On becoming and being an atheist

I’m 26 years old, a Hindu Indian. Religion and God are very much ingrained in our daily activities and our way of thinking. I grew up very much a believer, Ganesha being my favorite God. He was my friend to whom any wish asked for would be fulfilled. Or rather, I forgot, or gave myself a justification for, the times when they weren’t fulfilled and remembered only the ones that were fulfilled (through sheer co-incidence).

Last year, somewhere around October, I turned an atheist. There were questions brewing in my mind for a long time before that one instant when the paradigm shift happened.

Looking back at how it happened, the two main aspects I find had a crucial part in it are -

  1. I’ve always believed in the need to be completely honest about anything with myself. Like, blatantly, nakedly honest with myself, no matter how harsh the truth is on me
  2. My plain belief in the idea that - Life on this earth is beautiful (or atleast it’s supposed to be, and anyone who says that life is a mix of happiness and grief I dismiss as rubbish, like, why would anyone readily accept grief as a part of life regardless of how certain or frequently it occurs)

Let me explain how these 2 factors played out in me turning an atheist (Yes, I do see this episode as something almost dramatic, hence the terms “played out” :D )

I have a friend at work, with whom I mostly discuss a lot of philosophical, moral topics. He is an atheist, has been one for as long as he can remember. I once came across an article which questioned atheists as to how they can strongly say that there is no God, by comparing them to a baby in a mother’s womb (womb being the metaphorical Universe in which we live). The baby doesn’t know about the mother for as long as it lives in the womb, but there is a mother, which it realizes once it comes out of the womb. Similarly, atheists may not know the true entirety of this Universe and hence presumptuously believe that there ain’t no God. I somehow found the argument interesting and logical (the irony of it!), and shared it with my friend, and hence started the discussion on “God” for the first time. An interesting conversation ensued where he told me about few really amusing concepts like the Russell’s teapot theory and the God of the gaps theory. Towards the end, while talking about his childhood and how he wouldn’t ever follow any of the God-related customs, he said one sentence that echoed in my mind and stayed on for a long time afterwards — “I dared to question, which is why I became an atheist”.

I dared to question, which is why I became an atheist.

I started thinking…is it as simple as that? Is it as simple as just “questioning”? I had never truly questioned the idea of “God”. If I just subjected my faith in God to questioning, would it give way? And as I mentioned earlier, I believe in being completely honest with myself about everything, and the fact that I had never really honestly questioned myself about such an important matter kept nagging me. Then again, somehow I didn’t do the questioning that very day and left that thought half-way.

Another day, I happened to be reading a blog post about a serial rapist in the US who kept 3 women captive in his basement for a period of almost TEN-damned years, during which he repeatedly beat them, raped them and also impregnated one of them, and one fine day after 10 years of torture the three women were rescued by a neighbour who heard their cries for help. The rapist was arrested, he plead guilty in the court of law and was sentenced to a life-time imprisonment. The blog post at the end said — “No matter what, life will never be the same again for those three women, and for that reason I believe that there is no God”. This sentence numbed me….

I couldn’t stop thinking — Is there really a God? If there is, how can people also go through such unjustifiable miseries in their life, and “God” be “Ok” with it? If you talk of karma, is there truly any evil act one could have performed that can justify being punished for with rape?? Just because we happen to have a privileged life where we haven’t seen many inhumane atrocities, how can we overlook the miseries of those suffering unimaginable sorrows and bearing unerasable scars?? Everyone deserves a beautiful life!!

The truth came to me as being a very simple fact, like an epiphany — there. is. no. God. It wasn’t a resentful conclusion, it was just a fact that I realized. There is no point in being angry at an imaginary being for the evils performed by mankind. There is always some person and his thoughts responsible for an evil act. At the same time crediting “God” whenever something good happens in our life is also a discredit to the people in our life who helped make it happen, or to the hard-work we put in ourselves to make it happen. Instead of thanking God, we should thank the people who helped us achieve whatever we wanted to achieve, we should be thankful to those who make us happy, and above all be thankful to ourselves for being the kind of person that we’re happy being.

After that realization, it was like a weight lifted off my chest. From the next day on, it was a surreal experience where I started noticing how very omnipresent the idea of God is in our country (maybe that’s why they say God is omnipresent ;) ). From the names of shops to pictures of Gods inside buses, to being used as a deterrent to stop people from throwing garbage at certain areas to us treating books as God — God was literally everywhere! These were things that I never noticed or gave an extra thought to earlier. Another interesting thought I had was — that if there is an actual person as “God”, he would be more happy with me, the atheist than the theists — as atleast I’m not blaming him/her for every f***-ed up thing happening on this earth. I take responsibility for the fact that we humans, as a race have f***-ed up big time and there’s no one to rescue us except another of our own kind. So it pays to care about this earth, instead of an after-life. It pays to care about another human being, than to care about what “God” or religion will think. It pays to do what is beneficial and convenient to us, in this life, than to do what is mistakenly propagated to be the “word of God” and has little, if any, benefit to us.

So, it almost feels like a new life to me now :) These days when I tell people that I’ve turned an atheist their first reaction is “Why???” with a real concern in their voices — they think I must have had some devastating experience in my life and hence the switch. While I smilingly answer in my mind “The question shouldn’t be why I don’t believe in God, rather it should be why you believe in God” (courtesy — the great Russell teapot theory — the burden of proof is on the one making the scientifically unfalsifiable claims, not the other way round) . I don’t say this out loud. Instead I ask them what their definition of God is and go about asking them how they believe so strongly in it, and they usually don’t have a rational response. They are Ok with having the blind belief, and I don’t have a problem with that either, because I can identify with it, that’s exactly the kind of belief I had had for 25 years. But the difference is that I care a lot about humanity and this earth and the idea of “God” is perpendicular to the idea of humanity in my opinion, and that’s where we part ways.