What’s Atheism? Faith, Or The Lack Of It?

Posted on February 1, 2013 in Culture-Vulture

By Shubhra Kukreti:

When Woody Allen said: “To you, I’m an atheist. To God, I’m the loyal opposition“, he left us confused. The simplest explanation of atheism has to be ‘without theism’ where theism means a belief in God/ or any divinity whatever you perceive Him to be, and therefore atheism should appropriately mean lack of belief in the existence of God. However, the atheists today hold to deny the existence of God. This miniscule difference is important as this is what caused the confusion in the first place! Denying something means that you have knowledge of that you are rejecting. And to be without a belief in God merely means that the term ‘god’ has no importance, or possibly no meaning, to you. Belief in God is not a factor in your life. Woody Allen, I guess, referred to the latter case.

Dictionary Series - Religion: atheism

Since the commencement of human history, God has been the best or probably the easiest explanation for everything unexplainable. Why does the wind blow? Why does the sun rise? Why does the moon wax and wane? Why are we born and why do we die? Well, because God wants it that way. This is known as the ‘God of the gaps’ or the ‘argument from ignorance’. Religion, to the common man, is “a system of doctrines and promises which on the one hand explains to him the riddles of this world with enviable completeness, and, on the other, assures him that a careful Providence will watch over his life and will compensate him in a future existence for any frustrations he suffers here”.

But the coming of renaissance spread free thought, reasoning, and hence a subsequent opposition to this belief system. God’s role as an explanation for the way things are took a serious knock, thanks to the expansion of the sciences. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word ‘atheist’ lived in the 18th century. And now, here we are, in the 21st century. The atheists rest the minority population though a lot of people these days think that being an atheist is cool. The song of the generation is ” God didn’t make f****n rock and roll, Christ he wasn’t even in a band“. The appeal of atheism comes from a freedom to think, to rationalize and to philosophize without limiting oneself to a certain perspective. Being intellectually free is to be open to confronting realities about your existence in the universe. Religion, on the contrary, disposes special place to humanity in a framed cosmos.

Most of the Homo sapiens, including me, are theists because of tradition. I always tick mark the column Hindu when asked about religion though the harsh reality is that I am not even acquainted with the basic tenets of Hinduism. I subconsciously write the g of God in capital because my catholic schooling programmed me to do that. But, our atheist friends are atheists because of a conscious choice. They ask if ‘religion’ is actually a name given to various psychological drives (there are no atheists in the foxhole, remember?) They also say that far from God being a good explanation for the world, it is God that now requires explaining. Rationales for not believing in any supernatural deity include the lack of empirical evidence, the problem of evil, the argument from inconsistent revelations, and the argument from nonbelief. For instance, when the Nirbhaya rape case hit the headlines, many people gave up on their God(s). Where was He when the poor soul was going through hell? What Karma had she done to deserve all this? Yet, all these are the people, it should be underlined, who do not fall in the aforementioned Woody Allen category. These are not the ones with a lack of belief, they rather have a firm belief that God does not exist. Or, as Nietzsche put it, “God is dead“.

The recent incidents have shaken my faith as well but have not uprooted it (as yet). For me it is still too early, and may be, a little funny to make a declaration about the non-existence of God as we have no way to know that. How do we deny something that we do not understand? I continue to believe in God because the very notion of someone keeping a watch over me helps me to be honest in day to day affairs. I know it is no reason to believe in God, or propagate superstition, but right now I leave room for the possibility of some such superpower, even if it turns out to be called Higgs Boson later.