Why I am an Atheist?

Let’s face it. Theists of one type or another are in majority in the world. For someone like me who wears his faith (or lack thereof) on his sleeve, I have been asked umpteen number of times what horrible event made me an atheist? Even people close to me wonder why I, who has been very lucky by their estimate, should be against God. It’s almost as if society expects our default mindset to be a Theist.

One does not need an explanation for why s/he is a theist. Considering a majority of people carry on with the religion they were born in most people do not even make a conscious decision about which god to believe in. They pick-up the first fairy-tale they hear and spend rest of their lives rationalizing that theirs is the greatest fairy-tale and theirs is the biggest fairy-monster.

Considering this state of the society, being an atheist is almost always a conscious choice. It requires some thinking on your own. One needs to stand up from the comfortable conceited self-centered beliefs and recognize one’s own mind as a working tool. I am not saying that all believers are incapable of thinking. It is just this one subject where they choose to forego reasoning and cling to incredulous fiction. I am not saying that atheists are intellectually more capable. But I do believe that atheists are intellectually more honest.

However this particular post is not about bashing believers. This is about my journey to the oasis of Atheism. This is about my breaking up a two decade old friendship with an imaginary friend – God.

Passive Acceptance

To begin, let’s get to the beginnings. I was born in a very religious and devout family. My father is very spiritual and very firm in his beliefs. My mother, like a lot of Indian women, follows the gods of her in-laws and her husband. I learnt basic chants and prayers around the house. As a child I considered it a point of pride to be able to rattle off any of the prayers I had learnt. There wasn’t even a subconscious effort to learn the meaning. That would come later. This was just a brush with the ritual.

My touch with religion came through my maternal and paternal grandmothers. My paternal grandmother used to live with us and she was very fond of devotional songs and religious magazines. My maternal grandmother, who visited us every six months or so, was a wonderful story-teller and she read a lot of religious books. In those days I was a book-worm without a sense of genre or direction. I read everything that was lying around. So at the age of reading Chacha Chaudhary I read books on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Instead of Jules Verne, I read Jan-Kalyan (a local religion-focused magazine).

I had read / heard multiple versions of stories of Mahabharat and Ramayan. My love for stories of Krishna and his devotees outlasted my belief in the God and even now continues to stay with me. Being student of a Convent school, I had a mild exposure to stories and morals of Bible. At that time though, I wasn’t aware of this connection between the subject “Moral Science” and Bible. I should note here that contrary to public perception, we were not fed any “Jesus is the only savior and Christianity is the only true religion” message. Now I can reflect that the content of “Moral Science” subject was not at all science and not particularly moral!

Active Acceptance

As a side-effect of all this religious content that I was devouring, I had come to believe that God does watch my every decision and everything good that happens to me is a reward from God. God was like a family member in addition to my parents who would discipline me and reward me based on my actions. So far, so good.

In the general trumpeted bonhomie between Hindus and Muslims in TV serials and movies, I sort of developed a healthy dose of respect for Islam as well without really knowing much about the religion. Another heavy influence on me was autobiography and some biographies of Mahatma Gandhi. Seeing that Gandhi was also a religious person acted as a validation of my beliefs.

Passive Rejection

Between ages 15-18 I devoutly prayed to and worshiped gods. I performed the daily puja at my house for about 3-3.5 years. Mainly because the board exams were around and without appeasing Gods, there couldn’t be any rewards. Behind this devout exterior, there was an under-current unbeknownst even to me at the time. I read up all that was lying around. But I wasn’t eating it all up. I had my problems with what was written in a lot of those books. Unequal treatment based on caste or gender was something that had never sat well with me. I found Manu-Smruti a singularly revolting treatise. But I took solace in thinking that these were either mistranslated or misunderstood. God himself (yes, I always thought of God as a “him”) wouldn’t be in agreement with all the stuff that I was finding around me.

Active Rejection

Then I joined college. Moved to a different city. So regular prayers and religious reading fell by the wayside. With board exams done, there was no special appeasement required. Gods fell in to back burner for a while. Around this time, I received a small award for an article I had written some time back. The award wasn’t a Noble Prize but I felt myself a few small steps away from it. As befits a fake modest spiritual fool, I attributed this success to God. This is where all hell broke loose. A dear friend, Kaushal Bhavsar, gave a very brief argument and forced me to re-look at my beliefs.

KB – So you mean, you did not deserve the award?

Me – Yes. This is all God’s grace and mercy.

KB – Does this mean that you will expect more rewards that you do not deserve?

Me – (well there is no backing out of this one when “God” is favoring you) why, of course. That is the way God works. He rewards people he sees fit.

KB – by that logic, isn’t God making you into an over-confident, incompetent bastard who expects to be entitled to things he doesn’t deserve?

This isn’t the strongest argument against God. This wasn’t even the strongest argument Kaushal made in our regular discussions. But it put a stop to my rationalization of my failures and minor successes. From here on, I went back to my beliefs and my faith structure one by one. I checked the foundation of my beliefs and found every brick hollow, every stone brittle. Day-by-day, argument-by-argument I came towards the light of reason.

Slowly but surely I lost my connection with god and religion. Here again my reading helped me a lot. Whatever little I read of Koran, Geeta and Bible pushed me more towards Atheism. I am not saying that for the dramatic value. I found each of them too violent for my taste at the time. The hatred steeped too deeply in Old Testament and Koran horrified me. Inconsistencies in Geeta and constant rhetoric for war put me off that book as well. Bertrand Russell’s essay – Why I am not a Christian made a lasting impact and I dispossessed myself of God and religion for good.

Since then I have gone back to these three books again. I dabbled around some Upnishads and re-read various versions of Mahabharat and Ramayan again and again. I have come to detest Ram and I continue to be fascinated by Krishna. I still continue to seek and read various books around religions. But that is mainly to understand peculiarities of these religions and be enthralled by a fascinating fiction.

So dear curious theists, no, there’re no dead bodies or desperate events that made me an atheist. I am not an atheist due to disappointment in god. I am not an atheist because I can’t see how beautiful the world is. I am an atheist because I cannot delude myself anymore. I choose to put my stake in reason therefore I am an atheist. I prefer doubt over belief therefore I am an atheist.

I think, therefore I am… an atheist!

Atheism

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About bforbihag
Poochhate hai wo ki Ghaalib kaun hai, Koi batlao ke hum batalaaye kya?

7 Responses to Why I am an Atheist?

  1. Yogesh says:

    Nice.
    I don’t know if I am a theist or atheist. But loved the write-up 🙂

    • Erik says:

      It’s easy. Do you believe in god or not? I was born into Atheism and I can’t say I’m worse off never having a relationship with god. He simply doesn’t exist for me. Never has, never will 🙂

  2. Sanket Borad says:

    Didn’t know about that turning point. Good to read about it.

    It is interesting that a typical theist is quick to ascribe an atheist’s beliefs to the latter’s personal misfortune. In my view such thinking stems from the fact that theism demands certain constraints on thought, particularly because theism is largely founded on fear (of the vain supernatural being who supposedly ‘loves’ His followers and strikes down the rest). Under such circumstances, acknowledging that atheism may be motivated by something more substantial than a personal grudge against divinity – say for instance by LOGIC – would be granting too much credence to the possibility that there may be some merit in the non-believers’ views.

    The phenomenon that led me to become an atheist was precisely the opposite of what is commonly believed to induce atheism. I did not become an atheist because of some personal misfortune. On the contrary, my journey towards atheism began when I observed that it is possible to have a little humor and fun in life without being struck down as promised for all sorts of reasons by the omnipresent omniscient omnipotent Lord.

  3. Satbir says:

    well written article! Enjoyed reading it 🙂

  4. aravind vasudevan says:

    Well written article Bihag!!. i chose to and happened to read about this article only know and very soon my mind started stereotyping you and your article into one of the new age fascinations!! people calling themselves rationals, logical thinkers and atheists seem to be in vogue these days especially among the youth. the current generation has been badly treated by our previous generation who have been mere blind followers. I was lucky to be born in a family steeped in religion and religious history and i was even more fortunate to have spent time with some stalwarts of religion in my family and understand the concept of faith and philosophy. Since then, I have come to believe that I am strong theist, because the notion of god is so deeply introspective and beautiful!!. It is always in touch with reality, unlike the caption at the end of post which boasts that atheism in connected to reality..

    It is our collective ignorance of the true explanations of god and the surrounding philosophical tenets. We view religion through the prism of mythology and epics, whereas religion, god and spirituality are far beyond that. Such things needs to be understood either personally or by studying and observing the lives of such people! I find it very unsettling that without making an endeavour to understand the essence of religion and God, people profess to be atheists!! How illogical and unscientific!!

    For your benefit, read about various philosophical systems in Hindu – like Tarka, Mimamsa, Shunya . You will also find atheist thoughts aplenty. Such debates are not new in the realm of indian history and there have been plenty of arguments to and for. I am yet to come across a person who is an atheist and yet knows about religion and god so much. To be able to refute a logic, one needs to be an expert in that!.

    All other self branding is a mere MAya which you have imposed upon yourself!!

    • bforbihag says:

      Hey, Good to be in touch after such a long time buddy!

      I get in to arguments on this topic with a lot of theists and we disagree very strongly on quite a few things as you can imagine.

      Your tone in the comment however is too rude and condescending for me to respond without lashing out. I have written a reactive note in anger but I hope it always stays in my draft folder.

      To begin or even try to have a fruitful discussion, I would prefer if you could present you arguments in a more respectful manner. Would love to have a detailed discussion on this topic. I wouldn’t mind at all to be proven wrong on my ideas or ideologies.

      Also, it would be great if you can share some specifics about ideology or book or God that you follow / worship. It would give me a perspective of where your arguments are coming from. As you mentioned the universe of Indian Darshans (schools of philosophies) is quite large. So I would prefer if you can share a specific set of books that you are referring from.

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