Atheist Centre 1940-1990 Golden Jubilee
International Conference Souvenir
Vijayawada, February 3, 4, and 5, 1990
[OCR by Tim Sullivan; HTML, editing, by Cliff Walker]

Openness and Humility
Y. Balarama Moorty, M.A.
Editor, Visalaandhra Publishing House.

"We are seekers after truth. We change whenever we find ourselves in the wrong. Whether you are In the right or I am in the right results will prove. Then I may go your way or you may come my way; or both of us may go a third way."

These are the words of Gandhiji to Gora -- both are now no more. A confirmed theist and a confirmed atheist exchange views on the ultimate nature of truth and part as friends.

The same words have come from noble souls all through the centuries.

More than two thousand five hundred years back, when Gautama Buddha was dying on his bed of leaves, preparing for the Mahabhinishkramana, the final departure from this earth, his disciple stood weeping. Gautama said "Do not weep. All things are bound to perish in course of time. My body is no exception I have told you some truths. The rest you have to find out yourself."

Let us go back for another one thousand years. The Upanishadic saints expressed their eternal quest for knowledge in the following poetic words.

"Lead us from untruth to truth from darkness to light, from mortality to immortality."

They knew that there is no external force that leads them. It is only by one's own striving that man can find truth, light and immortality. The word lead actually means let me lead myself. The internal urge is depicted as prayer to an external force. In another stanza the Upanishads directly appeal to man to rise to eternal glory.

It may be recalled that this particular stanza in the Upanishads is the driving force for all the activities of Swamy Vivekananda. All this is a peep into the past. Open-mindedness and humility are the common characteristics of all these philosophical yearnings. Openness, because knowledge and truth are infinite, while man's capacity to know is finite. Humility, because various individuals may travel by different intellectual routes to the same vague and the eternal goal. All may know only partial truths while the final truth remains vague in the very nature of things.

This vagueness and humility does not mean a lack of conviction in one's own ideology, philosophy or outlook. It only indicates a willingness to keep an eye on new horizons of knowledge.

Gora, the leader of Positive Atheism and founder of the Atheist Centre whose golden jubilee we are celebrating, had a similar attitude to life and knowledge. He used to write a column regularly "I Learn" in his journal The Atheist.

He used to take an incident in his daily life. Some times it is a very trivial one. But he will delve deep into the implications and derive some philosophical conclusions.

This particular approach or methodology, fortunately is gaining currency in the modern international scene in all fields, philosophy, history, politics and day to day functioning of governments.

To start from practical reality, for the last more than 40 post-war years, Socialism and Capitalism have organised themselves into two opposite camps, each fearful of the other. They were trying to over-reach each other, mostly out of a fear for self-preservation. The competition in deadly weapons has gone to the level of Starwars. Economic development was neglected. Military expenditure became stupendous.

This unevenness hit the socialist world most. A realisation grew among its leaders for a radical, political, economic, social and even ideological reorientation.

Recent developments in the East European countries clearly indicate that all these countries are opting for a multi-party system and democratic socialism. Thanks to the foresight of the leaders the change has been gradual and peaceful in many countries except in Rumania.

Socialism and Capitalism are no longer seen as two mutually contradictory systems. The previous understanding that only one system has to survive and the other has to perish, is giving way to a new understanding that both can and must compete peacefully for a long time to come, at least 2 or 3 decades. What will happen afterwards is anybody's guess.

This is the openness that has become a reality in the international field, leading to the reduction of war danger and tensions. Confrontation is giving way to consultation. Command system is being replaced by consensus. Coexistence is becoming not just a political device but a long term guiding principle of political morality.

This is leading to a re-thinking on many basic tenets in the fields of politics, economics, sociology and philosophy.

Dictatorship whether bourgeois or proletarian has to crumble. Only a few more spots remain in the world map like South Africa and some Latin American countries. The coming decade may witness the downfall cr peaceful change of these remaining bastions of tyranny.

Socialist countries which have till now patronized Marxist materialism in the educational, cultural and artistic feilds are realising the one-sidedness this policy has brought forth. A multi-party system naturally has to accommodate a multi-cultural panorama. It is not just a problem of expediency.

Government-sponsored policy, however scientific and rational it may be, is bound to be not only one-sided but also carries the stigma of authoritarian patronage. Only a free and open society where all cultural trends and ideologies including religion, compete with each other for popular acceptance, can lead to the emergence of a democratic and probably multi-coloured culture and consciousness.

This realisation has a deep philosophical connotation. Gandhiji's words quoted in the beginning of this article,

ring significant.

Hitherto Materialism and Idealism are seen as two basic trends, one competing with the other for ultimate supremacy. Now a deeper understanding is emerging that the progress of human civilisations from Savagery to Barbarism and Civilisation covering immeasurably greater period in time than the philosophical struggle of idealism and materialism which is barely 3000 years old, is a more enduring factor.

What does it mean?

Primitive man took millions of years to evolve as the modern man. Learning to speak, speak coherently, communicate with each other, form a language, develop a script and learnt to write -- all these talents grew by the hard way of trial and error.

Only then civilisation developed and ideas took shape.

Again it took another leap of a thousand years to get rid of the early animistic magical spell and abstract human thought from the concrete realities of diversified life.

That is the beginning of philosophy either material or ideal.

It is well known that early [Christianity] by preaching the message of fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, preached human equality, love and kindness towards each other. That is the beginning of Humanism.

In India this role was played by Upanishads to some extent and Buddhism to a great extent.

Lokayatas, and Charvakas though they were intellectually very advanced and preached atheism, failed to spread the message of humanism. In them, the mind took precedence over heart. Men are converted more by deeds, good words and compassion than by incisive and biting logic.

Sometimes, biting logic has an-undercurrent of intellectual arrogance which alienates the common man. This is exactly the case of the logicians of the middle ages in India and Sophists of Greece. People admired their fearless logic but were afraid to discuss with them because of the superiority, inferiority complexes in the bargain.

Religious devotion and Bhakti literature took a steal over them and gripped the masses.

In Europe, it is not so much the logic of Martin Luther but his open defiance of Church tyranny and development of German language by way of translating Bible into German, that was responsible for the spread of Protestantism.

Religion in all these episodes played a positive civilising role, though mixed continuously with superstitions.

In the process of human evolution from tribalism, feudalism, capitalism and socialism there was a continuous ascending story of propagation and preservation of human values, ethics, love, compassion and personal morality. Religion had its role in creating these values.

Can we say that role of religion as such is exhausted in view of the scientific and technological revolution? No. Various sections of society advance to knowledge, progress and humanism through various paths depending upon the socio-economic, cultural factors and family background.

Humanity can't be pushed forward straight to an egalitarian socialism or communism even though the leading force in society wants to do with the help of governmental authority.

That is the painful lesson of history, as evidenced by the turmoil in the socialist world. Even so intellectually and culturally, humanity cannot be pushed to atheism, or materialism at a stretch.

An intermediate cultural scenario has to be worked out. Religious tolerance, humanism, fight against the obsolete and cruel forms of religious obscurantism and social evils as a precondition for the growth of atheistic and materialistic thought processes.

A few pockets here and there are doing meritorious service notably the Atheist Centre whose golden jubilee we are celebrating.

Atheism undoubtedly represents the highest intellectual level which humanity has achieved till now. It is an intellectual, emotional and moral cultural milieu. In the very nature of things the wide sections of the masses will not embrace it at a stretch.

That does not in anyway belittle the significance of the work being done by the band of dedicated workers of Atheist Centre. It only shows in a historical perspective the nature of the path foreword.

Certain ideas arise at a particular period in history and begin to grip humanity for centuries to come. Love, affection, equality and social justice of early [Christianity] were drowned by the tyranny of the Catholic Church in the middle ages and had to be rescued by the leaders of the European Renaissance.

Liberty, equality and fraternity, the three tenets of the French Revolution were partially drowned by the revengeful mass terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution, which ultimately led to the rule of Napoleon.

But the ideas did not and will not die. They are again rescued now in the European subcontinent after nearly two centuries and a wave of democratic upsurge is sweeping over Europe. We can expect very soon that the Berlin Wall which collapsed will be a prelude to the emergence of a peaceful United Germany and later to the evolution of a common European home.

Asia, Africa, and Latin America can not lag behind. Finally, America the citadel of modern capitalism has to readjust its political, economic, social priorities. Though it is too much to expect that its leaders will make an open self-criticism as to where they went wrong in the post-war years, by creating an imaginary demon of communism, we can clearly hope that suitable political and psychological changes will come there sooner or later, the sooner the better.

This is the perspective of a new integrated world into which we have entered in the last decade of the 20th Century.

A nuclear-free World where all big powers will gradually convert their weapons of destruction into useful instruments of production is emerging right under our nose.

This mighty transformation is bound to create a corresponding intellectual and moral atmosphere throughout the world when old prejudices will gradually but inevitably die down, new bridges of friendship, brotherhood, and communication bonds will be created for the spread of scientific and humanistic thought waves.

Let us face ourselves to this task with openness and humility -- a combination of intellectual and moral approach patterns. I have no doubt that the Atheist Centre with its wide international contacts and intellectual leverage, will play a glorious role in the years to come.