Thursday, June 19, 2008


In this post written soon after his mother’s death, Amit Varma narrates how he, as a non-believer in God or souls, and without the attendant comforting philosophies of the afterlife, had to deal with death as simply death. He defends his atheism thus:

The conviction that there is no God is irrational because one cannot prove a negative. (How do you prove that something does not exist?) However, it is entirely rational to not believe in something whose existence has not been demonstrated. I don’t believe in dragons or fairies because no one has yet proved to me that they exist. Ditto God. I am not asserting that God does not exist, but simply saying that I don’t believe in the existence of God because I see no evidence of Him (or Her, or It). This is not a dogmatic position: if you can prove to me tomorrow that God or dragons exist, I will start to believe in them. Until then, I remain in disbelief. That’s atheism.

But his is not a militant brand of atheism, adds Amit:

What other people choose to believe in is none of my business, and I respect their right to their beliefs. But the right to religion does not imply the right to force it on others. I object when people try to coerce others into conforming with their beliefs, believing that their religion gives them the license to infringe on the rights of others. Religion in the private domain and in community settings can be useful, and a force for good, but too often in recent times, it has been used to justify the worst excesses: genocides, riots, terrorism, and all kinds of coercion.

Christopher Hitchkens, author of the book,” God is not great” is far more critical of religion, the medium through which the illusion of God is constantly propagated. Religion, he argues, poisons everything and will be responsible for the destruction of all the hard won human attainments. In the concluding chapter, he writes:

Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything impossible. Where once it used to be able, by its total command of a world-view, to prevent the emergence of rituals, it can now only impede and retard- or try to turn back- the measurable advances that we have made

Christopher furnishes exhaustive data on the destruction caused in the name of God and argues that religion must be stamped out ruthlessly.

While agreeing with Christopher’s conclusions, I still think that his reasoning and logic could have been better. He fails to establish clearly that religion does more harm than good. Citing incidents that reveal the destructive capabilities of religion or arguing that it has caused “harm” or has the potential to cause harm are not enough. Because a corresponding argument can be put forth, with examples, that religion has also done some good, binding people together, providing a framework for moral values, etc.

For instance, I can, with equal ease, put together a fat book called “Sports must be banned”, completely ignoring the plus points of brotherhood and harmony that sports have promoted, and instead packing it with stories of how fans have gone on murder sprees after football games, or talk about the killing during the Munich Olympics, or about the scandals involving drugs and betting to rest my case.

Unlike Christopher, Amit has made his point in a moderate and balanced manner and, further, is open to changing his views if evidence presents itself at a later date. Which is what ‘scientific temper’ is all about.


Dilip Muralidaran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dilip Muralidaran said...

You state "Unlike Christopher, Amit has made his point in a moderate and balanced"....

I simply disagree with that. Moderates are cowards. Nothing more, nothing less. Moderate's pave way for the existence of extremists. Because moderates don't really want a storm in the tea cup they don't question things or critique them when they really are required.

There is no grey area in nature. Things are either purely black or white. What we call grey is the convergence of black and white to form a boundary colour.

Heroine as we all know has wonderful sedative effects and can be used as a pain killer too, so can marijuana. However quoting my dislocated hip and immense pain i'm subject to living every moment of my life, i can't request a prescription for it with my doctor can i?

Similarly because religion provides a cover for the unknown by providing factually incorrect and misleading answers to life's questions it does more harm than good. Any human with a little bit of common sense should be able to see this.

We all agree problems should be resolved through dialogue and discourse. This is why people who kill, maim or discomfort other people to force their views on them are called terrorists. Comically though when religion tries to force its views on people and discomfort them we call it a matter of faith and give it a free pass. Religion probably is the only entity in the entire world that can prove a point without evidence. This of course as you already know is dangerous. If this can be allowed then I can go accuse anyone i don't like of murder and imprison them forever. The logic is all the same. If one thing don't need evidence then the other should not either, partiality is not something we can practice in a free society, or can we?

A moderate if you can logically equate to is like a person who is hale and healthy and walks by minding his own business when he witnesses four men gang raping an underage child. While i can agree individually his life may be endangered if he tries to interfere and thus his silence is justified, remaining silent because he does not want to displease any party or side with anyone, neither the raped girl nor the rapists, clearly to me is quite absurd, illogical and cowardly. This is precisely what moderates are in my personal opinion.

"He fails to establish clearly that religion does more harm than good."

What more data do you expect? There are literally billions of people who were killed in the holy wars that have occurred throughout history in all religions in all times. There are people who are being suppressed and ill treated because of their religious beliefs. If your family is a conservative family I bet you still quarantine menstruating women from handling the household (especially if you are a Hindu or a Muslim) but you don't even discuss masturbating men.

If religion was so doing good equally good as compared to it doing bad i wonder why nobody at home asks if i jerked myself today imagining a lovely pair of boobs and if my answer were yes i be banned from entering a temple or coming in physical contact with the pooja room in my house. I mean as menstruation is the sexual cycle to women, masturbation is to men. I wonder why the later is never seen as a disease or an evil whilst the former is? Maybe religion is just an alias for sexism as we all know already; that our conscious mind reminds us all the time in a tiny corner of our brains but our religiously tolerant and moderate mindset ignores them completely.

Raj said...

Dilip, it is not often that someone takes my posts seriously enough to leave such a long comment. Thanks.

Actually, I agree with all that you have said about religion. And, Amit will too, I am sure.

The point that I was trying to make was that an argument that religion is completely evil cannot be based on the proposition that religion has caused some harm or even ‘much harm”. A similar argument can be made in the case of cars (thousands of people have been killed in accidents), planes ( hundreds of people are held at gun point by hijackers), sports ( hooligans tend to fly off the handle when their team loses), etc. We accept cars, planes, sports, because we are convinced that the positives outweigh the negatives by far.

With religion, I am sure that there are many who can put forward a compelling presentation of facts to show how humanity has benefited from it. If this needs to be countered, then it is incumbent on the critic to explain how all these benefits pale before the horrible side-effects. This debate can go on forever.

That’s why I like Amit’s take. He may not be a believer, but he recognises that there are people who have chosen to believe in God, and feels that they should be allowed to do so, as long as they don’t impose their views on him. And, I like the distinction he makes between ‘not believing that there is a God and a belief that there is no God’.

Dilip Muralidaran said...


Cars are tools to enable things to do, like for example transportation. You can see cars and you can believe cars because you can open the door, turn on the ignition and drive and 170 Miles per hour and run into a tree and be so very dead. Evidence exists for cars and i don't know. If i can see something it kind of helps my credibility factor a bit.

Religions sole purpose is to make believe other people too, so there is no point arguing "as long as they don't force their beliefs on me" statement. You personally need not smoke but if someone in public smokes then you are prone to the ill effects of nicotine too. Religion is like a cigarette. You need to quarantine religious people because they are completely hallucinating on a belief system that has no proof. Not all that is comforting is good for us, for example i state again, drugs and unprotected sex. Both of them are awesome things you can have but sure is gonna kill you in the long run.

"belief that there is no God’." is something no one can prove. Why? The burden of proof is on the believer and NOT on the skeptic. I can tell you that one fine accidental night at a club here called pasha i had fun with a friend and some random strangers who hugged and kissed me good bye. Later i found out that the strangers were Reema Sen and Nila, the hottest celebrities around.

Now this story can be completely true or i could be bull-shitting you big time. What needs to validate my story is evidence. In my case its easy, in religions case... boy you're only chances are communicating with dead people to figure out if there is heaven and it there are angels and if there are if they have tits and if vodka is available there and if you can really have virgins for yourself and if there are virgins how they are still virgins because now you've had them :-P

Meek chances for religion to make some sensible debate, i would say.

However if one wants to sit in the corner of a room facing the wall and imagine a flying spaghetti monster will give them a 100 dollar bill in the event of them praying to it religiously, and they dont try and conjure this shit up and put it on my doorstep or preach to me, i'm fine with leaving that deluded person alone to his fate, just like amit. The moment he steps out and says something i would make sure he is in a psychiatry ward in a good hospital, as a citizen with public interest in the welfare of one and all i will certainly do that.

Raj said...

"The moment he steps out and says something i would make sure he is in a psychiatry ward in a good hospital, as a citizen with public interest in the welfare of one and all i will certainly do that."

However much I agree with your take on religion, I cannot grant you the right to arrogate to yourself the authority to decide what is in public interest. The public needs to do that. If you passionately believe that the entire public suffers from mass hallucination, you've got to find a better way to bring them out of that misery. A debate, alas, will be necessary.

I liked the way you put across your point, dilip, but let's agree to disagree on this.