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I can remember back to when I was around 7 years old, and I was sitting in Hindi class (in Jaipur, India). We were learning antonyms in Hindi. The word ‘Aastik’ came up – a person who believes in God, the antonym to which is ‘Nastik’. That was my first realization that it was even possible to be a non-believer.

I had always assumed that God was omnipresent – watching me at all times and making sure I didn’t do anything bad. Back then, I was even scared of having any bad thoughts, as I believed God could read my mind.

On my way back home after that day in school, I distinctly remember asking my dad, how someone can be a non-believer, how is it possible that they don’t acknowledge the existence of God? I don’t remember what he replied.

The home I grew up in wasn’t too religious. However, God did creep unknowingly into every sphere of my daily life. Every evening after sunset, we weren’t allowed to turn on any lights in the house before a short prayer to God. We had to respect books, pens, pencils or anything that we use in school as they helped us get knowledge, which was equivalent to God. So dropping a book or a pencil was as good as disrespecting God, and if you ever did – you had to quickly pick it up and touch it to your forehead and then kiss it, or you risked getting shunned by the knowledge God. My parents weren’t strict about it, but we were expected to pray to God before we ate, before we slept and after shower in the morning. I don’t even remember what my beliefs were at that point. It wasn’t so much about religion, or Hinduism, or any particular God, it was just that I accepted the existence of God.

A few years later we moved to Kuwait. I had developed a keen interest in Astronomy, and so on my birthday, our family friends gifted me Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I remember the first thing I turned to when I started reading the book – the few colored pages in the middle of the book with photos. Photos of nebulas, galaxies, planets and the one that has been etched in my brain from the first time I saw it – two human footprints side by side, one is from Tanzania 3.6 million years ago and the other from the Moon. I remember being mesmerized by the book and just lost in the thoughts about the Universe, its size, its age… From that point, it wasn’t too long before my belief in God was gone.

My parents weren’t too hard on me, as I continued most of the practices I had developed since I was a child and they believed I was just going through a phase. That was right around the time we got our first computer and access to the internet. I remember spending hours surfing Astronomy websites, reading freely available lectures on Black-holes, Einstein, Physics…creating backup of my favorite astronomy photos on floppy drives… I still have my collection 

I remember when the Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars in ’97, for some odd reason, I felt, here it is, the concrete proof God doesn’t exist. I’m still not sure why. But from then on, my reasons for being an Atheist just grew. I took a lot of pleasure every-time I learned that a famous scientist was also an Atheist and debated religion every chance I got with an attitude of almost pity towards others who were still prisoners of religion.

Not until my university years did I become less militant and actually developed an interest in studying world religions. I also became a politics junkie. The more I read; I realized that by being so confident that my views were right, I wasn’t much different from anyone else who is religious and confident they are the ones who are right. So I’m slightly more tolerant of other’s religion now.

I realize now that the skepticism that grew out of reading Cosmos has shaped my life since then, as repeatedly it has pushed me towards accepting the authority of a scientist or a scientific book/journal, more than that of my parents, my priest or any religious text.

A Reassuring Fable:

More here: The Sagan Series

Human Footprints from Carl Sagan's Cosmos

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Hi Anurag,
You don’t have to look far and wide for skepticism. Carl Sagan found it quite easily here.

December 27, 2011 11:26 am

Well said. Interesting to read about your perspective.

December 28, 2011 2:21 pm

^Thanks Jeff.
^^Thanks for the link Muster.

December 30, 2011 1:07 pm

Hey! I just found you on Pharyngula when I was looking for my own old post there.
Really liked your entry.
And always nice to see a fellow Indian, non-raging, atheist face! 🙂

January 3, 2013 1:13 pm

Thanks samyogita!

January 3, 2013 1:33 pm

Interesting point of view. You say that you remember being mesmerized by the book on universe and you were amazed by its beauty in its size and age..and this made you lose your belief in God. How can that be? I feel if you are really amazed by the universe, you should even more amazed to question its existence..where did this universe even come from? It may have come from big bang, but what made that big band happen? and beyond universe, what exists? There is no end and so there is no beginning.. This further supports the existence of God. Do you believe in consciousness. In terms of neuroscience, long time ago an experiment was performed where different areas of patients brain were being electrically stimulated, and consequence was moving of his hand. He was asked if he had moved his hand, patient said no. But later, patient was asked to resist the movement of that motion and move his hand to opposite side when he touches brain. As his brain area was touched, patient was able to move the hand opposite of what his brain had made him do, then he was asked again is he was moving his hand, he said yes. So this showed brain was a way of conducting a task, but there was still a choice maker inside us which is our consciousness, which is further support towards the existence of God 🙂 I am not trying to prove anything, just that, if you were to think about existence of God not in terms of religion – Hinduism, but rather really as the one and only creator – higher consciousness, perhaps that might make things different for you and more exciting and ofcourse a little faith may make it even more interesting.

November 24, 2013 9:43 pm

Thank you Shama, your point is well taken.
I am amazed at the existence of the universe and often think about how it came into existence, but answering that question with “God”, creates more questions than it answers. I do believe in consciousness, as I do in a lot of other subjects that are being explored further by science. However, the fact that neither I nor anyone else has any immediate explanation for the origins of the universe, does not prove the existence of God either.
Now, we can always change what we mean when we say ‘God’ and find that we both agree 🙂 For example, consciousness (as a lot of other spiritual and philosophical ideas) is perfectly compatible with science and our understanding of the universe. In writing this blog post and describing myself as an atheist, I was referring to the most common perception of ‘God’ – a supernatural omnipotent divine being, that exists outside the realm of our universe.

November 24, 2013 10:01 pm

You are right – the way one defines God also matters. If we define God as a spiritual being who is sitting at some sort of throne, or is sitting above us watching us, this is a different perspective than if we were to talk of God as a spiritual being who is not a person, rather higher conscious but also has all the qualities – omnipotent, omnipresent, most loving, most generous, most kind – these qualities such as that of omnipotent and omnipresent also align with the idea of higher consciousness. Because if God is omnipresent, and omnipotent and is the creator of all, then He is present within each atom, each particle, which goes back to consciousness idea, and since he is present in everything and it’s all his creation, then we can still say that God exists or atleast the creation of universe is done by some higher conscious being – or God. We only have limited consciousness- we are not “pure” and thus we are limited in our creation, but the one who is the supreme soul or the most “pure” or most conscious is able to create and destroy anything as big as universe and is thus the creator. But at the same time, there is something else: like stories about people’s faith in God, where people who pray or have strong faith in God get healed, they are able to experience results and are cured from diseases. This may be due to higher consciousness and people being able to tap into higher conscious and heal themselves but then there are times, despite our effort, and our effort of staying positive things don’t go the way we want them to, which leads us to believe there is something out there – some may call it destiny. Yes we have the power to change our destiny by working hard, putting effort, but our ability to change is limited. I am not sure if you know about Deepak Chopra – he talks a lot about Science and consciousness and spirituality – I think you will like his books. But anyways, if you do agree with what I have said so far, I don’t think you can call yourself atheist anymore. If you are interested in this topic about faith in God, i tried writing an article once (not a good writer) but would love to share it.

November 24, 2013 10:42 pm

Now you’ve delved a little too deep into meta physics for me 🙂 So I shall have to catch up on my readings to follow your reasoning. Please share your writings too, I would love to understand your point of view better!

November 26, 2013 8:58 pm

Oh Did I? I didn’t realize. I guess I was trying to say is that calling yourself atheist is a big claim. To me, atheist is someone who totally denies the presence of God (doesn’t have to be a person, but can be higher consciousness being from which everything originated), and believes that there is no one to control us, and that life is an’s just happening for no reason, no cause etc.. So I just think from your blog, that you seem to believe in a higher power in some manner, and so you may not be atheist. I really believe in God and I think if you have strong faith in the higher power, unexplained things or so called miracles can happen. Well the article I wrote is about that: power of faith. I can share with you, probably will share through email though, not online if that is ok with you. My email shows up I think to you?, well atleast I have to provide that in the comment section.

November 27, 2013 7:08 pm

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