Atheist Centre 50+ Golden Jubilee (1940-1990)
International Conference on
"Future of Atheism -- Humanism"
Vijayawada, December 29-31, 1990
[OCR, HTML, editing, Cliff Walker]

-- the Beacon
G. S. Rao

Conformism is the life-breath of religion. People's minds and bodies are conditioned by religion to a particular way of life. They should conform to the dictates of the scriptures. Religious leaders enforce them and punish those who depart from or defy them. Scriptures are made to be revered and implicitly obeyed as the word of god himself. Prophets present themselves before the gullible public as divinely inspired custodians of god's authority and dispensation. The so-called son of god, the last prophet, the incarnation or the reborn is the self-appointed and self-styled god-man enforcing scriptural injunctions.

Religions Grew in Local Conditions

Religions grew in different intellectual climates and social conditions and so have their own local habitation. Hinduism with its several ramifications grew in the Indo-Gangetic plain. Christianity had its origins in the Judaic milieu of Palestine. Islam was born in the deserts of Arabia. As they grew and spread to other countries they came into conflict. Religious belief of a particular type was enforced with the sword. Proselytisation bred violence, war and hatred. Religion in its very nature was and is a divisive force. It has divided humanity into different, diverse and warring sections of humanity. Sensible thinkers with a philosophic bent of mind try their best to reconcile the tenets of different religions with general ethical and moral principles. Their words are less heeded or ignored. Where religion and politics are wedded, as generally they are, violence is the order of the day as in the case of Babri Masjid and Rama Janma Bhoomi or Arab-Jewish conflict. Raw emotions are aroused and common people don religious labels and fight like wolves. In such violent conflicts humanity is the first casualty. In history and even now, more blood has flowed in the name of religion than for any other cause.

Spirit of One Humanity

Contradictions and conflicts arise in religious beliefs and practices and those who point them out are castigated as heretics and atheists. Nonconformism to religious belief and fanatical way of life is the life-breath of heresy and atheism. In different contexts and in different backgrounds words like humanism, rationalism, freethought agnosticism, secularism, atheism and skepticism are used. But they have scientific spirit of observation and experimentation in common and have respect for honesty, truth, peace and other cherished human values. They prescribe the antidote to religious divisiveness. In different countries they thrive with different labels but with One Humanity as their goal in theory and practice.

Rationalism, secularism and humanism in the West have essentially anti-Christian stance tending towards identification with One Humanity. With non-religious Greek-philosophic background, they have combined the scientific spirit with humanism. Their appeal is universal and not sectarian like Christianity.

Roy and Periyar

M.N. Roy who grew up as a communist, spread the message of Radical Humanism and looked beyond communism. Though an Indian he advocated a world view based on scientific spirit and humanism. His outlook was party-less, caste-less and religion-less.

Periyar E. V. Ramaswami advocated atheism in Tamil Nadu as an alternative to Hinduism. His militant attitude was anti-Brahmin, anti-North, anti-Sanskrit and anti-Aryan. He organised Dravida Kazhakham against the Aryan domination of the North and the Aryan language of Sanskrit. Periyar's atheism (Nasthigam) had its roots in the Dravidian culture of Tamil Nadu. His followers fell out on account of political and temperamental differences and started their own political parties but all of them swear by Periyar's atheism which is negative in character and tone.

Gora's Positive Atheism

Gora's Positive Atheism is universal in its appeal, character and tone. Though it can be classed with Humanism, Rationalism, Secularism and Freethought of the West it has its roots in Indian Atheism. Unlike in the West atheism grew with Vedic religion. In India Buddhism, Jainism, Charvaka, Lokayata, Sankhya, Vaiseshika are the prominent schools of Indian Atheism. Though they had doctrinal differences they were anti-Vedic and defied Vedic authority and Brahmin priesthood. In India the word 'Nasthika' (atheist) is accepted and is even tolerated. Gora tried to rid the word of odium it had acquired as 'wickedness' and 'evil'. Living in modern times he propagated his views on the then existing political, economic and social conditions which hold good even now. He carried the message of atheism to all sections of society from highly educated to the illiterate man in the slums. As his appeal was to reason he might not have been able to create a mass movement. As such, the Atheist Centre which he founded in 1940 became the centre of many activities cutting across caste, religion and party.

Positive Atheism encompasses the whole humanity. It stands for the abolition of the labels of caste, religion and party and, as such, in practice it is deeply humanistic. Gora's activities were confined to Andhra Pradesh in particular and India in general. He fought against caste restrictions and untouchability, superstitions and social injustice, inter-caste marriages and inter-dining which he advocated are essentially programmes for fostering castelessness. His campaigns against pomp and party of ministers and people's representatives won general appreciation and approval. Partyless democracy has remained ideal in times where the game of power politics is played with no holds barred and muscle and money power control vote banks. Developmental activities at the Atheist Centre have gained momentum since Gora's demise and attracted the attention of the humanists, rationalists and atheists all over the world. Thus the philosophy of Positive Atheism has taken a practical shape. It is not enough if the Centre rests on its oars. A wider sphere of action should be created.

All those who come to the Atheist Centre seek inspiration and strength from it. They try to rise above caste, religion and party. They feel confident and courageous to face the odds of life. Their confidence and courage are contagious and others are influenced. Usually people with pressing personal problems go there to seek strength and succour. They get it in abundant measure. More women than men are attracted to the Atheist Centre. Problems of sex, marriage and divorce are discussed and solved without inhibitions. No Problem, however difficult and complex, is shunned. The centre is a rallying place for all people irrespective of differences of caste, religion, party or even colour. Positive Atheism is humanism in action with stress on peace and happiness for all.

Global Family

[The United Nations Organization (U.N.O.)] is the custodian of world peace. It augurs well that the super powers have buried the hatchet of cold war and been coming closer and closer towards total disarmament. No doubt, arms of all types of mass destruction, nuclear and conventional, should be destroyed. Arab-Jewish conflict and Gulf Crisis have potentials to disturb world peace. They may trigger off a third war which humanism alone in the hearts of world leaders can forbid. The Indo-Pak differences with Hindu-Muslim undertones are a festering sore. The United Nations Organization should overcome political differences to pave the way for permanent peace. The smallest nations should be able to feel free and safe and protected whereas the biggest nations should rid themselves of pride and arrogance. Military might and political power should give place to concern for world peace and happiness. Prominent humanists all over the world are closely associated with those organs of the U.N.O. which strive for world peace, happiness, health and progress. They breathe the U.N.O spirit. Political leaders who depend for power and position on religion are a threat to world peace, if they come to wield reins of power in their countries. They look back and derive inspiration from out-moded religion. Their views are ante-diluvian and the fanatical and divisive forces of religion jeopardise efforts aimed at world peace. Exploitation and racial discrimination wherever they exist are also harmful to world peace. Humanists, rationalists secularists and atheists should unite to strive for peace and happiness in the world.