Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Atheists need no endorsement from religionists

Out of all the opportunities America presents I regret most that I missed a chance, indeed never had any, to respond to even a single survey. Even though I spent more than twelve years in the US, to my eternal disappointment not once was I approached to give my view on any topic during a survey, any survey. My angst will be shared only when people understand how enthusiastically Americans participate in surveys/polls (I never knew the difference). Indeed, the news item at reference [1] must give you an idea of the range of issues that are tackled in such surveys, conducted by as established and reputed organizations as Pew Research Center.
So, what exactly was the subject matter that got me all excited to post? The Pew poll, involving as many as 3,217 adults was on “How Americans Feel About Religious Groups.” Where there is religion, there, of course will be the undersigned – the eleventh commandment!
I am an avowed atheist – an acolyte of Richard Feynman, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins et al. – though born a Hindu, Vadama Smartha of Tamil Nadu. Seeing atheism, if indeed there is such a definable ethos, being clubbed with other established religions, like in the following sentence – “Those rated below Hindus included Mormons (48 [percentages]), Atheists (41), Muslims (40)” – left a bitter taste in my mouth.
How any one, anyone at all, dare club atheism with any other religion? Atheism is not even a credo; it is merely a way of approaching any issue. It differs from any and all named religions in this foundational aspect – a way to feel good about, indeed celebrating, not knowing while trying to undermine this lack of knowledge. As an irony, it seeks out discomfort!
Well, that was a small detour to put in words my thoughts on what atheism means to me. It is with this internalized meaning dominating my thoughts I took exception to clubbing atheism with the other religious –isms.
But, there is more to this post, from what is given in the article. The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has taken exception to the poll results. Its Executive Director is quoted as saying that the public, ostensibly those who responded to the poll, ignores the “vast spiritual base of the religion,” and are taken in by populist images like “focusing on caste and cows.” I had to laugh out when I read this. Why?
I had been a practicing (supposedly) Hindu for a significant portion of my life (for about 30 years) and I was not all that deeply informed about the so-called “spiritual base” of what I was practicing (thankfully I was not preaching). I contend that I was not beyond the plus/minus 2 sigma spread of all Hindus in this respect. Then, it is reasonable to assume that the knowledge about Hinduism among people who constituted the random sample of the survey must closely reflect the knowledge base of the adherents of that religion. No wonder I could not suppress my laugh.
The results further show a discernible bias towards the adherents of a religion (self-professed) the more one is exposed to them, like by having friends; 63 to 47. From this to jump to the conclusion that these respondents with Hindu friends have tapped into a deeper base of Hindu spiritualism is laughable at best. But, that is precisely what flows from the earlier assertion! In the same vein, Democrats must have figured out more about Hinduism than have Republicans by a margin of 54 to 47. Another laugh, just a little bit louder!
If I wished to continue this dissection of the news item, I would also point to how the young among the respondents are more tuned to Hindu spirituality, at 54 to 46! Hindus got better endorsements from Jews, Catholics and even Evangelical Christians.
But, it is time to end this post. First, this was a meaningless poll. Second, the results were taken too seriously by self-proclaimed protectors and upholders of Hinduism. Third, I had no tangible reason to post on this non-news.
Check that, the third. I was drawn to posting on this news item for the simple reason that the poll had no business including atheism among the other religions. If atheism is a religion at all, reckoned any way, it is like no other and hence non-comparable, in a serious or even a frivolous poll. To add to this insult, there was this condescending view expressed by someone on the Board of Directors of HAF.
She said, “Muslims, Mormons and Atheists, like Hindus, deserve to live in a community that respects their private spiritual beliefs.” Thanks but no thanks. Atheists are doing well by themselves and are not seeking endorsements from the likes of HAF!
Raghuram Ekambaram


Aditi said...

In the specific context of 'atheists' in USA, almost without exception, my virtual acquaintances who have a rational approach and logical reasoning of thought and also call themselves atheists, were born Muslims, who found it stressful in adult life to remain a believer and yet be able to question logically.

mandakolathur said...

You may call them the Muslims who have "come out", Aditi. It is to their credit that they are even trying get out of the shackles of their religion.