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Ethics And Atheism

By Abhishek Namballa

“You do not need to be an atheist to be ethical”

If at all I have learnt anything from my Humanities elective last semester, the one thing that did stick to my mind was this - Ethics and Atheism are not interdependent on each other. The long and winding arguments of Socrates and Aristotle have only served to reinforce my beliefs. Now here I do concede that I have not read through the entire argument and I certainly do not know how the book ends. But as always these texts are open to many interpretations, so I guess no one can label my interpretation as being improper, though it might be incomplete.

Over the years I have grown and matured. So did my taste for logic. The habit of asking Why and How has prevailed and it has served me well on quite a few occasions – both in academics and life. You see, I have that rebellious bent of mind – anything that does not come with a proper logical reasoning does not appeal to me. So naturally, all the superstitions are at the center of my criticism. I just do not understand how ‘educated’ people can blindly believe in them. Here are a few – when someone sneezes, it is supposed to mean good or bad depending on the number of times you sneeze. Further extensions also include the place where you stand and sneeze. Ghosh!! Gimme a break! It’s been proved scientifically that sneezing is body’s way to remove unwanted materials from the nasal tract. One more very famous one – a black cat crossing your path is a bad omen. Dude! It’s just a cat going about its own business! What has that got to do with your fortunes? And why only a black cat? Why not white or grey or brown? You people are so racist!!! Another one – and this I find most amusing – when someone has hiccups, it is supposed to mean that somewhere, someone is remembering you. Crap!!! Most of us know that it is caused by sudden contraction of our diaphragm. My guess is that this superstition was floated by some lonely soul who liked to think that he was being remembered every time he had hiccups.

The safest route out when people are posed with these questions – “It is a tradition – some ‘wise’ and ‘elderly’ people have said so in the past. That is the reason we follow them.”

How lame is that?!!

I repeatedly hear complaints about the continual and steady erosion of traditional values in today’s world by particular sections of the society. They lay the blame squarely on the Internet and the information revolution. Well, how long do you think you could have continued with your vicious agenda of keeping us in the dark? How long do you think you could have kept our thinking shackled in the chains of your whims and wishes? How long do you think you could have coerced us to believe what you believe is right and see through your eyes and not ours?

I am not against our tradition. It is a vibrant one and we should preserve it. But we should try to realize that preservation does not and should not mean blind compliance. It is subject to change and we should adopt those things which are relevant in today’s world and reject those which have been proved incorrect. If we do not do this then we risk losing our own identity.

Since childhood I have adhered to the concept that “God is one”. Hence my respect for all the religions. Now this might seem contradictory to my earlier statement that I believe only in logic. But the existence or non – existence of God is a matter of ongoing debate and till now there has been no firm conclusion. I do not expect one anytime soon. It just seems convenient for many of us to believe that God exists and the universe, as we know it, needed a Creator!! Anyways, whatever might be the case, it does not change the way I live my life. I do not live life under fear of God. Neither do I believe in the concept of re-birth nor do I believe in the some ‘divine retribution’ if I do wrong things. My actions are guided by my own conscience. In fact as the first line of this article states – you do not need to be an atheist at all to spend an ethical life.

It is wondrously easy to teach a child how to differentiate between right and wrong with the help of this thesis – “Fear God”. But as one should be able to reason out, there is an independent and universal understanding of what is good and what is bad. It is this understanding that defines all religions and religious texts. The texts do not ‘define’ good and bad. They help catalogue it. And to bring them to common, illiterate folk, they have come up with various methods. But I think it would be unreasonable to pretend to be ignorant once we realize this. And as my professor Mr. Padmanabhan points out – “Even Hitler knew that what he was doing was not correct. Otherwise, why would he have ordered all the evidence regarding the atrocities at the concentration camps to be destroyed?”

Some of my friends may want to ask – if I do not believe in all this, why do I still celebrate all those festivals and follow those little rituals? Well my answer would be that I prefer to keep myself happy. These small things serve as nice additives to my cup of joy. That is how I see them.

P.S: The ‘rituals’ I follow exclude all and every possible type of superstitions.

About the author : A 2nd year Electrical Engineering student at IIT Madras who, when not busy devouring the courses at hand loves to write, play keyboard, badminton and cricket and hobble around the internet hoping to stumble upon something that would prevent his brain cells from dying out..


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