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Culture, Religion, and the Intersection of the Two

My Life as a Hindu Atheist

I shift between whether I refer to myself as an atheist or an agnostic. Perhaps an agnostic atheist would be the most accurate—it's not so much an active disbelief in any deity as it is a passive lack of belief due to there being no way to prove or disprove the existence of any such deity. On a cultural level, I'd probably consider myself Hindu.

I have a weird, borderline masochistic relationship with religion. I'm a STEM person at heart. I believe in what can be quantified, demonstrated. History has taught me to be cynical about organized religion, and if anyone tries to justify it through saying it gives people morals... well, I'm likely to snap at them. I'm not one for faith in some nebulous entity. I prefer to reserve my faith for people and the fundamental decency of humans. I don't need a priest or a God or a religious text to tell me what's "right" and what's "wrong." I don't need anyone to define morality to me.

At the same time, Hinduism is a culture more so than a religion. It's a set of tenets by which Hindus are supposed to live their lives. Its concept of the divine and what our relationships with it should be like is actually pretty vague, largely defined by the individual. And that should be inclusive enough for me to accept it, especially because it's not really organized religion in the sense that I'm wary of. No central leaders. No push for proselytizing.

There was never a big event in my life that made me think, hey, I don't believe in God, nor even a series of small events. I just never did. My family has never been particularly religious. So not praying, not going to a temple, not believing in any deity—it was never really an active choice. Lately, when I think about it, I wonder if part of it wasn't the subconscious knowledge that avoiding a real affiliation with Hinduism would be easier.

I grew up in North America. And what do kids want more than to fit in? I was a weird enough kid based on things I chose and my personality—the things I read, my weird sense of humour, my lack of anything resembling athleticism, my awkwardness. I didn't want to add to that through obvious Indian-ness. By not having any real ties to Hinduism, I now feel like I'm rejecting my heritage, my family, and it doesn't help that for a long time, I kind of did. Even up until high school, I'd make it a point to correct anyone that called me Indian, pointing out that I'm Canadian. I've eased up on that as I began to understand better what Hinduism actually means and learned more about India's long history and rich culture. I've gotten older. I'm less insecure about who I am and what people think about me than I was in elementary school. I can appreciate the role Hinduism has in the culture of the country my parents come from. I can celebrate the cultural aspects of Hindu holidays without feeling nearly as uncomfortable as I once did. It's the easiest way to reconnect with my Indian heritage, and I appreciate that.

I still have a complicated, frustrating relationship with religion as religion and not as a cultural thing. It's not something I like thinking about. I hate the idea of oh, let's pray and put faith in some entity that we don't know exists and that supposedly only cares for those of us that worship it. I prefer to believe in humanity. I prefer to believe in our ability to help each other and in our fundamental decency. Not all of us will. But enough of us that I prefer to put my faith in us over anything else. And you know what? That's what I consider the real point of Hinduism. Maybe I'm starting to get it after all.

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Culture, Religion, and the Intersection of the Two
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