Stellar Chariot

By Arun Neelakandan

I Don’t Believe in God but Maybe You Should

The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Douglas Adams The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

I don’t believe in God. At least the traditional, personal God: the benevolent, bearded man-in-the-sky who looks out for you, creates obstacles to challenge and test you et cetera. Or any of those classic deities e.g. Ganesh, Ahura Mazda, Odin, Jupiter.

Gods: Mazda, Ganesha, Odin and Jupiter
I wanted to make a picture with Ganesh as a hood ornament of a Mazda car with Anthony Hopkins (Odin) driving on the planet Jupiter, but alas, that was too hard and effortful.

Why? I’ve yet to come across any proper piece of evidence to believe in such a thing. Most claims of evidence are permutations of “Dude, you gotta believe me!” and “There are heaps of testimonies in this book.” Dogma. So I’ve chosen to revert to my default state of not knowing and not believing.

Because of the dogma alluded to above, sociocultural and other factors, many are simply born/raised into their faith. A boy born in the Philippines is likely to be a Roman Catholic. A girl born in Egypt is likely to be a Muslim. A goat born in Dresden is…likely to be a goat in Dresden…I digress sillily. So it seems a significant number believe simply because they were taught to.

I know a bit about dogma because I was Hindu for most of my life (yes, I know that ‘being a Hindu’ is very amorphous and vague, seeing as it has no authoritative definition.) I did things I was told to: pray to deities, don’t cut your hair or nails on specific days, abstain from eating certain foods, recite hymns as a form of worship and so on. It was no easy undertaking to turn around and let go of something that has been such a major part of you for so long. I’m often reminded of The Matrix, where Morpheus remarks to Neo: “You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.” It’s only natural to reject an idea that’ll show you to be a fool — but a requirement for growth, in my humble opinion.

Ask yourself this: would you be following your current religion if you had been born in a different time and place? Why don’t you believe in Ra or Ereshkigal or the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Or that Elvis is still alive?

But before you jump to the conclusion that I’m ramming my views on you unfairly, let me be clear: I am all for your right to believe in what you’d like. In fact, I’d fight to defend this right. However, I still retain the ability to think you a goofball in this particular matter if I choose to.

Incidentally, I, for one, am truly glad to be living in an age and place that affords me the right of speaking my mind without facing persecution (though, there may be some minor negative consequences.) I certainly wouldn’t have lasted long atop a Judas cradle through an inquisition.

A Case for Belief

Something has struck me though. Some truly exemplary humans I know are pious and a large part of their wondrous conduct and achievements are attributed to their belief in God. I’m constantly in admiration and awe.

Is God a Tool?

Maybe belief in a traditional God can be useful for some.

It’s like when I’m out running. I often lie to myself about how much further/longer I have to run. I pretend that I only have to run to a nearby milestone (e.g. a specific tree ahead) and concentrate on getting there. But once there, I keep on going to the next milestone. I increase the distance to the figurative carrot-on-the-stick and repeat the process over again.

This approach, while slightly silly, has proven wholly effective in helping me make progress and motivate myself. I fully know that I’m lying to myself, but I convince myself otherwise^.

If it works in making you a good and noble person, great. It certainly works for Bear Grylls, who is Christian and attributes his faith as the backbone in his life (which I initially found somewhat surprising, possibly because he struck me as a practical man, though in hindsight it shouldn’t have been surprising at all.)

Moreover, there may be other advantages of subscribing to a religion: community, a feeling of connectedness, support etc.

But with this said, many have been able to function perfectly well without needing a religious influence to provide these advantages. So, do you really need unfounded beliefs to be effective? I guess sometimes you do. But shouldn’t a delusion be recognised as a delusion, even if it is effective? I guess I’m just uncomfortable with blind faith.

Ultimately, I’ve found this piece of wisdom particularly useful in my decision to be an atheist:

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

Marcus Aurelius (Unverified) Meditations

Interesting Links and Further Reading

^ Perhaps it’s the strain of exertion that’s also a factor in making myself believe silly things?