Category Archives: Religion

Doubting Kierkegaard

I have been re-reading Michael Watt’s book on Kierkegaard and have been wondering whether Kierkegaard was actually close to Sartre’s and Camus’s thoughts (as far as the whole ‘existentialism’ tag goes). It has been a doubt earlier and reading him in context to his life and personality, the doubt seems to grow to confirm itself.

The question of god is irrelevant to the inquiry as to how best must one live life. In face of empirical data, I agree with Camus and Sartre that even if a ‘unifying absolute truth’ (what we may universally term as ‘God’) exists, it is unknowable and therefore irrelevant for ‘earthly life’. In face of that, how does one reconcile the ‘leap of faith’ of Kierkegaard as an existential solution?

It is a common interpretation that Kierkegaard’s leap of faith is a solution offered by him to solve the empirical deadlocks that man generally hits. I consider such interpretations fallacious and biased. In my opinion, leap of faith was never a solution offered by Kierkegaard but a presumption with which he approached life and philosophy in general. It is true that most empirical data that came to be recognized as existential truths later on, had been acknowledged in some form or the other by Kierkegaard. But, it is not true to say that Kierkegaard solved these ‘existential truths’ with the leap of faith. He only stuck to his faith despite acknowledging existential truths.

Time and again Kierkegaard has expressed that his authorship was primarily ‘religious’ and his inquiry was ‘being Christian’. It is very obvious and apparent in his various writings that faith came to Kierkegaard before he embarked on any kind of inquiry whatsoever. Unlike Camus’s inquiry, Kierkegaard started with a presumption and arranged all empirical data collected by him around that presumption. Despite all his attempts, this arrangement could not lead to any logical pattern despite his brilliant penmanship. And therefore, faith took a leap.

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An Atheist’s Blasphemy

Cliff Final

Will the veiled sister pray
For the children at the gate
who will not go away and cannot pray

When I first read these lines of Eliot in Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, I was amazed. These lines convey the depth of any non-believer’s most guarded fears as aesthetically as possible. Since then, I have wondered very often if spreading the idea of non-belief is really desirable.

The existential arguments that I have come to identify with have left the question whether god is or not, irrelevant for me. Probably, it was on reading reading Camus and Sartre that they deleted God from the syllabus of my life. However, it does not rush me into concluding that faith in itself is undesirable and evil.

For me, it would be intellectual dishonesty if I prayed or pretended to have faith in any form of almighty. Like Ivan in Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov, I could say: “It’s not God I don’t accept, Alyosha – only that I most respectfully return him the entrance ticket.” In some of my previous posts, I have made it clear that I have refused the ticket to eternity. However, I have failed to convince myself, despite all the ‘faith-head’ calling atheists in the world, that any one else who accepts it is either an idiot or a crook.

Faith has for most people served as a pacifying force and a place where they find solace and peace. Despite all the logical arguments that I or anyone else can think of, is faith (even if it might just be an illusion) evil or even undesirable? I must clarify that I do not consider faith and religion as synonymous and maintain thatreligion (each one of them) have in more ways than not proved to be destructive, counter-productive and evil. I consider faith, on the other hand, a matter of personal choice, not meant to be communized.

Many might refuse to accept, but those of us who are non-believers by logic know how gloomy the world appears when all pretensions of immortality, eternity, and after-life have been washed away. We learn to deal with it, but it takes some really serious ‘dealing with’. For an existential atheist alone, there is the painful angst and what I choose to call the beginner’s hangover. Most succinctly put again in Eliot’s words:

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender…

In wake of all this, my mind might disagree but my heart seems to go out and agree with the following words of Miguel de Unamuno in Saint Manuel Neuno, Martyr:

“And they, the people, do you think they really believe?”
“…They probably believe without trying, from force of habit, tradition. The important thing is not to stir them up. To let them live on the thin diet of their emotions rather than acquiring the torments of luxury. Blessed are the poor in spirit!”

The Magic of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence-even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!‘”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

This is the idea of ‘eternal recurrence’ or ‘eternal return’ as introduced by Nietzsche. Though the idea is not an innovation of Nietzsche and was probably first introduced in Greek philosophy by one of the Pythagoreans, its history is irrelevant for the purpose of this post. Also, its scientific validity or its validity as a plausible philosophy is not intended to be debated. Let’s presume for this purpose that it is only a plausible concept with no scientific validity or proof. (Like all mythology or the very concept of God, if I might say so.)

The most obvious and disturbing import of this concept is the weight that it adds to every moment of life. As most succinctly summarized by Milan Kundera in his masterpiece The Unbearable Lightness of Being – “If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make.

In existential terms, the idea raises the responsibility of every choice that man makes by infinity. In Sartre’s philosophy, Man is condemned to be free. In Nietzsche’s, I guess, he is condemned for eternity.

Man’s greatest limitation, in my opinion, is time. Therefore, the birth of the idea of eternity – of god, afterlife, heaven, hell, devil and what not. Our race has had a history of building its self-image in illusions. If death limits – immortality. If time limits – eternity. We have had infinite resources.

If Nietzsche’s entire philosophy is read in context, it is clear that his idea of eternal recurrence was never offered by him to be believed as a factual truth. Neither does he deny the possibility of its factual validity. He introduces it as if from thin air and dwells on it never in detail. No arguments, no explanations – not even an attempt. Probably, this is the reason why the idea has perplexed one and all for ages (I was almost tempted to say ‘eternity’).

On deliberating on it for sometime now, I have concluded that probably Nietzsche left the idea vague only to give it more strength. Paradoxical as it may sound, I am convinced that any attempt to dwell into the truism of an idea as fictitious as this would only serve as suicidal.

It is my opinion that Nietzsche, very cunningly, used eternal return as a tool to serve the rest of his system of ideas. It has been suggested, by none other that Dostoevsky, that if God was dead, everything would be permissible. There would be chaos and confusion and human society would be orderless. Probably as a solution to this, Nietzsche proposed this idea. I guess its true import should be that man must live his life as a first in a cycle of eternal recurrence so that man is compelled to be responsible and careful about every action, each moment. That the failure to act now would be a failure to be faced eternally. In one stroke of the pen, Nietzsche not only made man responsible beyond time but also turned its own illusion of eternity to weigh him down to the ground. He, probably, understood too well the unbearable lightness of being.

The Atheist Response

This is my response to some very thought provoking discussion in my last post.
1. It is not true that non-belief is uniform and not diverse because it boils down to, “I do not believe in god”. In that sense even believers are the same, “I believe in god.” In the very same way as there are ‘n’ number of forms ascribed to the concept of god, so are there ‘n’ number of ways to arrive at the conclusion that god does not exist. And these make all the difference. Non-belief can be reckless and i-don’t-give-a-damn styled or it may be the result of a very intense self-questioning, analysis, logic, awareness, knowledge and consciousness. There must be other ways too. But non-belief is also diverse in the ways Dawkins points out in his first chapter.

2. My objection to ‘atheism’ was neither it’s beliefs nor monotonicity. My objection is primarily to it’s overenthusiastic proponents, who tend to dismiss individual choice with their logic and rationale. You may have certain tools of knowledge that allows you to conclude the way you do, which others may not have, or may not know how to use.The only positive action in such scenario is to spell out those tools and instructions to use. In my case, I can say my tool is experience, logic, my incessant need for freedom, and the senseless rituals and sermons of religious pundits. As for instructions to use, I would refer people to books that made me think, eg. The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus, Plato’s Republic, and many other. I may even suggest The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, but the man has already created a notoriety around his logic, and a beginner may find it very difficult to agree with him – not because his logic is misplaced but because his tenor is.

3. Persuading people to be sceptical of religion is not the same thing as persuading them not to believe in god. You may accept the Gita without any belief in its religious overtones. I believe, one cannot be persuaded to negate god. It comes through a though process which is absolutely individualistic in nature. As said earlier, you can only provide the tools.

4. I meant always to just simply say I am an atheist and that I don’t make a big deal about it. The problem arises when atheists are tagged with atheism, which is being defined in one way or the other by every other person as if it was a sect or institution that you subscribe to if you fit that description. I am comfortable being an atheist but I do not subscribe to any theism, with or without ‘a’. When people start putting up 101-things-that-atheists-believe-in kind of crap, that’s when I am scared and want to shed the tag. My beliefs are not for anyone else to decide and spell out. I always believed that the incessant need for freedom and the rational mind are two most important things that drives an theist. And such people are bound to be sceptical of the 101-things clan of atheism as much as any religion. I was wrong.

5. By LfN “…Bookcrazy seems to object to a particular way of expressing atheism. I have no problem at all with atheists presenting the rationale for why they think the way they do… Similarly people of faith can present the rationale for why they think and believe the way they do (dogma is an integral part of this)…[F]or instance, Dawkins and Nietzsche. Like Dawkins, Nietzsche hated the Christian faith (among other things) but unlike Dawkins he took it seriously… So, from a standpoint of faith, I will spend my time engaging Nietzsche rather than Dawkins.” I agree. And I guess the Dawkins clan of atheism is starting to get attached to some kind of dogma, even if it is more anti someone else’s belief than for one’s own. God’s existence is a primary question but it must remain a personal choice. Religion calling dissent ‘blasphemy’ or atheism calling it ‘faith-headness’ is one and the same thing.

6. By Eric “If you’re a person of faith, your faith might be so essential to your psychological well-being that you assume that an atheist must have something to fill that faith-shaped hole ….[S]ome people just live their lives day to day and make what they will of it.” Agreed. Faith is not essential. This is the strongest argument against those who are not very religious but still believe in god. And I agree, its the most logical argument. Once you get that faith is not essential, you can see a lot of things blinded by faith. But, no amount of Eric’s or my shouting at roof-tops can make you see this. The only thing that I can think of that might help one to see it is to try and understand the logic or arguments of Camus and Sartre and a lot others, mostly tagged together as existentialists.

7. By Eric “Dawkins’s intellectual responsibility to Christianity is not to see it as worthwhile or legitimate, but to accurately describe it and carefully hew his criticisms of it to an accurate description.” Agreed completely. Also agreed that some of his books , including The God Delusion, does mostly that. But when the man speaks to an audience, he does exactly the opposite. He stands there as if he was a priest and the auditorium was a church and atheism was a religion. That I object to absolutely. At any rate, if that’s atheism, I do not subscribe.

8. The next two responses turn completely to the outsider’s problem (as Colin Wilson puts it) – what warrants your dragging yourself off the bed in the morning. I agree with Eric again. The fact that life is not eternal is reason good enough for one to hate sleeping, let alone dragging away from bed. One requires no ‘positive reason’ to live. You have been thrown in this world full of choices, not to find a purpose but to make one.

9. The reason for not believing in god is neither always nor exclusively logical positivism, or in simple terms the lack of proof of god’s existence. That’s a given. The question of proof is as difficult as disproof. A priest would say god chooses to create some and then let them evolve, and lo! You have a religious explanation to evolution. I think the concept of god as professed by most was a political invention way back, for reasons best described by Plato. This concept lives and survives on the inherent fear of the unknown, of future. Man wants an explanation to absurd events and “God’s Will” is one that never fails them. When I see the concept behind the invention, I need no proof or disproof. I know. God does not exist.

Time to Shed the Atheist Tag

No. I have not found new evidence or scheme of thought to change my belief about existence of god. But I have decided to let the atheist tag stay away from me. Some of the reasons are similar to my other post sometime back.

The more I read the sermons of the atheists and their explanations, lectures, logic, or whatever it may be called, the more it looks like shaping into a religion. Like some call non-believers kafirs, atheists have started calling believers faith-heads. I must make myself clear – my not being able to believe in the existence of god is a rational choice. To make myself believe despite my understanding of things would be intellectual dishonesty.

My objection to religion is more primary. I have no difficulty in rejecting any and every religion, for it entails giving up freedom. No one, and I mean no one, shall have the right to preach values to me, let alone prescribe a lifestyle. What formalities should I go through in order to accept a woman as wife, what should I do before I name my child – come on, I would rather not live than let you tell me how to. It is insulting that religion is associated with the absolute concept of good that people have termed god. If we accept god as some sort of an absolute good (and not a person or a particular form, just an idea maybe), then religion is farthest concept in human civilization to be associated with god.

Most of the proclaimed atheists have silently started forming a sort of religion. A religion with no god, no place of worship, no prayers. These are not the essentials of religion. The essential characteristic is the attempt to replace individual freedom and intellectual reasoning with that of a group. I have read many (and I mean a lot) atheists (the proclaimed ones) explaining to the ‘young’ as to how they should figure out the non-existence of god. As to what atheism really means, what are its beliefs, etc. etc. Well, I am no part of those beliefs, even if everything you say may match what I think. Reason being, I did not give you the right to spell out beliefs on my behalf. If I said I was a Christan, there are n number of things that get associated with me without the decency of even informing me about it, let alone asking. Same stands with any other religion. Atheism is becoming one of them. Agnosticism is next. Therefore, I shed the tag. I do not believe in god in the name of intellectual honesty. Please don’t coin intellectualism as the next religion. Lay off!

Preaching Atheism : A Contradiction In Terms

Recently read and heard a lot about Richard Dawkins and it made me ask myself, “Why is it that despite not being a ‘believer’, I don’t really enjoy the sermons of these atheists?”

I concluded, after some introspection and analysis, that atheism is a belief that cannot be preached. As Richard Bach explains in his book One, if you preach any belief, it ends up becoming a religion.

The question of god is a primary one. But that does not mean that it essentially has an answer. Before one embarks upon constructing a set of values, a philosophy on which to live by, this question, however, needs to be settled in one’s mind for one to move further. And therefore, one has to go by a device known as presumption.

One may presume there is no god, based on his logic, rationale, or other experiences. However, after having presumed so, one cannot go ahead and start preaching it in seminars and classrooms. I strongly believe that faith in god, or it’s absence is essentially a personal choice. There is neither enough arguments nor proof on either side to conclusively prove or disprove the possibility of god’s existence. Therefore, the question must be left to personal belief, reasoning, and choice.

I am an atheist, and I don’t think there is anything to be proud or ashamed of about it. It is a belief, a deduction, an answer that I have derived for myself. But if I start calling names to those who believe in god, or religion, I am fostering another religion – a religion without god. Atheist fundamentalism is precisely what the world does not need today. Let’s stick to our basic premises.