Why Atheism in India isn't recognized

This week, Atheist Republic social media manager and guest writer, Utsav, shares some of his thoughts about atheism in India.

When westerners answer census questions, they are usually given the chance to answer "non religious" in the religion section. India does not provide this option for their census records. Is India trying to ignore the atheism that exists in the country?

India is the only country in the world with a majority population following Hinduism, or as it was originally known: Sanatana Dharma . As described by the apex court of India, Hinduism is “a way of life” and barely falls in the category of a religion. I was baffled when I was told this. I’d been taught all my life about millions of gods and goddesses in the religion into which I was indoctrinated, and how it was a religion that offered salvation. In actuality, Hinduism respects all other religions, proclaiming all of them as different paths to the same god.

One very noticeable thing in ancient Hinduism is the acceptance and celebration of atheism. Yes, atheism. Samkhya and Mimasa are ancient schools of philosophy within Hinduism which not only refute the existence of God, but provide logic to support their claim. While some views may be recognized as pantheism, they still preach materialism and maintain that this is the only life. They were allowed to teach atheism and materialism in schools, or what were referred to as "gurukuls" in ancient times.

So, is a religion really allowed to promote atheism? By definition, no. Hence, the term “way of life” was coined by the Supreme Court of India. However, Hinduism fell prey to the rise of institutionalized religion in India in the past few centuries. Samkhya and Mimasa were obviously not concerned about God and praying, so they weren’t affected by this institutionalization, which left us with institutionalization of the rest of Hinduism which attempted to explain God and salvation. It grew over centuries into what we see now - a sad, divisive, money laundering group, i.e. a religion.

Returning to the original question: Why isn’t atheism an option on the Indian census? Because of institutionalized Hinduism which is threatening to infringe on the rights of the individual, and establishing social norms for everyone.

Do you live in India, or other places where institutionalization of religion is threatening atheists? We’d like to hear your story. Reply to this email and we might post it on our website. Please let us know if you wish to remain anonymous.

I really have no idea what distinctions are being made in India… it sounds completely inscrutable!

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Hinduism Inscrutable

India, and apparently Indians, can be inscrutable.

Why isn’t Atheism recognized in India? Perhaps because one can easily be a Hindu atheist. This comes as a surprise to many people that associate Hinduism with paganism. However, exactly as noted here, Hinduism is not defined by a core set of beliefs or creeds or authorities. There is not either a fixed sense of good and evil. One tribe’s hero god is the other tribe’s villain god, and visa versa. This is paganism, the belief that world is best understood as an eclectic collection of waring power centers.

Atheism in hinduism is merely the realization that if this what the gods are, they are far more like creatures than the God that created all things. They might also function more as myths than real entities, but whether they are real or not, the God of all Creation is not real.

Religion of Conquest

This also is true.

Why is it that Hinduism would be infringing on human rights like this?

It will be controversial to say this, but I believe it is academically justifiable. There are many moral and good Hindus. The religion itself, however, arises as a tool of conquest. It weaves together a common mythology with local religious paganism, and a rationalization for why outcasts and low caste are fated to their lot in life.

Consider the humanist atheist, such as those we find in the United States. The beliefs to which they do hold are precisely against the ethos of conquest. Of course, there will be conflict between Hinduism and the humanist atheism of the West.

Remembering Ursula

I heard this first form Tim Keller and I think it is true. To be clear, I again am not meaning this to be pejorative, and I expect this will need to be expanded. There is a lot of commonality between paganism and atheism. Both are not engaged or deny a grand creator God of all things. Both conceive the world as warring power centers. Both are inclined to a relative view of moral truths, without necessarily denying them.

Religious atheism, also, such as that put forward by Ursula Goodenough, brings this to the forefront. There is a distinctive “rhyme” with paganism.

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