Atheism: The Religion of Reason

Avaneesh Pandey, a 24-year-old student in Pune was born in a typical Hindu family in Chandannagar, West Bengal. Like most Hindu houses, he grew up in one that had a small temple in a corner adorned with the idols of Shiva, Krishna and Saraswati. His elder brother would read the Gita out loud while his mother often offered prayers.

But doubts about God started cropping up early in life for Avaneesh. To him, stories such as Ganesha’s beheading and replacing it with an elephant’s head were laughable and illogical. He could not understand the sense behind the various pujas and rituals. After reading the Quran, Gita, Bible and several other books which argued for and against the existence of god, he felt that the arguments against it were stronger. “The concept of god did not explain many things that I saw in my daily life. Most people say that it's just a matter of faith. I didn't find that convincing enough,” he says.

Avaneesh is now an atheist. And, his tribe is increasing.

It has been 60 years since India gained freedom, but how ‘free’ it really is, remains a big question mark. It is shocking that someone can get arrested for merely stating their opinions and beliefs on a social networking site. Or for that matter, allow political entities to continuously use religion to promote hatred and instigate communal riots. India has a long way to go before it can call itself a secular democracy.

Atheism has always been, and continues to be a delicate and overtly sensitive topic for most Indians. Openly declaring disbelief in religion and God requires courage. It is almost like a process of ‘coming out’, much like the homosexuals need to ‘come out’ to assert their alternative way of living. Many young atheists in India complain that the others make them feel like they are not virtuous enough, because they do not believe in the existence of a Supreme Being that teaches them to be righteous and benevolent.

Hrishikesh Bawa, a 25-year-old working in General Motors in Vadodara, Gujarat, feels offended that he cannot mark ‘Atheism’ as a religious choice while filling forms. There are choices for Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, but clearly atheists have no place in our society. “Athiests in India are still misunderstood by many. Some still think that our not believing in god is just a way of showing off or being cool”, he says.

In a nation where people swarm around a statue of Ganesha because they believe he miraculously drinks milk; where a baby born with a deformed tailbone is considered to be Hanuman’s reincarnation; and where everything from a tree to a stone is worshipped, it is extremely difficult for atheists to be respected and accepted.

Believing in God is considered equivalent to being virtuous. Adherents of all religions are given the freedom to practice their faith, but they are not given the freedom to question those practices. Points out Avaneesh: “People are okay with my atheism as long as I keep my "lack of faith" to myself, for when I question their faith, it is called "creating religious strife" and "hurting the religious sentiments" of the community.”

Noor Khan, an aspiring film maker from Pune states that he is Muslim by birth, but not by choice. Often he feels he is forced to take part in religious activities and has to do so only to appease his family. He has not revealed he is an atheist to his parents as he is aware of the turmoil he, as well as his family will have to face if he does. “It is wise in a way to keep your mouth shut. They are very religious and sentimental about these things,” he admits.

We live in a land of myriads of customs, traditions and beliefs, and yet we could never learn how to co-exist and make way for opposing views and thoughts.

A glaring example is the case of Sanal Edamaruku, the noted Indian rationalist, who was reprimanded and threatened when he pointed out that the dripping crucified statue of Jesus Christ at the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Western Mumbai was due to defective plumbing and not divine intervention. Edamaruku was charged of insulting religion under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code. Death threats soon followed and he had to flee to Finland on exile. "It is an absurd law but also extremely dangerous because it gives fanatics, whether they are Hindus, Catholics or Muslims, a license to be offended. It also allows people who are in dispute with you to make up false accusations of blasphemy,” Edamaruku told The Guardian.

There is no official count for the number of atheists in India, but considering the low tolerance for atheists and the lack of recognition, a lot of independent groups and organizations have started mushrooming all over the country. Groups like The Delhi Freethinkers are witnessing a gradual increase in the number of members as they meet up periodically in Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune and discuss and talk about their views. They feel alienated as they are not permitted to admit their atheism openly, and this is one place where they can be with people of the same beliefs.

The Nirmukta group is one of the biggest examples of the growing need of atheists in India to be heard. ‘Nirmukta’ meaning ‘freed’ in Sanskrit, they promote free thinking and secular humanism and equality in India and South Asia. It has spawned most of India’s social networks and has a very strong online presence with the help of social networking sites like Facebook. Non-believers now feel emboldened and encouraged to talk freely about their religious ideologies.

Ruchi Jaggi, assistant professor at the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, Pune, who teaches Media and Culture Studies, feels that it is more about the change in our lifestyles. “People may not necessarily believe in the non-existence of god, but they do not have the time to go to temples and take part in religious customs anymore. In the end, everyone has the right to his or her own views.”

In a nation afflicted by outdated, unsound laws; high intolerance; and hostility towards other religions, atheists struggle to find a place in society. The problem is not blind trust in religion; the problem is the narrow-mindedness and the criticism that is inflicted upon other religions and atheists.

Bharath Lal, a law student from Mumbai is a militant atheist and feels inspired by Richard Dawkins, an English biologist and author of the book ‘The God Delusion’. He agrees with Dawkins when he says, “Religion is about turning untested belief into unshakable truth through the power of institutions and the passage of time.” Bharath feels that belief in God stems from the fact that people need a support system in their lives in the face of adversity and misery. “With the help of God, the impossible becomes possible, and even in moments of despair, you get hope,” he says. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if a person's faith is true or not as long as he believes in it and does not impose his beliefs on someone else.”

Statistics show that the more developed nations have a much larger percentage of atheists as they feel empowered and their way of thinking is more advanced.

Tushar Radke, a 26-year-old professional who works at Hewlett-Packard in California has similar views. He feels that in progressive countries, atheism will become more commonplace in the future as most common sense ideas cannot be stopped in an educated world. “I’d rather place my faith in other people rather than an imaginary concept,” he says.

On the surface, India is a shiny, growing country, but on the inside it is still one of the most repressed and backward nations bubbling and frothing with communal hatred and religious prejudice. The differences in religious ideologies will never cease to exist, but as people with different beliefs, we need to open our minds and promote secularism in our country. Will the constitution, the law, and the people themselves endure this social injustice, or will we see a better, more liberal India in the future?


More by :  Astha Prakash

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Views: 3309      Comments: 11

Comment I have been an atheist in India since my childhood, and so are most members of my family. I have been open about my atheism at work and in my social circle, whenever the matter has come up. I am not hesistant or apologetic about being atheist, just as religious people have no compunctions stating their religion. I have never faced hostility due to my being an atheist - there has only been acceptance.

Atheists who confront nonacceptance and hostility, face these problems not from society at large, but mainly from the immediate family.

When forms ask for religion, I don't put down "atheism" - I write "none". This is the correct response, since atheism is not a religion, just like "not collecting stamps" is not a hobby.

08-Dec-2014 10:49 AM

Comment " 2. A scientist will or can never impose his ideas on others unless he can prove himself." There's always a "mainstream" science that tends to reject new theories, hang on to the old ones & ridicule those who want to modify or replace the prevailing theories when they can no longer explain the new empirical facts. This slows down the progress of science and it's happening right now with the Big Bang Theory. The observations are being interpreted as being incontrovertible proof that everything was once compressed into something the size of a grape, and that there was no time and space for that grape to be lodged in, so it was like floating nowhere and in the Land of No Time, and it decided to expand and create everything, including time and space, which is illogical. The theory of the Steady-State Universe, which says that the Universe is eternal and limitless, is laughed at and not allowed to speak out anymore.

"6. Science does not discriminate against females." This is false and women have started to speak out against the way they're systematically pushed aside whenever they make essential contributions to science and tricky males develop these contributions and then get all the glory. For example, there was the so-called "Case of Photo 51", involving Rosalind Franklin, who was "invisibilized" for years and whose astonishing X-ray diffraction photograph showing the helicoidal (it's a helix, not a spiral) structure of the DNA molecule was slyly shown to Watson and Crick by another male scientist, without Rosalind having given permission for doing so. This allowed them eventually to rush and get a Nobel Prize, which was rather dishonest.

"G.S.B." = G. Bhatt, M.D.???

Daniel Rey M.
29-Sep-2013 17:58 PM

Comment good job Astha and thanks for taking the initiative to highlight Atheism in India there are hardly a lot of article written in India upon Atheists in comparison to thousands of news articles,news videos and pamphlets cropping about gods appearing on toast and potatos and massive religious ceremonies.I believe that your article will help many atheist to come forward and reveal themselves as they know through articles such as yours and through Facebook Indian atheists group(through which i found your article),that they are not alone.Although i am not a journalist i am working on article its in three parts one is about history of atheism,one its present state and one is about the future of atheism when completed i will share it here.

19-Mar-2013 18:03 PM

Comment Ananya, Rdashby,

If you are familiar with quantum physics and the two slit experiment you will realise that consciousness plays a very fundamental role in the way the world is perceived or observed. In fact consciousness is a primary driver of reality. The world cannot be completely understood without this aspect of the new physics incorporated in how it is studied. The deep upanishadic philosophies ( which I don't consider belonging to any particular ism.. ) are the closest that describe this kind of reality. Rdashby, when you make the point about being agnostic as to the existence of God that is true of any fundamental aspect of nature. But giving it a label, worshipping it, arguing over it's attributes doesn't take us any closer to it. For me the substratum that is invisible below the Planck's length is the only place under present knowledge of physics that might have something or some aspects of reality that might impinge on this subject of the connectedness of matter and consciousness /quantum mechanics. You can call this God or Divine ....but for me it is too early to start labeling. Like the medieval earth centric or heliocentric universes that were eventually disproved by observation let us not jump to conclusions that might not stand the test of time.

23-Feb-2013 03:27 AM

Comment The state of NOTHINGNESS or Shunya is aspired to comprehend the so called GOD - the Generator, Operator and Destroyer - the three attributes or Gunas that actually belong to nature or Prakriti - Janam, Jivan and Maran. There is a lot of talk or chicanery about God who none has seen or even comprehended. People under the imparted education from probably 3rd, 4th or even nth generation have developed a mindset about the so called GOD that in reality does not exist. This understanding brings one to Atheism. Those who cannot comprehend this can remained glued to the slavery of the religious isms of Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, whatever. God bless the mankind and I support all those who truly understand the meaning of Atheism. One who does gets liberated from the slavery of all isms.

23-Feb-2013 00:00 AM

Comment Dear GSB, thank you for responding to my comment. The points you raise are naturally biased, but I am confident the reader will form his own opinion. The fundamental issue is that atheism is a negative state of mind; it too is a 'belief' but in the opposite of what is positive, theism, whereby atheism is defined as unbelief. When the atheist says there is no God, if he is really truthful, as Richard Dawkins might be said to be, he is still an agnostic, because he just doesn't know for sure.

A lot of people find insecurity to be the most alienating, inhuman aspect of atheism - it is against life to be unsure. Your life depends on right perception in all circumstances. For all living things, identity of things perceived is in appetitive affection of rightness realisation, which is the affection for life. Religious faith is an enshrinement of this certainty, in man raised to the moral sphere, where the identification of what is morally right identifies a life that transcends the natural, and points to fulfilment in an eternal state. Rightness is a spiritual concept, and is the proof, if ever proof was needed, of its spiritual source, God.

22-Feb-2013 22:59 PM

Comment Rdashby might have written something that looks cogent on paper... but it is illogical. Just asserting something does not make it true. and to give the example of Societ Union is laughable...atheism WAS RELIGION in that country. WHY? Because it was forced on the people. The very same characteristic that disqualifies religion. Atheism has to be understood, learnt, practised on a daily basis and then it's qualities are revealed. True atheism is never imposed by the state or the family.

Whether Atheism is parasitical or the other way round will require much exchange of words and lot of time and energy which we clearly do not have right now... but the points below should throw some light on the subject.. ( Atheism of the Dawkins variety is meant below, hence the equation with science..)

Point no. 7 below actually proves that the atheism of Soviet Union was religion in a different garb...


1. A scientist will give up his life for the betterment of humanity. A religious fanatic will sacrifice humanity for his ideals.

2. A scientist will or can never imopse his ideas on others unless he can prove himself . A religious priest forces his thoughts on others and threatens punishment if others don't follow.

3. A scientist cannot issue a fatwa or commandment to prove a point. A religious priest can issue a fatwa or commandment over a point he himself might not like to follow.

4. Science does not force children who cannot speak into communities or cults. Religion forces children who cannot speak into believing ideas the child might disagree when he really can speak!

5. Science encourages freedom. Scientist dress the way they want to. The work is not related to the dress a scientist wears. Religion forces a dress code. People are made to look alike. Freedom of dress is banned.

6. Science does not discriminate against females. A scientist can be of either sex and be respected for his or her work. Religion mostly discriminates against females. They are not allowed to express themselves and even entrance inside a religious insitituion is often not allowed. Head priests of almost all religions of the world are MALES.

7. More people have been killed in the name of religion than for or against any scientific discipline. Infact science has in the last two hundered years saved millions of lives.

8. Science evolves and learns from it's mistakes. Religion does not evolve and NEVER learns from it's mistakes.

9. Scientists are required for the day to day running of the world. Religious priests are not required for the day to day running of the world.

10. A scientist might invent weapons of mass destruction but he is responsible and knows the consequences of his actions. A religious fanatic cannot make weapons of mass destruction but STEALS from scientists these weapons and kills thousands not knowing the consequences of his actions.

11. Science does not reject GOD and is infact trying to find the ultimate meaning of life. This is done through hard work which might take maybe thousands of years. But scientists have tremendous patience and are mostly fascinated by the journey rather than the goal. Religious priests KNOW GOD exists! They have not offered any proof nor are interested in doing so. They get extremely irritated if asked for proof. They are very impatient and want to go to heaven without doing any real hard work in this world.

12. Scientists admit the world exists and can be manipulated for our benifit. They also use the fruits of their discovery. Religion does not give importance to this world and almost always talks of heaven or hell. But deeply religious people USE the fruits of discovery of science.

13. MONEY which is the most important tool invented by man the scientist is the ONLY thing accepted by any RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD!! BLESSINGS CANNOT BE EXCHANGED FOR BLESSINGS.

14. Science discovers truths which are applicable all over the universe. A hydrogen atom is the same everywhere. So is aa oxygen atom. Similarly gravity works in the same way all over the universe. And light in it's current form travels at the same speed. Common sense tells us that a GOD should be same all over OUR universe.(IT might be different in another universe) But religion on earth does not agree. Already we have GODS of all colours and shapes found all over the world. And no GOD is compatible with another. GODS as we know them on this planet are nonfungible! They also follow political boundaries created in the last three hundred years! For example a GOD in INDIA is not a GOD when you cross a political boundary and go to PAKISTAN!!

22-Feb-2013 16:18 PM

Comment Benign atheism is actually parasitic on society, as in Indian society that is composed of a majority of people whose religious way of life fills the calendar of events and regulates all morality. The glory of religion is its festivals that keep the faithful sustained in their living moral lives. Mythology is the mask of religion. Atheism has no festivals. On its own, as in Communist regimes, notably in the past, the Soviet Union, it proves to be brutally restrictive of personal freedom at the mercy of the Politburo. The only festivals are those celebrating the State, every day in the calendar. The intelligent and resourceful confined to gulags for speaking their mind.

Atheism of the Richard Dawkins variety makes bold its shaky appearance in the established context of democratic values, themselves warmed and sustained by popular religious sentiment, to state itself liberated from the obligations of religious belief, rejoicing in that negativity. After all, by definition atheism is a state of denial. An atheist in a democratic society can continue to enjoy being treated with respect on the basis of respect of the human rights accorded him; he can even claim to be considerate and charming and mindful of others as the best of religious persons. He can then, using his freedom of expression, roundly condemn the very religious basis, be it Hindu, Christian or Muslim, that structures the majority society he lives in, pointing out aspects of religious irrationality, prejudice and hatred. All the while he is unmindful of the emptiness of his negative stance, but neatly inverts it, calling belief in God a delusion. What else can a negative mentality invoke but a delusion? The delusion is thinking there is substance to atheism, whose very definition is parasitical on God to obtain its negativity.

21-Feb-2013 21:41 PM

Comment India has a great future... a young 22 year old writing this article with the kind of understanding that even a 47 year old man like me probably might not be able to express. When I became atheist at the age of 12 the only other human I new who was an atheist was my dad . And not only was I as an atheist very much alone but on top of that I was born in a Sikh family and therefore in a city like Bombay ,in appearances, outwardly , in the minority. Fortunately I had some courage left to renounce my religion and stopped attending all religious functions in my family. Although not easy I have persevered all these years and now I find my point of view much more acceptable to a lot of people. And when I read something like this ... it makes me wonder...maybe I was born too soon.....the real change is just beginning ....

21-Feb-2013 15:20 PM

Comment Very inspiring and sensible article! Congrats for the bold and logical views expressed. The last paragraph is indeed, a perfect analysis of the present Indian conditions and the minds of the people.

G Swaminathan
21-Feb-2013 07:51 AM

Comment An excellent article on a very topical subject. Tagore wrote a poem on the same subject. It is quoted below in my translation -


Who is obsessed by religion
He is blind
He only kills and gets killed.
Even an atheist is blessed
Because he doesn’t have the vanity of any faith.
Humbly he lights up his reason
Defies the authority of scriptures
And seeks only the good of men.

He who kills as infidels
The followers of other faiths
Dishonours his own faith
He kills the son in the name of the father
Busy only with the rituals
He loses his reason
He hoists a blood-stained flag in his temple
In the name of God
He worships the Devil.

Those who have retained in their creed
The shame of ages, the cruelties and barbarities
With those rubbish
They are building their own prison –
I hear a bugle is blowing
The bugle of universal doom
With his scythe the god of destruction is coming.

Planting him as a stake who comes to liberate
Putting him up like a dividing wall who comes to unite
Flooding the world with poison in his name
Who brings love from a divine source –
They drown sailing in a boat they themselves have scuttled
Yet they blame someone else!

I invoke you O you the supreme judge
Please come to end this degeneration of religion
Save those who are deluded by their faith.
Your altar they have flooded with blood
Please completely smash it
Hurl your thunder at the prison walls of faiths
And bring to this cursed land
The light of reason.

Translation of the poem Dharmamoha from the collection Parishesh by Rabindranath Tagore.

kumud biswas
20-Feb-2013 23:29 PM

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