Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
Atheism implies disbelief in God’s existence. It is a kind of denial of God. An atheist believes neither in God nor in religious texts. In India people were usually theists and they believed in God and spiritualism. Perhaps only the charvaks were atheists in that age and they were the advocates of materialism. Their theory seems to support Hedonism since according to their opinion, man should try to get as much pleasure as possible without bothering about the means they adopt. In India most of the people were in favour of spiritualism. Atheism did not have much impact in that age.
But in this scientific age people have started to think that nothing supernatural is needed to explain the events of the world and science can solve all the mysteries which seemed to be insoluble till some decades back. Materialism is the dominant force in today’s world and consequently a new form of atheism emerged in the West in 2004. The theory became very popular and articles and books were published in support of the New Atheism. It influenced countless people in the West and around the globe. Even in India, which was a land of spiritualism once, the influence of Atheism is obvious. Most of the people in this modern age believe that there is no need to assume religion for the spiritual enlightenment of mankind. In the opinion of these atheists, liberation, supernatural entities, miraculous power are all a myth. They think that it is ridiculous to uphold religion in this scientific age. For them there is nothing beyond this world and there is nothing which cannot be explained. Mysticism, Mythology, religious texts etc have no basis.
According to the Atheists, religion has nothing spiritual in it, but it man-made. Hence the assumption of God is unnecessary and religious texts and scriptures are mere fabrications. Victor Stenger, a renowned New-Atheist states in his “New Atheism”, “I show how Naturalism is sufficient to explain everything we observe in the universe from the most distant galaxies to the inner workings of the brain that result in the phenomenon of mind. Nowhere is it necessary to introduce God.”
Atheism rejects morality, as in the materialistic view morality is meaningless. According to the atheist secular humanism can be substituted for morality. Life has to be guided by materialism, since, to sustain life one needs material things like food, water, air etc. Spiritualism is not at all needed to support life. Philosophy has differentiated phenomena and noumena. Perhaps for people like us phenomena, which have been called “appearances”, are the real things and we have no idea about some noumena or reality lurking behind the phenomenal world. Science deals with phenomena and we can see how brilliantly science has explained everything we observe. For progress of mankind science is not only necessary, but it is also indispensable. The contributions of science for the welfare of humanity are known to all, we don’t have to enumerate them, since they are obvious to all. The impact of science in our life is enormous. There is nothing which science has not been able to do. Hence according to the atheists, what is the use of clinging to some mysterious spirituality or to talk about reality or morality?
Daniel Dennet, Christopher Hitchens, Richard and Dawkins are some prominent New Atheists. This theory has been able to make deep dents in the camp of religion supporters. New Atheism is not a new theory. It was present in pre-historic times in India as well as in the other countries of the world. But it could not get a prominent position in the past. Science in the present age has given a decided boost to the new Atheists. After observing the enormous progress in scientific achievements, people all around have started thinking that religion is not at all necessary for mankind, and science has taken the place of religion.
Usually common people do not question the beliefs of religion. They accept it as something extra ordinary and miraculous. Initially every religion states the same thing and they all believe in something transcendent which goes beyond empirical experience. At the beginning people adhered to the fundamental teachings of religion and behaved according to the strictures of the religions texts. In fact, each religion teaches its supporters to be good human beings, and its teachings are always for the good of mankind. If all the people follow the religious teachings faithfully, the world would certainly be a better place. That kind of a situation apparently prevailed in India in the epic age, when people laid great emphasis on certain principles like Truth, Morality and Honesty. They followed the religious instructions to the letter. But gradually certain prejudices, rituals and other nonessential things cropped up to vitiate religion. This kind of attitude has given rise to fanaticism and consequently to religious violence and hatred amongst the supporters of diverse religions.
Some people do believe in certain aspects of religion, they pray and obediently follow the rules laid down in the scriptures. But they want certain rewards for this devotion and when that is denied they turn into atheists. Again there are some people who never bother about the intricacies or significance of religion. They just follow the instructions of the so called religious leaders. Common people obey these leaders due to threats or persuasion. Because of these opportunistic leaders, the world has been shattered by bloodshed, tears and sufferings.
In India superstitions have a great influence on the people. They believe in rituals and myths. The ‘gurus’ who perform miracles are venerated by all sections of people. That is the reason why, so many god men have emerged and they have been put on the pedestal by the common people. It has also been seen that the god men demonstrate their process to the people at large to draw supporters. They are proud of their extraordinary powers and use them for their own benefit. That way religion finds expression in superstitions. But often the god men deceive the hapless people for their own gain.
The devotees go to various places of worship and offer gold, silver, money, fruits or whatever they can afford to the deity for some favour. They want to bargain with god with the strength of their money power. They demand various things from the deity and treat him or her as a supermarket, where they can get things they want at a fair price. Their idea is to please God with certain offerings, which may be money, gold or anything else and in return they demand huge dividends. There seems to be some undeclared competition amongst the devotees as to who can give more to get instant recognition from the deity. These absurd practices have turned many people into Atheists, who do not believe in faith, but only follow reason.
Religion is a mix up of fables with philosophy, rituals with mysticism and religion with spirituality. Often philosophy is discarded to defend some irrational fable. Once people were illiterate and they believed anything the religious leaders said. But gradually people realized the value of education and it started spreading. They learned to apply reason to examine various dogmas and when these things could not be interpreted rationally they became dissatisfied with these fables. They started questioning certain beliefs of the common people regarding religion. Questioning is not attacking beliefs, rather questioning is necessary for straightening faith and for removing irrelevant aspects. For clearing some confusions questioning is not only necessary, but indispensable as well. But often the religious leaders resented such questions, as they had no answer to them. Hence people became dissatisfied with religion and turned to Atheism. But due to the faults of some people one cannot condemn religion.
In actual fact religion is not against science, though it seems to be so. Religions should encourage science and discard non-essential things like fables, myths, superstitions, rituals, prejudices and some other factors, which are not really related to religion. Common people do not understand the essentials of religion and they can easily be misguided. We rarely have saints or scholars to give a reasonable explanation of some religious practices. More often than not we depend on pseudo religious leaders and because of their inability to furnish people with adequate answers; Atheism gets the upper hand over religion. Even if some true or scholars offer suitable answers to all the questions of the people, still it is hard for them to abandon age -old practices. Naturally in such a confusing situation, Atheism gets the opportunity to gain ground and make it position strong.
The problem is that the religious leaders uphold religion and the atheists denounce religion. There is no common ground between these hostile camps. Moreover, there are diverse religions existing simultaneously and their problems are stupendous. Due to the enormous scientific process people are not ready to accept things which are merely believed, but cannot be explained, hence to save religion and to instill faith in the minds of the people we need a leader, who is spiritual, rational and devoted, highly enlightened and truthful. But due to the rarity of such leaders people have turned away from religion and have accepted atheism.
Swami Vivekananda was such a spiritual leader, who was highly intellectual and was compassionate towards everybody. He had affection for everybody, irrespective of caste and community. He did not hesitate to call a spade a spade, and whatever he said was based on his own experience. He had a message for everybody in the whole world. He had answers to all the questions raised by the atheists. He told the followers of religion, ‘We all are atheists, let us confess that. Mere intellectual assent does not make us religious’. He also said, ‘It is better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite.’ He thought that the supporters of religion do not have the slightest idea of religion. They pretend that they know everything about religion, though in actual fact they know nothing, since they give importance only to fables and rituals, which are in no way connected with true religion. Vivekananda thought that before believing in God one has to believe in himself. Religious leaders talk about religion, but they have no faith in themselves, or in God or in religion.
Materialism has elbowed out spiritualism and that is why religion has been discarded, because God can be known only through spiritualism. The atheists condemn religion as man-made. But according to Vivekananda the basic idea of religions lies in “the struggle to transcend the limitations of the senses.” He said that lady man is not gross material, but something beyond; he is also the ‘atman’. Nobody can reject the ‘atman’, as ‘I’ or ‘atman’ is a self-evident principal, which cannot be denied.
The atheists also reject ethics and say that it is made by man. But morality cannot be denied, as without morality man will lose his humanity. If we apply introspection we will realize that there is something beyond this world, which cannot be neglected. A man without religion is like a tree without root. Atman is a part of Paramatma. It is true that God cannot be experienced, but can be known through intuition. Only with the help of spiritualism we can go beyond the world, which is a delusion according to the Advatia Vedanta. If the finer qualities of man like love, truth, justice, honesty etc are denied to him, he would no longer remain a human being. The atheist denies God, but accepts the material world as true. But if he denies God, than he must deny the world as well. They stand and fall by the same logic.
The atheists deny religion due to the influence of materialism, which have pervaded all over the world. None can deny that man is a combination of soul and body and the soul is the subject, which cannot be known as an object. It is the soul, which transcends the body. Each soul is potentially divine, and that divinity can be made actual through spiritualism. Due to the materialistic influence the atheists have denied religion, morality and all other aspects of life. To save the earth and humanity from annihilation religion and morality are not only necessary, but indispensable as well.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)