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Saturday, April 15, 2006 

On Atheism

Atheism seems to be ubiquitous. From Amartya Sen and Ananth Pai, to most of the bloggers I communicate with, everyone claims to be an atheist. This post isn’t intended to comment on the validity of atheism as a philosophy. It is just an attempt by a devout, religious person like me (I hope I am not burnt at stake for this) to understand the reason(s) behind atheism’s growing popularity.

Being an atheist is modern/cool.
Atheism implies rejection of God and religion and with it the baggage of tradition that comes along with religion. So an atheist sets his own rules. He can go around shouting I’m a rebel like Aamir Khan in RDB. It hardly matters if he has a reason for rejecting a particular tradition. It is cool to bash tradition anyway.

Being an atheist is convenient.
In a world torn apart by religious fundamentalism, it is very convenient (especially for bloggers) to be an atheist. This allows the blogger to criticise fundamentalism in any particular religion, without having defend the religion indicated by his surname. It also allows him to choose the traditions and festivals convenient to him. “I will burst crackers on Diwali because I enjoy them. Why should one waste time on Lakshmi Poojan? I don’t believe in God anyways.”

Being an atheist is intellectual
That one is an atheist automatically implies that one has the capability to think for himself, as one must not have rejected a widely held belief like God just for the heck of it. Being an intellectual, (and hence atheist) is especially important to all writers. Who will buy their books if the public doesn’t believe that the author is giving them some independent thought?

Being an atheist is secular
In fact, the dictionary meaning of secular doesn’t leave much difference between atheism and secularism. Considering the Indian definition, which means equal respect for all religions, atheist show equal amount of contempt for all, and hence fit the secular bill.

Being an atheist is rational and scientific
The concept of God implies something all-powerful and supernatural. Both these concepts are beyond scientific rationale. Hence God and religion automatically become unscientific and irrational. Acceptance of God requires the humility to accept that there are things beyond human comprehension. Rationalists and scientists are trying to comprehend all the mysteries of the world. Hence a rejection of God is but natural to them.

It would be easy for anyone to dismiss atheism as pop-culture, but atheism has survived for centuries, and I have no doubt it will last as long the concept of God does. After all, there are so many advantages of being an atheist.

Agreed that, atheism has survived for centuries and there are so many advantages of being an atheist... However, our mere existence proves the existence of the Almighty. What an irony!!

i dont know what or who GOD is...

i was brought up in a family where as a kid, we toured extensively the various temples in south india every family vacation amongst other visits. at that time, the inconveniences of gettin up at 4 am, taking a shower in bitter cold water and eating barely palatable food on the road really turned me off the concept of temple visits...

as a kid, GOD was equated with temple idols and the heroes in the stories told by grandma. i was a non-believer in GOD or someone who lacked faith till i was in my 10th...i dont know which... i was a firm believer in science thru and thru and it was my belief that there cannot be something greater than science... maybe there is and maybe there isnt...

but since then life has taken its courses and i did come to the realization that GOD or not, there is definately some higher power that sees over us in many ways... and thereon i placed my implicit trust in her/him/it/??.

maybe again its the rationalization of a scientific mind that psychologically transfers its burdens and lack of control over unknown and uninfluencable factors to an unknown entity, i dont know.

i rarely visit temples... but each time i go into a temple or church, i sit for 10 mins and thank the deity there... in many ways there isnt anything to ask for when u have a life as good as mine, but its just a formal process of letting someone/some power know that you are grateful for what you have.

having said all that, somehow i do find it comforting when at diwali, at navratri, at other times during the year, by doing poojas with family, there is a sense of peace.

now is that the joke GOD is playing on us? search and you will find the truth?

good take on it! wonder though if uve even thought abt the agnostic clan!

@Upasana:

I find it difficult to challenge the validity of agnosticism, An di do find it appealing, but it does not provide the comfort one gets from religion.

Dear Mayank,
I liked this particular post and am tempted to offer a few comments.
All the reasons that you cited for embracing atheism has some validity but it relates more to the pop-culture of atheism rather than some rigorous and profound philiosophical position. I am a deeply religious/spiritual person but also hold atheism as a philosophy in high regard. It has been a powerful counterpoint to religious excess over the ages and has nourished the growth of a great body of scientific thought and literature.
Atheism has its own epistemological debates about the categories of knowledge but the general consensus among the philosophers is that empiricism and rationality are the foundations of this philosophy. Surely, if you go by the rigours of applying rationalistic approach to the issue of God, He is found wanting. But the biggest contribution of this philosophy is also its biggest weakness in that it reduces the categories of knowledge to just one method. Rationality has its limitations as a category of knowledge and is also far from perfect even by its own stated standards. The real critique of atheism thus is not that it is fashionable because it is supposedly rational but that it is deductive and reduces human aspirations to just one dimension.

just read a post about agnosticism and your surrender to it in the comments section. Here I offer some counterpoints to agnosticism which admittedly is a far more nuanced position.
Agnosticism holds that it ain't exist unless proved. One of the biggest proponents of this philisophy in recent times has been Bertrand Russell. Agnosticism is in no way different from atheism in its appraoch to the methods of gaining knowledge. So my criticsm of atheism stands true even in the case of agnosticism that it reduces human yearnings to just one dimension. Over and above that, one critical aspect is that agnostics shift the entire burden of proof to the other party. Surely, one can take the line that "it exists unless proved otherwise". Its a smart sleight of hand that helps them wriggle out of the debate and take a judgmental position which they are hopelessly tied with because of their rational epistemic position. So there philosophy is consistent and coherent internally but it remains deductive and reductive.

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