VIJAYAWADA 520 006 India
ATHEISM: Questions and Answers
By GORA (1902-1975)
Copyright: ATHEIST CENTRE
(Posted with permission; all rights reserved)
Second Edition: 15th November 1992
Price: Rs. 10-00
Published By: ATHEIST CENTRE
Vijayawada -- 520 006 India.
Printed at: Insaan Printers,
Benz Circle. Vijayawada-6.
Gora devoted all his life for the Propagation of atheism. He addressed hundreds of meetings in his extensive tours in India and abroad and answered many questions. Sometimes he spent two to three hours after his speech in answering questions on atheism. This enabled two-way communication and paved the way for clearing many doubts.
When Gora started Sangham, the first Atheist Telugu Weekly, in 1949, he introduced the column of questions and answers. In The Atheist, an English Monthly he edited since 1969, he continued this special feature. Till his death on July 26, 1975 Gora continued to answer questions regularly in The Atheist. Thus Gora answered several hundred questions both in public meetings and in the journals.
As Atheism is a positive way of life, Gora covered a wide spectrum of topics. Atheism does not stop with the mere criticism of religion or with the exposure of some superstitions. Atheism aims at all round development of the personality of the individual.
In this book we are publishing some of the questions and answers given by Gora in The Atheist. We earnestly hope that the book will be helpful in further clarifying the points regarding atheism.
|Is 'god within us'?
God and soul
Humanism and atheism
Fatherhood of god
Atheism and morality
Cheating the people
Scientists -- superstitious beliefs
"Creation" -- atheist point of view
|Change of externals
Purpose of life
God is man's weakness
Label of atheism
God and morality
Why atheist propaganda?
Is death inevitable?
Has democracy failed?
Atheism and politics
|Means and ends
Meaning of truth
Fatherhood and brotherhood
Is free will not dangerous?
The mention of caste & religion
Is there after-life?
New meaning to atheism
The caste system
Flowers and vegetables
Gandhi and atheism
Atheist interpretation of history
IS 'GOD WITHIN US'?
Q: You may object to faith in the existence of god outside you. But what objection have you to call that power god which makes you and me talk, walk, eat, think and work? God is the power within us?
A: The concept of god is definite with two attributes, namely, god is something which is superior to man and which determines man's life, not to speak of other phenomena. Unless god is ascribed these two qualities, man would not have cared to think of god and much less to pray, to worship, to build temples, or to devote one's life in meditation with the hope of attaining salvation. The acts of prayer, worship and meditation become meaningless, as soon as god is equated with 'power within us'. If the questioner is prepared to condemn prayer, worship and meditation, and honestly regard sod as 'the power within us', it is indeed a big stride from superstitious faith to rational understanding.
Yet it is unacceptable from the atheistic point of view. The acceptance of the existence of that power which makes man live, denies freedom to the free will since free will becomes a derivative of that power and therefore dependent upon it. But the experience of freedom is reality. So the existence of that 'power within us' is false. If, on the other hand that power means free will itself, there is no need to call free will by another name and confuse understanding in the long run.
Another difficulty crops up if free will is called the divine power. Free will dies with the individual. Then should we suppose that divinity also dies with the individual? The admission is an awkward corner of theistic belief. Therefore theists escape the difficulty by supposing that man's life is but the becoming of a basic being. This supposition contradicts the first part of the question that the existence of god outside man may be objected to.
So instead of attempting covertly to prove god as truth by sly arguments and dubious equations, it would be fair to theists to consider god as an object of faith with its own advantages. Atheism presents the other side of the picture and considers the exercise of free will and pursuit of truthful knowledge more useful for the expression of human personality and for the development of moral values than the anchor of faith.
The present stage of biological and psychological investigation is unable to explain how exactly a man thinks and works. But that aces not warrant the assumption of the existence of a power within man which makes him work and live. On the contrary, it is more conducive to growth and progress if the mind is kept open for the acquisition of further real knowledge than to close it with an easy faith.
(Sept. 4, 1969)
GOD AND SOUL
Q: Even if you don't believe in the existence of God, I suppose you don't disbelieve in the existence of the soul.
A: The concept of soul is as much a falsehood as god is. Primitive people conceived the idea of god to explain the meaning of wind, rain, sun and other phenomena. They understood them as creations of god. Earlier each phenomenon was supposed to be inhabited by a spirit of human form and feeling.
The notion of soul came in to explain dreams and death. Primitive people understood dreams as the rambles of a detachable part of the body, called soul, in strange lands. They thought that the soul returned to the body on awakening from sleep. The non-return of the soul to its body was deemed as death. The respect for the disembodied soul constituted ancestral worship which formed a part of primitive religious faith.
Faith in the existence of god and of the soul together provided easy explanations for all phenomena and silenced the restless inquisitiveness of ignorant people. Growth of scientific knowledge understands phenomena including birth, consciousness, dream and death in a different way which needs no belief in god or in soul. Yet the belief had remained because codes of morals were based on it. There is a lurking fear that this basis for moral conduct is disturbed if the faith is given up. Hence frantic efforts are made in modern times to maintain the faith in god and in soul through metaphysical sophistry and through threats of persecution.
In spite of the primitive uses of explaining away the meaning of phenomena and providing a sanction of moral conduct, the faith in god and soul corrupted life in the long run, since god and soul are fundamentally false. The immense ignorance of the vast masses of people end the wide inequalities among them are direct results of the theistic faith. Therefore if knowledge should be real and morality should be sound, the faith in god and soul should be replaced by scientific method and social obligation for acquiring knowledge and sustaining morality respectively. The change entails a revolution in the outlook and in the ways of life. But, the revolution is necessary to save mankind from superstition, fanaticism, war, Prejudice and poverty which we have inherited through ages of faith in god and soul.
(July 16, 1969)
Q: Do you discount miracles altogether? Then, what do you say about the miracles described in the Holy Bible? Certainly, prophets like Lord Jesus, who were divinely inspired, could perform miracles which are impossible for common mortals. You shouldn't deny that which you can't do!
A: Miracles, as acts performed by supernatural powers, never occurred and never do occur. Miracles described in the Holy Bible or in any scripture or mythology are wholly false. Jesus did not need the power to perform miracles in order to serve the people and to show a new way of life towards truth and happiness. He was a great revolutionary who valiantly fought the injustices of scribes and pharisees of his time. He was a man among common men. So was every prophet. In fact every prophet was more atheistic than his contemporaries and he was persecuted as such. Jesus was accused of speaking blasphemy (St. Matthew 26:65); Mohammed had to fly from Mecca to Medina for the safety of his own life and the lives of his followers; Gandhi was assassinated for betraying the cause of the religion of his birth. Prophets were more human, more honest and more fearless than their fellow men. Indeed they were regarded as prophets of eras of progress and prosperity because they cultivated these qualities of human excellence and propounded them with remarkable courage and frankness.
There are no miracles at all for any man to do them or to claim them. But it is the weakness of the common man to ascribe miracles to greatness. Jesus did not need to walk on water or to curse the fig tree for recommending his sermon on the mount. On the contrary, attributting miracles to great men creates an unnecessary gulf between common men and great men. Consequently common people rest content with worshipping great men instead of adopting their way of life. Belief in miracles, divine inspiration and revelation cuts off great men from common folk and deprives the masses of the benefits of good leadership. From the point of view of human progress, belief in miracles is not only false but it is a positive hindrance.
(Oct 11, 1969)
HUMANISM AND ATHEISM
Q: Prophets like Christ and Gandhi did yeoman service for the progress of humanity through faith in god. Why, then, do we need atheism?
A: Christ and Gandhi bore faith in god. But every person, including Christ and Gandhi, has two principal aspects of their conduct. One is theism which is the manifestation of the slave mind and the other is atheism which is the manifestation of the free will. Theistic and atheistic aspects are natural to every person since slave-mind and free will are inherent in everyone. But a person or a group is regarded theistic or atheistic by and large on account of the predominance of the corresponding feeling over the other. Though Christ and Gandhi propounded new forms of god, god of love and god of truth, they became prophets of eras of progress because they were predominantly atheistic. At any rate, they were more atheistic than their contemporaries and so they were persecuted for blasphemy (St. Matthew 26:65). Both became martyrs to their heretical doctrines. So Christ and Gandhi could do yeomen service to humanity owing to the element of atheism in them. The theistic content in their teachings bred reaction in their followers who worshipped the gods and neglected the man. Hence the spread of war and graft among Christians and Gandhians who adore god of love and god of truth. Any Christian or Gandhian who works for love and truth is again branded a heretic, if not an atheist altogether. So consideration for fellow man is always the work of atheism.
Further an atheist thinks wholly in terms of the realities of human affairs whereas the attention of a humanitarian theist is divided between man and god. So undivided attention to humanism is possible only for avowed atheists.
(Sept. 7, 1969)
Q: What is secularism and what is its relation to politics?
A: Secularism is evaluation of things and events in terms of what is seen and known in the world we live in. It is opposed to considerations of the other-world like heavenly bliss, rebirth of souls and divine decree, which go by the name of spirituality. Spirituality is a belief, but secularism is real and tangible.
Politics is wholly secular. Politics means solving people's problems through a government. The institution of government is maintained by the taxes which people pay and by the co-operation which people give. If a government functions properly, people can have their problems of food, comfort or security solved easily. Indeed that is the purpose which a government should fulfill. A government would discharge its duties well if it were allowed to be secular. But the interference of religious belief and spiritual considerations with the functions of a government, foils the purpose. When people's attention is divided between god and government, they are more habituated to raise their hands in prayer to god for food and peace than to hold the ways of their government responsible for unemployment and insecurity. Professional politicians slyly divert the attention of the people from politics to religion in order to avoid the popular gaze on their personal gains. This is a deliberate mischief. People are thus deceived. Therefore people derive full benefit from their governments only when they and their governments become wholly secular.
Positive secularism is not tolerance of all religions, but it is the total denial of religious beliefs: it is the emergence of homogeneous human outlook which is based upon verifiable facts of life. Theories there can be, but they should be subject to scrutiny and question in terms of experiences here and now.
Such secular outlook is the urgent need of India in which different religious faiths still claim people's allegiance and often cloud their political obligations. India was divided on the basis of religious faiths and public peace is disturbed by conflicts between religious groups. Secularism bypasses religious differences and treats all individuals as citizens who are equal before the law of the state. While political secularism, which allows religious belief to be treated as a personal affair, can serve as a compromising formula for immediate peace and order, straight propaganda of atheism will make secularism secure at all levels.
(Oct 12, 1969)
FATHERHOOD OF GOD
Q: Religion preaches fatherhood of God. Is it not a sufficient assurance of the brotherhood of man, if religion is followed faithfully?
A: For thousands of years a large section of people have been following religious faith. Their austerities and sacrifices prove the faithfulness of their practice. And every religion preached the fatherhood of god. Yet hate and war rule human relations. Therefore the belief in the fatherhood of god failed to produce the brotherhood of man. The reason is obvious. God itself is a falsehood. The moral principles that were based on belief in the existence of god also proved false in the long run. In the age of religious faith, anyone could cheat the gullible with impunity. The belief in the fatherhood of god could not enjoin brotherhood of man.
Further the emphasis on the faith in the fatherhood of god diminished the importance of the practice of brotherliness. Innocent believers were scared away by the evil in the world. They preferred to withdraw into hermitages. If salvation could be obtained by prayer and meditation, believers would not hesitate to give up brotherhood of man and accept only the fatherhood of god.
Thus the religious basis side tracked moral practice. But morality can be true when its basis is real and its concern is primary. Atheism fulfils the conditions. It lays down that fellow-feeling is a social obligation. There is no escape from it. One has to feel brotherly towards others, not because they are the sons of the same father, but because they stand together in social relations. The obligation is direct. Also the un-brotherliness of anyone adversely affects the harmony of social relations. In the interest of their own happiness, each one has to see that every other is brotherly. Checks and counterchecks develop in the atheistic society to ensure moral conduct on the part of everyone.
To those who are accustomed to the theistic sanctions of morality, the general appreciation of morality as a social obligation may appear utopian. But to the atheistic mind, it is one of the first steps. The imperativeness of morality is understood when fruits of endeavours are known to be the products of self-effort in social relations and not as divine blessings or as fate's decrees. So, along with one's own effort, he has to see that his social relations too run morally. This way of understanding grows common and easy, if faith in god or in a superior something is banished and one stands on his feet with a sense of responsibility for acts and happenings.
The first result of atheistic morality is the establishment of economic and social equalities. As all humans belong to the same kind, inequality is inconsistent with atheistic morality. The spread of religious brotherliness ought to have established equality, as all people felt as brothers. But the indirect appeals to the brotherhood of man through the fatherhood of god failed to achieve the purpose. Atheism succeeds where theism failed.
(June 11, 1971)
ATHEISM AND MORALITY
Q: Spirituality is the basis of moral conduct. How is it then possible for anyone to be moral without belief in god, hell and heaven?
A: To evaluate whether spirituality is necessary for moral conduct, we should devise a test for morality. Non-killing is moral for a civilian but killing the enemy is the ethics of a soldier. Monogamy is a moral principle enjoyed by Christians, but Muslims resent interference with their right to be polygamous. Truthfulness is a commonly accepted axiom of morality, but governments administer the oath of secrecy on their officers. While moral values thus differ with custom and expediency, there should still be a standard for all humans. And that is the recognition of equality of all humans. Therefore, ethics of all religions and constitutions of governments proclaim equality as their pious objective.
Judged by the test of equality, the workings of religious belief through long ages of past history and the professions of spirituality have but failed to achieve equality. On the contrary, religious belief has justified existence of inequality on the plea of divine pleasure. Hindu faith attributes inequalities to the deeds of past birth. While primitive people with simple thoughts lived equal, organised religious belief of 'civilized' life raised inequalities by suppressing free thought and free action and wickedly reconciled the faithful to their miserable lot by holding out the promise of heavenly bliss in after-life. So it is wrong to suppose that spirituality and belief in god would promote morality. Besides, attempts at raising moral standards were deemed irreligious, blasphemous, heretical or even atheistic by their contemporaries. Persecutions of prophets and their followers in every age are illustrations of the conservatism of religious belief.
The reason for the failure of religious belief to sustain morality is obvious. Of course, the honest objective of religious faith is to make man moral through hope of heaven and fear of hell. But god, heaven, hell and rebirth, being falsehoods, could be easily exploited by the clever people while the meek laity lay downtrodden. The same is the defect of all spiritual values. Their intangibility is their weakness. They hold out big promise -- but prove false in fulfilment. How long can people live in the hope of heaven after life, while the present is miserable especially in comparison with pomp and comfort of dishonest fellows? The present is real. So honest believers also are tempted to go dishonest and to reap immediate gains. Thus, instead of promoting morality, religious faith encouraged dishonesty and inequality.
Real morality is possible when the sanctions for morality are also tangible and real. Therefore, atheism shifts the basis of morality from faith in god to obligations of social living. Moral conduct is not a passport to heaven; it is social necessity. As we are all humans, belonging to the same species, we should live equal. Any attempt to transgress the obligation should be checked and punished here and now by fellow-humans. The immorality of one injures the happiness of others involved in a social association. Therefore the checks on immorality are also social needs. There is no postponement of the punishment to the imaginary fires of hell or to fanciful faith in divine retribution.
Whether people can be so conscious of social obligations as to check immorality here and now, is a doubt that rises in the minds of people who are accustomed to religious faith. Because morality is a social necessity, the moment faith in god is banished, man's gaze turns from god to man and he becomes socially conscious. Religious belief prevented the growth of a sense of realism. But atheism at once makes man realistic and alive to the needs of morality. Atheism alone is the surest way to morality. Those who oppose atheism in any form betray their vested interests in inequality of some kind of other.
(June 27, 1973)
CHEATING THE PEOPLE
Q: Newspapers report that a girl of 8 years recited verses from the sacred scriptures. Satya Sai baba is known to produce ashes and watches from empty hands. The Bible tells that Lord Christ walked on water. In the face of these miracles why do you disbelieve in god?
A: Enquiry and examination of the so-called miracles reveal that either the miracles did not happen or they were mere juggleries. Many rumours are spread by credulous persons and the agents of religious belief. Verification proves them false. Wherever they happen, closer examination exposes the trick that is played. Satya Sai baba has been challenged several times to submit his 'miracles' to scrutiny. He is escaping every time into she shelter of the hundreds of gullible devotees that surround him. Not only the Bible but many religious books and mythologies contain such stories as walking on water, lifting up a mountain or breaking the moon. They never happened. They are just myths ascribed to prophets to make them look great and extraordinary. This very attempt has distorted the picture of the prophets and separated them from the people. Christ did not require walking on water to prove his greatness. His Sermon on the Mount, service to the people and chastisement of anything in sincere were sufficient to make him respectable. On the other hand by ascribing miracles to great men, the usefulness of their lives was lost, since people worshipped them rather than adopting the way of life which they taught and showed by example. If 'miracles alone would make a man great, every juggler would be great.
The belief in god has little to do with miracles. The faith is an expression of the slave mind of man. The vested interests in slavery divert attention and side track thinking of miracles. The greatness of anyone consists in honest living and service to the people but never in making 'miracles.' Those who talk of miracles are either dupes or cheats.
(November 11, 1971)
-- SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS
Q: Why do eminent surgeons invoke God at the time of important operations?
A: Indeed surgeons are scientists. Scientific attitude gives no room for prayer and invocation. If the surgeons were wholly scientific they should not invoke god when they undertake operations. But surgeons, however eminent, are also humans, who are subject to frailties and to influences of custom. So they invoke god either as a customary usage or to bolster up their self-confidence through the supposed blessings of an imaginary god. One of additional the uses of faith in god has the illusion of additional strength through auto-suggestion. Some surgeons conventionally accustom themselves to that practice
Not only surgeons but savants in other fields of science have also resorted to Prayer and invocation. Astronauts who landed on the moon started the journey with readings from the Bible. Oliver Lodge who was the forerunner to Marconi in the invention of wireless telegraphy and whose researches in electromagnetic waves are an outstanding contribution to the progress of science, entertained belief in spiritualism and in other worlds and after-life. Heads of states often take part officially in religious function, partly out of personal belief and partly to satisfy the sentiments of public.
Whatever may be the personal reasons for scientists and statesmen to invoke god, the practice is definitely harmful for the spread of a sense of reality among the people. Because scientists and statesmen are respected in their special fields of research and office, common people are prone to follow them in the religious practices too. Certainly religious faith prevents wide common understanding and breeds conflicts in human relations. Scientists and statesmen are guilty of this disharmony on account of their superstitious practices and demagogic pretensions. The remedy to this unfairness is to reject scientists and statesmen in this aspect of behaviour, though their services in their special aspects are appreciated. We wish scientists and statesmen to be honest throughout; if they are not, we have to distinguish between their personal dispositions and public attainments.
(Jan 26, 1972)
Q: What is your opinion of hypnotism and thought reading? Is it possible for one to know what is in the mind of another by means of yoga or by any other practice?
A: Big claims are advanced for hypnotism, both as feats of magic and as means of therapy. Hypnotism is supposed to induce sleep in the subjects and produce a state of trance in which the subject is highly susceptible to suggestions from the operator. I have seem performances of hypnotism as parts of magic shows. In order to have a personal experience and to test the claims of hypnotism, I offered myself to be hypnotised. But I was not accepted as a subject since, I was told, my mind was resistant and stubborn. Therefore I am of opinion that hypnotism means imposing a strong suggestion on weak minds. In that manner it can bring hope to a person who feels frustrated or give decision to a mind which is vacillating. This is the basis of psychotherapy. At the same time, it can baffle a weak mind by suggesting a doubt, a ruse to disturb friendly relations.
The inducement of sleep in the subject may be a part of the submission to suggestion, similar to the influence of lullaby in the case of children. Further, the soothing touches of parts of face, particularly the eyes, along with the suggestion, "You are falling asleep!," can coax weak subjects into slumber.
In regard to thought reading, I cannot vouch for its veracity. I think there is more trick than truth in the claim. I went to verify the claim of thought-reading too. I wrote the botanical name of a plant on a slip of paper, put it in my pocket and requested the though-reader to reveal the contents of the slip. He failed miserably. Despite the test, I keep an open mind in the matter and others do well to convince themselves of the validity of the claims with objective tests rather than go by hearsay.
Another evidence against thought reading is its place in public utilities. If there were substance in the claims of thought-reading or Yoga, the Intelligence Department of governments would have easily employed the method to gain information from criminals, especially war-criminals. When government draw assistance from scientists and experts in every field, they cannot miss such a valuable opportunity to know the minds of others through thought-reading or Yoga. The strategy of war or diplomacy can no longer be a close preserve, if thought-reading were possible.
By and large, hypnotism and thought reading are tricks of trade to beguile gullibles. Until objective proofs in their support are commonly available, their claims seem to be unduly exaggerated.
(Aug. 12, 1971)
-- ATHEIST POINT OF VIEW
Q: From the atheistic point of view, how do you explain creation?
A: We are so much used conventionally to the theistic explanation of creation that, unless we disabuse our minds of the theistic explanation, it is not easy to appreciate the atheistic explanation.
Theistic philosophy explains creation in two ways. First, it assumes that god is the creator, second, it infers the existence of a basic being out of which the several phenomena emanate and evolve. The basic being is variously described as spirit and as matter by spiritualistic and by materialistic philosophers respectively. Nevertheless, both the philosophers agree in the existence of the basic being, whatever may be its nature. A vast amount of religious practice and ritual accumulated around the belief in god and fixed the belief by custom in every detail of everyday life. Believers are involved so much in the religious routines of life and their thoughts and interests are so much vested in the religious practices that they hardly question the belief in the existence of god. Further they fanatically oppose disbelief. Likewise, a volume of metaphysical arguments have been advanced in support of the interference of the existence of the basic being. Indeed the metaphysical concept of the basic being is opposed to the religious belief in god, and the materialistic arguments in support of basic being are opposed to the spiritualistic metaphysics. In spite of their differences, the religionists and the spiritual and materialist philosophers join together in opposing the atheistic explanation.
The essence of theistic explanation of is that human life is subordinate to something superior to it, whether it is god, basic spirit or basic matter. The subordination is extreme in the concept of god as the almighty. Similarly, the metaphysical postulate of the basic being considers human life a part and a manifestation of the basic being spiritual or materialistic. Obviously a part is subordinate to the whole.
The subjection of the individual to this or that in the theistic explanation of creation, denies freedom to the individual. The form of prayer, "Oh God, thy will be done," illustrates the attitude of total surrender of the individual to the god of his faith. Hindu Adwaita, which is the extreme of spiritualistic metaphysics, avers that individual freedom is a myth. Marxian materialism regards individual consciousness determined by social consciousness. Thus all theistic explanations of creation are essentially deterministic. They deny freedom of the individual.
But individual freedom is a reality. Freedom means the capacity to choose between alternatives. This choice we make in every act of our life. We plan, educate and grow moral only because we can choose. If the future is determined, our planning is meaningless. If the success or failure of a student is predetermined, efforts at education lose meaning. If the judgment is foregone, arguments of advocates on points of law are vain. If the pattern of behaviour of an individual is determined by god's will, fate's decree or by the force of circumstances, ideals of life and codes of conduct have no significance.
But real life contradicts the assumptions of determinism. We hope, we plan, we act and we achieve. Our achievements may be influenced by factors good, bad and indifferent around us. Yet our freedom to will and to do is unquestionable. The greater the freedom an individual exercises, the nearer the achievement to his desire. To call it a myth is to deceive ourselves in order to justify an untenable faith in determinism. The experience of free will and the aspirations for moral conduct, disprove the existence of an almighty god or of a basic being which determine our life. We are free; god and basic being, spiritual or material are fictions.
Why then did mankind believe in these fictions for the past many generations?
They are imaginations to satisfy the slave-mind of primitive people. The slave seeks a prop. He creates a good and depends upon it. The belief in god, mostly anthropomorphic, satisfies the needs of the slave-mind. So god was conceived as a giver of love, peace or justice.
The god of human emotions appeared ridiculous to a rational mind. So the basic being replaced the old god. As long as the slave-mind dominates, a prop of some kind or other is imagined and held with faith. In the modern world, obedience to government, to economic systems, to social conventions, to principles of evolution, to belief in natural laws and to cosmic order serve as props to the slave-mind. The superstitious faith in each is fanatically supported by logic and argument, which hide fundamental fallacies.
The principle of causation, which is the foremost, among the principles of polemics, is never a certainty. It is, at best, a relation that is read into events. Its validity depends upon the proximity of events and upon the insight of the conceiver. That the doctors differ on the diagnosis of the same disease speaks of the uncertainty of causation. Every notion of cause is a conjuncture which helps further understanding rather than a certainty which determines the next event. We go by probabilities and not by certainties. The future is open to be moulded as each one wills. The final outcome every time is the resultant of the several free actions. Freewill is that which is not caused in itself. The events are moulded by free wills. There is no chain of causes. Every event is complete in itself. The direction of life is sat by ideals and free wills and never by forces superior to the individuals.
Likewise, notions of natural laws are our interpretations of our experiences, but not inherent in the events. Newton interpreted the falling of the apple in one way, Einstein in another way and a third and fourth ways also are possible. Natural laws are helpful as long at they conform to our experiences; we throw them out when they contradict. We are their authors, we make them, modify them, reject then, at our will and need. Our social behaviour follows our objectives and common understandings, which can change at our will and time. It is not bound by dictates beyond our will or independent of our will.
The recognition of the freedom of the individual gives a new look to the concept of creation. They are fictions of human imaginations, under the influence of the slave-mind. The basic being also is another fiction of the same kind. What we call universe is not an entity which exists. It is a collective concept of the several phenomena. Each phenomenon exists as a reality, but not the universe. The concept of an army is another collective concept. Not the army, but each soldier exists. When the soldiers are disbanded, army ceases to exist. The unreality of the collective concept is illustrated by the notion of an average, when it is calculated that the average attendance at an executive meeting of an Association was fourteen and one-third for a year.
Human knowledge indulges in fictions and uses them as tools of further understanding. To mistake a fiction, for a reality is the tragedy of human understanding. God, basic being, creation, universe, soul, after-life, rebirth, nationality, and culture are among the fictions. They are helpful as long as we know that we are their masters and use them as tools. Woe befalls mankind when we submit to them. War, poverty, and prejudice are the miseries of misunderstanding.
Atheists, who recognise the freedom of the individual dismiss the notion of creation as unreal. It was at best a primitive way of understanding things and events around. Atheists understand each phenomenon as an independent event that can be moulded and modified by the exercise of freewill.
(January 14, 1971)
Q: Atheists do not pray. They do not observe feasts. fasts and ceremonies. They consider nothing either holy or unholy. Then where is discipline in their life? Where is scope for joy in the life of atheists?
A: Ages of religious faith habituated people to so much to its disciplines, joys and sorrows, that they do not see a way of life outside religious faith. Prayer and ritual have indeed developed certain disciplines and pleasures of life. But they gave scope for the growth of superstition and fanaticism too. Religious wars like Jehad and Crusades and strife and prejudice are evils that rise from religious faith. Atheism comes in to ward off those evils by developing disciplines based on a sense of reality and social obligation.
Unlike divine commandments of religious faith, atheistic disciplines are deliberate adjustments to social association, keeping, in view needs of progress. The first principle of atheistic discipline is truthfulness. Consistency between word and deed is indispensable for common understanding in social relations. Therefore, truthfulness is a social necessity. When truthfulness is presented as a divine commandment, religious believers could transgress it by craving for divine mercy through prayer and fast. But when truthfulness is regarded a social necessity its transgressions are checked at once in social relations.
From truthfulness follows the principle of equality of all humans. All humans should live equal because they belong to the same kind. But religious faith removes sanctions of human conduct outside human life to god's will or fate's decree. Consequently man is deprived of his freedom and honest believers allow themselves to be exploited and enslaved by cheats. Atheism dismisses sanctions outside human life. It restores the freedom of the individual and free individuals fight against inequalities.
The basic disciplines of truthfulness and equality make atheists moral. They shun individual licenses and selfish pleasures. Austerity is a social necessity. But atheist austerity does not degrade itself into asceticism. It is open for pleasures to rise with social comforts.
Atheists permit play of their imagination to project ideals and to develop fine arts. Instead of the imagination running riot into licentiousness and idle dreams, atheists temper imaginations with social obligations. Replacing ornamental flower gardens with edible plants and conduct of beef and pork functions are example of atheist disciplines and pleasures. Many more items can be formulated likewise keeping in view honesty of behaviour, social equality and progressive idealism.
CHANGE OF EXTERNALS
Q: You seem to be giving value to change externals. Change of outward conduct cannot be stable unless the outlook is changed. Therefore is it not more proper for the atheists to carry on educative propaganda to change the outlook than wasting time in such work as replacing flower plants with edibles or insisting upon pomplessness?
A: In human affairs out outlook is an important factor. The pattern of behaviour corresponds to the outlook of person. But the nature of outlook cannot be known unless it expresses itself externally in deeds. Therefore the importance of outward conduct cannot be belittled. In fact what one does is more important than his intentions. For instance, a principle of Hinduism professes equality not only among all people but among all living creatures. Hindus pride themselves on this outlook of universal love. But in practice Hindus are divided into castes and treat some fellow men untouchables. So shall we judge Hindus by the outlook of universal love or by the external conduct of the practise of untouchability? Therefore we cannot give credit to a person for the outlook he professes unless it is manifest in external conduct.
The external conduct is the objective proof of the outlook. So if we lay emphasis upon external conduct, we can take it for granted that he has the corresponding outlook if a person has split mind, we shall not question the split, until it expresses itself in contradictory behaviour. Therefore it is safe, honourable and profitable to judge a man by his external conduct rather than question his motives.
Then the pattern of behaviour becomes more important than claims of education. Education which is not expressed by visible conduct is sterile and materially in vain. The programmes of replacing ornamental flowers with edible crops and of insistence on pomplessness check the dishonesty of claims of concern for food scarcity and for the condition of poor.
(April 27, 1973)
PURPOSE OF LIFE
Q: I have ambitions but I am unable to achieve them. My friends do not help me. I find deceit and selfishness rampant. The atmosphere is suffocating. Life looks dreary. Some times I feel like committing suicide. Why should I not? What is the atheist remedy? What is the purpose of life, if there is no other-world?
A: The mood of the questioner is common among several persons. An early purpose of life was to provide oneself with food and shelter, the indispensable needs of life. They are basic animal needs. But man has outgrown those needs. With superior skill and intelligence, he has provided himself with food and shelter in plenty through the processes of agriculture and technology He has now further ambitions of honour and power. It is here the real purpose of man's life begins and troubles start.
Honour and power have social significance. A savage in wilderness can pick fruits, dig tubers or hunt animals and satisfy his hunger. Likewise a hermit in seclusion can grow some crops around his thatched abode and live. But millions of people are more ambitious than to live like savages or to retire into seclusion. Because they live in social relations, they have to develop sociability, with qualities like love, sympathy, honesty and neighbourliness. When the questioner complains of selfishness in others, he forgets that others may have a similar complaint against him. Complaint itself is a sign of non-sociability.
It is non-sociability that has given rise to exploitation and enslavement leading to denial of food and shelter to the downtrodden. Exploitation is not between man and man alone. It extends in social association to relations between groups end groups, races and races, cultures and cultures, nations and nations.
Sociability, at whatever level it may be, requires sacrifice of selfish comforts for sharing them with the less favoured brothers. When the individual lacks this amount of sacrifice, he finds friends unhelpful. Evidently, the questioner has not appreciated the need of sacrifice in social relations. He would far rather commit suicide than sacrifice and share his advantages with brothers. If he is prepared to give up his life, why not he give up his special privileges and live more sociably? This is the difficulty of the questioner. He does not see that a change of the systems of exploitation, caste and communal feelings and inequalities, is necessary in order to facilitate life free from deceit. So if he addresses himself to social change, he will find life enjoyable. He should give up complaint altogether and go about to change the system of inequalities into an order where all people live equally. It looks a big task. But when an individual starts to act, he gains sympathy besides resistance from vested interests. For one who is prepared for suicide, no trouble is great. He will find his efforts richly rewarded as he proceeds to act for social change. After all, society consists of individuals and individual action does count in social change.
Because one does not see the importance of his or her role as an individual in social relations, he or she finds life gloomy and escapes into suicide or into the illusions of the other-world. Atheism reveals the reality. The purpose of life is to live with honour and respect in social relations without escaping. To this end one has to effect social changes, even at the human level, beyond the confines of country or caste or sect, with will and sacrifice. Thoughts of other-world and suicide are escapes. There is no reason to complain. There is ample scope to act and to achieve.
Ambitious action and wide sociability is the purpose of life. Progress with the purpose conquers troubles. When technological skill and cooperative action enabled us to journey to the moon, the prospect is open for many more conquests.
(April, 28, 1974)
GOD IS MAN'S WEAKNESS
Q: If you say that man created God, does it also mean that the creation of God by man is not a necessity but a concession to certain weaknesses in man?
A: My answer is in the affirmative. Early man did not have the knowledge and security which we can command now. Similarly the future generations who will know more about the conditions in other planets and constellations and perhaps will develop scientific knowledge so as to control age and death, will know more than what we do now. When we keep our mind thus open, we find today that the concept of god arose in response to the needs of curiosity to know the nature of things and events around, to have a moral order and also to the need to express aesthetic cravings.
The satisfaction of the needs was motivated by the early man's weaknesses at the time. They were his ignorance and dominant feelings of fear and wonder on account of the lack of proper technological skill and social organisation. The weakness of ignorance stopped his understanding with analogical method or, at the most, with metaphysical enquiry which was obviously more intellectual than scientifically realistic. The primitive sanction for morality was belief in the existence of righteous god and fatalism, rather than the rational appreciation of cooperative living. The imagination of a god of that type gave free scope for the development of song, poetry, sculpture and dance. Hence man's creation of god to answer his needs was motivated at first by his weaknesses. In the modern age, when we acquire realistic knowledge through scientific investigation and establish security through technological skill and the appreciation of cooperation, the concept of god is no longer necessary. The continuance of the faith in god due to its hoariness, perpetuates the primitive weaknesses by association of ideas. Therefore even eminent scientists are found today to be sentimentally superstitious in their domestic and ceremonial affairs.
Likewise the lingering faith in god and fate is retarding the progress of cooperation. The clashes between Hindus and Muslims, between Protestants and Catholics, between Shias and Sunnis, and wars between nations do not get wholly discredited, as long as the faith in god and its corollaries of theocratic states and of respect for religion remain. Therefore, avowed atheism is the need of the hour to strengthen man with scientific outlook, with co-operative conduct and with humanist objectives, in contrast with his superstitions, fanatical tribalism and other-worldly ideals.
(March 14, 1972)
LABEL OF ATHEISM
Q: When people are highly prejudiced against atheism, doesn't the label of atheism cut off your communication with people and shut you out from them? A different label should be more useful and desirable.
A: The prejudice against atheism is a fact. People are accustomed to consider atheism wicked. Bible and Quran rail at "unbelievers". "The American Atheist" recounts the disabilities imposed upon the atheists in U.S.A. It tells that "Atheists cannot adopt. Atheist cannot have blank dog tags in the army. Atheists cannot join the Masons Scouts or V.F.W. without first lying by taking an oath of belief in god. Atheists are now excluded from government employment, unless they lie. Atheists have difficulty with passports. Atheists cannot even purchase time on most T.V. and radio stations."
Owing to the prejudice, there is difficulty in communication, as the questioner points out. Therefore, the method of reformed theism, instead open atheism, is also in vogue for wider communication with people. Mahatma Gandhi's ways were the latest illustrations in this regard. He taught rationalism and humanism in language of theism and led whole masses of people into new practices. Stage by stage he changed the concept of god till finally he shifted the emphasis from faith in god to the practice of truth. He told, "In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God than to say that God is Truth.' Earlier, Jesus Christ also worked out a revolution in minds of people by the easy communication of theistic language. To the same end, rationalists and humanists today insist more upon the propaganda of objectives than parading the label of atheism.
What are the results of those methods? Indeed, they commanded the facility of easy communication with the masses of people. But when Jesus took a firm stand on his objective of revolution, he was accused of "blasphemy", and was crucified; when Gandhi came out boldly with his humanist stand he was assassinated for irreligious stances. Rationalists and humanists enter into compromises that do not allow them to go far in the practice of laudable principles. Also reaction set into the ways of Jesus, Mohammad and Gandhi. Their followers are content to pay lip homage to their prophets. But in practice, they are as greedy and sectarian as any other.
Therefore despite the advantages of communication, a label different from atheism does not achieve stable progress. Only open atheism is the clear method for the establishment of the human values of love, equality, realism and active achievement. All other labels compromise with the theistic stand which has opposite values. The spread of prejudice against atheism is deliberately and mischievously done by vested interests in capitalism, racism and imperialism. For those who desire permanent revolution, the label of atheism is indispensable.
Thanks to the earlier martyrs who, with their blood and sweat, washed the mud that was slung at atheism. Due to their undaunted efforts they have brought the atheistic ideology very much to the forefront, though not wholly to the surface. It is now the work of those who are devoted to the actual realisation of rationalism and humanism, banishment of war, and establishment of social justice and economic equality, to champion the cause of open atheism. Adoption of atheism openly and boldly is the answer to the problems of the present times. Every generation of revolutionary idealists is emerging out of the prejudice against atheism and it is establishing wider communication with people. Instead of looking at the difficulties, we have to Proceed towards the cherished ideals.
(March 14, 1972)
GOD AND MORALITY
Q: Apart from the question whether God exists or not, don't you think that people will go immoral if they lose faith in God?
A: For a long time, faith in the existence of god has been the sanction for moral conduct. But the spread of war, hate, poverty and prejudice shows that the belief in god has not proved an effective sanction. The reason is clear. Faith in god has been the indirect method to ensure moral conduct. For religious belief tells that god blesses those that are moral and punishes the immoral. If a believer could obtain god's blessings by means other than morality, he could afford to ignore morality with impunity. Prayer, worship, ritual and sale of Indulgence are methods to gain god's favour without caring to be moral. They pray loud who fleece fellow-men.
Further, the growth of rationality reveals beyond doubt that god is an illusion. Therefore, by and large, faith in god is neither useful nor possible to keep man moral
Atheism takes a realistic appraisal of morality. Moral values, like truthfulness and compassion, are social imperatives. One should do what he says and say what he does in social relations. Otherwise common understanding is not possible. Hence morality is a social necessity and not a passport to heaven. As believers of god do not understand the social significance of morality, war and inequality have prevailed in theistic civilization, despite ages of belief in god. But atheism encourages the people to insist on truthfulness, because the untruthfulness of any disturbs the happiness of others in a social milieu. Thus social checks and counter-checks are real and affective to keep up morality. As long as a belief in god lingers in the society, man's mind is divided between obedience to god and obligations to fellowmen. When faith in god is wholly dismissed, social checks grow strong and the level of morality rises.
Not belief in god, but the disbelief makes man moral.
(April 27, 1972)
WHY ATHEIST PROPAGANDA?
Q: In the West religious belief is going out of fashion. Churches are half empty. Where is the need of propaganda for atheism in the West?
A: The West is the rich man of the world. Like rich men everywhere, the West is more atheistic than their fellowmen. On account of their atheism, they are realistic in outlook and they make their life comfortable.
But atheism does not stop with personal comfort. Atheism imposes a moral obligation on every individual. Social relations require that everyone should be atheistic and happy for anyone to be always happy. A rich man cannot be happy as long as there is poverty anywhere. Through secret theft or by open rebellion the poor will disturb the unequal comfort of the rich. The revolts in Asia, Africa and South America disturb the rich comforts of the West.
The West is undoubtedly atheistic technologically. But the lack of appreciation of moral obligations to the rest of the world makes the West imperialistic. Thus the West is technologically advanced but morally backward. The moral backwardness of the West is responsible for the use of nuclear power for the manufacture of atomic weapons instead of for social welfare. Atheistic propaganda in the West opens their eyes to a sense of its moral obligation just as the atheistic propaganda in the east opens their eyes to a sense of reality. The growth of the sense of reality and morality throughout the world will establish equality among all people in the world. Equality is but fair and proper since we all belong to the same humankind. Atheistic propaganda in the East as well as in the West is necessary for the establishment of equality through the rise of realistic and moral outlook. There can be no peace until equality is restored throughout the world and there can be no equality until we adopt atheism. The emptiness of the churches is a sign of progress. It should spread throughout the world.
The rich man is satisfied with his own comfort. He preaches religious faith to the rest in order to exploit the superstitious gullibles. This is the immorality of the rich. Atheism frees the poor of superstition and the rich of immorality.
(November 28, 1970)
IS DEATH INEVITABLE?
Q: In your book "An Atheist with Gandhi" you were quoted to have said "death is not inevitable." How is it possible?
A: Death is not the universal condition of all living beings. There are many animalcules which have no natural death. When their body grows to a certain size, the whole body divides into two. Each part grows again. When it attains the adult size, it divides in its turn into two again. Thus no part of the body dies. The malarial parasite and amoeba (some of which cause amoebic dysentery) are examples of animalcules which have no natural death. They can however be killed by some chemicals. In fact medicines are drugs which kill these germs to cure the diseases caused by them, like malaria and dysentery.
Big trees also need not die. They can continually put forth new buds which grow into fresh leaves and branches while the old ones drop off. So the tree, as a whole, can go on living perennially. Yet what happens is, when a tree becomes very old, the tubes of conduction get clogged and water from the soil cannot reach the branches at the top. So, in the long run, the tree dies out of starvation. Grasses, however, live longer because they spread on the ground and strike roots at many places. Though some old branches of a grass plant may die, the plant as a whole may live indefinitely unless it is dug out and uprooted.
Similarly, in the human body, the sex elements called the egg and the sperm have no natural death. The sperm of the father and the egg of the mother continue to live in the children and so on in the progeny. Of course the continuity of the sperm or of the egg is broken, when a parent dies childless. Yet it is noteworthy that the sperm and the egg have no natural death.
What we call death occurs only to the part of the body other than eggs and sperms. By advancement in medical science, we are already controlling and preventing diseases. So the expectation of life is going up and the world population is increasing rapidly. It is also possible through medical research to prevent the organs of the body from wearing out, by suitable care, nourishment and treatment. The experiments of transplantation of heart and kidney are already in progress. These experiments enable the replacement of the old organs of the body by younger and better ones, just as the worn out parts of a machine can be replaced and the efficiency of the machine can be maintained longer.
Side by side with experiments of transplantation of organs researches are going on into the nature of enzymes which play a vital role in carrying out the functions of the body. Enzymes are substances of complex chemical composition and varied in their nature. When these researches make a headway, it is possible to prevent the organs of the body from getting old and deteriorating. Then the body can go on without aging and possibly without death. A body which is mauled by accident may be lost beyond recovery, but we can reasonably hope that prevention of old age and death will be possible for medical science and biochemical research.
It is regrettable that instead of directing their interests, talent and resources in the direction of controlling death and disease, the scientists are bowing down to politicians whose main interest is warfare. We already see how the atomic energy is being used for making bombs instead of using it wholly for human welfare. Unless a moral turn is given to politics and technology, misuse of scientific knowledge will be the tragedy of civilisation. When ethics temper politics, we can look for the day when death will not be inevitable.
(April 16, 1969)
Q: I see most of the people owning more or less some amount of private property and trying to gather more property. Who is then a capitalist? How can we distinguish a capitalist from a non-capitalist?
A: The observation made by the questioner is correct. A capitalist is not recognised by the amount of property he possessed, but by the attitude of the mind. A capitalist is one who tries to acquire more private property at the expense of his fellow men. Karl Marx described the acquisitive methods as appropriating the surplus value in the relations of production of wealth. Suppose a labourer in a mill produces per-day wealth worth Rs. 10. But he gets in return only Rs. 6 as his wages for the day. The rest of Rs. 4 is called the surplus value. If there are hundred labourers of this kind, the mill owner gets Rs. 400 per day. This enjoyment of the surplus value is called the method of capitalism.
It is not only the mill owner that enjoys the surplus value. The labourer who gets Rs. 6 per day as wages may employ a gardener in his home farm. He, in his turn, does not pay the gardener the full value of the vegetables he produces in the garden. Like this, capitalism is a chain reaction where everyone tries to exploit others to gain wealth for himself. In this respect the capitalistic attitude is not confined to the production of wealth and the exploitation of the surplus value. A pick-pocket exploits the inattention of a passer-by and robs him of his money. A middle man exploits the ignorance of a client or customer and takes money for giving him service. By and large, capitalism is the attitude of exploitation and getting wealth for oneself by hook or by crook.
In the capitalistic order of life, everyone is a capitalist, each competing with another to gain wealth. In this competition those without scruples gain greater advantage than those who are conscientious. From the point of view of social justice and equality, everyone is unjust in capitalistic economy. There is only a degree of difference among them. All the people are in a flux rising and falling in the competition, sometimes forward and sometimes backward in the race to gain wealth. The more dishonest remain al the top and the more honest sink to the bottom. No hard and fast line can be drawn between the rich and the poor. Everyone is richer than some and poorer than others.
Non-capitalism, on the contrary, is a different attitude of life. It consists in establishing economic equality where everyone gets the full value for the amount of work he puts in. There is no surplus value to be exploited. If every labourer gets Rs. 10 in the mill, the mill owner does not get 400 per day. The mill owner gets only as much value as he produces wealth. Then he cannot maintain a mill at all. Therefore the opposite of capitalism is socialism where the means of production are owned in common by the society of workers and not by an individual.
If everyone were to get as much as he produces, that is, to everyone according to work, then also there is some injustice to the disabled, to the aged and maimed persons. So an improvement an socialism is giving to everyone according to his need, while the wealth itself is produced according to one's own ability. Until that stage of consideration for fellowman is reached, there can be no stable peace. All humans are born equal and they have a right to live equal. Capitalism denies that right. Hence the disturbance to peace in some form or other in the capitalistic order of life.
(September 20, 1971)
Q: In present democracies, the government is bourgeois and feudalistic. How can you expect such a government to solve the problems of the common people? Only a violent revolution that demolishes the bourgeois institutions can save common people from exploitation, establish equality and usher in real democracy.
A: Present democracies are elected generally by universal adult suffrage. That is, each adult has one vote irrespective of the class, caste, sex or colour of the voter. The mass of voters, over sixty per cent, especially in backward countries like India, is poor and earning livelihood by the sweat of their brow. They are therefore proletariat. How then a majority, of proletarian voters elect a bourgeois or feudalist government? Evidently the proletariat has bourgeois consciousness. Further, the leaders of popular movements who work for the emancipation of common people, do not belong to the proletarian class. They are generally intellectuals of middle class, if not feudalist. Hence the pattern of voting and the pattern of leadership are sufficient to prove that the diagnosis of class structure of society is wrong.
If it is argued that there is class structure but the consciousness is over-powered by bourgeois propaganda, the contention serves no useful purpose. What is the use of a class membership which cannot stand the test at the crucial hour of elections? Further, if people can be won by bourgeois propaganda, they can as well be won over by proletarian propaganda. In India states like Kerala and West Bengal were, for some time, in the hands of the Communist party, which is wedded to the philosophy of class struggle. Why could they have not stabilized their positions by propaganda for which they had ample opportunity and facility? Evidently there is no class structure in society. The confrontation is between those who desire equality, and those who have vested interests in inequality. The fact that poor people also vote for candidates who are rich, reveals that the poor man too is capitalist in consciousness. Hence present democracies with universal adult voting franchise elect bourgeois candidates to places of government. The government is bourgeois or capitalist because the majority of people are capitalist in their outlook. They support inequality.
Violent revolution is a method to force equality on people who conventionally follow inequality. But as equality is fair, the government which establishes equality will receive popular support ultimately when it is formed, even though through force. This has been the experience of countries where socialist revolutions have taken place. Commendable as socialist revolutions are, they are subject to three difficulties.
First, violent revolutionaries are exposed to the military action of the bourgeois governments. Since the violence of government is legal though not moral, the socialist violence is at a disadvantage. Its vicissitudes hang the result in the balance of uncertainty. Second, the secrecy which socialist revolutions adopt for a long period, confines the organization to a few revolutionaries without involving all the people. Sectarian interest is implied in the method of secrecy. The majority of people remain outside the confidence of revolutionaries. They yield to the pressures of counter-revolution if it gets an upper hand at any time. This has happened in the Kerala and West Bengal States of India. Third, when a socialist revolution succeeds, it forms the political dictatorship of the participants in the revolutionary struggle. It is but proper too. Because the first revolutionaries are inspired with the spirit of revolutionary change, the dictatorship functions in the interests of the majority of people. But as the dictatorship proceeds, the early idealism fades and pride of dictatorship oppresses the people again. So people in dictatorships get economic and social equalities at the expense of political freedom.
The alternative to violent revolution is the open democratic rebellion against inequality. Of course, it meets with the opposition of vested interests in inequality and the violence of bourgeois government. But the openness gives scope for the sympathies of common people to get involved and activated. Further, the legal violence of government cannot be so ruthless against an open movement as against a secret one. The waves of open struggles educate people at large and diminish the chances of counter revolution gaining ground. The time taken for an open movement to succeed may be longer than a violent one. But the chances of the success of an open movement are definitely brighter. The government that follows an open movement is democratic, ensuring all round equality.
The aim of both violent and open movements is the same. It is the establishment of equality. The difference between them is the difference between dictatorship and democracy.
(July 27, 1973)
HAS DEMOCRACY FAILED?
Q: India is reputed to be the biggest democracy. But looking at the way political parties are splitting and forming unholy alliances, we lose respect for democracy. Perhaps the concept of democracy is more sentimentally attractive than really useful. Is it not more honest to admit the failure of democracy and to favour some kind of dictatorship than to cling to a lost cause?
A: The disgust expressed at the present way of democracy is just indeed. But the present democracies are not democracies; they are dictatorships of majority parties. Real democracy is yet to come.
Of course, ideal democracy, wherein all citizens participate in their governance is possible when the basic units of administration are small and handy. Such a system is a distant ideal. What is feasible today in the parliamentary system in which elected representatives run government through a cabinet of ministers.
In the parliamentary system we can reasonably expect the legislators to behave as representatives of people. But today the party system is foiling our hopes. Party system compels legislators to become partisan. The interests of the party take precedence over the interests of the people. Party system converts politics into power politics. "Splits and unholy alliances" among legislators is a feature of power politics. Therefore while the disgust with the present party-ridden democracy is just, the alternative is not the favouring of dictatorship but freeing democracy of parties. It is not difficult either.
Parties have no constitutional validity. They entered into the functioning of democracy as aids to the people who are not politically strong. But like the camel in the Arab's tent, they ousted the interests of the people and settled down in democracy. They are anti-democratic too, since they are sectarian. Their presence discredits democracy. Democracy seems to fail because parties spoil the game. So the defect is not with democracy but with the admission of parties into democracy.
Democracy is not sentimental. It is the only method of showing respect for the political personality of every individual. Dictatorship, on the other hand, deprives citizens of their freedom with the lure of food and security for the people. Democracy also can give food and security to the people along with freedom when it is freed of parties, when legislators are made to behave as representatives of people and when interests of people are returned to their rightful place.
People can grow politically strong and the need of parties can be dispensed with when people adopt atheistic ideology. People feel weak politically when their attention is divided between god and government, Atheism banishes faith in god and gives full scope for taking care of the government. Citizen's interests in the affairs of the government is the indispensable condition for the success of democracy and atheism serves the purpose. Secularism is a step towards atheism and it is in the right direction for the development of democracy.
(November 19, 1969)
ATHEISM AND POLITICS
Q: You say that atheism means the freedom of the individual. But you propose political solutions to economic problems. There is contradiction between the two. Government curbs the freedom of the individual. How can you reconcile the freedom of the individual with the authority of the government?
A: That the government is superior to the individual and that the individual is a subject of the government is the theistic view of politics. Centralized authority and centralized revenues of government give the impression of its bigness. But in reality, what is a government? It derives authority from the co-operation which people give and collects revenues from the taxes which people pay. If a considerable section of people withdraw co-operation and withhold taxes, any government is bound to collapse. Thus a government is depending upon the people for its existence, but the people are not the subjects of the government. That the people are the real masters of the government is further illustrated in democracy by elections. People elect their government by casting votes. If the votes go this way or that way, the personnel of government also vary between these and those. Though a government is thus wholly dependent upon people, the theistic outlook of slavishness enslaves people to their own creation, namely, the government, just as man creates a god and dupes himself into the belief that he is created by god.
Atheistic outlook sets right the relation between people and the government. It tells the people that they are the masters and the personnel of the government are but the servants of the people. Indeed, legislators and ministers are only the servants of the people because they are paid out of the taxes which people give. The officers who form the permanent establishment of the government are but servants of people's servants. It is the theistic slave-mind that makes ministers and officers look superior to the people. When atheism reveals that people are the real masters of their government politics acquire a new and real meaning.
Atheistic politics mean that the people, as masters, can order their government to solve the economic and social problems. The government is the instrument which people use as they use automobiles to facilitate travel. The bigness of a machine should not scare away an individual and cow him down into submission. After all, just as man is the maker of the machine, a citizen is the master of his government.
When the citizen feels the master, authority belongs to the individual and not to the government. His freedom is not at all curbed. Further, an atheist citizen orders his government too. So political solution of economic problem is quite consistent with the freedom of the individual in atheistic milieu.
It is wrong to suppose that ministers and officers continue with the present pomp and arrogance in atheistic politics. Their salaries will conform to the average income of the common people and they will be humbled to behave as the servants of the people. The change is not difficult when people adopt the atheist attitude.
Q: Is there virtue in living simple? What is the meaning of sacrifice?
A: From the atheist point of view, living simple, or austerity, is not a virtue in itself. In fact civilization grows by increasing wants and striving to achieve them.
But the fact of social existence can not be overlooked in civilized life. When we live in association with fellow humans, we shall have to observe a code of conduct that ensures harmonious co-existence. The foremost need of social life is the establishment of equality. Because all of us are humans, we should live equal. Therefore it is necessary that those who can command better comforts due to age or situation, should share their benefits with their brethren. This sharing curtails one's own selfish pleasures. The sharing is evident in the relations between parents and their children. Though parents can command more comforts than their children, they enjoy by parting with their comforts and sharing them with the children. A mother enjoys when her children eat the pudding that she has made, more than when she eats it all alone. The sacrifice of the mother is not austerity, but a manifestation of social quality which is conductive to family harmony.
What applies to the relations between a mother and children should hold good to wider social relation with neighbours and fellow humans. In a situation of wide inequalities, as it obtains today, we suffer from disturbances to social harmony, because we have not appreciated the need of sharing and living equal. Though simplicity is not a virtue in itself, it results from the sharing of advantages. This is the rationale of simple living.
In the days of religious belief, people went more by faith than by reason. Therefore the religious method dictated certain dos and don'ts which were at first intended for social harmony. The dos and don'ts enjoined, of course, simple living. Instead of explaining the rationale of simple living and sacrifice, religious method considered simple living as a virtue that entitled one to salvation, heavenly pleasures or to god's grace. Consequently the dos and don'ts settled down into stereotyped austerities without the vitality of social adjustment. Hermits observe austerity, not as a social need but as a religious injunction, with the result that their austerities become formal and give scope for many abuses.
Thus simple life is a social need which ensures equality among all humans.
(May 20, 1973)
MEANS AND ENDS
Q: I feel that an overemphasis upon the purity of means often loses sight of the end. What is the way to know whether the means are proper or not?
A: The end is always more important than the means. Those means are sterile which do not attain the end. The perfection of a therapy is meaningless unless the recipe cures the ailment. So the end is always very important.
At the same time, the propriety of the means consists in the attainment of the end with ease and with least reaction. For instance, a job done through bribe raises corruption which recoils on the doer sooner or later. At the present hour, we have the example of Mr. Nixon's election to the presidentship of U.S.A. He came out with a thumping majority. The end was excellent. But the Watergate scandal questions the propriety of the means employed for that end. Here is an example of improper means defeating the end.
In social relations the only condition for the fairness of means is openness. The rest is left to the initiative and genius of the doer to attain the end. So all the ways are good that reach the goal openly. Failure to reach the goal and employment of secrecy condemn a means to be improper.
In social relations, openness of the means raises the least reaction. Secrecy, on the other hand, excludes some fellow-humans from confidence and thereby gives scope for suspicion, ill-will, envy and even opposition. Therefore, openness is the safest method for the fairness of means. However important the end may be, no one can assure success for an endeavour. Several factors, physical and social, influence the attainment of the final result. Nevertheless, the adoption of openness ensures the utmost cooperation. Failure to attain the end will be condoned sympathetically instead of questioning the intentions of the doer. Mahatma Gandhi committed several mistakes in the conduct of the popular movements in South Africa and in India. He admitted of having been guilty of "Himalayan miscalculation." Because he adopted open means, victims of the miscalculation rectified the mistake in further attempts rather than accusing Gandhi of male fide.
So every means is good that proceeds openly to attain the end. An end may not be reached immediately at the first attempt. But every failure helps better understanding of the conditions and leads towards success step by step with sympathy of fellow humans, provided the means are open. Secrecy is a taboo for the fairness of means. As long as the means are open details of the method are left to the genius and initiative of the doer. Thus the two conditions for the fairness of means are openness and persistence.
(May 20, 1973)
MEANING OF TRUTH
Q: Is truth relative or absolute? Is not once a truth always a truth?
A: Truth means an interpretation of our experiences. An interpretation is at first an opinion based upon some initial facts. Every opinion seems truthful to the author. Others can share that opinion when they have faith in the author. In fact, many opinions pass off for truths on the authority of convention, friendly information, or written record. Subjecting an opinion to the disciplines of logic and analogy gives it the respect of truthfulness.
Nevertheless an opinion can be questioned by the author himself or by another person when its truthfulness is doubted. Then the method to test the truthfulness is verification with further relevant facts. So long as the opinion stands the test of further facts an opinion stands as a truth. When an opinion fails in verification, it falls as a falsehood. So every truth is relative to the facts of verification every time.
For example it was believed for a long time that earth was steady and that sun, moon, and the stars revolved round the earth. This opinion passed off for a truth and had the authority of religious texts. Later on, after careful examination and study of the relative position of planets and stars for over seven years Galileo gave the opinion that the earth rotated and revolved round the sun. Galileo's opinion is more in accord with further facts. Therefore this opinion is considered truthful now though it was severely opposed and punished by religious authorities. Nothing prevents another opinion, more relevant with facts, coming up. This truth is always relative to facts of experience.
What we call absolute truth is an imagination which is not subject to verification. It becomes fancy when it is poetic. Poetic fancies are enjoyable. An imagination which is disciplined by logical enquiry becomes a "metaphysical truth". Because a metaphysical truth is not subject to verification, it is to be believed in. The difference between the three savants, Shankara, Ramunuja, and Madhva on the nature of ultimate reality is a standing example of how absolute truths are not real truths. Marxian ideology is another example of one that claims absoluteness for its validity. The difference in its interpretation has led to the disastrous differences between U.S.S.R. and people's China. So truth, to be useful for common understanding, should be verifiable and therefore it is relative.
On account of the relationship of truthfulness with present facts, once a truth cannot always be a truth. Its content changes as and when new facts come to light. Absolute truths are fanciful but not useful. Truthfulness requires an open mind, Assertion of anything as an absolute truth breeds fanaticism.
(February 21, 1974)
FATHERHOOD AND BROTHERHOOD
Q: Is not belief in the Fatherhood of god helpful to promote Brotherhood of man?
A: Indeed "brotherhood of man" is the objective of social organization. Religious belief desired to achieve brotherhood of man through belief in the fatherhood of god. But belief in god itself is false, The falseness has given scope for imagining god in different forms. The votaries of different gods quarreled with each other instead of being brotherly. The fights between Christians and Muslims, between Protestants and Catholics, and between Muslims and Hindus are clear examples of the failure of the religious method to promote brotherhood among people,
Further belief in the fatherhood of god often stopped with praise of "the father" instead of promoting love of the fellow men. Of course, every religion prescribes that "god loves those who love men". But believers in god pray and worship to please god itself directly rather than take the indirect course of loving man first in order to be loved by god next.
Consequently the objective of the brotherhood of man is sidetracked altogether. Therefore, instead of the father and brother relationships, it is a safe and sure method to insist on fellow-feeling as a social obligation.
(March 12, 1970)
IS FREEWILL NOT DANGEROUS?
Q: Does not the encouragement to freewill give scope for a few insolent individuals to tyrannize the rest? We have the example of Hitler before us. So fear of god and spiritual values seem to be necessary for social justice and humility and to prevent personality cult.
A. A Hitler could dominate because the freewill of other people was not equally roused. The others lay conventionally slavish. Slaves make tyrants of their fellow-men and so Hitler and his Nazis could dominate. Personality cult develops where slaves and sycophants remain.
Atheism is a general call to all people to assert their freewill. When all people feel free, they live equal, as all people resemble more than they differ in strength, talent and understanding. It is the theistic attitude of subordinating the individual to belief in the existence of god or to something superior to the individual, that curbed the expression of freewill and developed the slave-mind in individuals. Honest theists lay downtrodden white dishonest ones asserted their freewill, despite their professions of belief in god. It is the theistic civilization that gave scope for the rise of inequalities in which the honest lie low and the dishonest float at the top. Personality cult develops in such a state of inequality. Atheism builds up a different order of social relations. It dismisses the existence of anything superior to the human individual, and thereby projects the freedom of the individual into the forefront. When only a few individuals feel free and the rest slavish, the few free can be impudent. But when all people feel free, there is neither scope for impudence nor for personality cult.
The argument that individuals differ in their intelligence, even though they are all humans, is but introducing the theistic argument by the back-door. Studies in I.Q. (Intelligent Quotient) reveal that intelligence is evenly distributed among all persons irrespective of their colour, caste, class, race, or culture. Because in a system of inequality in the theistic civilization unequal opportunities prevailed socially for the expression of intelligence, people seemed different in intelligence. When socialism afforded equal opportunities, people could develop equally. The little variations in taste and talent scarcely effect the tenor of social relations. Morons are as rare as geniuses and they attract attention by their exception rather than by disturbance to social relations. Under theistic order which was prone to fear and wonder, personality cult for "prodigies" developed, just as hysterics were mistaken to experience divine revelations and visions. Atheistic understanding and feeling of freedom dispel the illusions of spiritual excellence and of the claims of superiority by anyone. The appreciation of human equality and social justice establishes honourable social relations among individuals. Humility is not a virtue, if it is the product of a feeling of inferiority. Mutual respect, instead of humility, should be preferred in atheistic civilization.
By assertion of the freedom of the individual, atheism stoutly disapproves of the slave-mind and, therefore, allows no scope for personality cult. All are equal and so all humans should have equal opportunity for economic facility, social respect, political power and aesthetic enjoyment. The way to achieve equality is the assertion of the freedom of the individual through the adoption of the atheistic way of life.
THE MENTION OF
CASTE & RELIGION
Q: "State your religion" is one of the columns in the application form of Union Public Service Commission. Is this column compatible with the secularist nature of the Indian Constitution? Similarly in the educational institutions, candidates are asked to fill in the columns of caste and religion too at the time of sending the applications for examinations. Can the authorities reject the form if candidate refuses to fill in the column of caste and religion?
A: The Columns of caste and religion are vestiges of the old faiths and conventions. People are blindly following them even now, being afraid of taking risks. But if any one refuses to fill up those columns authorities cannot refuse those applications, though the new venture may look strange and sometimes prejudice the authorities too. Yet it is worthwhile to protest against those columns and to refuse to fill those columns. Cases are not lacking where protests have already been made. For instance, my own children and friends who have taken to the atheists ideology have been consistently refusing to fill the columns of caste and religion in application forms. Though some objections were raised at first, the applications were not rejected on that score. I made representations to educational authorities for dropping out the two columns. I suggested that, as long as certain reservations are granted for scheduled castes and tribes, etc., a column calling it "reservations, if any" may be provided for their special mention. I hope the suggestion will be implemented when more persons protest against the continuance of the columns of caste and religion rather than meekly submit to as outmoded convention.
In the law courts also a witness is put on oath and is asked to swear in the name of god before he deposes the evidence. Even there, alternatives to the form of the oath are provided for in procedures. A witness can "Affirm" instead of swearing in "the name of god". The third schedule of the Constitution of India gives the forms of oaths as well as of the affirmations. Though the makers of the Constitution visualized the objections of non-conformists to caste or religion and made provision for them also, people do not take advantage of the alternatives due to indifference or fear of taking risks. If, on the other hand, any one actively objects to the conventions of caste and religion, the Constitution and the Procedures allow those objections. At present, some of the magistrates of courts and educational authorities may not be aware of the presence of the alternatives. If, however their attention is drawn to the alternatives, by pioneers of secular practices, both sides will reap the benefit. As the secularists increase in number and intensity their practice, the non-filling of the caste and religion columns will become equal equally common with the practice of filling them. Also when the secularist idea prevails, those two columns would be dropped out altogether.
(April 16, 1969)
IS THERE AFTER-LIFE?
Q: What happens to us after death?
A: Thought of death has been the greatest fright of human beings. So from early, times people imagined the existence of soul in the body which survived death. In order to find a place for the soul that left the body after death, heaven, hell, salvation or rebirth was also imagined.
Belief in the existence of soul served to quiet the fear of death. But rational examination reveals the falseness of the belief. If life and consciousness were the characters of soul and death were caused by its escape from the body, then all living bodies, plants and animals, should have souls. Is there one soul or many souls in a body? For instance, several plants like rose, banana and grass and even animals like Hydra and corals propagate by budding and cuttings. Is the soul of their bodies cut or are there several souls in a body which also bud? It is possible, by medical science, to revive a body to life after it has been ordinarily declared dead due to drowning, suffocation or asphyxiation. Is the departed soul called back? In procreation, the sperm of the father and the egg of the mother combine to go to form the body of the offspring. Sperm and egg are living bodies. Have they souls different from the souls of the parents and how do the different souls of the sperm and egg unite in the body of the child? These and many relevant questions of common observation expose the myth of belief in the existence of the soul.
Soul is as much a falsehood as god is. The stories connected with ghosts, spirit communication, salvation and life after death are fancies of the primitive mind which answered the question of death in a primitive way. Now we understand death as the failure of the mechanism of the body either due to wear and tear or to an accidental obstruction. Advances in medical science can repair the body and can, likely, protect it from death altogether.
As it is, body becomes dust after death. Nothing survives death, except, figuratively speaking, memories of the good and bad of one's life continued in the progeny. Ancestral worship and the associate ritual is mere superstition.
(August 24, 1973)
NEW MEANING TO ATHEISM
Q: You are giving a new meaning to atheism. It should mean only disbelief in the existence of God and it is negative. Why do you call atheism positive and consider it necessary for promoting morality?
A: It is not unusual for words to acquire new meaning in the course of usage. "Woman" at first meant "wifman" or wife of man. One becomes a wife only through marriage. But today we talk of "unmarried woman." The word has acquired a new meaning. Similarly "December" meant "the tenth month." (decemten). But in the modern calendar, December is the twelfth month. The new meaning of "atheism", that it is positive and moral, is not so divergent as the new meaning of December. It is only an emphasis upon an implication that was not appreciated before.
Of course, "atheism" is negative in form. It started to connote the opposite of 'theism' and so are the words "independence" and "atom". But today we mean something positive by "independence" and "atom". Similarly with "atheism."
"Theism" which is belief in god, meant, in practice, the surrender of the believer to god. "Atheism" which is the opposite of "theism" means the opposite of surrender. Therefore, positively atheism means the assertion of the freedom of the individual. That "atheism" means the free will of the individual is not anything alien to "atheism". It is positive aspect, just as colonial countries turned positively into republics on becoming 'independent" of imperial regimes. So the meaning of free will or the freedom of the individual is contained in "atheism". The emphasis is new, but the content is not new.
When we recognise that the individual is free, ethics, politics, economics, and philosophy need reinterpretation in terms of the freedom of the individual. An atheist is no longer a subject of a government or a part of the universe or society; but the individual ("individual" also is a negative word) is an entity by himself. Then society does not mean something that engulfs the individual and deprives him of his freedom, but society, in terms of atheistic understanding, means a collection of independent individuals. Likewise, atheism negates theories of ultimates, spiritual or materialist.
The new meaning of atheism is the positive aspect of the 'negative' to which people have been so long accustomed. Unbiased appraisal can appreciate the significance of the new meaning of atheism in the modern age.
(August 24, 1973)
THE CASTE SYSTEM
Q: Don't you think that reversion to the caste system will be beneficial in India in avoiding unhealthy competition among professions? Further, respect for caste develops hereditary skills in a profession and contributes to the efficiency of tasks in a social order.
A: The questioner assumes that the caste system of Hindu polity was based upon division of labour. If the assumption were correct, there should be equality among the people to whichever caste they belong: but the extreme inequalities in the caste hierarchy and the poverty that is associated with the lower rungs are proofs that the caste system is more in the nature of exploitation than of division of labour.
Caste system was based upon faith in karma and rebirth. It laid down that wicked characters were destined to be born in lower castes. So the assumption of division of labour and specialization of functions do not hold good in respect of the caste system. On the contrary, caste system held people apart in isolations in grades of degradation ending in untouchability. Therefore caste system is antisocial and inhuman. It subsisted in early times when people were religiously superstitious. In this age of democracy and equality, caste system is not only outmoded, but opposed to social justice and love for equality.
Division of labour is a social convenience and skills can be hereditarily communicated. But there should be no bar on change of professions according to change of tastes and no profession should be held inferior to another. In the caste system there was arrogance of intellectual professionalism in the Brahmins, while manual labour and tasks of sanitation were deemed menial and loathsome.
The rise of democracy with political equality implied in universal adult suffrage reveals that caste hierarchy is no longer valid. But caste cannot be dismissed by condemning it socially, unless its foundations of karma philosophy are shattered. It is adoption of atheism that dismisses faith in karma and establishes the right to equality in social respect and in economic opportunity along with political equality contained in democracy.
(January 29, 1974)
FLOWERS AND VEGETABLES
Q: You are advocating the replacement of ornamental flowers with vegetable plants. But there is a danger in growing vegetables. They are exposed to constant thefts. Also, stray cattle eat away the vegetable plants sooner than they are tempted towards ornamental flower plants. These are practical difficulties. Even though I agree with you in the principle of replacing ornamental flower plants with vegetables, what remedies do you suggest for meeting these practical difficulties?
A: Replacing ornamental flower plants with vegetables is not an isolated programme. It is the first step towards a big economic change when every one, human or animal, should have food to eat. Thefts occur mostly when some do not have food to satisfy their hunger. Similarly, cattle are let loose because their masters are unable to feed them properly. Cattle are left free to feed on whatever they find by road side or anywhere else. Of course, cattle do not have a sense of private property. Therefore, they feed on vegetable plants when they can freely reach.
When we look at replacing flower plants with vegetables as part of big economic change, we need not be very sorry that what we grow is stolen by men or by cattle. Hunger is satisfied somewhere. When many people understand their social responsibility and appreciate the need of economic change, there will be no hunger and no thefts or trespasses.
If, on the other hand, we continue to grow ornamental flowers, we behave like the dog in the manger. We grow that which neither satisfies our hunger nor anybody's hunger. The flower-growers eat the edibles that others grow. How is a flower-grower less thievish than a "thief"? The present legal sanction for growing flowers does not make it moral. Any inequality is immoral. Therefore it is unfair to take shelter under an immoral law or custom and guard against cattle or thieves.
Replacing ornamental flower gardens with edibles should be practiced and widely propagated in order to make people food-minded. The change of outlook brings about economic change where thieves and hungry stray cattle do not exist.
Theft is wrong inasmuch as it is done in stealth. It is a greater wrong when one who grows ornamental flower plants steals vegetables from a neighbour who grows vegetables. A vegetable-grower should not be content with growing vegetables only. He has the message of economic change to be given to the society. One ornamental flower plant replaced by one vegetable plant pulls out one stone from the structure of economic injustice.
(January 29, 1974)
Q: If every individual is good, then the society is also good. So instead of thinking in terms of social service, is it not enough if every individual tries to improve himself?
A: The concept of society is diffrent from a group of individuals. The difference between a group of individuals and a society is the difference between a pile of bricks and a wall of bricks. In the case of a wall, there is cement joining one brick with the other: in the case of the pile, the bricks lie disjointed. Similarly, society is one wherein each individual is related to another by common understanding. The common understanding is the cement between the individuals. So a group of good individuals does not form a good society, unless each one knows that the other is good. For a society, simple self-discipline will not do. There must be mutual understanding also. Of course, self discipline helps mutual understanding. But that is not all in social relations. There must be manifest common understanding.
The notion of individual goodness as a means of social goodness was the religious method. In religious faith the goodness of the individual was deemed a means of attaining salvation. That was how religious method tried to produce good individuals. But it failed on account of two reasons. First, when the goodness of the individual was counted as a means of attaining salvation, a believer could afford to be wicked, if he could obtain salvation by other means. The other means were prayer, repentance, sale of indulgence, and charity. Therefore religious method produced several selfish individuals who got advantages both of selfish greed and assurance of salvation through mere prayer or parting with a small fraction of their earnings through charity. The second defect of the religious method was that it was indifferent to social obligations. The relation between man and god was more important in religious method than the relation between man and man. There was little cement in the religious method and therefore the society crumbled.
Social work builds up social values through common understanding. It not only requires the individual to be good but assures others of the goodness of each individual through common understanding. The common understanding produces checks and counter-checks which curb the wickedness of man. Hence social work and social control are very important in the modern age for producing a good society.
(September 20, 1971)
GANDHI AND ATHEISM
Q: You lived with Gandhi. You know that Gandhi was great with faith in God. Are you not doing injustice to him when you insist on Atheism?
A: The complaint appears reasonable at the surface. But when we examine what faith in god meant to Gandhi, the doubt will be cleared.
Gandhi's greatness lay in his open-mindedness and not in his faith in god. Of course, he started with conventional faith in god which he had learnt from his mother. As he grew with an open mind, he changed the content of god when fresh facts appeared to him. On 31st, October, 1931, he wrote in Young India, 'I would say with those who say God is Love, God is love. But deep down in me I used to say that God may be God, God is Truth, above all. If it is possible for the human tongue to give the fullest description, I have come to the conclusion that for myself God is Truth. But two years ago, I went to a step further and said Truth is God. And I came to that conclusion after a continuous and relentless search after Truth which began nearly fifty years ago. I then found that the nearest approach to Truth was through love. But I also found that love has many meanings in the English language at least and that human love in the sense of passion could become a degraded thing also. I found, too, that love in the sense of Ahimsa had only a limited number of votaries in the world. But I never found a double meaning in connection with truth and not even the atheists had demurred to the necessity or power of truth. But in their passion for discovering truth the atheists have not hesitated to deny the very existence of God from their own point of view rightly. And it was because of this reasoning that I saw that rather than say God is Truth, I should say Truth is God. I recall the name of Charles Bradlaugh who delighted to call himself an atheist. I would call him a god-fearing man, though. I know, he would reject the claim. His face would redden if I would say, "Mr. Bradlaugh, you are a truth-fearing man and not a God-fearing man." I would automatically disarm his criticism by saying that Truth is God, as I have disarmed the criticism of many a young man.'
I have extensively quoted Gandhi to illustrate, firstly, that Gandhi's conception of god was changing from "love" to "truth" for the reasons which he had explained, and secondly, he was not only not averse to atheism but admired atheists on account of their devotion to truthfulness. When Gandhi was prepared to call Charles Bradlaugh a truth-fearing man instead of a god-fearing man, he made his choice clear that he preferred devotion to truth to faith in god. Though he reasonably took pride in "disarming the criticism of many a young man", evidently of atheistic leanings, he was actually moving nearer atheists when he shifted the emphasis from god to truth in the two propositions, "God is Truth" and "Truth is God". He did not regard the two propositions equal, but considered the later an improvement on the former as he admitted he "went a step further".
That was in 1931. As he was open-minded, he proceeded further later on. Two of his utterances indicate the growth of his ideas on the one hand and the restraint he imposed on himself for full and free expression. He wrote in Harijan, of 30th September 1939 "At the time of writing I never think of what I have said before. My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth". Then again on 28 July 1946 he wrote in Harijan, "It is one thing for me to hold certain views and quite another to make my views acceptable in their entirety to the society at large. My mind, I hope, is ever growing ever moving forward. All may not keep pace with it. I have, therefore, to exercise utmost patience and be satisfied with hastening slowly". So Gandhi was more radical in his views than he commonly told, He felt the responsibilities of a leader of millions of people and was content to "hasten slowly". Nevertheless he never minced matters when he was faced with challenges.
1946 and 47 were the years when the communal tensions assumed ghastly proportions in India. Gandhi saw that the method of communal harmony did not work any longer satisfactorily. Therefore, he boldly told at the prayer meeting on the 23rd of August 1947 that "religion was a personal matter and if we succeeded in confining it to the personal plane, all would be well in our political life ... If officers of the Government as well as members of the public undertook the responsibility and worked whole-heartedly for the creation of a secular State, then only could we build a new India that would be the glory of the world". Gandhi clearly supported secularism, when it helped to establish peace among people. He did not fanatically or sentimentally cling to religious belief.
When I stayed with him in Sevagram Ashram I and my associates in atheism never attended the prayers and Gandhi did not object to our absence. Later, when he offered to perform the marriage of my daughter, he agreed to drop the mention of god in the form of the ceremony in deference to my wishes. Though he was assassinated before the solemnisation took place, Sjts. Kishorelal Mushruwala, Kakasaheb Kalelkar, Aryanayakam, Thakkar Baba and Prabhakarji of the Sevagram Ashram took scrupulous care to remove all reference to god when the marriage of my daughter was solemnised in the Ashram according to the promise of Gandhiji.
A Man of Action
The quotes and anecdotes cited above go to show that Gandhi was moving towards atheism. He was a man of man rather than a man of god. He started with conventional faith in god and with an open mind proceeded to serve fellowmen. He was not the man to finch from leaving faith in god, if he found that it stood in the way of service to the peace and progress of humanity. His emphasis on truth which is but a social need unlike faith which is sentimental, his support for secularism if it solved the communal differences and his consent to drop mention of god in the form of my daughter's marriage go to show that his greatness lay in his bold open-mindedness and not in conventional and sentimental faith in god. We honour Gandhi's memory and continue his work, not when we conduct prayers and stick to religion, but when we propagate atheism and establish secularism.
(August 20. 1971)
Q: Karl Marx interpreted history as the history of class struggles. You do not seem to believe in class struggles. Then, what is the atheist interpretation of history?
A: Karl Marx was a great humanitarian. He was sore about the sufferings of the downtrodden and formulated the method of class struggles to remove the downtroddenness. He thought that the end of class struggles would end inequalities. That was the consummation he wished for.
But Marx did not stop with enunciating class struggle as a method. He claimed dialectical materialism as a law of nature and represented class struggles as conflicts between contradictions in human affairs. So Marx considered that class struggles and the ultimate establishment of equality of all humans as inevitable as the flow of rivers from hills to the sea. The difference in levels determined their course. Belief in god did not come into the picture at all. Thus the Marxian interpretation of history assured the certain removal of inequalities and the attendant miseries. It is a remarkable plan.
Atheists wholly agree with Marx in the objective of establishing equality of all humans and in the recognition of the reality of material existence. BY the same sense of reality, atheists question the validity and inevitability of class struggles.
That those who champion the cause of the downtrodden often belong to the so-called exploiting class and that workers of the world are found divided on considerations of nationalism, religious faith, race and caste instead of uniting as one proletariat, are facts which indicate that the division into classes, as was envisaged by the principle of class struggle, does not exist as such. It is to be created by education and to be fitted into plan of class struggles.
Normally labourers faithfully side with their master in a fight with his competitor, instead of the labourers on both sides uniting to fight both the bourgeoisie masters. The plea of de-class in these instances not only discounts the claim of consciousness corresponding to the class structure, but establishes the supremacy of value systems in human affairs, disregarding economic condition. National wars, religious crusades, martyrdom and suicide would have had no place in human affairs if material conditions reigned supreme. Therefore, humans are more concerned with psychological norms than with material conditions. Consciousness could be formed independent of material conditions and the consciousness has played a more significant role in human affairs than the influence of material conditions.
Further, economic systems to which Marx gives primary importance, have never arranged themselves by themselves. It is men who do the ordering according to their attitudes, desires and understanding of things. Changes take place, not independent of man's will, but on account of man's wills. Civilization has progressed by man's interference with material conditions. He evaluated the results, learned from the short-comings and improved the tactics to improve the fulfillment of desires. When medical research, better housing and measures of social security pulled down the death-rate, and we are faced with the problem of population explosion, we have taken up the methods of family planning. When industrialisation presented the problem of pollution, we are thinking of the ways of decentralization. The reaction cannot be measured by materialistic laws; it is a conscious response to control the environment and to harness it more effectively to achieve our desires. The response varies with attitudes, values, and above all, with the will to do.
Hence atheists interpret history as the progressive expression of the free will of individuals. Society is but an imaginary concept of the aggregate of the wills of individuals. History is the sum-total of the achievements of the individuals by their respective wills. Each individual makes history with his own contribution. The basic reality in history in the will and the work of the individual.
Accordingly, neither the establishment of equality nor the march towards it is inevitable. Because equality ensures better social harmony, greater security and happiness to the individual, many people will and work for equality. Hence the general movement of history is towards equality. Nevertheless, there are individuals who wish to gain advantage in an order of inequalities. They hamper the work for equality. History records this conflict between those who desire equality and those who desire inequality. So history is not a struggle between classes but a conflict between votaries of the two ideologies. People are divided into opposite camps, not as the rich and the poor, not as the White and the Black, not as the Brahmin and the Untouchable, but as the votaries of the ideologies of equality and of inequality. So we find in reality people "de-classed" both ways: members of the so-called bourgeoisie and of the capitalist classes fighting for the establishment of socialism while poor and labouring people enlisting themselves in the police and military forces and defending an order which respects inequalities. This is the paradox. Not class that divides people but the ideology of equality or inequality.
As more people feel more free with the knowledge e that they are masters of their systems, they resist exploitation and enslavement. The growth of the sense of freedom among people spreads equality in social relations, since all people belong to the same kind. The equality which Karl Marx desired to establish through the method of class struggles, atheists achieve by the awakening that all humans are free and equal. Further, because people are not normally divided into to classes, the class-struggle method required the dictatorship of the Communist Party in order to impose socialism on people. The atheist method, on the contrary, rouses the feeling of freedom in all people alike and thus achieves democratically what Marxism obtained through dictatorship. Of course, atheist democracy also will have to face opposition from conservative vested interests in inequalities. But the fight will be open on the ideological plane, instead of castigating any one with the labels of bourgeoisie or capitalist, labels of invidious distinctions rather than of inherent differences.
Atheists are actively political. They recognise that the instrument of government is useful and necessary to regulate social relations of big populations. But they regard that government belongs to all people and it is the right of every citizen to pressurise the government to legislate in favour of economic equality, social security and equal respect for all people. Atheists do not encourage conflicts among the people but they assist people in getting their problems solved through the government.
In theory, class struggles are non-political. But in practice, Marxists have to take to political dictatorship, since the method is not realistic. The atheist method of the recognition of the freedom of the individual is wholly democratic in form and spirit, wherein people run their government as its masters. So the atheistic interpretation of history is the growth of real democracy, where people live free and equal.
(September 29, 1973.)