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!