By Sahitya Poonacha:
Atheism for its being an irreligious and God-refusing system of belief, more appropriately disbelief, has garnered much trepidation and also judgement from the general public. But what one doesn’t count as an important aspect of Atheism is understanding the transformation to atheism as a realization, or process. Accused for its irreligiosity and condemned for its refusal to believe in God, society sometimes comes down with an axe on atheists.
An atheist I know found that atheism was a slow transformation as a snake sheds its old skin. Awareness triggered curiosity and there the journey began. It was a gradual process of learning and exploring the strands of thought that had hardly ever occurred to him before. He called it a personal realization. Introspection often causes some of the most intense debates our minds can engage in. This realization for him came during his teens, the crucial juncture where a crisis of identity afflicts all, the only cure for which is to pick a group or rather, a crowd.
For a seventeen-year-old religion becomes an important decision, especially for those living today where religion is often seen as a cause for conflict or a dogma. Possibly more than half the people in the world could be called closet Agnostics. The atheist I am tracing the journey of though was a religious boy, rather on the extreme end of it, who extensively read religious philosophy and had a strong belief, or an induced belief, in religion. He recounted how he read all the holy scriptures, went to temples and prayed to God dedicatedly, and none of this under the influence of his parents or extended family.
But very soon he began to see cracks in the large manmade construction of religion. If traced back in History, religion is broadly created through discourse and dialogue between human beings looking for a way to explain the workings of a world and a reason for human existence as it is. When his sister fell seriously ill, the family took her to men of religion and performed poojas at various temples. Still a teenager at the time, he observed the entire episode, taking in everything and processing it for what it was. When he saw that it was not the prayers but medicine and science that cured her, it shook the foundations of his religiosity. Despite the doubts that started arising slowly, he still firmly refused to lose faith in religion.
Reading never fails to make one question the order of things. When he began looking through history and literature, he found that his reasons for keeping faith in religion were largely inadequate. Repeatedly coming across references to religion being used as a political tool and the kind of deep-rooted hold that it had in society, he became increasingly wary of it. At the same time a friend of his was also dabbling in Atheism, and the path of an atheist was suddenly not so inaccessible to him anymore. He was introduced to the opinions and the arguments of famous atheists such as Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Watching these men deconstructed the idea for him, they succeeded in convincing him too.
He started out Agnostic, he concedes. In the initial phase, he was looking at religion as the virus and not God as such. It was his family, he said, that allowed flexibility in his intellectual ponderings giving him the space to come to his own conclusion on the matter. “Without my being sure how could I convince them?” he asked. He did give up the quest for a while, with his education coming in the way and his attention being diverted to his examinations. He even admits that regardless of his quest he did resort to ‘praying to God’ before his exams.
He stresses that Richard Dawkins destroyed God for him and that Charvak’s argument that there is no god only causality brought him to his turning point. He calls Atheism a science, and he said that a catalyst for his transformation into an atheist was the physics course he took in college as one of his papers for the first semester. “God took a lot of time to get over,” he said and insisted that it was the idea of fighting irrationality with rationality that really puts believers in God and atheists at loggerheads.
He believes that it is this belief in God that causes chaos in society, and insists that mixing of religion with identity, putting people against each other is what the real problem is. Atheism bore a sound structure for him, that other socio-cultural identities didn’t and, therefore, he took cover under Atheism. But at no point does he believe that Atheists form a homogenous group. In this sense, he points to the different atheists that exist; the immoral atheists who would be a threat to society, the indifferent atheists who see atheism as just something that keeps them away from working to alleviate problems afflicting society, the soft and calm ones who rationalize about it but will not enforce it, and the atheists who preach to propagate the idea of atheism in a proselytising manner.
He calls being an atheist “scary but fun.” Some might dispute the fun part of it. But his coming to the realization didn’t necessarily mean the end of the journey. He received various reactions from his family and even others in society and that’s where an atheist encounters the stigma of being an atheist or choosing to be one. To many he was an ‘idiot’ or ‘stupid’. Others told him he, “won’t go to heaven,” and that what he believed was a ‘fad’. Some of these were his own relatives. He is thankful though to never have faced any exceedingly violent reactions. His father had given him the freedom to choose his own path and his mother, he says, allowed him to believe what he wanted as both his parents raised him as a free-thinker. He jokingly adds that the only question his aunt had was, “How?” Another relative of his told him that now there would be nobody to blame his actions on, or take credit for it. College to him appears to be a liberal space that encouraged his questioning and accepted his individuality. But the reaction that frustrates him the most tends to be, “All your arguments make perfect sense, but, I will still believe in God.”
Doubting is not a bad thing he says, and adds laughing, that he would recommend Atheism as a lifestyle choice. To him, it’s enough if people start questioning and the realization will come on its own. The first step of just asking the question is more than enough. Atheism might seem like a popular movement or some sort of pagan ideology to some people, but atheism is liberating in itself and one can see why. Many important questions about religions remain unanswered and God as an answer to a question today would seem like a joke. Religion acts as a discipliner but, when it becomes a perpetrator of violence the only escape might be disbelief. In a world where various belief systems exist, a logical mind would agree that acceptance of disbelief as a system is only fair. But when has the world ever run solely on logic is the real question?