Musings on religion

I have had my fair share of exchanges around religion and certain religious practices, but I’ve never written here about where I lie on the religious spectrum and why. Here’s a post to remedy that (and do the long overdue resurrection of this blog). The attempt is to pen down personal observations and thoughts, rather than to dissect the matter in an academic/scholarly manner.

I am an atheist. I’ve been one for the whole of my adulthood, I reckon. I was raised in a fairly typical Indian Hindu family w.r.t. religion. My parents, especially my dad, are religious. Like most kids brought up in such an environment, I was exposed to a good deal of religious stories and references. But, as soon as I began to think independently, the dangers of letting religion cloud my thought process or affect my life’s decisions became clear as day. Though I do not believe in God, what struck me as more pertinent than the question of God’s existence were 1) the futility of idol worshiping and rituals and 2) the fatalism and gender inequity that a lot of the prevalent religious behavior fosters.

I must underscore before proceeding further that these observations apply to religion in general, not merely Hinduism. What I want to convey through this post has nothing to do with the typical Hindu vs Muslim mud-slinging that many such discussions transform into.

Let me cite a few instances of the typical religious conduct that I could never reconcile with my reasoning/conscience. To begin with, many – though not all – religious people have this notion that praying to God or performing some rituals will magically bring them prosperity, regardless of how unfairly they have led their lives. A related trait observed in a lot of the religiously inclined is the obsession with and submission to fate. Instead of doing something about or refraining from acts of injustice, the followers of this doctrine of fatalism assume that everything is preordained, and escape into inaction. Secondly, many of the religious narratives and rituals are also detrimental to the status of women, who are portrayed as second class citizens whose existence revolve around men. Rituals often blatantly refer to men as the ‘heads’ of families. Also, many of the rituals are deplorably wasteful from an environmental standpoint. I know that atheism doesn’t automatically make one green and responsible, but at least those irresponsible things that are done in the name of God are avoided.

All that said, I am not making the sweeping claim that religion necessarily makes every single person a worse human being. I am aware that there are people whose key motivation for making ethical choices is to ‘accumulate good karma and go to heaven’, or simply avoid violating the religious code. But, on the other extreme, you have people who carry out and justify horrendous things on religious grounds. The way to go, IMHO, is to decouple religion/faith/spirituality (if one must have it) and the way we lead our lives. A friend of mine once told me that the only reason he believes in God is because it makes him feel a little more secure. Beyond that, he says, he doesn’t let it affect any of his choices. He doesn’t squander resources on rituals. His worldview and decisions are governed only by ethical considerations and critical thinking. Now, that’s a religious/spiritual way of living that I have no misgivings about. Personally, though, I am perfectly fine without faith, and have no plans to cease being an atheist.

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About Pulkit Parikh

A computer science researcher by training. At present, I earn my monthly wages from Microsoft, where I am a software engineer. Prior to that, I had worked with KSS and HP Labs, after obtaining MS-by-Research from IIIT Hyderabad. I hail from Ahmedabad (Gujarat), where I spent the first two decades of my life. A few years later, Sejal was kind enough to pick me as her partner for life. I am avidly fond of bridge (a riveting mind game of cards). In late 2010, I made what I consider my most significant decision: https://pulzinponderland.wordpress.com/living-well-by-letting-live/

Posted on December 6, 2014, in General Musings and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice blog Pulkit. I saw your post on Facebook about atheism and No true scotsman fallacy. I hate to comment on facebook so I am doing it here :)

    I agree generally with what you said, but I want to make a comment. Our thinking process is often limited to a finite set of vocabulary, so it matters a lot how we frame words and which words we use while thinking. For example, is “scotsman” a really useful word ? Who defines the “scotsman” ?

    With religion, I think a lot of ideas are lost in translation, especially across cultures. For example, the tradition of atheism in India is very different from the west, because the ideas which are criticized are very different. Nowadays, we Indians are borrowing the vocabulary and philosophy from the west which may not be tuned as clearly to this debate.

    I wrote two blogposts on atheism that you may find interesting.

    The first one, I wrote a long time ago:
    http://the-redpill.blogspot.de/2008/10/case-for-god.html

    The second one, I wrote recently. It is more about logic and debate, but it is relevant to the discussion of atheism in an Indian context:
    http://the-redpill.blogspot.de/2015/11/the-four-sided-negation-tool-for.html

    At the level of philosophical debate, where people are trained to be self-reflective, they do not suffer as much as normal people from blind conditioning by social customs and rituals. When we see social problems, we can attribute them to conditioning by religion or ritual. But it might as well be true that these problems are a result of lack of education, self-reflection and philosophical training. I don’t think we can eliminate problems simply by eliminating the ritual. Every aspect of life gets condensed into a ritual, whether we know it or not. In other words, we cannot be like the fabled ostrich sticking its head in the sand. There’s a great anecdote of Marvin Minsky on similar lines.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_koan#Uncarved_block

  2. I agree (as I remarked in one of the Facebook comments) that religious influence/conditioning is not the only source of oppressive actions. But religion significantly compounds the issue as it tells people to do things without requiring that they be justifiable logically and ethically. That said, I couldn’t agree more about the larger need to foster critical thinking and equally importantly empathy/compassion/ethical responsibility.

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