I recently saw this interview of Dr Aviral Vatsa, who is a medical practitioner living in Scotland, by Valli Bindana, a film maker who lives in California. Both are of Indian origin.
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Dr Vatsa and Valli are both self proclaimed atheists ( as I am too ). However, there are two kinds of atheists, viz scientific atheists and unscientific atheists, and to my mind Dr Vatsa and Valli both belong to the second category. In other words, while they condemn religion, they have no scientific understanding about it, and the views they expressed in this interview are superficial, and lacking in any depth.
I have briefly expressed my views about religion in the articles below :
However, I wish to elaborate.
The first question that arises is how did religion come into existence ? Dr Vatsa attributes it entirely to fear and anxiety, and he rightly condemns ‘Babas’ who play on people’s anxieties and fears, and politicians who exploit religion for getting votes.
However, that is an oversimplification. No doubt fear and anxiety played a part in creation of religion, but one has to go deeper into the matter.
Religion arose initially as nature worship, and came into existence when humans evolved from lower creatures.
Animals do not have religion. But what differentiates a human from an animal is the faculty of reasoning. The early humans were surrounded by forces of nature, e.g. the sun, wind, fire, rain, etc which they could not understand. Hence they started believing they were supernatural beings e.g. Surya, Indra, Agni, and the other Vedic gods ( and similar nature gods in ancient Greece and Rome, among native Americans, who were earlier called Red Indians, etc ), These natural forces could benefit people, or harm them. Hence they had to be propitiated.
It is true that all religions are superstitions and unscientific, and obstruct critical thinking. But even today, despite all scientific advance in the world, most people are still religious. Why ? Let me explain.
Even today perhaps 75% people of the world, particularly in underdeveloped countries, are poor. Poor people need religion as a psychological support, as their lives are so miserable that they would go mad without this psychological support.
And even most of the better off people are also religious because the chance factor is still very powerful in their lives. They plan something, but very often something else happens. For instance, a businessman can start an enterprize, but despite all his planning it may fail ( due to a variety of reasons ). In other words, we often cannot control our lives.
The chance factor is powerful because of the low development of science even today, compared to what it will be in say 100 years from now. Then science will have developed so tremendously that poverty will have been abolished, and we will able to largely control our lives, and then there will be no need of religion.
Dr Vatsa says that if one is religious he/she has a licence to be immoral. I do not know how he has come to this conclusion. I know a large number of religious people who are also highly moral.
Valli talked sheer nonsense when she said that people living in cities near rivers which flood are more violent than people living in cities near rivers which do not flood. I have lived for 58 of my 78 years in Allahabad which is near two rivers Ganga and Jamuna, both of which flood every monsoon season, and I am not violent, nor are most people living in Allahabad. What surprised me even more was that Dr Vatsa, who claims to have a scientific mind, did not immediately tell Valli that she was talking nonsense, as I would have done.
However, there are more fundamental objections to religion.
In his famous novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ the great Russian writer Dostoevsky asks ( through one of his characters ) if there is a God, why do so many children in the word suffer ?
If there is a God who is all powerful, merciful and all good, then why do millions of children in the world suffer from hunger, cold, lack of shelter, disease etc ? Why does God, who is said to be merciful, not have mercy on them and give them food, clothes, shelter, medicines, etc ?
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Why is there so much poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, sickness etc in the world ? If God is powerful and merciful, why does he not abolish these and give everyone a decent life ?
When 6 million European Jews were being sent to gas chambers by the Nazis, why did God not save them ? Religious people have no answer.
As regards the dispute between creationists and evolutionists, I have already dealt with it in my article above. Religion is based on faith and divine revelation, science is based on observation, experiment and reasoning. Religion says there is a supernatural being called God, who is permanent and immortal. Science does not believe that there are any supernatural beings, and does not believe that anything is permanent. Science believes that the only reality is matter ( or rather matter-energy, as Einstein proved by his formula e=mc2 ), which is in different forms, and is in motion, in accordance with certain laws which can be discovered by scientific research. If one asks where did matter come from, the answer is that matter came from matter, in other words it always existed. If it is assumed that everything must have a Creator, then God too must have a Creator, i.e. a super God, and he too must have a Creator i.e. a super super God, and so on. This is known as the fallacy of the infinite regress.
Religion will disappear when the social basis which gives rise to religion, i.e. poverty, ignorance and exploitation of man by man, disappears. But that is still a far way off.
Though a confirmed atheist, I read books like Mahabharat and Ramayan not as religious books but as sociological ones. For instance Draupadi had 5 husbands ( the Pandava brothers ), which proves the existence of polyandry at that time. Now Draupadi is a respected lady, but when her ‘cheer haran’ was taking place publicly in the durbar, Karna says there is nothing wrong in disrobing her since she is like a prostitute, having 5 husbands.
This shows that at that time society was passing through a transitional stage, since polyandry is a feature of matriarchal society, but is abolished in the subsequent patriarchal society, which has polygamy ( i.e. a man can have many wives, but a woman can have only one husband ). So when that portion of the Mahabharat was written ( Mahabharat was evidently written over centuries by many persons, collectively known as Vyas, which only means a writer ) remnants of matriarchal society still existed, though it was rapidly being transformed into patriarchal society. So social values were clashing ( as they are today ).
I have also explained that Ram was a human, not a god, in the original Ramayan of Valmiki, but becomes a god 2000 years later in Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas. Unfortunately most people have not read the former, which is in Sanskrit, which most people do not know, and have only read the latter.
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This shows how religion evolves according to people’s needs.
To give another example, Indra was a war god, and was the most important god in the Rigveda, which was written probably when the Aryans were entering India as warriors, and Indra was their chief. Later, he became a rain god, when Aryans had settled in India, and agriculture, not war, became their main activity. Indra then became a minor god, the more important becoming Ram, Krishna, Hanuman, Kali and Durga ( in Bengal ) and Murugan ( in Tamilnadu ), none of whom find mention in the Rigved
I conclude by showing how I am a confirmed atheist and yet a Hanuman bhakt