Presented by members of the Center for Rational Thought / Atheist
Due to constraints, this article is not carried in its entirety and is not verbatim.
Lavaman has personally known people his father was very active with folks such as Gandhi. Lavanam has met, has been with Gandhi, with Nehru, with Martin Luther King, Jr. He is a great exponent of non-violent ways to move things along.
Before we give you the final introduction to Lavanam, I just want to tell you a couple of things that you might you might find helpful. We've put out some literature for you that you can pass along to folks who aren't members here and we want to welcome anyone who isn't a member, as well as the members who are always welcome.
I will warn you that we will pass the hat as we have expenses and Lavanam lays out a lot of money and we try to help him pay. It's difficult to take money out of India. We will be asking you to help out.
For those of you who are not members: You are now in The Center for Rational Thought, and we have the assumed business name of The Atheist Community Center. My name is Jerry Billings, I am the Secretary Treasurer of the organization. Lanny Swerdlow is the president.
Ours is an organization which is run very loosely, although we are formally a corporation. We are a group of people who are quite interested in the separation of state and church. We are also involved in making a home for people who are Atheists. If you've ever been in a room full of Atheists before, I mean, look around. There are all these people who agree with you! It's really a pretty good feeling that you are not in the minority all of a sudden!
So, that is enough about our Center, we want to invite anyone who is not a member to be a member, and if you will take one of our bulletins with you, there is a membership application and you don't have to be a member but we sure would appreciate it.
Now, to get to our speaker: Lavanam -- single name -- that's it! He is the head of the Atheist Center in India which is a large organization. They do incredible works. They have schools; they have hospitals; they have farms for poor people. They have all kinds of active things and Lavanam is and has been, for all of his life, a Very Positive Atheist. He is going to talk to us about some of the things they are doing in India -- some of the very positive Atheist things that are happening throughout the world and I don't want to take up the hour and a half we have allotted to this for a long introduction, so let's bring on:
I am very, very happy to be here again! I was here twice earlier. You have been successful in bringing me to Portland every year, so congratulations to you!
I love Portland very much. It's a very beautiful city and with intelligent people. Very often, beauty and intelligence do not work together. But here, it is happening.
Sometimes, when I meet people like you, I am carried away by emotional oneness with you, so I do not know how to speak. But still, we are thinking people, we are rational people.
We don't believe in Life After Death, so, we try to live live Life Here And Now happily and personally -- and interestingly -- and usefully to others. Every Humanist and Atheist tries his -- our best -- to do that. Evelyn did that, and she is an example for us!
I am a Born Atheist. I am now 65 years old. I may not look that age. I was born in 1930 when Mahatma Gandhi offered Salt Civil Disobedience. Those who have seen the movie Mahatma Gandhi, you might have seen several scenes in that picture about Salt Civil March. My father, Gora, has been in the Movement nearly twenty years before my birth. By the time I was born, he had already taken to Atheism. So, he wanted to name his newborn in a new fashion, in a new way! So, he thought what it could be. So he thought. Gandhi broke the civil -- broke the Salt Law! -- So [my father] wanted to name his newborn "Salt" -- Lavanam -- that means "salt" in Indian Languages. Salt. There is only one person in the world by name Lavanam, and that's me. So, I have no problem that I use only one name.
I will divide my time in two parts. That is: What we have been doing in India as a part of Atheism and What is the future of Atheism? what are we going to achieve? We shall equip ourselves and train ourselves to play a historical role. I am afraid, that if we don't play that role, history will un-excuse us!
We may go by different names, but basically we are the same.
Sometimes I am reminded of John Bydem, the seventeenth century poet-laureate of freedom. He wrote: "Monarchies may take God's name, but Democracies are Atheistic in their very frame." Why democracies are not succeeding today is because they are forgetting this frame in which they are completed. And they are trying to fit into the wrong frame which is religion. So, democracy and religion cannot go together.
Atheism and democracy can go very well together.
We have it all to pay, to make democracy function properly, to make democracy work properly, to make democracy deliver the goods -- no matter in [whatever] country -- we have to play the Role as Atheists, as Humanists, as Agnostics, to strengthen democracy.
There are nine children to my parents -- all of them Atheists. We married into different communities -- different castes. In India, religion is not a problem, but castes is the biggest problem. When I say this, my fellow Indians sometimes think Lavanam is speaking nonsense but, I tell you, 82% of Indians are Hindus. So, if 82% of Indians are Hindu -- if they stick together as one person -- as Hindu, then Muslims, as a minority, cannot do anything. Christians, as a minority, cannot do anything. But Christians and Muslims are able to excel very often over Hindus because these 82% of the population of India are divided into more than 3,000 castes! So, when my friends in India, Hindu fundamentalists, try to create Hindufra that means Hinduism, Hindu, there are Brahmans, there are Sudras, there are Untouchables and there are more than 300 caste people! There are Hindus in India! But there are Muslims in India; there are Christians in India; there are Zhorastrians in India; there are Sikhs in India; there are Buddhists in India. But in India, there are more Hindus. Because the basic identity of the Hindu is more Hindu identity [?] but caste identity! And we have the second largest population in the world [of Muslims]: more than 110 million. That is more than the population of Pakistan. That is more than the population of Bangladesh. Only one country has more Muslims in it in Indonesia than 110 million Muslims in India. So, socially, Muslims are the single largest homogeneous group. Hindus, when they are divided into more than 3,000 castes, no caste has a population of 110 millions. So, with a caste identity, from the caste viewpoint, when Hindus look at Muslims, the caste people feel that they are in the minority. So, the majority in India suffers from the minority complex. If the majority can be made to feel that they are the minority, then there is no Hinduism problem.
Atheists are placed in a very envious position because Atheism has no stigma attached to it historically in India. Atheism has been accepted [as] one of the methods of truth-seeking from time immemorial in India. From the age of Rivas there are from the most ancient texts in the world, they have not accepted the theory of Divine Creation. They try to understand the unknown, not the god. So they said, "The world came first and gods came later."
As truth cannot be suppressed, so knowledge cannot be suppressed.
So, Atheism has a glorious past. Atheism was important only to the Bhramatical Priests. So, the Atheists have taken the side of the downtrodden people and they are opposed to the caste system, and they are opposed to the superiority of the Brahmans and the priests. Reason is always the enemy of blind belief.
But, to my knowledge, no Atheist was ever killed in India by anybody. They may not like them, they may not agree with them, but there was not that much hate against Atheists in India. There was attraction. Yes, there were killings -- Hindus kill the Buddhists; Hindus killed the Muslims. So there was a lot of different religions in India -- there was a lot of bloodshed and hatred -- but not so much against Atheists. This is something new, and particularly the Western world with a Christian background, should understand this. In India, if Atheism is not hated, why should Atheism be hated in America and Europe and the rest of the world by Christians? If I hate anybody, I become less than that hated. So, why should the Christians make themselves less than they hate? So, this is not for me [but] for the Christians to think about it. And once they think about it, that humanity lives in diversity, perhaps India will be the first society in the world which has accepted diversity. So they have accepted the adage of Live and Let Live. And when they've accepted the adage of Live and Let Live, they try to understand Atheism -- they did not like it. The outcast did not like Atheists. When my father took to Atheism, he was sent out of the family; he was sent out of the caste. There ended the ostracization of the opposition.
My father started the first known Atheist Center in the world in 1940. So, besides reason, what we took is generally, if people think you are an Atheist that means you have no morality. If you are an Atheist, you are a bad person, a wicked person -- you cannot do good things. So, to do good and to be good, god and religion not necessary. And we have taken upon ourselves the responsibility of showing the world that whatever good is done by the religious people and the believers, can also be done by Atheists without reference to god or religion -- and we shall show it. You name anything good thing done by anyone -- by Muslims, Christians or Hindus or anyone in the world, we have done it in India, we have done it in the Atheist Center.
So, every good and any good done by believers in the name of god and religion, can be done by Atheists without any reference to god and religion; and we shall show them!
We have opposed the caste system, we created a caste-less society. We opposed religion, we have created a post religious society. We have opposed the poverty, so we are helping the people doing things that [increase] production -- to get trained in various vocations. We have taken the problems of our children's education, women's education. We are opposed to gender difference and the violence against woman. And we promoted gender equality. There are more women in the Atheist Center than men. Women occupy the highest positions in the Atheist Center. I always make a joke, that because I am a man, they send out as their informational emissary, their minority community man -- that's me -- because women are in the majority in the Atheist Center.
Whatever is done in the name of religion and god is being done and has been done by the Atheist Center. I did not name anything. Whatever you name it -- anything -- we have done it.
We are creating a new human being of the Future Society -- of a post-religious society. We believe our basic identity is human identity. So, Atheists are not less than human. Because we feel that our identity is the human identity. When I say that my identity is a Christian identity, a Hindus identity, a Muslim identity, then I am making myself less than human. When I say my identity is basically human identity, where I can mix with any fellow human being, and I accept the diversity because we are thinking people, I cannot force you to think as I do, so I allow you to think freely. So, then, we promote mutual understanding and out of this we [have] mutual cooperation. That is what the Atheist Center has shown the world for the last fifty five years. I invite you to come to the next World Atheist Conference at The Atheist Center in 1996. Please come and join us.
Once, when I was twenty one years old, to start another educational school in Untouchable locality in 1951. Then, even the percentage of literacy in India was around 17 or 18. Now it is, I think, 43 or 44%. So, when I went to the Untouchable Quarters at 21 years of age -- full of enthusiasm, quite a big role: A Man of India! and I said, "Oh, I am going to liberate these people, I am going to educate these people!" -- sort of like a liberating force, I went there, not a liberating Ghandi. [Questioned] "Mr. Lavanam, why do you come here? You don't know, we are not fated to be literate?!" Fated means they think God writes their fate on their foreheads. And whatever is written by God on their foreheads -- let it happen! "We are not fated to be literate, we are only fated to be illiterate; we are fated only to be Untouchables! Why do you waste your time, why do you waste our time? Go! Get along! Go!" When it was said like that, I did not know how to cope with that. It had been their conviction for ages and ages and generations and generations that they were not fated to be literates, not fated to be equals with others. So then not knowing how to tackle that, I immediately went to the nearest person (walking over to Jerry) [looked] on their forehead [and said] "I don't see anything on your forehead!" Then I go to other persons (Art & Jeff). "Oh, I don't see anything on your forehead, if anyone has written on your forehead, condemning for you to be illiterate, condemning you to be Untouchables, condemning you to policy" (Lavanam symbolically wipes Jeff's forehead clean) "THERE! I will take care of you!" (Laughter and applause). That has been the experience of my life.
They never saw such a man coming to them and saying: Who has written on your forehead? So, on everybody's forehead I wiped it out as if I am wiping out if anyone has written on your forehead. Now, I am rewriting on your forehead. If you come daily, half and hour to me, listen to my stories, I can assure you: You will be a different person, you will be a better person. You don't have to be literate to listen to stories. Children love to listen to stories and so it is with folks. The next time I came to the gathering, there were twenty people waiting for me! So, here I found, as an Atheist, I was a great success.
So, Heresy of Religion is Atheistic Inquiry. If revolutions could be heretic, to achieve social good, Atheism is more necessary to give things social good.
So, social good and Atheism: they go together! (Applause)
Religions became popular with the downtrodden people not because of the appeal, but because of their social work. Christians, wherever they went, they started schools; they started hospitals; hostels. So, for the downtrodden people they said, "Come on! We give you free education; we give you free boarding; we give you free treatment if you are sick!" Then they started distributing free food and free clothing. There is nothing to the religion! Simply because religious people did it, we need not abhor it! So we, too, did the same thing!
Basically everyone is an Atheist, we are not born with a belief in God.
We are Atheists everyone of us including the Pope. I say this very honestly. I say this to Father De Costa when he came all the way from Vatican. He was surprised when I said, "Look here, sir," when you say, "Oh, God, thy will will be done," do you 100% accept it? If you accept it, that means that whatever is being done is God's will. So, you have nothing to oppose. Why do you oppose some things? To the extent that you are opposing some things -- to that extent you are not accepting God's will and you are an Atheist. The Pope is one percent Atheist. "But, he said, maybe you are one percent Theist." "But, [I said] Theism is accepting that not everybody is equal and is accepting a superior power and that we are slaves to that superior power. If you would have me become 10%, 20%, 50% Theist then, my dear friend, you are losing the battles!"
Martin Luther King wanted to meet my father GORA, because he discussed Atheism with Ghandi. King wanted all Ghandian publications. One such book was a book on a discussion of Atheism between my father and Ghandi. He read it and said to me that he could not say that his Christianity is right nor your Atheism is wrong -- both are seekers of the truth.
Had he lived longer, he [King] would have supported us in the Ghandian Background. I am very proud that I have been close to Martin Luther King. I am proud to have had the opportunity to have lived with Mahatma Ghandi in his Ashram when I was 14-15 years old. And, I am very proud -- I am proud of you. So, you see, I am in good company, you are very good people! And we are proud that we are Atheists, and we are proud that we are living in this generation! I don't say difficult times, but I say fantastic times. So, we are being tested. So, in that test, the challenge is whether we Atheists are standing to the test or running from the test. And I am sure all of us will decide to stand for the test and provide the instrument of Atheism for humanity to make the humanity a better one. Thank You Very Much!