Atheism, Relgion and the importance of Secularism in India

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Discussion by: kevinkuriakose

I’m 21 and I study architecture at the University of Edinburgh, and I love to draw but I’m not too keen on writing. Anyway I’ll give it a go.

Coming to the UK to study architecture, and meeting new people has made me realise how poisonous religion is to science, reason and humanity. It was here in the UK that I first heard of creationists. The first time I heard this I thought it was joke. I remember saying ‘how stupid do people have to be to actually believe in creationism and reject evolution?’ only to realise there were a few creationists on my very course who baulked at the very notion of evolution.

How is it possible that, in a country as developed as the UK, people still cling to outdated notions of creationism as described in the bible?  Well I have to hand it to creationists. They helped me realise the extent and damage of brainwashing, indoctrination and the importance of secularism.

When I was 6 or 7 my grandfather handed me the King James Bible to read. He asked me to read the book and tell me how absurd I thought it was. A diehard communist and atheist he taught me the saying of Marx, ‘Die Religion…ist das Opium des Volkeshe’ and opened my eyes to science, and the importance of critical thinking. No offence to anyone but he asked me to think why anyone would believe in a Bronze Age text written by a bunch of genocidal, pillaging Jews and be absolutely convinced that it was the word of God. He told me there would be nothing after death and I found this easy to accept for it meant that there was everything to live for.   

Since he passed away, I never gave much thought to atheism, or religion which might seem surprising as I grew up in India, a very religious country. I was born and raised in a diverse and beautiful country and was content on not discussing religious views. My father is a deist and my mother an agnostic and I thought this was all very normal. I thought all my friends and family were the same. I went to a secular school and no one talked about religion or god. We did discuss culture, tradition and our heritage but the question of religion or god was never raised. I actually thought no one believed in god and we only clung to it in the name of tradition. It didn’t take me long to realise how wrong I was.

               I truly realised the extent of indoctrination that happens in India when I was asked to document a Vedic institution, a gurukul, a school for the teachings of Vedas in Thrissur, Kerala. It was reserved for only the highest caste, the namboothiris of Kerala, for only they were pure and high born enough to learn and recite these chants. The kids there were lovely and intelligent but were convinced I was worshipping the wrong gods. When I told them that I believed in no deities, they were shocked and they tried to tell me that the only reason I exist is because of god and my existence is proof enough that a supernatural overlord exists to watch over us. They were also convinced that it was actions and beliefs such as mine that got people born into lower castes to be ruled over by the higher ones. How could I expect to be born again in higher caste in my next life if I don’t believe in the right god?

I have been blessed with a secular upbringing and I hope other Indians will come forward and discuss how important science, critical thinking and reasoning is important in educating India. We are a growing population and a growing force in the world and I think it’s important to encourage free thinkers in our country. We need to create awareness and provide secular education or our country could be torn apart by the plague that is fundamentalism and all that it brings with it, intolerance, discrimination, honour killings, and gang rapes? Is that what we want India to be associated with?  

Will there ever come a time when I can put ‘no religion’ when someone comes to take the census? How hard is it for young Indians to ‘come out’ as atheists? I wish more Indians would could come forward as atheists without any fear of isolation or persecution. Should we just stick with religion because its tradition? Am I naïve in presuming that tradition and culture can be preserved without religion, in a secular environment? 

12 COMMENTS

  1. Never knew there was a link between the caste system and religion. Seems likely that free thinking will have good support among the lower castes but not so much in the upper castes. You grandfather was a great man; evidence of treating children with respect says a lot about a person (in my opinion).

  2. How could I expect to be born again in higher caste in my next life if I don’t believe in the right god?

    Basically, religions in a nutshell. Nothing more than wishful thinking, a very selfish desire at the root. Save me! Save me!

    They were also convinced that it was actions and beliefs such as mine that got people born into lower castes to be ruled over by the higher ones.

    I bet they were.

    Will there ever come a time when I can put ‘no religion’ when someone comes to take the census?

    As you say, imo, a question of time.

    Should we just stick with religion because its tradition? Am I naïve in presuming that tradition and culture can be preserved without religion, in a secular environment?

    What we feel is worth preserving will be preserved. The process of secularism has been going on for centuries in Europe. Traditions have changed, societies have changed, and personally, I don’t bemoan the Good Old Days, but I do appreciate some of their legacy, especially art, for which we go out of our way to try to preserve rather than destroy (unlike some religions I won’t even bother to mention).

    If you feel you need to get more involved with your culture, then by all means, but you don’t have to take it all in in as a one packaged deal.

  3. Hello, KevinKuriakose.

    Not naïve at all. As Obzen has mentioned, the process of secularization has been going on for some time now in Western societies and what is recognized in the traditional religious culture as worth preserving (e.g. art) is generally preserved or, like Christmas and Easter, adapted to secular ways of thinking. If you can find other Indians of similar outlook to your own, you may find it easier to negotiate such choices through discussion and mutual support.

    You may be interested to have the full text of that quotation from Marx:

    Das religiöse Elend ist in einem der Ausdruck des wirklichen Elendes und in einem die Protestation gegen das wirkliche Elend. Die Religion ist der Seufzer der bedrängten Kreatur, das Gemüth einer herzlosen Welt, wie sie der Geist geistloser Zustände ist. Sie ist das Opium des Volkes.

    (Karl Marx: Einleitung zur Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie; in: Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher 1844, S. 71f, zitiert nach MEW, Bd. 1, S. 378-379)

    Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

    (Marx, K. 1976. Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Collected Works, v. 3. New York.)

    Grandparents can be such a blessing.

  4. Tradition should never be revered.

    Tradition should not be confused with traditions which are the practices, activities and ceremonies which promote nostalgia and cultural identity. Tradition is that perceived duty to an ingrained ideology.

    If we as a people may not expose the silly mistaken beliefs of our ancestors how can we hope to improve in any centrally humanistic meaningful way?

  5. Tradition should never be revered.

    Tradition should not be confused with traditions which are the practices, activities and ceremonies which promote nostalgia and cultural identity. Tradition is that perceived duty to an ingrained ideology.

    If we as a people may not expose the silly mistaken beliefs of our ancestors how can we hope to improve in any centrally humanistic meaningful way?

  6. Since you were born in India, I imagine that you’ve never had to apply for an Indian Visa. I’ve done this four times, India being my favourite country to visit, and one of the first questions on the form (https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/indianVisaReg.jsp) is Religion (Bahai, Buddhism, Christian, Hindu, Islam, Others [Specify], Parsi, Sikh, Zoroastrianism). I have no idea what they do with this information. It was suggested to me (I can’t recall who said this) that “Others(atheism)” would not be a good answer, so I took the easy way out & saId Christian. Any ideas on whether this was a good idea?

  7. Really adore your grandfather. As an Indian, a marxist-leninist, an athiest, I think you’ve been raised by the best teacher you could ever have. As far as Indians coming out of the religious bubble, well that will be problematic in India. Education can cure it to some extent but our population has degenerated too much. I’m taking about negative eugenics. Our populations average IQ is low, hence for them to acquiesce athiesm is, well, difficult.

  8. In reply to #9 by jackhumane:

    Am happy that after years of bloodshed and stupidity, Indians have learnt to live peacefully and have developed more tolerance. #agnostic

    Oh ho-ho! You are so mistaken. Indians are peaceful as long as their religion (or tradition) is not in question. Tolerant are city-dwellers. In the villages people are violent and dangerous. Go on the street and should that Krishna, Ram or Allah doesn’t exist and you wont live to see the next hour. Just recently Muslims has a violent tiff in Bombay. Even our politicians use religion to buy votes.
    Just to keep you informed India hasn’t changed much. Yes law has reduced violence. I travel by train and I see at least 10 people with a picture of a deity on their android as a wallpaper, in an hours journey.

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