When I was younger, between ages 18 to 23, I wanted to go around town telling everyone how god didn’t exist. It was thrilling to call people “stupid” for believing in something they chose to, especially my peers.
I had honed my ability to make caustic remarks to such a degree that I could make any interaction unpleasant. And I was quick to ‘correct’ others when god entered the conversation (‘entered’ figuratively).
Until one day, at long last, I encountered a miracle which made me realise that I was wrong all along. The miracle was called ‘decency’.
I stopped being a jerk.
I am still fairly convinced that there exists no invisible entity in the sky—not one, not 33 million—who are letting Big Boss run for the 457th season with Bhai as its host (maybe a ‘devil’ exists). And I am not an a-hole about it. But to be scientifically accurate, as a follower of science-ism, I would have to say—I am not certain about the non-existence of god. The technical term English language bestows upon me for taking this position is ‘agnostic’. For all other practical purposes, I am an atheist.
My father is a ‘fierce’ atheist. Not ‘I will pee on this god of yours’ fierce, but ‘If you force me to do a ritual, I will shave my head’ fierce; since forcing people to do things they don’t want to is called 'family'. I reckon I picked up a lot of his behaviour around the subject. My mother is more spiritual than she is god-loving per se. I have never seen her do any pooja or visit temples, even so she has insisted on having a pooja mandir in every house she has made into her home. She chants the Geeta loudly and buys books on Hinduism which she never reads. My sister, I know for certain, feels the same way as my mother around god. But I have heard her drop lines like “just pray to god and say ‘Please god give me the patience to..’” That is probably her own belief system, since our mother never ever made us pray or do any pooja. Thank god for that.
The first time there was a disturbance within my family over this topic was when my sister decided that she wanted to have a traditional wedding. It came as a shock to my father, since a traditional Indian wedding meant rituals and customs involving the almighty (besides family drama and conspiracies about non-existent sabotages). He spent many days having an internal dialogue, questioning why his daughter could have made that choice. It almost felt like he was asking himself where he had ‘gone wrong’. It was great fun to watch my father struggle and try to fit different pieces of a puzzle in his own head. He finally came to the novel conclusion that his daughter was her own person and he had no say in the matter.
I tried hard to convince my sister that she should not have a ‘stupid traditional wedding’. I was so mean to her in one particular call that she broke down, 8000 miles away. My mother snatched the phone from me and yelled in my face, “Are you happy?! Now that you’ve made a bride-to-be cry?! thu! prarabdha!” I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word ‘happy’, but I do remember feeling satisfied. I was a pain in the neck (some would argue I shouldn't speak in past tense).
All this, of course, had no bearing on me playing my part to make possible a traditional Indian wedding, which usually hosts around 800-1000 guests. That effort was not to be questioned. That is how my father taught us to show love, by giving one’s time and effort. Will I ever partake again? I have.
Today, I realise how stupid I was, in terrorising everyone around me about their beliefs. The only thing I could do utmost was to have an opinion and voice it to someone willing to listen. I had no business shoving my beliefs in people’s faces. I was a brother, a son, a friend not the purveyor of scientific truths.
People can cooperate even with ideological differences. We do it all the time within families. I see no reason not to extend the same logic outside the realm of interpersonal relationships. Individuals can cooperate with other individuals no matter which group they choose to belong to.
We must not let anyone convince us otherwise, be it an undemocratic head of the family or a fascist head of a government.
Democracy begins at home.