Friday, June 29, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #19: Raja

Boston Atheists member Raja writes:

I was born in a Hindu family. I did not become an atheist overnight. It came gradually to me. Although, it should not be much of a struggle to reject an ancient system that is founded and still practiced primarily on the basis of caste and mythical gods and goddesses, it did not come easily to me while formally rejecting Hinduism. True that it should have come much earlier than it did because my father was an atheist in his own way. He and Bengali (yes I come from an area in India where we are called Bengalis because we speak Bengali!!) youths of his time (and now too) experimented with Marxism. So it wasn’t too difficult for him to not go to temples or do silly rituals because that’s what all his peers did! My mother, on the other hand, in spite of adhering to leftist values, used to be (not anymore) a devout Hindu. I followed my mother’s footsteps for a long time before realizing why she attempted to show excess devotion to a moribund Hindu system. Of course, it was caste! She came from a ‘lower caste,’ whereas my father was from ‘upper caste Brahmin!’ As one can imagine that though no pressure came from my father, and they lived away from their respected families (a big deal in a society that glorifies living together with extended families), still my mother wanted acceptance from my father’s ultra-orthodox ‘upper caste’ family members. She performed all the rituals with devotion, and I did those too; but of no avail. She still remained a lower caste, and my father’s family still kept her separate from all family ceremonies. I wasn’t aware of it until I was 13, because thirteen is an age when Brahmins (boys only) are supposed to have an initiation ceremony. The archaic rituals required the mothers to be involved in various ceremonial occasions; and my mother, being a ‘lower caste’ was to be barred from joining those rituals. My father did not take a strong stand against it, probably because he felt weaker against the Hindu oligarchy, and partly because my mother wanted the ceremony to happen! When I learned all of these, I not only refused the entire silly ceremony but also rejected caste-Hnduism altogether. The Hindu ‘limbo’ is guaranteed for me!

I left caste-Hinduism, but yet could not leave Hinduism completely. Although I learned that others believe in other gods etc., but that did not bother me because in Hinduism there are millions of gods and goddesses! What really struck me is when I observed an strange phenomena where a new goddess was added into the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses in the 20th century India. The goddess came not from any ancient text, but from celluloid, from a Bollywood (I think) devotional film. After the film I observed people making temples in that goddesses name, and millions began worshiping that ‘celluloid’ goddess with the same devotion as they did to other million gods and goddesses! Even my mother became involved in this new phenomenon! Fasting, rituals, devotional singing, a special day for the goddess; everything came with the film!! Even my child-mind could not comprehend this bizarre cultural trend. But it did one thing to me; I learned to reject all of those millions of gods and goddesses at once. Here I must confess that a counter-culture at that time also flourished where ridiculing Hindu gods and goddesses were done in books and films in regular basis. Bengal used to be one in the forefront of this counter-culture. I still remember a film during the same time of the devotional film came out where they made fun of the Hindu system using a very popular devotional story. Then I read Bertrand Russell’s ‘Why I am not a Christian,” and I read Bhagat Singh’s “Why I am not a Hindu.” All of these and many more helped me shape my thoughts on rejecting not only Hinduism, but also all religions.

Atheism came to me long after I rejected religion. No matter how much I read Hume or Kant, no matter how much I read Bengali atheist writers and no matter how much I watched avant-garde films, nothing could convince me the non-existence of a pantheistic god. First glimpse of atheism came to me when I read ‘A Brief History of Time.’ Next came when I became a biologist and learned evolution. I was still afraid of calling myself an atheist, and found an easy comfort in agnosticism! But when I read Dawkins, Harris and Dennett, I realized that there is nothing to be afraid of my complete lack of belief in god. I finally declared myself an atheist. I confirmed my atheism after reading Christopher Hitchens. The question that cemented my atheism is when I learned to ask, if creation requires a creator, who created the creator?

A thing that still bothered me when I read books like “Brief History….,” where Hawking says, “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.” ---- why would he say that? Hitchens cleared that up for me. He said in a speech that Hawking or Einstein invokes God not because they want us to believe in a celestial God, but because they prove that our vocabulary is still of our infancy. He goes on saying that, they make no concession to the idea of our theist or theocratic dispensation. This was enough for me to accept that I don’t have to believe in a celestial dictator. And finally when it came to questioning how something is possible out of nothing ‘The Grand Design,’ gave me that answer too.
And that is how I became an atheist! And I am happy that I did.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email