Category Archives: Religion

My thoughts on Bhagat Singh’s atheism and the perception of God in general

 

Quite a well-written essay by Bhagat Singh on why he was an atheist. Although now his arguments may seem clichéd (because we have come across such arguments against theism multiple times, especially from people who have no idea what they’re talking about) they are grounded on his experiences, his way of thinking and the writers and ideologues he had read during his brief lifetime. With such great command over words he puts forth his argument despite the fact that after a week a judgement may decide whether he should be hanged or released.

I think whether you believe in God or not is your personal choice and if it is not imposed on you, I don’t care if you derive energy by offering water to the sun or like Bhagat Singh, believing in your own reasoning and logic. By the end of the day, what matters is how you have spent your day. If you observe the contemporary world, there is actually no way of knowing who is religious and who is an atheist. In my eyes, a person who misbehaves and ill-treats people and then goes to the temple or mosque or church doesn’t really believe in the Almighty. Fanatics think that they are at the top of the chain when it comes to being religious whereas they are not following a religion but a cult that has sprouted out of a misinterpreted religious thought.

Bhagat Singh’s argument assumes that God has got to be a binary concept. The existence of God should mean there should be no misery and oppression in the world. This is a sort of disenchantment not a belief. If you flip his argument upside down, it means he would have believed in the existence of God if everything would have been hunky-dory in the world. Since there is misery, since there is inexplicable pain, since unfairness, since inequality, hence no God. A “God” by definition wouldn’t have allowed so much pain and misery to exist.

Another folly that I find in his logic for being an atheist is that he attaches too many human attributes to pain and suffering. Destruction in the sense that we know it, is occurring every second in the universe. Stars are dying, galaxies are collapsing, new stars are being born out of massive explosions, supernovae are occurring and according to recent lines of thinking, maybe complete universes are being annihilated and born. Compared to that, what is earth? It must be the tiniest of the tiniest dots in the scheme of the universe. The humans are just one of the species. There are millions of species on this tiniest of the tiniest dots. Yes, the earth is going through a phase where the humans are the dominant species but the earth goes through various faces. There was a time when the dinosaurs were the dominant species. They were at the top of the food chain.

So if we need to define God we shouldn’t define it by the degree of pain and pleasure that exists in this world. I think both pain and pleasure are natural phenomena and God has got nothing to do with it. You go outside, you can easily find a beautiful flower blossoming somewhere even by the roadside and you will say, “hey, this is godly beauty!” And then somewhere you can also find a volcanic crater brewing lava – a simulacrum of hell for many. Going by Bhagat Singh’s argument, whether God exists or not, depends on your worldview. Just to make sure that we don’t end up thinking that he is an atheist because of his worldview, he briefly mentions in a paragraph some scientific facts that try to explain the existence of life on Earth (he talks about the evolutionary theory by Darwin, for example), but eventually, what gets established is that it was his worldview that convinced him he should be an atheist. I’m not saying this is wrong, I’m just saying that whether you believe in God or not shouldn’t depend on the degree of pain and pleasure that exists in the world, but on plain logic.

What’s God? I don’t think anybody has so far been able to pinpoint exactly who God is. We are humans so we attribute human qualities to God. Since we have no clue who God is, it’s easier to use symbols. In programming parlance, we need to define a constant or a variable to attribute some value to it. The same is the case with manifestation of God in various religions, cults and sects. An idol becomes a God. A mythological figure becomes a God. A prophet becomes a God. A lineage of gurus becomes gods. A tre is e becomes a God. A river. Animals. And actually these are not gods, these are representations of God. The variables and constants we would like to assign values so that it becomes easier to identify them. You don’t want to pray in vagueness. You don’t want to pray in front of “whomsoever it may concern”. It’s a relationship. For the relationship you need a well-defined persona in front of you. So a Hindu may have Hanuman, a Christian may have Jesus, a Muslim may have Muhammed and a Buddhist may have Buddha. These are not focus points. Instead of “Dear whomsoever it may concern” we prefer to say “Dear Bajrangbali” because it’s easier to talk to an entity that has a well-defined form. Of course there are religions that also have a formless God but still, they have symbols to concentrate on.

Bhagat Singh says that you can be more selfless if you are an atheist. He says that when a religious person sacrifices he or she expects to go to heaven or be born as a king or a privileged person. An atheist on the other hand dies just for the cause. As an atheist, he says, he is embracing the gallows simply for the sake of the cause. He expects nothing in return. He doesn’t expect glory. He doesn’t expect heaven. He doesn’t expect to be reborn as a king because of his valiant sacrifice.

He assumes that if a religious person sacrifices he or she is expecting rewards in return, or at least metaphysical or esoteric rewards like a place in heaven or being reborn as a privileged person. He doesn’t seem to believe that a religious person would sacrifice just for the cause, the way he was doing. He must had believed that in order to die for a cause, just for the sake of the cause, a person has to be an atheist. He cannot imagine a person steeped in religious traditions dying selflessly. This, seems to be a hole in the logic, and I will explain this a little later.

Having written my thoughts here, I don’t mean to say that his ideas of atheism and theism were misplaced. We are nothing but a lump-sum manifestation of our experiences, our station in society, our standing in the world, our day-to-day ruminations and our intellectual exposures. Those days he was reading about socialism, Marxism and he seemed to be impressed by the mass murderers like Lenin (Gandhi was a fan of Hitler). He had to bear the injustices of the British rule. He had seen the Indian masses living in indescribable misery and pain (unfortunately a majority of them still do, God or no God). He thought that had God existed, he would have put an end to that persistent misery and pain.

I personally believe that atheists are less against the God and more against the traditional perception of God. God in himself or itself is too vague a topic. For example, if I say “I don’t believe in God” in the conventional sense of it is, what I mean to say is, I don’t believe in God the way people around me believe in God. This is because they constantly say that if God existed then this wouldn’t happen, if God existed then that wouldn’t happen and these are all traditional perceptions of God. Atheism as it exists around us is based on the premise that the world has to function in a particular manner in order for God to exist, otherwise it is humbug. So there is senseless suffering, hence there is no God. What it means is, had there been no senseless suffering, there would have been God. At least that is the simplistic explanation of atheism.

What about rationalism? Is a rationalist necessarily an atheist? Going by the current definition, especially if you go by a secularist outlook (I’m talking about real secularism, not the contemporary Indian variety) rationalism means not believing in superstitious practices. Since they consider all religious practices as superstitious practices, in a way, yes you can say that rationalists are atheists but personally I don’t believe. You can be a rationalist and still not be an atheist. I will give you a small example.

APJ Abdul Kalam was a scientist par excellence. You can safely believe that a scientist is a rational person. While launching missiles he wouldn’t have depended on the position of the stars or the auspicious sighting of various heavenly bodies. You can’t imagine him reciting religious hymns before taking administrative decisions. But he read Gita. He believed in the philosophy of Gita. Although if you closely read Gita it is more philosophical and less religious, but after all it is a religious text. Yes, you can read Gita as a scholarly exercise just to understand its contents, but Kalam believed in its underlying philosophy. Millions of people who read Gita believe in its underlying philosophy, right? So by definition, when you are reading Gita and when you are assimilating its underlying philosophy, you’re committing a religious act. Does this make you irrational? If not, you can be rationalist despite practising something religious.

So no, being a rationalist doesn’t mean that you are also an atheist. Vice-versa, being an atheist doesn’t automatically make you a rationalist. This is because, as I have mentioned above, most of the atheist think that they shouldn’t believe in God because there is lots of pain in the world. This sort of atheism is plain disgruntlement.

Now coming back to the “hole in the logic” where Bhagat Singh believes that a religious person cannot die without expecting a reward. I think there is a fault in this thinking. Do you think when Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life he was expecting a reward? Despite being a religious person, he allowed himself to be killed for a cause he believed in just as Bhagat Singh allowed himself to be hanged by the British for the cause he believed in. Going by Bhagat Singh’s logic, Guru Tegh Bahadur’s sacrifice then becomes more respectable because despite being a religious person, he doesn’t expect any rewards. He believes that he can be rewarded but still he doesn’t want those rewards. Bhagat Singh, on the other hand, since doesn’t believe in the existence of such rewards, doesn’t expect them. Because if he believes in such rewards, then he also believes in afterlife and if he believes in afterlife, he gets trapped in the loop of religious beliefs he doesn’t want to believe in. It’s like, if you are scared of heights but still you go to the rooftop of a skyscraper to help someone (or just to prove a point) you are braver than a person who performs the same act but has no fear of heights. Your sacrifice is greater if you know that you can get something but still decide not to get it for your cause rather than a person who knows that he cannot get that thing and then decides not to get it for his or her cause. I’m not trying to compare sacrifices here, since Bhagat Singh gives a hint that his sacrifice is of nobler quality because he doesn’t expect any reward, I’m mentioning this.

What’s my take on God? Am I a religious person? I have no problem with rituals. I can go to a temple and pray. As advised by my respected father-in-law, I read Hanuman Chalisa everyday because for 2 ½ years things are supposed to be tough for me. There is a Sikh prayer (the Mool Mantar) that I often recite, mentally, before going to sleep.

But I don’t believe in “my God is better than your God” because as I have mentioned above, the God that you pray in front of is nothing but an attribution of something or someone you don’t understand. I don’t believe in the evolutionary theory verbatim although the scientific fact must be valid. I believe that there are many aspects of existence we are not aware of.

I don’t disagree with the claim that there might be multiple universes within multiple universes and there might be infinite parallel existences. I don’t think that life on Earth is a fluke. Bhagat Singh wrote that essay just before being hanged and now I’m sharing my own thoughts based on the same and these can’t be flukes of nature. There is something more complex that we don’t understand, something so complex that sometimes we refuse to understand. Whether God exists or not depends on your own perception and your own worldview, but this world isn’t as simple as the Big Bang and the various combinations of pain and luxury, happiness and sadness, and crying and smiling that you see around yourself. I believe that we have limited knowledge of what we know. Does that make me a religious? Again, depends on your worldview.

Why atheism doesn’t make sense to me

I’m not a religious person in the conventional sense. I’m not into rituals, I’m not into chanting of hymns or mantras on a regular basis and I can’t even remember the last time I visited a place of religion. When I was a teenager I used to take pride in the fact that I were an atheist, but as I grew up, I realized, even that too, in the conventional sense, I was not. While I believe in God, I don’t believe in the concept of “my God is better than your God”.

Not everything that has sustained over thousands of years is good and credible. There are many traditions that are inhuman and they need to be abolished and some of them, such as the practice of Sati (the burning of the widow along with the deceased husband on the pyre) in India. The practice of Sati is not a good example because it might not have been religious, but what I’m trying to say is, everything old and ancient doesn’t have to be right, so if people have been praying in front of various gods and goddesses even for thousands of years, it doesn’t have to be right. The gods and goddesses don’t have to exist simply because of that.

In India, especially in Hinduism, what I like is there is a god associated with every element found in the nature. So you have a rain god, you have a tree god, you have a wealth God, you have a destruction God, you have a creation God, you have river goddesses, and so on. For every action, for every blessing and for every malediction there is a God or a supreme being responsible for it. I like this, I mean I like the concept. This way you appreciate things. Trees give us life, and so does water, and so do various other things around them, and we should be grateful for them and we should take care not to exploit them, not to destroy them. I’m not saying that declaring them gods and shows their safety. For instance, in India cows are sacred, still they are treated inhumanly by the very same people. The jungles are sacred, but we saw recently what destruction their senseless cutting down wrought. Declaring everything as divine can be hypocritical sometimes.

Another downside of attributing everything to Gods is that then it becomes very easy to blame someone or something for our lack of effort and initiative. Very often people in India settle for a miserable existence thinking that this or that god is not happy with them, and hence, the misfortune.

Atheists, the sort of atheists we see protesting on the roads and in the conventions, are not protesting against gods, they are protesting against humans who have devised various practices to make people believe in certain gods. So it is not “not believing in God”, it is not believing in those practices and attitudes. Most people who become atheists are disgusted by the logic given by the so-called religious people. Many indescribable atrocities are committed in the name of religion all over the world. People are driven to ruin by the practitioners of this or that religion. Many countries have gone to war because of religion. Despite many benefits, there are also many disadvantages. Primarily this is why people become atheists.

Most people believe in science. When you believe in science, you’re mostly saying that everything came from the big bang. This is the beginning of time. Everything starts from the big bang. Really? Something must had triggered the big bang. Even if it was just a molecule, from where did that molecule come? If some force was applied, from where did that force come from?

Let us say you start reading a story. This story, just like the big bang, is the beginning of everything that is happening inside the story. The characters of the story cannot think beyond the first page, beyond the first sentence, beyond the first word, and beyond the first letter. But there you are, the possessor of the book, the turner of pages and the reader of words. There is an entire world around you. There are millions of books in the world. There have been millions of books in the world. Compared to the infinity of the universe, of course the infinity of the books cannot be compared, but on the human scale, you can say that the books are unlimited. Similarly, there can be millions of big bangs.

Something constantly triggers those big bangs. What is that thing? Things don’t come on their own. They originate. They don’t originate out of vacuum. According to this logic, we can never reach that primal entity because even for that primal entity, there has to be an entity before that to give birth to it. Does it ever end? Our current knowledge doesn’t answer that.

Atheists simply base their logic on science and at the most the big bang. This is silly and very narrow. Instead, they should say that they are against religion, not against God or at least the representation of God caricatured by the various religions of the world.

What is this so-called “idea of India”?

What is your idea of India? The author of this article has an idea of India as, if you take it as face value, a pluralistic society where everybody gets his or her rights and a fair share of opportunities. I use “face value” because sometimes people don’t actually mean what they are saying. You get the idea from this blog post that has been written in response to the above article.

The problem with India is, conceptually the ideas floated by those who gained power immediately after the British left, are pretty good. A secular, pluralistic society where there is no one single dominant religion and everybody gets to live in harmony and peace. The problem was in implementation and exploitation.

Ideal conditions need to exist for certain concepts. That’s why, in economics and other subjects, sometimes definitions include “keeping other factors constant”. Let those constants change, the definition begins to dismantle.

The same goes with the idea of secularism and pluralism. From the beginning, for the convenience sake, let me use a clichéd expression, “founding fathers”, thought that the dominant religion in India – Hinduism – may end up subjugating every other religion even to the extent of dividing the country further. In some cases the evidence had already begun to manifest. But these evidences are open to perception. Some say that it was nationalism, and some say it is fundamentalism. I need to read history – unbiased history – in order to have a clear picture.

This tendency to create a secular and pluralistic country triggered a new phase of divisive and communal politics. Minorities were constantly kept in the loop of suspicion and fear. The religious and political leaders among minority communities exploited this, and also, even political leaders outside of these communities started sowing seeds of communal hatred in the name of providing protection and keeping the “counter”-communal forces away.

The same template was used to divide even the majority among different castes and sub-castes. Not only this, a great divide between the North and the South was created by an effort to impose Hindi upon South Indian communities. In no way these exercises were carried out to create communal and regional harmony. These exercises were carried out to keep the big country perpetually simmering with discontent, disharmony and insecurity.

It was like, they first consolidated different kingdoms and riyasats under the aegis of a big, single nation, and then they divided its different parts and communities for exploitation and political power.

A big part of this conspiracy is keeping the minorities, especially the Muslim community, under a perpetual state of insecurity. This conspiracy is carried out at 3 fronts: political, religious and intellectual.

The 1st link in the top paragraph is the example of the intellectual conspiracy that has been going on for the past 5-6 decades. Muslims are targeted, Muslims don’t get enough opportunities, Muslims are legally persecuted, Muslims are discriminated against, Hindus never get punished for killing Muslims, etc.

I’m not saying that we live in a just society. Most of our problems originate from the fact that our justice system is all screwed up. Just a couple of days ago there was a judge in the news for killing his wife for not giving birth to a boy. Every school kid these days knows that father’s chromosomes are responsible for the girl child, and not mother’s. The culprits of the Bhanwari Devi case in Rajasthan were acquitted by the judge because he believed if you meddle with the affairs of the upper castes they are bound to react. Such are the judges we have. So you can very well understand the quality of our justice system.

But it is screwed up for everybody, not just for Muslims. So if you say a Muslim is discriminated against, with an effort, I can show you 20 Hindus who were discriminated against. The discrimination is all pervasive, it’s just that in the case of Muslims, because it suits particular political interests, it is blown out of proportion. This is certainly not my idea of India. Journalists like Shoma Chaudhary certainly don’t belong to my idea of India, because people like her don’t fight for justice, they simply pedal communal paranoia and phobias and act as an instrument in the hands of politicians who want to keep the country divided perpetually.

My idea of India is certainly pluralistic, and secular, of course. But it is for everybody. There is no majority and there is no minority. There is justice for everybody. Even if there is no justice, people don’t fight for Muslims and Christians and Hindus. People fight for Indians. So if a Muslim is discriminated against by a Hindu, instead of saying that it is a religious problem, I make it into a criminal problem. In my idea of India, human rights are not just for terrorists and extremists, they are also for their victims. For me, it will be like, one Indian is discriminated against by another. And the person who is discriminating must be punished not because he or she is discriminating against a Muslim, but a fellow Indian. This, is my idea of India.

In my India, these outdated ideas of Muslims versus Hindus don’t exist.

Hindus don’t respect their religion much and hence this complex

While having breakfast my wife and I were discussing how Punjabis are always proud of their culture, their language and their religion, especially people who actually speak Punjabi on a day-to-day basis, and especially Sikhs. Then my wife narrated an incident when she had met someone from U.P. who had gone to extra lengths to explain that although she belongs to a village in U.P. she has been living in Delhi since childhood and she has totally forgotten how to speak Bhojpuri, her native language.

I have personally seen people very proudly saying, “I can’t speak much Hindi”. This is also manifest in the way they use an anglicized accent while talking in Hindi or even singing Hindi songs. It’s jarring.

Punjabis on the other hand feel ashamed when they say that they don’t know how to speak Punjabi. They proudly speak their language and whenever they are in the world, they are proud of their village, their culture, their way of life and the way they dress. A Punjabi feels embarrassed when he or she cannot speak good Punjabi, rather than feeling proud.

Does it have to do something with the religion?

You will very rarely find a Punjabi making fun of his or her religion. Among Sikhs it’s blasphemous to joke about the 10 Gurus. They are so serious about their gurus that they cannot be depicted in movies. I’m not saying this is wrong or right, but somewhere it has an impact. If you go on the path of not being too uptight, you cannot draw a distinction between good, healthy fun, and total nonsense.

Look on the other hand how Hindus treat their religion. Their “elite” and their “secular” are constantly deriding their own culture and their own roots. It has become a fashion to say funny things about Hindu gods and goddesses. Recently I was watching a Hindi movie on one of the TV channels and the way the caricatures of the various gods had been portrayed was utterly repulsive. I do have a sense of humor but I couldn’t stand such revered figures such as Shiva and Brahma gyrating around scantily clad apsaras, or prancing around assuming crooked postures. Blame me of orthodoxy, but a free for all attitude is self-defeating.

There is a reason cultures and religions survive for thousands of years. Even Islam, despite being so violent and destructive, has it’s peaceful and progressive sides, and not every Muslim has been forcibly converted into Islam. Hinduism, on the other hand, has no such violent history. Of course it has been violent to its own people due to its caste system but nowhere in history Hindu kings have mounted attacks on other countries due to religious hatred. So why so much derision?

It is because of an inveterate sense of inferiority complex among Hindus that makes them criticize their own religion. Don’t mix analysis with biased and senseless criticism – as an intelligent person, you can easily make out the difference. Every religion evolves. Every religion has darker sides. As you progress, we change the way we follow religious practices, but it doesn’t mean that you have to deride your religion to show how progressive you are. When you do that, you actually show how intellectually, culturally and morally inferior you feel.

The mystery that gods are

For the past couple of days we have been seeing the heartbreaking images of the Kedarnath temple totally decimated by the ongoing floods and landslides. More than 62,000 tourists and pilgrims are still missing, 100s have already died. All over the Internet you can find the image of an 80-feet Shiva statue submerged under gushing waters. Just now I was watching on TV how a few devotees (looking beaten and wretched for whatever reason) were trying to save the idol of Dhari Devi from getting swept away, risking their own lives.

Drowning Shiva Temple

Historic temples and idols have been destroyed since the time immemorial. Natural disasters, attacks from foreigners, fire, epidemics, whatever, the gods inhibiting these temples are never immortal. They are as prone to destruction as the mortals worshiping them. Then why do we deem them so powerful? Why do we believe that a mere visit to the Sabrimala Temple will take care of our afflictions? Recently I read an article from an atheist who asked, why 100s of pilgrims are killed every year, visiting their revered shrines and temples? Most of them go with their own list of problems they want their god to sort out. And their gods kills them. What irony.

Destroyed Kedarnath Temple

I won’t be hypocritical here. A couple of years ago our daughter fell critically ill. For straight three days we was sitting beside her while she cried in pain. The condition was exacerbated by the fact that we had lost trust in doctors. The last day of her illness, sitting by her side, I prayed all night. Quietly, my wife pledged a visit to Vaishno Devi.

Was our daughter cured by my prayers and my wife’s pledge? Realistically, we know why she got cured. She had reacted adversely to the antibiotic administered by the doctors at the Max hospital. I have a friend who is a doctor and for long she has been struggling with the unpredictable health of her children. The point is, she is aware of the various problems kids can go through. Although I had been talking to her and consulting her all the time, suddenly she realized what was the problem. Some kids also need to be given another medicine to counter the adverse effect of the antibiotic. We gave her that medicine and within two hours she was sitting, watching her favorite cartoon and laughing. It was nothing short of a miracle.

Despite knowing why our daughter felt well (because of the advice given by my friend), when my wife couldn’t visit Vaishno Devi, we got quite worried. I am on wheelchair and at that time our daughter was around six. We haven’t got much family support so there was nobody she could leave behind in order to visit the temple.

Then after a couple of months, when a person known to us visited the temple, we sent some money and got the prasad from him. Although logically we both know that it isn’t proven that Vaishno Devi (being a divinity she must have enough intelligence to understand our problem) would be highly upset if we didn’t carry out the pledge, something kept nagging conscience. When it comes to our daughter, we don’t want to take chances. There are some powers we don’t understand, and neither make sense of. And since they have been there – in mind or whatever – and almost in every civilization, you got to take them seriously.

Both my wife and I are not overtly religious. We are often put off by the show put up by typically religious people – giving money to the temple while never helping another human being, or living a highly immoral life despite regular visits to various temples. My wife often says that the more morally corrupt you are, the more you want to visit temples and shrines. This might not be true for everybody, but for the majority, this holds true. Instead of going to temples and shrines, we would rather spend our time and money doing something worthwhile. Now, you can say that the person going to temples and shrines thinks that he or her is also doing something worthwhile, but I’m sure you are saying that for the sake of redundant argumentation. You very well understand my basic point.

So why isn’t our faith shaken when mighty temples are destroyed by the wrath of nature and by marauding foreign armies? The group of devotees trying to save the idol of Dhari Devi from the surging waters will be praying in front of the same idol to save them from the scourge of this flood, from which they have just saved the idol.