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Arrogant Atheists vs. Everyone Else
Apr 25, 2007, 12:52p - Religion

Exposure started in preschool, at age 3. By 2nd grade, at the blossoming age of 7, I was ready. After 4 years of daily religion classes and Wednesday chapel services, it was time to make my public commitment to Christ. With baptism, I could be like my friends, be with them in what they believed. One final hurdle remained: I had to get my parents' permission. To this day, I remember what my mom told me. She said that what mattered to God wasn't what religion I was; what mattered to God was that I was a good person that was good to other people. That's really all that mattered, I remember her saying. Oh yeah - and "no, you're not getting baptized."

My parents grew up in India and were raised Hindu. They put me in a Lutheran school because it was the best school they could find. I suspect that they knew that one day I would come to them to get their permission to go to Christ, but I suppose they figured it was worth the cost. Maybe they trusted that, eventually, I would come around and see things as they saw them.

My mom is much more religious than my dad, who is best described as "culturally Hindu". I don't think he really believes it, but he goes through the various ceremonies and holidays nonetheless. He supports the tradition in his actions, though not in his heart. On the other hand, my mom prays every day, and sincerely relies on her beliefs for peace and hope.

Fortunately or unfortunately, prime 7 was the peak of my religiosity. After baptism was denied of me, my beliefs recoiled and hurtled back in the opposite direction. The next 4 years not only undid my indoctrination, but at graduation, I left my elementary school an atheist. How could anyone honestly believe in God? There's so much pain and suffering, who are they kidding? If there is a God, he's certainly not a good guy. These were the thoughts going through my head.

As I went through high school and college, my opinion solidified. I could see no evidence for God's existence, and plenty against. I learned more about the history of religions, of wars where the "mission of conversion" served as a convenient mask, one used to assuage the conscience of the conqueror and further decimate the conscience of the conquered. Acquisition of power was the name of the game, and religion was the most successful mechanism used by the shrewd to outwit the many. Religion exercised tight control through the insidious manipulation of emotion (e.g. guilt), finance (e.g. tithes), hierarchy (e.g. caste system), and behavior (e.g. dress code and sexual do's and don'ts). The fear of divine retribution via a not-so-divine religious police inspired belief and conformity in the conquered.

Yet in the past several years, I've come to recognize the benefits of religion. Religion is one of the few things in this world that consistently satisfies the human need for meaning. It provides a purpose, a reason for existence, an end to the infinite loop of "Why?". It provides a place for the buck to stop. In times of need, when there is no other sign of hope, we can delve deep into our minds and find hope in God. Even as an atheist, when my brother was in a coma, I found little recourse but to pray to a God I didn't believe in on the off-chance that I was wrong and divine intervention was possible. I was comforted by it. It's embarrasing, as an atheist, but there it is.

One can argue that there are other paths to meaning, to hope, to comfort, and I don't disagree. But the one that seems to work best is religion. Sure, it may be self-delusion, but it works. Just as capitalism has numerous flaws that are reason enough for its dismissal, it nonetheless works better than any other economic system we've come up with for allocating scarce reasons. So we stick with it. Likewise, religion is the best solution we have to the question of "Why?" So we stick with it.

I still don't believe in God - my mind just won't let me. I guess I would if I saw a true miracle, but I suspect that if I saw a true miracle I'd spend all of my time proving that it wasn't. I think I'm going to try to believe in God, though, to see what it feels like. I'm going to pretend to be a non-atheist for a month. Anyone want to join me? We can do religious things together, believe that God has a plan for us, believe that there is an afterlife, and then we can see how those beliefs make us feel. Are we happier? Do feel safer? Do we feel less anxious? This experiment may sound blasphemous, but so be it.

To be clear, though, I don't subscribe to arrogant atheism, as practiced by Richard Dawkins ("The God Delusion") and Sam Harris ("The End of Faith"). I recognize that most of the world doesn't believe what I believe, but find it cruel and fruitless to try to yank the source of meaning away from those who are happy believing in it. No one persuaded me to be an atheist; it's something I found largely on my own. And I'm as fallible as any other human, so I could very well be wrong.

Sure, religion is a source of great violence in this world, but it's unclear to me whether it's really the cause or just a justification after-the-fact. I guess it's both, but until we find something better, it's what we've got. Instead of attacking the core happiness that others find in religion, I'd rather spend my time finding something else that can better answer the question of "Why?" for myself.

Read comments (14) - Comment

Garry - Apr 25, 2007, 1:39p
Hey Nikhil -- great essay and insightful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts... I feel that I've undergone a similar transformation with respect to my understanding of faith. In high school I vividly remember being called a "devil" and that I was "going to Hell" according to the evangelicals in my English class, after delivering a short speech about atheism, agnosticism and deism. What I now realize is that there are truly misguided people who think they're doing the right thing... but really aren't. Likewise, the Harrises and Dawkins of the world.

Seema - Apr 25, 2007, 3:51p
I like the way you have put your thoughts ...i feel the same way about God ... Not completely an Atheist .. maybe agnostic . But I dont think your experiment will work .... Because people who are truly religious ..have FAITH in God and thats something that is beyond logical explanation ....

nikhil - Apr 25, 2007, 9:10p
Thanks for the comment Seema. I agree that faith is not acquired through rational thought, but I do think that it's a highly adaptive trait, in that faith may improve your state of mind. So, I think I could "pretend" to have faith for a month. It's like when you tell a lie and then start believing it - before you know it, it's really affected your worldview. Perhaps faith will do that for the positive...

omar - May 7, 2007, 10:36p
i never liked the idea of the "buck stopping here" as a reason to believe. sure, reduction in uncertainty is all well and good, but that seems a poor reason. the fact that the universe is this wonderful puzzle, with so many unknowns, including the unknown of me and my place, is a wonderful thing, imo.

as to my upbringing: we went to the mosque, and did religious things, but we were very culturally muslim. all my dad's side of the family. and my dad, puttering about with his glass of "tea" was always quite amusing.

i don't think i ever really believed, though all i'm sure about is that i didn't think about it very much.

Lindy Loya - Jul 17, 2007, 7:45p
If you are courageous enough... Ask Jesus, "If You are real, show yourself to me." Are you strong enough to let go of the worship of self and intellect? It's a huge huge liberating leap.... It's like agreeing to let go of caterpillar-hood and becoming a butterfly...

Have you spoken to Hugh Ross with Reason's To Believe? He's an interesting guy.

I'm talking about Jesus the person...not "belief in religion."

We'll see..


Leggett - Sep 22, 2007, 10:14a
Thanks for so openly sharing Nikhil. I found your post really evoking. Some random thoughts on related topics...

I like to distinguish between religion and the church. I see the pure part of religion as the belief in something bigger than us to which we can surrender the pretense of control. Where as the church is the part of religion that is man's creation. And as man is not perfect, neither is the church. Still, I left Christianity because of things I didn't like about the church... because I didn't believe it was the only true religion.

So, to Seema's point, I think one can have faith, but just not have a name for it. At least that is how it is for me.

I don't believe that God has a plan for me. I've seen many not try to make their own plans b/c God already had plans. I think it is important to make plans and then watch them evolve and change as life happens. I'm not in control but I have a choice as to how I will respond to life in each moment. Those choices make a difference and in them I have a say in where I will go in this life.

I do believe God has an grand intention for us all. That we are designed such that at our very core is love (some would say this is Jesus living in our hearts). I think that love is there whether or not you call it Jesus.

I don't believe in an afterlife. I think there is plenty of reward in this life for being a good person and see an afterlife as the carrot man often dangles to persuade the masses. I think there is greater comfort to be found in being ok not knowing what will happen after death. To, once again, surrender to the unknown.

I believe there is a force greater than myself... a force that lives in me and you and connects us all. I believe this force is a positive force, but only has a hand in the unfolding of NOW by design, not divine intervention.

And I love discussing all these things. I don't think there is only one true or right way to say all these things we feel. I don't think there is only one true church. I'd rather pour myself into fighting fear and resentment than trying to convince people to change the face/name of their God to my own. I respect and want to learn from the different beliefs and traditions. And somehow, that feels right.

Bruce - Jul 4, 2008, 12:08p
Atheism, the arrogant belief that the universe - wasn't created for us.

Anyway, whether something is nice or not, whether it makes you feel good or not, doesn't influence whether it is actually true.

I would very much have liked a Druidic faith to be true - particularly if it was one that included fun parties at the solstice.

But in the end, the evidence just isn't there, it really does point away from the hypothesis presented by the various religions, and "meaning" if it is based on a lie, is empty.

Now you say that religion works when it comes to meaning. Well, that is a bit like people saying that belief in Santa Clause puts magic into children's lives - it might right up until you realise it is all bullshit.

And you can't stop yourself from realising it, it is something that creeps up on you and that you fight tooth and nail right up until you realise "This just isn't so."

And it isn't the presence of evil. That one can be explained by pointing out that most religions only take their gods' goodwill on the words of their gods, it isn't suffering or pain or any of that.

It is simply the lack of proof, the errors in the holy books, the things that were clearly made up and the history behind the holy books themselves. It is the behaviour of the most religious, whose fiery intensity fills graveyards, and their own back pockets.

Further, let us be honest here, where else in your life are you encouraged to take things on zero evidence? When being asked to give your banking details over the phone?

Stormbringer - Jul 24, 2008, 8:29a
I don't have time to respond to the comments, just to your main article. I have a Weblog posting at Stormbringer's Thunder called "The Arrogant Atheist". What I read here is something that I can appreciate and respect for your frankness and honesty. (Sure, I disagree with your position. Neither of us will lose sleep over that fact.) But you are *not* the AA. Thank you for being, well, real. - Oct 23, 2008, 10:26p
If you're sincerely interested in an answer to the infinite loop of "Why?" without an appeal to the supernatural, read "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.

nikhil - Nov 5, 2008, 8:05p
I've read that book (and Fountainhead), and I didn't find any answers to these types of questions there. All I found was more arrogance of the type I described above, the type that forsakes the rest of society for the sake of an elite few. I did like the books as epic stories, just not as moral ones.

Nani - May 20, 2009, 5:35a
Hi MR.Nikhil,

Are you still interested about "Why?" or in God?

If yes, I like to share a small time with you.

"True is True for ever". No matter if anybody believes or not.

Hope to talk you later.

nikhil - May 20, 2009, 7:28a
Hi Nani,

Thanks for the comment. In fact, my views have done a total 180 (have totally flipped) since I wrote this post. Specifically, I spent a month in the Utah desert doing a survival school (called Boulder Outdoor Survival School) in July 2007 (a few months after this was written). In the midst of my starvation and lack of pleasure, I realized that I was extremely lucky: lucky to be alive, lucky to have consciousness, and lucky to have such a comfortable life back home. I'm not sure why, but I came to the conclusion that this is far too lucky to happen by chance. Every time we got some food out there it sort of felt like a gift from God, and ever since I've started praying in thanks before every meal.

Of course, this isn't a solid argument for believing in God, but this experience created a strong foundation for this feeling, this belief, that I can't shake, and that I don't want to shake.

Anyway, that's where I am today. I wrote a bit in a more recent post here:

Now that I look back at the comments above, I realize my new view is very consistent with Leggett's view.

I'm happy to hear your thoughts on this.

I'm not sure what your background is, or what kind of life you've had up until this point, but as a coddled American, going to survival school was the best way I've found for answering "why". Afterwards, I had what I think people have called inner peace, which lasted several months. In retrospect, I was so happy just to be alive and to feel the intense pleasure of food that I had forgotten that I once sought happiness - I was so happy that I forgot the meaning of the search for happiness. That search was now meaningless. Unfortunately (perhaps), it pretty much wore off after being in society, I think because of the various social pressures that yanked me this way and that. But it really helped me get out of my head and heightened my awareness of the experience of life.

Louise - Dec 28, 2009, 5:13p
Nikhil, thank you for this thoughtful and open essay. I felt much the same way about God, evil, religion and so on as you describe, without going through the Christian phase first. I guess I was agnostic-verging-on-atheist. I wanted to believe in an afterlife but the basic version of the Old Testament God - anthropomorphic and cruel - stuck in my craw. Things changed for me when I met people who were, for want of a better term, Spiritualists. I've had experiences then which the Dawkinses of this world would dismiss as delusions, but which I am satisfied are very real (and it's not for want of questioning them!). I've got to a point where God is not a glorified human and certainly not actively involved in the world, causing miracles and the like. I don't think that sort of thing is necessary to believe in God, though my belief is more like deism, I guess. At any rate I hope you find whatever form of belief - in God, or not in God - that works for you, that brings your mind happiness and peace. Your point about religion (or faith, which isn't the same thing) working is a good one, something the more aggressive anti-religionists ignore. And surely it's what people do with their beliefs, ethics, worldview, that matters.

ramu - Nov 13, 2011, 4:28a
I am ramu..I firmly beleve in god.
You may ask about th e existence of god?But have a deep look at your soul...A soul is definitely there....
How it is?
look at many people in this universe....from birth to death...
some will get gold spoon at their birth
and some will get nothing.....
Have a look at the disturbances in life...some will fall sick suddenly,
some will die in accidents unfotunately,
some will suddenly become rich after
a sudden ...Some will loose their entire progeny due to many reasons....
So, just think about yourself,,,,
You can't destroy the nature....You can't give life for the dead..You can't bring back the lost one....whether he may be any one rich or poor....or any ...

You may tell these above porpositons are natural discussed in science....
But I would like to have a question///


THis is due to KARMA of the previous birth...A life will take place according to ur KARMA says HINDHU PHILOSOPHY......Please realise this////

Read many Hindhu philosophy will get back the details....

Finally IF "U " exists then " ALL EVERY THING EXISTS"....
If u are impotent ,,,,,definitely some one is "POTENT"...i.e.God........
Finally ,, ,,,,,Science is proved using all the theorems and principles....and u believe after the
experimentation is done.......
But a philosophy is proved when a person realises on his own expectations and examinations....
If U have any questions ,,,please mail me at

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