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Why I am an atheist – Samyogita Hardikar

Up till I was 19 I had been dwelling into the murky waters of faith, mainly switching between a haphazard belief in some sort of higher power if not god per se and agnosticism of the ‘If there had been a god, then surely he wouldn’t have allowed all this cruelty and suffering?’ persuasion. Now I really don’t think there is a god. The reasons are many and most of them are obvious to and shared by most other atheists: no real evidence for the existence of god/ gods, a respect for and inclination towards a humanitarian and human-centric idea of morality, too many vulgar disputes amongst the believers themselves about who exactly this ‘one true god’ person that they all keep banging on about might be, to name a few of the top ones. But I vividly remember the moment I started thinking of myself as an out-and-out atheist and it wasn’t any kind of anger or frustration or hardcore empirical analysis that made it happen. It happened when I heard Douglas Adams speculating about the origin of god.

He says that the idea of god probably came into existence because after looking about and seeing what a well oiled machine this world was, we humans made the foolish mistake of asking the most ridiculous, naive and treacherous question: ‘So who made this then?’ ‘This’ being the world, of course. ‘Someone must’ve made it, you know? Like we make stuff?’
And from there we just went on improvising and thinking that since we’re the only ones who ever actually make anything, it must’ve been someone very like us, much more sizable and capable than us, and much more invisible, obviously.

I completely buy that theory and it may seem trivial but if we are to move on from all this violence and disharmony that happens in the name of god, we have to see the whole notion for the triviality that it is. Let’s not- for a moment- try to answer that absurd question with the first thing that comes to your mind and we’ll be fine.

To put forth a simple if slightly cheap analogy, the idea of god is a bit like non-degradable plastic. It’s man-made. It’s not found in nature. It was created by throwing a whole bunch of random stuff together. It’s a relatively recent invention considering how long we’ve been around and even if it may look like it at first glance, our lives do not depend on it. It’s a quick, immediate gratification based solution for an eternal problem which is why it’s dangerous. It seemed like a very good idea at the beginning and most people still think it’s pretty handy but now that we have it, we don’t seem to be able to get rid of it and it’s all beginning to get a bit out of hand. And lastly, living things are suffering and dying horrible deaths because of it. Atheism on the other hand is way more ego-friendly.

Samyogita Hardikar
India

Comments

  1. jo1storm says

    Awesome post. I wish my story was that interesting. Alas, it is not so. Both of my parents are not church-going Eastern Orthodox Christians. When my mother was on business trip on Cyprus, she bought a book about Greek mythology. I have read said book when I was 8 or 9 so I was quite inoculated against religious bullshit.

    When I was second year in high school, I was forced to go to catechises, since very few people wanted to go to “Civil rights”. Until college, I’ve been non practicing believer of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I’ve met a creationist there, he had sent me to creationtheory.com to see reason and evidence for Young Earth and Intelligent Design. I thought it was http://www.creationtheory.org/ and had gone there and saw reason and evidence.

    You see, http://www.creationtheory.org/ is scientific site specially made to divert traffic from .com site. And thus, I became an atheist. :)

  2. AgentCormac says

    I’m with Ravi and Daz – excellent post with a really interesting analogy. Thanks for sharing it, Samyogita.

  3. says

    Everyone else beat me to the lovely analogy praise. Its perfect really.

    @jo1storm Even if you are the only person who managed to get diverted on your way to the other site, I bet they’d be happy with that. Mission accomplished.

  4. says

    @jo1storm Even if you are the only person who managed to get diverted on your way to the other site, I bet they’d be happy with that. Mission accomplished.

    Amen to that!

  5. ManOutOfTime says

    PZ is doing a nice job of curating these posts – and it is inspiring seeing such brave, creative statements of people who come from India or less-developed places like Texas. I wonder is it socially acceptable for a person in India to express these kinds of views? A woman? I imagine it differs by economic level or prevailing local faith is Hindu or Islam.

    Also, too, I like the plastic bottle analogy.

  6. noastronomer says

    Nice article. Much closer to my own history than the prior stories.

    “…someone very like us, much more sizable and capable than us, and much more invisible…”

    Early gods weren’t even invisible. They just lived on the other side of the river or under the sea or on top of the mountain. As humans explored the world around us of course we didn’t find those gods so we continually modified the concept of god to fit.

    Now we’ve arrived at an understanding of the universe such that the only ‘god’ who fits is one that is indistinguishable from one that doesn’t exist at all.

    Which is why *I* am an atheist.

    Mike.

  7. says

    I wonder is it socially acceptable for a person in India to express these kinds of views? A woman? I imagine it differs by economic level or prevailing local faith is Hindu or Islam.

    You are right; It is ok in big cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or Chennai which are prosperous – and among the middle to upper class societies.

    Story in the villages, where the bulk of our population resides is another matter..

    Thankfully, “secularism” is almost a mantra in post-independance India, thanks to our founding fathers(esp our first prime minister Nehru who was an atheist); So I have not seen much negativity associated with atheism in my social circle.

    Nonetheless, most are firm believers and even scientists in Indian astro research departments would break a coconut(for good luck) before launching a rocket!

    I can’t figure out if my parents are more distressed by the fact that I am gay or that I am an atheist. Sometimes I think it is the latter!

    But I am grateful for the fact that there is no crazy ‘creationist/intelligent design” people pushing for changes in school curriculum and I am amazed it is happening in the US!

  8. says

    Great post Samyogita. I heard plastic doesn’t degrade, it just breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. We could only be so lucky if religion did that too.

  9. mirax says

    But I am grateful for the fact that there is no crazy ‘creationist/intelligent design” people pushing for changes in school curriculum and I am amazed it is happening in the US!

    But you have had other kinds of crazies interfering with the school curriculum, no?

  10. mirax says

    Tamil nadu in South India is home to a a nearly century long avowedly atheistic political movement, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam which has been in and out of power for half a century. Yes the DMK is totally corrupt and as assholish as all other indian politicians, but there is a strong showing of key personalities and celebrities being out and proud atheists. There is also a grassroots movement of atheists who dont observe religious practice. My parents and quite a few relatives come from that tradition and we have non-religious weddings and funerals, just saying this to add balance to the notion that India is the land of spiritual woo.

  11. says

    But you have had other kinds of crazies interfering with the school curriculum, no?

    Sadly yes; We have had interference with history(Hinduising it or as we call it saffronisation – referring to the colour of the robes of hindu monks) but not with science.
    Anyway, we have a free ‘secular’ media which is quick to point out these things and corrections are made.

    We still have a long way to go though..so much shit to clean up..literally in many places!

    But as long as we have free media and democracy, we will get there.. I hope.

    Note : Am I right in thinking that you were imitating Indian English when you ended your sentence with a “no?”…?

  12. says

    But design requires a designer. Don’t you see all of the design?

    That’s what I can’t quite get, where’s the damned design? In the narrower sense, we typically see human-made objects as being designed, as distinguished from “natural objects”. In the broader sense you can speak of the “design” of snowflakes and flagella, but then in the broader sense our designs are also “natural objects.”

    Of course that’s what the “case for God” actually comes down to in most instances, confusion of what words mean in context.

    Glen Davidson

  13. Loreo says

    /applause

    With each one of these posts I read, I like them more and more. These should be compiled somewhere after they’re all posted.

  14. mirax says

    but not with science.

    Small mercies. ;-) But yes, Hindus, Taoists and Buddhists (I’m Singaporean)really havent the hangups with evolution that the desert religionists have.

    But there is much fascination with ‘vedic’ math and science amongst the middle-classes presently, isnt there? Was in Bangalore, India recently and the bookshops were full of stuff like that.

    Props to you btw on being out of the closet. I’d imagine that that would be a much harder issue in highly conservative India than being atheist.

  15. DaveG says

    Samyogita hints at what I’ll call the teleogical dilemma. I’m an atheist, but I can’t help but wonder Who or What created the Universe, and whether there was some purpose to it. I just realize that I’m unlikely to ever know, and therefore don’t spend much time on it; and that if there is a creator who/that chooses to reveal itself in a way we can comprehend, it would probably pulverize all the silly myths we’ve written.

    When I indulge in a bit of mental squishiness, I like to think of consciousness / self awareness as a materialistic proxy for God: it both “creates” and is apparently driven by the physical world, yet can’t be defined materialistically, and nonetheless drives agency. And whether or not you think I’m wooey, self-awareness rocks! What a waste creation would be without it.

  16. says

    Again, I wish that theists would make their way here and read these things. How can a people that “believe in nothing” have so much to say and such dynamic and eclectic ways of saying it?

    I’m so proud to call myself an atheist when I read these entries.

    Well done, Samyogita.

  17. mirax says

    As regards Ravi’s comment about the superstitious practices of India’s scientists, well there is this fantastic writeup by Kaushik Datta on why woo and science co-exist so well in India.

  18. says

    I wouldn’t say “Now I really don’t think there is a god.” for the same reason I wouldn’t say “Now I really don’t think there is an Easter Bunny.

    Magical god fairies and magical rabbits are equally idiotic ideas. I’m 100% certain these childish fantasies are not real because there’s no magic in the universe.

  19. niftyatheist says

    Thomas Lawson says:
    20 October 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Again, I wish that theists would make their way here and read these things. How can a people that “believe in nothing” have so much to say and such dynamic and eclectic ways of saying it?

    I’m so proud to call myself an atheist when I read these entries.

    Well done, Samyogita.

    I can’t say it any better than this. Seconded!

  20. says

    As regards Ravi’s comment about the superstitious practices of India’s scientists, well there is this fantastic writeup by Kaushik Datta on why woo and science co-exist so well in India.

    mirax, thanks for the link! I think Kaushik hit the nail on its head.

  21. Preetha says

    I have been creeping about this site for about 2 years now, and have never commented on any of the content until this post by a fellow Indian caught me by surprise! And a pleasant surprise at that!
    Im a woman and an atheist, born into a Christian family in Southern India, and went to a school run by Irish nuns. While I was required to attend compulsory Catechism classes at school because my family was Christian( the Hindu,Muslim and one Jain kid in class had something called “moral science” classes instead), I never really had a problem being openly atheist to family or friends.
    However, in a country like ours that so mired in tradition and superstition, it is hard to find many other outspoken atheists and its always great to hear from one and share stories with so many others from around the world!
    Great post Samyogita! I agree with everyone on the analogy!

  22. says

    Thomas #20

    Again, I wish that theists would make their way here and read these things.

    Who says they aren’t? PZ regularly blogs about theists who get their panties in a bunch over things he writes here. They don’t rear their ugly heads too often because they’ve seen their fellow fantasy seekers get shredded by the minion horde.

  23. says

    I am now 31 and became an athiest in my 20′s. My parents are born-again Christians and I sent to church every day. What I am wondering is how is it that some people can see early on how silly religion really is?

    I’ve always considered myself a rational, smart person, but I never doubted my faith when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I went to college, stopped going to church, meeting different kinds of people and reading science/philosophy books that I gradually lost my faith.

    I wonder if there is a correlation between how quickly one loses ones faith vs. what your upbringing was (how religious was your family). Conversely, is there a correlation between intelligence and religiousity? If so, I guess I’m maybe not as smart as I thought as I would have definitely considered myself a Christian in my early 20′s.

  24. says

    Can someone help me here, with a question that this brings up for me?

    I’ve always been an atheist, since my mom explained the difference between the fantastical fiction that haunted my early childhood and the cold facts of reality. I was taught that monsters and magic and talking animals were all fables, so the Bible stories fell into the fiction category from me at a very early age. Also, my mom bought me Superman pajamas and a glow-in-the-dark sword to help me get to the bathroom in the ark… :)

    Anyhoo, this account makes me wonder about that bit sort of attributed to Douglas Adams, about how a creator would be like a bigger, better version of us. What I wonder is, would that sound more plausible to us now if the god/creator myth was presented without the claims that it is omnipotent/omniscient/omnipresent (and maybe omnibenevolent)? I can’t tell because I never de-converted. Would it maybe have been harder if the definition ha more built-in flexibility?

  25. says

    @27 A3KrOn:

    I should have italicized “read” in “read these things.”

    I know they scan these entries, but I’d like them to really read them.

  26. Circe says

    mirax:

    Re “Vedic math”: It is true that there are the parts of Vedas which deal with ratehr serious mathematics (for example the Shulba Sutras discuss the Pythagoras Theorem and geometrical constructions well before Pythagoras and Euclid. However, this current “resurgence” of “Vedic” Mathematics was actually started by the erstwhile Shankaracharya (that a bit like Pope, except that there is not just one Shankaracharya, and none of them has as much power as the Pope, even among staunch Hindus), who also happened to have a real masters in Mathematics. However, as it was soon discovered, many of the calculation tricks mentioned in his books had been developed by later (but still ancient) Indian astronomers such as Aryabhata and Bhaskara and Brahmagupta.

    Now I should mention here that to belittle the legacy of these guys to mere calculation tricks is very very unfair: among them, they formulated the notion of zero, developed trigonometry, and made significant advances in algebra, not to talk of their work in astronomy. Plus, even the calculation tricks were shown not to be “Vedic” but to be coming from these later mathematical and astronomical texts. When this was pointed out to the Shankaracharya, he hid behinf the usual excuse of the faithful. Paraphrasing, he said his reason for using the word “Vedic” as the religious doctrine that “all knowledge comes from the Vedas.” :D

  27. Circe says

    ManOutOfTime: Atheism has been pretty strong in India, and usually there is not much stigma attached to it. Probably this has to do with the fact that in some form of the other, it has been present in India for a very very long time: Buddha was agnostic, a contemporary of him called Mahavira who founded Jainism was atheist, and even the Vedas contain fairly agnostic sections like the Nasaduya Sukta. In fact here is an amusing quote (from Amartya Sen) about this:

    “ In some ways people had got used to the idea that India was spiritual and religion-oriented. That gave a leg up to the religious interpretation of India, despite the fact that Sanskrit had a larger atheistic literature than what exists in any other classical language. Madhava Acharya, the remarkable 14th century philosopher, wrote this rather great book called Sarvadarshansamgraha*, which discussed all the religious schools of thought within the Hindu structure. The first chapter is “Atheism” – a very strong presentation of the argument in favor of atheism and materialism.

    *The word “SarvadarshanSamgraha” comes from Sanskrit and means “Collection of all philosophies”.

  28. Cosmonut says

    Ravi, Mirax,
    I don’t quite agree with Kaushik on why religion and science co-exist more comfortably in India.

    From my own experience, I’d say its because Hindu religious ideas sit more comfortably with scientific ones.

    For eg, in Hindu cosmology, one cycle of the Universe – a day of Brahma – is about 4.32 billion years.

    There is also a belief that our world is one of zillions (Hindu myth is famous for enormous numbers) – Giordano Bruno would have never been burnt in India.

    Hence, the scientific picture of an Universe 13.7 billion years old with hundreds of billions of galaxies is quite easy to accept.

    Also, a central tenet in Hinduism is that you can easily be reborn as an animal, bird or insect (as well as a demigod etc etc).
    So the idea of humans evolving from animals which created so much shock and awe in the West – and still apparently does in some circles – is hardly a big deal.

    Plus, unlike the Abrahamic religions whose central tenet is that
    the Bible/Koran is THE TRUTH, Hinduism has the general attitude that there are “many paths to the Truth”.

    Thus, it isn’t considered particularly important to establish whose worldview is correct.

    Some people take it to the extent of saying that everything in modern science was already predicted in the Vedas which is certainly not true.

    But the general feeling is that through “suitable amounts of meditation” you will realize the “essential unity” between science and religion. Om Shanti Shanti.

    (No its no use arguing with me on that last one. I already accept that no amount of arguing will convince you.
    Didn’t I say you have to realize it through meditating in the Himalayas for, oh say 10,000 years ? :) :) )

  29. R.M.Shetty says

    Hi

    If this is a way that you are going to argue or defend Atheism.
    Then you truly need God on your side.

    All the best….And i should say “God bless you”

    Shetty

  30. R.M.Shetty says

    Mathematics + Spirituality = Development
    Posted on April 14, 2011 by Vishal Mangalwadi

    This is part XXII of Vishal’s monthly series “Why Are We Backward?” for India’s Backward Castes.

    In the holy city of Gangapur, two preachers were most renowned: Gyananand enthralled his audience by explaining that the European numerals (I, II, III, IV, V, etc) could not have produced Western science, technology, banking, or economic development. They were inherently incapable of calculating mathematical units such as percentages or economic units such as compound interest. Dhyananand would then describe the accomplishments of Indian mathematicians such as Brahmagupta (seventh century), Mahavira (ninth century), and Bhaskara (twelfth century). The two never failed to mention that the world of modern finance owes its existence to the unknown sage who may have been a Brahmin and may have meditated on the banks of Mother Ganges, as he came up with the all important mathematical concept of shoonya (zero).

    Uma Devi was one their favorite devotees. In fact, all the “holy” men were fond of her because whenever an ascetic went to her door, she always sent one of her children with freshly cooked food. She had made it a morning habit to set aside the first portion of the food for sadhus, who had renounced their own wives, children, and parents in order to find enlightenment. Her piety, however, did not prevent god Saturn from devouring her husband along with her youngest son. The truck that hit his scooter simply vanished. The tragedy became even more terrible because the scooter’s insurance had run out. Her husband had chosen not to renew it, since he was thinking of getting a loan for a small car for the family. Uma’s world fell apart: she was too shattered to be comforted even by these saints.

    “Shall I commit sati?” she inquired of them in desperation.

    “It is illegal,” they counseled, “but dharma still accrues to a widow who chooses that sacred path.”

    “But what will happen to my children?” she cried.

    “The scriptures say that your karma will benefit seven generations” they consoled her looking at her daughter (9) and son (7).

    This terrible story is, of course, made up. It is intended to help us understand the cultural factors that made Indian/Arabic numerals to sustain an repressive economic system in India while becoming a foundational tool for the amazing development of the West as illustrated by the Widow Fund in Scotland . That Fund began modern insurance and risk management that undergirds contemporary economic life, while secularization or perversion of that wonderful concept of welfare scheme is an important source of the political problems of Europe, Japan, and America.

    The Scottish Widow Fund, originally called, “Fund for a Provision for the Widows and Children of the Ministers of the Church of Scotland,” was the first modern, mathematics-based Insurance Company. It provided an innovative, “scientific” alternative to other ways of caring for widows – asylums, lotteries, ponzi schemes, prostitution, starvation, or sati. The Fund, which grew to over £ 100 billion, has served as a midwife to tens of thousands of economic enterprises. It has also supported educational and philanthropic initiatives such as India’s oldest continuously running liberal arts college, the Scottish Church College in Calcutta (1836), and the Scottish orphanage for girls in Mumbai that became Bombay Scottish School (1847). It began a scientific system of risk management that made it possible for people to borrow large amounts of capital to start new ventures across the continents and now into outer space.

    The Widow Fund was created by two Calvinist pastors in Scotland, Robert Wallace (1697-1771) and Alexander Webster (1708 – 1784). Both of them were mathematicians and Bible preachers. While we were condemning our upper caste widows in India to life-long solitary confinement, if not to the flames of their husband’s funeral pyres, the pro-life, pro-sex, pro-marriage, pro-widow spirituality of these pastors came together with the best available mathematics to create the world of modern finance.

    Unlike our saints who had to renounce their own wives and children, these Protestant pastors were both married because the Bible teaches that the physical world – including human body and sex – are created by a good God who declares them “good.” God does not want godly men to separate from the material realm. He wanted Adam and Eve to become one in order to harness and channel their sexual energy to establish a family that will produce and nurture children to fill the earth and govern it by establishing human culture. This outlook (worldview) enabled Robert Wallace, who became the Moderator of the Church of Scotland – that is, equivalent of a Sankaracharya or Archbishop – to write a pioneering study, “An Essay on the Principle of Population.”

    Like Wallace, Webster also began his career as a minister (pastor) in the Church of Scotland, in Culross in Fife. There he met and married Mary Erskine of Alva. While our sages thought that to be “holy” meant to renounce (take sanyas from) family commitments, Webster’s biblical spirituality freed him to celebrate his romantic and sensual love for his bride:

    When I see thee, I love thee, but hearing adore,

    I wonder, and think you a woman no more;

    Till, mad with admiring, I cannot contain,

    And, kissing those lips, find you woman again.

    His love for his own wife as well as a deep concern for his friends’ widows motivated him to team up with Wallace and use his training as a mathematician to solve widows’ problems. In 1748, he published his Calculations, which set forth the scientific principles on which their scheme for widows’ pensions was based. The other mathematical prodigy who helped refine their innovation was Colin MacLaurin who had improved upon Newton’s theories when he was only 14-years old! MacLaurin was himself an orphan who grew up with his uncle – also a pastor. [Note - This article’s author is a Fellow of the MacLaurin Institute at the University of Minnesota named after Prof. Colin MacLaurin.] Unfortunately, MacLaurin died while he was still too young to see the Widow Fund flourish.

    In their day, if a minister died, his widow and orphans received a stipend from the church for six months; after that they were on their own. This was unacceptable to these two mathematician-pastors because the Bible told them that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

    Wallace gathered and tabulated the available information about pastors’ widows and orphans from all the presbyteries in Scotland. Using the system of actuarial calculation and five other mathematical principles developed in Europe (not in India) the two of them estimated exactly how much premium each pastor would need to contribute to create a fund which would make it possible to (a) take care of the widows, as well as (b) to invest prudently to make the Fund grow. Their calculations, predictions, and investment decisions turned out to be so exact that their system began to be followed by all the insurance companies that came after them. In 1754, Webster published, Zeal for the Civil and Religious Interests of Mankind Commended. His work helps us understand how this milestone in the history of modern finance was a result of civil (scientific) interests, combined with religious (biblical) interests. Webster’s work was of such high quality that in 1755, the government commissioned him to obtain data for the first census of Scotland.

    The Wallace-Webster financial innovation succeeded because of another cultural ingredient – the democratic structure of the Scottish Church. The Greek philosopher Plato (429-347 BC) had condemned democracy as the worst of all political systems. That is why the spread of Greek culture, called hellenization, did not stir a desire for democracy in the ancient world.

    It was the Protestant Reformation’s return to the Bible which birthed “modern” democracy in the Scottish church (and the Republican system of government in America). Reforming the church included replacing the autocratic rule of bishops and popes by the rule of democratically elected elders. The reformers followed the New Testament pattern of elders governing local churches. In appointing elders to manage church-affairs and finances, Christ’s apostles, in turn, followed an Old Testament pattern. After delivering the Hebrews (Jews) from their slavery in Egypt, God instructed Moses to ask the twelve tribes to “Choose some wise, understanding, and respected men from your tribes, and I will set them over you. . . So, (MOSES) took the leading men of your tribes, wise and respected men, and appointed them to have authority over you.” (Deuteronomy 1: 13-15) The people chose their leaders and through Moses (and later through the apostles) God anointed them. Protestant nations applied this “democratic” idea to nation-states only because it succeeded in reforming the church.

    “The voice of the people” can be “the voice of God” only if the people grow in their knowledge of God and if their character becomes godly. If the people are corrupt then their voice becomes the voice of the devil. This, as we shall see, is the problem now facing secularized democratic nations in the West. Far too many people in these nations no longer want to take the responsibility to work, earn, save, wisely invest, and take care of their neighbors, widows, orphans, refugees, and other victims of natural or man-made evils. They want their governments to tax or borrow from productive people and spend it on their welfare.

    Why did the Church’s “Widow’s Fund” became an enormous commercial success? Why was a fund meant for helpless widows and orphans invested wisely, not mismanaged or looted by corrupt businessmen or squandered by politicians and bureaucrats? It was because on May 12, 1743 Wallace was elected the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The Assembly approved his scheme. That enabled him to submit it to the Lord-Advocate in London, who framed it into a legislative measure and superintended its safe progress into an Act. The democratic milieu was critical for the Fund’s success because the Presbyterian structure of the Scottish Church simultaneously cultivated godly character and nurtured grassroots democracy – ordinary church members elected wise and God-fearing elders and held them accountable; the elders elected presbyteries; which elected Synods, The General Assembly, as well as the Moderator. The Widow Fund succeeded not simply because of Mathematics but also because (a) the biblical spirituality nurtured honest, productive, compassionate, and public-spirited character, (b) the Bible’s emphasis on human sinfulness required institutionalizing accountability even among religious leaders, and (c) the biblically derived idea of local church-based grassroots democracy promoted responsible leadership all the way to the top. Wallace was elected, not because he bribed, bullied, or manipulated voters, but because he came up with a scheme that made compelling sense, as did Joseph in the book of Genesis who saved Egypt and its surrounding nations from seven-year long spell of drought and famine.

    The foregoing may be hard for Indians to believe because they know that many denominational Churches in India, established by Western churches and handed over to Indian Christians, are as corrupt now as our public institutions. These skeptics may change their mind if they look at a typical Bible based local church in India (or a genuine all-India organization such as the Union of Evangelical Students of India) that is built or run mainly by contributions from its members. Denominations such as the Church of North India, Church of South India, or the Methodist Church of India tend to be corrupt because their wealth does not come from their members. A genuine biblical church, however, is inherently different from a typical Hindu temple. A devotee who goes to worship in a temple and donates money is not a “member” of that temple. He has no authority to scrutinize its accounts. In theory, the government can scrutinize a temple’s account. In practice, however, our wealthy gurus and temples have learnt the art of keeping politicians and administrators in their pockets. In contrast to our Indian religious establishments, in the democratically organized Scottish church, the donor was a member: he elected the elders and the treasurer; he approved or disapproved the budget.

    Of course, there were plenty of sinful Protestants; and corrupt people always seek to control public funds. The Presbyterian structure, however, was designed for sinful people. It sought to make them godly but also instituted wise structures to minimize the abuse of public funds. Transparency of institutions and rules that governed the church and the Widow’s fund as well as public knowledge of the private lives of the church leaders helped generate the trust that ensured the Fund’s success.

    It also helped that the original 930 contributors to the Fund were all pastors and that the Fund was created to look after their wives and children. They were among the most learned and public-spirited members of the community. They understood the rules and helped refine and enforce them. Success of democratic institutions depends on the knowledge and character of its members. For example, many attempts to establish medical insurance companies in India have failed (in spite of our mathematical aptitude) because the poor character of participating members, doctors, pharmacists, agents, and their lawyers. If insurance money is claimed for diseases that do not exist and procedures that have not been performed, then the calculations behind premiums become meaningless.

    The Widow’s Fund was a wonderful “welfare” scheme. It was a capitalistic or free-market enterprise. It operated under the law of the land, but was neither controlled by politicians nor run by bureaucrats. Why did deeply religious men multiply the Fund’s capital through wise business investments? Why didn’t they take sannyas from money making? They made money because they followed the Lord Jesus who, in the spirit of the Old Testament, commended such economic stewardship – turning 5 bags of gold into 10 – as true spirituality (Matthew 25:15-17). People joined the Fund because they trusted their community leaders with their money and their trust was not betrayed. Today the Fund is completely secular and it is not growing as it used to.

    The Fund’s initial success in taking small amounts of money from lots of simple people and taking care of their families had profound impact on global politics. It tempted politicians to imitate it and turn entire nations into welfare states. This political attempt began in Germany with Otto van Bismark’s social insurance legislation in 1880 and soon spread to Europe, USSR, Japan, and the USA, both by the so called “Right” and even more by the “Left,” that is, by Socialist or Communist parties.

    The idea was good: the state will take wealth from those who created it and use it to take care of everyone from cradle to the grave. Taking citizens’ wealth was, of course, easy. Governments, however, are not structured to use other people’s money to create wealth. Unscrupulous and arrogant rulers use public funds for their glory. They waste money even if they don’t actually loot it. The worst part is that when a welfare state seems to succeed, it destroys citizens’ character. That, for example, is one of Japan’s problems today. It took the concept of welfare state farther than any European nation . . . but if the state is going to take care of you from birth to death, why would you take the trouble to bring up children and nurture your own family? Japanese did not lose interest in sex – the Ten Commandments that included “you shall not covet your neighbors wife” and “you shall not commit adultery” were not moral absolutes in Japanese culture to begin with – and the idea of a secular welfare state took away the need to take the trouble to harness sexual energy to build families that will produce and nurture children. As a result, Japan’s population has been declining. That means that the number of citizens who will work and pay tax is diminishing. That is unsuitable for states’ welfare schemes that are ponzi schemes, dependent on more and more people working, earning, and paying taxes to support retired people and those who no longer have the ability or willingness to hold down a job.

    Governments of Europe and America have followed the same folly: the welfare state undermined the Ten Commandment that required children “To honor your father and mother.” Mothers began to abort their babies, fathers began to abandon their wives and children in favor of other women, and taking care of the elderly became the responsibility of the state. This gigantic social experiment to live without God’s law is backfiring now since the so-called welfare state has replaced the “Protestant work-ethic,” that created the modern economic miracle with a secular “Entitlement-culture.” This culture believes that citizens (and illegal aliens) have the right to this, that, and the other but no corresponding obligation to create wealth to look after themselves, their families, and their neighbors – especially widows, orphans, refugees and other poor.

    We are “Backward” because while India had and has mathematical genius, our culture lacks a spirituality that promotes the creation of wealth and a passion to use wealth to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have now learned western mathematics and their application to economics, but in order to move FORWARD we also need to avoid the follies of western secularism and discover the forgotten spiritual secrets of Western civilization.

    NOTES

    This series of articles will soon be published as a book in India in Hindi and English.

    Signed copies of Vishal’s new book “The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.” ($22.99, Thomas Nelson, May 2011) are available postage free for $15 Click Here To Order