Why I Am An Agnostic And Other Essays On The Great

We know Bhagat Singh as the revolutionary who challenged the British rule and sacrificed his life for the motherland. But very few of us know that he was also an independent thinker. He rejected the idea of god at a time when our country was riddled with superstitions and vocalizing anything against god was considered an utmost sin.

Back in 1930, just a year before he was executed, Bhagat Singh wrote an essay titled Why I am an Atheist. In this essay, he extensively talks about his beliefs and how he reached the conclusion that there exists no god. Written around 87 years ago, his thoughts and ideas still present a remarkable example of revolutionary thinking. 

 

Beginning with how the people around him came to ascribe his atheism to vanity and pride, he writes that he had never imagined that his belief, or the lack of it, would someday lead to such severe criticism.  

It is a matter of debate whether my lack of belief in the existence of an Omnipresent, Omniscient God is due to my arrogant pride and vanity. It never occurred to me that sometime in the future I would be involved in polemics of this kind. As a result of some discussions with my friends, I have realised that after having known me for a little time only, some of them have reached a kind of hasty conclusion about me that my atheism is my foolishness and that it is the outcome of my vanity.

 

It was not easy for him to deal with questions of faith after he had openly declared himself as an atheist. He writes how his friends believed that the fame that he had achieved after the Delhi bombing and Lahore Conspiracy had got to his head, leading him to reject the power of god. An allegation which he completely denies and offers a logical explanation as to why.

My friends say that after Delhi bombing and Lahore Conspiracy Case, I rocketed to fame and that this fact has turned my head. Let us discuss why this allegation is incorrect. I did not give up my belief in God after these incidents. I was an atheist even when I was an unknown figure. 

 

Bhagat Singh then throws light to the days spent in National College where he grew doubtful about the existence of god, despite being a firm believer at that time.

In the Non-cooperation days, I got admission to the National College. During my stay in this college, I began thinking over all the religious polemics such that I grew sceptical about the existence of God. In spite of this fact I can say that my belief in God was firm and strong. I grew a beard and ‘Kais’ (long head of hair as a Sikh religious custom). In spite of this I could not convince myself of the efficacy of Sikh religion or any religion at all, for that matter. But I had an unswerving, unwavering belief in God.

 

But the real change in his belief came when the entire responsibility of his party fell on his shoulders. He writes how he decided to read more and more in order to equip himself to defend his party against any kind of derision with the help of sound reasoning. 

It was then that his belief underwent a dynamic change and by the end of 1926, he had embraced atheism.

Till that time I was only a romantic revolutionary, just a follower of our leaders. Then came the time to shoulder the whole responsibility. For some time, a strong opposition put the very existence of the party into danger. Many leaders as well as many enthusiastic comrades began to uphold the party to ridicule. They jeered at us. It was a turning point in my revolutionary career. An incessant desire to study filled my heart. ‘Study more and more’, said I to myself so that I might be able to face the arguments of my opponents. ‘ My previous beliefs and convictions underwent a radical change. No more mysticism! No more blind faith! Now realism was our mode of thinking.  By the end of 1926, I was convinced that the belief in an Almighty, Supreme Being who created, guided and controlled the universe had no sound foundations. 

 

Making no bones about his opinion on the faith in god, Bhagat Singh openly proclaims that the origin of faith lies in a man's weakness to stand without any support in the face of obstacles. 

Beliefs make it easier to go through hardships, even make them pleasant. Man can find a strong support in God and an encouraging consolation in His Name. If you have no belief in Him, then there is no alternative but to depend upon yourself. It is not child’s play to stand firm on your feet amid storms and strong winds. 

 

He goes on to describe the struggles a person faces when he discards the old and conventional beliefs of god and his power.

You go against popular feelings; you criticise a hero, a great man who is generally believed to be above criticism. What happens? No one will answer your arguments in a rational way; rather you will be considered vainglorious. Its reason is mental insipidity. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking. 

 

But the most notable part of his essay comes when he asks two hard-hitting questions about the existence of god:

1. If, as you believe there is an Almighty, Omnipresent, Omniscient God, who created the earth or universe, please let me know, first of all, as to why he created this world? This world which is full of woe and grief, and countless miseries, where not even one person lives in peace.
2. Pray, don’t say it is his law. If he's bound by any law, he's not Omnipotent. Don’t say it is his pleasure. Nero burnt one Rome. He killed a very limited number of people. He caused only a few tragedies, all for his morbid enjoyment. But what is his place in history? Nero: the tyrant, the heartless, the wicked.

 

The revolutionary thinker ends his comprehensive essay with a well-defended argument and writes that people should rise above religious dogmas and tread on the path of reality, instead of finding comfort in a mystical entity. 

Society must fight against this belief in God as it fought against idol worship and other narrow conceptions of religion. In this way man will try to stand on his feet. Being realistic, he will have to throw his faith aside and face all adversaries with courage and valour.

You can read the full essay here. 

TAGS: bhagat singh, why i am an atheist, bhagat singh essay, bhagat singh was an atheist, faith in god, republic day, independence day, 1930,

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I had my falling out with religion in my early 20s, and a few years ago I published a piece making the case against religious certitude and blind faith. I also read some of the works of "the new atheists" with great interest, and watched them devastatereligiousopponents in entertaining public debates. However, a convincing argument against religion is not necessarily an equally compelling one for atheism. Between religious certitude and atheism lies a more suitable ground for truly open and skeptical minds: agnosticism.

For clarity's sake, it is important to note that no credible atheist claims they can prove that God does not exist. Atheists merely claim that there is no evidence at all for God's existence, making "him" as probable as a pink unicorn or a celestial tea pot. In the section on agnosticism in his famous book "The God Delusion," renowned scientist Richard Dawkins mentions the "tooth fairy" analogy to argue that while we should be technically agnostic on the existence of fairies because we lack evidence in either direction, in practice we are all (or at least the reasonable among us) "a-fairyists." But is God really only as probable as a tooth fairy?

In order for the tooth fairy analogy to be accurate, we would have to modify reality in one way: teeth would have to magically go missing from under pillows in a manner that science cannot even begin to explain. If that were the reality, no one could assert with any merited confidence that tooth fairies are definitely behind the inexplicable disappearance of teeth, but the idea would not be so patently absurd either. If that were the reality, then God would indeed be as probable as a tooth fairy.

What is analogous in the real world to the magic disappearance of teeth is the very existence of existence. Yes, science can (and if we survive long enough, probably will) explain almost everything about our evolution and the development of the universe, but it can't explain why there is something in the first place rather than nothing. Dawkins argued that it is easier to comprehend simple beginnings to the universe than complex ones, but I would argue that, when it comes to the universe, beginnings are fundamentally unfathomable, be they simple or complex. What "beginning" could possibly stop us from asking, what was there before that? The alternative, of course, would be that the universe has always been here, which is equally unfathomable, as we have evolved in Middle World to think in terms of beginnings and ends because everything we know is temporary.

Beyond the origins of the universe and our inability to wrap our heads around the limits (or lack thereof) of time and space, we can't even understand how the most fundamental building blocks of matter and energy operate on the sub-atomic level. Through quantum physics, we seem to have discovered that a single particle can exist in two different places at the same time. What on earth does that even mean? Do we really know enough about the universe to be clinging to any theories at all? The fact that humans at this stage, with our scientific endeavor still in its infancy, are having heated arguments about the plausibility of God is as laughable as the idea of 3-year-olds, who can barely name basic shapes and colors, having heated arguments about capitalism and socialism. We're not qualified to have strong opinions about God and the universe because we don't know anything yet.

Of course, the late Christopher Hitchens was correct in noting that it's not just what we think that matters, but also how we think. The new atheists are correct in requiring evidence and dismissing faith and revelation for claims to truth or knowledge. They deserve criticism for many other reasons (Hitchens' support for the invasion of Iraq and Sam Harris' irrational animus toward Muslims, as impeccably demonstrated by Glenn Greenwald, are a couple of examples). But their point about the invalidity of religious certitude, particularly the kind that entails lots of specifics about the unknown, is spot-on. One thing the new atheists do overlook is that, for some, God is not some bearded man up in the clouds waiting to torture and reward us over our petty behavior in this life. Rather, God is just the name assigned to the mysterious force they believe is behind this universe; and this conception of God is not quite as silly as a pink unicorn. This world is too damn amazing for largely ignorant beings like ourselves to be utterly dismissive of the plausibility of a higher power. One great agnostic, Albert Einstein, said it best:

"To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious."

Our brains may be too biologically constrained to figure out the big philosophical mysteries of the universe in the same way that your house cat's brain is not equipped to figure out how a TV or a jet engine works. But scientific advancement in the short term and biological evolution in the long term may help us overcome all of today's intellectual barriers. Our job in the meantime is to treat our planet and each other more kindly so that our species may survive long enough to make those leaps. And until then, if anyone were to ask whether a higher power beyond our comprehension has anything to do with the existence of the universe, I think we should have the humility to say: We don't know.

Follow Omar Baddar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/omarbaddar

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