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It is rare that one needs to speak up as an atheist and disown the speech or behavior of other atheists as communal hatred. Atheists are usually the smallest minority anywhere and where there is communal violence, they are usually on the receiving end, so the question of atheists being perpetrators of communal hatred rarely arises. There is the occasional Dawkins outrage, but it is not so relevant to India. However, there is extremism among atheists as well and today seems to be a good occasion to condemn and disown it as well.

Atheists often argue that there is no collective belief system called atheism. It is merely a lack of belief in God. It is true as far as it is a question of extrapolating the actions of one to others. However, the label itself confers a certain amount of shared traits - notably a stated disbelief in god. And while disbelief is an absence, the issue in extremism is rarely the belief or lack of it, it is the fervor in making the statement and imposing views on others. Atheists can cross the line between stating disbelief in god and religion to attacking a community based on their beliefs.

Like the beliefs of two atheists may have nothing in common, the beliefs of ISIS may have little in common with other Muslims as well. All atheists believe there is no God. That word play on disbelief being a lack of belief is well and good, it is also a belief about that lack. We aren't merely considering that there may be no God given the lack of evidence or that God is an unproven claim. We are certain that there isn't any God. We are not open to the possibility that there may be one (those are the agnostics). We aren't interested in exploring the possibility and potentially invalidating our claims. We define God by what we reject and ignore any interpretations of God that are saner. We are certain and see no need to contemplate alternatives as potentially viable.

Muslims believe there is one God and it is Allah and Mohammed is his messenger. Hindus have a diverse array of beliefs that can encompass countless gods or none. Christians believe there is one God and Jesus Christ is his son and so on. As an atheist, I must say there being no god is the logical conclusion of a contemplation of God as a sentient, omnipotent being. Belief in imaginary friends is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn't lead to denial that prevents well being. One simply projects what one believes is the best onto an imaginary external figure and gives it the authority we don't feel confident claiming as ourselves. I know there are lots that define God in a manner that makes sense to them and stay away from intentions and super powers. Indeed, a vivid imagination is necessary to creativity. I am sure, there are benefits. To others. I don't see the value.

No matter what a religious book says, the extent to which it is complied to by people always varies and the extent to which atheists engage with their disbelief also varies. For many, like me, it is a non-issue. God is absent. It doesn't take any space in daily life unless there is a requirement to analyze or discuss or state. Encountering someone expressing belief creates no urge to validate my own belief through convincing them into disbelief - a very similar process as seen in believers who tend to get you to believe in their Gods. It is no concern of mine whether you prefer God to Mickey Mouse. There are atheists who are more radical. They will not tolerate you being irrational and will strive to get you to .... um... see the light. Heck, there are atheist fundamentalists who won't tolerate "moderates" like me and expect us to do more to counter claims of God. To what end, I have no idea. Waste time over a non-existing creature even when fully aware it doesn't exist? What for?

Free Speech is a fundamental right. It is a bit dinged in India legally, and further butchered in practice. There are limitations by law or processes of engaging with the state. But apart from larger processes that are a part of belonging to an organized country, state, city, locality, home, etc that are established and a consequence of our social contract, while we do no harm to another, the assumption is that we have a legal right to speak, act and behave as we wish without being subject to impositions, limitations or harm. The rules are the same for all. Even when the laws have flaws and restrictions - typically those covering blasphemy - the understanding is that they are known to people up front and they apply to all (needless to say they get enforced with religious bias almost everywhere they exist). These are usually always facing a challenge, and rightfully so because they infringe on the right of disbelievers and critics to state their own views.

Free speech for atheists and in congruence with their "beliefs" typically ignores prohibitions on blasphemy where they exist and naturally includes the right to disagree about religion and God, to state their disbelief, to criticize the beliefs of other religions, including revered figures. We gleefully say, we are ok with you doing the same. Quite liberating, it is, to have nothing to defend. Turns out, the larger problem with religion - fundamentalist and communal violence - is a human trait and atheists are not immune to it either.

Communal hatred is not about our views or opinions - which in my view are acceptable regardless of being offensive. It is about people. It is the tantrum of the child being told there is no Santa. It is the tantrum of the child who proves Santa is better by calling Spiderman stupid, except these are adults with real power to inflict harm and when at the end of their ability to convince someone that Santa is better, are perfectly capable of harming someone for thinking Spiderman is better. Harm is not always physical. It can be emotional, social, economic. And when it targets the socially vulnerable and allies with others attacking them, it threatens to splinter social coherence for all.

There isn't any rational critique of religion when you comment on brutal ISIS beheadings that Muslims are taught to slaughter at an early age. You are simply letting your hatred for the Muslim community blind you into thinking of them as a monolith that acts in a manner you have associated in your mind with the worst of Muslims you hate. It isn't a rational critique of Hinduism to say Hindus burn their wives on funeral pyres or stigmatize widows. It is stereotyping of an entire community and reducing them to nothing but the nasty attributes you give them. It is not recognizing them as individuals, not even recognizing a diversity of compliance with your arbitrarily assigned trait.

And this is where atheism has its own brand of extremism and communal hate. It is a matter of rationality, whether our criticism is a logical evaluation of something or a statement of own belief or a statement of unfounded beliefs about other people (also known as fake news, if media does it). The last is not a fundamental right. I don't actually have a right to call you a scammer and hound you, taking every opportunity to discredit you and cause you emotional and possibly professional and economic harm from the consequences of my selectively interpreting your actions to fit my projection of you as a scam artist. That is stalking and harassment.

Just like knowing one atheist doesn't mean you know what all atheists do, selectively picking one Muslim or Hindu fanatic and calling all Muslims or Hindus fanatics based on that is the sign of an irrational mind that speaks more about paranoid delusions than skepticism or disbelief. Where does this hate come from?

Well, a lot of it from human nature. Unlike most identities associated with belief or a lack of belief, atheists are unique in the sense of their lack of belief having originated from different places and as a result of different circumstances. Some born to non-religious families are too.... vacant on the subject of belief to even qualify as atheists - they are more in the zone of that measuring scale not being relevant to them. Many others are a product of losing belief in a specific religion and its Gods and then learning to apply it to other gods. The religion of their origin can have a lot of anger or trauma attached to it, because they have suffered the disillusionment from it. In many cases, they may have suffered persecution as a result of it. Additionally, they may have stopped believing, but their experience as an insider gives them a unique insight into that religion and culture which allows them to make a more vigorous criticism of that religion more than others.

For example, I am no fan of Islam, but I can take it or leave it unless someone harms another. When they do act like absolute idiots, it still hurts me less than when Hindus do it. Because as someone born a Hindu Brahmin and who lacked belief in both religion and caste, but grew immersed in the culture, my own identity is mired in it. I know enough of the religion to hold a visceral anger against fundamentalists as those who enact the worst characteristics of the religion - that anger is a result of the betrayal of my painstakingly adopted values at the hands of the religion, not my lack of belief, which in itself is no reason for any particular emotion. That anger is because the acts of that brand of extremism caused me to have to reinvent my core identity as distinct from my roots. To consciously distance myself from aspects that I learned to feel ashamed of when I examined what the things I unthinkingly assumed to be "truth". In contrast, I don't feel anything about Islam. I haven't invested anything in it to feel cheated. I feel some for Buddhism because I spent half a decade as a part of a Buddhist family, so again, that feels like home culture and any wrong perpetrated in its name would make me feel violated. This will continue till I make my peace with it mentally. It is part of being human. Learning to recognize these influences rather than being an unthinking slave to them is a part of our philosophical evolution.

Similarly, Taslima Nasreen or Tarek Fatah (two ex-Muslim atheists) are vicious in their attacks on Islam and Muslims. I can understand that. They have had their trust broken by Islam. Taslima has been exiled from the country of her birth (and I think Tarek moved away on his own before they decided they didn't want him back). Needless to say, both have got plenty to be angry about on a personal level.

The problems arise when you believe your "insider" status as someone who was once a Muslim or Hindu gives you a unique insight into the case, but it actually isn't so and it is your hostility with the religion preventing you from seeing the observable reality. For example, like many upper caste Hindu men too fought for the rights of women and caste equality and widow remarriage, many Muslims are non-violent (to the point of being vegans), gentle, insightful souls. The vast majority of any identity is rarely acting in any manner similar to the extremist stereotype. In fact, extremists of all sorts have more in common with each other than the various identities they hijack. This is actually a no-brainer. if you take any diverse collective, the minute you stray the slightest from the definition of that collective, you stop being able to accurately describe its constituents. If an accurate description were possible, it would have already been included in the meaning of the word. And often, even the actual definition doesn't really fit.

Most people are born into their religion and had to do nothing, in particular, to "accept" it. So even core beliefs like "all Muslims believe in one God who is Allah" are actually up for debate depending on their conditioning. Most people aren't excessively religious and often kids grow up without any major belief and they are of the religion simply because that is part of the traditions of the family they belong to. Such a person may actually spend less part of their day thinking of their religion and what some holy book teaches than an atheist from it with a grudge or a zealous follower of another religion, who seeks validation of his beliefs being "right" by somehow proving others "wrong".

Regardless, there is a line. Atheism or rationalism cannot be the shoulder to fire guns of communal hatred from. Unlike religion, rationalism is not an identity, but a trait. If you make an irrational argument, sorry, you aren't being "a rationalist" no matter what you claim. Atheism is a lack of belief in God, not a set of beliefs about people who believe in that god.

Exploiting atheism and rationalism to conceal deep rooted hatred of specific communities is living in denial. There are terms - Islamophobia. Hindutvawadis recently helpfully invented "Hinduphobia". Use them.

Not atheism. Not rationalism. Not in my name.

Ricky Gervais usually tweets from the heart and has views I like when it comes to animals and atheism. Which is why it was quite delightful when he ripped into hunting as a sport. Unfortunately, I saw a side of Ricky Gervais or perhaps the "1st world" that I have been meaning to write about for a while.

TV presenter Melissa Bachman made a rather obnoxious tweet posing with a "beautiful" lion she had killed. Well, it would be more beautiful alive than unresponsive and soon to be decaying.

Rickky Gervais detonated. One tweet in particular that I really liked, I'm reproducing without the last three words.

"Sport is fair. If hunting was a sport the animal would have a gun too. If it doesn't you can't call yourself a sportsman." ~ Ricky Gervais

In condemning hunting, he brings up the unfairness of a protected and armed human attacking an unarmed and unsuspecting animal for sport and seeing it as a brave thing to do. He rightly points out that there is nothing brave about it. And he went ahead and trolled the daylights out of hunters talking about hunts. And his massive Twitter following followed.

The catch here is that the brilliant arguments questioning specisism and denouncing the inherent cruelty in hunting and asserting that all animals are equal (including us) used the term "a cunt" to describe the hunter for his unfair methods. This isn't all that different from the concept of "mardangi" (manhood) where a real mard (man) does what is honorable and fights fair or you throw bangles (traditionally worn by women) at someone to humiliate them and so on. Not all that different how this fight went. The full tweet for that beautiful quote is:

Sport is fair. If hunting was a sport the animal would have a gun too. If it doesn't you can't call yourself a sportsman. Just a cunt. ~ Ricky Gervais.

When I objected to the use of the word to describe cowardice or unfair methods, many of his followers trolled me. Some said that I was misunderstanding and that in the west, the word cunt is not considered offensive or sexual. That is a bit like saying "blacks" are not called blacks because of their skin color, and it is now a statement that is color neutral. And while these explanations were coming in, there were coming the standard uses of cunt too. As in "pussy" and "3rd world whore" and so on. So what is really happening here is that the word has got normalized. It has become acceptable to call someone a cunt, not the word cunt losing its connotations, because if it lost the connotations, there really isn't much else to recommend it over more descriptive insults like "coward" for someone who fights an unarmed creature unfairly. It is the sense of power conveyed by calling someone a cunt and thus inferior that serves as the degradation.

So it seems speciesism is the problem, while sexism and racism is fine.

[Tweet "So it seems speciesism is the problem, while sexism and racism is fine."]

Now here is my problem. The idea that men fight fair and women don't is a myth. Women rarely have the kind of power that can get away with being unfair, unchallenged, which kind of makes doing it iffy. If we are speaking in terms of comparison, then the physical or social power accessible to men and women makes it more likely that women fight more overwhelming odds than men. Statistically, women left in the dust by men when it comes to violence or hunting, for that matter. Women may be weaker and thus backing off from many fights, but they do not have the luxury of having the odds stacked in their favor. The hunter isn't backing off because he is weaker than the animal. So the idea of a "cunt" being a logical descriptor of a cowardly male "winning" a fight he cannot lose makes no sense. It is just the cliched male with an over-inflated sense of his own gender. Or, in other words, a prick.

Which brings me to the other part. This third world business (which Ricky Gervais did not say, making clear). We have western media reporting the recent women's rights related events in India with a fairly condescending attitude about how women are treated in India. Our actual statistics of violence against women being lower are explained as lack of reporting (and I have no doubt that this is true), but the I have seen far more condescending attitudes about women in the West. Also the idea that women in the West report crimes against them more is not necessarily true. For example, you couldn't trend a tag like cunt in India. Indian women would not let it happen. Indian MEN would not let it happen. If it comes to that, Indian law would not let it happen either. It is seen as discrimination here. Do people do it? Sure they do it. But the voices objecting are also robust.

I have a long history of antagonizing people and there is great diversity in the kind of people I manage to piss off, but I have seen consistently that tags with a lot of members from the "first world" generally have a greater degree of normalizing of insulting views and terms. And I spend most of my time pissing off Indian conservative right wing chauvinists who are often misogynists as well. Something symbolizing a woman's identity being used as an expression of inferiority and not even seeming to be sexist to most people is simply a sign of acceptability for humiliating women. "Nothing wrong with it. That is how women are." kind of agreement at the cost of women.

I am not making any conclusions here, more like pointing out that there are large gaps in the stereotypes we believe without questioning. Women are not necessarily a symbol of unfairness. The third world does not necessarily have less evolved attitudes on gender. And more importantly, it is the unfairness that is the problem, whether it is religious discrimination, gender abuse or species abuse. Objecting to one while promoting to the other "Hunting is Cunting" or a tag like #HuntTheCunt etc will not change the underlying thinking. It will only make some kinds of unfairness not ok in hindsight if someone famous objects to it.

The hope here is that Ricky Gervais has indeed shown a lot of sensitive thought on many things, and he is hopefully capable of extending it to gender as well, instead of going with existing stereotypes, which he is happy to break on many other subjects.

That said, I do understand the fury that drives sudden tweets of anger. Felt it myself, e-lynched it too. And I am damn glad that the hunting got called out anyway, though I'd have preferred it happened without getting into making a body part of women a definition of something unworthy.

 

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Talk of mixed perspectives.

A few posts I made recently have set me thinking about how many of us supposedly neither right nor left political inclinations actually have swallowed a lot of left and right.

The recent turning upside down of terrorism as an Islamic speciality by Hindutva enthusiasts provided many such opportunities to notice how we simply accept certain fiction as gospel truth - even atheists 😀

Some shining moments were when people who have no issues with saying 'ban Islam' or 'ban all religion' suddenly went into tangents when Hinduism was criticized. Apparently, the halo is all permeating. Hindu is good, its true religion, it is assimilation of cultures and what not. Best thing since a million years before sliced bread. As though criticizing all religion doesn't include Hinduism - but that isn't a problem, because the brainwashing doesn't have those triggers.

In the meanwhile, Muslims are busy defending Islam from within and without. Apparently the Taliban and company are all sinners and kafirs and are destroying the religion - no problems stating that. However, if you compare it with anything non-Muslim, the tape about how Muslims are oppressed or provoked to violence because of powerful enemies etc starts playing. Wait a minute, isn't this the very logic used by terrorist recruitment propaganda?

Christians have their own issues. Apparently, Christians are the final authority on the west. What they object to is truly objectionable. They have the honorable task of reaching out to the world in their need, of bringing the word of God to the ignorants (thank you very much). They think it is persecution when people have issues with paid conversions or aid to flood victims in Pakistan being supplemented with Bibles.

I would have loved to claim that atheists are beyond all that, but they can be just as stubborn. Listen to their certainty that religion is the root of all evil. What is the basis of that? Its not like they have data from a world without religion, or that atheists have somehow proven to be violence free.

Human rights activists have their own blind spots. I have yet to find one who can stay on topic and answer satisfactorily questions like "what interrogation is appropriate and effective" or "what are the rights of armed forces or civilians" or why aren't terrorist victims considered to have had their rights abused - its not exactly like they were respected, you know?

The mystifying thing is that all sense seems to desert us when we hit topics for which we have ready answers. We rarely wonder how come these tidy answers resolve all our questions when ordinarily we are confused about many things under the sun. If a question touches them, we switch to the ready answers - even if those answers don't really answer anything. At that time, we may claim to be left, right or center, we are always "not quite".

4

So many things to write about, so much to do. I describe myself as a nomad. The life of Nomad is one that is home everywhere. Many things are happening in life, and some synchronicity is leading to insights about myself as a woman. The role of women in Indian society is all crap, as we know it. Each person has their own fantasy of what society "allows" without halting to reflect that it is them that collectively create society. Anyway, all that is irrelevant to my current ponderings.

I read Germaine Greer's book - Sex and Destiny, where she talks about the role of our sexuality in out life and the impact of the world on us based on our gender. The book is an awesome read as well as a life changing line of exploration, but what is currently on my mind is the chapter she wrote on "a child is born". She describes a "western culture" which admittedly is unfamiliar to me, yet some observations strike a chord. I have started seeing this whole business of contraception and family planning as a wholesale cultural hatred and negation of a woman's fertility. Identifying goals as a working woman in a relationship with a man has taken a whole new meaning. No? Think about this:

Pregnancy is a normal state of being for a woman - yes/no? If it is normal, why doesn't anyone trust a pregnant woman to know what's best for her?

We see having more than the "prescribed number of children" as a socially embarrassing thing and consider an excess of children to be a drain on personal and national resources. Never mind if a rich man can afford a hundred kids, or a poor man can't afford one. No one thinks that a rich man having plenty of kids will eventually lead to an increase in the population of rich people, or the division of the wealth between them will lead to decreasing differences between the rich and poor. Thinking is superfluous - the statistic is the allowed fertility.

  • A woman's fertility is unacceptable and needs to be allowed only in the form of "planned pregnancies" where the focus is not so much on her being a fertile woman as it is on planning ovulation, contraception and then living by the word of some expert (earlier it was midwives, which graduated to doctors, and now its, gynaecologists, sonography techinicians, etc) who knows better what she should do with this alien state of her body till it is rid of its alienness through birth of the child.
  • Contraception is a way of removing the consequences of intimacy and reducing the requirement for commitment. Yet, how many females want to remove the requirement for committment? How many males are willing to take responsibility for their intimacies? I don't know, but my hunch is that by solving the symptom on the physical manifestation level, we have left an entire culture vulnerable to emotional consequences.
  • As I sit here staring at my screen, I am wondering what impact these insights will have on my life. Will it mean a more meaningful intimacy with my husband, where awareness of the implications of the intimacy between us as man and woman open up an entire world of beauty? Or will it be a hesitation to rock the boat, where we continue to see fertility as a thing to be "controlled". Can we acknowledge that as a woman and man, our fertility is a part of it?