‘Nastik Why I Am Not An Atheist’ lenses neo-atheism wildfire, ex-Muslims’ rise

Nastik Why I Am Not An Atheist by Kushal Mehra

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Fundamentalism spiking atheism in West, says book Nastik Why I Am Not An Atheist

By Deepak K Upreti

In an era when polarization politics is a done deal among politicians of all hues, the book — Nastik Why I Am Not An Atheist — by Kushal Mehra makes one guess that it may be favouring the majority religion of India. The cover also arouses suspicion that the writer may have an one-sided view on atheists since he is ‘not an atheist’.

Reading of 252 pages with 18 pages of notes removes both the doubts.

Kushal, the host of popular ‘Carvaka’ podcast, has Masters’ in Philosophy while being an ex-textile-entrepreneur. He explains growth of atheism and more so neo-atheism of the 20th and the 21st century. He deep dives into the question, ‘How to live a Good Life Without a God’.

He introduces the readers to the contributors of Neo-Atheism’ like Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), who emphasizes the “gene-centered view of evolution”.

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Kushal quotes Dawkins, saying: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fictions: jealous and proud of it a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak, a vindictive, blood-thirsty ethnic cleaner, a misogynist  homophobic, racist infanticide….”.

Dawkins is a proponent of ‘militant atheism’.

Besides, the book details other three ‘horsemen’ of Neo-Atheism in West — Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Danniel Dennett.

Hitchens, known for his trenchant criticism of Abrahmic religions, was “a staunch advocate of secularism and separation of the Church and the state”. “Human decency is not derived from religion, it precedes it,” Kushal quotes Hitchenes from his book ‘The God is not Great’.

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Hitchens has also criticized religious figures Mother Teresa and Dalai Lama.

Kushal would have done well by including passages of the British-American writer who was also sharply critical of Islam and international terrorism.

While tracing rapid growth of Atheism in the West and recording rising numbers of  ‘ex-Muslims’ in Arab and other regions, Kushal contrasts it with Indian Atheistic philosophy called ‘Nirisvararvada’ and history of ancient atheists ‘Carvaks’.

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The writer differentiates Indian atheism from the western one by arguing that the former continues to be rooted in the wider Indian traditions and culture. The Indian non-believer, he seem to say, is a part and parcel of the life-energy that has continued with ‘Sanatan traditions’ and so it carries its DNA despite being a follower of ‘Nirisvararvada’.

“Nirisvararvada is a philosophical idea that has its origin in Indian philosophy and that is roughly, albeit, unsatisfactorily, translated either ‘atheism ‘ or non-atheism’ in the English language.

Within the religious traditions of Hinduism, Jainism, and Budhism, this school of thought denies the existence of personal ‘Isvara or Supreme entity (Brahman)’. In the Dharmic traditions of India, the word Isvara can refer to different concepts.

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Kushal clarifies to the reader that Nirisvararvada is strongly related to schools of thought that are found within both Astika and Nastika schools.

He details as how in the Astika darsanas, “both Samkhya and Mimamsa negate existence of Isvara”. “In the Nastika darsanas — Jains, Buddhists, and Carvaka/Lokayata  — all three negate the existence of an Isvara.”

Kushal rightly argues that neo-atheism in the early 21st century “can be seen as a response to several factors. One of the most significant catalysts was the rise of religious fundamentalism, particularly in the form of Islamic extremism and its impact on global politics”.  LGBTQ+ rights and debates on abortion were included in the Atheistic streams.

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“Neo-atheism served to normalize being an open and vocal atheist,” says the book and credits spread of social media for its growth.

The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism found that between 2005 and 2012 there was a six per cent increase in the number of persons living in India “who did not adhere to any religious faith”. This, Kushal says, is “negligible” compared to the West where it ranges from as high as 48 per cent in Netherlands to 15 per cent in Ireland, Italy and Portugal. The ‘ex-Muslim’ growth is also linked to neo-atheism, says Kushal.

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The book takes a wide-sweep on the complex history of religious concepts and growth of non-believers in the East and West.

The book is quite informative and largely skirts from taking sides. In the chapter, ‘Why I Am a Hindu’, he includes film stars Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Saif Ali Khan, to establish ‘pluralistic example of India’s diverse society”.

Kushal dwells deep into Hindu traditions and makes his best case for not being an atheist and remaining a Hindu. He quotes Pew research in 2015 that 95 per cent Indian believe in God, “underscoring the country’s deeply religious character”.

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In his ‘path’ to ‘self-realisation’, the author also quotes Bulleh Shah, who told him that “Munb aayi baat na rehndi re..(What’s on the tongue must be said)”.

But at the end of the clutter it can  be said that a good human being is better than all religions, including that of Atheism.

The book should be read by all those are caught on the labyrinth of existential  dilemmas of modern age.

(Opinion expressed in the article solely belongs to the author who is a senior journalist with three daces spent in mainstream English newspapers. He is also a new age thinker.)

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