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To Answer A Few Comments

April 15, 2009

Recently, a reader of this blog who goes by the pseudonym ‘Kaffir’ , had a few interesting questions and comments for me, and a few other readers of this blog. Even though ‘Kaffir’ did not mince any words to ask us about our beliefs 🙂 (which is actually a good thing), I thought most of his questions and comments are valid and I felt his questions needed to be answered.

I have had many passionate discussions with others on similar questions before and I know that even though such pointed questions are meant to nudge us off our comfort zones, they are meant to make us think. So, I would like to thank ‘Kaffir’for the questions and the comments on this blog. I think that such questions do facilitate discussion and help us understand the nature of our beliefs better, as long the people involved focus on the arguments at hand and not get carried away emotionally and launch into ad-hominems.

At present, I am a little hard pressed for time and may not get to answering all the questions however I will try my best to answer as many as possible (in this post and future posts if possible).  I chose to post my answers here rather than in the comments section so that readers who are not subscribed to the comments feed from that post can join us if they want. I will be paraphrasing the questions below as I understood them, but if anyone is interested in learning about the context of the comments, please feel free to look it up from the links below

 OK here it goes.

 

 

1. Hinduism does not consider homosexuality unnatural or call for the persecution of  homosexuals, so where did I get my belief that homosexuality was a vice ? [Link to post]

Even though, in my comment I mentioned my position against gay marriage at the time when I was still a believer, and wasn’t referring to homosexuality being unnatural or about the persecution of homosexuals, I think I understand Kaffir’s question above.

The convenient thing about the major organized religions (by that I mean the big three – Christianity, Islam and Hinduism – since those are the ones I am most familiar with) is that followers of those religions can find almost anything in those religions/their religious texts to justify or suit their belief systems. Even if they don’t, it’s very easy to interpret a verse or distort the meaning of a text to support their beliefs. Some may call it cherry-picking and dishonest but isn’t that what most believers do (I used to do it too) ? Would they still be believers in the first place were they honest with themselves ? This act of distorting or cherry-picking verses becomes even more convenient for hindus, since one can easily find a text or a verse, hiding in some secluded corner of the vast body of religious literature in Hinduism to justify one’s position.

Even though I haven’t yet come across a hindu text which explicitly and clearly prohibits gay marriage, the stance on homosexuality varies within Hinduism [Link] . So, if one wants, it is not difficult for him/her to justify why gay marriages are a vice in Hinduism (if that’s what you believe as I *used* to believe).

Traditional hindu religious texts speak about 16 samskaras or ‘rites of passage’ of a hindu. One of them – the vivahaor marriage samskara –  in which a couple enters the grhasta or householder stage has been traditionally defined as the union of souls between a man and a woman. The purpose of this arrangement (in addition to others) was chiefly to produce children or progeny for the continuation of life on earth and to repay the debt of their ancestors.

As gay marriages did not fulfill that purpose, I, like most other cherry-picking, religious-text-believing hindus , rejected the act as a vice and believed that it was against God’s plan for this universe.

Thinking about my beliefs now, I think that even if gay marriages were allowed in hinduism, it wouldn’t have been difficult for me to find something which justified my stance against it. All a believer needs is a fertile imagination to interpret a verse such that it justifies an act. How else does the hindu believer reconcile his/her sensibilities with the atrocities in the name of religion against lower castes as prescribed by the Manu Smruti . How else do hindu males agree to gender equality and a women’s right to seek employment when the Manu Smruti clearly states that “a woman is never fit for independence” (Manu Smruti – Chapter IX, verse 3).  How else do hindus believe in the divinity of Krishna when even he didn’t seem to have a problem with the caste system (not based on division of labor but caste system based on birth – Bhagvad Gita – Chapter 9, verse 32, Bhagvad Gita – Chapter 18, verses 41-44). How else does every brahmin male in India today practice monogamy ( although thanks to the Hindu Marriage Act), when the Manu Smrutiexplicitly gives brahmin males the license to marry 4 wives (Manu Smruti – Chapter III, verse 13). Why did the brahmin even accept this cruel man-made law of the Indian Government? How did they justify something which was against their God-given right and why didn’t they go on a hunger strike to protest against this injustice ?  One only needs to be a believer (as I used to be) to understand their psyche and look at the double-standards they employ to justify certain acts.

The way every believer cherry-picks his/her own rules from a set of given religious rules, I sometimes wonder why do they even bother to call themselves Hindus, Muslims or Christians. Why not call themselves “a person of Hindu origin” or “a person of Christian origin” etc since that would be a better reflection of their ever evolving morals and beliefs.

2. Are protests based on “hurt religious sentiments” acceptable? Should anyone in general and Hindus in particular, protest to stop the misrepresentation of their religious symbols  in public as that may perpetuate stereotypes ? [Link to post]

I have always maintained that everyone (by everyone I actually mean *everyone*, irrespective of their religious beliefs or lack of it) should have the right to protest peacefully. In my opinion, any peaceful protests that has a valid premise and objective is acceptable (even though I know that peaceful protests do not work all the time). But are all peaceful protests alike? Is there a line we can draw to say this is OK and that is not?

I think in order to come to a decision about what is acceptable and what is not, we need to consider the premise on which that protest is based and the the objective of such a protest . Yes, premise and objective. Those are the most important aspects on which this debate is based.

And what is the premise of protests based on hurt religious sentiments ?

“I cannot tolerate the depiction of my idols or prophets in the media as I feel that is derogatory”.

“A person dressing up as a God or someone drawing a cartoon of my prophet is demeaning to me or perpetuating religious stereotypes

Here is what we need to ask ourselves – isn’t it disingenuous on our part to say that stereotypes about everything else is OK but somehow stereotypes based on religion are not? Stereotypes of americans and arabs are fine, stereotypes of sardars and blondes are fine, stereotypes of politicians and lawyers are great, but somehow religious stereotypes are a strict no-no. Why is that ?

Also, isn’t it disingenuous on our part to say that criticism or ridicule of everything else is acceptable – be it politics, government, foreign policy or even fashion and sports –  but somehow religion should be kept away from any ridicule or critical enquiry. Why should religion be conferred such a special status ? Just because I respect someone or some ideology why should it make it binding on all humanity to show respect for that same ideology?  Can someone give us a convincing explanation? Such selective and hypocritical justification escapes me.

And talking about disrespect, why should disrespect be a problem? Shouldn’t respect be earned rather than forced ? We surely don’t respect everyone or everything others believe in. So why should others be forced to show respect for something we believe in? Even though I wouldn’t want to deliberately show my disrespect for someone or something, isn’t it within my right of freedom of expression to express my peaceful disrespect for things I don’t find particularly appealing (religion for example) ?

Frankly, I think, most of these protests are a sham and based on assumed or feigned offense. They are nothing but veiled attempts to flex one’s political muscle in the garb of a religious protest. When we see such a protest, we need to ask ourselves – what is the goal of these protestors ?

“To prevent people from disrespecting our religious symbols in public”.

Even if some of us may still tolerate the premise, the objective of these protests is what I have problems with. If the goal of a protest is to shut someone up so that others can talk loudly. If the objective of a demonstration is to prevent someone from expressing themselves freely – be it through muhammad cartoons or kali costumes – so that someone else can express their religious freedom better. If the goal of the protest is to establish my right at the expense of someone else’s fundamental right ( as the stated goal of most “hurt-religious-sentiments” based protest are) then those protests should be condemned, irrespective of religion. Any protest which tries to justify that one person’s right is superior to another person’s right, should be discouraged and condemned in the harshest terms (IMO).

Now, let’s think about it from a different angle. If tomorrow a group of people start a religion where they worship the color red and protest to prevent any public displays of the color red, claiming that it offends their religious beliefs. Would we ignore it or honor it? Would it be acceptable to us if they ask for a public apology from anyone who dares to wear red? Would you not say that by preventing us from wearing red, they are encroaching on our right to express ourselves? Now let’s think about the hindu and muslim protests. Is this hypothetical protest any way less ridiculous than the protests over a costume or a cartoon?

So let me conclude this post by saying that in my opinion any religious protest based on “hurt-sentiments’ is ludicrous at best and malignant at worst. It tries to establish a hierarchy of rights where the rights of one group is given preference over the right of another. And *that* in my opinion is unacceptable.

What do you think? I would like to know.

 

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2009 9:56 pm

    What an argument and replies were not that bad as well, it increased my general knowledge as well 😀

  2. Kaffir permalink
    April 16, 2009 9:22 am

    Let’s clarify a few things, so that there’s less confusion and we can have a nice discussion, instead of mis-characterizing positions. I’m not an ideologue, and nor am I arguing for some kind of Hindu supremacy.

    I am not citing or using religious verses to justify my position, or to justify any wrongs in today’s Indian society. My position is simple: I do not believe in any kind of discrimination based on race, sex, gender, religion etc., I believe in a society where all are equal before the law, and all have freedom. Nor do I believe in perpetuating stereotypes, be it religious, or sardar-ji or blonde jokes. Regarding Heidi Klum and her attire and the resultant protest, it wasn’t about jokes, and the context is of it happening in the US society and media, where Hindus are a minority (as are atheists) and there’s an imbalance of power. You should look into the history of immigrant communities to USA (Jews, Irish, Italian) and how they were mistreated by the people. Blacks won their rights only ~40 years ago, and Native Americans still struggle – why people ignore all these deep prejudices and history of discrimination when talking about American society and consider it some kind of equality utopia, while criticizing and dismissing India simply for its caste system, I don’t know. Where’s the comparative perspective? And you’ll agree that media does play a role in shaping perceptions – for better or for worse.

    I’m not defending any position that Hinduism and its effects on society, were in the past, or are today, perfect, or that Hinduism is perfect. I don’t believe in perfection or the utopia hypothesis that many ideologues – including militant atheists – seem to have an irrational fetish for, that once the entire world thinks and believes what they believe in, the world will be peaceful and milk and honey will flow everywhere. That’s the same approach that the two Abrahamic religions have which doesn’t allow for any diversity.

    I also don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There’s good and bad, and I accept and acknowledge both, and then work to get rid of what is bad, instead of brushing it under the carpet. That’s my approach.

    If you want to discuss what’s in the texts, then that discussion needs to happen independent of what position one holds and we need to define beforehand what the terms are, because I am not doing this to justify any position – almost all my positions were formed independent of, and being unaware of what is in Hindu texts. Remember, I had a different experience than you did? I didn’t grow up as a devout Hindu and my interest in it developed as an adult, not as a child. 🙂

    Can you give me example of other countries and other modern societies which you consider liberal and progressive, where the following would be possible as well as accepted, or where these groups wouldn’t have to fight hard to get a space in society (e.g. take atheists in US and UK, or LGBT community in US or UK)?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Hinduism#Third-gender_sects_in_modern_Hinduism

    I know very well how much the gay community had to fight in the US to get acceptance (it’s an ongoing struggle even today) as well as the prejudices that people have within the larger LGBT community, or regarding bisexuals. Compare this struggle in societies that are considered liberal and progressive, to the above in India.

    Can you give me an example of another religious philosophy whose texts even mention something akin to third gender without calling for its persecution?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Hinduism#The_third_gender

    (Usual caveat about wikipedia applies, but these links seem to have enough valid references.)

    Oh, and no worries about late response – whenever you get to them.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      April 16, 2009 4:38 pm

      My position is simple: I do not believe in any kind of discrimination based on race, sex, gender, religion etc., I believe in a society where all are equal before the law, and all have freedom.

      Absolutely. By all means !! We are not only on the same page here but exactly on the same alphabet. 🙂

      You should look into the history of immigrant communities to USA (Jews, Irish, Italian) and how they were mistreated by the people.

      I don’t see how this paragraph in pertinent to the discussion but let me tell you – I have. I have read enough American history, including it’s war of independence and civil war and it’s mistreatment of blacks/natives/jews etc to know how they lived. However when we say “look they did it too” it’s called a logical fallacy called “tu-quoque”. Every injustice should be looked at independently irrespective of it’s relation to or without comparison with injustices in other countries. Our loyalty should be to humanity and not to any national, political or religious idealogy.

      American society and consider it some kind of equality utopia

      I cannot speak for others but I certainly don’t. I am aware that America has quite a few skeletons in its closet. However, again, I am not sure how this is pertinent to the discussion since we are talking about Hinduism and religion. Injustices in hinduism should be looked at without considering whether America had committed similar injustices or not. Injustices elsewhere does not make our injustices more palatable. Isn’t it?

      that once the entire world thinks and believes what they believe in, the world will be peaceful and milk and honey will flow everywhere.

      I have never held such a position and I am aware of the extremely slow rate of progress of human societies. It would be an extremely naïve position to hold. However I firmly believe, based on my understanding, that the world may not be perfect without religion but it would definitely be a better one.

      Ok here is a thought exercise – try thinking about 10 historical injustices against people which you consider were inhuman and then check how many of them were committed based on religion or faith. You will be surprised to find how many were. Also let me point out that I consider communism a kind of religion too – a religion not based on unquestioning faith in a deity but based on a unquestioning faith in a state, which has the exact hallmarks of any organized religion and is in many ways almost indistinguishable from organized religion. That is why I reject communist ideology too and consider it no less pernicious.

      I also don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

      I say throw the baby but keep the bathwater because the baby is fake 🙂

      OK jokes apart. I have never claimed that everything in religion is bad. There is good and bad (even though people do use it to justify their evil actions). Religion did an excellent job of hijacking contemporary moralities and convincing people that they were from a higher power to give them some authority. Otherwise why would people accept those moral values? But think about it. Is there anything moral that a religious person can do which a non-religious person cannot ? Can you think of anything which you consider moral that is possible only for a religious person but is beyond the capability of an non-theist? If not, why stick to religion ?

      And to re-iterate my point, if we know that there are certain aspects of our religion which are wrong and we decide to choose our own subset of morals, in line with our mordern sensibilities, from a superset of bronze-age morals – why bother to stick to that ideology and call ourselves a Hindu or a Muslim etc. Unless we believe that everything in the Vedas are true and have divine origin why call ourselves hindus at all?

      Can you give me example of other countries and other modern societies which you consider liberal and progressive, where the following would be possible as well as accepted,

      Again, I am not sure if this is pertinent. I think India and Hinduism should be considered separate. One is political and the other ideological and maybe we should keep them separate. However let me say that – Yes, I am extremely proud of my country’s achievement (although honestly the geographical and political concept of *India* is not even a century old) and I am never shy of giving credit where credit is due. I am proud of her contribution to ancient science. I am proud of the fact that Jews were never persecuted in the ancient history of the subcontinent. In fact, I consider the Vedas amazing pieces of poetry and literature but as soon as people start making chest-thumping claims that the Vedas are scientifically valid and no one can find a single fault in the Vedas, that is when I start having problems with it. I wonder if they even read the Vedas or know enough science to justify it.

      However to your point let me add that I reject any religion not based on whether it did X things OK and Y things wrong, but because my loyalty to honesty, truth, evidence and scientific enquiry leads me to reject it.

      Well Kaffir thank you for your comment and civil discussion and it was nice talking to you. I am sure we can continue to have such discussions in the future. Even though we may not agree on everything, I hope we agree that our basic goal is the same – that of improving society and humanity. Isn’t it?

      • Kaffir permalink
        April 16, 2009 9:59 pm

        Thanks for the reminder about tu-quoque (which I already knew), but my purpose of mentioning the prejudices of America wasn’t to excuse the injustices in India, but to provide a perspective for those who think lowly of India and highly of America (or similar western society), or those who look only to America/west as the fount of all knowledge and inspiration. Sorry for not being clear on that point.

        Similar reason for providing the links to third-sex – that whereas America of today is struggling to give space to different sexualities and is hostile to them, India with its philosophy of Hinduism has no problem giving space to different sexualities that are not the mainstream and is not hostile to them. I find that admirable.

        Every injustice should be looked at independently irrespective of it’s relation to or without comparison with injustices in other countries. Our loyalty should be to humanity and not to any national, political or religious idealogy.

        In theory, that’s true. But in practice, one has to start at home or draw some boundary, just because I don’t have infinite resources, and sitting in India or US, there’s not much I can do if an injustice happens in Japan. While I may agree 100% with what’s happening in Darfur is unjust, there’s little I can do about it sitting where I am, and with no vote to cast there or no say over the proceedings. But I can do a lot about the injustices happening in my country where I do have some control over the proceedings, either by voting or other democratic means. So, I agree with you in theory, but when it comes to practice, that is totally not pragmatic and impractical as of now, till nation-states morph into something else. Besides, even if there were no nation states, we’d still form some kind of groups based on geography (city) or common interests (that little red ‘A’ on the right). That’s just the practical aspect of ‘charity begins at home’, and acknowledging that one’s resources are finite. I’m sure you also care for your family and friends first, and then others.

        There’s also the niggling question of this thing called passport that the customs officer asks me to provide whenever I’m traveling, even though I tell him that my only loyalty is to humanity, not to any nation, and all our borders are artificial and man-made. He doesn’t listen to me even though my logic is impeccable. Can you do something about that please? 🙂

        I’m also not sure why you think that my being a Hindu prevents me from being humane. I find no conflict whatsoever between the two. Why do you find this conflict?

        Religion did an excellent job of hijacking contemporary moralities and convincing people that they were from a higher power to give them some authority. Otherwise why would people accept those moral values?

        Is that true of Buddhism? Hinduism? Or only of Abrahamic religions? You also make it sound as if it was a conspiracy, whereas it was a function of the knowledge when those religions came by.

        But think about it. Is there anything moral that a religious person can do which a non-religious person cannot ? Can you think of anything which you consider moral that is possible only for a religious person but is beyond the capability of an non-theist? If not, why stick to religion ?

        Different strokes for different folks. If you find it easier to adopt morals in a non-religious framework, go for it – I’m not stopping you. Likewise, if someone finds it easier to adopt morals in a religious framework, that’s his choice – just like you had a choice. Why so much fixation to your framework if the end result is the same? Again, that kind of behavior is for Abrahamic religions, not Hinduism.

        Let’s say I’m a Vaishnav. Now, should I go and tell a Bishnoi that his morals are wrong and he needs to adopt my morals, or adopt them through my framework? What right do I have to tell him so, when they already have such a compassionate philosophy and practice? That’s the beauty of Hinduism – allowing different sects to come up, with what works best for them, and still letting them live in relative harmony and peace. That to me is admirable.

        Whereas, you as an atheist, are having problems living with a religionist and want him to adopt your framework, or you won’t find peace. If you are an atheist and not an anti-theist, why do you need that ‘Om’ with a strike through it? Do you need a symbol to define yourself – like the red ‘A’ or the ‘Om’ with a strike-through? If you do, then why should there be a problem with people calling themselves Hindus or Muslims? Think about it.

        However I firmly believe, based on my understanding, that the world may not be perfect without religion but it would definitely be a better one.

        Maybe. Maybe not, but if you think about it, it’s a moot statement – because today’s atheism (and even Carvakas) is a *reaction* to religion – it has nothing to offer on its own basis. If there were no religion, Gandhi wouldn’t have got his inspiration and strength, nor Martin Luther King Jr., nor Malcolm X, nor Desmond Tutu as well as many liberation theologists.

        Take a look at how animals are treated in the US and Europe today in factory farms, and compare that to the concept of ahimsa which is responsible for many to become vegetarians and show compassion to animals and minimize suffering in the world. Is that of no consequence and can be dismissed? Why do those animals continue to be mistreated (and most of that mistreatment is unnecessary, ignoring that they are killed at the end) in feedlots even though modern science tells us those animals are sentient beings, and there’s no reason – other than profits – to treat them so cruelly? What is the official atheist position on it? Are all atheists vegetarians or vegans? If not, why not? Logic and science would prove that to be the only rational and humane position to take, no? Are all those who are giving a call-to-arms to atheists – Dennet, Harris, Dawkins – also cognizant of the suffering caused to animals and talk about a humane and compassionate diet, i.e. vegetarian or vegan? If not, why not? Is their position to not be a vegetarian based on rational and scientific thinking?

        Why was the scientific and rational world unable to stop Hiroshima and Nagasaki from happening? Instead, it were scientists who developed atomic bombs.

        Ok here is a thought exercise – try thinking about 10 historical injustices against people which you consider were inhuman and then check how many of them were committed based on religion or faith.

        Heh. Someone has read his Dawkins. 🙂

        How about these:
        – Vietnam war
        – Iraq war I & II
        – Korean war
        – Brutal dictators all over
        – WW II
        – atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (split from WW II)
        – US Civil war
        How many of these atrocities were caused by religion? Not one, I think.

        Let me ask you some questions.
        1. Did you critically analyze ‘The God Delusion’ or did you accept everything in it uncritically? Can you give me a few instances from the book where you disagreed with the points that Dawkins raised; or is he 100% correct?

        2. Did you read any criticisms of Dawkins’s ‘The God Delusion’ just to test – like a scientist would do – whether his critics may have some valid points? If not, why not?

        And to re-iterate my point, if we know that there are certain aspects of our religion which are wrong and we decide to choose our own subset of morals, in line with our mordern sensibilities, from a superset of bronze-age morals – why bother to stick to that ideology and call ourselves a Hindu or a Muslim etc. Unless we believe that everything in the Vedas are true and have divine origin why call ourselves hindus at all?

        Why do you need the ‘A’ symbol and the No ‘Om’ symbol? Same reason. 🙂
        And if you don’t want to call yourself Hindu, don’t. I’m not forcing you to call yourself Hindu.

        You really need to check out the book “Heathen in his Blindness” otherwise we’ll continue talking past each other. It’s clear from your above statement that you conceptualize religion in terms of Christianity, and Hinduism, in so many ways, is not like Christianity – different frameworks. Hinduism allows me to accept nothing of Vedas – or any other scripture – but to follow my own path of self-discovery and to accept my truth as and when it becomes evident to me. That is the beauty of it – I’m not accepting anything just on blind faith or because it’s written in the Vedas. It is the beauty which allows you to accept atheism and reject your devout Hinduness you grew up with because you didn’t find it useful anymore, without anyone calling for your death (though your parents may be somewhat unhappy – I’m assuming). Here’s a test – try renouncing your atheism just as an experiment, and see how your current atheist friends treat you. Think of it this way – when you’ve graduated to XII class, you don’t call for closing down classes I-XI because you don’t need them anymore and those earlier classes are not useful to you. Would you go to someone who is in class V and tell him he’s an idiot because you’re in class XII and you know more than him? Besides, class XII lasts only for an year and is not the end of the journey. 😉

        And why call oneself human when in our history, we have acted so inhumanely and you yourself talk about historical injustices. To be human is to accept (not justify) all the human misdeeds as well as good deeds without getting horrified at the misdeeds.

        However to your point let me add that I reject any religion not based on whether it did X things OK and Y things wrong, but because my loyalty to honesty, truth, evidence and scientific enquiry leads me to reject it.

        If that’s what makes you happy and that’s your path of truth, good for you – you won’t find any opposition from this Hindu. But something tells me that your happiness lies in others rejecting religion too and coming over to your “side”. Do you think such type of conditional/dependent happiness is true happiness? Is that not a deficiency in your philosophy which requires “conversion” of others, so to speak, for you to be at peace?

        If the goal is to improve society, then why let your framework come in the way of forming partnerships? I just proved to you that I share the same goal as you do even though I’m a Hindu. Should I not form partnership with Christian church-goers if we share the same opinion, same concerns and same goals over global warming, or over Iraq war, just because we have a different framework of conceptualizing “god”? That would be stupid of me, not to mention prejudicial. My faith doesn’t tell me to ask for a litmus test of others – over something that’s so irrelevant – whether god exists or not – before improving society.

        Thanks for the discussion – at least you’re more open-minded than your friend over at Nirmukta who has not published my comments critical of some posts. Then again, he probably has more at stake than you do. All the best!

        • April 17, 2009 5:06 pm

          Hey Kaffir,

          You are a delight to read and converse. I differ with you on some counts but I must tip my hat to your willingness to engage in a thoughtful manner. Its a refreshing change from dogmatic blowhards.

          This exchange (between NN and you) is extremely illuminating and thought provoking.

          Very often, the gulf between two view-points gets magnified by the arguments that are marshalled by either side.

          It is not my intention to broker a peace here (robust debate more fulfilling) – but frankly some of the issues are red-herrings on either side.

          Some arguments from the Atheists side tend to sound too much like “Religion is the root-cause of ALL Evil”. And such a sweeping generalization often gets under the skin of most people because it paints their benign spiritualism as a form of brain-dead blood-lust. And from here the conversation goes down-hill. I must commend Kaffir for not letting that happen and remaining engaged.

          The question from NN about most egregious human-atrocities having their roots in Religion carried just that connotation.

          A better point would have been the one that was made by Steven Weinberg (I think)

          With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

          Religion does not have a monopoly on evil – but evil is almost always recognizable as evil. It is when it carries with it religious sanction that moral ambiguity creeps in.

          For instance, burning someone at the stake is unarguably evil but when the person is painted as witch who has copulates with the devil and belonging to Satan’s army then burning that person seems like the right thing to do.

          The only thing that comes close to religion in terms of moral-ambiguity is “blind patriotism” or “blind-nationalism”. Very often one comes across situations of “My country right or wrong”. The cases of war that Kaffir listed fall in this category.

          But the only thing this proves is that Evil is NOT exclusive preserve of Religion. I seriously doubt whether NN believes that religion is exclusively responsible for ALL the evil in this world although the arguments he posited paint him in that corner.

          The main thrust of modern atheists is NOT to BAN or OUTLAW religion. It is merely to make it equal to any other aspect of human endeavor. In other words, no special treatment.

          You are free to believe whatever you want to believe and I TRULY respect the fact that you do not insist on NN joining you in your belief. But if you look around yourself, religious folks (Hindu/Muslim/Christian…)are unable and unwilling to make the admirable concession you have made.

          And this rigidity comes from the belief that their faith is the supreme and final divine edict. And this rigidity is BEYOND APPEAL simply because its religion and questioning that is taboo. This is the reason old and outdated prejudices persists.

          The main thrust of Athist movements is to make society a lot more like Kaffir (rather than NN). One where subjects are not taboo and broaching them does not carry a stigma or worse – a bodily peril.

          You are very right in questioning the ethics of meat consumption. But notice that you are not being accused of saying something sacriligious by questioning it. Try questioning the burqa in Islam. Try questioning circumscision or Sabbath in Judaism. Try questioning casteism and the response you will get will be that of someone upsetting the divine order.

          That is the difference!

          You have said, and NN has agreed (and so do I) that neither party can claim utopia. But challenging such claims carries an un-equal burden. Religion almost always is treated with deference – often undeserved.

      • Kaffir permalink
        April 17, 2009 8:10 am

        NN:
        One last thing about Vedic science – I’m more in agreement with you there. My approach is to research it, verify it and acknowledge it. I’m not in the reject-without-research camp, nor am I in the full-acceptance-just-because-it’s-in-the-Vedas camp. Both of those camps approach the issue based on blind faith rather than inquiry.

        And my apologies if any of my pointed questions in the earlier comment came across as rude. I just prefer to be direct and I do appreciate you sharing your thoughts and the discussion.

        Best.

  3. RGB permalink
    April 16, 2009 1:01 pm

    Sure, you can say such protests should be condemned and discouraged but you cannot make them unacceptable. Doing that would be a infringement on protester’s freedom of speech.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      April 16, 2009 3:15 pm

      RGB you probably missed my point. I don’t think I have mentioned anywhere in my post that we need to *make* such protests unacceptable. I have clearly mentioned that “in my opinion” it is unacceptable. And yes I will try to condemn them as much as possible peacefully but that does not mean that I am going to petition the govt or ask lawmakers to ban such protests. When I say it’s not OK, I mean it’s unacceptable from a logical point of view and not a legal point of view. I hope that clarifies it.

  4. April 16, 2009 7:19 pm

    “but that does not mean that I am going to petition the govt or ask lawmakers to ban such protests”

    Does this by any means,means that you don’t want to disturb your comfort zone, however at the same time you want other people to think/move/change. You said you will do it peacefully, where is violence if you file a lawsuit??
    If you feel your point/view is so strong that all the world should benefit from it, then why shouldn’t??
    I read your About Me yesterday where you said you want to work for humanity, so if the lawsuits can help then why not??
    No hard feelings :), just a question 😀

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      April 16, 2009 7:31 pm

      Tarun please read my answer and RGBs point *carefully*, and you will know why I won’t.

      Btw thanks for finally getting to my ‘about me page’ . I am flattered..floored even. LOL !! 🙂

      Oh, No offense taken ..just chill and stay away from lawsuits 😀

      • April 16, 2009 7:37 pm

        That was quite a clever answer 🙂
        Legally/Logically that’s where you want me to go 😀
        I guess this is what “I” call comfort zone, but then so many people, so many views 🙂
        Life is Beautiful, njoy 🙂

  5. nitwitnastik permalink*
    April 19, 2009 7:22 am

    Kaffir

    Thanks for the long and engaging response. However, I think that we should try to read each others post more carefully and see if we understand what the other is trying to say. I think both of us maybe guilty of missing each others point or maybe we are not being clear enough. So let me try again and see if I understand you correctly and can explain myself more clearly. I hope you can do the same.

    Even though I am no celebrity, I faintly feel their pang of being misinterpreted and misquoted 🙂

    1. when I said

    “Every injustice should be looked at independently irrespective of it’s relation to or without comparison with injustice in other countries. Our loyalty should be to humanity and not to any national, political or religious ideology.”

    I did not mean or say that we don’t start with India as can be clearly seen from my comment above. I am very much aware of the problems of geography and politics. In fact lets start with India. I wasn’t rallying Indians to go and do social work wherever in the world their bleeding heart takes them (that is a personal decision and I cannot tell anyone what to do). I was only trying to point out that we should not bring the issue of injustice in other countries when we are discussing India. When we look at historic injustice by Hindus we should look at it without comparing it to any other injustice in other parts of the world. When we compare our atrocities to other atrocities it may look small in comparison but done independently they may seem quite bad. Unless we are honest with ourselves and own up to our own mistakes and the injustice perpetuated by Hindus on others, we cannot get to the root of the problem that caused it in the first place. As a result, there won’t be any change for the better and we will continue to be in denial and stuck in a vicious loop forever.

    So all I am saying is that a larger injustice elsewhere does not exonerate Hindus of their own atrocities. I know you probably didn’t mean it that way but I just wanted to clarify it. I hope that in the future when we talk of injustice in the name of one religion we can look at it independently without comparing it to some other religion or nation.

    2. “I’m also not sure why you think that my being a Hindu prevents me from being humane. I find no conflict whatsoever between the two. Why do you find this conflict?”

    I don’t remember ever mentioning that your being Hindu comes in the way of your being humane. I fail to see how you made that connection. Maybe it will help, if you can please point out the sentence which made you think I did, so that I can be more careful in the future. (No, I don’t mean it in a sarcastic way but seriously, so that I can improve my skills at online discussions.)

    Just because there are pernicious aspects in a religion does not mean than anyone who follows that religion cannot be moral or humane. Just because Islam asks people to kill non-believers and Jews that doesn’t mean all Muslims are murderers. That does not mean no Muslim can be humane or Islam comes in the way of being humane. Most Muslims will agree with you that being a Muslim does not come in the way of their being humane.

    But, as I pointed out to you in my post – a person can be perfectly humane even when following a malignant belief system not *because of* the belief system but because of the *choices* he/she makes. The rules he/she cherry-picks to follow from a super set of laws from that faith-based system or the internal moral code he/she adopts. He/she can be perfectly moral *in spite* of a religion but not always *because* of it.

    So, let me clarify here that my beef is with faith-based religions and blind belief itself and not with all believers. If someone chooses to practice their religion peacefully and without trying to commit or justify injustice in the name of religion, I will accept their right to freedom of expression. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t criticize their beliefs or ridicule it (as that falls within my right to freedom of expression also) but I won’t try to take away their right to do it. In fact, except for me, every member of my family is a devout Hindu. And even though you would have to take my word for it, I don’t think I have ever prevented them from practising their religion. I may criticize their beliefs or point out their superstitions and may even refuse to join them in their prayers but I don’t think I have ever forced them to stop praying. If they want to waste their time trying to keep a non-existent sky-daddy happy, who am I stop them 🙂

    3. Is that true of Buddhism? Hinduism? Or only of Abrahamic religions? You also make it sound as if it was a conspiracy, whereas it was a function of the knowledge when those religions came by.

    If I am not mistaken, I think both of us are saying the same thing. If religious laws were a function of the accumulated knowledge when those religions came by, then I hope we can agree that those laws were not decided by God or given to us by any supernatural deity. And by religion I meant every faith-based organized religion. Although I am not sure if we can equate Buddhism with all other faith-based organized religions because I am not sure the Buddhism of today is what Buddha had originally intended it to be.

    4. Different strokes for different folks. If you find it easier to adopt morals in a non-religious framework, go for it – I’m not stopping you. Likewise, if someone finds it easier to adopt morals in a religious framework, that’s his choice – just like you had a choice. Why so much fixation to your framework if the end result is the same? Again, that kind of behavior is for Abrahamic religions, not Hinduism.

    Here again I think maybe we are on a different page. I hope we can look at the context of that statement. My comment pertained to your baby and bathwater comment. I assumed, and correct me if I am wrong, that you were trying to imply – religion is necessary for people to be moral (otherwise why do we need to keep the baby) – and I was trying to point out that people can be moral without religion. And, if that is really the case, why do we even need religion (the baby in this case).

    I don’t think I have a fixation to *any* religious or non-religious framework. My framework for being moral is simple and that is – compassion for every human being. That is what I believe is the bedrock of liberty, equality, fraternity etc etc. I endorse any framework which supports it and reject any framework which opposes it – including religion, but not limited to it. Yes, I like every other human being, may err on the wrong side of compassion but that does not mean I am right or that my errors are vindicated.

    Btw, just because I challenge the necessity of something does not imply that I want to prevent others from adopting it or following it as I mentioned regarding the case of my family. Just because I challenge the necessity of smoking cigarettes doesn’t mean I am trying to prevent others from smoking. And, there is a difference between the two. One is a democratic way of changing things by raising awareness and the other is the Taleban way of forcing one’s morals on others. And as long as I am trying to peacefully point out the problems with religion and raise awareness, I don’t see how someone could have a problem with it.

    5. Let’s say I’m a Vaishnav. Now, should I go and tell a Bishnoi that his morals are wrong and he needs to adopt my morals, or adopt them through my framework? What right do I have to tell him so, when they already have such a compassionate philosophy and practice? That’s the beauty of Hinduism – allowing different sects to come up, with what works best for them, and still letting them live in relative harmony and peace. That to me is admirable.

    I think I differ with you on this. Why shouldn’t we have that right to tell a person his morals are wrong and they need to change? If it is within our right to praise something when it is agreeable to us, why shouldn’t we have the right to criticize it when we think it is wrong? If I can criticize Islam why can’t I criticize the vaishnav sect? Similarly I may not agree with people who oppose gay marriage but I don’t see how they shouldn’t have the right to oppose it. I think all of us should have the right to tell the other that he/she is wrong. That is the fundamental principle on which our democracy is based and our right to freedom of speech and expression. As long as it is done peacefully through peaceful debate and criticism, I don’t see why anyone should have a problem with it.

    Moreover, I am sure you will agree with me that criticism is absolutely necessary for a functioning democracy. Without tolerance for peaceful criticism, democracy may and will soon slide into fascism.

    6. Whereas, you as an atheist, are having problems living with a religionist and want him to adopt your framework, or you won’t find peace. If you are an atheist and not an anti-theist, why do you need that ‘Om’ with a strike through it? Do you need a symbol to define yourself – like the red ‘A’ or the ‘Om’ with a strike-through?

    I never mentioned that I have problems living with a religionist. My lovely wife is a devout Hindu and a shirdi sai baba follower and we get along pretty well, not to mention that she even forces me to eat prasadam once in a while, which I reluctantly consume 🙂 Even though her engineer’s brain agrees with the logic I have to present and she agrees with me on what I have to say about religion and Hinduism, the only reason I feel she prays everyday is that she wants to feel secure in the belief that someone up there is looking out for us. Even though I have demonstrated over and over again that prayers do not work, I think the emotional crutch, the glimmer of hope on which her faith is based is something no amount of logical thinking can dispel. Faith against reason is a no-contest, a stalemate. And, that is fine with me as long as she does not start using religion to justify injustice or tries to force me into praying to that sky-daddy (which to her credit she doesn’t).

    Btw, that red A is not my blind allegiance to any belief system (infact it is not even any allegiance) nor do I feel it is necessity to my moral backbone. Also the no-om symbol does not define me. It was a deliberately provocative statement I was trying to make to challenge people to think for themselves.

    7. because today’s atheism (and even Carvakas) is a *reaction* to religion – it has nothing to offer on its own basis. If there were no religion, Gandhi wouldn’t have got his inspiration and strength, nor Martin Luther King Jr., nor Malcolm X, nor Desmond Tutu as well as many liberation theologists.

    Maybe you have misunderstood the meaning of atheism or it’s goal. Atheism in simple terms is the rejection of belief in a supernatural entity based on lack of evidence. Atheism has never claimed that it has a stated goal of trying to offer something or inspire someone for great deeds. I am sure a belief in God has motivated people to do great things just as belief in humanity have inspired others. However that does not necessarily mean that such feats wouldn’t have been possible without religion or that atheists are incapable of finding motivation outside religion. For example, can you think of what may have motivated agnostics/atheists like bill gates and warren buffet to donate almost their entire wealth to charity and work towards the upliftment of humanity in third world countries? Can you think of what might have inspired an atheist like baba amte to work for leprosy patients and for the downtrodden in society?

    I fail to see the cause and effect relationship between a person’s deeds and his belief system or lack of belief in anything. Correlation does not imply cause and I think such an assertion is a “non-sequitur”. Atheists and believers are equally capable of exalted as well as heinous deeds irrespective of what the believe in. However it can be argued that religion has often been used to shield or justify heinous acts while atheism hasn’t been used for such an excuse – e.g women’s subjugation, slavery, caste system etc etc. And here I agree with Steven Weinberg when he said “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

    I also do not agree that a reaction to something is necessarily a bad thing. Democracy probably started off as a reaction to monarchy. The feminist movement started off as a reaction to the subjugation of women. The abolitionist movement started off as a reaction to slavery and slave trade. So I am not sure if we can say that anything reactive is of lesser value and should not be endorsed.

    8. Why do those animals continue to be mistreated (and most of that mistreatment is unnecessary, ignoring that they are killed at the end) in feedlots even though modern science tells us those animals are sentient beings, and there’s no reason – other than profits – to treat them so cruelly? What is the official atheist position on it? Are all atheists vegetarians or vegans? If not, why not? Logic and science would prove that to be the only rational and humane position to take, no?

    Kaffir, you make it sound as if atheists belong to some sort of an organized religion where there is an official book which doles out rules and official positions on everything. 🙂 I don’t think atheists have an official position on anything. Atheists are just bonded by the fact that they refuse to believe in a supernatural entity without any evidence (and even that may not be true for all atheists).

    As for vegetarianism, I admit I don’t have the perfect answer. Your question may sound (it may not but that is how it came across) as if you are accusing atheism of encouraging meat-eating and killing animals, which I don’t think I have ever heard an atheist talk about. There are hundreds of atheists who are vegetarians and hundreds of believers who are non-vegetarians. I consider it a personal choice although I personally wouldn’t want to see animals being killed indiscriminately. I understand that this is a matter of cognitive dissonance for a lot of people on both sides of the belief aisle but I don’t think there is a pragmatic solution to that problem.

    However I do find it mildly hypocritical when people use the ‘ahimsa’ argument and the ‘ they-are-living-things-also’ argument to justify vegetarianism when we know for a fact that plants are living things too. The opinion about whether plants feel pain or not varies (you may want to check this out), but if our decision to treat something is based on whether something has a nervous system or not, I don’t think anyone has a convincing answer for that question. We kill millions of bugs everyday and walk over insects even when they don’t do us any harm. The foundation of modern medicine is based on clinical trials that are conducted on animals. Can we tell a cancer patient to stop taking medicines because they were first tested on animals?

    So where do we draw the line ? I don’t know. Neither do I think anyone else.

    I don’t think that there is a line that can be clearly drawn in this debate although I am all for humane treatment of animals. I wish there was an ideal solution but I don’t see any solution to the non-vegetarian/vegetarian debate other than everyone starving to death. I wish that someday we humans can evolve enough to not rely on other living beings for our existence and can live off the sunlight and bacteria-free air and water, 🙂 but till that day we just have to accept the reality of the food chain and live with the fact of non-vegetarianism – albeit within controlled limits and try to do it as humanely as possible and with the responsibility of living as harmoniusly as possible with nature. If anyone else has any other solution to it, please share it with us.

    Btw since we are on the subject I would like to know why you consider meat eating to be wrong (scriptural or personal reasons) and whether you think there is a compromise between an exclusively vegetarian diet and rampant non-vegetarianism.

    9. Why was the scientific and rational world unable to stop Hiroshima and Nagasaki from happening? Instead, it were scientists who developed atomic bombs.

    I am not sure how inventing the atomic bomb is relevant to the discussion of morality and religion so maybe we should try to avoid red herrings like these in the future. Electricity, automobiles, chemicals were all invented by scientists/engineers too and which are known to have killed many people. Can we blame them for those deaths? Can we blame the person who discovered fire or iron for all the millions of death by fire and sword/bullet since the dawn of human history? Can we blame scientists for the Bhopal gas tragedy or the Chernobyl disaster too? In fact if we go further back can we blame all the scientists who contributed to the development of quantum physics for the deaths of people at Hiroshima Nagasaki ? Shouldn’t the blame for a murder be placed on the person who pulls the trigger rather than the person who makes the gun.

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a horrible act, but I think it is unfair to blame science or scientists for it. The fact that people can use such weapons without remorse, for their own selfish ends, is proof of the depravity that the human spirit is capable of. But I think to paint the entire scientific community with a broad brush and blame them for an injustice which they did not have a hand in, is grossly unfair. In fact I would say that to blame people who invent weapons( any weapon for that matter – be it the guns, tanks and warships) for the purpose of self-defense and deterrence, for the crimes committed using those weapons is in my opinion wrong.

    Btw, even though I don’t think that the scientific community knew much about the bomb, other than the few scientists working on the Manhattan project since it was shrouded in a lot of secrecy, I can ask the same question to believers too. Why didn’t the religious leaders and the self-proclaimed guardians of moral behaviour in this world try and stop the bomb from being developed or Hiroshima and Nagasaki from happening? I know that’s not a fair question to ask but I hope you realize the unfairness of your question too.

    10. How many of these atrocities were caused by religion? Not one, I think.

    I cannot remember whether Dawkins also asked such a question but thanks for pointing out. I feel flattered 🙂

    However kaffir I hope you will agree that the purpose of having this discussion is to honestly think about our beliefs and not try and outsmart each other or prove that one of us have a higher IQ than the other. If that is the case, let me concede defeat and say that you have a much higher IQ than me (It is highly possible 🙂 and after having read your comments I can say that you better read and smarter than other “religious blowhards” (by your own admission) I have had discussions with)

    But coming back to honesty, do you honestly feel that your list of atrocities are the only ones. In fact, you only mentioned several incidents of one *type* of injustice and that is war (which some may argue were for self-defense, not to mention that there have been lots of religious wars fought too) but can you think about other *types* of injustice.

    How about 1 ) injustice against other religious groups ( e.g. Jewish pogroms, genocides etc) 2) injustice based on gender (subjugation of women everywhere) 3) injustice based on race (slavery) 4) injustice based on sexual preference (homosexuality) 5 ) injustice based on class/caste

    There may be many more. But the point is that each and every one of those various types of abuse were justified in the name of religion. Without the justification of “Oh God told us so ” no one could justify their acts. So wouldn’t it be better to get rid of the cause of such injustice ? So yes to reiterate my point – the world may not be perfect without religion but I feel that it will definitely be better.

    Btw, before you say religious rules can be changed, let me ask you this – how do you think we can change something effectively without changing the basic premise on which it is based. Which for religion is that of a heavenly father, sitting high up somewhere, setting down rules against women, blacks, Jews, homosexuals or lower castes ? How do you think we can change religion *without* challenging the very rules the divine entity has set for us, and therefore challenging his very existence and his very nature of an all-knowing, all-powerful entity?

    As for criticisms about dawkins book, yes I have read a couple of rebuttals written by Christians and didn’t find much merit in those. I have also watched quite few of his debates and felt that it was much easier to believe claims based on evidence than claims based on faith.

    11. Hinduism allows me to accept nothing of Vedas – or any other scripture – but to follow my own path of self-discovery and to accept my truth as and when it becomes evident to me. That is the beauty of it – I’m not accepting anything just on blind faith or because it’s written in the Vedas. It is the beauty which allows you to accept atheism and reject your devout Hinduness you grew up with because you didn’t find it useful anymore, without anyone calling for your death (though your parents may be somewhat unhappy – I’m assuming).

    Kaffir I do agree with certain things you had to say here and probably we agree much more than you would think. However, in order to understand the differences we have to understand the definition of Hinduism and see what both of us believe in. If we want to use Veer Sarvarkar’s (who according to sources was an atheist) definition of a Hindu where a ‘Hindu’ is more of a cultural and political identity than a religious one, I don’t think anyone who is born in India can deny he/she is not. Since all of them share cultural and political similarities with their fellow Indians. Although I am sure Indian Muslims and Christians may object to it.

    The Supreme court of India’s definition of a Hindu is much broader and includes even atheists and if you claim that’s your definition of a Hindu, I don’t think I can legally say I am not one although I wouldn’t call myself one. When I say I reject Hinduism, the Hinduism I am referring to is closer to Bal Gangadhar tilak’s definition or somewhat Vivekananda’s definition of who is a Hindu – where a person needs to believe in the the divinity of the Vedas, believe in salvation and also believe in many Gods ( I understand that Hinduism is much broader than that but my definition above is what I use to define *mainstream* Hinduism – the Hinduism of the common man – rather than fringe movements)

    I reject mainstream Hinduism because 1) I don’t believe that the Vedas were revealed by a supernatural entity or have any divine source. The Vedas to me are marvelous pieces of ancient literature nothing more. The same applies for all other Hindu religious texts which make such claims 2) I don’t believe in moksha or that a person can achieve salvation/moksha/nirvana etc etc 3) I don’t believe in karma or believe that human beings are reborn based on their karma 4) I hold off on my belief in many gods or One god – in fact on ANY supernatural entity. There may very well be but until I myself find evidence of it I would like to hold of on that judgement. As a result, I do not believe that idols have any divinity and need to be prayed. 5) I do not believe in the power of chanting mantras or any ritual to invoke the gods for that matter 6) I believe that all men and women have equal rights and reject inequality based on birth, profession or gender. 7) I do not believe that the Hindu avatars ever existed leave alone believing in their divinity or supernatural powers

    I reject all of the above, not because of any dogmatic insistence but because I simply have no evidence. If someone does provide me with evidence I am willing to reconsider my beliefs. However till date I have found none. Also, a lot of the above may overlap with a generic disbelief in a God, however I mentioned it since I was born a Hindu and not in any other belief system.

    Btw, your analogy on classes was a nice one. However if I reach class XII and realize that entire foundation of what I have been taught till now was wrong and a lie. Then I might actually try convincing people to skip all classes and join school from class XII only. 🙂

    12. But something tells me that your happiness lies in others rejecting religion too and coming over to your “side”. Do you think such type of conditional/dependent happiness is true happiness? Is that not a deficiency in your philosophy which requires “conversion” of others, so to speak, for you to be at peace?

    Kaffir, I think it would be helpful to our discussion if we avoid guessing each others motive and concentrate on the truth of the argument. I don’t think we know enough about each other to know what makes us happy. Also, I don’t see how my happiness or sadness is pertinent to the discussion or changes the logic of my argument. Some may even see it as an ad-hominem and think that you are trying to divert attention from the main argument by bringing my motives. So I humbly request you to concentrate on the argument instead of the motives of the person making the argument.

    Even though my peace of mind is not conditional upon someone ‘converting’ to my ideology (I sleep pretty well at night without having a single convert 🙂 ). I don’t think that conversion from one ideology to another is necessarily a bad thing and I don’t see why switching sides should be a problem. Anyone who doesn’t ,after being proven wrong, is probably foolishly stubborn not to mention dishonest. I myself ‘converted’ from an anti-gay marriage proponent to gay marriage supporter or from a staunch and devout Hindu to an atheist/agnostic. I am sure there are others who have ‘converted’ and changed their beliefs regarding slavery, caste and gender equality etc in their life times.

    Btw, if by conversion you mean, convincing someone falsely and then making him/her subservient to me so that they follow my every rule blindly. NO. I have no such devious intentions. But if by conversion you mean trying to open someone’s eyes by challenging their beliefs or convincing them by showing alternative points of view and in the process trying to improve society and also make a few friends. I have every intention of doing that. Why else do you think I started this blog for? Is your intention any different? In fact I think anyone who has an opinion and expresses his/her opinion in a public forum is trying to convert/convince other people of their beliefs, whether he/she admits it or not. Why else would they waste their time arguing their position publicly rather than trying to ponder on it alone?

    13. If the goal is to improve society, then why let your framework come in the way of forming partnerships? ……My faith doesn’t tell me to ask for a litmus test of others – over something that’s so irrelevant – whether god exists or not – before improving society.

    There are many ways of changing society and I think the difference between your idea of changing society and mine is that I believe that religion for the most part is harmful. It may have done a few good things (which btw could have been done without it) but it has also tried to justify a lot of misdeeds and abuse in it’s name. You may not find the question about the existence of God relevant but I do. That is because belief in God encourages dishonesty since it is not based on evidence, encourages blind faith and dogma rather than reason and justice but most importantly justifies atrocities in his name, which I find unacceptable.

    Thanks Kaffir for the nice and civil discussion. I hope you got as much from it as I did. Also if you read my resposes carefully you may find that we have much more in common that you think. Since I have spent quite a few hours writing this, I am not sure if I will get to write another long comment like this. So I will let you have the last word unless I need to clarify a point. I may even put this discussion up later as a post since I am tired of typing the same arguments again and again for different commenters and putting up a post will help me get the URL easily.

    • Incognito permalink
      May 2, 2009 1:46 am

      >>>>>”Vivekananda’s definition of who is a Hindu – where a person needs to believe in the the divinity of the Vedas, believe in salvation and also believe in many Gods ”

      Is this Vivekananda’s definition or your ?

      >>>>>”my definition above is what I use to define *mainstream* Hinduism – the Hinduism of the common man – rather than fringe movements”

      who is common man.
      who is not common.

      what is fringe movement

      Are they also of your creation/definition ?

      >>>>>”I reject mainstream Hinduism …”

      Something defined by you..

      You define something and you reject it.

      >>>>>>”… I don’t believe that the Vedas were revealed by a supernatural entity or have any divine source. ”

      What is supernatural entity.

      Is imagination supernatural ?

      Is intuition supernatural ?

      What is divine source ?

      Is it just your ‘ belief ‘ that Vedas …….?

      >>>>>>”The Vedas to me are marvelous pieces of ancient literature nothing more. ”

      What is marvelous pieces of ancient literature.

      What is marvelous about Vedas ?

      What is literature in Vedas ?

      >>>>>>”The same applies for all other Hindu religious texts which make such claims ”

      What claim does Vedas make ?
      which sloka ?

      Which other Hindu religious text does the same ?

      >>>>>>”I don’t believe in moksha or that a person can achieve salvation/moksha/nirvana etc etc”

      Just a ‘ belief ‘.

      Just like a muslim believes Quran is Allah’s word and christian believes Bible is it.

      Beliefs that people appear to be uninterested in verifying for truth.

      Beliefs sometimes referred to as irrational. Your’s too fall in same category ?

      >>>>>”I don’t believe in karma or believe that human beings are reborn based on their karma ”

      Just a ‘ belief ‘ ?

      as above .

      >>>>>>”I hold off on my belief in many gods or One god – in fact on ANY supernatural entity.”

      You are talking the language of Rishis, by accident ?

      >>>>>” I do not believe that idols have any divinity and need to be prayed.”

      The photo of another’s parent may evoke no feeling of respect in you.
      That of your’s more likely will.

      Idols are given divinity by the individual.

      >>>>>>”I do not believe in the power of chanting mantras..”

      Chanting of mantras have effect on the one who chants and the one who listens.

      >>>>”or any ritual to invoke the gods for that matter ”

      Similar to idol worship.
      The one who does it alone will be able to.

      >>>>>”I believe that all men and women have equal rights and reject inequality based on birth, profession or gender.”

      I’m sure influenced by seeing Shiva and Parvati worshipped together, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Brahma and Saraswati.
      Knowing that it was the son of an unwed fisherwoman who compiled Vedas and wrote Mahabharata and through it, the Bhagavad Gita.
      That a reformed jungle thief wrote Ramayana.

      >>>>>>”I do not believe that the Hindu avatars ever existed leave alone believing in their divinity or supernatural powers”

      Just a ‘ belief ‘.
      As superficial as others above ?

      >>>>>”I reject all of the above, not because of any dogmatic insistence but because I simply have no evidence. ”

      And do not intend to seek any.

      >>>>>>”If someone does provide me with evidence … ”

      Why should anyone.

      Thank you.

      • nitwitnastik permalink*
        May 2, 2009 8:00 am

        Thank you for your comments Incognito and welcome to my blog. From your defense of astrology and numerology on e=mc^2 blog, I gather that you believe everything that is in hindu books or anything that is taught by swamis/sadhus. I am curious – is there anything you find disagreeable in any hindu texts and if not why not or if so, why so?

        When you say “why should anyone provide evidence”, to me that is a deal breaker. Because to me that means you are not being honest and that we are all supposed to take your or someone else’s words on faith and take them as unquestioning evidence (like your chanting mantras and idol worship comments- which actually were quite humorous :-D). The burden of proof is always with the person who claims something not the one who denies. Can you provide evidence that the vedas were really handed down by the gods other than someone claiming them to be. And as for the ‘belief’ comment, I have clearly stated why I don’t. So if you are trying to spin my words (like every other believer) to make it sound like they mean something else when they clearly DON’T, then let me discourage you from commenting on this thread further. I am all for honest debates as you can see my discussion with kaffir above, but when people put their own spin to my comments and try to give it a meaning that it doesn’t or dogmatically hold on to positions without questioning them or providing evidence, I tend to refrain from entertaining their comments.

        Thank you for your time.

  6. April 29, 2009 10:49 pm

    This debate was brilliant . NN, I have gone over a few posts, and I must say that you are equally critical of all religions . I like that . I just wish to ask you a few questions .

    1. You are an atheist . The Hindu School of Philosophy has an atheistic branch as well . Have you ever explored that , or intend to do so ?

    2. Do you consider yourself , an Atheist , or a Hindu-Atheist ? Because , you are an ethnic Hindu , you could be a cultural Hindu , but you are not a religious Hindu . So that would make you a Hindu-Atheist . And I think that the Hindu way of life allows for that as well .

    I hope you do not mind these questions . My apologies if they offend you in anyway whatsoever .

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      April 30, 2009 7:30 am

      Kislay, Welcome to my blog and thanks for the comment. Please feel free to ask any questions you want. Going by the hate mail and comments I receive as an atheist blogger, I am not offended by much these days. In fact, I think I have a pretty high threshold for offense now than before 😉

      If you read my discussion with Kaffir, I think I answered your questions there but I’ll reply to them again.

      1. Yes, I am aware of the atheistic philosophical branch in hinduism. I was first exposed to it (mainly the samkhya school of thought) when I read Dr. Sarvepalli RadhaKrishnan’s book on Indian philosophy. I am also aware of Carvaka, probably the most famous ancient atheist, whom I consider far ahead of his times. I do agree with some parts of the samkhya philosophy but find the others difficult to accept (I will not go into it here since it will be too lengthy or maybe I will save it for some other post :-))

      2. I have answered this question above in my discussion with kaffir so I request you to please read point #11 of the discussion. If you have any further questions, I will be happy to answer them.

  7. Slavetotruth permalink
    May 1, 2009 12:57 am

    Nitwit,
    You are simply brilliant. You put me in mind of Ali Sina – your clarity of thought and the incisive way you have of dissecting arguments. Your language, of course, is much better.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      May 2, 2009 10:15 am

      Thanks SlaveofTruth for the comment and welcome to my blog. I can’t remember where I have come across your id and comments but your nick sounds familiar.

      Btw, thanks for the compliment although frankly, I am not sure if I am any more brilliant than the average person 🙂 . I think there are many who are much more brilliant than me and yet they choose to remain blind. It only takes a person to question one’s beliefs critically and ask for evidence and yet many brilliant people fail to do so.

      • R. Srivatsan permalink
        June 30, 2009 5:24 am

        Hi Nitwit,

        I am a believer, and enjoy reading your blog. Very nice discussions.
        I have one question which bugs my mind all the time. Should science be
        practiced as a philosophy or we can practice it just as a tool for manipulating
        the material world around us while indulging in religious practices?.
        If a good carpenter is a believer and still practices carpentry, will it make
        any difference to his profession?. Can we say same thing about science?.
        Like the carpenter if I belive that God created this universe and I am entitled
        by God to pursue my interests and passionately do my science and technology work, will it make any difference to science?. Not all scientists are athiests and not all athiests and rationalists are scientists, isn’t it?. I can give innumerable
        examples either way.

        About 300 years back, when Newtonian mechanics was expanded people never
        imagined electromagnetic waves. Last centuary, there were no radio waves.
        Until after 1870, no X-rays. Until after 1920, there were no gamma rays. This shows that as time progresses, new and new wavelengths will be added with the
        help of scientific research. Each one gave us a new vision about the universe and innumerable gadgets which make our life easy.

        Are we sure that all the scientists who discovered these were athiests?.
        Are we sure that in future startling inventions will not be made in the sphere of
        mind and concisousnes?. Some of which may not match with what our philosophers said in the past?. (It may go either way.)
        What is your opinion?.

        With Regards,
        R. Srivatsan

        • nitwitnastik permalink*
          July 3, 2009 7:50 am

          Srivsatsan, please read my post on astrology as linked below and you may get an answer to your question. Science and philosophy are very distinct areas of study.

          https://nitwitnastik.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/the-scientific-case-for-astrology/

          • R. Srivatsan permalink
            July 6, 2009 5:13 am

            Dear Nitwitnastik,

            Science and philosophy are not mutually exclusive. Until few decades ago, science was called “natural philosophy”. This doesen’t mean that astrology is science.
            Until 13th century, many astronomers were also astrologers in many civilizations.
            In spite of their strange beliefs about celestial objects, they meticulously collected data about star and planet locations which were used by later people for developing scientific theories.

            While we have the right to laugh at superstition and astronomy, we also should develop a sense of history of our science. European ans Americans laugh at superstition, but do a thorough archeological research about their past systems. We Indians just do the laughing part, mostly.

            You are yet to answer the point I tried to raise. I claim that modern science does not prevent me from believing in God, have strange customs and yet to pursue a good scientific career and explore this physical world which I believe is created by some superpower. Can you expalin why we sit through a movie and engross ourselves in the story even while we know that it is only a shadow?. Of course when you come out of the movie you finish with it. But, you go for another one within few days, isn’t is?. Idol worship is a complex human phenomena. If you get rid of one type of idol, you get into another one. Idol worship is an entry point to one consciousness. We are yet to discover a wavelength to probe our mind.

            Astrology is the weakest link in our faith system. You can live without any religion or faith, just like I am living without a car. Just like the concept of God, atheism is also a belief. (Every disbelief is just another belief).

            In science we have “hypothesis”. We begin with an idea, follow a procedure, and try to either prove it or disprove it. God is a hypothesis put in out thoughts in our early childhood. Even the stupidest idol worshipper knows that the stone he is worshipping will not come alive to save or help him. He only belives that God will manipulate the circumstances to help him. His proof of the hypothesis cannot obviously have equations, but some incidents and stories isn’t it?. This is subject to any interpretation since belief if in personal sphere. YOU CAN CONFRONT HIM ONLY IF HE CLAIMS THAT HIS BELIEF IS BASED ON SAME SCIENCE YOU FOLLOW!!.

            An athiest is at the best a good social reformer and a man free from the clutches of spiritual pholosophy. He is the second side of the coin, and not beyond it!!

            With Regards,

            R. Srivatsan

  8. Hari permalink
    October 6, 2009 10:46 am

    >>>>>”Vivekananda’s definition of who is a Hindu – where a person needs to believe in the the divinity of the Vedas, believe in salvation and also believe in many Gods ”

    ++++Is this Vivekananda’s definition or your ?

    It could be NN’s or NN’s parents or not, why dont you define your definition of Hinduism and see if NN will reject or accept it?

    >>>>>”my definition above is what I use to define *mainstream* Hinduism – the Hinduism of the common man – rather than fringe movements”

    ++++who is common man.
    In this context I guess anybody who is not a philosopher or a particular sect/cult leader.
    ++++who is not common.
    In this context a philosopher who has a definition of hinduism differing from the common man (who is defined above).

    what is fringe movement

    Are they also of your creation/definition ?

    >>>>>”I reject mainstream Hinduism …”

    ++++Something defined by you..

    Maybe.

    ++++You define something and you reject it.
    Why dont you define it and see if NN can reject or accept it?

    >>>>>>”… I don’t believe that the Vedas were revealed by a supernatural entity or have any divine source. ”

    +++What is supernatural entity.
    An entity which does not conform to laws of nature for example, if you could show an entity that is not impacted by the laws of gravity then it would be a supernatural entity.

    +++Is imagination supernatural ?

    Not necessarily

    +++Is intuition supernatural ?

    Define intuition, if it is something like ESP, yes it is supernatural.

    +++What is divine source ?

    Divine source = supernatural entity.

    +++Is it just your ‘ belief ‘ that Vedas …….?

    Absence of belief is not a belief. If I say I have no table, willl yu say “Ahhh, but “no table” is a type of table?”
    >>>>>>”The Vedas to me are marvelous pieces of ancient literature nothing more. ”

    ++++What is marvelous pieces of ancient literature.
    The Vedas are.

    +++What is marvelous about Vedas ?
    That they were written at all and preserved from a long time ago.

    +++What is literature in Vedas ?
    The writings in Vedas could be considered as literature.

    >>>>>>”The same applies for all other Hindu religious texts which make such claims ”

    +++What claim does Vedas make ?
    Tonnes.
    +++which sloka ?
    For example

    +++Which other Hindu religious text does the same ?
    almost all of them

    >>>>>>”I don’t believe in moksha or that a person can achieve salvation/moksha/nirvana etc etc”

    ++Just a ‘ belief ‘.

    No absence of table again.

    +++Just like a muslim believes Quran is Allah’s word and christian believes Bible is it.

    Nope stilll absence of a table.

    ++Beliefs that people appear to be uninterested in verifying for truth.

    Not a belief so will disregard the latter part of yuor statement.

    +++Beliefs sometimes referred to as irrational. Your’s too fall in same category ?

    No as explained above, not a table is not equal to a type of table.

    >>>>>”I don’t believe in karma or believe that human beings are reborn based on their karma ”

    ++Just a ‘ belief ‘ ?
    Nope, not a table.

    ++as above .

    as above too.

    >>>>>>”I hold off on my belief in many gods or One god – in fact on ANY supernatural entity.”

    +++You are talking the language of Rishis, by accident ?
    huh?

    >>>>>” I do not believe that idols have any divinity and need to be prayed.”

    ++The photo of another’s parent may evoke no feeling of respect in you.
    ok.
    ++That of your’s more likely will.
    ok.

    ++Idols are given divinity by the individual.
    yep thats what NN says I guess.

    >>>>>>”I do not believe in the power of chanting mantras..”

    ++Chanting of mantras have effect on the one who chants and the one who listens.

    OF boredom? thats what the effect have on me, when I chanted and listened.

    >>>>”or any ritual to invoke the gods for that matter ”

    ++Similar to idol worship.
    ok
    ++The one who does it alone will be able to.
    again huh?

    >>>>>”I believe that all men and women have equal rights and reject inequality based on birth, profession or gender.”

    +++I’m sure influenced by seeing Shiva and Parvati worshipped together, Vishnu and Lakshmi, Brahma and Saraswati.
    Knowing that it was the son of an unwed fisherwoman who compiled Vedas and wrote Mahabharata and through it, the Bhagavad Gita.
    That a reformed jungle thief wrote Ramayana.

    Nope, although as fiction they are a good way to learn this.

    >>>>>>”I do not believe that the Hindu avatars ever existed leave alone believing in their divinity or supernatural powers”

    +++Just a ‘ belief ‘.
    Nope, not a table.
    ++As superficial as others above ?
    as above.
    >>>>>”I reject all of the above, not because of any dogmatic insistence but because I simply have no evidence. ”

    ++++And do not intend to seek any.
    Why would NN or anyone else actively seek evidence? If i make a claim “some bears live in some refrigerators” will you reject it as absurd or go around seeking evidence, by opening every refrigerator in the world to see if a bear lives there?

    >>>>>>”If someone does provide me with evidence … ”

    ++++Why should anyone.

    ++++Thank you.
    They dont need to if they can also shut up with their claims that they are following the truth.

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