It’s difficult to put a specific date on which I could say that I lost my religion. It happened over a number of years and it was mostly a gradual shift, but there are some key incidents or narratives that I remember as being significant in this journey.
I believe I was 10-11 years old when I started questioning the various religious rituals practised at home. Specifically I remember asking distinctly how is it that God is so particular about the number or kind of objects that should be in the “pooja thali” or how would God know or care about how many times or in which direction the “diya” is rotated / moved during “aartis”. I remember either not getting any answers or being told not to question these practices. I probably did lose my belief in the efficacy of such rituals in another 2-3 years.
By the time I was 16 years old, I was almost a non-believer but I needed some validation which was difficult to come by. There wasn’t any internet back then in 1995-96 for easy validation (of whatever you believe in). And I don’t remember raising this question with family or friends either simply because it wasn’t a topic discussed that easily. It was then that I came across Ayn Rand’s writings. Her books and her philosophy had a distinct influence on me in many aspects, but her views about religion or rather the lack of it that her protagonists showed, were what converted me.
I am not sure whether it was this quote or another one, but there was a few such conversations in her books that validated my belief.
“Do you believe in God, Andrei? No. Neither do I. But that’s a favorite question of mine. An upside-down question, you know. What do you mean? Well, if I asked people whether they believed in life, they’d never understand what I meant. It’s a bad question. It can mean so much that it really means nothing. So I ask them if they believe in God. And if they say they do—then, I know they don’t believe in life. Why? Because, you see, God—whatever anyone chooses to call God—is one’s highest conception of the highest possible. And whoever places his highest conception above his own possibility thinks very little of himself and his life. It’s a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own. To imagine a heaven and then not to dream of it, but to demand it.”
Source: We The Living, Part One, Chapter 9 (Ayn Rand)
It may or may not have this specific quote, but it was clear that Howard Roark, John Galt and the other lead characters in her books were all atheists, as was Ayn Rand herself and those books acted as the catalyst in helping me believe in my own reason; that there exists no god and therefore there’s no need for religion either.
It was only much later that I came across Richard Dawkins writings & videos, sci-fiction books and many online atheist forums / groups. But I had crossed a huge self-belief barrier in those teenage years. And the huge positive that came out of this confirmation was tremendous self-belief in my ability to think, to make decisions, to reason out things, that has held me good stead is so many other areas of my life as well.
Perhaps what made it easier for me was that my birth religion was Hinduism, which is naturally far more accommodating (at least the version that I grew up with) and because my family while being religious wasn’t overtly orthodox (or “kattar”). So, the mental / emotional barriers that I had to cross were lower as my conditioning wasn’t that strong.
However I wonder, that was it primarily due to my circumstances that I was able to reject religion or was it due to some genetic makeup of mine which allowed that far more easily for the many agnostics who are unable to achieve this conviction?