Soma is the Administrator of the “Secular Indian.” Here we talk about her life, views, and work.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How is religion more bad than good?
Soma: Any thought process that relies on an assumption- and it is an assumption- that a parental figure no one has ever seen isobserving every move of an individual from birth to death, opens a door wide open.
The door to interpretation and fanciful imagination. The result of this fantastic lie taking root in human civilization is there for all to see.
The divisions created among humans based on which god (or set of gods) a group of people would collectively agree to believe in (and creating exclusive communities out of such beliefs), are essentially artificial divisions.
And any competitive vying for the top spot that naturally occurs in group behaviors inevitably culminates in mutual suspicions, hatred, superiority complexes and violence. All consequences of these artificial divisions that are based on a lie of gargantuan proportions.
Most religions are based on faith. They spread the doctrine that faith is essential for human life. All of them are perpetuated through childhood indoctrination.
This results in the conditioning of vulnerable children into adults who are averse to not only critical or scientific thinking but averse to thinking in general. Religions claim to have (simplistic) answers to complex problems which makes thinking a liability.
Religion creates adults who can’t think for themselves; so these adults are incapable of solving real problems at individual and social level. This is the recipe for stagnation, strife, social divide, atrocities, gender inequality and other such social evils.
Jacobsen: What events in history most speak to this evaluation?
Soma: Wars, conflicts, in-fighting, rioting and all other kinds of violent behaviors have been occurring throughout mankind’s history that are based on which god/s are true vs which are false.
Invasions, conquests, persecutions and oppression have all been influenced by different religious identities forever obsessed with claiming victory in a never-ending power game India has been involved in these bloody and catastrophic power struggles right from the word go.
Temple desecrations and consequent fatalities were common between Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Kingdoms long before the arrival of the Muslims.
For example, around 18,000 members of the Ajivika sect were executed as a result of an order given by Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Dynasty who reigned between 268-232BCE.
The Ajivikas opposed the philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism and were, thus, considered to be “rivals”. Ashoka would famously go on to reject all violence,yet he continued to pose a threat to the lives of tribals who had their own way of life and were therefore, considered to be “rivals”or , the “other”.
The Muslim invasions and subsequent rule have only added more fuel to the fire. The hostilities that firmly took rootbetween Hindus and Muslimshave gone on to fester through the centuries and serve as a catalyst to one of the severest incidents of religious massacres in world history- The Partition.
It is estimated around 2 million people lost their lives and 14 million people were displaced during the creation of Pakistan along religious lines. The ongoing conflict in Kashmir is mainly a religious one.
I need not add that all of this isrevolved around the celestial rivalries between fictional sky dwelling creatures.
Jacobsen: How is this replicated right into the present?
Soma: Mob scenes erupting between religious communities are not an uncommon occurrence in India. Practically anything and everything can set off a riot. Most notable mentions would be the 1984 Sikh massacre in which the unofficial death toll is estimated to be up to 18,000; the 1969 Gujarat riots which left 660 dead and 48000 displaced; the 1989 Bhagalpur riots that saw the deaths of over 1000 people and 50,000 displaced; the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 by Hindu Nationalists that saw the deaths of around 2000 people; the subsequent Bombay riots which took a further 700 odd lives; the Muzaffarnagar riots that claimed 62 lives and left almost 50,000 displaced; the 2002 Gujarat riots which claimed the lives of around 1044 people and over 200 missing; the 2012 Assam riots between Bodos and Muslims in which 77 lay dead and 400,000 displaced; the Pilibhit riots…. the list is actually endless.
Especially if one is to include mob scenes that erupt after a movie release or a book release or the elopement of inter faith lovers. And of course, caste violence.
The worst part of this already sordid scenario inside the world of religion is the oppression that goes on of women and minorities within religious communities that largely go unreported. Dogma is a way of life.
Most right wing ideologues nowadays claim a golden past or religious utopia in the past which appeals to most of the fanatics and religious moderates who don’t want the trouble of thinking for themselves.
They can blame all the social ills or economic challenges on those past invasions by “outsiders”. That is the reason they categorize science as “eastern” and “western” and thus reject scientific method, evolution and modern medical science.
Also they can create an illusion of every form of knowledge existing in the past and getting destroyed by those outsiders. All this propaganda may lead to systematic dumbing down of a whole generation of India and we may lose the demographic dividend of our young population.
The youngsters of India are receiving this vile opiate; so they are totally unaware of the real challenges the humankind or world in general is going to face in 21st century.
Jacobsen: What are the positives of religion?
Soma: I first need to state the obvious with a generalization. As we are social animals, we bond in groups. Whether a group has a destructive agenda (a neo nazi group, for example) or is completely benign in nature (a book club), the dynamics at work that hold a group together are the same.
Like minded people converging together and feelingsolidarity, a sense of belonging, a sense ofcommunity.
Religion is a first attempt to know and understand the world. A primitive baby step taken towards the direction of science and philosophy. And is a first venture of humans to undertake large scale cooperation.
Along the way religion has provided the inspiration for great works of art, architecture, literature, music and so on.
I would add a p.s. that, religions had all the wealth in their hands; hence, obviously they were the sponsors of such great artistic endeavors.
Jacobsen: What inspired the foundation of Secular Indian?
Soma: I turned atheist in my teens. I come from a liberal family and my father, who was an agnostic, told me some ugly truths about religion when I was 7.
A few years ago, I met up with my fellow admin in an atheist group. He had already created this page and asked me if I would run it as he could not find the time. The rest is history.
Jacobsen: How is criticism of religion healthy and normal rather than something to be condemned?
Soma: All ideas need a healthy and continuous dose of criticism, introspection and evidence-based dissent if they are to evolve and survive into the next phase. Religious belief should have faded off into oblivion a long long time ago after scientific thought broke free from it to hold its own.
The only reason religion is surviving todayis due to the fact that religion employs fear tactics over those who dare question it. As a result, religion has been able to get away with some of the worst cases of human rights violations history has ever seen.
The long and short of it is that without merciless criticism and expose, the oppressor will continue to oppress and the oppressed will continue to live a life in silent acceptance.
Religious philosophies portray a completely different picture of reality which clashes with the world view given by science. When religions ruled the world that era is termed as “dark ages” because religions had a stranglehold on every aspect of human lives.
Every belief has its consequences. So, the world never progressed much, the human condition was always bleak & uncertain. When the “Enlightenment” principles like science, reason, humanism and progress took roots in the psyche of (mainly European ) the society it loosened this stranglehold of religions on human thinking.
When criticism was recognized as part of public discourse (at least in learned circles) and a vital part of science; the progress which ensued is still going on in leaps and bounds.
Hence religions all of which promote faith (unquestioning belief) should be treated as “human ideas” instead of divine ideas. If those ideas are questioned and criticized then mankind can have a choice of accepting or rejecting them on the criterion of reason.
The constructive criticism combined with freedom of speech has done wonders in the arena of science; same revolution can happen in the world of religion too which will be the best thing to happen in a world dominated by blind faith.
Jacobsen: What are the reactions within Indian culture of those who reject the common Hindu, Islamic, and other mythologies?
Soma: I am an ex Hindu and have always been completely open and outspoken about my rejection of the religious identity that was slapped onto me at birth. Hailing from a liberal family as I do, I am lucky that I have not faced any repercussion.
I cannot say this is the same for everyone. The usual family backlash will be faced by those who hail from a conservative household. In fact, the option to leave is not even presented to a child with the result that one would have to live a life in the closet in adulthood should one opt to leave faith behind.
The situation inside Muslim communities is on another level as the penalty for leaving the faith is met with disownment by the family,or worse..
Jacobsen: How are religion and politics mixed together for the benefit of the dominant faiths in India? Is this reflected in the current leadership?
Soma: A highly successful divisive policy of ‘divide and rule’ instilled in the psyche of the general public, whence theBritish Raj took over the reigns from the East India company in the mid 1800’s – has been the main stay of politics ever since the country gained independence a 100 years later.
The origin of various religious based (or caste based) political parties in India has benefited those that seek the all-important vote. A vote that keeps them in power – and the power that allows for them to drive their agenda further.
Be it the lower caste’s, the Muslim majoritarian, or the Hindu majoritarian – all parties seek victory based on their consistent rhetoric of caste/religion-based policies.
The present incumbent party in India has been at the forefront ofa dialogue that has been finding newer ways of wedging a greater divide between the two main religions in India –Hindu’s and Muslim’s! From eating habits (beef/meat consumption and the lynchings that rose out of it), to the recent controversial Muslim divorce process – everything has been based on religion-based appeasement or exclusion.
The benefit is obvious – political power is seized, intrinsic human rights (freedom’s of various orders) are constricted, the religious identity strengthened – resulting in (the hope of) an authoritarian religion based nation.
Jacobsen: How do electronic media provide a safe platform and space for the non-religious?
Soma: One word: anonymity. This means that one can engage in open discussions and debates safely without the fearof persecution. The anonymity of social media coupled with instant exchanging of ideas with people around the world has enabled atheism to spread today at a speed that is unprecedented. Because religion cannot find you and hunt you down here, you are safe.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Soma.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Image Credit: Soma.