My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.
p. 259 Sumitra Padmanabhan – Humanism as Religion: An Indian Alternative
Over half way through these essays and I am amazed at the continuing variety. I was also happy to finally hear:
“We therefore start with that utmost difficult task of facing the question of religion with an open mind.”She gives a dictionary definition and notes that it comes in many variations. She tells of her Brahmo (a form of Hindu) parents and her mostly atheist father. She asks, if God is the essence of all that is Good, then why did we need all the prayers and the rituals? She never got an answer for that.
I would say that is the result of her parents not knowing the answer or the leaders of her religion doing a poor job of explaining what they were doing. If you enjoy Christmas then you know what ritual is for, and I don’t mean the ritual of getting up at 5:00 am to go shopping. Rituals help us remember what is important, and the people who helped create the culture we live in. They can also keep our desires in check. A ritual glass of wine with dinner is very different than downing a bottle just because it is there. I will have to do more on this in the future.
She grew up with the caste system, and I can’t argue that there are some serious problems with that. These problems are not gone, although some would like to believe that everyone in India has equal opportunity now.
Sumitra’s response was to try to preach atheism. Her message was a historical analysis of how religion grew out of our tribal identities but when those tribes were forced into contact with each other by growing populations the reasons for the rituals were forgotten along with its unifying purpose. Religion became a tool for exploitation. As she says, “we are imprisoned within our own creation.”
I have had similar thoughts on this summarization of thousands of years of human history. I recently came across a sociologist by the name of Peter Berger. I think what she is saying is expounded upon in his book, “The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion”, but I haven’t read it, so I’ll have to get back to you on that. However I don’t think I need to read any further to agree with Sumitra Padmanabhan when she says,
“Faith without knowledge leads us to blindness – and blindness to fanaticism.”In India, the term “atheism” has too much weight, so she has since started calling her special faith, “Humanism”. This has been gaining popularity. I acknowledge her for being willing to consider how to frame her message to make it more appealing. I also acknowledge that, although she sees people in her country still hold many superstitions, she says,
“For this, we do not blame the people entirely. It is the state with its pacifist policies, soft-pedaling people’s religious sentiment, that is responsible in a big way. And for this, all the political parties, left or rightist, are to be blamed.”
Although I can agree with some of her conclusion about the waste of rupees spent on religious TV and activities and there is no single text to follow, I can’t completely go along with her. She asks these questions near the end of her essay,
“Do we not have the laws to guide us? Can we not spread the ideas of democracy, of the social and natural sciences? Can we not teach people how to combine personal liberty with a sense of social responsibility that is possible only with a strong ethical foundation?”If I had the answers to those questions, I wouldn’t be doing this blog and I wouldn’t be searching back through the words of philosophers and priests. If someone has those answers, please let me know.