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Dec 26 2011

Why I am an Atheist – Anurag

I can remember back to when I was around 7 years old, and I was sitting in Hindi class (in Jaipur, India). We were learning antonyms in Hindi. The word ‘Aastik’ came up – a person who believes in God, the antonym to which is ‘Nastik’. That was my first realization that it was even possible to be a non-believer.

I had always assumed that God was omnipresent – watching me at all times and making sure I didn’t do anything bad. Back then, I was even scared of having any bad thoughts, as I believed God could read my mind.

On my way back home after that day in school, I distinctly remember asking my dad, how someone can be a non-believer, how is it possible that they don’t acknowledge the existence of God? I don’t remember what he replied.

The home I grew up in wasn’t too religious. However, God did creep unknowingly into every sphere of my daily life. Every evening after sunset, we weren’t allowed to turn on any lights in the house before a short prayer to God. We had to respect books, pens, pencils or anything that we use in school as they helped us get knowledge, which was equivalent to God. So dropping a book or a pencil was as good as disrespecting God, and if you ever did – you had to quickly pick it up and touch it to your forehead and then kiss it, or you risked getting shunned by the knowledge God. My parents weren’t strict about it, but we were expected to pray to God before we ate, before we slept and after shower in the morning. I don’t even remember what my beliefs were at that point. It wasn’t so much about religion, or Hinduism, or any particular God, it was just that I accepted the existence of God.

A few years later we moved to Kuwait. I had developed a keen interest in Astronomy, and so on my birthday, our family friends gifted me Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I remember the first thing I turned to when I started reading the book – the few colored pages in the middle of the book with photos. Photos of nebulas, galaxies, planets and the one that has been etched in my brain from the first time I saw it – two human footprints side by side, one is from Tanzania 3.6 million years ago and the other from the Moon. I remember being mesmerized by the book and just lost in the thoughts about the Universe, its size, its age… From that point, it wasn’t too long before my belief in God was gone.

My parents weren’t too hard on me, as I continued most of the practices I had developed since I was a child and they believed I was just going through a phase. That was right around the time we got our first computer and access to the internet. I remember spending hours surfing Astronomy websites, reading freely available lectures on Black-holes, Einstein, Physics…creating backup of my favorite astronomy photos on floppy drives… I still have my collection J

I remember when the Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars in ’97, for some odd reason, I felt, here it is, the concrete proof God doesn’t exist. I’m still not sure why. But from then on, my reasons for being an Atheist just grew. I took a lot of pleasure every-time I learned that a famous scientist was also an Atheist and debated religion every chance I got with an attitude of almost pity towards others who were still prisoners of religion.

Not until my university years did I become less militant and actually developed an interest in studying world religions. I also became a politics junkie. The more I read; I realized that by being so confident that only my views were right, I wasn’t much different from anyone else who is religious and confident they are the ones who are right. So I’m slightly more tolerant of other’s religion now.

I realize now that the skepticism that grew out of reading Cosmos has shaped my life since then, as repeatedly it has pushed me towards accepting the authority of a scientist or a scientific book/journal, more than that of my parents, my priest or any religious text.

Anurag
Canada

11 comments

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  1. 1
    humanape

    The more I read; I realized that by being so confident that only my views were right, I wasn’t much different from anyone else who is religious and confident they are the ones who are right. So I’m slightly more tolerant of other’s religion now.

    The difference between you and people who believe in a god with unlimited magical powers is you are normal and those other people are batshit crazy. They are confident they are right because they have been relentlessly brainwashed their entire lives. You are confident you are right because you’re not a superstitious idiot.

    My point is there is absolutely no reason to be tolerant of religious fantasies. In a world of out of control terrorism and a never ending war against science education, it is morally wrong to respect any of it.

    Excellent post by the way.

    Human Ape

  2. 2
    Ingdigo Jump

    The difference between you and people who believe in a god with unlimited magical powers is you are normal and those other people are batshit crazy.

    Wrong but also right.

    Religious people have had noted and near universal flaws and gaps in human thought processes exploited and used. It’s contemporary insanity.

  3. 3
    Reginald Selkirk

    India has a lengthy tradition of Nastika. I was fascinated to read up on the Carvaka school.

  4. 4
    Kausik Datta

    Anurag, I am glad that your shared your journey into reason and sanity with us. I find it interesting – because I have had a similar experience – that moving away from the religion-soaked-and-saturated environment of the home country helped spark your critical and analytical faculties, as it did mine.

    Not until my university years did I become less militant and actually developed an interest in studying world religions… I realized that by being so confident that only my views were right, I wasn’t much different from anyone else who is religious and confident they are the ones who are right. So I’m slightly more tolerant of other’s religion now.

    There is nothing wrong with studying world religions as historical and anthropological constructs. In fact, it is often necessary, if one has to understand the immense harm that religion has wrought upon humanity. But I don’t quite understand your intellectual dichotomy about ‘confidence’ on the rightness of your or someone else’s views. The way I see it – one subjects all such views to careful scrutiny, and if they fail to measure up to rationality or sanity, one rejects them.

    You are under no obligation to respect a priori anyone’s views, beliefs, fantasies and products of a vivid imagination. A religious person’s conviction/belief that s/he or his/her scriptural diktats are right/correct/justified doesn’t make it so in reality. Examples abound.

    Tolerance for religion (the favorite stance of so-called ‘accommodationists’) in effect legitimizes it and grants it a foothold in the society. From there, it’s all downhill; religion spreads like cancer, numbs people’s ability to think and reason, and detaches them from reality – all the while working silently, in the background. Think about the country you (and I) are originally from. Why do you think there is such a pervasive influence of religion (and with it, superstitious nonsense) in every walk of life, history, literature, culture?

  5. 5
    Kausik Datta

    Reginald,

    India has a lengthy tradition of Nastika. I was fascinated to read up on the Carvaka school.

    That was mainly a philosophical theory, which started to erode away completely right from the time of Hindu revivalism around 8-12th century CE. Modern India retains almost none of it, and has wholeheartedly and fervently embraced ancient superstitions, pseudoscience and myths under the guise of tradition and culture.

  6. 6
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Interesting! It must be very hard to move away from the idea of deity when it saturates your daily life. Good for you!

  7. 7
    Circe

    Actually “Nastika” does not mean “atheist”. Technically, it was just meant to describe people who did not believe in the Vedas. There were several important “Astik” atheistic schools in ancient India, the chief being Samkhya. They rejected belief in any kind of creator god, though retaining other Vedic beliefs such as that in spirits etc.

    The Carvakas, on the other hand, were radical “Nastiks” and were also very strongly materialistic, in addition to rejecting belief in a creator god. Other “Nastik” schools around the time were Buddishm and Jainism.

  8. 8
    Winterwind

    @Circe #7

    Actually “Nastika” does not mean “atheist”. Technically, it was just meant to describe people who did not believe in the Vedas.

    As you say, the original, older meaning of “nastika” was simply “one who does not accept the authority of the Vedas”.

    However, in modern Indian languages, the word nastika does indeed mean atheist, or “one who doesn’t believe in God.”

  9. 9
    Circe

    @Waterwind: Yes, I agree that today it would mean just that in casual conversation. Though, still, you could find people in India who would believe in “Karma” et cetera, but not in a god. Recent converts to Buddhism would, for example, qualify. Also, much of what is these days called “nirguna” (basically, an iconoclastic medieval tradition in Hinduism and Sufism building on teachings of the poet Kabir and his contemporaries) and mocks all organized religion left and right, while still maintaining a very vague belief in god would still be labelled “Nastik” by most religious people.

  10. 10
    TimKO,,.,,

    Anurag,
    I don’t quite understand. Are you from an area of India that practices a monotheistic form of Hinduism?

  11. 11
    Circe

    jentokulano: I have never figured out why most Westerners think Hindusim is any more polytheistic than, say, Roman Catholicism. Most (and all of those I have met in India) theist Hindus treat the gods they worship no different from the way Roman Catholicism treats saints. The idea is that the “Sarvashaktiman Parmeshwar” (SP) (lit. all powerful god of everything) manifests itself (a gender, or any other properties, are usually _not_ assigned to SP: it is referred to as “Nirguna” (lit. propertyless)) as various “Saguna” (lit. “with property”) forms which people can worship. Usually, the SP is treated as an indifferent creator of the universe who is beyond worship, or even contemplation.

    Even the “major” gods you might have heard of (eg. Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva, and the mother/warrior goddess Durga) are usually treated as being somehow “below” SP (since they have “properties”) and sects differ on which of them is the “closest” to SP. “Vaishnavism” makes Vishnu (or sometimes Krishna) the highest, “Shaivism” accords this status to Shiva, while the rest (which, from my experience form the majority in North India) treat Durga (often referred to as “Shakti” (lit. “Power” or “Mahamaya” (lit. Great Illusion) ) as the pinnacle of “Saguna” godhood, treating her a personification of all the powers of SP.

    One reason (and perhaps the only reason) this might be interesting to non-theologians is because of the interesting motifs it affords for mythological stories, where stories arising from different sects creatively come up with tales for their god/goddess to be the closest manifestation of SP.

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