Paper presented in
INTERNATIONAL ATHEIST CONFERENCE,
held on 5th , Jan 2018, at Thiruchirapalli
ATHEISM: A WAY OF LIFE
It was so hard for someone like me to proclaim at some point of my life that I had at last “become” an atheist. I started slipping off from my Christian faith in my late thirties but got the guts only after another 8 years to openly call myself an atheist. So almost at the late forties I hesitantly proclaimed my loss of faith to the world.
It was so tough for me to accept this ‘conversion’. The faith that was fed / forced into me from cradle formed a thick armour around me, protecting me from the ‘sins and evils of the outer world’. However in the beginning it was a combination of little doubts. Once we allow such doubts arising in our mind it leads to a domino effect or ratchet effect. The first card falls. Then all cards fall down in a jiffy. A simple magic. What was built from childhood came to a naught soon. But I found the process of this change a very hard one. It reminded me what Nietzsche said: “It is not easy to be an atheist”!
An atheist has to always face the onslaught of questions and criticisms, and he is always expected to answer them. It is a condition imposed on every non-believer. For a believer answering question is very easy. He always runs to his “Book” and quotes it left and right. He never even bothers whether the listener / opponent also believes his book. What is said in the book is the ‘divine word’ for him. They have a static statement about their scriptures: “My religious book answers all questions”; it is a foolish and far-fetched statement. Nothing can be less true. But an atheist cannot run to any such single safe source. Some theists blame that even atheism is a religion since atheists also hold on to some ‘faith’ or unprovable hypothesis. But this argument fails since atheists normally don’t have the same reason for being an atheist. It differs from man to man. Rationality is the only process and pathway for atheists to reach their own independent convictions.
Believers think human goodness is only by the fear of god. Since atheists have no gods they don’t have moral codes, concludes the theists. Hence theists assume that atheists can never be good moralists. This is like saying that since there is a police force, I never steal. Theists refuse to accept that good hearted people with good conscience need not have any divine moral stipulations; conscience is the only thing needed for the best behaviour in any man. Personally I felt atheism impregnates a person to be more humanistic. Human life could be quite moral even without a god. The British Humanist Association claims that "Right and wrong can be explained by human nature alone and do not require religious teaching".
What happens after you die? What happens to your “soul”? These are the next set of questions normally an atheist faces. Most of our existing religions insist importance to the ‘next life’ and unceremoniously abhor the present life and give least importance to this. I consider all the biological factors remain the same in me and my little puppy. What happens to the puppy after death is the same to me too. When my puppy dies … then it is the end of it. So do I. Soul is normally used as a very ‘powerful weapon’ either to threaten or to mystify human minds. What holds good to non-humans should be the same for humans too. Flesh turning to dust is universal. We by our own imaginations created gods and religions. And to make it more emphatic ‘soul’ is also created.
If you don’t have a soul, and if there is nothing after death, what is the significance of this life? Don’t you attach values to this life? Don’t you have some meaning to this life? Another barrage of questions. Believers live for the ‘next’ world and die. Non-believers live for this life. Hence it becomes more meaningful and natural while it is conditional for believers. The “carrot and the stick” are the driving factors for believers. If religion does not have the mantra of “after life” it will lose its magnetic grip on believers. No wonder the address of all the religions is the combo of ‘death and after life’.
Believers keep claiming that all facts of science are there in their ‘books’. They always try construing some lines in their book to some scientific facts. They keep believing that our world was created by their almighty and keep a closed eye to evolution. In Christianity some evade the question of evolution with a quirky solution – it is creation through evolution. But Islam stands firm on the 6 or 8-day creation. Though searching scientific truths in religious books is an unnecessary and unwanted exercise, religious zealots keep trying it since that could strengthen that their books are really god given.
Rationality is another victim in the altar of religions. Like the science and holy books being contrastive to each other, rationality and religious faith also stand as another contrastive pair. It is always true that all scriptures deny the right of believers to question anything said in them. Brain-washing people that the words in scriptures are words of god is the first and foremost warning to believers. So they never raise any question on scriptures. Simply and eternally blind folded! Traditional arguments and explanations are fed especially to a growing child and its spiritual growth stops altogether at that point. Rest of its life goes in a “guided path” never looking beyond what was given in the childhood.
What changes my new found atheism brought out in me? A lot. Free from all the shackles and religious rituals. There is no big brother sitting high above in the sky and watching every deed I make here. The fear of an eternal punishment – the fear of ‘stick’ – is not there. No threatening almighty above me. I am an individual; I have my own moral codes – basically be a good human. A believer believes in after life and lives his life only for that. But a non-believer sets his terms knowing well that this life is his and nothing more after that. So he makes use of it fully. He thinks and lives accordingly. Further many scientific experimental studies were carried out and results are more poignant. Non-believers are found to be more moralistic in real situations than the believers.
Invariably any believer would end his arguments with one last question: what are you after death? What happens to you? You just simply vanish from the earth … is that all? I have an easy answer. After death I would become what I was before my birth … nothing! The funny thing about ‘after life’ … it is always praised by religions as the true life, eternal life, life with god. If so, how come believers too fear death so much? If heavenly gate readily opens for your good deeds, why not believers rush to those gates? Why so much medication, yearning for long life, all the struggle to hold on to life?
Neuroethology has started throwing more light on the intricate relationship between brain and religious faith. A ‘moral part’ or ‘God spot’ could be there in human brain, scientists assume. A search is going on for some decades. Neuroethologists expect some specific part of our brain could be the source of religions in the whole human history. Michael Persinger’s ‘god helmet’ experiment done in 1980s is so interesting. Temporal lobe epilepsy and its impact on humans became another great breakthrough. Study on the impact of Sertonin proves that this may serve as a biological basis for spiritual experiences. Studies in 1990s by Vilayanur Ramachandran widen the field. Many experiments are being worked out with human samples like nuns, Buddhist monks, and people with odd religious experiences.
All the above scientific exercises prove that many religious experiences of people could be explained with scientific basis. They still do not know the very exact location in brain, or the actual mechanism, or any chemical stimulant related to the religious experiences. But attempts are being made to find it. But there is also another hypothesis that religion and faith could have been encoded in our human system so much that it cannot be so easily culled out from us.
These research proceedings logically confirm a state of a continuous war between theists and atheists. So it is going to be long war for atheists to keep moving against superstitions, religious fallacies and religious fundamentalism. Let us admit that theism dominates human minds for a long period in human history. However the presence of atheists is being felt now more emphatically around the world. National Geographic published in 2016 an article titled, "The World's Newest Major Religion: No religion.
This war is ours. Let us keep fighting what is best for humans – a world filled just with humaneness, without any marring religious fundamentalism.