Friday, 31 October 2014

My journey to atheism

Hi, I'm Sthitapragya, this is my story of how I became an atheist.

I recently learned that I am an apatheist. I did not even know that such a classification of atheists existed. An apatheist is someone for whom the existence or the non-existence of God are irrelevant.  So how did I reach this stage? By starting as a theist, of course.

I was born into a Hindu family. My father was not particularly religious in the sense that like other Hindus there were no rituals or ceremonies observed by my family. But my home was strewn with books on Hindu philosophy which my father was obsessed with. The thing about Hindu philosophy that most people can never grasp is that it is quite distinct from Hindu religion. So I was never really exposed to Hindu religion in my home but Hindu philosophy was everywhere. My father is an orator of sorts and he used to talk about philosophy with me since I was very young. And he was interesting. I remember a time when we sat for 13 hours straight discussing Hindu philosophy. Him talking and me listening and I never ever got bored.  But he never forced his ideas on me. He just explained things to me when I went to him with a question.

At a very early age, I got attracted to the Swaminarayan sect (if you have heard of it). So I started praying to Swaminarayan. My father, when he saw my interest, got me all the paraphernalia needed to worship the Lord ritualistically and even taught me how to do it. Pretty soon I grew out of it and stopped. Then I moved on to the Bhagwad Gita, which is the equivalent ( but not really) of the Bible for Hindus. I remember at the age of 16, telling my dad that there were a lot of inconsistencies in the Gita. He just said, “very good, so now read the Ishopanishad.” So I started reading the Ishopanishad. I was very confused and very interested in knowing God. It was an obsession for me. That was all I could think about all day. Then the uncertainty started creeping up on me. I realized that life was just a routine. You, get up, you do your ablutions, you eat, go to college, come back, eat and go to sleep to do it all over again. Then you get married, have kids, but the routine remains the same. So what is the point of life? Am I just supposed to do this every day and then die? It sounded so horrible that I started going into a depression, sure that life had no meaning or purpose. This went on for some time. I lost all interest in life, and even my friends started worrying about me.

Then one day, I had an “episode.” I was sitting with my friends having tea at a stall. So I was sitting on a rock and there was a small wild bush in front of me. On that bush was a very small white flower. I was sitting there, admiring that tiny flower, and suddenly, I KNEW. It came to me from everywhere. God exists. Complete and total conviction. It changed me instantly. I just know life had a meaning and a purpose. God existed. I felt relieved and exultant at the same time. The conviction was so total, it is indescribable. I was just suddenly sure about EVERYTHING. God existed and all was right with the world. There was a meaning and purpose to life. I just didn’t know it yet. Now, armed with this new found conviction that God existed, I moved on to learn what the meaning and purpose of life were and what I was supposed to do.

That is where the problems started. As long as I brought God into the equation, nothing made sense. Remove Him, everything made sense. But I already was convinced that God existed. So I decided that my definition of God was wrong. So I started re-defining God. I went from Brahman, to love, to the whole universe. I concluded and understood that God was impersonal and that He was just observing everything. This kind of made sense and there were not many contradictions. So I remained comfortable in that.

But a conversation with my brother changed everything for me. He told me, "you guys simply refuse to accept the POSSIBILITY that everything came out of nothing." First, obviously, I rejected that concept as ridiculous. Then I homed in on the key word. POSSIBILITY. It occurred to me, how could I be so arrogant as to be SURE about something which no one else was sure of? So I started questioning where the surety came from. Took me very long but I figured out that I NEEDED God. For some reason, maybe years of conditioning, needing protection,  whatever it maybe. So I asked myself, what if there is no God? What would it change? What would be different? Is it possible that we came out of nothing? So, I went out of my comfort zone and started reading scientific stuff which was very tough. Took me about a decade, but I concluded that the LIKELIHOOD of everything coming out of "Nothing" ( note the nothing in quotes) was more than the rapidly disappearing likelihood of God. I stopped believing in luck.  Or Magic. I realized that what science could not answer meant "the unexplained". It did NOT mean automatically, “God did it”. Lightening was God for ancient men. Turned out to be  so wrong. We just moved on to more complex definitions of God. Slowly, but surely, I ended up having no logical reason to accept the existence of God and even more importantly, the SIGNIFICANCE of God.Now it does not matter to me, either way. The existence OR non-existence of God makes absolutely no difference to me at all whatsoever. Now I am not a non-believer. I believe that God is a hypothesis which is unproven. I am simply rejecting an unproven hypothesis.

I am an atheist now. But I remain a Hindu because Hinduism encompasses all. I think people cannot grasp the concept that Hinduism is not predominantly a religion but a culture with religion as a part of it. So if Hinduism likes something from your religion they will simply adopt it. We have Hindus who pray to Muslim saints too. So yes, I am a Hindu who is an atheist.

Now I find that I am an apatheist which basically means that to me, God is irrelevant. Whether God exists or not, I am convinced it does not matter one whit.

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