Only moderate atheists are secular

In one of my previous posts, I stressed on how much I detest peddlers of religions, and their new found habit to defend their religious ideologies with selected scientific ideas. There’s another sect that’s getting on my nerves. This sect consists of the pseudo-secular activists and thinkers.

According to Wikipedia, Secularism is the principle of separation between government institutions and the persons mandated to represent the State from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.

However, this definition is limited to just the government, the elected and non-elected officials who represent it.

What about the general public, the commoners on the street? You and I?

Essentially, secularism is preventing your religious beliefs, if any, from affecting your day-to-day communication, actions, and interaction with your fellow beings. Secularism would mean that you are not prejudiced by matters of color, caste, creed, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, belief or lack of it.

In our country we have three types of people. The extremists who are the mullahs, the VHP, the Bajrangdal, the RSS  brigade, and the like. Pseudo-seculars are represented by a few elitists, writers, activists, artists and media people. The moderates who are the vast majority of clueless citizens.

I can only pity the extremists because they have single-track minds. They refuse to see the other side of the story. They are extremists because they want to be extremists; they see a purpose in being extremists.

The moderates actually do not bother. They remain the silent majority, and are secular when they deem it fit or protectors of their own faith when that seems called for. They get swayed by sentiments easily but they hardly act.

The third lot is the pseudo-secular brigade. They are elitists and consider being identified as secular a fashion statement. They do everything to draw attention, and only take up causes that get attention. You would see them on your TV and read about them in the press. The poster children of this brigade would include names like Mahesh Bhatt, Teesta Setalwad, Shabana Azmi, Arundhati Roy and so on.

Several of my colleagues from the media form an integral part of the brigade. Friends who are human rights activists also form the core group.

They hate any Hindu mass leader, irrespective of his or her track record; and find it fashionable to bash them. L. K. Advani and Narendra Modi probably deserve their attention and criticism. But why Anna Hazare? Why do any of the RTI activists? Just because they are opposing a government that’s basically pseudo-secular on issues on corruption?

They feel that protecting the interests of a minority community is secularism. They feel that criticizing anyone who talks of protecting the interests of a majority spells secularism.

Narendra Modi might be the perpetrator of some of the worst crimes committed against humanity in the past decade. But that does not mean that you oppose him vehemently even when he does something good.

Fighting for someone because he or she belongs to a minority, does not make you secular. Minority appeasement does not make you secular.

Mind you, I am all for protecting the interests of the weakest of the weak in a community, a society, and a country. I wholly subscribe to Gandhi’s view. “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

But it must not be appeasement; it must be fair treatment, which does not alienate minorities from the majority. The moment you do that, you create extremists, right wing politicians, fascist thinkers who would inflame majority sentiments. Any policy must be inclusive to protect the interests of a minority.

You are secular, if you can:

  • Stop identifying a person on the street with his religion, caste or language, and forming a stereotypical opinion of that person. A vermillion on the head does not mean that someone is a Hindu fanatic, a skull cap does not make a person a terrorist.
  • Stop identifying colours, symbols, and other random objects with a specific religion or community. Green does not mean only Islam, just like everything orange is not Hindu.
  • Develop a self-deprecating sense of humour so that you can easily laugh at even the most distasteful joke, comment, or opinion on your community or religion. Personally, I have schooled myself to laugh at any joke on atheism if it’s witty.
  • Stop feeling superior because you belong to a particular caste, creed, religion, or a region.
  • Find fault with a festival,  a custom, or ritual practiced by a community and not the community because you address that issue not from a communal point of view, but from a logical, scientific, and environmental point of view. For example, I hate any festival or occasion where crackers are burst because of the noise and air pollution, and also because it scares the poor animals. To find fault with the community and not the custom is foolhardy.
  • If you do not feel prejudiced, and can take part in a religious function of another community wholeheartedly.

Following a particular faith in its most pure and extreme form would ensure that you remain non-secular, unless you have high ideals like that of M. K. Gandhi. For example, if you are a staunch Muslim, you cannot take part in a Hindu religious festival, where vermillion could be applied on your forehead. This is because it’s considered haram. And goes against both the Shariah and the Hijab. Similarly, a Hindu who cannot justify cow slaughter for food by the non-vegetarian brigade, who attributes the act to Christians and Muslims is not secular.

I believe that only moderate atheists can really be called secular. Even among the atheists there are extremists who pick up an argument with a believer, and end up hurting sentiments. Needless to say, they are not secular. Moderate atheists, on the other hand, really do not care about other people’s beliefs. They can be comfortable with another’s faith and rituals. They do not pick on anyone for believing in God or for practicing a ritual that’s seemingly unnatural. Importantly, they do not prescribe atheism.

As a matter of fact, neither do I.

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