Saturday, October 13, 2012

Change in attitude towards religion - IV

I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time. -- Isaac Asimov

It was not the religious fundamentalists who made me an atheist. (I would more accurately be called an agnostic atheist; or rather a naturalist but not a Hindu atheist. I would have been one from a young age going by Dan Dennett's criteria but I never thought about it. I would now have difficulty filling official forms.) Anyone would be repelled by their ghoulish ideology. Rather, it was the nice, moderate religious people who I have much in common with who increased my distaste for religion. If they had let me alone to waste my time in my own way, I would not have given a second thought to religion.

But no, they had to preach to  me about the wonders of their  pet gods and assure me that some tribal rituals will solve everything. I was tired of listening to sophisticated blather how ancient books tell everything of importance, comforting lies about how some powder can suspend the laws of nature (it is strange that the regularity of the universe and miracles, which are local suspensions of that regularity are both taken as evidence for the existence of god.), about being told that prostrating to god is the best thing that one can do, listening to how credulity is  wonderful...

My time to give up god had come. I was not accused of being religious to begin with. It was easier to take the small step towards godlessness than make the giant leap towards belief. Unlike Bertrand Russel. I did not decide this after considering all the philosophical arguments for the existence of god. It just makes life simpler.  Maybe a god is responsible for all our actions, nobody can disprove it but the assumption seems otiose. I would probably merit a 6.5 on the Dawkins belief scale.

In the words of Robert Frost, 'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/ I took the one less traveled by,/  And that has made all the difference.'  And as Bhagat Singh said, 'Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it.'  (Before my stroke, I would not have so readily nailed my colours to the mast.) Bertrand Russsell's conclusion in this essay appealed to me:
My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true. Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.
I feel puzzled when I read about the fierce internal struggles that many people go through in the process of giving up belief. Perhaps it is very difficult to give up something around which you have based your whole life and rejecting what Hitchens called a 'poison chalice' is a struggle.. I don't know since I have never been in that territory. Perhaps it is psychologically healthier for believers beyond a certain age not to jettison their beliefs and suddenly feel that they have wasted their lives on a delusion. (But this sentiment does not happen in reverse.)

There are many ways to create meaning in our lives without leaning on the crutch of religion.  My outlook is best summarised by Stephen Jay Gould in Ever Since Darwin - "I will rejoice in the multifariousness of nature and leave the chimera of certainty to politicians and preachers". And who better to follow in this endeavour  than David Attenborough? I would not have liked to be like the prisoners in Plato's The Allegory of the Cave. I saw a quote by Richard Dawkins which was relevant to me:
“After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings.”
Of course, I can think along these lines because of the incredible social support network I have which means that I keep being pampered. I have never been in a situation where I felt lamenting like Pran. As the song in  'The Sound of Music' goes, 'Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good...'.

 Believers will say that I have made a Faustian bargain but since I have to worry about it only after my death, I thought I will risk it.  The burden of proof lies with the person making the positive claim. And what if I am wrong? I will let Dawkins answer that question. (And I do get religious experiences.)

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