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Friday, November 11, 2011

Of Morality and Religion and How I Became an Atheist

Atheist, Pantheist, Theist, Irreligious, Spiritual, Pious, Agnostic...
Moral, Immoral, Right, Wrong, Criminal, Righteous, Honest...
Connected, or not?
I have long struggled with the idea of religion and spirituality -- it's existence, accuracy as well as significance. My family can be defined as a Hindu one. The prophet-like guy and his gang my mother and grandmother are subscribed to is defined as a Hindu saint and his family and followers. Don't get me wrong, I mean no disrespect for the great people of our bygone days. But that's not the point. The point is, I have implicitly learnt to identify as Hindu, in a country where identifying as Atheist, Agnostic or in any other way devoid of religious identity is very uncommon, as is changing this identity without explicit conversion (which itself is uh-oh). Everyone around me has a religion by birth, whether they practise it or not.
However, my mother is also an advocate of free thinking, which has been inculcated in me apart from basic socially required religious training. My religious thinking has also been nurtured to be less narrow-minded than those of my peers. So, as I've grown, I've opened up to other ideas.
My family has always taught me blind faith. My grandmother is overly protective of the religious views that are the norm, and reacts rather unpleasantly and defensively if I question what she has taught me in the field of religion. But hey, what can stop me from thinking. The first thing that happened to me outside the norm was the refusal to accept science and spirituality as contenders. I began to believe in a single quest for truth. I formulated my own theories of accepting the state of affairs around me. I also saw how much ancient knowledge could be distorted, how religion could be twisted out of shape by shameless politicians and how blind faith could kill. And that's how I first deviated from my grandmother's teachings, by picking and choosing from amongst the tenets that my family followed in general. I began to believe that in an old and hugely branched religion like Hinduism, each person already has a particular cocktail of codes according to their particular stream, which can easily be completely alien to one's neighbour of the same religion. Then why couldn't I make a cocktail that served me well, instead of choosing one of the assembled platters?
Blasphemous. Who are you to formulate religion? That's how people go astray. You don't have the calibre to know what's right or wrong in entirety. You can only follow a code laid down by some who supposedly did. Oh great.
My mother supported my views about 'one truth'. However, my beliefs have now deviated even more drastically from what I was taught. I have decided that deities are but symbols of the unknown, and though I believe that prayer works because of the unknown powers of the mind, it is against my principles to pray. Why? Because I refuse to accept the unknown as an entity to be communicated with or as a single sentient being. I also refuse to be judged at every step by some codes that discriminate and divide. There are many mysteries, and I accept that we hardly know anything, but I know that we can do better than hold on to a system that hardly evolves and that owes much of its development to historical power games. I find it a better lifestyle to wait to find out than to accept distorted forms of euphemistically expressed ancient knowledge. Much of it can be related to known facts, but no religious code can be taken for its word without some serious digging into how it came to be. Also, all religion now involves elevating certain persons, like you and me, to levels above mortal. That simply disgusts me. Whatever is beyond our reach, the form given to it by human beings and the prescribed methods to be in touch with it are so twisted that I prefer irreligious reasoning to religious training as a means of learning the truth. I prefer to apply my mind's facilities directly and concentrate as hard as possible, rather than to pray for what I want.
The accepted form of secularism in my country (and many others) involves generalising God without naming a particular religion. Atheistic or irreligious forms have no place in it. One thing all religions agree about is that Atheism is a no-no. Why I chose Atheism has many reasons: my hatred towards religion is not the only one. I also can't choose a religion even if I want to, because, at the simplest levels, I cannot agree with any. Women's rights or not? Beef or not? Pork or not? Alcohol or not? Gay rights or not? I say, are these people out of their minds? They keep quarreling, and I cannot pick a side because none of them agree with me completely. I accept LGBTs, I accept all sorts of meats and beverages even if I don't consume them all. I am a woman, and I believe we deserve to be treated as well as the men are. At the same time, I have a very simple way of deciding what to support and what to oppose. If more people did such-and-such, will the world be a better place from where I stand? If yes, it is a good thing. Else, not. I also believe that at the cores of our subconscious we all do the same when it boils down to a binary decision. I shall not listen if you tell me that people who drink alcohol are bad. I agree that people shouldn't get drunk and beat up their families, but I am tolerant to people who drink socially. I have similar views about many debated topics. And the results I arrive at never are a complete match with any religion. So basically, I HAVE NO CHOICE. Sorry, everybody in my family and school and in religious places who will be disheartened to know this, but I don't want to pray. I want to do things on my own terms and not give credit to some entity who apparently does everything for long-term good. An earthquake in Haiti is not good. For any term. It just happens and we must adjust, but no one in their right minds will cause it. If I am wrong and there is a God, then because of things this God chooses to do in spite of having absolute power, I don't like Him anyway. (Or Her. Don't even get me started on that one.)
And so, for several reasons, it's completely illogical for me to believe. I have my own moral code, my own judgement. Atheism actually has given me that freedom of conscience that religion never did. Atheists are not bad people. They might not pop up and kill you. Many theists might. As David Morgan-Mar of Irregular Webcomic once said (I paraphrase and severely condense), it might not be conceivable for theists that someone can make their own moral code, but that system works.
Hello World, I'm an Atheist.
P.S.: Some old profiles of me and considerably many of my old creative work, especially poetry, dates from the time when I was an unwavering believer. Most of these were created in the second phase I mentioned, when I was rebellious within religion. Many expressions and ideas in those I now find completely alien. However, I will not destroy those works, as they are products of my abilities nonetheless.

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