By Faisal Pakkali:
By the time I was nineteen, I had gone from having a deep, fearful belief in God to the conclusion that God does not exist. But atheism is, often, not just a simple change of opinion or belief. Choosing not to devote myself obsessively to one rigid belief system, meant that I was free to see the world. I was free to tread across the universe, gaping at its wondrous complexity, with no map in hand. In my imagination these days, an atheist is a being filled with profound humility; someone who’s deeply sensitive to the multiple truths of the universe and overwhelmed by their sublime beauty. An atheist is a devotee, who’s submerging themselves in the flow of life.
In the imagination of most of the world, an atheist is a snarky, depressed, spoilsport of a person. Someone who sees no meaning in life. An arrogant individual who refuses to accept anything other than his own limited judgment. And honestly, as an atheist, I have often lived up to this stereotype. The content on various atheism-related forums and pages I followed and shared where often gleefully provocative, and targeted not at creating discussion, but getting to a point where I can pat myself on the back for my common sense.
Even popular figures in the atheist community, including Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, influenced me with their incendiary attitudes towards conversation and rhetoric, often attacking with the intention of winning a debate and proving a point. Richard Dawkins has gone on record stating the necessity for “strident atheists.” I was fundamental in my criticism of religion and its limitations. Of course, there was a certain satisfaction to be had from lashing out against the toxic system of organised religion that had inhibited me for so long.
But the truth is that I had eventually fallen prey to the same narrow mindedness and hostility to different perspectives that I had criticised other religious people for. I found it easy to dismiss religious and spiritual ideas. When I heard people talking about events in their life leading them to God, it was easy to scorn at them.
But I find that, often, when a person asks, “Do you believe in God?” They are really asking if you believe that life is meaningful. And when an atheist answers with a “No” it gives the illusion that we don’t attach meaning to life.
This is not to say that we should pander to the prickly sensibilities of religious fundamentalists or refuse to condemn the sins committed in the name of religion. However, we should be aware that when we rudely challenge the meaning of another person’s life, we do so in arrogance and immaturity.
I have finally come to understand that my rational disbelief and the theist’s faith, both come from the same source, which is a desire for truth and meaning. However, both today’s fundamental atheists and religious fundamentalists have forgotten the essence of their belief and its inherent beauty.
They see the finger pointing towards the moon instead of the moon itself. The common trait between the two parties is a tendency towards black and white thinking, and a rigid understanding of the truth, is an intellectual complacency mired in arrogance.
I was always sceptical of the seemingly absurd multitude of Gods in the Hindu religion. But of late I’ve come to understand their need. Life is such an infinitely nuanced experience that 33 crore versions of its meaning are not even close to enough. There are some who see a man kneeling in front of a lifeless carved stone, but there are others who see a devotee surrendering himself to a version of the truth whose unique beauty has pierced his soul.
We need to understand that atheism is not a destination, but the beginning of a journey. Atheism, finally, is a question. A beautiful question. Not an answer. An atheist should not be satisfied by the explanation that a literal God need not exist. Instead, they should wonder what else is there. What other answers they can find. An atheist should stare like a child at the beauty and suffering of this world and endeavour to understand the infinite. Are we not the cosmos seeking to know itself? Then let us not, while focusing on the mechanics of this world, forget its poetry.