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Why it requires much more courage of conviction to be an atheist than a believer

By NS Venkataraman* 
All religions explain the concept of God in one way or the other and lay down guidelines for leading life. Many believers readily accept the advocacy of the religions without questioning. However, there are persons who do not want to readily follow the grammar pronounced by religions and want to scrutinize the details and may refuse to accept them . They are known as non believers or atheists.
The question is whether we should reject the non believers as negative thinkers and rebels or view them as robust thinkers with courage of conviction.
Ever since the humans and other creatures happened in the world (when was it?), there have been what appears to be an unresolved question as to from where the humans and creatures come and where they would go after death. The limited explanation given is that humans and creatures are created due to chemical and biological reaction in the womb of the mother and death happens due to the weakening of the cells or other unnatural reasons. Obviously, such explanations do not go beyond a point.
In such scenario, several religions have sprung up across the world over several centuries of human existence and in all these religions , there is a common name used “God” and for the understanding of the people , God is described as the creator and ruler of everything in the world. Then, many mythological stories and events have been described across the world to further establish the concept of God.
Of course, religions are important in human life, as they lay down guidelines and norms for living by the humans with peace of mind, by observing compassion , detachment, charity and so on . Without religions, the world will be a scene of anarchy and chaos. While the religions have not been successful in totally eliminating chaos and anarchy, it certainly helps in keeping it under control.

What Hindu religion advocates?

According to the Hindu philosophy (Vedanta), God is not outside but within oneself in the deep mindset. Several scriptures such as Vedas, Upanishads in Hindu religion stress on sustained meditation to realise God within oneself, stating Aham Brahmasmi (Brihadranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10 of the Yajur Veda) – Aham Brahmasmi describes the unity of the Atman ( individual self or soul) with Brahman (the absolute). It is typically translated as “I am Brahman” or less literally as “I am divine”. It is pointed out that the ultimate goal of human life is union of self with the higher self (God).
The Hindu scriptures emphatically state that one has to realise the consciousness within by sustained meditation and then only can experience God. This realization of consciousness leads to Supreme Bliss, otherwise termed as “Ananda”.
Like Hindu religion, all other religions also basically stress on realization of God, though the methodology advocated may be different to some extent. Unable to find a convincing answer to the vexed question about the origin and end of life in their thought process, majority of people simply accept the theories and explanations offered by the various religions , as a way to move out of the uncertain ideas and confusion in the mindset . Such persons are the believers.
Among the believers, there are thought leaders who are generally known as saints or realized souls who preach about the concept of God by their writings , speeches and even by demonstration in some ways and in some cases.
The saints, who are much respected by the believers, advocate belief in God in the mindset and make it easy for anyone to believe in God by stating that beyond such thought process of having faith in God , the human brains cannot introspect beyond. The concept of God is not something that one can speak about or discuss in debate. The saints suggest sustained prayer and meditation to realise God within oneself.
Many people do not understand such concept fully or adequately in spite of some efforts. However, many people conclude that respected saints who have been preaching such ideas over last several centuries cannot be wrong.
These saints also pass away one day like any of their followers. When such passing away of the saints happen, the followers start worshipping the saints as incarnation of God who lived amongst them. Then , place of worship are built for these saints and customary worship practices are evolved over time and these saints also virtually become God in the mindset of the disciples and followers.

The predicament of non-believers

The non believers (known as atheists) do not want to simply adopt or approve the practice of accepting the existence of God as a matter of faith without questioning and they continue their process of thinking as to what is all that life is about and why life happens at all. These non believers are reluctant to view God as a mere creator or ruler , just like a king of a kingdom , as it is sought to be explained by various religious preachers.
In such scenario, researchers are now working on Human Genome Editing . The efforts relate to creation of a small peace of RNA with a short “guide” sequence that attaches (binds) to a specific target sequence in a cell’s DNA. This genome editing is used to alter human genomes or animal genomes.
Several experimental efforts relating to genetically modified or engineered animals have been attempted and scientists have succeeded to some extent. For example, the “super pig “ have been engineered with human growth harmone gene and resulting in transgenic sheep Dolly. It is reported that the transgenic sheep Dolly are abnormal , compared with ordinary lambs. However, the fact is that such transgenic sheep Dolly have been successfully created by the scientists with whatever inadequacies.
The non believers think that such scientific development relating to creation of transgenic animal in research laboratories only go to show that the concepts said in religious teachings such as God creating humans and creatures, rebirths, fate , karma etc. need to be critically reexamined.

Are the non believers any better?

Now, are we to term these non believers as negative thinkers or hard thinkers or genuine thinkers or simply people with negative mindset? In any case, the fact is that non believers also can not go beyond questioning the believers and cannot offer any alternate concept or credible explanation. Finally, it has to be pointed out that in most cases, neither the believers nor the non believers have the complete understanding on what they believe or do not believe.
However, the believers are of the view that in the realm of things, it is better to believe rather than not to believe, since believing in God enable individuals to live in peace, without bothering to think on the vexed question about origin and end of human life and would enable them to move on with the life process for whatever it is worth.
Religion also provides the believers confidence to reconcile themselves to the event of death and enable them to appreciate the fact that death is natural and inevitable, whatever may happen to “oneself” after death. In essence, religions prepare individuals to accept or mentally prepare themselves to the event of death, however dislike they may have for death event.
It has been seen that number of non believers have turned to be vague believers at the fag end of their life and reconcile themselves to accept that they do not know anything better than the believers, when the call of death knocks at their doorstep. All genome researchers may not be non believers per se, even as they continue their efforts “to develop humans and animals”, in addition to what God has been doing.
It requires much more courage of conviction to be an atheist (non believer) than a believer. The non believers often argue that in their thought process , they are no less genuine than believers.
In any case, generally, the world with majority of people being believers, do not view the non believers as out of box thinkers but as rebels or rule breakers. In such circumstances, it is inevitable that non believers are only few and far between.
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*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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