My journey to atheism is quite commonplace, but where better to speak of it than my blog?
I am a working scientist, though I am quite low in the pecking order, so to speak. I am a lowly post-doctoral researcher, with not much academic activity (or rather, activity, period!) outside of the lab for lack of time. But I do have a passion for science and scientific thought, and value science education tremendously.
My story may sound familiar to some. Not too long ago, I was a believer. The belief was not taught to me; rather it came naturally as a consequence of the environment I was born and grew up in. I am an Indian, born to and raised by parents who practise the Hindu religion. But to them, the Hindu religion (I avoid the term 'Hinduism') was not at all about the kind of teeth-gnashing, attention-clamoring, mosque-destroying, intemperate, uncivil, hooliganism that has become the face of Hindu-ism in modern India. To them, it was a philosophy; a unifying theme of 'One God - many manifestations' - that easily included the God-heads of other religions of the world; a kind, understanding, all-embracing way of life, that taught temperance, the value of life and love, and worship through discharge of duties to the fellow human being. It was such a basic and deep understanding that they never stood on ceremonies and rituals. Growing up in this environment, I never really felt any clash between my spirituality and my science, because I felt that the two belonged to two completely different non-intersecting planes.
It was in the past ten to fifteen years or so, when the world situation began to change around me, that I acutely became aware of a disconnect. I saw people killing and being killed in the name of religion; I found a growing sentiment of 'my religion is the best; the rest are all hogwash'. I watched with horror religious observances taking such precedence in people's lives that they oftentimes forgot, or started ignoring, the basic, fundamental qualities that make us human, including logic and reason. I was shocked and amazed to see the so-called religious leaders tout faith as the panacea to all problems, when clearly blind, unreasoning faith was inciting more hatred and mindless violence in many parts of the world.
I thought, "This cannot be right! If there is a God who cares, this is not the kind of madness that should be pervading mankind!" It shook the foundations of my beliefs, and I started deconstructing religion with cold, hard logic. Soon it all came away unravelled to me; I found that religion had nothing to do with a higher power or divinity. Instead, it was fraught with the basest human inequities, craze for power, greed, lust, subjugation through fear and guilt. The rest was all myths built by humans around this core to give it a lasting aura of respectability and prestige. And this was not unique to any particular religion; all of them, Hinduism, Judeo-Christianity, Islam, even lesser-known religions of the world, were full of hypocrisy and glaring inconsistencies. I came to understand that morality and ethics, in order to be viable guidelines for a way of life, did not really need the crutches of religion and observances; on their own, they could survive as eminently sound, logical and reasonable practices to build a life around. It did not take me long thereafter, to renounce any contact with organized religions. It must have pained my parents; but they were gracious enough to leave me to my thoughts, rather than try to impose theirs on mine.
More and more I look at the world today, atrocities fomented (and sanctioned) by the religions and committed by the religious zealots come to the fore. To find nothing wrong with religion is living in a state of active denial, a practice many of the so-called 'religious moderates' indulge in - and that includes my parents. They feel that people who incite violence and hatred in the name of religion are not the truly religious; the truly religious would focus on the messages of peace, non-violence, brotherhood, love and duty, central to most religions. Note that these lofty ideals are occasionally embraced by the religions when it suits their purpose. And to think that those ideals represent the whole idea of religious practices is, at best, delusional thinking.
I am often asked by friends and family why I choose to denounce religion so stridently, why I can't simply ignore the perversions of religion, and let everyone choose what they want to believe in - even if I don't believe in religion or any god. I found out long ago that I cannot change anybody else, except myself. But I am a scientist, and I deal with evidence. There is no evidence for existence of a god, any god, but there is plenty of evidence that the responsibility for much of the plight of human beings in today's world devolves directly on religious belief and blind adherence to dogma. That is the core problem. Religion cannot submit itself to logical enquiry; it demands blind acceptance, 'faith' and unthinking acquiescence to utterly ridiculous, often outdated, and superstitious belief systems.
The nature of religious belief is so insidious, that it needs to pervade, to spread like a cancer away from its source. An astonishing majority of the population of believers is deeply busy in trying to disseminate their odious doctrine to others, and none-too-gently, too! It is more often 'My religion is better than yours, so convert or die' kind of treatment, or it is done on the sly - 'Want medical care? Come to Jesus' kind of way. Religious indoctrination has progressed to such ludicrous levels that the 'faithful' often pull out the 'religious belief' card at every possible instance to explain their intransigence and imperviousness to common sense. They are trying - very actively - to spread their brand of stupidity to education, health care, politics, and other walks of life. If this is not actively countered, it will end up destroying our basic humanity.