship has included everything from human sacrifice (A practice that occasionally rears its ugly head in rural parts of India, but thankfully rare), Sati (the encouragement of widows to cremate themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre, also thankfully rare) and the caste system which is not. Hinduism was a lot more tolerant of other religion but it does have a mean streak underlying its beliefs especially against Islam mainly owing to the history of the two religions and not any underlying issue with the beliefs. The caste system, the sexism and the religious intolerance are what drove me to atheism. The cultural uptake of Victorian ideals drives this. The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate. God made them, high or lowly; and ordered their estate!
The caste system is not dead, it’s digital now. Even matrimony websites (Indians are like the kings of online dating/marriage) still order according to caste and creed. It is necessary for everything and dictates for most Hindus what you do from birth to death. All attempts to shatter it are met with the attitude of “in your right place”. Should I date the daughter of a Brahmin, I would be ostracised by her family should she still follow the caste system. Many still do. The person that I am means nothing to what my caste is. Many people still believe in astrology and the like (I wish I had a camera so i can photograph all the massive astrology SHOPS that literally decide on the future of marriages and indeed of human beings based on the notion that the stars and planets affect our personal lives beyond the tides and sleep patterns). Hinduism also has a practice called the Purdah which encourages women to hide away and not show themselves in public. It fits right in with the Victorian morals that India and indeed many Hindus have. And finally is the violence that Hindus are well and truly capable of. The antics of Bal Thackeray and the various Saffron Terror groups are not that well-known outside Hindu circles. Many Hindus treat them as protectors of the faith against the rise of Islamic terror groups and conversions by Christianity which often has been involved in direct attacks on Hinduism. Hindus don’t see conversion as acceptable, one comes to Hinduism voluntarily and by choice and not by compulsion so Christian mission groups often rub Hindu groups the wrong way due to their conversion efforts.
Our story begins when I was 7. A massive Hindu riot occurred in India killing thousands of Muslims. The reason being? In the 15th century when the Mughals first invaded India, they sacked a town called Ayodhya allegedly burning a temple to the ground. The temple was meant to mark the site where Rama, the avatar of Vishnu was born. In its place a mosque called the Babri Masjid was built. It’s the equivalent of burning down the Kaaba or Jerusalem or Bethlehem.
The mob was driven by their leaders to violence and destroyed the mosque with anything that came to hand. They literally pulled it apart with nothing more than pickaxes and brute human force. In their frenzy they attacked and murdered Muslims all across the north resulting in counter riots and revenge attacks. Muslims were killed by mobs of hindus and Hindus were killed by mobs of Muslims. Trains full of hindu pilgrims were often locked and set on fire. It was madness and violence over whose imaginary friends were better.
It was my first step towards denying faith. In traditional fashion my family would quietly state that those weren’t real Hindus, they were uneducated and poor, that they were taken in by the promises of their leaders or were just out for mischief (if you can call murder and rape mischief). But they also believed that there should be a Rama temple. Many Hindus did. They didn’t see it as property destruction followed by looting, murder and rape; they saw it as the unfortunate behaviour of people who couldn’t wait to get what was rightfully theirs. To them a real Hindu would have waited and not acted out so aggressively. Anti-Muslim/Anti-hindu sentiment has a long history in Hinduism and the history of India. And this brought it to a boil. Neighbours killed neighbours. For every muslim who died a hindu would too.
In India Hindus and Muslims slaughtered each other in giant riots during the partition and the India/Pakistan divide was along the basis of faith. The largest riots in history caused the deaths of a million people at the very least. The post independence rioting has a death toll on par with the killing fields of Cambodia. That’s a lot of cultural hatred between the two groups.
Babri Masjid became a rallying cry for the Hindu right-wing movement to rise. Saffron Terror as it’s called in India, a far cry from the genteel Hinduism I was familiar with from the UK. I finally went on a pilgrimage to the Rama temple that housed the idols that were meant to go on the new temple that was to replace the Babri Masjid. I was searched twice and was not allowed to wear any electronic items for fear of Islamic reprisal. You then queue in chanting lines for hours before finally getting to the idol and all you are greeted with is a doll that looked like it had been thrown together by a kindergartener. Maybe the aesthete was lost on me after the large bronze and granite idols of my south indian heritage, but to me it was something put together by kindergarten arts and crafts.People had fought, killed and died for something that looked like it was constructed as a South Park character. I could have done better than that!
I was 15 and was surrounded by adults who honestly thought that this doll should be kept at a specific place. That these adults condoned the killing of human beings if not outright, but by their silence, so that this doll could take its place a few kilometers away. That these people were so blinded by their faith that they could ignore the fact that they were being herded like bleating sheep and being fleeced of money by a faith they didn’t understand. It stopped making sense and I quietly stopped praying and stopped really after the rules of Hinduism that were silly (Basically? I started eating beef. Hinduism’s situation morality is pretty much what we use today anyways since it is less a divine code and more a human one.). Ultimately Hindus and Muslims butchered each other when I was seven over a palace for a doll. The entire thing just seemed so childish a reason to hate someone and for a long while I was astounded that no one else said “Wait a Minute, This is Stupid.”
It slowly became more and more clear to me, every faith was like this. The Christians excused their behaviour through Christ, Muslims through Allah, Jews through Jehovah. Every religion utilised their faith as an excuse for their behaviour. That it was all so unnecessary. I suppose I was a sceptical child, my parents encouraged me to be good at science and didn’t really force me to follow religion staunchly. We didn’t fast or really strictly adhere to faith so it made giving it up easier. My parents still make statements about how they are praying for me but that’s out of concern (Hindu gods are a lot more fun-loving than the dour god of Abraham. Even Kali is known to have a sense of humour while Shiva is a genial and loving destroyer, a kind of hedonistic party god and not the no sex, no booze, no fun Jehovah). I still take part in the social aspect of faith, standing with family when they pray but not actually praying. Sure I avoid temples but slowly my family actually saw the wisdom of some of the things I believed in and they even do some of the things I do instead. I prefer donating time and money to charity than to the priests, and my family as a whole adopted this practice. It makes you feel just as good as praying but you would have genuinely achieved something.
I wouldn’t be lying when I said that I get the same feeling I got from religion when I do charity work. Then again I feel that same thrill when watching football or rugby in a stadium. This says a lot about the nature of faith and why people feel that sense of euphoria. It’s nothing more than the feeling that you are genuinely doing well in the world (even if you are not) mixed with the feeling of euphoria brought about by being part of something big. Be it singing a hymn in church or singing Blue Moon on the terraces (I am from Manchester… Manchester City is who I support. British readers will suggest that’s the reason for my cynical nature…), the feeling you get the same feeling of euphoria.
Humans don’t need religion; we are inherently capable of utter good and utter evil by choice of our actions. Religion just takes the perception of this choice out of our hands. The lack of responsibility means we listen to someone else about what we should do, that we simply become like sheep that follow what the shepherd tells you. Hinduism may value education and knowledge as something productive but the real words in the bible are that the faithful are a flock of sheep. That god is a shepherd. And sheep are stupid. Remember the deadliest thing to the Abrahamic faith was not the power of the atom or the forces of nature, but knowledge.
The world is filled with wonders enough without having to invoke a god. I speak through a box made out sand and metal powered by tame lightning to people halfway across the globe! Should I choose to I can hurtle through the air to meet any of the readers here faster than any bird in a metal tube powered by burning monsters! We can travel the fastest, the furthest, the highest, and the deepest. We even touched the moon and we still have more to achieve. And God? God is just too small to fit on this planet let alone in this universe. Humanity has outgrown our security blanket and our invisible friends. The gods are too small for mankind.