There is a popular misconception in our society that people become atheists or freethinkers by reading the books of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or Charles Darwin. But it is not the case. Most people lose their religious beliefs and faith in God by reading their sacred texts, as in my case.
It was in the year 1998 I read the Bible for the first time in my life under the persistent compulsion of my aunt. I was 12 years old. Every single day during my free time after school homework, I read it page by page. It took nearly a year for me to finish reading it. The bible reading mission neither made me feel redeemed nor content. It only helped to confuse me. To end that confusion, I read Bible again in the year 2005, during the final year of my graduation. In essence, reading it for the second time turned the matter much worse. I became too skeptical about the bible story. Above all, I could find none to discuss my doubts. The internet was in its nascent stage, and online searches on Bible didn’t turn up with proper results.
Why can’t the omniscient and omnipotent God who killed millions, including women and children, split the sea and impregnate a virgin can’t do the miracles these days? Is he sleeping? Why can’t God defeat the devil and made it easy for us to believe in him and stay in heaven forever? Why can’t he forgive us without wasting his time on all these dramas and bloodshed? Why Yahweh needs the blood of his son for the sins committed by our great, great grandparents? Why can’t he save people from poverty, misery, diseases, rape, and murder today like the way he did thousands of years ago? Are the bible stories even real? I don’t think so.
It was during those days, one of my Muslim friends presented me with a Koran on my birthday. On the first page of the Koran, she had written: I love Koran, and one day you will love it too. She might want to convert me to Islam. Yes, we were in love. The Koran was an imported version from Iran.
I read it. It was a smaller book compared to Bible. In truth, Koran was one of the most violent, misogynistic rule book I have ever read in my life. I can’t find ‘peace’ anywhere in that book, and I still wonder how Muslims all across the world can claim that their religion is the ‘religion of peace.’
After reading the Koran, I asked her whether she had ever read it once in her life. The reply was, she do it everyday but only the verses selected by her family. We call it cherry-picking. Both the books, Bible and Koran, if you read without cherry-picking just like regular books, you will realize that they are just iron age myths presented as historical events and facts. There is nothing ‘holy’ about them. How can the books that are filled with violence, nonsense, slavery, incest, and rape be called ‘holy’ books?
The trouble started from that moment forth. I was perplexed. Being born and brought up in an orthodox religious family where you can only find people who believe the Bible as the truth and the way of life, I felt alone with my skeptical thoughts. I’m sure that every freethinker would have experienced this loneliness in their life.
It was my close friend Jim, an atheist who introduced the books of Joseph Edamarukku and AT Kovoor to me. After reading their books, I was relieved to know that it was not only me; there is a good number of people in this world who think like me. But the saddest part is that both Kovoor and Edamarukku was no more. If they were alive, I would have contacted them and met them. It all happened in the year 2005, and I was an ardent believer in Jesus until that moment in my life. Within a few weeks, all those superstitious beliefs of mine were shattered.
I was busy with my life and career from 2005 to 2015. During those ten years, I have discussed my doubts with my highly religious cousins, relatives, and friends. Surprisingly, no one can give a proper explanation of my queries. They either shun away from my questions or give out their versions of answers to the queries. I began to think critically not only about God and religion but also on every aspect of my life and the world I live in. I felt like I was being fooled as everything I had been told was lies and bull shit. It was a grand realization. I began to consider myself as an atheist. Though I felt isolated, it provided me with more courage and a pair of wings to my mind and thoughts.
India is a secular democratic country, and we have freedom of expression. I have started openly expressing my atheistic views even though I couldn’t find answers for some stupid queries from religious friends and relatives. I could only find a few of my friends who share my way of thinking. I desperately needed someone to look upon. Someone like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Is there someone like that in our country? I had yet to find one.
One day, in 2016, I accidentally watched a debate session with an atheist named Ravichandran C and a religious guy. I was hooked on to the discussion. The way Ravichandran answered the brainless questions and statements from the religious guy was outstanding. I had watched the debates of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens on YouTube. But it was for the first time I was watching one of a kind in Malayalam. That, too, an outstanding one. I couldn’t believe it.
I began searching on Ravichandran C online. As a result, more YouTube videos of him turned up, and I kept on watching each one of them. Then came the information about esSENSE, a freethinker’s group registered in my home town, Thrissur. I was excited as my search for a freethinking community in my place had finally come to a halt. I began to attend the seminars of esSENSE and take notes and started posting on my blog. Every summit was very informative, triggering the discussion on prevalent social and political issues in more straightforward language. Every speaker brilliantly demolished the religious myths and superstitions as well as exposed various pseudosciences in our society. I was enlightened by thoroughly enjoying it.
On 29th July 2018, during a seminar titled Emerge ’18 at Hotel South Regency, Cochin, I met Ravichandran C, talked with him, and took a selfie with him. Contrary to my expectations, he was friendly and down to earth person. He was the sort of person I was searching for. I was always wanted to be a friend of Ravichandran C. Our society needs a person like him as well. After reaching home on that day, I sent a friend request to him on Facebook. As even after two days I could find that he didn’t accept my invitation, I asked him over messenger that why he is not accepting my request. In case if he had forgotten my face, I sent him the selfie I had taken with him during the seminar.. I know it is a bit childish for a 30 something guy. What to do? I wanted to be a friend of him, period.
Ravichandran C told me that his Facebook friend list has exceeded it’s limit and promised me he would reply to my queries on messenger. To me, it wasn’t enough. So, I shared with him my blog-post on the seminar conducted by him the last day. Within an hour, I got a friend request from him, and it was like a dream came true. I was excited. He also didn’t forget to add me to a secret Facebook group called Nastikanaya Daivam (നാസ്തികനായ ദൈവം or ND). There I found my people- the people who dare to think critically and express their ideas and philosophies openly.
An organization like esSENSE is need of the hour in a society that is in the clutches of superstitions, pseudoscience, and lies. We, especially the youth, need freedom from the falsehoods we have been exposed to since the day we were born into this world. A scientific temper should be developed among the masses. More than anything else, freethinkers need a forum. A person who dares to think differently from the crowd and willing to knock down his long-held superstitious beliefs should not feel like they are alone on this planet. I know how painful it is. I had endured it since the day I made my decision to become an atheist till the day I stumbled upon esSENSE. Today, I’m profoundly hopeful that esSENSE will make a significant change in the attitudes of people towards atheists and also bring a sea of changes in our society and culture.
The most astonishing part is the annual meet up of esSENSE, Litmus. It can also be taken as yearly get together of atheists or freethinkers. I was surprised to see that nearly 3000 people turned up for the event last year. This year, more than 7000 people joined the feat. It is the crystal clear sign that our society is changing; more and more people are fed up with religious myths, superstitions, and bold enough to divert from the path of blind faith and belief and sail the route that leads by the evidence.
The saddest part is that I couldn’t attend both the meetups. Last year, I was bedridden at the time of the event, and this year, I was engaged with a movie shoot. Anyway, I’m delighted and proud of the fact that I’m not alone in this world because I think critically and express openly my hatred towards religion and the number one superstition that haunts our society – God.
If you are freethinker, to join esSENSE, you can follow this link – essenseglobal.com/essenseconnect2