by Gora (edited by Cliff Walker, 1996)
22nd December, 1972
Atheist Centre, Patamata,
Vijayawada -- 520 006. (India)
(used with permission; all rights reserved)
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The first script of Atheism was ready in 1938. But the Management of the College where I was teaching, prohibited me from publishing my views on atheism in writing or in speech. Earlier in 1933, another College removed me from service for contributing to a magazine the article, The Conception of god.
So, when the ban on atheism came to me a second time, I was faced with the alternatives either to compromise my views on atheism with the needs of a secure job, or to leave the job and gain the freedom to propagate atheism. My wife and I chose the latter. Consequently, in 1940, we got into the stream of public life. We worked in the slums of 'untouchables', addressed hundreds of public meetings on atheism, edited weekly and monthly magazines to propagate atheism and answered questions of readers. We joined the struggle for the political freedom of India, served terms of imprisonment, toured the country on speaking engagements and discussed atheism with Mahatma Gandhi. My children and my colleagues married inter-caste with a view to break social isolations. I participated in the Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union at Boston, U. S. A., in 1970 and went round the world addressing meetings and exchanging views on atheism. The experiences posed a question to me: how is an atheist different from and better than a non-atheist in the way of his life? The answer is Positive Atheism.
Whereas the script of 1938 took the traditional negative view of atheism and was a polemic in disproving the basis of faith in the existence of god, Positive Atheism lays down the precise atheistic attitude towards several aspects of life. Though the script of 1938 missed publication owing to the stress and strain to which I was exposed on leaving the teaching profession, friends in Mudunur village published the Telugu version of the book, Nastikatvamu (Atheism) in 1941 (239 pages). Nastikatvamu went through three editions. But it generally presented the traditional negative attitude. This book adds positive content to atheism.
Because positive atheism asserts freedom of the individual, a detailed code of conduct is incompatible with the freedom. Theistic scriptures like The Bhagavadgita, The Bible and The Quaran prescribed dos and don'ts of life from morn to eve and from birth to death, since they did not recognize freedom of the individual. Atheism is the opposite.
Therefore Positive Atheism indicates only the guidelines for the individual to plan his or her own life with full initiative and moral responsibility.
I am thankful to Dr. F. Muliyil and to Mrs. G. F. Muliyil for going through the script of Positive Atheism and offering useful suggestions for its improvement. I have incorporated the suggestions in the book. I could not, however, replace the word 'promiscuity' (chapter VII), since I feel that the word, without odium, conveys the sense I mean. I thank Prof. R.V.R. Chandrasekhara Rao and Mr. G. Mahadevan for their constructive suggestions. My sons, Lavanam and Vijayam, have been of great assistance to me in the preparation of this book.
I am obliged to the Merker family (Sweden) for their continued support for my work ever since I came to know them eight years ago.
Atheist Centre, Patamata,
Vijayawada -- 520006 India.
November 15, 1972
We are happy to bring out the second print of this book. "Positive Atheism" received world-wide attention as it aims at providing a new alternative to solve human problems. Gora is no more. But his thoughts continue to inspire the younger generation to achieve equality in all spheres of life.
July 26, 1978
Theism and Atheism
THEISM and atheism express man's attitudes to the world around him. Primitive man's world consisted of wind and rain, sun and moon, dream, disease, and death. When people gathered into clans, families and tribes, the social needs of custom and morality cropped up into the world. In the modern age, political, economic and technological systems dominate man's world.
With his skill, imagination and intelligence, with his feelings of fear, hope, love, greed and hate, and with his needs of hunger, lust, knowledge, plan, comfort and ambition, man reacts to his surroundings. The factors of the environment, in their turn, discipline and influence man's ways of understanding and the extent of satisfaction of his needs. Real man is himself in relation to his world.
Man's reaction to his world has been of two kinds: first, he surrenders to the forces of his world and drifts in the stream of its factors; second, he asserts himself upon the surroundings and harnesses the factors to satisfy his needs.
The former is motivated by the slave mind and the other by his sense of freedom.
Primitive man whose knowledge was meagre and sense of security weak, was more prone to be timid and submissive than bold and assertive. His method of understanding was simple and anthropomorphously analogical. So he imagined that a man-like god created and controlled the world and he surrendered to the concept. That god should have been conceived in masculine form reflects man's domination.
Faith in the existence of god was useful to the primitive man. It satisfied his curiosity. He thought that all things and events were god's creations and dispensations. Surrender to god satisfied his slave mind. As the concept of god was fashioned after human form, god was attributed the human qualities of righteousness, love and mercy. Obedience to a righteous god, however imaginary, served him at that stage to establish moral conduct in social groups. Faith in a god of love and mercy kept up hope amid troubles. Further, worship of god with song, dance and ritual satisfied man's aesthetic cravings. Thus the concept of god answered the several needs of the primitive man in a primitive way. And man stuck to god with intense faith.
Along with god, man fancied the existence of soul as a detachable part of the body. Dreams were supposed to be soul's rambles in strange lands during man's sleep and death as its permanent escape from the body. Imagination of the existence of other-worlds, like heaven and hell, and of rebirth, followed the need to provide disembodied souls with a habitation. Faith in the existence of soul and ancestral worship dispelled man's fear of death.
Belief in the existence of god and of soul and the influence of the belief on man's conduct constituted religion. And the essence of religion was man's surrender to god. Therefore, in terms of god (theos), which was the first one to which man surrendered, the attitude of surrender has come to be known as 'theism'.
Religion was the early phase of the attitude of surrender. Surrender absolved man of the sense of responsibility and afforded him the security and tranquility of a caged bird. Within the quietude of religious belief, theists started thinking and grew rational. So the analogical method of understanding yielded place to the advanced ways of causal logic and epistemological inquiry. Consequently, the concept of god gradually changed from the primitive fetish to a metaphysical notion of 'being and becoming.' The noisy ritual, blood sacrifices and ancestral worship of early religious belief were replaced by the silent meditation of later religion.
However intellectually subtle religious understanding was, it was spiritual in as much as the concepts of god, soul, other worlds and after-life were intangible. They were imaginary and not perceptible to the physical senses of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Therefore, a further advance of rationalism carried theistic understanding from visionary spiritualism to concrete materialism.
Materialism is irreligious because it rejects the notions of god, soul, other worlds and after-life for not being perceptible to the physical senses. It deals with the realities of physical circumstances and of political and economic institutions. Out of the materialistic understanding of the world arose notions of natural laws like evolutionary process, dialectical development, geographical conditioning, genetic constitution and historical necessity. Unlike faith in divine dispensation and inference of basic being, natural laws are based upon concrete evidences.
Though materialism is more realistic than spiritualism, materialism too is theistic, since it requires man's surrender to natural laws or to historical forces. As far as man's attitude to his world is concerned, the materialist dictum, "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness", is not different from the religious prayer, ''Oh God, Thy will be done." Both signify man's surrender to the one or to the other. The only distinction between the two is, spirituality is godly and materialism is godless. In short, materialism is godless theism. Therefore, theism is not so much the belief in the existence of god as man's subordination to something regarded superior to him. It is man's attitude of surrender to this world, whether it is understood spiritually or materialistically.
But surrender is incompatible with real living. Surrender loses initiative and breeds passivity, whereas living needs activity. From digging out tubers, picking up fruits, hunting animals and seeking water in primitive times to the modern methods of crop farming and animal breeding, man has to strive in order to earn food. House building, town planning and every achievement which makes life comfortable entail endeavour to harness natural resources to human needs. Thus real living requires man's active mastery over his world as opposed to passive surrender. Mastery is therefore, anti-theistic or atheistic. Whereas theism stands for man's surrender to his world, atheism is man's mastery over his world.
Though "atheism" looks negative in form, it is positive in content. Not an uncommon practice of etymology expresses an affirmation by the negative of its contrary. "Independence", "atom" and "umpire" are formed in that manner. Every language contains examples of the practice. "Atheism" is one of that type. In positive terms "atheism" means man's mastery over his world.
Mastership manifests man's sense of freedom while surrender represents his slave-mind. Like love and hate, the opposite feelings of slavishness and sense of freedom are inherent in the ambivalent human nature. The theistic attitude of surrender is the manifestation of the slave-mind; the atheistic attitude of mastership is the manifestation of the feeling of freedom. Since real living needs assertion, all practice of life is always atheistic. Theism is only a theory, the attitude which is dominated by the slave-mind. Theists think that they are not free and that their lives are ordained by god or determined by circumstances. But in practice they necessarily choose and act with the sense of freedom. Religionists pray, "Oh God, Thy will be done"; in practice they go their own way, Materialists aver that the social being determines the consciousness of men; but in practice they go to control the social being through their dictatorship. To that extent all theists are atheistic in practice.
The inconsistency between theory and practice makes theists inevitably dishonest. The more active they are, the more dishonest they appear with reference to their profession of surrender. Since comforts increase with planning, initiative and active satisfaction of wants, dishonest theists live comfortably. But to call a spade a spade is easy. So the mass of theists honestly believe in surrender, cripple initiative, achieve little and fall into want. They drift in the stream of circumstances rather than turn the tide in their favour. Thus wide inequalities range in the theistic milieu, the dishonest sailing at the top, wealthy and powerful, and the honest sinking to the bottom in destitution. The inequalities correspond to the degree of self-assertion on the one hand, and to the extent of surrender on the other.
Primitive people were not dishonest when they propitiated evil spirits to escape the fury of elements and the ravages of disease. Outside the superstitious ritual of Mumbo Jumbo and hocus-pocus, they were naively free to hunt, to revel and to bawl. The equality of freedom, however small, kept them equal. Except the authority to safeguard the taboos of a totem, the chief of a clan could not command more comfort than his kith and kin. It was the sophisticated thinking of the rational theists that entangled them in the inferences of their own logic. By regarding god as the almighty or by considering the process of evolution as deterministic, modern theists denied freedom totally to themselves. This was an absurd stance in real life. Hence dishonesty increased in civilized theism and increased inequalities as well.
Theism enabled civilized inequality to replace primitive equality. In the name of god, fate and custom, priests and princes oppressed honest folk. The glories of theistic civilization were the products of slave labour. Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Temples of India and the Kremlin of Russia were raised by the intellectual classes with forced labour. Roman imperialism and Mogul monarchy were nourished by the blood and sweat of slaves. Brahminical intellect shone bright in contrast with the forced ignorance of Sudra populations. Man's price thrived on woman's motherhood. White skin claimed preference to the black. Wealth grew on the surplus value of sweated labour.
The security which resulted from settled life and the development of technological aids should have helped all people to grow equally rational and free and therefore to live equally well. But dishonest priests and princes who were tempted by greed of pomp and power, took advantage of their position and tried to foster honest theistic faith in common people. Honest theistic faith carried with it the attitude of surrender and made common people liable to easy exploitation by swindlers. In order to tighten the grip of exploitation, everyone who was benefitted by it conspired against the common people. The story of this conspiracy was the darkest chapter in the history of civilization. Priests anointed kings to exercise divine right and invested them with the halo of awe instead of responsibility. The kings, in their turn, assisted priests with military power to put down heretics. The Crusades of the middle-ages were clear illustrations of the collusion between priests and princes. Hindu epics tell that King Dasaratha deputed his sons, Rama and Laxman, to fight those who disturbed the religious ritual of Viswamitra. Inquisition wickedly arrested the scientific movement started by Bruno and Galileo. The pact between priests and princes continued till princes pushed out the priests who were their rivals in power. Secular chiefs assumed autocratic authority to rule the people and demanded obedience. The people were treated as mere subjects of the State and they remained slaves by surrender to god at first and by obedience to authority next.
As godly theism got discredited due to the growth of rationality and rise of secularism, exploiters employed the skill and talent of scientists, scholars, artists and academicians to preach godless theism. Despite their knowledge and attainments, the 'elite' were not particular about honesty. They hung on to persons with wealth, power and influence, carried out their commands and shared with them the spoils of exploitation. They supported the sovereignty of the State and the validity of laws of nature. They asserted causal determinism and supplied factitious arguments to condone inequality. Historical necessity, evolutionary process, genetic constitution, intelligence quotient and physiognomic characters were the high-sounding phrases with which they confused the common man and cowed him down into acceptance of his downtrodden condition. Modern labourers stood bewildered, last in the queue of evolutionary changes, just as their fathers in slums gazed wistfully at the other-world. Further, scientists armed politicians with lethal weapons to put down rebellious rationalists and heretics, if they could not be allured with bribes. The manufacture of the atom-bomb, was a glaring example of the prostitution of scientific skill. Instead of employing nuclear energy wholly for social welfare, it was used to abet the crimes of power-hungry politicians.
Though materialism is realistic in preference to religious faith, materialists lack the moral considerations of religious men. While religious men practice charity and compassion as means of attaining salvation, materialists consider ethics and culture as mere reflections of objective conditions. The amorality of materialistic politics and economics renders exploitation callous and hard-hearted. Files of clerks, flasks of scientists and wheels of machines impersonalize exploitation and industrialise personal profit. Materialists look upon man as no more than a cog in nature's mill which runs in time and space by laws of evolution, dialectics and rhythm. They justify war, wealth, power and poverty as parts of natural processes. Materialism dehumanises its systems and considers individuality insignificant. Genocide of racism and belligerency of nationalism are more ruthless than the blood sacrifices of superstition. By and large, materialistic civilization reduced the masses of people into positions where they are no more useful than as labourers in factories, as soldiers in battles, or as voters in democracies while a few cheats rule over them and live with pomp and show.
The wide inequalities among the people which resulted from theistic faith, spiritual or materialistic, are obviously unjust, because all humans belong to the same kind. All cats live equal; all larks fly equal; all humans also ought to live equal. The variation in their talents and feature neither warrants the wide differences between lords and labourers, between Brahmins and Paraiahs or between Nordics and Negroes, nor is it correlated to the distinctions in economic opportunity, political power, and social respect. Not all lords, Brahmins and Nordics are strong and intelligent, and not all labourers, Paraiahs and Negroes are weak and dull. The variation is evenly distributed among all people, regardless of their class, caste and race. Equal opportunities develop all people equally well. Even the difference in sex is found no bar to the expression of abilities. The exploits of Joan of Arc and of Jhansi Laxmi Bai defied mighty generals, just as the achievements of Paul Robeson, Lumumba and B.R. Ambedkar attracted admiration. A millionaire who loses at the Stocks seeks odd jobs to eke out a livelihood while a clerk who wins a Sweepstake can buy up his master's business. Spread of socialism abolishes class differences and change of faith discards distinctions of caste. Promiscuous mingling blurs racial features and wars and diplomatic negotiations alter national frontiers. There is nothing inherent that binds one to a distinction. Moreover, human love and skill can remove the disadvantages imposed by physical handicaps.
Because distinctions of caste, class or race have no solid foundation, inequality among people is obviously unjust. So from time to time, downtrodden people have resented their indignity. The pains of the flesh here and now have been too real to be soothed long by hopes of bliss in the other-world or by the fruits of ultimate success, especially when the downtrodden see their dishonest brethren roll in comfort.
The fallen people have two alternatives to save themselves from the degradation of subjection. Either they have to adopt the line of dishonesty and go the way of crooks, or they have to discard theistic faith, feel free, act bold, achieve desires and live happy and equal. The choice is between dishonest theism and honest atheism.
Dishonesty may win temporary gain, but it does not change the system in vogue. When a poor man turns a thief, he may succeed in acquiring some wealth to keep him above want. But that does not change the competitive system of private property which perpetuates economic inequality. The few who sneak across a national frontier may escape a political dictatorship, but they do not end autocracy. As long as a wicked system remains, its evils recoil on everyone.
Riots and strikes by the downtrodden are protests against the injustice of inequality. Yet they have not proved a permanent remedy. They replace one kind of injustice with another. Democratic revolutions established political equality through universal adult suffrage, but they retained social and economic inequalities. Rise of socialism abolished economic inequality, but it tightened the grip of political dictatorship. Humanism recognised equality in social respect, but it hardly interfered with political and economic inequalities.
Therefore the safe and stable method to fight inequality and to abolish downtroddenness is the adoption of atheism. All people are, of course, invariably atheistic in practice. If they think also atheistically, they not only grow honest but they remove restrictions on initiative, act free, achieve more, and earn comforts. Indeed, all free men live equal, because they belong to the same species.
Primitive conditions of ignorance and insecurity which led man into slavish submission, do not obtain in these civilized times. Where religious sentiments linger, worship is social rather than devotional and artistic rather than ritualistic. Technological progress has equipped man with power to control and subdue factors of the environment instead of submitting to their savage fury. Also, instead of fancies of the other-world, modern man's ideals are realistic. It is unnecessary for an honest man to be theistic any longer.
The slave-mind, contained in theistic faith, abetted inequality. By meek submission, slaves permitted capitalists, autocrats and aristocrats to ride roughshod and made tyrants of their brothers. Tyranny does not end until slavery is abolished, and slavery does not go until theism is abolished. So freedom-loving, honest persons naturally spread atheism in order to rouse the masses against tyranny of any kind. Among such stalwarts were Moses, the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Jesus, Mohammad, Voltaire, Marx and Gandhi. Their contemporaries regarded them as heretics, if not altogether as atheists, and contemporary vested interests persecuted them for disturbing the current systems and beliefs. Meletus accused Socrates as an atheist and condemned him to drink hemlock. Jesus was crucified for uttering "blasphemy." Moses, Mohammad and Marx were banished from their native lands for preaching revolution. Gandhi was assassinated for non-Hindu leanings. Nevertheless, heretics of every age were prophets for future generations.
Indeed every prophet was more atheistic than his contemporaries. The atheistic content in the teaching of prophets set more men more free. The release of freedom raised popular rebellions against dishonesty and inequality. Yet the prophets had to compromise sometimes with the theistic systems in vogue, in order to communicate with their contemporaries. The Buddha fought superstitious ritual, but allowed fatalism to remain. Jesus and Mohammad decried old gods, but installed new gods again. Marx demolished religion but propounded materialism with similar logic. To Gandhi goes the credit of translating principles of truthfulness into programmes of action, but he spoke in the language of theism.
The result of compromise has been reaction. The remnants of theism in the teachings of prophets corrupted society again. Clericalism triumphed over missionary zeal. Managerial systems restricted the freedoms of socialism. Elected representatives appropriated the powers of people. Virtue was placed in a niche and was worshiped by corrupt devotees. Freedom of the individual was again in jeopardy. So prophet after prophet and rebellion after rebellion had to rise to cleanse the body politic of the remnants of theism with blood and sweat. The progress of civilization followed the march of atheism.
Stable progress is possible when atheism is wholly adopted. Atheism in thought, word, and deed asserts man's mastery over his world without reservation and thereby establishes equality with honesty in social relations. Honest life revises the systems in vogue, as they have been but a mixture of traditional theism and modern rationalism. Unless the systems are completely atheistic, they cannot subserve the needs of complete honesty and complete equality.
What, then, is the picture of atheistic philosophy, atheistic ethics, atheistic politics, atheistic aesthetics and atheistic technology?
PHILOSOPHY means the understanding of reality. It has two aspects: first, the understanding, and second, the reality.
An understanding is very significant in human life, since it overrides the influence of circumstances But for the supremacy of understanding, there would have been no place in human life for suicide and celibacy which are wholly repugnant to the basic instincts of self-preservation and race preservation. Capitalists and socialists, democrats and fascists, racists and humanists living under the same roof fail to communicate because their understandings differ. On the other hand, persons of the same ideology establish comradeship, even though they live far apart with only a remote chance of ever meeting one another. Thus, as understanding plays a big role in moulding the pattern of behaviour. A man is known by his philosophy.
It is the philosophy of private property that keeps millions of people starving while A few live in plenty. It is the philosophy of caste-system that keeps a large number of Hindus untouchables. It is, again, a philosophy that drives hermits into seclusion or leads persons to martyrdom. Change in the understanding of life changes man's ways of life. Radical changes in the outlook of populations have sparked off revolutions that shook the world.
While an understanding is important, the understanding of reality is equally important. But what is real? Different persons understand the same situation differently, according to their motives and interests. The same flower means differently to a child who plays with it, to a housewife who decorates a vase, to a trader who sells bouquets, to an artist who paints colours, to a student who dissects parts, and to a poet who projects visions. Similarly the slave-mind of theists finds the world superior to them, while atheists feel masters in every situation.
Among the different understandings, which is real? The evaluation of reality in understanding is as important as the understanding itself. If the understanding is real, it contributes to a common understanding and also places a man on a sound footing. Unreality bogs him in misery.
Facts of perception are real to all normal persons. That coal is black, fire is hot and syrup is sweet are facts beyond dispute, except when the sensations are impaired as when the eye is colour-blind and when the tongue is parched.
Certainly, the knowledge of what we see, hear, smell, touch, or taste is limited to the structure and capacity of our sense organs. We do not know how things look to an insect with compound eyes and to an animalcule which has no defined organs of sense perception. We are what we are and our knowledge of facts is our own. The use of aids does not alter the position, since what one can see through a microscope or hear by a stethoscope, another can do likewise.
But our knowledge is not confined to facts of perception. The play of imagination modifies facts into ideas through synthesis, analysis and sublimation. The products of imagination are not real in so far as they cannot be perceived by the five senses. An idea of tomorrow illustrates their non reality, since tomorrow does not exist today. Nevertheless an idea of tomorrow profoundly influences our life today by way of pro vision for the future. All indirect knowledge, that is, knowledge of anything which is beyond the immediate reach of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and skin, is non-real. Despite their unreality, ideas immensely enrich human knowledge and enlarge human life. In short, we are civilized because we imagine.
Ideas may be visionary as in poetic imagination or disciplined and systematized as in theories. They may be seasoned with experience as in intuitions and may be balanced as in judgements and opinions. Guesses and speculations are ideas with expediency and risk associated with them. Ideals, wishes, plans, and promises are ideas which extend far into the future. Whatever form ideas take, they are all products of imagination and are non-real by their very nature,
Unlike facts, the non-reality of ideas does not make them readily acceptable. Common understanding is possible on facts, as they are verifiable and demonstrable. If anyone disagrees about the description of a giraffe, he can be shown the animal in a zoo. But tomorrow cannot be shown today. It is an idea which should be held only by faith. One has to share or reject another's idea at his own risk. We know facts; we trust opinions.
In spite of the non-reality of imagination, there is the method of science to evaluate the amount of reality in them. For instance, tomorrow's weather may be forecast today as bright. The forecast is based on a mass of meteorological evidence available today. Yet the forecast is a non-reality today, because tomorrow is a non-reality today. When actually tomorrow happens and comes within factual experience, the forecast reveals itself to be true or false, according to the factual experience of brightness or dullness of the weather.
Imaginations are primarily non real derivations of basic facts. They are at first neither true nor false. They are just opinions to be believed in or rejected at one's own choice. But imaginations sift themselves into truths and falsehoods when they are subjected to verification with further facts. Truths are imaginations which stand the test of verification and falsehoods are imaginations which fail in the test. The method of sifting the true from the false among imaginations through verification with further facts is the method of science.
As truths and falsehoods are relative to verification with further facts, unverified and unverifiable imaginations are neither true nor false. They remain opinions. "Absolute truth'' is a misnomer in this context, because the claim of absoluteness evades verification. All "absolute truths," like first-cause and infinity, are mere imaginations and, at best, hypotheses. Similarly, poetic Imageries are pleasant fancies which are pure imaginations. Giants of fables and angels of mythology are examples of unverifiable imaginations which amuse children and teach morals. Neither popularity nor respect can invest an imagination with the validity of truthfulness or condemn it as a falsehood without subjecting it to the indispensable condition of verification with further facts.
While a fact is wholly verified, a truth contains an element of faith in its unverified part. So a truth is a generalization while a fact is finite. Consequently, a faith, to be a truth, is not verified ordinarily by all the facts that it comprehends. If that were done, the truth turns out into a fact itself and loses the advantage of acquiring indirect knowledge through imagination. So verification with a fair sampling of further facts is deemed sufficient to accept a faith as truth or to reject it as a falsehood. On account of the sampling of further facts, some amount of faith lurks in the truth in the parts that lie outside the samples. So a truth is exposed to challenges by new facts. Newton's law of gravitation had to be revised in the light of fresh facts that were known by the study of the transit of Mercury. Our knowledge grows from truths to wider truths as and when fresh facts come into our experience. Therefore, the scientific method requires an open mind for its full functioning.
For scientific inference as well as for verification, facts themselves should be reliable. In this connection, hallucinations betray their falseness. A host who awaits a friend may hear a call at the door at the appointed time, though the friend failed to keep his engagement. The opening of the door and the failure to find the friend reveal the falseness of the sound. It was a hallucination. Dependence on hallucinations caused disappointments. Psychedelic effects of drug addicts and visions of delirious patients are also hallucinations. Religious devotees suffer from several kinds of hallucinations. They see the vision of the god in the forms familiar to them and receive revelations of messages in the language they know. A Hindu sees the vision of god with four hands whereas a Christian sees Jesus on the cross or carrying a lamb or healing a leper. A Muslim devotee hears the massage of brotherhood or of Jihad according to the frame of his mind. Poets, painters and sculptors give concrete shapes to airy imaginations. A girl who could not make up her mind as to her marriage, listened to the church bell tell her 'ma-rry'. Later when the alliance proved unhappy, she listened to the same ding-dong of the church bell tell her 'di-vorce'. Hallucinations and apparitions objectifications of wishful thinking. They are induced by drug, disease, or by intense expectation. They appear real to the subject at the moment of experience. They can not be experienced in the same way by the same subject at another time or by another person at the same time. Therefore hallucinations are subjective realities and objective falsehoods.
Illusions, on the other hand, are produced by a real but by an unusual combination of several factors. A mirage can be seen and an echo can be heard by any person situated at the same place and time. Miracles, on verification, will be found never to have happened or to be mere illusions like the tricks of magical performance. Sorcery, charm, amulets, exorcism, incantations, conjuration, theurgy, and similar artifices of black magic are either forceful auto-suggestions or deceptive tricks for selfish advantage.
Hallucinations and illusions are not facts useful for scientific investigation.
The claims of parapsychological phenomena are also facts of doubtful validity. Extra-sensory perceptions that are exhibited in telepathy and detection are not undisputable facts of scientific significance. They are of the nature of statistical average or chance occurrence that cannot be repeated under experimental conditions, They can be the freaks of a normal mind, like six-fingered hands and Siamese twins in physical nature. They are monstrosities, fit as exhibits and for teratological study rather than for common use and general application. Hypnosis and mesmeric effects are produced by strong suggestions.
Religionists use freaks to awe people and to claim special powers. They go to the ridiculous extent of attributing miracles to prophets. Jesus did not need to walk on water or to curse the fig tree in order to make his Sermon on the Mount acceptable to common people. The Sermon can well stand on its merits. The instructions in the Quaran are good enough without the miracle of breaking the moon. Far from enhancing the prestige of the prophets, association of miracles with the lives of prophets, removes them from the reach of the common people and renders them objects of adoration rather than of emulation. After all, those whom later generations worship as prophets, were just common persons with stout hearts and devotion to the well-being of fellow men. They were even despised by the capitalists, autocrats and aristocrats of their own ages. The so called intuitions of prophets were broad guesses. The intuitions were respected because the prophets had no axe to grind. Gandhi admitted "Himalayan miscalculations" in the course of his plans to lead the people out of colonial domination. So the facts of extra-sensory perceptions are to be taken with a grain of salt, both in regard to their truthfulness and usefulness. Similarly the tall claims of the evidence of rebirth went false when they were subject to strict scientific enquiry. Further, evidence of 'rebirth' is paraded by Hindus who believe in the philosophy of the rebirth and not by Christians and Muslims who do not share that faith. The motivation is evident in the claim.
The disciplines of logic and epistemological enquiry systematize imaginations and increase their chances of being truths. But no amount of discipline, short of verification with further facts, can pass off a faith for a truth. Faiths, however logical, respectable and hoary, can never be truths in themselves without verification. The spectrum of human understanding extends from hard facts to unverifiable fancies; faiths lie between, with truths on the side of facts and falsehoods on the side of fancies; verification is the demarcating line between truths and falsehoods.
The tragedy of theistic understanding consists in mistaking faiths for truths. Theists can very well believe in the existence of god, soul, other-world, and after-life. The faiths can be shared also by other theists. Yet they are only faiths and not truths at all. They cannot be left even as unverifiable faiths too. The existence of free will is proof positive that the faiths in god, soul, other-worlds and after life are falsehoods. The concept of almightiness is wholly false because it denies the existence of free will wholly. Thus god is clearly a falsehood, though, long ago, it was a useful falsehood.
Determinism is the essence of theistic philosophy. Whether the determinant is a spiritual factor like god, destiny or fatalism or a materialistic one like causal relation, natural law, genetic constitution, force of custom, means of production, State authority, or physical conditions, theists feel that their lives are destined and determined. Verification with the fact of free will reveals the falseness of all theories of determinism. In fact, the faith in determinism is motivated by the slave mind which is the character of theism.
Atheism which asserts the freedom of the individual, understands reality by discriminating between faiths and truths. Atheists make free use of imagination to acquire indirect knowledge. They form opinions, formulate theories, and enjoy fancies. But they do not timidly close the mind. Unlike theists, atheists proceed boldly with an open mind from faiths to truths through the method of verification with further facts. Whereas theists stop with faith, atheists go to truth.
The principle of atheistic philosophy is: what is capable of verification and necessary for the individual should be tested and known; what is incapable of verification or unnecessary for the present need, should be respected as an opinion. To respect an opinion is not to accept it as a truth; it is a social norm to enable the growth of knowledge. Unless the free flow of opinions is permitted, while recognising them only as opinions, we lose the benefit of imagination. The danger is not in respecting an opinion but it is in mistaking it for a truth. Atheism, therefore, adopts the scientific method for acquiring knowledge. It promotes understanding through verification wherever possible and through respect for opinion wherever necessary.
The atheistic method of understanding requires, of course, the freedom of the individual to imagine as well as to verify the inferences. But theists go so far as to consider the freedom itself an illusion. They assert that the choice, which is an act of freewill, is predetermined by divine dispensation, by fate's decree, by causation, by dialectics of development, by the process of evolution, or by historical necessity. As Marxist materialists suppose that the pattern of behaviour and the mode of choice are determined by the material conditions of life, they classify cultures into feudalist, capitalist, bourgeoisie, and proletarian types, corresponding to the ownership of the means of material wealth. Therefore they deny the freedom of choice to the individual in the same manner as the religious persons do. Both arrive at the same conclusion of denying free will, though they proceed from opposite points of view.
The argument of the illusion is more intellectual than realistic. When Shankara, the arch-protagonist of the theory of illusion, denied free will to the individual in order to justify the existence of "Brahman, the Basic Being", he ignored a hard fact. The argument whether there is free will or not is itself a choice, an act of the free will. He who considers his endeavours, his ambitions, and his very existence as illusory, kicks against a hard rock and says, "The rock does not exist." Is it not amusing to think that what I am writing and what you are reading are illusions ?
Again if the freedom of the individual is denied, spiritually or materialistically, morality loses its base. One cannot be moral, unless he is held responsible for his actions. He cannot be responsible, unless he is free to choose between the right and the wrong, whatever be the norms. Without the appreciation of morality, there can be no social association and self-discipline. Because choice, morality, and discipline are real in our life, free will is real. The arguments of illusion are either clever ruses to escape responsibilities or intellectual subtleties, labouring to save the concept of divinity which is crumbling and losing credit under the onslaughts of the reality of the freedom of the individual. Pragmatically too, Hindus, among whom the philosophy of illusion is the most widespread, are largely a set of lotus-eaters, idle, dreamy and irresponsible. The rejection of the philosophy of illusion and recognition of the reality of free will reclaims Hindus and joins them in the main stream of free, active, and dignified body of human beings.
Atheistic understanding reveals the reality that man's will is supreme. That does not mean that a man can achieve wholly what he wills. In his world, he is in the company of things, events, and also of fellow-men who, like himself, are equally free to will. They are severally favourable, adverse and indifferent to his aspirations at a time. The final fulfillment is the total effect of all these forces. Nevertheless, his will to achieve is the most significant factor among them all. With the strength of his will, he can direct his efforts to order other forces also towards his purpose. Theists who believed in the supremacy of the world, surrendered to it, weakened their will, and drifted in the stream of circumstances, rather than give it the direction of their aspirations. They either cut down their desires and are content to live at the subsistence level in a helpless state of sheer resignation or pray to god for boons and benefits. Atheists, on the contrary, are masters of their world. They assert their free will. They use technological skill to control non-human factors of the environment and moral conduct to enlist the co-operation of fellow men. With added strength, they achieve more than theists can. They do not need the supplication of prayer or the resignation of helplessness. They are the masters of every situation. Like a soccer player, an atheist manoeuvres among friends and opponents to achieve his desires. He is the master. He has none to complain against. He learns from every experience and grows wiser every time.
The recognition of the freedom of the individual and the establishment of his mastership renders the scientific method useful to the atheists for the understanding of reality. The method is gaining esteem in the civilized age. The progress of technology is due to the use of the scientific method. The studies of humanities also are taking the name of science and adopting the method with necessary modifications. Though tradition mixes up some superstition with scientific knowledge, the rise of atheism clears the dross.
Because theists understood everything as the creation of god, they asked several idle questions and satisfied themselves with the omnibus answer that all was god's making. The questions ranged from the shape of a leaf to the number of hairs on the head! The questions had no relevance to the life they led, because they moved blindly in traditional ruts, while their fancies flowed beyond the galaxies. Atheists are realists. Their questions are relevant to the needs of their life. So the answers also are realistic and scientific instead of tricks to silence doubts with the bogy of god.
Real knowledge and technological skill have already controlled the elements, conquered diseases, and increased longevity. With the growth of knowledge, it seems possible to control death and dotage. The study of animalcules and procreant germs with no natural death should give the clue to understand and to conquer death. Atheists recover what theists relegated to destiny, and atheistic understanding gives a fresh look to the old ways of life. For instance, atheism dismisses as unscientific any distinction that separates man from man. All are humans. They can inter-breed. They can mingle socially. Evidently, then, the old distinctions of race, caste, culture, and nation are sentimental with no solid base. Men with selfish interests who were benefitted by sectarian differences, preserved the distinctions maliciously.
Atheism widens the outlook and pulls down the barriers between man and man. If differences between "Holy Scriptures'' should foment difference between man and man, these books are not holy at all. Though they were the honest words of good men, they had their own imperfections of limited knowledge. Hoariness is never holiness. Nothing can be the last word any time. A closed mind is the sign of stagnation and ultimate death. Life is open and ever growing. So hoariness is a warning of its incompatibility with the present times. Atheism keeps an open mind and does not flinch from rejecting the old, whenever it is a hurdle on the road towards a common humility.
Theistic philosophy developed certain disciplines of understanding, though its fault lay in accepting their inferences as truths without subjecting them to the test of verification. Atheism can usefully adopt the disciplines with the correction of verification.
The foremost among the disciplines which grips modern thought is the method of causation. It lays down that events are related as causes and effects. Causal thinking replaces analogical understanding and dispels the superstition of belief in special creation. Further, as effects follow causes, there is no room for prayer and worship in causal understanding. So far, causal understanding is useful.
But causal understanding committed a mistake when it supposed that the relation between cause and effect was certain and universal. The chain of causes determined every event and allowed no scope for free will. That was the basis for fatalism. Indeed the determinism of causation was motivated by the slavish desire of surrender. So theists could take causation as certain and universal. But rethinking with an open mind exposes the defects of certainty and universality. According to universality, if everything had a cause, the first cause also should have a cause; if the first cause could be without a cause, anything else could be without a cause. So the assumption of universality and of the first cause was arbitrary rather than rational. Again, if there were certainty, there can be no morality. Every wicked deed could be justified as a link in the chain of causes. The same way of thinking led Hindu philosophy to postulate rebirth of the soul to live through the virtues and vices unrequited during the previous birth. Here again the question of the first act is exposed to the same embarrassment as the question of the first cause. So causality is neither certain nor universal. The reality of free will and morality gives the lie to both.
Atheistic philosophy looks at causation in a different way. Atheism regards the cause-effect relation not as a certainty but as a probability. The degree of probability increases with the proximity of events and decreases with their distance. Tomorrow's happenings can be anticipated with greater certainty than those of ten days hence or of a more distant future. Speculation and anticipation are advantages in planning; but they are attended with uncertainty and disappointment too.
It is the existence of uncertainty that is the basis for initiative, plan, and idealism. The fear of uncertainty led timid theists to take shelter in causal certainty which curbed their initiative and bred fatalism. But atheists are bold. They sail on uncharted seas and achieve through initiative. Recognition of free will and the assertion of initiative foil predictability. Yet the most dependable part of human affairs is moral conduct, respect for promise, and confidence in the ability to accomplish.
Arguments can be advanced to justify the certainty of causation in the case of atheists too by regarding initiative as the cause of achievement. The argument is defective in two ways. First, atheists do not claim certainty of an achievement for an initiative. They do leave scope for probability and thus avoid disappointment. It is not the multiplicity of causes that renders predictability with certainty difficult but uncertainty is in the very nature of events, more with those of humans than of inanimate matter. Second, an initiative becomes the cause of an event in a limited sense, since the initiative itself is causeless. An initiative ceases to be original if it is caused. Therefore, the chain of causes is broken repeatedly at every initiative and a broken chain does not serve the purpose of universality of causal relation. To regard free will as a causeless cause and thus to justify causation is but a cheap satisfaction.
The formulation of natural laws is another discipline in understanding. Imagination correlates events, ties up the loose ends, and presents a synthetic understanding in the form of a law. The concept of natural law is an aid to understanding, as it facilitates a habit of thinking. The laws of the cycle of seasons help us to plan our work. But closer scrutiny reveals that the laws are not inherent in the events of the world. They are our interpretations of our experiences. When fresh facts come to light or fresh insight develops with experience, the form of law changes with new interpretation. Though Dalton regarded the "atom" as the smallest indivisible particle, and named it as such (a=not; tomos=cut), the discovery of the phenomenon of radioactivity changed the concept of the atom. Also, no natural law applies wholly to an event in all respects.
The concurrence is an approximation. Over longer ranges, the difference becomes more and more appreciable, just as the present timings of the rising of the sun do vary with old calculations. Not that the old calculations were wrong, but the happening is varying. So a natural law expresses the present average of our experiences. We fit the understanding into the event instead of the law determining the event. When we visit a boot shop we fit our foot into a shoe rather than the shoemaker fashioning the shoe to the size of our foot.
Whereas theists consider natural laws as definite and irrevocable and submit themselves to them, atheists know themselves to be the authors of the laws and use the laws as aids. The laws are revised whenever they are repugnant to new situations. Surrender to the laws breeds conservatism while mastery over them helps progressive understanding by the reassessment of the position at every stage.
The theory of evolution is a convenient natural law to understand the relations of things around us. It dispenses with the need to believe in a creator to understand events and things. Within limited and observable lengths, a fair amount of evolution can be safely assumed. But when we carry it to the extreme of nebula and primordial matter, we commit the same mistake as postulating the first cause. Patches of earth may look fairly flat. But putting the patches together, it cannot be surmised that the whole earth is flat. The natural law of evolution is a useful aid but a trap for the unwary.
The concept of design is a corollary of the belief in natural laws. Evidently the argument of design bristles with obvious contradictions. A design presupposes a designer with a purpose. As the designer is often supposed to be god and god is supposed to be loving and merciful, what consistency is there between love and the e xistence of evil ? If war, fraud and poverty, untouchability, racial discrimination, infant-mortality, cancer, pest, and famine were to be parts of a design, the designer should be punished for wickedness rather than worshiped for love and mercy. In the face of evil, the proposition of design poses the dilemma that divinity is not all good or else it is not all powerful. If god were both good and powerful, there should be no evil. If evil were test and temptation, it betrays the recognition of freedom to the individual to yield to or to resist temptation and thereby contradicts the almightiness of divinity. Also it presents divinity as a mischievous and malevolent spirit that plays cruel pranks with its own child.
In fact, these is no design. At best, the concept of design is wishful thinking of the modern man. Because the primitive people understood the world analogically and anthropomorphously, they thought that a man-like spirit inhabited every phenomenon. With the touch of modernity, the wishful thinking of a civilized theist is similar to that of his primitive ancestor. The modern theist is accustomed to plan, design, law, and order in his daily life. So, in wishful thinking he reads order and design into his world. In practice, however, the concept of design has turned out into a clever ruse to reconcile honest theists to their miserable lot with faith in a divine purpose. Atheism dismisses the assumption of design and awakens the mass of people to a sense of equality. It stirs them up to rebellion against political, economic and social evils.
An important aspect of theistic philosophy the concept of the universe as a law-bound cosmos and all phenomena, including man, as parts of it. The notion is consistent with the theistic attitude of surrender, since man becomes part of the universe and subordinate to the whole. Though religious men and materialists differ in their understanding of the structure and dynamics of the universe, both agree in the existence of the universe and thereby deny freedom to the individual.
But the recognition of the freedom of the individual interprets the universe in a different way. Atheists regard the universe as a collective concept, like that of a flock. When several birds sit together, they give the idea of a flock. But when each bird flies away in her own way, the flock disappears and it does not exist any longer. Yet each bird exists by itself. So the reality lies with the existence of the individual bird, but not with the existence of the flock. Similarly the universe as such does not exist. Only the several phenomena and the individuals of human beings exist. Their existence, too, is not permanent. Each one changes in form: and content. Nevertheless, the collection of phenomena and of the individuals goes by the name of the universe.
Further, the individualities of each one render the universe a chaos and not a cosmos. The sum total of individualities gives the impression of an order of a natural law. Several irregular grains of sand thrown together give the shape of a regular conical heap. The regularity is not pre-existent in the heap, but the relation between irregular grains produces a regular pattern, namely the heap, which is but a collection of sand grains. Likewise, the universe is a collection of individuals. Each individual is an entity by himself, but the universe neither exists nor is an entity by itself, except as a concept of imagination. Whereas theistic thinking proceeds from universe to man, atheistic understanding proceeds from man to universe. The pre-eminence of man in atheistic understanding preserves the freedom of the individual while theistic understanding which. considered man' a part of the universe, jeopardized the freedom.
Human imagination indulges in several collective concepts. Family, nation, society, government, world, and humanity are collective concepts. In short, all systems and institutions are material forms of collectives in a civilised world. Obviously the political system of government derives authority from the co-operation which people give and gathers revenues from the taxes which people pay. Thus the citizens support the institution of a government and the citizens are the real masters of the government. But the theistic mind subordinates the citizen to the government which appropriates the sovereignty that rightly belongs to the people. In the capitalist system of economy, the proprietor usurps the surplus value from the labourers. Again society is the sum of the common personal factors of the individuals that compose it. Beyond the common factor, every person has the rest of his or her individuality. The whole individual is the total of the part which is common with the rest, and of the part which is his own. According to his intimacy in social relations, he may have more in common with same friends than with others. Also it is left to the individual to increase his commonness or decrease it by joining or withdrawing from others. A hermit in seclusion shares nothing with others. He lives all to himself. Because society is composed only of those parts of the individuals which are common with the rest, the whole individual is more than his society. Thus the individual is a reality and all institutions are only collectives with no real existence.
In practice, it is the part of the individual outside the social commonness that introduces initiative and provides dynamism to social growth. While the commonness among persons stabilises social relations, the differences move the society forward. In spite of the fact that the society is a collection of the commonnesses of individuals, the commonness seems so intense that the individual with a slave mind feels cowed down by it. Atheists understand the relation between the individual and his society. They are aware of their importance and of the dependence of systems on their co-operation. The shift of the emphasis from the aggregate to the individual restores the dignity of the individual which was belittled in theistic understanding. Therefore, like masters, atheists wield political, economic, and cultural systems as instruments. Atheists are masters of their customs, masters of their governments, masters of their economic order, and masters of their cultures, systems, and institutions.
Just as the universe is the collection of individuals, it can be argued that the individual is a collection of cells and each cell is a collection of molecules and electrons. This argument shifts the reality of existence from man to a cell, to an atom and so on. The fallacy of this argument is clear when we see man as the starting point from where his imagination goes synthetically towards the universe and analytically towards the electron. It is not the universe or the electron that is thinking of man, but it is the man who is thinking of them and giving them shape and consideration. So man is the author of the concepts of the universe and of electrons. He exists and they have their habitation in his imagination. They change as his experience and insight change. So the reality of existence is with the man and not with the cell or with the atom. Atoms do not exist for those who are ignorant of them. Existence depends upon awareness. A man asleep exists when others know him; he becomes aware of his existence on waking up only. If he dies of heart failure or of an accident during sleep, he had ceased to exist for himself when he went to sleep. We recognise our dreams on waking up but not during dreaming. Due to the significance of awareness, the individual is a reality and he is not a mere collective of cells.
Materialism is the last of the theistic methods. The tangibility of material circumstances is indeed a distinct contrast with the visionary concept of spirituality. Materialism has this advantage over spirituality. Yet the materialistic principle of subordinating the individual consciousness to the social being has not improved the status of the common honest man. From god to matter is a change from King Log to King Stork. In the materialistic civilization, man submits more to the systems of life, like capitalist economy, political dictatorship, and social tradition than he surrendered to god and ritual.
The inertness of the mass of people in theistic civilization is evident from the application of Gallup polls to predict electoral results and mass behaviors. They apply physical laws of statistical study for human behaviour just as meteorological observations are employed to forecast weather. Indeed materialistic civilization treats man as a bit of matter, but not as a sentient being. Gallup poll forecasts come nearly true as long as man surrenders his freedom and allows himself to be blown by the winds of circumstances, like a dead leaf. But when atheistic awakening rouses his passions, desires, and ideals, all predictions, except his purpose, go wrong. Marx, who attained eminence in the materialistic interpretation of human history, thought little of agricultural Russia and predicted early proletarian revolution in industrialised Germany. But the tact of Lenin and the foolhardiness of Hitler upset Marx's calculations. Russia went socialist first while Fascism, the opposite of socialism, overtook Germany. Man is more psychological than materialistic.
What becomes predictable in human behaviour is not on account of destiny or of dialectics of social being, but on account of man's avowed objectives and his steadfastness of purpose. Astrology, palmistry, soothsaying, and crystal gazing, which are popular in theistic civilization, are out of place among atheists. Atheists disturb the Gallup poll by a fresh thought anytime. Atheists shift the basis of prediction from material factors to human feelings, like sense of justice, honesty, and idealism. The sense of freedom makes atheists radically different from slaves to god, slaves to government, slaves to custom, and slaves to systems.
Gandhi's Satyagraha and existentialist philosophy are large-scale attempts to recognise the freedom of the individual.
Satyagraha means insistence on what one knows to be the truth. The insistence implies the exercise of free will as the need of social obligation. If one is content to know the truth himself, he does not become a votary of Satyagraha. A Satyagrahi should not only know the truth but should insist upon it in social relations. So Satyagraha is activation of truthfulness. Further, truth is demonstrable and verifiable. So it is open. As difference of opinion can be settled through verification or respect of opinion, Satyagraha eschews violence for its operations. Therefore Satyagraha makes people free, open, social and non-violent. These are the qualities for moral excellence. The popular movements that rose under the leadership of Gandhi gained wide sympathy and raised the moral standards of people. Though the movements were directed primarily against the injustice contained in the colonical administrations in South Africa and India, they awakened the natives all over the world against similar injustices.
As Satyagraha asserts the freedom of the individual to know and to insist upon truthfulness, it is atheistic in principle. It could have been the starting point for the atheistic movement in the modern age. But Gandhi, its proponent, clothed the explanations in the language of theism. The language of theism which was familiar to the people, gave him the advantage of easy communication with the people. But, after Gandhi, people reverted to the theistic ways contained in the language and paid mere formal allegiance to the principles of truth, equality, openness, and non-violence. The experience reveals the need of avowed atheism for stable progress. Gandhian Satyagraha requires atheistic correction for its abiding usefulness.
Existentialist philosophy recognizes the existence of the individual as the real purpose of human life. The recognition is basically atheistic and it encourages the individual to free himself from the impositions of custom, governmental authority, economic pressures, and cultural inhibitions.
Undoubtedly, existentialist philosophy has produced free and truthful individuals. But they are not Satyagrahis. They lack the social outlook. The love of individual freedom has stood in the way of the appreciation of social obligations, as in the case of hippies and Beetles, They live as birds, hopping from branch to branch, pecking at fruits and warbling notes at their will.
Existentialism is a powerful protest against the oppressions by spiritual and materialistic systems. But it has been lop-sided in its development. It lacks the social complement. Without social association, no one can go far in the modern age. In fact, hippies live free by using social benefits of food supply, communications and security. In this way they draw from social reserves, but they do not add to them.
In spite of their limitations, materialism, Gandhism, and existentialism have advanced civilization towards atheism. Though fundamentally theistic, materialism demolished godhead and visionary idealism. It has brought systems of life within the grips of realistic appraisal. Gandhian way of Satyagraha has presented a real instrument to fight against injustices. As everyone can take to Satyagraha, it has become the special friend of the downtrodden. Existentialism has brought to the forefront the importance of the individual. His existence is of primary significance. Yet materialism, Gandhism, and existentialism have not brought about all round equality as they have not avowedly accepted atheism with all its implications. They compromised with extant theistic systems and were partially atheistic. So they established equality partially and gave scope for reaction to set in later. Marxian Materialism largely established economic equality but required political dictatorship for the purpose. Gandhism was democratic, but could not fight capitalism successfully. Existentialism attained personal freedom without social change. Every one of those methods require atheistic correction for achieving all round equality and progress.
Where atheism is not adopted wholly, even scientists are not free of superstition, Sir Oliver Lodge, who gave a powerful impulse to scientific education and was the forerunner of wireless telegraphy through researches in electromagnetic waves, believed in telepathy and thought-transference, a claim in which he could not carry with him the majority of men distinguished in science. Astronauts who could land in moon as a result of amazing advances in technology prayed to god for the success of their project. Several savants are known to be eminently scientific in laboratories but conventionally superstitious in their personal life. Some of them use charms omens and amulets, repose belief in miracles, and attend to prayers in obedience to custom. Obviously such scientists do not have the scientific mind. So dishonest theists and greedy politicians easily use their talents for prosecuting wars and establishing dictatorships. Science is essentially atheistic. But, without the avowed adoption of atheism, scientific progress is liable to be misused.
Atheistic awakening is the greatest need of the peoples of ancient civilizations of Asia and Africa and of aborigines all over the world. In Europe there have been a series of cultural revolutions due to the spread of Christianity, Protestantism, Materialism, and Existentialism. Each sweep was heretic in its own age. The revolutions wiped away, stage by stage, the primitive faiths of Celts, Gauls and Druids. Europeans are virtually secular now. They go to church partly for social contacts and mostly to spread theistic faith among the Asians and Africans in order to make them an easy prey to colonial expansion. In the Middle East, too, the spread of Islam abolished the superstitions of the idolatrous Arabs. If Buddhism stayed in India, it would have advanced Hindus beyond the beliefs of primitive animism. But Shankara, in order to fight the corruption of Buddhism, revived Hindu faith and set the hands of the clock back. The Buddhists of the Far East are more open-minded than the Hindus of India. But for the awakening brought about by the spread of Christianity and Islam, the Africans would have continued in the ancient ways of tribalism with totems and taboos. The seclusion of aborigines in wilds and reserves keeps them primitive still. They live equal within the narrow confines of their respective tribes, not progressively but conservatively.
The rise of Marxian materialism in Russia and particularly in China, has demonstrated that revolution in outlook brings about revolution in the ways of life. China was addicted to opium and was a miserable victim to European and Japanese exploitation. Today it is asserting itself as a world power on account of the cultural revolution. Idolatrous and caste-ridden Hindus of India won high esteem when they participated in the movements of Satyagraha. The feeling of freedom made people moral, scientific, and progressive.
The materialistic Europeans and Americans can exploit the Asians and Africans, as long as the latter remain godly and servile. Exploitation of any kind anywhere will end when slave-mind is discredited and the freedom of the individual is asserted. Slaves make tyrants of their brothers. When 'slaves' stand on their feet, they find themselves as tall as their 'masters'. Others mount when slaves stoop. So the widespread adoption of atheistic philosophy is the way to put down the slave mind and to establish all round equality by the full expression of the freedom of the individual in Asia and Africa also.
The appreciation of the freedom of the individual gives a fresh orientation to the systems of life, ethical, political, economic, aesthetic, and technological. Customs and governments no longer dominate over man; he becomes their master.
ETHICS is the kind of conduct that keeps man happy. Happiness consists in the satisfaction of desires. Through prayer and meditation in seclusion, a hermit feels happy with the satisfaction of his desires of other worldly salvation. So Hindu hermits prefer to sit in caves of mountain, to eat fruits and tubers and to cover their bodies scantily with hides. Religious believers regard such hermits as the most ethical beings.
But the rise of rationalism renders desires realistic and mundane. Unlike the anchorite's desires of other-worldly salvation, rational desires refer to food and home, family life and positions of honour. Imagination urges man to desire for better comfort and more respect every time. As desires grow, he has also to increase powers of achievement. In order to keep himself happy, because happiness is the harmony between desires and their fulfillment.
Since man is both the author of his desires and the builder of his strength, there is no room for disharmony and complaint. Either he has to cut the coat according to the cloth or get the cloth according to the coat. Complaint which is a sign of maladjustment is idle and irresponsible.
The pruning or the proliferation of desires rests wholly with man's own will. Change of mind changes the shape of desires. Buddha, the prince, renounced his kingdom; Hitler, the painter, craved for world power .
While desires are wishful, powers of achievement arerealistic. Complaints and disappointments occur in life when man goes with his wishes in easy imagination and ignores the realities in trying to achieve them.
Powers of achievement grow in two ways: by the making and use of tools and by securing the cooperation of fellowmen. The former led to the development of technology and the latter brought into being the systems of social organisation. Technological development and social organisation have been interdependent for their growth. The development from stone implements to mighty mills is the work of the concerted action of millions of people through a number of generations; the growth of society from primitive clans to metropolitan communities is made possible by the development of communications and by advances in engineering planning, medical research, and food production.
In technology man deals with non-human material. He can fashion wood and metal, and tend plant and animal very much with his skill. But In social relations, he is dealing with men like himself who have similar emotions, sentiments, loves, hates and ambitions. So relations with fellowmen bring in the considerations of morality. Morality is therefore the method of dealing with fellow men with a view to securing their widest and fullest cooperation for the fulfillment of one's own desires.
The two basic principles of moral conduct are: honesty and tolerance.
Honesty means consistency between word and deed. Unless each is assured that the other does what he says and says what he does, and vice versa, there can be no common understanding between them, and therefore no cooperation is possible. So honesty is the indispensable condition for common action. It is the cement that binds man to man in social relations. Without the cement between them, bricks form a pile, but not a solid wall. Without honesty people form a crowd, but not a society. Today our cities are crowds. A man stands lonely in a crowded street. He cares for no one and no one cares for him. If he is knocked down by an automobile, the incident may have a news value but not a social concern. Honesty converts crowds into societies.
As all words and deeds proceed from thoughts, honesty seems to be consistency between thought, word, and deed, instead of consistency between words and deeds only. But thoughts are personal. They are known to the author alone. Others know one's thoughts through his words and deeds, which are the outward expressions of inward thoughts. So the means of common understanding in social relations are words and deeds, and therefore honesty is consistency between words and deeds only.
Consistency between thought, word and deed is personal honesty. It saves a person from an uneasy conscience. But it is possible that a man entertains several opinions on a matter. In the end he may choose to express one or some of them in words and deeds. They alone gain social value. The rest of the unexpressed opinions go sterile or die suppressed without social significance. It is unfair to impute motives to anyone beyond what is said and done. Hidden motives should not be suspected until they are expressed in word or deed. When one changes his mind and informs the change through corresponding words and deeds, he continues to be honest. In fact, some change becomes necessary over long periods of time in order to cope with new situations. Otherwise, one remains conservative. Frequent changes may mean lack of purpose or fickleness but not dishonesty.
Honesty excludes secrecy, for secrecy withholds telling what is done. A lie is worse. It tells some thing different from what is done. Both secrecy and falsehood are dishonest, since there is no consistency in them between words and deeds.
Secrecy is different from privacy. Privacy is a personal matter in which others are little interested. When, however, interest is evinced, there is no hesitation to reveal a private affair. Secrecies and lies, on the contrary, deliberately hide and distort facts.
Secrecy is an escape from social obligation. It results from a desire for selfish advantage or from a sectarian outlook. Members of a group are honest among themselves, but are often dishonest with others. Casteism, communalism, racism, nationalism, and gangsterism are examples of sectarian behaviour. In the context of wider social relations, sectarianism is as dishonest as secrecy.
Honesty requires discipline. When a person has to fulfil a promise, his selfish interest and indolence tempt him into dishonesty. One should therefore sacrifice selfish and immediate gains in view of the need of co-operation in social relations. One who fails to fulfil a promise runs the risk of losing credit and co-operation. In that way, sacrifice is a greater gain than what immediate indolence affords. But human nature is a mixture of social and selfish qualities. So ways and means should be found to encourage social qualities of fortitude, sacrifice, and sympathy and to discountenance the anti-social qualities of sloth, greed and hate.
The three methods open to keep man moral and social are: self-discipline, religious faith, and political power.
The best method to ensure moral behaviour is the appreciation of moral obligations by every individual. Mahatma Gandhi's ConstructiveProgramme adopts the method of self discipline. By self discipline, every one imposes on himself the duty of fulfilling promises and of maintaining honesty. At the same time, the dishonesty of anyone disturbs the happiness of others. If the speaker at a meeting comes late, he wastes the time of the many in the audience. So it is as much the duty of the speaker to be punctual as it is the right of the audience to reprimand the speaker for his unpunctuality. Rights and duties are the two sides of the same social relation. They are the checks and counter-checks to ensure honesty in social relations.
Though primitive people cannot be credited with a high level of social consciousness and sense of self-discipline, the need of honesty for social association impelled them to adopt a way similar to self-discipline. Within the limits of their tribal life, primitive people observed honesty by custom and avoided dishonesty by taboo. Transgressions were severely punished with fine and with pillory. The recognition of the social need of morality, though it was unplanned, was the distinctive feature of primitive life. The high level of honesty not only secured unstinted co-operation of all members of the tribe for any task, but significantly enough, established equality among them.
The primitiveness of the conditions circumscribed the scope for the development of social values of honesty and equality along lines of self-discipline. If the method proceeded undisturbed, it would have outstripped primitive limitations in the course of civilization and would have evolved the right method for moral conduct.
But the encroachment of religious faith changed the basis of morality from social need to other-worldly salvation. Religionists supposed that moral conduct entitled them to the benefits of salvation. Moral values were called virtues and immorality was called vice. Hope of heaven and fear of hell served to make people virtuous and to keep them away from vice.
The religious method cut across the tribal limits of totem and taboo and formed wider social associations with common faith. The lists of virtues and vices swelled up with the growing needs of widening social relations. Myth and mythology, story and fable, with gods, angels and demons figuring in them, explained the advantages of love, truth, compassion, and co-operation, and pointed out to the sufferings of perdition that awaited hate, greed, and falseness.
The religious basis of morality inspired many believers with love and truthfulness. In the name of god and salvation, they reached heights of moral excellence. Assured of salvation in after-life, believers did not hesitate to lay down their lives in the cause of honesty. Further, the belief that god knew what man did in secret chastened personal conduct.
Yet the benefits of the religious method for morality were undermined by its inherent defect. Whereas self-discipline recognized morality directly as a social need, religious belief was obviously an indirect method. It regarded morality as a means of salvation in after-life. If salvation could be obtained by other means, a believer could very well disregard his social obligations. Monasticism is a clear example of the abuse. Because religious belief invests it with respectability, idlers take to prayer, meditation, rosary, and fasting instead of satisfying the rigid needs of social living. From the rational point of view, hermits are a lazy lot and prayer is a waste of time. The situation is worsened when priests sold Indulgences and thereby commercialized religious faith. Under the pretence of penance, criminals could escape opprobrium and knaves could cheat honest believers.
Another defect of the religious method was its commandments of dos and don'ts. They killed the initiative of believers and moved them in ruts of routines. With the best of intentions, the authors of scriptures, the Bible, the Quaran, the Zend Avesta, and the Bhagavad Gita, prescribed a long list of dos and don'ts for the faithful to follow. Though the details of life, from morn to eve and from birth to death, were worked out in the scriptures, they get antiquated in the course of time. They cannot meet the needs of new situations. Yet the scriptures are so fanatical as not to permit change of their injunctions. Political constitutions provide for residuary powers and for the amendments of their articles. But every scripture regards itself the revelation from god and claims finality and infallibility. Though the votaries of one faith do not accept another scripture as wholly wise and sacred, each group lives in its own fool's paradise. Consequently theistic ethical codes have become hopelessly conservative and outmoded and the believers have gone fanatically blind. The inflexibility of scriptural commandments renders dishonesty indispensable to theists. They have to gratify their current needs surreptitiously. The philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita is a laboured and sophisticated justification of a split personality. So Hindus talk delightfully of adwaita or oneness but treat fellowmen as untouchables. Christians talk of love but are found engaged in war everywhere. Muslims talk of brotherhood but like to exterminate other faiths. The fatherhood of god has not resulted in the brotherhood of man, since it did not relate man to man but man to god. So, in spite of sermons and pious wishes, the religious method failed to make man honest, loving and kind.
The need of tolerance or respect for difference of opinion received little attention in the eras of religious belief and national jingoism. Proud of its own faith, each group clashed with the rest. Religionists and patriots killed fellowmen to please their own god or country. Common people lived under suppression with no succour except prayer to god. Religion also had no remedy for the evils of its own creation. Its constant advice was to scorn mundane desires and to look for bliss in the other-world.
When religious method thus stood discredited, Gandhi tried to restore it in the modern world to the glory that inspired its conception. He laid his finger unerringly on truthfulness and tolerance which in practice meant honesty and non-violence. His experiments with truth attracted wide attention all over the world, both because he touched all branches of modern life with the wand of truth and because he activated truth with the non-violent sanction of Satyagraha. Owing to his faith in the religious method he interpreted his experience in term of his faith. Gandhi's equation of truth with god was a famous example of his bias.
Devotion to truthfulness made Gandhi practical and realistic. Therefore, he did not permit religious orthodoxy to hamper progress towards truthful living. To old words he gave new meaning compatible with new situations. Though he uttered the name of Rama, the Hindu god, he said his Rama was an ideal, but not the son of King Dasaratha or spouse of Sita of Hindu mythology. He shifted the emphasis from belief in god to practice of truth when he stated, "It is more correct to say that Truth is God than to say that God is Truth."* Confronted with the challenge of an atheist, he agreed to drop the mention of god and to have truth instead. When religious strife was raging high in India, he recommended the formation of a secular State that would treat religion as a personal matter. Thus, whenever he found a conflict between faith in god and needs of truthfulness, he was more inclined to subordinate the faith to the insistence on truthfulness.
Gandhi was the prophet of truth as the social norm parexcellence. He used the religious method for the realisation of truth. But his devotion to truth cleared religious faith of the dross so much that he seemed irreligious and fell, finally, by the bullet of a religious fanatic. Gandhi's martyrdom to the cause of truth revealed that religious faith, however much liberalised, could not cope with the needs of an expanding civilization, since religious faith curbs initiative and closes the mind. Avowed atheism is a must to build up a moral man, full and whole.
The freedom of an atheist presents ethics in a new light. He does not move in the ruts of dos and don'ts. He recognizes that honesty is a social need and so he is honest by choice. Self-discipline keeps him moral in contrast with the impositions of primitive taboos and religious faith. Self-discipline is possible for an atheist as he feels free and lives a conscious life. Nevertheless, lapses in discipline are checked by the open and non-violent methods of Satyagraha. By Satyagraha, one insists on another to live up to his promises and professions. It is a social check against dishonesty. At the same time, Satyagraha binds the Satyagrahi to be moral himself, just as an alcohol addict cannot plead for prohibition.
When Gandhi said that no one could be a Satyagrahi without faith, in god, he was showing his religious bias. Otherwise, Satyagraha is basically atheistic inasmuch as a votary of Satyagraha insists on his right to insist on the honesty of another in social relations. Because Gandhi did not accept atheism avowedly, the method of Satyagraha lost its strength and got sectarian in the post-Gandhian period. Adoption of atheism reinvigorates Satyagraha into an honest and powerful means of checking dishonesty.
The insistence on truthfulness does not disturb the freedom of the individual. The social obligation implied in Satyagraha turns the freedom of the individual into moral freedom. An atheist is free to say or to do what he likes, provided he does what he says and says what he does. So, in the context of social relations, the freedom of the individual is moral freedom. Of course, social relations cannot permit licentiousness, selfishness, or secrecy.
The exercise of the moral freedom results in the establishment of equality among all people since no open conduct can justify inequality among humans who belong to the same kind. The practice of inequality and the conspiracy for violence imply selfishness and a sectarian attitude. Such persons exclude others from their confidence and take recourse to secrecy. Openness, on the contrary, gives no room for sectarian attitudes and therefore no scope for inequality end violence.
The sectarian attitudes of caste, class, creed, language, race, and nation permitted groups of people to live in closed preserves, each developing its own vested interests. Imperialist and expansionist aims led to conflict between the groups. The fallen groups formed into minorities in self-defence.
When all people feel free and open, and the sectarian attitudes of minorities disappear, all people feel equally human. The old notions of race, class, caste, and nation have no place in atheistic ethics, which treats all alike and bids fair to march towards the cherished ideal of one-humanity and one-world. Atheistic ethics is one and the same for all people, unlike the old customs of one code of conduct for man and another for woman, one for the Whites and another for the Blacks, one for the rich and another for the poor, one for the Brahmin and another for the Sudra, one for the master and another for the servant. Likewise, when the sectarian boundaries are pulled down by the assertion of freedom of the individual, the claims of separate cultures lose validity. When people mingle, they become one and the same. Indeed, culture is the conduct which enables a human to meet another human as an equal. Attributing denominational labels of caste, race, religion, class, or nation to culture is definitely uncultured.
The atheistic guidelines for right and wrong are contained in the practice of honesty itself. All is right which is done openly and all is wrong which harbours secrecy. Battles are fought openly but they are wrong since their strategy is laid in deep secrecy. The openness of conduct is a sufficient guarantee against the use of violence in social relations. Emotional outbursts of violence are not so harmful as violence hatched in secrecy. With secrecy, violence becomes a deliberate conspiracy without any regret. An open fit of violence, on the contrary, may be followed by repentance and amends.
While openness is generally the test for the rightfulness of an act, slave-mind allowed certain gross injustices to prevail openly in theistic tradition, godly and godless. The insult and cruelty contained in the open practices of untouchability, poverty, apartheid, lynching, pogrom, and gas-chamber executions are examples of the injustice. Their openness has been possible on the background of theism, when the victims thought that they were destined or circumstanced to the hardships. They saw no escape from insult and cruelty, and bore the troubles patiently with faith in divine grace and social justice. Hence the openness of cruelties in theistic civilization.
Atheists dismiss the faith in destiny and determinism. They see the injustice of inequality and openly rebel against it. Hence the openness of atheistic ethics not only tests the rightfulness of an act, but leads towards the establishment of equality in social relations. Obviously, insult and cruelty have no place in atheistic ethics whose objective is equality and method is openness.
The test of openness for the rightfulness of an act, keeps social relations progressively moral. An atheist does not bind himself to a set of dos and don'ts which, by its very nature, gets outmoded and conservative. He uses his initiative and says and does openly what he considers to be right. The openness of the act makes it honest and the use of initiative makes it progressive. The response of the people to the act is the test of the suitability of the act to the present needs. If one is not satisfied with the response, he is free to change the content of his act or to become a martyr to the cause which he holds to be the truth. The spread of atheism opens the minds of people who grow susceptible to fresh ideas. Persecution of heresy diminishes with the rise of atheism. The struggles for political freedom and the movements of Satyagraha liberalised the caste-ridden Hindus so much that they thought of abolishing the old custom of untouchability and incorporated it in the Constitution.
The free mind of atheists loosens the ties of private property and family loyalties. Those institutions were formed when the State had not established itself in order to take up the responsibilities of social security. Though the institution of private property caused economic inequalities and the institution of family suppressed women, the evils are tolerated in view of the advantage of security which they provide. One could buy comfort and protection with private property and the members of a family come to the aid of individuals in times of need, old age, and disability.
With the establishment of stable governments the conditions have changed in the modern age. The institution of a government is better suited to guarantee social-security than the institutions of private property and of family whose facilities are limited and circumscribed. Of course, the institution of government is attended with the domination of centralised authority. Notwithstanding the disadvantage which can be controlled with the rise of freedom of the individual, a government can be used to liberate women and to abolish poverty more advantageously through State authority than through the repair of rickety codes of conduct. Therefore atheistic ethics lean towards politics.