My journey to atheism

Some time ago, a post of mine went up on the front page of the Atheism subreddit and someone asked me my deconversion story. Here's the response I gave:

I have never been a Christian. Born and brought up in a Hindu family though. Most Hindus I know are okay with atheism even though some scoff when you reject certain trappings of Hindu culture - like temples, gurus, weird vegetarianism (can't eat meat only on certain days of the week), and festivals. It's less god-oriented and more culture-oriented. This is why I consider myself more of a materialist than an atheist. The foundation of Hinduism is a kind of spiritualism and not really a personal god or gods. Hindus are more likely to mind if you say Karma and reincarnation are bunkum than if you say there are no gods. A lot of fundamentalist Hindus even self-identify as atheists - Hindu Atheists. I'm sure there are some here on this sub.

Of course, none of that keeps Hinduism from being as much of a religion as the next one. The symptoms are all there - good vs evil, us vs them, patriarchy, superstition caste. Just like its Abrahamic counterparts. At the end of the day, religion serves one purpose only - creating and supporting tribes. This has its uses of course. But it also has its downsides, as is clear to see. India, which is both the birthplace of the world's non-Abrahamic religions as well as a Hindu-majority country, goes through the exact same religious suffering as any other country might. What Christian fundamentalists might do in America, Hindu fundamentalists do in India. This, despite there being a world of difference between the two religions' world views.

And now, my story

It's not as dramatic as some other people's might be. But I got to where I am VERY slowly. I am not angry at religion or religious people. I like to think I understand it and them. I understand where they are coming from. I know where to draw the line and what I can allow to pass. I am okay with going to the temple if there is a feast because I am not going to say no to great food. But I am also okay with people eating beef on any day of the week. I have always been.

As a child, I didn't put too much stock in worship. When I left home to work in another city however, I started missing the cultural backdrop of my hometown. This got me interested in Hindu mythology and I started studying more. When I moved from mythology to philosophy, I learned that atheism has a really long history in India. India had atheists in 600 BC. But devotional religiosity is seductive and it won out. Today, not much remains of ancient Indian atheists' thoughts except in scattered texts here and there. Anyway, my studies, despite opening my mind up to a grand diversity of thought, also made me somewhat conservative for a time. I became a vocal supporter of Hindu politics under the impression that Hindu "values" needed to be preserved and that conservatism in that regard was a good thing.

I was wrong of course. Conservatism does not stay mild for long. And religion is almost invariably always used by the unscrupulous to manipulate the gullible. It is a social construct designed to tighten the bonds between members of a community. If the price of that tightening is mobilising the members against imaginary enemies, it will do that too. In fact, it always does.

Some time during the middle of 2016, I realised that I had become the kind of person who says "I'm not an atheist but..." but nods at every single criticism of religious bigotry and binge watches episodes of The Atheist Experience on Youtube. It took me several more months to get comfortable with the word "atheist". Then several more months to realise my privilege as an upper-caste Hindu male. Then a few more months to gather the courage to start talking about these things on social media. It's an ongoing process, but I have gotten to a point where I can defend my position without anger and resentment. (PS: That does not mean I think anger and resentment is uncalled for. It's not in many cases and people have very good reasons to be pissed at religion.)

Now, at the end of 2018, I just tell people I am a materialist. I don't say no to temple feasts, but I do make it clear that I think the gods are fictional characters and that I believe that there is no other reality than the material one.

I have also made a video recently about my journey to atheism. You can watch it here. It's more than an hour long. So watch at leisure.

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