Atheist? OMG !!

This morning I woke up in a mood that bled intransigence. Sitting Myself down, I declared in a terse, zero budge-circumference tone: ‘We are going to have a tête-à-tête’.

Now, a tête-à-tête between me and Myself is usually an enervating exercise where my mind doubles as a forensic lab. The process is akin to a root canal sans anesthesia. It means some unrelenting questions, some unpleasant exchanges followed by uneasy realizations…. and a grand finale, called Catharsis.

Being a Gemini prototype, I have a very potent alter ego, with a mind all her own – divorced from mine. On the outside, we are one. On the inside, we are the eternally warring siamese twins, desperate to arrive at a consensus before the curtain goes up. We are warding off each other’s spiritual salvos while attempting to streamline maverick moods and thoughts. We lean on each other to survive our own questioning and to make sense of the churning in the innards of our common soul.

‘Tete-a-tete? About what ?’ I find Myself asking.

‘About religion’, my tone drips adamance.

‘Ouch! Do we have to do this? Can’t we do it, like, next weekend? Or maybe the next millennium?’

‘No. We. Cannot.’ I hiss. ‘C’mon, sit down. Let’s get talking. No scuttling the issue this time. You’ve let ambivalence paralyze you too long’, my demeanor is unrelenting.

‘Enough of squirming on your seat every time your friends talk reverently of Hindu deities, pilgrimage… blah. Enough of the ‘I’m not religious, I’m spiritual’ variety platitudes (more about that, later) when somebody questions your religious affiliation; or rather, the lack of it.’

‘Don’t quote me big shots. Don’t quote me the literati. Forget what the RSS rants. Forget what the Pope preaches. Tell me what YOU feel. You, as in, Puja Bhakoo. Tell me what is YOUR take on religion. On prayers. On God. Why does the term ‘god’ make you go gwad? Why don’t havans, pujas, and religious congregations do unto you, what they do unto your friends? I want a reason. And I want it NOW’.

Rattled by the timbre of my tone, and with a view to dissipate this ‘guilt-tinted’ fog of atheism that engulfs me, my zodiac twins join forces to nail the reason/s behind my non-religious bent of mind.

Have you noticed that in our society, ‘religious’, somehow, equals ‘moral’? It’s a combo package – the ‘buy one, get one free’ kind. So if you ain’t one, you ain’t the other (something positively went wrong with the way your parents brought you up… you cynical piece of frivolous flotsam, floating in a divine sea of piety).

I read somewhere that morality is a middle-class virtue – the upper class doesn’t have the mind for it; the lower class doesn’t have the time for it. My middle-class roots shudder at this genetic anomaly of mine.

All my friends are deeply religious – which makes me further stick out like a religiously unaffiliated, insensitive sore thumb.

Confessing my disinclination towards religion usually perks up a pandora’s fedora, fueling a discussion that can consume data running into gigabytes or nautical miles… whichever sounds loftier. 

Such sessions often end up giving my reputation a black eye. I’m mentally pictured as a non-religious (and therefore immoral… or is it amoral?), hedonistic bon-vivant… Satan’s niece… Cruella’s first cousin. And that hurts.

Why should the ‘religious’ have a monopoly on ethics or morality? Surely, no one ‘owns’ being good!

When I was a wiggly girl with piggly pigtails, mom asked, ‘you wanna know about Santa’s reality?’ My answer was an emphatic ‘No’. ‘No’, because I didn’t wish to see my belief in the magic of mythology (back then), shattered. ‘No’, because I wanted to keep riding my imagination-pony around the wonderous verdants of fairyland. 

I was pretty kicked with the idea of an extraterrestrial world – more superior and magical than ours – and I wanted to keep it that way.

As an adult, of course, I realize that no matter how much I want to believe in Santa, he doesn’t exist. No amount of faith, belief, or hope will make him real. For me, God and Santa are sailing in the same boat. 

The existence of God cannot be subjective. He either exists, or he doesn’t; it’s not a matter of opinion. Like Ricky Gervais, the English comedian says, “You can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts!”

Keats is said to have accused Newton of destroying the poetry of the rainbow by explaining the origin of its colors –  thus dispelling its mystery, and reducing it to prismatic colors. It’s the same with most of us. We all have this utopian proclivity — an idea that usually sets the base for credulity in later years.

I am very much in awe of how the universe fits so elegantly together. I am amazed by the fact that evolution works so well; that we are able to adapt and respond to so much, from the outside; that we can cope with and survive diseases; that all organisms, even plants, follow a reproductive pattern and have both male and female sexes; that all members within a particular species are identical, yet no two humans look exactly alike.

It leads me to believe that there is a comprehensive and unifying planetary force, responsible for the creation of life on earth.

I acknowledge this force. I respect this force.

But I don’t worship it.

I don’t feel obliged to don a sycophantic hat and go down on my knees to thank, beg, invoke, beseech, implore, and at times, complain, to this power.

In fact, I think it is sheer cosmic snobbery on part of us, homosapiens, to humanize or idolize this force. 

Idolizing or deifying it, possibly makes this power simple for mass consumption, and gives us a ‘tangible element’ to shower our gratitude on, or hang our insecurities from, or simply… to blame in case things do not work as intended.

Journalist and author Manu Joseph say, ‘we humans have demonstrated that we cannot cease to be anthropomorphic; we tend to attach human attributes to things that may be fundamentally different from human nature and form.

We are basically looking for ourselves everywhere’. I agree. I don’t particularly enjoy being an atheist.

In fact, I can’t tell you how annoying it is to be one when you are alone in a spooky place..or when you are sitting in a hospital, outside the operation theatre, with your fingers crossed.

What puts me in the shunned and scorned atheist-slot ( an ignominy I share with barely 2% of my country cousins), is the fact I do not believe in God in ‘his’ popular humanized form. 

To me, God is not a noun. It’s A VERB. It manifests itself in DOING… maybe contributing for a cause… working for social emancipation… uplifting the deprived… or just being a good human being. It manifests itself in positivity, morality, ethics, integrity, and compassion for others. 

I do not believe in going to holy shrines and praying to a deity with folded hands. I am neither ritualistically inclined nor a fan of ‘fasting’ at the drop of a festive hat (Navratri / Karva Chauth / Shivratri and such like).

To me, leading my life, based on conscientiousness and compassion is far more important than fasting on Tuesdays, Navratri, or visiting Shirdi and Vaishno Devi.

What makes religion my bête noire, is the fact that so much blood is being shed across the world, in its garb; human rights are being violated and religious extremism is thwarting attempts at global peace.

Random frustrations nibble at my heart: Why can’t we just make a school for kids (of all religions) on the disputed Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya? Why can’t all the milk being poured over Shiv Lingams, in holy shrines, be given to poor hungry children, instead? People spend millions on building temples and bribing the so-called ‘gods’ with holy offerings, gifts, and even gold. Why can’t we utilize this money to build schools or help the poor?

It’s difficult to point out the flaws in religion without being offensive. The truth usually is offensive.

Religion is a great idea and our brains are hardwired for theism in the same way that we are hardwired for music. There are evolutionary reasons for this to occur as well.

However what bothers me is the way people use the concept of a god to promote a message of fear, or as a crutch to lean on when the going gets tough.

Heard of any war launched to impose a lack of religion on someone else? Or agnostic suicide bombers attacking crowded atheist pubs? Such an occurrence would belong to the ‘man bites dog’ category. 

On the other hand, there’s no dearth of religion-based fights such as Sunni/Shia, Catholic/Protestant, Hindu/Muslim, and so on.

Believing in religion means believing in a ‘celestial dictatorship’. Any religious zealot who says he knows that God exists, when prodded, prunes it down to I just have faith

Now, faith is a powerful human emotion (?). It is also a dangerous one. 

Faith is anyone’s right. In fact, it is more than a right. It is a survival tool – to make it through, every day. You can have faith in anything. But at the end of the day, nobody knows if there is a God or anything beyond this life. 

Believing in God is not crazy (certainly not when billions do with you). But it is unfair to look down upon people who need more concrete and tangible information in order to make informed decisions.

Then there are those who say God is the unknown, or, the unknown is god. Excuse me? Are you implying that the unknown is some kind of discrete entity?

Arbitrarily filling an unknown with the word ‘God’ is not exactly rational; but following it up with pure speculation about the nature of this putative ‘God’, borders on fantasy.

One day you were born. You grew up. You experienced life and chose to believe in god. In another house. Around the same time, I grew up with the same set of experiences and chose not to believe in god. Something wrong with that?

Atheism is said to be just as absolutist as any religion because it requires someone to say that they are 100% sure that God does not exist.

However, if atheists look through a futuristic telescope and see god waving back at them, 100% of them will convert.

But, on the other hand, if such a paradox occurs in the logic of the religious, they will either pan it or ban it. They will also come out with a thousand justifications … almost all of them hunching on faith.

Admitting to atheism is not a sign of weakness. To be able to make it through this life, conceding that you have no idea if this life is all there is, is a courageous act.

Isn’t it strange that the religious first say that an all-powerful all-knowing, omniscient power (read God) is responsible for everything that happens,  and then they start to judge and punish people for what they are? After all, if I’m an atheist, isn’t that the way God made me?

I suspect that most of us don’t want to believe that after doing all that we do in our entire lifetime, one day, suddenly, we just die – and that’s the end of everything.

So, armed with generous doses of imagination, we spin a web, wider than ‘www’, about spirituality… about life after death… about the soul going to heaven (or hell).

All humans are here for a specific reason? That’s a neat thought. Our life has a purpose and everything happens for a reason? Again, neat thought. And if someone someday can prove that God exists, I’d be fine with that. But for now, I’m just me.

Doing good things because they’re the right thing to do. If someone needs a religious security cape, good for them. But they have no right to talk down to people who have grown up and put their capes away.

I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if the entire human race had its religious memory erased. How would the world react? Would it be a better place, or worse? Would religion make sense with a fresh perspective that hasn’t been integrated into our way of thinking, from the time we are born…?

The concept of religion was invented thousands of years ago by the same people who thought the moon was a hole in the sky, or that the world was flat and we could fall off its edge. Why do we still live our lie around this fiction?

Someone asks Somebody how he knows what unicorns look like. Somebody says… books, films, and word of mouth. And how does he know about god? The answer is again…. books, films, and word of mouth.

So how is god any more real than a unicorn?  Somebody says a wry ‘Very Funny’,  or a smug ‘because unicorns are not in the bible’

Spiritual but not religious?
They say spirituality is an emotion; religion, an obligation. Spirituality soothes; religion mobilizes. Spirituality is satisfied with itself. Religion is dissatisfied with the world. Religion is totally a man-made construct that thrives on the oxygen of a ‘following’. So it’s singular purpose is to make others believe.

Spiritual but not religious can be a pretty maddening phrase that exudes both smug superiority of the I’m-deeper-than-an-atheist-but-smarter-than-a-believer kind, and a new age credulity of the wind-chimes-cure-cancer variety. 

The term has, in the last decade, evolved from an academic definition to a widely used label for people who have abandoned traditional congregations in favor of a more solitary form of belief and worship.

Research reveals that atheists are more accepting of their fate and see death as a natural part of life. There is no fear of a hell waiting for them, no illusion of heaven where they would continue to exist in some angelic form.
Atheists who have no recourse to pious actions are obliged to fulfill the mysterious quota of righteousness by doing good to humanity, says Manu Joseph.

Like Gandhi said: “God is that indefinable something which we all feel but which we do not know. To me God is Truth and Love, God is ethics and morality. God is fearlessness, God is the source of light and life, and yet. He is above and beyond all these. God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist.”

And so I and Myself sign off with Simon Hoggart’s quote: O God… if there be a god. Save my soul… if I have a soul.