Today afternoon, a deep discussion took place between me and some of my buddies (who happen to be believers) on my atheism and the concept of god. They asked me arrays upon arrays of questions, all of which I was not able to answer in such a short span of time. But through this blog I’ll be trying to answer their questions. At the same time, as I also consider this a good opportunity to make people aware, I’ll also try to make an effort to break down the common misconceptions, misunderstandings, stigma and stereotype associated with and behind Atheism. So readers please be patient with my rather lengthy response….

My friends confidently assumed about me and other atheists like me that when we reach old age, we’d turn back to being theists or spiritualists. It’s not the first time anyone has said this to me; my own father has, repeatedly! However, instead of getting angry, I’d rather welcome this argument.

I call it the ‘Laxmi Prasad’ Fallacy. I named it after Laxmi Prasad Devkota, the celebrated Nepali novelist and poet, because he is probably the most famous example of an atheist reverting back into a theist in any Nepali society. It is a fallacy, i.e a logical error, to assume all atheists will eventually revert back to being theists or spiritualists just because some other atheists, like the celebrated poet, did. Notions such as this are never a valid reason for someone to assume that I’ll choose a similar direction later in my life as well.

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Laxmi Prasad Devkota
It is also very important to realize before arguing that the term ‘atheist’ (नास्तिक) simply denotes a person who ‘lacks belief’ in something. Atheism isn’t a structured or organized system or a cult, its just a mere stance on something. Not at all a belief!

This stance, however, is usually derived in two ways: either emotionally or rationally. The emotional atheists (those who’ve become atheists as a result of an emotional turmoil such as anger for example) are more likely to revert back to being believers, the rational ones (who became atheists after logically and empirically examining the concept of a creator or a higher power) are less likely. Emotion-atheists are likely to do so as their atheism bear little rational ground and is subject to change anytime they face another difficult emotional setback, similar to Laxmi Prasad Devkota, who faced poverty and bankruptcy towards his later years and lived a somewhat miserable life, unlike anyone expects of a legendary poet. I consider myself a rationalist and it was my adoption and practice of rationality that helped me to become an atheist.

Atheists as a whole mostly agree on the topic that god is highly unlikely to exist, otherwise Atheists are the most diverse group of people holding, even among the community, a variety of differing opinions and even adopting different approaches to life and often with different moral principles. An atheist can be both conservative or liberal. An atheist can be either a communist or a capitalist or a socialist. An atheist may not believe in god, but may be liable to believe in other unverified claims such as UFO sightings as well as profound conspiracy theories or any other pseudoscience such as Homeopathy or Reiki or even unscientific notions such as vaccinations causing autism.

For me to explain it from my perspective, take this as an example: a lot of devout Hindus, like my friends here, do not believe in Thor or Zeus or Jesus Christ, some non-endemic deities from dead as well as thriving cultures. So technically they are atheists too when it comes to believing in deities other than those belonging to their parent religion or culture. People such as I just go ’33 koti’ gods further when it comes to not believing.

Now I could face another argument from new-age spiritualists, saying that its just different ways people assign names to the same energy or being which people usually interpret as being god. But again they could be questioned as to what makes them so sure that a certain energy exists and that it is exactly what many people think they believe in? How can we be sure without evidence or any logical argument? Why could’t it instead be any other unfalsifiable claim in its place?

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Talking about the concept of a creator, there are different interpretations, but all of them agree about one thing: the creator is somehow magical, we cannot see it, or feel it unless we truly believe in it. Now isn’t that ‘wishful thinking’ backed by an improvable claim? Isn’t it thinking just for the sake of someone wanting something to be true when in reality it is very unlikely? I could go on to propose that human lives are eternally controlled by a golden flying horse ‘in mysterious ways’ and no one could prove nor disprove me as my claim is unfalsifiable and thus cannot be tested by science. If I am supported by a thousand more people over this very claim, then I may as well have founded a new religion.

Now people may argue that they may choose to believe in their beliefs for comfort and not care about factual errors. But that is simply their choice. The act of choosing does not necessarily deem some claim as logically sound or make it likely to be true. I’m not saying that you are wrong when you choose to believe in something, because I cannot wrong any unfalsifiable claim, but I can soundly say that such beliefs turning out to be true is very very unlikely and evidence suggests so too, if somehow tested.

Another argument that I faced was that it is better to follow something that has been going on from ages ago by so many people, instead of dissenting to them and causing a disturbance. This kind of an argument is known as an appeal to the mass/tradition fallacy (argumentum ad populum). Because it is again inconsistent with logic to say that the majority or established traditions are always correct. They may be wrong, and they have been in many occasions, to name a few: on the issue of Slavery in the US and Sati-pratha in Nepal and India. We are always free to challenge popular claims with reason and skepticism.

I’d like to add that when people learn to think for themselves, staying within the bounds of reason and empiricism, they do not need to even believe in a higher power to be happy and morally sound as we very well know that happiness and morality do not necessarily stem only from religion. It is possible for humans to be decent even without needing a god or karma to fear.

Most of us rational atheists accept life the way it is and we realize that since we can never know whether afterlife is real or false, we have one known life to accomplish all that we want to and to live it to the fullest because you never know when life (your’s or your loved one’s) will end. This realization allows most us to be happy without the need for any imaginary comfort because we expect life to be uncertain and accept it. We believe that a lasting happiness in life comes only after accepting the harsh nature of life itself and to adapt our emotions around it. We accept reality.

Rationality isn’t bad, it’s indeed refreshing and liberating. We all use our rational minds while buying a used car, a mobile phone or while purchasing real estate. Rational atheists also apply the same thinking pattern while pondering about our existence and the concept of a higher power or a creator. We tend to regard something with doubt before believing in it. And just as one would never buy a used car of their liking just by believing everything that the car dealer says, without looking for evidence of damage or without logically mapping the dealer’s claims; we rationalists do not buy the concept of a creator or a higher power without objective proof of its existence or functioning. We also tend to apply the same thinking pattern on superstitions, dogma, magical claims and so on….

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The Flying Spaghetti and meatball monster. One parody unfalsifiable claim used satirically by many atheists in order to mock religious claims.

But the sad thing is, to become a rational person, one needs practice and this is the hard part. Unlike faith, which can arise innately even out of intuition or false perception, Rationality is a learned phenomenon which depends on logic and evidence. Rationality is counter-intuitive. To answer another question my friends asked me, as to why I’m not always able to convince people around me effectively; this is why. It is not always possible for me to ‘convert’ or convince others such as my sister or my parents, because rationality is hard to grasp instantly and not everyone is interested in taking part in discussions. Not everyone I talk to will start to read books on rationality and practice critical thinking straight away even if they like what I am talking about. But we never know the possibility, in the long run, of my constant advocacy for rationality and science being able to change some young minds successfully.

So the question remains. Will I ever go back into the dark? The answer is no. I think I’ll stay a rationalist (or in other words a secular humanist) for the rest of my life as one can only start to open their mind once.

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7 thoughts on “Will I ever go back into the dark?

  1. My uncle and my dad were atheists when I was young. They had influenced me, and supported me when people tried to force religion on me. Now, they are trying to convince me that God exists. They use the same kind of reasoning too. I believe that their relapse is due to the hole the religion left in them and they haven’t filled with anything. It is important to fill that empty space that religion left behind, with something that is soothing and therapeutic, say, like art, philosophy, music, science etc. which is exactly what I am doing now. Reading Nietzsche.

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    1. Nice to learn and you are to some extent right. But take this poet/novelist Laxmi Prasad Devkota I have mentioned, he was into art and music and literature and his name is on tip of every Nepali tongue, but still he chose to go back.

      I think our rationality should be able to sound an alarm in us when we sway away from the path of reason. Filling a gap is important, I know, but to use that gap in order to justify faith is again a logical loophole.

      To mention my gap-filling strategy, I’m more of a Carl Sagan type. The vastness of the universe and the the beauty of nature, and forms of Human expression and humility (art, music, literature etc) that appreciate and praise nature are my cup of tea.

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      1. That’s a good point. I think people lose rationality if they stay in ignorance. Rational thinking or logic goes hand in hand with knowledge. More the information more the confidence in their logic. When they felt that there is no God, it might have seemed reasonable to them. People tend to conform with popular beliefs (like you said), because the other option makes everyone else ignorant and stupid, making them vulnerable to bandwagon effect. It would be harder to imagine that everybody is crazy. I think that religious people are stupid. Really. I am not afraid of saying it. What person in there right mind would believe such ridiculous claims. They believe babas and swamis who claim to speak with God! People are gullible. It might make look arrogant but I don’t care. Also, most people stop believing in God because religions are self contradictory or inconsistent. They are several religions, considering most people are henotheistic, if all of their gods exists or it is the one and the same but called differently in different regions, cultures or languages, it would make God very inconsistent. Why would an all knowing God get wrong about things, which were discovered and disproved by science. Like creationism, basic astronomy, or other such theories. This is what most people argue, also making them nonbelievers. But that doesn’t exclude the possibility of supreme being. That is where science will be useful. Evolution, Big Bang theory and basic astronomy. You don’t have to read very deep into the subjects, a quick look is sufficient.

        As a person of logic myself, in my team age years, I struggled with it too. I was convinced that God,- in temples, churches, mosques or whatever, – was bullshit when I was 10 year old. But the possibility that a spiritual being’s existence haunted me. I became agnostic. There were so many unexplained things, that I couldn’t explain without God. Studying big history, Big Bang theory and evolution, helped me see through things. I have more confidence in my logic/reasoning. Just because we don’t know answers to certain things doesn’t make the wrong answers right. People tend to forget that. It is important for people to seek knowledge, which would make them more resistant towards conformity or bandwagon effect.

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      2. I understand your point of view, and I, like you, believe that to stay rational for one’s entire life he/she needs to have confidence in reason. It’s good to learn that you too have confidence in reason, promoting which is my ultimate motive.

        However, you must also know that there is a sharp distinction on calling someone stupid as a person and calling just their beliefs stupid. I’m not afraid to speak my mind out either, but I’d choose to say, for the sake of having sensible discussions, that their beliefs are stupid and not them. Because we can find religious people whose rational factions are well functioning in other areas (considering the fact, for example, that a lot of theists also belong to the medical sector and engineering. Two fields where scientific thinking is the core principle).

        Calling them stupid would I think just divert the discussion from being sensible to being an accusation game. Not saying you cannot; as you may well validate your claim by saying that one kind of irrational belief is known to make people susceptible to other irrational beliefs. I’m just saying it might be better not to, talking in terms of an argument that is hands on with intellectual humility and not just boldness. We definitely need both humility and boldness to effectively tackle faulty human thoughts, and to be able to persuade people to be able reason in a sound manner. That’s my perspective.

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  2. I think the reason people go back to being religious as they get older is because they’re so much more closer to death. And the idea of being bound by this body alone is too much for their ego..and they need some base to believe in immortality of soul which is given by most religions..be it in the form of afterlife or reincarnation.

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    1. Richard Dawkins is almost 80 years old. He’s not religious. So is not Stephen Hawkins, Morgan Freeman and scores of other people. Sweden is 80% Atheist.

      But I have no problem with people being religious. Their life their wish. But to lie to oneself with fiction, is not who I am. But what you said is also partly true. For people like LPD, what you said might have been the reason. But, if and only if, LPD was an avid critical thinker, perhaps he would have been atheist till the day of his death.

      Everyone is scared of death. We just have to accept that we have this one life to do what we want and rightfully live by it instead of being falsely reassured of fairies and a second chance.

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