In recent years atheists have gotten bolder. This new atheist attitude started in academia and quickly spread to the popular media. We see them appearing and hosting TV shows. Their manifestos and popularized science books are selling briskly. Publishers are seeking them out because thought provoking books always sell more. Public is showing interest in the atheist point of view. This would have been unimaginable a century ago.
It seems to me that there are a growing number of people who are tired of the religious dogmas. In history the organized religions were divisive forces. Millions of people died in the name of religion. In modern times the organized religions are showing signs of becoming even more dogmatic. Atheist movement is exploiting this public sentiment.
Throughout history free thinkers were persecuted by religious authorities. If you think that only scientists and academics suffered persecution you would be wrong. There are many examples from European history where mystics were accused of being heretics and killed. Same thing happened in the Middle-East as well. Many Sufi mystics were executed because of their views regarding spirituality. Hallaj and Suhrawardi come to mind. I would like to remind you that Rumi too was persecuted for leaving his Islamic Law practice and for teaching universal spirituality.
It is important to point out that the term “free thinkers” does not refer to atheists only. People who practice spirituality, the mystics and few oddballs like me are in that group.
As a staunch supporter of the freedom of speech I listen to the atheist views even though I believe in God and practice spirituality. Not only that, I have atheist friends. Two of them are very close friends; they are like brothers to me. I have debated with atheists for hours. I know their point of view very well. Most atheists are anti-religious but it would be wrong to say that they are not interested in spirituality.
Even though atheists are interested in spirituality, they have this strange reaction to the word “God”. During our debates I often asked them why don’t they state their view as “I am anti-religious, and I don’t know if God exists or not”. In reality this is what they are saying. Most atheists should be labeled as agnostics. As I mentioned elsewhere the existence of God cannot be proved or disproved. Even after 10000 years, when scientific knowledge expands to cover the entire Cosmic Mind (Mind of God) you still cannot prove or disprove the existence of God because the Supreme Being (Spiritual Reality) is beyond the Cosmic Mind. We are far from that stage of human development. Some day human beings will be integral part of the Cosmic Mind and the Cosmic Life. Even then, the proof as in “understanding” will not be possible. You may some day “understand” Cosmic Mind by becoming an integral part of it but you will not be able “understand” Spiritual Reality. You can experience the Spiritual Reality but you cannot understand it. You cannot approach the Spiritual Reality intellectually.
I have no problem saying “I believe in God”. If you are allergic to the word “God” then there are hundreds of other names referring to God. My favorite is Parama Purusha which is a Sanskrit term meaning Cosmic Consciousness. There are many others: Supreme Being, Brahma, Tao, Allah, Ein Sof, Tanrı and many more. I actually prefer “infinite ocean of love and bliss” because this expression tends to remove the mental blocks in my mind. You can invent your own expression to refer to the Spiritual Reality.
Name is limiting. Once we come up with a name to refer to “Spiritual Reality” we limit it. The “Spiritual Reality” is beyond all limitations. Language limits “Spiritual Reality”. Science limits “Spiritual Reality”. The “Spiritual Reality” always tries to return to its unqualified state. When we try to imprison “Spiritual Reality” into a formula or into a structure it disappears from mental view.
Nature is not God. Nature is not the “Spiritual Reality”. Nature is an aspect of the Cosmic Consciousness. Cosmic Mind is another aspect. There is uncountable number of aspects of the “Spiritual Reality”. Science deals with Nature and science deals with the Cosmic Mind. In either case science is dealing with limited aspects of the Cosmic Consciousness (Spiritual Reality).
My “heretic” view is that when the “infinite ocean of love and bliss” started the Cosmic Play (Liila) it allowed itself to be qualified. I call this subjectivation of consciousness. Kabbalah calls it “constriction of light”. Since the “infinite ocean of love and bliss” (consciousness) resists all limitations it reacted by forming infinite number of reflections (Souls) (references to itself) including the Cosmic Soul. Then each Soul started its journey towards liberation from the qualified state. Our souls will some day reach complete liberation from all limitations and return to the “infinite ocean of love and bliss“.
When I interact with people I always remind myself that this person is an expression of the Supreme Being, an expression of the Soul which is the connection to the “infinite ocean of love and bliss“. You can imagine the odd feeling I experience when the atheist friend is saying that there is no God. I hear it as rejection of self. The atheist is rejecting his/her true identity.
If the ultimate reality is the “infinite ocean of love and bliss” and the Soul is a connection to this infinite ocean then God which is a reference to the ultimate reality has to love all Souls. No exceptions. God loves every one even those who reject him. This is no different from the feeling of a parent who loves her child even when the child rejects her.
Atheists often mention that they were turned off by the “angry God” image portrayed in religions originating from the Middle-East. What can I say? I see their point. Religions always claim “revelation” as the source of their authority but we all know that “revelation” is human. As I express my insights into Spiritual Reality the linguistic expression is colored with my cultural background. This was true for the middle-eastern prophets as well.
Atheists tend to dismiss the scriptures entirely. I advocate selective reading of the scriptures. Yes, there are very dangerous and angry sounding passages in scriptures but we should ignore those and select the ones describing the loving God. Dismissing scriptures entirely would be counter-productive. Many people are still inspired by scriptures and attracted to spirituality.
Atheists criticize the fanatic attitudes fostered by the organized religions. I agree that religious fanaticism is a problem but I also observe that atheists are guilty of the same sin. By being fanatic atheists they are losing their credibility.
Another thing I observed with the atheists is that they are not entirely secure in their atheist views. This is why they celebrate when a famous scientist declares himself to be an atheist. As I do with scriptures, they are also guilty of selective reading of the science news and scientist opinions. For example, if you quote Einstein out of context, he may sound like an atheist. This would be a gross mischaracterization. Einstein certainly believed in God, but his concept of God was very different from the anthropological image portrayed in Middle-Eastern religions.
Atheists are less critical of Buddhism. They think Buddhism is an atheist practice. This is a gross mischaracterization as well. It is true that Gaotama Buddha did not explicitly mention God, but it is also true that he never denied God. He was once asked, “Does God exist?” Buddha did not answer. He was again asked, “Then does God not exist?” Again Buddha remained silent. Atheists interpret the silence as confirmation of their view; I see it as a lesson. The lesson is that the Spiritual Reality is beyond description. Buddha wanted us to experience the Spiritual Reality directly, without words, without theories.
I would like to end this piece with selective reading from scriptures.
“God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (Bible – New Testament – John 4:16).
“Out of Anandam or Supreme Bliss, this universe of created beings has emerged. They are living in the midst of Anandam. And finally they will merge again in Supreme Bliss.” – Vedas
My own spiritual teacher, my beloved Baba (Shrii Shrii Anandamurti) said “Ánandaḿ Brahma ityáhuh” which can be translated as “God is Love“.
Namaskar! (I pay respect to the Supreme Entity residing within you)