I got mistaken for an atheist a few days ago. I suppose it was because of the nature of some of the items I had shared on social media — jokes and memes poking fun at god and religion.
The general impression seems to be that if you believe in the existence of god or practise a religion, you will not take kindly to any kind of ridicule that comes their way. In fact, in addition to being highly deferential towards your faith, you will also react with hostility to such ridicule and criticism.
That’s silly of course.
Not only is it possible for a believer to laugh at the things he believes in, it is perhaps necessary also. Having a healthy relation with your deity of choice involves understanding (and accepting) that it is dependent on at least a small measure of silliness. I for example, am a Hindu. My religion offers me a choice of gods, goddesses and demons to fawn over. My cultural heritage includes a rich mythology of imaginative stories that have thrilled generations.
And yet, despite these obviously hallowed traditions, India has never really lacked a sense of humour when it comes to discussing the gods. Although, I would admit, there is a certain deferential air here that can be suffocating at times. But then, such is the nature of respect.
I take some pride in my culture, and I find myself more than a little annoyed when some people equate being culture-conscious with backwardness. Apparently, holding the traditions of one’s ancestors in contempt is a mark of being progressive. As you might have guessed, I don’t buy it.
So it boils down to what one defines oneself as. Those like me, who happily identify with the word Hindu, choose to identify with this aforementioned cultural heritage. And here, right here, is the answer to why I don’t call myself an atheist even though my idea of god is not necessarily that of an ‘imaginary sky friend’ (a rather silly oversimplification, courtesy our neo-atheist friends).
I don’t want to define myself by what I do not believe in. It is like wearing an ‘I hate…’ t-shirt. It makes for a lousy self image and makes a negation the centre of your existence.
Of course, I understand that there are many atheists for whom their atheism is a small part of their life. They define themselves in other ways and let their atheism be just what it is — their religious/spititual outlook. My problem is with the more vocal type. The ones who wear their atheism on their sleeve and define their existence by their hate, unbelief, and opposition. The same goes for those who define their Hindutva (Hindu-ness) only as an opposition to monotheistic cults.
There has to be more to you (and me) than only the things we hate, right?
Stand against all that you consider wrong, but do not make that what defines you. I am much more favourably disposed towards those who choose the label ‘rationalist’ or ‘free thinker’ to distinguish themselves from the ‘believers’. Saying ‘I believe in science and critical thinking’ is better than saying ‘I don’t believe in god’. It makes you look smarter (although by itself, atheism is no proof of intelligence) and it makes it appear as if you stand for something (as opposed to against something).
So in summary, here is the question we ought to make the foundation of our identities (however diverse they may be): What do I stand for?