Are Hindu Atheists more Plural ?

Most Hindu believers don’t have problems with bowing down before the next idol/guru in addition to their existing ones. One only has to visit Goan Churches to see devout and traditional Hindus praying to Jesus with all their devotion without any dichotomy. There appears to be no conflict between going back to their traditional lives while asking favors/ paying respects to the supposed Son of God. The violent history of how Christianity got into Goa has very little bearing on how Hindus interact with Christian pockets of Goa in contrast with the case with Islam. (This may not be the case in other areas where there is more active proselytization). While this pluralism which is a salient part of Hinduism is often traced to the Rgvedic “एकम सत विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति” form the First Mandala. However, as Michael Witzel points out in his analysis of Rgveda, pluralism can be found even in the Rgvedic family books (mandala 2-7 which is often to be earlier texts, with scholars putting them as at least 1500BCE), especially the 7th Mandala attributed to Vashishta. Thus it’s safe to argue that Plurality is a quintessential attribute of Hinduism.

From ages 22-25 I was hooked with the New Atheism worldview – which rarely had the representation of Ex-Hindus or Hindu-Atheists. Even then I could not fully agree with New Atheist criticism of Eastern Faith systems (I found the chapter in Hitchens book to be a strawman). More reading of history and politics since then has meant that I have come out of what Razib Khan calls the Nerd understanding of Religion. While the number of Ex-Muslims in the New-Atheist movement was low in the early 2010s, by 2020 the Ex-Muslim movement has gained a lot of momentum with many names becoming popular. I had avoided the whole Ex-Muslim internet sphere which seems to have exploded these last few years as I did not want to enforce my own confirmation bias about the ills of Islam. However, this Armin- KaliMaa fracas has meant that I have followed the works of these Ex-Muslims a lot over the last week.

Having read and listened to these guys, I can’t ignore the glaring differences between Hindu Atheists like myself and Ex-Muslim or Ex-Christian atheists. While surveys point to less than 1% of Indians self designating as atheists, I really doubt the number as most Hindu atheists continue to identify as Hindu unlike atheists coming from other faiths. In my experience, Hindu atheists spend less time arguing in the abstract about belief in the supernatural or the validity of scriptures and are more focused on concrete problems – viz rituals/traditions which they find illogical or abhorrent. This may be a function of Hinduism, which is less scriptural and much more ritualistic (at least this is true for the Brahminism which I am most familiar with). Over these particular issues, there is only a minor difference between the positions of the Reformist yet believing Hindus and Hindu Atheists. On the other hand, the New-Atheist position is glaringly similar to the Monotheistic position – with all the certainty and condescension but no coercion and violence.

This difference could be for two reasons:

  • For most Hindus being atheist is not a big deal. There is very little penalty on being non-conformist as long as atheism isn’t confrontational. As a result, Hindu atheists don’t feel like aggravated victims and are reciprocally less confrontational. This neutral feedback cycle keeps most Atheists in the larger Hindu fold.
  • Being exposed to numerous faiths and worship systems since childhood, Hindu atheists like Hindus don’t find it tough to respect the behaviors of other believers (however ridiculous) which New Atheists condescend at much more polemically.

That being said, a lot of unnecessary condescension at Hindu practices does exist in India – particularly on the left. But even that doesn’t necessarily overlap with Atheism but with the Indian “Secular” framework. I don’t mean to imply that all Hindu atheists are plural or even liberal. But for most Hindus, atheism is an epistemological position and not an absolutist belief system. Finding a Hindu atheist being as confrontational as an atheist from Monotheism is rare thought there must be numerically significant exceptions.

I personally would rather spend most of my energies fighting Homeopathy than religion. IMO both are demonstrably false but only one of them pretends to be scientific.

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19 thoughts on “Are Hindu Atheists more Plural ?”

    1. @Milan Todorovic
      You are too ignorant: The earliest Swastika has been found in Ukraine around 10,000 BC. You may think that swastika shows something, and Vinca is PIE. However, recent genetics research has conclusively demonstrated that Vinca has Anatolian ancestry, and they did not contribute any ancestry to Europe. Therefore, Vinca can neither be PIE or PII. Frankly, calling Vinca as ancestors of Indians without any proof is disingenuous; you are, however, free to believe your nonsense. I know you will neglect this post and continue to post rubbish in you quest to some “mythical” history.,of%20a%20stork%20in%20flight.

      1. Take it easy, what’s happening with you oit guys? Some of you start showing autistic behaviour and doesn’t make sense to attempt any dialog. If you or anyone else think that I am wrong, you can just state this, or just ignore, no need to lose your temper. You are not someone with whom can be made a conversation about genetics. It is unclear what you want to say. I can see only frustration. Or maybe there was no swastika in Vinca? How old is swastika in India? I did not say that Indians originated in Vinca, I said so for Aryans which descendants consist 150+ millions of SAsians. There is a consensus that Aryans were so called East Europeans i.e. ‘Slavics’. What do you think?

        Here is coming one rare oit common sense representative:

        “One has to be incredibly stupid to deny that steppe population did not come to India. They did.” (Chittadhara)


        1. @Milan Todorovic
          I am not an OIT or AMT guy. I am only interested in facts: If data had shown Vinca to have played some role in IE or Steppe, I would have said so. From your own reasoning: You would be incredibly stupid to state that VInca had a role in IE. Genetic is against it, but nothing will convince you, I know.

          Regarding R1a, it is present in Europe as well as India. Slavics — including Serbs, Poles — also have other haplogroups, e.g., I. The confusion that you have is that you conflate language grouping with genetic grouping. A culture is generally formed by mixing of various ancestries — as seen by the presence of so many haplogroups in any language culture. Also, R1a was formed 22,000 – 25,000 years ago. Just because a haplogroup is common means nothing on its own; we need more proof.

          Now what I believe: Balto-Slavic and Persia have a lot in common. From what linguists propose and my own view, it appears that they were responsible for the spread/formation of the Persian empire. Anything more than this would be conjecture on my part.

          To sum up, there are a lot of commonalities and differences between IE groups. Prima facie, Balto Slavics are closest to Iranians and then to Indians and Germans (order uncertain). On this note, you can definitely identify as Iranian, Indian, or German — if you wish to. My opinion is that you have your history, and you should take pride from it.

  1. Short Answer: Yes
    In my personal opinion i want to say that the presence of Different schools with large amount of adherents living peacefully side by side for milennia is enough to state that Hindus are more plural.
    Some Hindus are more Conservative and have Honor Based cultural values.( Gujjars,Jaats,Jatts etc).
    Other can be opposite side of the spectrum and still remain within the Hindu fold.
    Like my generation is more liberal than previous generation as far as women education is concered.( Thinks like face Covering(my mom has to wear ghunghat for years) ,Role based life for men and women is similar to other Societies)

  2. Its not just plurality that contextualizes the Hindu (or Dharmic) atheism.
    1)The understanding of the cosmology itself.. ‘Parabrahma’ vs ‘Shoonya’ vs ‘Something else’ debate is more akin to ‘Big Bang’ vs ‘Steady State’ vs ‘Quasi-steady State’ models of the Universe (absent the mathematical rigor of course). So that ‘Something Else’ can encapsulate both, Hindu Agnosticism and Hindu Atheism. It puts the onus a Hindu Atheists to find that ‘something else’.
    It is easy to create an ‘Anti’ argument when you are dealing with a well defined Sky-father God. Not so much when so much of the theology is based on Neti Neti!

    2) A belief based theology vs a questioning tradition… The founder of Isha ( Sadguru Jaggi) speaks quite well about this. Granted that there is Bhakti tradition premised on ‘belief’ in Hinduism.. but even there questioning is not forbidden. Thus this takes away the antagonism from Hindu Atheism.
    Additionally so many Hindus (like so many Reform Jews) do Rituals and temple visits as a way of connecting to their roots finding some kind of common energy with their co-dharmics. So believing is not a necessary condition to be a Hindu.
    Plus, the sheer drama, entertainment, joy, bliss, reasons to feast our pantheon presents without asking much in return (like pray 5 times, keep halal, do not drink, wear hijab, fast a month every year) so being a Hindu sounds like a good deal overall for an atheist too!

    1. Of the new atheist crowd, I think Sam Harris stands out as having a decent understanding of Hinduism / Dharmic philosophy. He spent a bunch of years in India and Nepal at some point iirc, so it makes sense he would have a deeper understanding.

      Sadly I haven’t come across any other prominent western atheist who shows anything beyond a surface level understanding.

      Basically “God” in theistic hindu darshanas is the solution of to the “hard problem of consciousness”. The nature of consciousness is debated between the darshanas.

      Salvation is about spiritual purification and can take many forms depending on ones individual proclivities, hence Hindus are pluralistic about ‘sadhanas’.

      The whole obsession with “who created the universe”, “what does this almighty creator want us to do”, etc is not relevant.

      Most Hindu don’t know the nitty gritty of philosophical stuff but they do operate on these implicit assumptions as part of the overall ethos.

      This why you will hear trad. Hindus say stuff like “all religions can lead to God”, they will know bits and pieces from the Gita about who different ‘yogas’ can lead to moksha etc.

  3. To me it has thus far been about disgust, what motivates me more is a function of disgust . At 16 rss disgusted me to the degree that knowing that rss worker was around corner doing some exercise incensed me and make me feel my body jerk, in 20’s the corruption of congress and lies on part of left disgusted me, over past few months, the defense of caste by some disgusted me to the point to come out and blog even get me to seriously consider joining another religion (christianity) . what is clear is that .

    1. Caste is just not necessary to practicing Hinduism. I never figured it as essential at all theologically either tbh.

      It’s never factored in my life or worship or even my family. I guess this depends on region/sampraday tho and I am diaspora so I have a diff exp.

      1. Imo caste is an Indian social feature more than a Hindu feature. Ofcourse it’s justified and propogaded/concretized by Hindu scripture. But it hasn’t gone away in Muslims who have been Muslim for a millenia.

    2. Your disgust seems to me to be pretty selective. You don’t even consider Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrian, or even Ahmadiyya. I suppose, you just want to join something western. Maybe you can consider joining Scientology: I think you will really enjoy it.

  4. You can keep on framing millions of questions like this if your starting assumption posits Sanatana Dharma as a religion similar to Islam or Christianity.

    1. Yeah, but someone has to set the table for this card game, provide entertainment to some nerds and keep the House in business isn’t it?

  5. Very nice.

    “Reformist yet believing Hindus and Hindu Atheists”

    Could you define these further?

    Could you further elaborate by ancient shaastra, saint and Sampradaaya?

    1. Thanks AnAn,
      I meant not necessarily through/inter Sampradaya/Panthas but within families/sampradayas where some individuals are non conformist/reformist viz some rituals (though not necessarily non believers in them).

      Eg – Not welcoming menstruating women in Pujas and worship – not that whole communities would want that but some individuals would take a non conformist stance.

  6. GauravL,

    “Eg – Not welcoming menstruating women in Pujas and worship – not that whole communities would want that but some individuals would take a non conformist stance.”

    The reason this is done as per my understanding is that Pujas affect the brain and nervous system and might have negative side effects on females during menstruation. But it depends on the type of Yajna, puja or brain sound therapy.

    But individuals can choose their own path and not follow these suggestions. They will bear the consequences.

    There have been many non conformists and reformists in many ancient texts. Isn’t that always with us?

    1. “But individuals can choose their own path and not follow these suggestions”
      Yes thats what I implied –
      “There have been many non conformists and reformists in many ancient texts. Isn’t that always with us?”
      Yupp; I would attribute the Pluralism to those challenges to the mainstream from earliest time (even if challenges aren’t always robust they do tend to have overall effect which tends to accept multiple paths imo)

  7. Hi Gaurav, have you come across Gora (Goparaju Ramachandra Rao) and his book called “Positive Atheism”? I was very pleased to find a positive angle of atheism, which by its very name sounds more of a negative concept when it actually provides so many positive benefits and a freedom from the shackles of faith.

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