Recently, I come across the word “Hindu Atheist”. Many claiming that being a Hindu is itself is considering atheism infold. Many who reject this position saying that Hindus are the disguise in term of atheism to hide the shame of their religion and they are diluted about atheism. Interestingly, I am doing the small study about Indian Materialistic tradition of Carvakas. So I thought why not highlighted this term. Did this term really qualify a true atheist test? Can a person become Hindu or atheist same time?
Before exploring the Hindu scripture. I would like to describe the short history of atheism to understand that in what context actually atheism born.
History of Atheism [Short Note]
Well, History of atheism has to do with India itself. The 6 Century BCE, was the time when Indian heterodox schools of Hinduism produced the tradition like Carvakas (the ancient name was Lokatya which was started by Brashpati and regarded highly respected sage of Vedas), Samkhyas and Mimamsa. However, These heterodox schools were not the completely atheistic religion because the school of Carvakas, reject the inference which cannot be checked with five senses, while atheists do not have the problem to accept the fact which can not be measured by mere physical observation. However, Carvakas was semi nihilistic because for them human life has no purpose while an atheist believes in the purpose of human life. The similar school was famous in Greek tradition with the name of the Cyrenaic school. I disagree that they were actually an atheistic school because Samkhyas largely believes in the soul while Carvakas argues that nature has some pre-existing laws which no modern atheist believes. In traditional texts, these schools have been criticized for their naive viewpoint about materialistic lust. But they have never been outcast as Non-Hindu. The mythical sage “Durvasha” and “Asthavakra” was the example of high positioned Carvakas and they were regarded as Brahmin (a term used for the highly educated person in Sastras and Vedic literacy).
The Modern atheism comes during the French revolution
Historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that the Reformation had paved the way for atheists by attacking the authority of the Catholic Church, which in turn “quietly inspired other thinkers to attack the authority of the new Protestant churches” .
Source : Wikipedia
Basically, Modern atheism was the result of churning of two section of Christianity i.e. Catholic and Protestant. The disagreement of Protestant follower with Catholic pope claim of divinity leads to contemporary rationals to Criticized the concept of God itself. However, the flow of the criticism of Christianity took place in 19th CE and 20th CE by many socialist and rational like Karl Marx (I really agree on his view about Christianity but I hate his generalization). The next pioneer, who was championed by atheist without his will was Charles Darwin. The biggest questions of Human history and religion was challenged by in his book “Origin of Species” and without doubt, its broke all the imaginary claim of all religions including Eastern mythical Puranas.
With this short history, I would differentiate the term simply that Carvakas are not Atheist and vice versa. However, I would like to clear one more thing before we move to the definition of Hindu atheist. The concept of God in Monotheism is different than the concept of God in Hinduism. For Detail please read: Why Hinduism is different than Abrahamic religions?
However, in General, atheism is described as “Position of a human where he confirmed that God [(in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being] not exist”.
Note: The modern atheism is the result of Monotheism understanding of God.
The Hindu Atheist
“Hindu Atheist” is mostly used for the wide term by Indian Hindus to describe themselves as an Atheist within the fold of Hinduism”. Do they [Hindus] are really a Hindu atheist? The answer is “NO“.
No Hindu can be atheist [modern sense] for two reasons:-
- Modern atheism is largely depended on the concept of Monotheistic God such as Jesus, Yehuda, and Allah. The most powerful qualities of all these gods are their role of creator, authoritative and punitive in nature. While in Hinduism, the concept of God [Brahman, Iswara, and Paramtama] lack these qualities. Hence, the modern monotheism which rejects the concept of the creator cannot be applicable to the concept of Brahman. The rejection of Brahman comes under Indian materialistic school of Carvakas and Lokatyas. So Simply a Hindu who claim to be atheist lack the cognitive and logical understanding of Indic sense of God. Hence No Hindu claimed to be the modern atheist because it is not applicable to him in the deep sense.
2. The term “Hindu” is not the religious term at all. Many may claim that its lame excuse because many Indians now describe their religion as Hindu. Indeed, they describe their religion as Hindu out of ignorance but that doesn’t make their ignorance as claimed truth. Hindu is the geographical term which is mentioned in all ancient scripture like Hadith, Chinses pilgrimage and still, it’s used in the Middle East as a geographical term for people of India in their verbal vocabulary.
What is Hindu atheist?
For me, the Hindu atheist is still another false term which comes out of ignorant of billion Hindus who had no knowledge of their religious framework and meaning at large. I believe that it’s just a superficial term to cocooned themselves as cultural Hindu but never admitting that they are not atheist in real term. I find it funnier when a Hindu claim to be atheist because a Hindu cannot be atheist in the literal sense of his/her own religion. Before, being atheist in a modern sense he [Hindu] has to acknowledge two things about God in his religion:
- Authorative, punitive and creator role of God like the concept which was never part of Indic sense of god ever. Hence his claimed in academic term will be void.
- He has to accept that Hinduism as a religion which in the literal sense is the falsification of our culture based tradition. Read Dharma Is Not The Same As Religion by Rajiv Malhotra.
In an interesting way, neither people who claimed that Hinduism has atheism [Modern] as part of its culture is wrong while the Hindu who claimed that they are the modern atheist is also not in the literal sense are the true atheist. People who wanted to claim that they reject the idea of Brahman. Iswar, Paramathama as a god and atheist also faking the notion. They can be called as Carvakas but for that, they have to accept the natural laws under the carvakas philosophy which seems to another problem.
So, the notion of atheism is not parallel with Hinduism and a person who claimed to atheist from Hindu tradition is simply being ignorant. or a person who thinks that atheism is part of Hinduism is another ignorant.
Neither the Hindu athiest exists in India nor the athiesm has any role with hinduism. The western understanding of God has created this misinterperation of Being atheist from hinduism.
However, I believe that a person who still persists to claim the reject everything within can be called semi nihilistic. But even after that, he would not qualify as an atheist because an atheist believes in the purpose of life.
In Hinduism or Indic system a person can have a dual identity. For Example, he can be atheist in context for Monotheistic beliefs but can be Carvakas or practice Hindu at the same time. So, the claim cannot be completely denied that an atheist can be known as Hindu (because of geographical attribution) but also it can not also be denied that being atheist [for monotheistic religion] and Hindu is not possible.
I think the notion of Hindu as the atheist is false claim but an atheist can be Hindu claim cannot be rejected on the merit of understanding Indic religion.