Understanding Atheism: Is the Young India Rejecting Religion?


Author – Lakshya Dahiya (With inputs from Shrila Soren)

As a child once I enquired of a distant cousin as to which God he liked the most. When the response came, I was appalled, shocked to say the least. He had just called himself an atheist. But the word I heard was “evil”. Then I grew up, and realized that he was just another member of the profusion of sects and cults that thrives in this country.

For a fact, I can say that this profusion has always found its enemy in atheism. Atheists have always been like some outlaws. It takes a strong non-conformist will for any individual, in this country of million faiths, to adorn the garb of an atheist.

Over the previous years, many well-known anti-superstition, anti-organized-religion activists have been subjected to mob violence. Some events even led to much blown-up political storms, eventually, to no avail. As sad as these incidences are, they actually belong to a larger global trend, that has been in force since the beginning of organized religion. Not just in India then, it seems, Atheists are unwelcome everywhere.

From top left (clockwise), Baron d’Holbach, Karl Marx, Auguste Comte, and Sam Harris; prominent atheist thinkers. Image – Wikimedia Commons

There is another league of those who have come forward, rather hot-headed, against “forced”, organized religion. Rather than atheists, these would again fit more properly in the line of anti-religionists. Sonu Nigam- who recently sparked controversy for his remarks against a particular religious practice- serves as an apt example.

But does Atheism really mean being against religion?

According to American Atheists (an authoritative voice on the subject), it is “simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods”. Believing this definition, we can safely say that Atheism does not necessarily advocate ‘god hating’ or ‘religion hating’ orientations.

It’s no surprise that all the prominent atheist organizations are based in the west.

So these outbursts, for whatever reason they may be, become even more important. They present samples from the growing incidences of mild frustration, callousness, and overall disillusionment among Indian youth for religion.

The driving force of this trend is surely the popular culture. I am no one to judge whether it’s good or bad, but it is happening. How many social media celebrities- the draught horses of pop culture- do we see promoting religiosity?

Another probable reason is the social media itself. It is bringing people with different, even conflicting, religious ideas together. For any reasonable person, it is more comfortable not to face this conflict head on. As a result, the religious schisms are hitting the sidelines.
Still, the question stands, is this Atheism?

Looking for the answer in etymology, we find that the word ‘atheist’ come from the Greek word ‘átheos’ which means ‘without deities’. Historically, non-believers were called atheists as an insult. So, they were sort of ‘underprivileged’.

átheoi from ancient Greek means ‘without God’

So, and as the American Atheist definition said, keeping one’s religiousness on the back burner is not enough to be an atheist. You become one when you’re completely devoid of such beliefs.

This singularly means that the youth is not becoming atheist, they’re just caring less and less about their religiosity. As a result, at one end, we have the anti-religionists, on the other, there are the non-atheistic, callous followers. None of these are true atheists.

This was reflected in the 2011 census, when only 33,000 people called themselves atheists, or roughly 0.00002% of the 1.3 Billion. Just 541 in the National Capital.

If in the same census, the calculated the number of people who don’t care too much about religion, don’t believe in the associated values, or hardly participates in religious rituals, the number would run in millions. So, when so many people are reaching so close the theism/atheism borderline, what is stopping them from taking the jump?

The answer to this lies in the prehistoric human need to conforming. Maybe people don’t just want to stand out when it comes to belief. Everyone wants to believe in what is collectively believed. Like I said before, It will take a strong non-conformist will.

Another factor is probably the concept of apostates. Very few people (almost none) are born and raised non-believers. So, if and when they do want to turn to atheism, they fear being tagged an apostate. Now, think how hard must be for a politician to change parties! Nobody likes a deserter or a hypocrite.

Bhagat Singh’s atheistic views are not well known. He was a stringent critic of Religion.

The generally accepted answer among atheists, and theists alike, is scientific education. But when ISRO chief- an individual with substantial scientific temper- goes to Tirupati temple before the Mangalyaan launch, it rightly becomes a matter of personal belief.

I feel that it is only this concept of ‘personal belief’ which, after excluding superstitions, can provide sound refutations to both ideologies- of the anti-religionists and of the organized religion. When it comes to religion, it seems that the key to communal, and personal, harmony is simply ‘keeping it to yourself’.

In the end then, I think it could be safely concluded that the Indian youth is not rejecting religion or accepting atheism. The Indian youth is but slowly, and unknowingly, treading towards the idea of secularism- which, in a nutshell, means not caring too much about religion.

If the pioneers of the Indian Constitution were witnessing this, they must be be thinking, “…only about time…”

Lead Image – Pixabay

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