Issue :   
February 2020 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Feb' 2020


Being spiritual

Rajesh Bhola

My parents were strong advocates of scientific thinking, and growing up I was part of science clubs, and other activities that gave a lot of room to learn how, who, when and why, and not to take anything for granted. I was taught to think, and that rational approach was another gift from my parents. Once I accompanied one of my friends to a god-man. There was a huge congregation with hundreds of devotees waiting for their turn for the god-man’s darshan. I was told that he does a miracle and moves his hand in the air and blesses the devotee with instant vibhuti.

I am still to know how he managed or manipulated to do so. Religions often propagate such miracles. To be honest I hated it because it left me feeling confused and isolated. But the journey of a non believer or a person with scientific temper is not easy, since being a non believer is so unusual in India. So many of our traditional rituals and festivals are religious, and it is frustrating not to be able to be part of them with all our friends ascribing strongly to them.

An atheist is an unbeliever in God or deities: somebody who does not believe in God or deities. Some times atheism is a stage in between different religions. We do not need gods to be moral. Atheists are not unethical. Like many theists, many atheists donate to charity and live lives that are morally similar to those of theists. There is no single ideology that all atheists share, nor are there any institutionalized rituals or behaviors. Atheism in its broadest sense is an absence of belief in the existence of gods.

The difference between beliefs in a scientific theory as opposed to belief in a religious dogma boils down to the difference between the institution of science and the institutions of various religions. Religious facts are not subject to testing, and in most cases cannot be tested. Religious facts are supported by evidence that is open to interpretation or no evidence at all. Religious facts are not reviewed by all religions to reach a consensus. The institution of science is primarily concerned with discovering the nature of reality without making assumptions. Scientific theories must, by definition, be testable.

One can choose to lead a happy life within a set of mutually agreed, and continually renegotiated, boundaries, so that the communities of which we are a part do not collapse.

In Indian context, if we pull together older groups of the godless, for example from India's vibrant communist tradition and from the various organizations that have focused on exposing the fraudulent miracles that charlatan god men use to fleece the poor, it starts to look like scientific rationalism as a belief system is gaining a toe hold. We still remember how, in 2012, a renowned rationalist Edamauku investigated a so called miracle in Mumbai, where a Jesus statue had started weeping and concluded that the problem was caused by faulty drainage. Later that day, during a TV discussion with some church members, Edamaruku accused the Catholic Church of miracle-mongering. On 10 April, Angelo Fernandes, President of the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum, filed a police complaint against Edamaruku under the IPC 295A. In July while on a tour in Finland, Edamaruku was informed by a friend that his house was visited by the police. Since, the offence is not bailable, Edamaruku stayed in Finland.

Religion is indeed considered part of our identity in India, but that is changing, at least amongst the growing middle class, which is our demographic by virtue of the fact that groups are organizing online. Such activists need to focus on more than just religion. There are many other areas in which critical thinking and scientific skepticism are needed in India. Indeed, there are many self-identified atheists who gladly buy into illogical and pseudoscientific ideas.

To change that, India's new atheists are taking the battle from the classes to the masses to debunk claims made by astrologers, tantriks and god men. Moreover, religion such as Buddhism is purely agnostic as there is no mention of God in it and neither Buddha ever met God. But, godhood can be attained by achieving Nirvana. Mahayana Buddhists may worship several of these Boddhisattvas along with the Buddha. Jainism is based on the completely on the concept of Karma. Jains believe that every soul in its purest form is equal to god, and they can be elevated to godhood.

One can choose to lead a happy life within a set of mutually agreed, and continually re-negotiated, boundaries, so that the communities of which we are a part do not collapse. And that choice can be made without the guidance of any faith or religion, but from a desire to live as a socially responsible person. And so we can love, live a good life, and deal with the various demons we encounter without the God factor. We do so just as a group of people, willing to support each other in our times of need. But religions also have a purpose. That which binds man with God is religion. It is not necessary for us to subscribe to any traditional religions. We may do so if we wish. It is left to our discretion. Religion is intended to loosen man from his material desires, to cause him to work not only for material things, but for super physical things. Religion has its place.