Atheist Centre 1940-1990 Golden Jubilee
International Conference Souvenir
Vijayawada, February 3, 4, and 5, 1990
[OCR, HTML, editing, by Cliff Walker]
Dr. K. V. Desikan
My first meeting with Gora was in 1952. Earlier to that, I had my strong views against superstition, against rituals and against formal worship. I did not accept the idea of a "personal god" which many religions preach. To theosophy I was indifferent. All my thinking and attitude was in protest against the beliefs and practices which I considered untrue or incorrect. I considered myself to be un-conventional and to be an atheist.
It was Gora who made me realize that my views and opinions were all negative. They were against the wrong traditions and wrong practices. The question is that if these are wrong, what is correct? That is a very difficult aspect to understand or practice. Gora had the courage to think, preach and practise positively.
To rebel is easy -- that is what even an angry Naxalite or an impulsive terrorist does. What should be done after the rebellion is not an easy task. We tend to take an easy path. Anything moves in the direction of least resistance. Let it be water, air, a herd of animals or any mechanical gadget. Similarly, man tends to take a path trodden by generations before him, guided by tradition, accepted by society and offering the least hindrance, interference or repercussion. This is a path of convenience, not necessarily the correct, just or rational path.
Most of the people are believers because it is convenient to be so. A true atheist goes off the beaten track. He does not necessarily choose a counter current when the current is proper; he does not necessarily break a tradition if the tradition is reasonable; he does not disrespect any prevalent concept or practice as long as it is rational and worthy of respect. An atheist has, therefore, to go deeply into every aspect of life, understand every social habit and custom, keep his mind open but firmly oppose what is irrational, unjust or injurious to society. The object of an atheist is not merely to defy any religious or social custom, but to decipher its true value or otherwise, and offer an alternative method.
It is a common observation in many families that young men defy certain customs as a show of a bravado. They refuse to observe some religious rituals ordained by their elders. They protest against the rigorous practices of ablutions, fasting, daily prayers and recitations of hymns and scriptures. Brahmin boys discard the sacred thread as a meaningless garb. Have they thought about what they are defying? What is it that they are protesting against? Upanayanam (thread ceremony) imposes a disciplined life, which we do not want to follow. Prayers and worship demand cleanliness, regularity and concentration which we do not like to enforce on ourselves. Therefore, the protest of the youngsters is against discipline, against strict behaviour, against restrictions of any type. The father of such a young man will complain, "Oh! my son has become an atheist". What a distortion of atheism! The same young man, when there is a social function like a marriage or an obsequy, will don the thread, the caste mark and follow all superstitious rituals because he has no courage of conviction to get over superstition or go against society. He is not an atheist, but one who has defied a disciplined life. An atheist has to be disciplined, honest and forthright -- not a lackadaisical person, taking a negative approach. Atheism is not a negative way of life, but a positive, rational approach to life and society.
What has been most impressive to me in Gora's philosophy is this profoundly positive approach. He was not just god-denier, but was capable of telling the society what should be in the place of God. All through his personal and public life there are any number of examples showing how an atheist should conduct himself and how the social reforms are to be introduced. Having removed the concept of God, the atheist takes heavy responsibilities on himself unlike the believer who conveniently palms off all problems to the almighty God. Having realized his responsibility, he should act in the most proper way and with all humility.
Unfortunately the word "atheism" has a negative connotation, but is not really so. Atheism again is not just negating any belief but analysing every belief, accepting it if it is good for the society and totally discarding if it is not so. Such a positive approach would lead to strong convictions -- convictions based on truth, logic and understanding. A man should develop convictions after deep thought and follow them, even, in the face of social ridicule and boycott.
Gora had very strong convictions. They were highly unconventional, but were developed after careful analysis and thought. While practising them, he was honest to the core. He was an open book and had no secrets to hide. This was perhaps the hardest type of life which very few people can live up to.