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There is Probably No God


The religion of reason
There is growing support for the ‘atheist bus campaign’ in the UK, US, Canada and parts of Europe

Just as the Church publicly exhorts the faithful to follow religion, various atheist groups came together as the British Humanist Association and decided to broadcast their viewpoint by purchasing advertising space on London’s buses. Non-believers were asked to coin interesting slogans and to contribute to campaign finances.

Richard Dawkins, the biologist, admirer of Charles Darwin and author of ‘The God Delusion’, announced he would match the money raised from the public. The scheme set a modest target of £5000 to be raised through public donations. But the actual collection was in excess of £150,000. It was a pointer to the campaign’s appeal and the chord it struck with many. Instead of 40 buses bearing the advertisement, it was eventually carried on 200 — much to the chagrin of the church.

The church complained to the advertising regulatory authority that the campaign was in bad taste and bound to hurt religious sentiment. The adjudicating authority rejected the complaint citing the primacy of “freedom of expression”. Some of the slogans used were:

• There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy yourself.
• You can be good without God.

There were variations too. Two dozen buses in Manhattan, New York, loudly proclaimed: “You don’t have to believe in God to be a moral or ethical person”. And in an acerbic twist to the Bible’s opening sentence, the slogan used on 25 buses in Chicago was, “In the beginning, Man created God.”

In a retaliatory campaign, the Christian party in London hit back with its own advertisement for God. It said, “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian party and enjoy your life”. The transport authorities were, of course, delighted that so much ad revenue was coming their way.

The campaign has spread to Canada and Europe and shows signs of travelling further afield. The atheist associations have happily declared that their main objective has been achieved. Should the church want them to authenticate their claims, the argument can easily be turned on its head by asking the church to prove its case.

The surprising element in all of this is that the 80% of the UK is a “believer”, according to surveys. The US is similarly devout and about 90% of Americans also believe in miracles. In fact, the US is probably the only country in the world that proclaims its faith in God on its currency with the printed affirmation 'In God we trust'.

Why then, would so many join the atheist campaign? Is religion losing its sheen? And what would happen if this campaign came to India? Would local municipalities risk their buses getting burnt for 'blasphemy'? Would political parties be glad of a ready-made opportunity to establish their role as guardians of culture? Would the government show the same maturity in handling the issue as it did in its response to the judgment on Section 377?

Surprisingly, despite its religiosity, India is home to many religions that deny the existence of God. Gautam Buddha clearly asked his followers not to accept even his preaching if it failed to pass the test of reason. Buddha’s argument was that if God is omnipresent, why is there so much evil all around? Buddhism also rejects the idea of a soul in a human body.

Jainism, which follows the teachings of Mahavira, propounds that the concept of God is falsehood (mithya). Mahavira believed that the universe had no beginning and so, there could not be a creator. Jainism asks human beings to exploit the huge amount of energy stored within each of us instead of searching for it elsewhere.

Hinduism — the religion of a large majority of Indians — officially accepts that atheists can continue to be Hindus. India has produced many towering personalities who did not believe in God. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his traditional upbringing, was an avowed nonbeliever. The Indian atheist list would include: Babasaheb Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar, Ram Manohar Lohia, Manavendranath Roy, Ramasamy Naicker (his protégés MG Ramachandran and Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi), Baba Amte and Khushwant Singh. Atheism not only rejects faith in life after death, spirits and God, but is also severely critical of religious principles that do not stand the test of scientific scrutiny.

Hindu mythology believes that Brihaspati is the presiding deity of atheists. His philosophy is known as the Charvaka (or Lokayata) school of thought, which rejects Vedic doctrine and ridicules ritual as self-serving procedures of no real benefit to anyone. An estimated 2% of India’s Hindus are atheist. Few of them are aware that their religion allows for atheism. Most of them believe that society regards the atheist as abnormal, immoral and irreligious and this is why many atheists are wary of publicly admitting to their beliefs.

Ironically, in a country where atheism is a legitimate part of religion, a bus campaign similar to the one in the West would probably run into massive trouble. There would probably be widespread protest. Hindu philosophy is very liberal and extremely tolerant towards every living being, including plants and animals, there is no official costume, fixed days for worship, insistence on ritual, no desire to proselytize and ‘grow’ the religion beyond its current geographical boundaries, no rigid methodology for religious procedure. Hinduism gives its followers complete and utter liberty to choose their deity. Hinduism is tolerant but can we say that of all its followers?

(The author is a management consultant)

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