I am an almost atheist. I really find it difficult to believe in God, and I find it even more difficult to believe in a God according to a specific religious belief. Yet, when it comes to the inexplicable and unexplainable, I am one of those who would like to take refuge in a Superior Force. My atheist friends brand me a coward for this reason.
I grew up under the influence of my grandmothers who were fairly religious. My paternal grandmother who passed away about seven months back at the ripe old age of 96 years was a great influence when I was a kid, and used to tell me stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In fact by the age of four, I just about knew all stories from both the books. In fact getting me to tell a religious tale was a favorite past-time to some of the older folks at home during those days. My maternal grandmother was a huge Sai Baba devotee and used to have poojas and bhajans regularly at home. My father, at least during his younger years, never cared much for religion or God, but turned around by the time he reached 60. My mother is very spiritual and spends hours, even today, praying; and is a follower of Sri Paramahamsa, Vivekananda, and the Brahma Kumaris.
I was also fairly religious till I was around 13 or 14. I remember, after spending a very spiritual summer vacation at my maternal grandmother’s house listening to talks from preachers and thought leaders, I decided to give up on meat, and even cried when I saw it being cooked at home. Around the time I turned 14, I suddenly gave up on God. Looking back, I cannot pin-point a single reason for such a reaction, but there were many. One of the reasons, I decided to give up on the Hindu Gods, were because they were too many. I was scared to align with one.
I also could not understand why Christians prayed in a Church, and Muslims in a Mosque, while I had to visit various temples.
I grew up with friends from all beliefs. I studied in a Catholic school, and my classmates were from various Christian communities, which Kerala is famous for. One of my best friends was a Muslim, and he used to share his lunch box generously with me. My father’s best friend was a Jew, and we were always invited to his home during their festivals. I started questioning. “Why aren’t my friends Joseph or Tareeq not scared of our Hindu Gods, and why am I not scared of their Christian and Islamic Gods?”
Another issue which I had was the depiction of God by all religions, and the morality associated with the phrase, ‘God Fearing’.
All religions advocated a God who became angry when human beings goofed up and I was advised to be Godfearing, and never invite the wrath of God. When a plane crashed, when floods or famine occurred, or even when someone young died, they held God responsible. God was angry because he has not been appeased properly. Hence slowly in my mind, God became a tough school master, the kind of teachers in our Catholic Boys High School, who used to use the severest form of corporal punishment on young boys. I was very uncomfortable with that image of God. My age of innocence died, and I started indulging in practices that were deemed to be a sin during my wonder years. Then again, I was reminded. God does not like bad boys. You must listen to your parents and teachers. You must focus on your studies. God does not like children who lie, who do mischief. The image of God being a task master who keeps snooping around you like a Big Brother was very uncomfortable. And if God does not punish you in the form of an angry parent and teacher, you are going to get punished on Judgment Day. The concept of Hell and Heaven exists in all religions, and I found that amusing. I don’t know of any major religion that does not have the concept of rewards and punishment once you die. The sinners go to Hell, while the pious souls are rewarded with a heavenly abode.
Also God is supposed to be so powerful, that he can control human beings, human feelings, and human nature. When a classmate fell into a pond, then God sent a passer-by as a savior who jumped in and saved him. When the snake was about to bite, God appeared in the form of a mongoose, and fought with the snake.
Again I had questions. “Thousands die of snake bites every year, and a similar number drown to death. Why doesn’t God send someone or appear in another form?” Elders who were probably tired of my questions said, “God helps only the innocent souls, people who have done good things in life, and always punishes the sinners.”
“But then several children die young; they are innocent,” I argued.
“No. In their previous birth, they certainly have done something wrong,” came the reply.
I read the Bible when I was in the 9th standard. It was gifted to me by a Christian friend, who wanted me to accept his belief. I read it almost like a Charles Dickens novel, getting very confused between the two testaments. Now God became not just a tough school master, but also a judge, who knew your case too well. A close Christian friend used to regularly go in for confession, and confess his sins, and then come back and commit them all over again, and then repeat the process over. He reasoned. “Confession absolves me of all crime, and I am pure again so I can sin again.” I found that hilarious.
We were told to pray to God, and strike deals with him for special reasons. Doing well in an exam was the most important reason. And if I did not do well, praying to God so that my father takes my results lightly was an automatic step. I found this was almost like bribing. Can God be bribed?
Then the wiser lot told me that there’s just one God, and he’s everywhere, and even inside you. I was comfortable with that idea, and I stopped visiting temples, and even stopped the little prayer I performed before I left for school everyday. By the time I turned 15, I started reading more serious stuff, and over the next three years, I had read enough to denounce God and religion. I gave up on God while still being a teenager.
I spent the next two decades in a more or less godless world using my own moral compass for directions. However suddenly, I have started questioning myself. I have started to miss my God! Well, I don’t know where he is, and what he is like. I don’t know whether he really exists. I know I need to restart the pursuit again.
Yes, the pursuit of a Perfect God.