Is ‘Hindu Atheism’ Valid? A Rationalist Critique Of The ‘Hindu’ Identity’s Usurpation Of Indian Culture

Written by November 28, 2009 7:47 am 260 comments

Many Indians intellectuals who don’t believe in supernatural gods or powers fail to separate their non-belief from the ‘Hindu’ identity. The desire to belong to a dominant cultural group is so strong in us that these so-called ‘Hindu Atheists’ invent the most convoluted justifications for their acceptance of the Hindu label. But does it really make sense to call oneself a Hindu Atheist? What does one truly mean by the word Hindu in this context? The object of this article is to get rationalists and atheists from India who identify themselves as ‘Culturally Hindu’ to question this label with which they are associating themselves.

To make my position clear at the outset, I will state my fundamental claim below.

Fundamental Claim

Hinduism is a meaningless religious label. It is not an ancient philosophy that originated in India. In fact, the word Hindu is not even an Indian word. It is a superficial group identity that was concocted relatively late in the history of India. Rather than being the unified philosophy or way of thought that it masquerades to be, Hinduism is a semantic impediment to the natural evolution of cultural knowledge in India.

Introduction

The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.”

Georgia Harkness

Religions have always benefited when the facts are ambiguous. One such religion-driven ambiguity is in the definition of the notion of religion itself. This is the first place to start any such discussion on religion.

From a scientific point of view, we can define religion as a sub-group within a culture, possessing certain specific traits. The most fundamental of these traits is the strong group identity that religion strives to instill in its followers. In this sense, religion can be observed as a set of memes. The evolution of a religion can be studied through the memetic evolution of individual religious ideas, including the central meme that holds the religion together- the group label. The most successful religions are those that have managed to extend the label of the religion over the entire cultural spectrum of a population. The religions that manage to do this have achieved a stranglehold over the cultural evolution of that group of people. This is the most powerful strategy that religious memes have at their disposal. The way a culture gets out from under the burden of repressive religious labels is by denying religious memes their hunger for co-opting the knowledge attained by rational discourse. That is, religion is designated a limited status, separate from factual aspects of the culture in which it exists. In most Western countries, the role of religion has been mostly designated to non-rational affairs. This removal of the repressive influence of religion from fact-based aspects of human culture has been the greatest achievement of reason. Unfortunately, In India the ‘Hindu’ meme has successfully prevented many rationalists from differentiating between the religious memes of the group label ‘Hinduism’ and the rest of Indian culture.

In my article Hinduism: Religion, Culture or Way of Life, I identify three qualities possessed by religions that define them: group identity, authoritarian organization, and the tendency to increase the ability for belief in conflicting ideas (followed by cherry-picking). In that article, I demonstrated how Hinduism is similar to Islam and Christianity in these respects- not surprising since Islam and Christianity provided the conditions for the development of institutionalized Hinduism. In the same article, I also point to how Hinduism is a religion in the same sense that all of Greek philosophy and mythology is one self-contained religion. That is to say that this idea of Hinduism is not really a religion. It is simply the cultural history of a group of people, Indians. Considering a rational standardized view of what does and what does not comprise a religion, there are two distinct faces that wear the mask of ‘Hinduism’. One is religious, and the other is a lie. I intend on exposing the lie.

In this article we will see how what we label today as Hinduism was developed as a reaction to the threat of cultural irrelevance posed first by Islam and later by Christianity, and how this label has been packaged as a cultural competitor to these two ‘super-religions’. Further, we will see how this meaningless and concocted label ‘Hindu’ may have served India well over the past centuries by keeping dangerous ideologies at bay, but may well have outlived its useful phase. Finally, we will see why it is necessary for us Indian rationalists to take a step back and evaluate the usefulness of the term ‘Hindu’ itself.

  • Note: I do not intend on discussing any actual theology here. If that is your area of interest, there are perhaps other venues more suitable for you. This article is concerned with the cultural and sociobiological impulses behind the development and evolution of the label ‘Hinduism’. It is written as a work of critical examination of certain specific ideas from an academic perspective. No malice is directed towards any particular group of people. Similarly, commenters are encouraged to treat ideas with irreverent skepticism and people with respect and kindness.

The Usurpation of a National Identity by a Meaningless Label.

India has seen numerous belief systems come and go. The nature of cultural evolution in a relatively ‘free-society’ (the definition of this phrase can be debated) is that ideas challenge each other and compete for belief space when they are in natural conflict. The result is a progressive and self-correcting cultural framework within which civil society flourishes. Ancient India was no stranger to this cultural mechanism of innovation, introspection, elimination and growth. Thousands of ideologies, philosophies and schools of thought have been built up and torn down over the centuries. All of this co-existed with the thousands of deeply-rooted superstitions and mindless rituals that pervaded the land.

Origins of HinduismDespite this diversity of opinion and the competition for cultural success between different belief systems within India, the people who inhabited the sub-continent had much in common with each other. This is only natural. Many of the local cultures shared common ancestry. Even iron-age people traveled a bit, and eventually there was a continuous distribution of cultural traditions throughout India. The natural barriers that cut off the subcontinent from its neighbors also helped the societies that evolved in India to develop a distinct cultural flavor. Any visitor to the land would have been struck by how different the set of beliefs were from their own. This is exactly what happened when the travelers from the West and from the East laid their weary eyes on the people and cultures of ancient India. These visitors needed a word to describe the people who lived in this part of the world- to set them apart from themselves, and consequently from everyone else. The many words they came up with were lost in memetic dead-ends. Until one stuck.

The origins of the word ‘Hindu’ lie in the Persian word for the river Indus. The people who lived east of the Indus river (Sindu in Sanskrit) were called Hindus by the Persians. This is also similar to the Arabic term for Indians. Some sources credit Alexander, the Greek invader, as the source of the word Hindu, but there is little evidence for this claim. The term ‘Hindu’ entered India with the arrival of the Mughals. It was not in common use within the subcontinent until the 14th century, long after many of the major texts of what is known today as Hinduism were composed. Islam, the religion of the Mughal invaders, poised itself as a sufficiently separate belief-system from the collective Paganism that the Mughals perceived in the local population. To the Muslims, all the local beliefs and practices of the inhabitants of the subcontinent comprised a primitive out-group. To the Indians, Islam was an alien ideology which was capable of replacing all local knowledge and culture with it’s own self-contained narrative. Their response was the formation of a reactionary element against Islam from within the Indian community (this happened by cultural evolution over many generations, as well as by concerted efforts of individuals and groups). This part-organic, part-organized movement adopted the label conferred on it by this enemy. Hinduism was born.

In the more recent past the Christian colonialists continued to use the label ‘Hindu’ to denote the people of India. Often, they used this label on any Indian who was not White. The Hindu revival movement was born in the 19th century, as a nationalistic response to British rule. This is the real origin of the modern phenomenon that we call Hinduism. Tapio Tamminen writes

Hindu revivalists argued that the national identity could be recovered only by seeking the fundamental religious and cultural truths again. They idealized the past, and demanded a return to the older and purer forms of Hindu culture that had degenerated under foreign rule….

According to many leading revivalists, Hindu society had degenerated, because Hindus no longer followed ‘dharma’. They claimed that India could not regenerate itself unless dharma was properly observed. For example Aurobindo Ghose emphasized that ‘all great awakenings in India, all her periods of mightiest and most varied vigour have drawn their vitality from the fountainhead of some deep religious awakening’ (Purani 1964: 81). Aurobindo Ghose and other revivalists shared the view that a good society can exist only when it is based on the correct principles of dharma.

The ‘Dharma-karma’ concept was adjusted for political purposes mainly by three persons: Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950) and Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920). They all legitimated their religious and political ideas by the ‘Bhagavad Gita’. According to Aurobindo Ghose, the nation was a divine expression of God. That is why he could emphasize that ‘nationalism is a religion that has come from God’. (Andersen and Damle 1987: 13-16).

According to Girilal Jain (1994: 45), there are three notable points in Swami Vivekananda’s ‘religion of patriotism': firstly his identification of Mother India with the supreme God, secondly his attempt to reintroduce the Kshatriya element in the Hindu psyche, and thirdly his conviction that India was destined to be a teacher of the human race in the spiritual reality.”

Thus the entire early history of India had become synonymous with a religious ideology by the time India gained independence from Britain.

This etymology of the word ‘Hindu’ is the currently accepted version among scholars, but there have been attempts to present a more ancient indigenous origin for the term. Many such attempts have involved verses alleged to be Vedic that refer to Indians as Hindu, but none of these verses have been verified. These attempts show the extent to which people will go to defend a meaningless label, even to the point of manufacturing evidence to cover up the irrelevance of that label.

The Biology of Groups:

The biological reasons that drove the evolution of the label Hinduism can be studied using sociobiology. Briefly, the field of sociobiology is concerned with how human behavior (of individuals) evolved due to environmental pressures over the ages. In the case of group identity, the primary environmental pressure is the group- the society of humans. As people developed complex cultures, cultural group labels came to replace older forms of group identity such as kinship and tribe identity. In this context, group labels become an important determinant in the evolution of human behavior. This behavior is shaped by the interaction between primitive human instincts and the evolving language of identity.

Robin Allott writes:

National, international, local and social history is largely the record of the consequences of groupism, a biologically necessary (no doubt) product of the evolution of the species. If groups are formed, group interests are bound to diverge and can result in Crusades, concentration camps, football hooliganism, Waco, city riots – or even sociology v evolutionary psychology. Groupism is a central aspect of human evolutionary psychology. Nations, societies, or states are ingroups on the largest scale, formed of multiple subsidiary ingroups and regarding other nations, societies or states as outgroups. Consideration of smaller groups can throw light on the cohesion of the largest groups. The obverse of the unity of the group is the potential for intergroup conflict. Social identity plays an important role in ingroup-outgroup relations, the distribution of resources, self-categorization, and expectations for behavior. It is an automatic redefinition of “self” in terms of shared group membership.”

This tendency for group identity is the main reason why Hinduism came to be accepted as an all inclusive tradition in India. I have written about this here:

The Hindu identity is in part a reaction to the collective out-group status assigned to the practices that were different from Islam and Christianity.”

The sociobiological perspective is an objective scientific way of studying the evolution of complex cultural and behavioral trends, although its reach may be limited. In the case in question, this perspective offers unique insight into the development and perpetuation of the ‘Hindu’ label.

The Benefits of the Label:

The ‘Hindu’ identity has had a strong positive influence on Indian culture in one major respect. It has kept Islam and Christianity from spreading more than they already have on the subcontinent. An analysis of other cultures with animistic beliefs that were later invaded by Islamic or Christian cultures demonstrates how easily the ‘super-religions’ were established in these new pastures. The development of the ‘Hindu’ label has Saplingpreserved, at least in part, many of the ancient philosophical treatises and art relics of our great culture. The so-called ‘Pagan’ cultures of Europe, Africa, South America and the Middle East were often decimated by Christianity and Islam.

However, the benefits conferred to Indian culture by adopting the label ‘Hinduism’ faded away with the end of British rule and the development of a secular constitution.

Think of a sapling that is planted in the ground. A tough wire mesh placed surrounding the young plant can protect it from grazing animals and bad weather. After the sapling grows into a young tree with a hardy constitution, it does not need the wire anymore. The same wire mesh can now choke the tree’s growth and be its downfall. Hinduism is the wire mesh that is closing in around our growing Indian culture. The mesh is not necessary anymore for support and protection and is only a danger to the health of the tree. But the steel wire is embedded deep in the soft growing wood and needs to be cut out with care and determination.

The Two Faces of Hinduism:

From the very beginning Hinduism has maintained two completely different portfolios. On the one hand, it is an organized religion, like Islam and Christianity (again, I have explained why here ). On the other, the label of Hinduism deceptively and falsely encompasses all of Indian culture, except for the beliefs and practices of distinct major religions (and even among these, Buddhism and Jainism are considered branches of Hinduism by some). On one hand, ancient philosophical schools such as the atheistic Carvaka school which predates the label ‘Hindu’ by centuries, are falsely appropriated by Hinduism. On the other, you have Hindus insisting that there are certain core beliefs in Hinduism, beliefs that no atheist would associate with. The two faces of Hinduism are a reflection of the fact that the notion of Hinduism is a cobbled together nationalistic ideology that incorporates aspects of older religious traditions as well as non-religious cultural elements within it.

It is the interplay between these two-faces of Hinduism that is responsible for much of India’s troubles. There is a semantic deception played by Hinduism that maintains a seemingly cohesive and self-contained image, one that disingenuously encompasses the two faces of the label ‘Hindu’. This is a lie that is perpetuated to dissuade criticism and foster ignorance. It is this lie that we must expose if we wish to restore rational discourse to Indian thought. I propose a conscious restricting of the label ‘Hindu’ to only those aspects of Indian culture that are actually religious in nature. The rest must be embraced by rationalists as part of greater Indian culture.

Hinduism the Religion:

Dr. Prabhakar Kamath is writing a series of articles here on Nirmukta about the history of Hinduism. He begins with the ancient religion of Brahmanism and traces the evolution of the religious power structure over the centuries. His article Obsessive Compulsive Religion contains a brief description of part of the power struggle between ancient religious memes in India (edited here):

“The doctrine of the Gunas and Karma were literally the two gods of Brahmanism…. Over the next thousand years, Brahmanism became decadent due to its obsession with corrupted Yajnas known as Kamya Karma. The Dharma, which had been invented to bring stability to the ancient society itself, became the problem…Decadence of Brahmanism created tremendous turmoil in the society. A large section of Brahmanic society abandoned it and started various rationalist Dharmas such as Buddhism and Lokayata. During this time, Upanishadic rationalists, with the intent of overthrowing decadent Brahmanism, declared both the Gunas and Karma as evil, which one should transcend (BG: 2:45) or even slay (BG: 3:41, 43). They created a Super Man (Purushotthama, Brahman) to counter the force of the Gunas. They created a Super Weapon (Buddhiyoga, Yoga of Reason) to break the shackles of Karma. They said one could conquer these evil doctrines by taking refuge in Brahman, and by using Buddhiyoga as a weapon (BG: 2:39-53; 15:1-5). Brahmanism launched a counterrevolution and did everything within their powers to counter the Upanishadic revolution. They neutralized Brahman and Buddhiyoga by adding pro-Brahmanism shlokas in the Upanishads as well as the Bhagavad Gita. This necessitated creation of an even greater force to combat Brahmanism. This is how the real god of Hindus, Parameshwara, was invented. Parameshwara, the Great Lord, of the Bhagavathas, took the place of Brahman, and Bhakthiyoga became the weapon against the doctrines of the Gunas and Karma.”

HindusDr Kamath places these events in context and provides more detail in his later articles (1,2). His focus in these articles is on the dominant religion of ancient India, Brahmanism. According to Dr. Kamath, it is the core principles of Brahmanism that evolved into the grander ideology of Hinduism. He says of Hinduism:

…its practices are rooted in the antiquated belief system of Brahmanism, the prevalent religion of India three thousand years ago”

If you are interested in learning about the origin and evolutionary history of what is today considered the religion of Hinduism, Dr. Kamath’s articles are an excellent resource.

The events involving the evolution of Brahmanism occurred BEFORE modern Hinduism was born. Today, it is impossible to separate ancient Indian religious sects from what is labeled as Hinduism. All sects, including those which predate the ‘Hindu’ label by thousands of years, are brought under the umbrella of ‘Hinduism’. As discussed above, the impetus behind this amalgam was the relative in-group status that these local beliefs systems had in relation to Islam and Christianity. This tendency continues today, with Hindus at pains to distinguish Hinduism from the Semitic faiths. Meera Nanda in her book ‘The God Market’ writes about the ‘theology of hatred’ that factions of the Hindutva movement have constructed to target Islam and Christianity. She writes:

To convert the diffused cultural majoritarianism of Hindus into a unified political majoritarianism which openly reduced non-Hindus to the status of second-class citizens has been the fond dream of the Hindu right. Towards that end, there are voices within the Hindutva camp that are openly fermenting hatred of Islam and Christianity”

In putting religion in it’s place, we can yet concede that the co-opting of all the ancient Indian religious sects under the banner ‘Hindu’ is ‘acceptable. After all, this is how religions evolve. However, since the meme ‘Hinduism’ is defined only in relation to the Semitic faiths, we rationalists must extricate ourselves from under this label. This is the only way we can objectively observe the inevitable clash of religious ideologies while being active participants in mitigating the harm done by them.

The Looting of Indian Philosophy (and art, science and everything else):

The successful marketing of Indian philosophy as ‘Hindu Philosophy’ is one of the most disgraceful accomplishments of modern Hinduism. In recent years the history of Indian philosophy has almost always been presented through the lens of Hinduism, to the extent that wikipedia lists the schools of Indian philosophy as ‘Hindu Philosophy‘. Interestingly, wikipedia also has a page on Indian philosophy, where it distinguishes between orthodox and non-orthodox schools.

It does not seem to matter that these schools labeled as ‘Hindu philosophy’ comprise the entire spectrum of the intellectual history of ancient India. They include the ideas of fervent atheists who were staunchly against superstition. Many of these atheists would have undoubtedly been aghast at the thought of being represented under the same banner as the true believers. At a time when their world was often limited to the cultures of ancient India, they stood as far apart as they could from the religious beliefs around them. It is certainly logical that were these scholars alive today they would reject the oppressive and meaningless label of Hinduism. Many of them were diametrically opposed to the idea of organized religion. Yet, their ideas are collectively delegated to the status of ‘religion’, only due to effective propaganda by those who subscribe to the ‘Hindu’ label. This idea that Indian philosophy is Hindu philosophy has become so entrenched in the modern language that the very beginning of naturalistic thought in India is attributed to Hinduism!

However, rejecting the idea that the Nastika schools are part of Hinduism is simple enough. After all, these schools reject the authority of the Vedas. Moreover, Buddhism and Jainism are sufficiently separate out-groups and so it is easy for Hindus to reject them as lying outside the ‘Hindu’ label. What about the Astika schools? Three of the six Astika schools do not deal with traditional religious questions at all.

From wikipedia:

Nyaya, the school of logic

Vaisheshika, the atomist school

Samkhya, the enumeration school

The truth is that the Vedas, like all philosophical works, were originally not created as part of one dogmatic religious group identity. They were developed by many people as part of the general cultural and philosophical thought at a time  in history when religion was indistinguishable from the greater culture. The Vedic schools of thought have been wholly co-opted into the ‘Hindu’ label although they predate the label by thousands of years along with the Nastika schools and various other philosophical aspects of Indian culture.

In modern times, the term ‘Hindu’ has gained notoriety for stamping itself on any Indian tradition or accomplishment that has been influenced byAmartya Sen Indian philosophy. Even some famous Indian atheists have adopted the label ‘Hindu’, for example Amartya Sen. One of the founders of the modern Hindutva movement, V. Savarkar, was an atheist. Even some European thinkers have adopted the ‘Hindu Atheist’ label to express their affinity for Indian philosophy, without giving thought to the legitimacy of the label they are endorsing.

India today is (unfairly) not generally hailed as a country with a magnificent philosophical tradition. If you bring up ancient atheistic philosophy, most people think of Greek philosophy. In fact, few atheists are aware that the early Indian materialists almost certainly predated the Greek materialist philosophers by a century or two (India’s enlightenment period was ahead of Greece’s golden age of philosophy). Western philosophical traditions have consistently ignored Indian philosophy. Considering the present day domination by the West in the field of philosophy, it is understandable that most people are unaware of India’s early contributions in the area. Most Westerners are accustomed to thinking of Indian philosophy as Hindu philosophy. This allows them to continue to present their biased Eurocentric timeline for a global history of philosophy, relegating the Indian achievements in this department to religion and not to Indian philosophy itself.

Hindus are content in having India’s philosophical tradition being labeled internationally as ‘Hindu Philosophy’. This is an outrage that we rationalists must be up-in-arms about. Other such major aspects of Indian culture that have been stolen by the Hindu label include ‘The Hindu Calendar‘, which is a takeover of a product of ancient Indian astronomy that has been modified multiple times over many different historic periods, and ‘Hindu Mathematics’, which appropriates a field of ancient Indian knowledge that is responsible for giving the world the zero. Indian mathematics also gave the world what are mistakenly referred to as ‘Arabic Numerals’. Today, instead of thinking of these achievements as the results of free expression and a spirit of exploration that prevailed in ancient India, we are taught to repeat the Hindu lies.

What’s wrong with the ‘Hindu’ label?

The most general criticism of the ‘Hindu’ label applies to all religions. It is a critique of the nature of religious belief itself. We will forgo this discussion here and instead focus only on those aspects of the ‘Hindu’ label that are harmful to the culture and people of India.

The Hindu label provides cover to all those things that we rationalists are concerned with. It would take many pages to simply list all the regressive aspects of Indian culture for which the ‘Hindu’ label provides protection against criticism. The lack of criticism that results from this protection allows malignant beliefs to fester and erode Indian culture from within.

It is a commonly known fact that India is a land of superstition. The tackling of these superstitions is our number one agenda here on Nirmukta. 87906707Despite the long rationalist philosophical tradition in India, these superstitions continue to persist, and even flourish. New superstitions are invented every day and old ones rehashed in new contexts. A well-known social ill that plagues the country is the religious caste system. Primitive medical systems such as Ayurveda and Siddha are guarded from scientific analysis, and mass delusions such as astrology and numerology pervade every aspect of Indian culture. In effect, Indian culture is heavily polluted by these superstitious beliefs and practices. It continues to harbor these leeches that drain away humanity’s brightest achievements in reason, thanks to the protection provided to these superstitions by the meaningless group-identity of ‘Hinduism’.

Another important criticism of the ‘Hindu’ label is the propensity of this label to selectively reject ideas that it perceives as foreign, often when the foreign idea may actually be beneficial to the people. All religions are hypocritical in this regard. A religious label will tend to accept a foreign idea if it benefits from it. If, however, the idea is harmful to the religious label, it will be rejected as alien even if it benefits the culture and people that the religion preys upon. This is the duplicitous behavior that allows religious memes to survive in the age of reason. In the context of Hinduism, we see this behavior when it comes to the advances of science. Hinduism’s war on science is more nuanced than that of the Semitic religions. It involves strategies that attempt to co-opt science into the religious texts, while disregarding scientific implications regarding the supernatural beliefs that form the core of its belief structure. Meera Nanda writes:

The presumed scientificity of Hinduism is a source of much pride for modern Hindus as it sets their faith apart from that of the religions of the book which appear more dogmatic.”

Of course, those who make such claims about the Hindu texts have no clue as to what science actually is. They mistake the knowledge gained from the scientific method as being science itself, and completely misrepresent the essence of this knowledge in order to co-opt it into their brand of mysticism.

On a national level, the most dangerous aspect of the ‘Hindu’ label is the politicization and commercialization of religion. This subject is covered in depth in Meera Nanda’s latest book ‘The God Market’. Dr. Nanda devotes an entire chapter to what she calls the ‘State-Temple-Corporate Complex’. She writes:

“What may seem like a paradox, the resurgence of popular Hindusim is happening not against the grain of Indian secularism, but because of it. The Indian brand of secularism has allowed the state to maintain an intimate and nurturing relationship with the majority religion. As the neo-liberal state has entered into a partnership with the private sector, a cozy triangular relationship has emerged between the state, the corporate sector, and the Hindu establishment.”

Dr. Nanda goes on to provide details in specific areas such as education and tourism where this relationship between religion, government and private enterprise has grown in recent years. This unwelcome influence of the ‘Hindu’ label must invoke strong reactions in all rational people. The soft brand of Indian secularism that Meera Nanda talks about must stop providing its tacit approval of the ‘Hindu’ label. This is the challenge that we have ahead of us.

The Irony of Hindu Rationalism

A common defense heard from apologists of Hinduism is that you can be an atheist/rationalist and yet culturally and philosophically be Hindu. All Hindus use this argument to deflect criticism of Hinduism coming from those rationalists who do not subscribe to the label. In fact, this sort of lumping together of atheism, reason and religion under the banner of ‘Hinduism’ has prompted many Hindus to attack any criticism of Hinduism as Christian or Islamic, without understanding the objective scientific perspective that lies outside of their myopic little world-view.

The ‘Hinduism-is-not-just-a-religion’ argument is also a common defense used by ‘Hindu’ intellectuals and even ‘Hindu atheists’. It is this self-identification of Indian intellectuals with a meaningless religious label that inspires these folk to ignore or even defend the barbarism and superstition that exists within Indian culture. The most depressing thing for a rationalist is to live in a society where there is little cultural significance associated with her/his core beliefs- where everything of social value is tied to a repressive ideological label. It is even more depressing to see a rationalist actively choose to be represented by that label, simply because mimicking the sheep offers some temporary respite from the tribulations of living in such a culture.

Why do we see so many atheists and rationalists subscribing to the ‘Hindu’ label? The main reason is that the marketing of the label has been so complete that it often does not strike most folk  to question the reach of the label. However, there may be other reasons. For one, many atheists and rationalists in India may feel an in-group affinity with the other proponents of the ‘Hindu’ label (as opposed to competing religious identities), even if these other proponents are utilizing the label for exactly the opposite purpose from the one that the rationalists endorse. Some Indian thinkers refer to themselves as Hindus because they have not really given much thought to the label. Others have given it thought and have decided that the personal benefits of identifying with the ‘Hindu’ label outweigh the satisfaction of opposing irrational ideologies of the kind perpetuated by religious memes. Most however, emerge into reason from their religious stupor and choose not to cut the umbilical cord that ties them with their families and friends. They accept the deceptive narrative Hinduism has pushed on them and think not to differentiate between such a label and the larger cultural context that enriches India.

An Alternative Narrative

An alternative cultural identity is essential if we are to move away from the religious labels that have dictated so much of Indian culture in recent years.

If we create awareness of the fact that all those ancient atheistic/rationalist philosophers that modern Hindus gather under their banner would probably have shuddered at the thought of sharing stage with those who form the core of the Hindu religion (or any religion for that matter), that few of them had probably even heard the word Hindu, that without the external pressure of Islam and Christianity Hindu revivalism would not have essentially invented a religion from the multiple sects, cultures, beliefs and philosophies that were found in India, then perhaps we can persuade some of the rational elements who have refrained from questioning the label ‘Hindu’ to start doing so. We can show how this sort of religious label restricts the natural process by which bad ideas are eliminated in culture- through discussion and social damnation. More importantly, we can provide rational ‘Hindus’ with an alternative narrative that is more real, in place of the meaningless in-group label by which they identify themselves.

Alternative NarrativeThe alternative to religion is reason. At first glance it is obvious that this rational alternative is more representative of the great cultural traditions and philosophical works of India than a meaningless label. Indian rationalists must reject such silly memes as ‘Western medicine’ and ‘Western science’ and embrace Nehru’s vision of a country that embodies the spirit of inquiry. We must focus our ire on such primitive means of cultural domination as religious identities and strive to make India relevant in the international science community. After all, even those rationalists who have not shrugged off the ‘Hindu’ label will agree that the future of our country depends on the scientific education of its people. We must not hesitate to point out how the label of ‘Hinduism’ is a barrier to the advancement of India in the modern world.

We can still appreciate and gain immense pleasure from the practices and philosophies that are part of India’s glorious past. These ideas may lie today within the grasp of institutionalized Hinduism, but we cannot allow this tyrannical label to deny us our heritage. Appreciation of Indian art and culture is our right just as much as it is to those who label themselves ‘Hindus’. The rational inclusion of these aspects of our history into our lives can be a fulfilling experience. The fact that we reject the label ‘Hindu’ does not mean that we cannot participate in certain festivals and social rituals that are part of our culture. Ancient myths are fun from a cultural perspective. We can learn to enjoy them for what they are without assigning any factual significance to them. The art, architecture and culture inspired by the ancient Greek and Egyptian myths are just as powerful reminders of human achievement today as they were when those myths were believed as fact.

In abandoning the ‘Hindu’ label, we are keeping India from descending into a cultural black-hole. We are liberating Indian culture from the still sickness of ideology by embracing the freedom of thought that creates a dynamic and progressive society.

In a way, this is an issue of patriotism (of the rational and thoughtful kind). Indian culture is being hijacked by a label- an idea that is itself a reaction to Islam and Christianity. It is a label that keeps us from absorbing beneficial things from other cultures and ridding our culture of harmful ideas from within it. In essence, Hinduism retards healthy cultural growth. Hinduism is unpatriotic. This is the new paradigm that rationalists must endorse to break the spell of ‘Hinduism’ that is slowly choking India.

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- who has written 62 posts on Nirmukta.

260 Comments

  • Good one to read. But I couldn’t understand what do you mean by ‘Indian’ philosophy?

    “word Hindu is not even an Indian word”
    — what is an Indian word BTW?

    • If you don’t see how the entirety of the cultural history of a group of people deserves more credence than a dangerous and manufactured religious sub-culture this article is not for you. But for the sake of any actual rationalists who may be reading, we all know that there are varying degrees of certainty in categorical boundaries. There are no absolutes in such divisions as human culture. We are only pushing the line of division to where it makes the most sense. Political nationhood, geographical boundaries and shared cultural history are all on the more well-defined side of such categorizations of humanity, as opposed to arbitrary cultural sub-groups that rely on deceptively smudging the boundaries of their own meaning in order to exist as parasites within the greater culture of which they are a part. The external origin of the name only demonstrates how it was external influences that drove the evolution of the ideology and deception of ‘Hinduism’. It is not the foundation of the argument being made. It is mentioned as a reference to the irony in the adoption of a name from an external source by an ideology whose sole reason for existence is to distinguish itself from that external source. What is more important here is the abuse of Indian culture by a dangerous and deceptive sub-culture. You can change the name ‘India’ to anything you want and yet the concept of nationhood remains well-defined. You can change the name ‘Hinduism’ to anything else, and yet it remains an ideological, selective and arbitrary muddling of the history and culture of India.

    • Also, next time you may want to read beyond the first two paragraphs before picking a straw man.

  • – ” you can be an atheist/rationalist and yet culturally and philosophically be Hindu”

    If only I had a nickel every time I heard that one. A bold and well written article. Reminds me how (for lack of a better word) sponge-like Hinduism today is, or rather, has become. Few instances from my own experience

    – When I left the “religion” column blank in a form, my dad was prompt to fill it up for me as “hindu”. When I explained to him that I’m an atheist and not really comfortable with the label, his initial reaction was something like…”I can understand not believing in god but, not-a-hindu??? How could you?”

    – Being a Tamil, we were naturally proud when Abdul Kalam became president and A.R.Rahman won the oscars. I was pleased when my conservative hindu friends bushed aside their religion and joined in on the celebration. But somehow they couldn’t stop at that. They had to slap the ‘hindu’ label on them too. When asked why, the explanation was, “well, they might have converted to Islam later on, but surely their ancestors are Hindus. so nothing wrong in calling them hindus.”

    – But when I extend this logic and question why there is such hue and cry over christian missionaries converting hindus to christianity (after all, they are still hindus after conversion aren’t they?), immediately some other part of their brain kicks in and they try to rationalise their opposition by pointing out at subversive practices by missionaries.

    I really wish we could revive the rationalist roots of our ancestors from this adulteration. For my part, I have renounced the Hindu label long ago.

    • but going by the world geo and theo-politics, it would be better to remain a hindu than a ‘secular’ GOK what, when since from the dark days in the annals of history, till now, fanatics of other religions have been and are hell-bent still on wiping out others’ identities to establish theirs…its better to assume a role of a global citizen and identity, but still, it somehow doesn’t make any sense to shed clothes when the need is to put armour on after being beaten up for centuries…and this is not just a figment of imagination or perceived threat of sorts. since we live a worldly life n not a carefree saintly one, it would be better to be prepared on all fronts…just a look at hardline islamic websites, comments of pakis (read ‘brainwashed islamists’), etc, would be enough for a reality-check…what you do with ur theistic/atheistic beliefs afterwards is ur own biz anyhow…

      • Well, rationalism is just as effective tool against radical islam as Hinduism is, if not more so. More muslims have become atheists, than Hindus. True there are people who wish nothing more than complete annihilation of India. But how does putting on the Hindu hat help?

        • that’s coz those with the intention of afflicting mental as well as physical blows to the nation back their offensive on their ‘great’ religious background n ‘pride’, n use this as their weapon (never realizing ever how utmost stupid this is)…its such a great comedy over which rarely does one ponder, that, we dont have our religious identities coz of choice, but coz of birth…one is not islamic/jew/christian/hindu, etc, coz he found the effectiveness of his/her path, but coz s/he was born into the respective family, n thus, as s/he grows, ignorantly, becomes more n more radical w/o ever finding out about the meaning of the path s/he follows…this is what should be rooted out — ‘bliss-in-ignorance’ radicalism…once 1 gains an understanding of each path, s/he finds there’s no big variance, n here one literally sees the convergence of all paths, n hence radicalism goes kaput !

          being a hindu doesn’t mean 1 who goes to temples n worships idols of crores of weird creature-forms, n that 1 should be such a guy to defend his nation…not at all ! this is again hapless ignorant common-man antics, who takes almost everything at face-value, like a sheep….human beings are nothing but sheep. one who chooses to deviate from the herd is mocked at by the remaining herd; only either of them can be correct — the hollow-head herd, or the inquisitive individual…having an identity against an organised enemy helps (i’ve seen fundamentalists grilling so-called proud hindus on net with queries like ‘y ur krishna had 16k wives?’, ‘how can raavana have 10 heads?’, n the likes, n the latter either countering with ‘is allah a brothel-keeper?’, or rather sheepishly n cluelessly sink down saying ‘its our religion…’ haah !) neither of the two knows the real deal, but for the sake of keeping the enmity alive, use religion as their shield as well as weapon…

          many of us who get disgusted with all this then turn to rather keep ‘shut n off’, n turn to ruthless rationalism…though, in my view, n for me, rationalism is letting better sense prevail, n to never reject possibilities in the face of uncertainty n confusion…if one gets disgusted with radical n zero-mind religious bickerings, thats the perfect feeling one ought to have. but then to close the gates of this dimension is not the solution. need is to find the answers ourselves…once ppl know the real esoterism behind all myths n legends n what-nots, i am pretty sure no one would ever need to don a hindu/islamic/christian/sikh hat…but obviously, thats not the way the world is moving or would move…after all, as i said, humans are nothing but a herd of hysterical sheep…

          • I haven’t had a consistent answer to what it means to be a hindu!. Everyone seems to have a different answer. The constitution clearly defines it as a religion however.

            The problem is when Hinduism starts to take credit or encompass things that doesn’t belong to it, like ancient Indian astronomy and philosophy. To a point where it seems to suggest that, without Hinduism these wouldn’t have been possible. After centuries they become “hindu astronomy” and “hindu philosophy”. An interesting parallel can be drawn to what is happening today in the US. Creationists, after realising that their fight against evolution is futile, are starting to adopt evolution into its fold as “god-guided-evolution” and calling it “christian-science”.

            True, that belonging to a group against an organised enemy helps. If this enemy you are talking about is radical islamists across the border, then the group I’d like to belong to is group-India. The group-Hindu maybe a subset of this, and in which I don’t belong.

          • and u wont ever see any consistent reply to this question also, coz majority of the masses (n the constitution, which incidentally is not the word of some god but of a group, formed out of ppl from the same masses) equate ‘hinduism’ with a religion, whereas being a hindu (or sindhu) should logically imply ‘one who was born in hindustan (or sindhustan)’, whatever religion s/he might follow…interestingly, the word ‘india’ that we use so lavishly also didnt belong to us, until we were ‘garlanded’ by it later, though there’re no issues with its usage (yes, the constitution also quite funnily, says — ‘india, that is, bharat’, instead of the opposite !) similarly, as a matter of fact, the term ‘hindu’ came into usage not so long ago, whence earlier all our previous schools of thought, rituals, customs, arts, sciences, etc., were referred to as ‘vedic’, n life-philosophy as ‘sanaatan’, n the beautiful n all-encompassing motto of ‘vasudaiva kutumbakam’ — ‘the world’s my family’, but certainly not ‘hindu’ (in fact, earlier, swami vivekananda n the likes everytime used to proudly use the term ‘vedic’ in their speeches n literature; no one was a ‘hindu’ back then !). guess this term also came into fashion when our western ‘bosses’ chose to refer this country as such…..n now since many years, petty politics, lame awareness, etc., have helped in settling the score with this all-pervading term ‘hindu’ for just everything n anything! incidentally, there’re some very maverick schools of thought like the ‘aghoris’, ‘naths’, ‘kinna sect’, etc, which strongly say they aren’t hindus (not in the way as if they’re from islam, christianity, judaism, etc, but only to mean that they cant be entangled in the chains of religion), n hence these schools are much misunderstood n scoffed at by the ever-ignorant general public !

            n what’s happening in US, UK, or mars, on such matters, isnt much significant for me…what they say today becomes something else tomorrow….ppl there are known to be engaging in, many times, as from an eastern man’s POV, in quite insane activities, just for the adventure n kick of it (many of these who come here for knowledge can be found inebriated n intoxicated in the pubs of goa, raj, HP)…a group there has come up with, yet again, a very novel n comical concept — ‘church of scientology’ !

            there’s one adage which means that ‘beware, for fighting against the beast, u urself dont become the beast !’
            what it should all boil down to it, is, that while we are on our toes to engage ills like radicalism, fundamentalism, etc., we should be utmost cautious that we dont ourselves get covered under the sheath of radicalism, coz its human tendency, that, when one subscribes to any ideology, s/he almost always, gets inclined to, knowingly/unknowingly, isolate himself/herself from incoming whiffs of free breeze, wherein, if we observe closely our world, it wont take a genius to un’stand that nothing, n no one, can remain isolated from others all by himself/herself, whatever the matter be…

            radicalism (be it islamist or anything else) isnt just on the other side of the wall, but on this side too…belonging to group-India is what is to be least expected of any fellow countrymen, but if talking of group-Hindu (ie, political or religious Hindu), then belonging to group-India is only what ‘should be’ expected, nothing less, nothing more ! (on a different note, if we assume, though however a figment of far-fetched imagination it may seem, but since warfare strategy also takes into account the silliest of possibilities, that the nation is taken over by fundamentalists, particularly, islamist forces similar to the taliban, then expecting such born zero-minds to extend a hand of camaraderie towards ppl with a no-nonsense secular agenda would be like expecting a tiger to befriend a deer, when they would spare not a moment in quashing everything n everyone that doesn’t utter ‘wahada hu la shareek la hu’…a look at the blood-boiling interview-videos of a paki strategy analyst ‘zaid hamid’ n other such ppl, alongwith the brain-washed media ppl there, would be very helpful in gauging what kind of forces are at play, eager to dominate, in the world today…all this, coupled with the atrociously impotent n ‘democratic’ leadership of our nation in internal as well as external affairs, make me a stauncher than staunch supporter of martial law, similar on the lines of china’s commie rule, where the only religion n region that ppl would’ve in their minds would be ‘nationalism’ n ‘nation’ !) i really admire ur statement of being belonging to group-India ! thx…

    • Thanks for your comment, Bala. I am glad you are one of the Indian rationalists who has not been taken by the deception. I know exactly what you mean about the way Hindus can rationalize contradictory ideals.

      It is indeed very amusing to see Tamil people who cannot stand that A.R. Rahman embraced Islam. To us Rahman is simply subscribing to another form of irrational belief, but to Hindus it is treason. I’m from TN too, by the way, and share your thoughts. The political climate in the state is interesting. One major party is founded on atheistic principles and another is led by a living Goddess. I’m a little bit proud of Rahman and Kalam and a lot more proud of Periyar.

      I’m really glad to see such a firm determination in rationalists like you to, as you say, “revive the rationalist roots of our ancestors from this adulteration”.

      • Chocka Sivakumar

        Ajita,
        Periyar never claimed him to be a ‘Atheist Hindu’. In fact he was a staunch opposer of Hindu religion and Brahmanism, which is the bearer of Hindu religion.

        • Yes, you’re right. Periyar identified as a Hindu till he was around 25 years of age, and certain events at that age made him reject the Hindu label.

          • Chocka Sivakumar

            Ajita,
            But in your article, it wrongly implies that Periyar used this Hindu label after he became an atheist. Like most other atheists he was born and brought up in a Hindu family. Thats it!

          • I have already agreed that you are right. The wikipedia article on Hindu Atheism had Periyar listed when I wrote this article, and I should have checked deeper. Anyway, the point I was making is clear. A large number of atheists in India call themselves Hindu Atheists. Periyar was not one. I have edited the article to reflect this.

          • Chocka Sivakumar

            I have huge praise for your article. But all that bothered me was a misinformation (unintentional). Thanks for editing the article.

  • Important topic, and very thought provoking article. Your conclusion that Hinduism is a restrictive label that limits India is spot on, and your analogy to a protective wire mesh covering a growing plant was apt as well as aesthetically pleasing.

    May I offer a few points of constructive criticism about the way the argument has been formulated, which do not change the fact that I fundamentally agree with your point.

    “Hinduism is a meaningless religious label.”

    That it is not. It surely means something – the mishmash of superstition, tradition, culture and beliefs that pervades India. It is a bunch of nonsense, and yes, there are contradictions and inconsistencies in the definition, but that’s not unique to this particular label. People intuitively understand what it is to some extent, even if they fail to accurately state their understanding. It’s rhetorically unwise to start with a weak premise like that.

    Next, the fact that it’s a “foreign” label of relatively late origin. True, but again, not really necessary. You’re leaving yourself open to be attacked on a point that is not necessary for your thesis.

    “The sociobiological perspective is an objective scientific way of studying the evolution of complex cultural and behavioral trends”

    Bringing in sociobiology, a science of rather dubious reputation (“just-so” stories etc.) wasn’t necessary either. The problem with sociobiology is that it’s not objective or scientific except in a limited set of cases. Convincing a skeptic that it’s applicable in this particular case is an uphill task. Why go that way if it isn’t really required?

    The sections of your article titled “Benefits of the label” and “Two faces of Hinduism” are the core of your argument, and they’re accurate and well argued. This is where you build your case, and I’d say you did a very good job here. These sections rest your basic case on strong ground. If you’d skipped some of the earlier points and emphasized these more, that’d have improved the argument.

    “What’s wrong with the Hindu label”

    This section starts out very well, and you lay out the issues clearly and crisply. I liked the chilli-lemon photo as it captures the essence of the superstitions that the Hindu identity encourages.

    Unfortunately, quoting Meera Nanda was unnecessary, and taints the argument with the stain of her rather unbelievably irrational thesis. Quoting from her book:

    “It is the thesis of this book that the growing liberalization and globalization of the Indian economy is not only compatible with, but is actually contributing to the growth of a virulent form of political Hinduism which is as wedded to the project of politicizing and universalizing a Hindu (or “Vedic”) worldview”

    You could do without associating with such irrationality. I’d hope you do not subscribe to similar views, because they seem far from rational.

    “The Irony of Hindu Rationalism”

    Weak. Even Richard Dawkins claims to be “culturally Christian”, so you start off at a rhetorical disadvantage. Imputing motives to Indian rationalists claiming the “Hindu” label would require more justification than you present. Again, I say your argument that the label is harmful is strong enough, so this is not fatal, but I wish this section had been better argued.

    “An Alternative Narrative”

    You’re back to arguing well here, and you present the alternative well. It’s not hard to see that we’d be much better off without the Hindu identity, and that there is an alternative.

    All in all, a thought-provoking piece and fundamentally sound. Thanks!

    • Thank you for the constructive criticism. Such discussion is in the right spirit!

      Thanks also for your compliments.
      I agree that there are a few areas where I may be overselling my case.

      I have a couple of objections to your comment. The first one is regarding sociobiology. Yes, its true that sociobiology as a whole has garnered a bad reputation, precisely because of the tendency among certain sociobiologists to construct unfalsifiable and untestable hypotheses. However, there are certain areas where there is little dispute. These are the areas of sociobiology that are not involved in making exact predictions about the origin of specific behaviors, but in understanding the nature of the behavior itself. In-group out-group behavior is well studied and tested. There is considerable evidence from studies with actual human and animal subjects, mathematical evidence from studies of population genetics in insect populations etc, computer simulation models to predict the development and evolution of conflict and co-operation, and so on. Despite its sociobiological affiliations, this area of study is firmly entrenched in evolutionary ecology.

      The second comment is regarding the Meera Nanda references. Firstly, I quote Dr. Nanda in a different context from the one you present. There is no reason why the areas where I quote her are not absolutely accurate. Secondly, I have Meera Nanda’s book here by my desk as I write. I have read the words you quote, and have gone through the evidence she cites. Having done so, I cannot disagree with her conclusions. Despite how counter-intuitive it may feel to most educated, middle-class Indians, the evidence is overwhelming that the free-market has been good to the gods in India. This is not a political position, simply an affirmation of the facts. Remember, Dr. Nanda does not just blame the market; she blames an ‘unholy’ alliance between government, religion and the market. Go here
      to see how she exposes the complicity of the government in promoting religion in India.

      Again, thanks for your enlightening comment.

      • My point on sociobiology was related to the rhetorical necessity of not leaving oneself unnecessarily open to attack by association. It’d be easy for someone to respond to your piece with an attack on sociobiology, and you’d be left on the defensive though most of the negative history of sociobiology is strictly not relevant here. You’re on logically sound but rhetorically weak ground, would be how I’d state it.

        The necessity to belong to groups is an important part of why religious labels tend to stick, as you correctly state. Perhaps simply stating that in-group/out-group behaviour is a well attested part of human psychology and religion is part of the same phenomenon, would keep the argument on sound ground rhetorically as well. My opinion, for what it is worth.

        The free market has been good for the gods, no argument there. Indians have grown more prosperous, and tend to spend much of their money on anachronistic religious ritual. Being a home-visit pujari is a rather well-paying profession these days. What I’m not sure about is whether the causal relationship for Hindu revival attributed to globalization and the alleged government-market-religion nexus is true. Perhaps I think Dr. Nanda is making a stronger claim than you do, but I don’t agree that there is an unholy nexus going on. The Hindu establishment is as suspicious of the free market as the Left is.

        • You are right again, Spinoza. If I was arguing my case against an irrational believer they may try the wrong-by-association trick. However, I am not addressing my article to these folk. If irrational believers are interested in tearing down my ideas, there are plenty of other more accessible straw-men for them to have a grand time beating up ceremoniously. Most rational folk will see that such an attack is misguided and illogical. Still point taken. No need to associate a good idea with scientifically murky ones.

          Regarding Meera Nanda’s ideas, I will be writing a review of ‘The God Market’ in the near future. Perhaps we can have a good discussion then. I will keep your objections in mind and approach the issues objectively.

          Cheers!

          • I look forward to your review of “The God Market”, that should be an interesting discussion.

  • Another rationalist here, I do appreciate that you too have experienced similar thoughts but I have a problem with you on many counts

    “However, the benefits conferred to Indian culture by adopting the label ‘Hinduism’ faded away with the end of British rule and the development of a secular constitution.”

    And you still call Islam and Christianity as super-religions?
    If they are then the label is still worthy, if not then who cares.

    I recognized this problem after debating with some Hindus hence I call myself as atheist and if asked more then atheist hindu, the last term to designate only as culture. It is common with even atheists from judaism as cultural jews.

    We however do have an advantage, the undefined term “hinduism” is weak from the inside than from the outside. We can simply try to hijack it from the inside. We are at a huge advantage here. We can swim through its pores and criticize it from the inside and admonish from the outside.If they claim us then let us give them fire, let us see how long they can withstand our criticism.Anyway it is much easier to make people listen from the inside than from the outside

    As far as Dr Nanda is concerned, did you know that she got a templeton prize?. Did you read her article against sam harris, she seems to be a hysterical character.
    I however agree about temple-administration nexus problem but not in her way. Do you even realize as to why the temples have been taken over by the govt?. It was done in Nehru(atheist) era. Nehru probably was scared that the money from the temples(authority) could be used to create hindu rashtra especially after witnessing gandhi’s death. Do you know how that money could have been used if distributed among the dalits and women?.
    But guess what? that is exactly what Jamat ud dawa does. Does is also what christians do all the time. What is stronger than a religion? A religion with money. Look at saudi, America(christian belt), vatican e.t.c.
    I can understand what you are trying to convey but speak with sense. The problem is not with Identity of “Hindu”, The problem is with superstition and we must use every leverage they present to us, by not defining themselves they have set themselves a great problem and I plan to exploit it.

    • I do not think you have understood the points I have made in the essay.

      “And you still call Islam and Christianity as super-religions?
      If they are then the label is still worthy, if not then who cares.”

      Is this some sort of game of non sequiturs?

      “I recognized this problem after debating with some Hindus hence I call myself as atheist and if asked more then atheist hindu, the last term to designate only as culture. It is common with even atheists from judaism as cultural jews.”

      I am well aware that there are those who do just that. That was the whole point of writing the article, to address this issue. Line 1.

      We however do have an advantage, the undefined term “hinduism” is weak from the inside than from the outside.

      Yes, I also addressed cognitive dissonance, that allows for cherry picking.

      “We are at a huge advantage here. We can swim through its pores and criticize it from the inside and admonish from the outside.If they claim us then let us give them fire, let us see how long they can withstand our criticism.Anyway it is much easier to make people listen from the inside than from the outside”

      Good for you. If you believe that you can do more for reason by using the label as a trojan horse, then go for it. No one is stopping you, and certainly not any rationalists.

      However, this does not address any of the points I made about why the label has to go. You do little to understand the sciological perspective that I present, and are expecting me to abandon my evidence-based approach for your intuition that your way is best. This is not acceptable. What can be acceptable, at best, is that you do what you can from the inside and I will do my best to rid India of the cultural virus that is Hinduism.

      “As far as Dr Nanda is concerned, did you know that she got a templeton prize?. Did you read her article against sam harris, she seems to be a hysterical character.

      Do you have anything to say about any factual statements made by her? Or are you simply going to be that obvious about your intent? It is hard for you see this, but you are exactly the kind of person I was talking about when I said there are some who like the sense of a group identity, and you will defend that group identity even though you call yourself a rationalist.

      “Do you even realize as to why the temples have been taken over by the govt?. It was done in Nehru(atheist) era. Nehru probably was scared that the money from the temples(authority) could be used to create hindu rashtra especially after witnessing gandhi’s death. Do you know how that money could have been used if distributed among the dalits and women?.”

      Do you realize that made absolutely no sense?

      To begin with, I don’t think anyone here is arguing that the government should control temples. What I am arguing is that Hinduism is a disease that has ruined Indian society. So your entire tirade about government controlling the money is a straw-man argument.

      Secondly, whether the money was used well or badly by the government, what makes you think that the religious con-men and the devotees who follow them blindly will be any better at spending it? This is simply a false assumption. You present a wide sweeping defense of religion because they, in all their might and power, do some good. To make your point you point to three countries- Saudi Arabia, the US and the Vatican.

      Saudi Arabia and the Vatican are, historically, the most brutal regimes in the world. The Vatican till this day has the deaths and suffering of millions on its shoulders. The brutality and misogyny of the Saudi government is very famous. Just last week a British woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia for having the audacity to be raped. I would like to keep that sort of thing from happening in my country, thank you. The US among all industrialized countries has among that worst social care for its poor and suffering. Added to this is that fact that there is a strong religious element in American justifications of a century of war with the world.

      It may be hard for you to think outside the box on this one, but trust me when i say that you are protecting your group, that’s all. If you step back and take a look you’ll see that Hinduism is a harmful dogma for India today. Even your justification that it is an advantage because Hinduism is ill defined is woefully ignorant in the context of understanding how religion works. All these points have been addressed in the article, with evidence. Leaving a religion undefined is not a weakness in this context- it is a strength for the religion, because it has people like you defending it, and by default, allowing for the existence of the ‘Hindu’ label under which all those superstitions that you claim to fight are actually being protected as they destroy India from within.

      But again, just the fact that you are here arguing me is evidence that you are denfending the label. After all, whether the label survives or not, you are only concerned with defeating superstition, right? So why would the demise of the protective label of religion affect you? are you saying that the existence if the label is actually doing more good for the end of superstition than if it was not there? Try to understand yourself. You are simply defending the label by which you associate yourself.

      The role I and other like myself like to play in shaping the future of India is one that creates alternatives to religion. It is to build a culture of reason. I’ll do my bit. Without religion, we will need alternatives. That is what the last part of the article is about. Or did you not get to that part?

    • “by not defining themselves they have set themselves a great problem and I plan to exploit it.”

      In this sentence you make it clear that you are completely underestimating the capacity of religion to be viral. You are not exploiting the religion; IT is exploiting YOU, on order to perpetuate itself. The language of deception in being ill-defined is a trick. It gives religion more power, because it allows for it to be categorized as anything, including SCIENCE!! Again, I have addressed these in the article, with evidence and links. Watch the video “The evolution of confusion” by Daniel Dennett to see how religious scholars have worked hard to keep religion so easy to manipulate and confuse those who question the whole enterprise. Read Dennett’s account of how religion is a parasite and how it gets its hosts to act the way you are doing.
      From the article:

      “The most successful religions are those that have managed to extend the label of the religion over the entire cultural spectrum of a population. The religions that manage to do this have achieved a stranglehold over the cultural evolution of that group of people…The way a culture gets out from under the burden of repressive religious labels is by denying religious memes their hunger for co-opting the knowledge attained by rational discourse. That is, religion is designated a limited status, separate from factual aspects of the culture in which it exists………..This removal of the repressive influence of religion from fact-based aspects of human culture has been the greatest achievement of reason. Unfortunately, In India the ‘Hindu’ meme has successfully prevented many rationalists from differentiating between the religious memes of the group label ‘Hinduism’ and the rest of Indian culture.”

      Also, re-read the section “What’s Wrong with the Hindu Label”.

  • Hinduism is more of a way of life than a religion. Actually in historical records you find no mention of Hinduism as such but Brahmanism, Vaishnavism, Saivism, etc. etc. It is after the cultural resurgence and especially the ‘Hindu’ resurgence preceding and following the liberation movements for independence that gradually the word Hinduism gained coinage, not any less due to the efforts of the imperialists themselves. Hinduism as a way of life includes atheism. If you read Valmiki Ramayana you find Jabali (Satyakama) a ‘naastik’ rishi being given much prominence and reverence even by Vasishta (Rajguru of Rama)and his secular advice to Rama (which is of course angrily shunned by Rama).
    Then you are at fault to identify Karma theory only with what you call Hinduism. Karma and Punarjanma are strongly espoused by both Jainism and Buddhism, perhaps by these two more widely than the preceding ‘Hinduism’.

    • Im not sure if you read the article. You start with the assertion that Hinduism is more of a way of life than a religion. Well, my article just made some arguments that demonstrated that Hinduism is just as much a religion as the others. You have not addressed any of my arguments. In fact, I am quite sure you did not read the article, because if you had you’d have to be completely dense to post an argument that is clearly discredited by the article.

      You do not define what constitutes a religion, and instead want us to accept your subjective interpretation of an undefined concept. If you had read the article, you would have known that.

      Furthermore, you demonstrate the very quality that I associate with religions- high cognitive dissonance combined with confirmation bias, enabling you to cherry pick your way to the interpretation you desire- in other words, selectively choosing the evidence to tell the story you want. If you had read the article you’d have known this as well, and you wouldn’t be arguing that Hinduism is a way of life. Speaking of which, here
      is my article on why Hinduism is NOT JUST A WAY OF LIFE. It is a dangerous, narcissistic and extremely virulent religion. Oh, and there was a link to that article as well in this post, so you would have known this also if you had actually read the article.

      Spare me the history lesson. I am the editor of this site and, if you care to look, we have been publishing a series of articles on the religious history- the true religious history of India. In fact, please go ahead and read these here: http://nirmukta.com/category/writers/kps-kamath/
      Start from the beginning, its going to be a long read. Oh wait, you don’t like to read very much, do you?

    • Citing atheists in scriptures does not necessarily mean they were/are accepted. In the example of Jabali, he was used more like a tool in Ayodhya Kanda to put atheists in their place. Apart from saying that there is nothing after death, Jabali’s advice to Rama (of not bothering to keep his word) has nothing to do with Atheism or secularism, and yet the verses are written in such a way that his argument stems from his atheism.

      The 36 verses that follows is more like a sermon by Rama to all freethinkers than a reply. My favorite, allowing for translational mistakes, is this:

      2-109-34: “Therefore he (athiest) is the most suspectable and should be punished in the interest of the poeple. In no case should a wise man consort with an atheist.”

      Doesn’t sound Ram-like does it? Sounds more like powerful people talking to uneducated masses to counter possible rivals. And Vashista speaks in favor of Jabali only after Jabali himself turns into a half-believer by more or less admitting superiority of the Vedas.

  • I have read the article and so I say it again. I am not bound by your thesis but only by my own study and analysis. Hindu is a word coined by others to describe the people of this subcontinent known for their abode beside Indus (Sindhu) and contiguous areas and then expanding from thereon. Various beliefs are interwoven – which of you would call Hinduism? Tree worship, Linga worship, Fire worship, Sun worship, etc. Advaita, dvaita, visishtadvaita, etc. Almost atheistic religions like Jainism and Buddhism, etc. In law even Jainists and Buddhists are treated as Hindus and in common parlance there is not much difference. As such Hinduism is truly a way of life encompassing various beliefs out of which atheist beliefs are also an important part. Summing up we can say it is a polytheistic way of life encompassing atheism too.
    What if in Ramayana Jabali is depicted in a degrading manner? I only used the example to demonstrate that atheism was very much present even in high priestly/brahmanic circles even according to the scriptures. When the demon of intolerance was furiously roaming and Shaivas, Vaishnavas, Jainas and Buddhists were cutting each others’ throats etc. in those times all atheistic works were destroyed and so much so that we know about Charvakas only through Sarva Darsana Sangraha or some book of equivalent name. But as times went on tolerance also began to assert and firstly Hari Hara abedha theories circulated, the renmnant Buddhists and Jains virtually got assimilated in the wider Hindu society and atheism also has come to be tolerated. You would not find that rancour towards an atheist in Hindu society as one could find in Islamic society or even among Catholics.

    • If you have read the article, then you have simply let everything go over your head because you are raising points that are discredited by the article.

      It is not a question of you being bound by my thesis, but a question of staying in context. If you are going to comment on my thesis, then it is logical to expect you to actually address my thesis. Failing that, you are simply not relevant.

      But still, I am pretty sure you did not read. I am growing weary of such blind reactions, but I will take the time once more to demonstrate why you have not read the article.

      Hindu is a word coined by others to describe the people of this subcontinent known for their abode beside Indus (Sindhu) and contiguous areas and then expanding from thereon

      That was in the second section of the article. It is actually something that upholds my statements. Hinduism is a modern religion. If you had read the article you’d know that this is exactly what Im arguing.

      As such Hinduism is truly a way of life encompassing various beliefs out of which atheist beliefs are also an important part. Summing up we can say it is a polytheistic way of life encompassing atheism too.

      This is not Hinduism. This is the lie. READ THE ARTICLE. There are two things that go under the name Hinduism. One is a religion and the other is a lie. I am exposing the lie.

      All the things you point to, to show that Hinduism is a religion, are actually INDIAN CULTURE, not part of your precious religion. The religious label you use is co-opting everything that belongs to India under the label. This is the entire thesis of the article. YOU DID NOT READ IT.

      But as times went on tolerance also began to assert and firstly Hari Hara abedha theories circulated, the renmnant Buddhists and Jains virtually got assimilated in the wider Hindu society and atheism also has come to be tolerated.

      This is the same lie that I have been arguing against. What could make you think that stating the very point that I dismissed using my arguments is valid? I HAVE ADDRESSED HOW WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS A LIE. GO BACK AND READ. The best religions try to co-opt everything under their name, and create a cognitive dissonance in their believers. So, in essence, Hindus can claim that Hinduism is about a belief in the supreme being, what ever that means, and in the same bredth dismiss criticism from atheists by saying that there are Hindu atheists. This is the religious deception, and Hindus are experts at this. Well, if you think you can play that trick on us in the modern age, you are mistaken. I am an Indian atheist. Hinduism is a religion full of the same type of dangerous religious nonsense that is contained in Islam or Christianity. IF YOU HAD READ THE ARTICLE YOU WOULD HAVE KNOWN ALL THIS.

      “You would not find that rancour towards an atheist in Hindu society as one could find in Islamic society or even among Catholics.”

      Let me state one last time- you cannot simply take everything that belongs to culture at large and place it under the label of Hinduism. This is a lie. It is a trick designed to stiffle criticism by presenting a confusing and adaptive fromt. You are brainwashed into believing in one certain form of Hinduism, but there are contradictory beliefs that you hold on to without realizing them. No atheist will agree to what most Hindus, including Hindu authorities, declare as the core principles of Hinduism. You do not care about that. All you want is for Hinduism to be able to say atheism is a part of it. Well, no thank you. Hinduism is a religion and many of us moral atheists dispise such religious labels. We refuse to be co-opted into your ideology just so that you can use the fact that some people label themselves ‘Hindu Atheists’ to deflect criticism of some of the barbaric beliefs and practices within hinduism.

      Again, read my article: http://nirmukta.com/2009/05/11/hinduism-religion-culture-or-way-of-life/
      Then, READ THIS ARTICLE THAT YOU ARE COMMENTING ON, and re-evaluate your comments in light of my arguments. You cannot keep arguing a point that I have already dismissed and then state that you are not concerned with my thesis. If you are not concerned with my thesis, then you have no business commenting here.

  • You can find references to skeptics in almost all of the holy books. Hinduism is not unique in this. The very fact that Atheism, like you say, is being “tolerated” shows that it NEEDS to be tolerated. This question of toleration would not arise if Atheism was in fact part of Hinduism from the start.

    Semantics apart, if Atheism is being tolerated today in India, it is not “because” of Hinduism, but “in spite of” it, coz if one really wants you can always find hostile verses towards non-believers, like the one I quoted. Attributing good behavior of humans to their religion, when in fact it has nothing to do with it, is a trademark of all religions and yet another example of why Hinduism falls under that label.

  • On a completely unrelated note, am I the only one seeing the smiley on the bottom left corner of the browser? :)

  • Hi Ajita,
    Awesome article.
    In the section “The Benefits of the Label”
    I have to disagree with you.
    There was no benifits of the label at anytime.
    When Alexander the great was about to Invade India, It was the liberal (atheist) India which was able to prevent the invasion.
    He was not able, because one of the reasons was that India was united under a liberal ideology.
    But once the liberal idealogy was lost, then castism came into existence. We started to treat our own people badly.
    So when invasions occured eventhough we were pariatlly united under the banner of hinduism India collasped, because the banner of Hinduism was itself responsible for lots of discontent and disunity.
    Because we were treating our own people badly because of caste system.
    I think the banner was like HIV infection, which crippled the immune system of India

  • The article is brilliantly written. Since you claim that the label ‘Hindu’ has outlived its utility, it should be equally possible in India to write critiques on Islam and christianity. I don’t see a lot of critical voices in the mainstream on that. So don’t you think that ‘secular’ setup that you blame for being hand in glove with the hindutva guys are also responsible for stifling voices of reason that attempt to undercut the irrational abrahamic minority?

    So would the rise of Hindutva be linked to our perverse ‘secular’ culture that doesn’t attempt to separate state from religion, but attempts to find a inclusive workable balance of all religions?

    That said, I’m all for shedding off ‘Hindu’ tag and return to our glorious tradition of ideological warfares. But is it practical in today’s world? Simply put, Do Islam and Christianity deserve public space for debate in India?

  • If an atheist condemns only Hinduism and not other religions then what would you call him. An anti Hindu atheist? then the converse would be Hindu Atheist. Atheists must not be afraid of criticising any religion. But some how I have found Indian Atheists afraid of talking about other religions. Why so?

    • Your argument is full of logical fallacies.

      “If an atheist condemns only Hinduism and not other religions then what would you call him.”

      There is a logical fallacy here. The Straw-Man argument. You invented this straw-man, some mythical character who ONLY CRITICIZES HINDUISM and no other religion.

      ‘Who is this man?’, I ask. ‘An atheist who ONLY criticizes Hinduism? Never have I seen this man. Could he possibly be an invention, a straw-man, conjured up in order to ceremoniously beat to death with a stick?’

      Point me to one single atheist who does not condemn any other religion but Hinduism. If you had read the article that you are criticizing you would have known that it actually criticizes Islam and Christianity as well.

      There are other logical fallacies here, including Unstated Major Premise, Special Pleading and the use of Non Sequiturs.

      “But some how I have found Indian Atheists afraid of talking about other religions. Why so?”

      My suspicion is that your problem here is caused by the weight of the pernicious label, causing confirmation bias. Caste away the colored glasses and you will see that we atheists are equal opportunity criticizers when it comes to all sorts of harmful dogmatic belief systems.

      Finally, there are plenty of good reasons for why we focus mostly on Hinduism. The biggest of these is that Hinduism is by far the most dominant religion in India, choking India from within. If you are having a mosquito problem in Mumbai, would you spray mosquito repellent in Norway? Read these articles:

      http://nirmukta.com/2008/09/30/why-i-criticize-hinduism-the-most/
      http://nirmukta.com/2008/11/15/further-thoughts-on-why-i-criticize-hinduism/

      • Hinduism is choking India from within? Just to humour you..lets say we take away the ‘label’. No more Hindus or Hinduism. What would you call the large swathe of people who dont ascribe to Christianity,Islam,Buddhism,Sikhism or Jainism? and by changing the ‘label’,the ‘choking’ will stop?!

  • Q: How do you ask an Irishman if he is an Atheist?
    A: Are you a Catholic Atheist or a Protestant Atheist?

    • LOL. And you could say the same about the many who call themselves Jewish atheists…

      This suggests an interesting hypothesis. The Irish were socially and politically split along sectarian lines through so much hardship and suffering that it is part of their identity now. The same can be said of the Jews, who have seen so much persecution over so many centuries that the identity is almost too powerful to resist for those born into the culture. These are cases of extreme in-group/out-group conflict. The conflicts have over the years co-evolved with the corresponding cultures that were socially, politically and ideologically split.

  • Speaking from personal experience —

    I am a second generation atheist but my cultural identity is associated with Hinduism. That is because I grew up with it, reading and hearing Hindu myths and participating in Hindu festivals. As a result I have more affinity with Hinduism than with any other group in India, even though over the years I have become more firmly materialist. I simply call myself a Carvaka or Lokayata to other Hindus and I won’t spill tears if Hinduism as a religion disappears altogether (provided of course all other nonsense including homeopathy and Quantum metaphysics does as well) but that does not really take away my [even if vague] affiliation with Hinduism.

    Also I have never been able to understand why the fact that Hinduism as a label is a modern invention somehow discredits it even more. So is the label Indian which is an even more artificial label of a particular geographic section.

    • “Also I have never been able to understand why the fact that Hinduism as a label is a modern invention somehow discredits it even more. So is the label Indian which is an even more artificial label of a particular geographic section.”

      Who said that “the fact that Hinduism as a label is a modern invention somehow discredits it even more”? I certainly didn’t. This should be obvious on reading the article unless you read the fundamental claim at the top and ignore the rest.

      From my response to the first comment on this article (which makes a similar point to yours):

      “There are no absolutes in such divisions as human culture. We are only pushing the line of division to where it makes the most sense. Political nationhood, geographical boundaries and shared cultural history are all on the more well-defined side of such categorizations of humanity, as opposed to arbitrary cultural sub-groups that rely on deceptively smudging the boundaries of their own meaning in order to exist as parasites within the greater culture of which they are a part. The external origin of the name only demonstrates how it was external influences that drove the evolution of the ideology and deception of ‘Hinduism’. It is not the foundation of the argument being made. It is mentioned as a reference to the irony in the adoption of a name from an external source by an ideology whose sole reason for existence is to distinguish itself from that external source. What is more important here is the abuse of Indian culture by a dangerous and deceptive sub-culture. You can change the name ‘India’ to anything you want and yet the concept of nationhood remains well-defined. You can change the name ‘Hinduism’ to anything else, and yet it remains an ideological, selective and arbitrary muddling of the history and culture of India.”

      The part that you are missing is that my argument is not that Hinduism is dangerous because the label is of recent (or external) origin. You seem to be drawing your own causal implications here. I do not make that argument anywhere in the article, so your criticism is a straw man. The reason why the origin of the word is mentioned is, on the other hand, quite clearly implied right at the beginning. It is to show that Hinduism is a bunch of beliefs that were put together into one religion in response to the spread of Islam into India. That the evolution of the beliefs into one religious identity was a recent phenomenon precipitated by Islam and later Christianity. Half the article is concerned with descriptive historical events and half of it is an argument for why the Hindu identity is dangerous, the most pointed of the arguments for the latter being assigned a category all their own titled ‘What’s wrong with the ‘Hindu’ label?’. Not sure how I could have been clearer, other than listing all the arguments that I am not making in the article, just so that people will stop accusing me of making them.

      • I know you are being sarcastic, but I think at the end of your article you really should make brief points about what you are NOT arguing.
        Because no matter what you think, emphasising the external influences in the way you wrote just seems to make it like you think it makes a point.

        And if the point is Hinduism is not eternal and totally homegrown as the devout claim, please make it clear whom you are addressing.

        • Thanks. There has been a lot of misunderstanding of this article and I plan on writing a proper response to all the critics. But for now I want to stress that actually “emphasising the external influences” does make a point. It’s just not the point that you thought was implied. The problem is the lack of nuance in our cultural mindset. There is no external vs internal dichotomy in such broad cultural categories. All of human culture is a product of both “externally” and “internally” evolved ideas. It’s just a question of how fine a scale you want to get down to. I won’t go into that here, because it is not the point I was trying to make with the brief history of the modern religion of Hinduism.

          I think I have made it clear exactly to whom this article is addressed, right at the top: “The object of this article is to get rationalists and atheists from India who identify themselves as ‘Culturally Hindu’ to question this label with which they are associating themselves.”

  • indian atheist

    complete alienation of an atheist born in a hindu family from so called hinduism is impossible at least in india, for sure. humans are social animals. our family members and friends are hindus, they celebrate hindu festivals and we also involve with them. moreover, even if we don’t believe in god, we can’t do away with hindu baggage of ‘caste’ which is asked many a times by our purportedly secular government.

    Having said that, i agree with srinivas. almost all indian rationalists criticise hinduism alone and that too when everyone knows which religion is biggest curse on humanity. hindus, in general, aren’t exclusivist, totalistic, violent, regressive and most importantly don’t force their beliefs on others unlike some other religionists. ‘being irrational’ is one thing and ‘being malevolent’ is another. if someone says that violence intrinsically present in jainism is equal to that in islam then i would rather keep mum !

    first priority for atheists should be to fight for secularism all over the planet. one religion and 57 theocracies ! can you believe ?

    • I think you have not even bothered to fully read the post that you are commenting on., because your comments have completely missed the point of the article and are repeating things that you wouldn’t be saying if you had read the article.

      “complete alienation of an atheist born in a hindu family from so called hinduism is impossible at least in india, for sure.”

      The rejection of the Hindu label is the goal here, not ‘complete alienation’ whatever that means. It is surely possible for you to reject the Hindu label, isn’t it? Many of us have managed to do so with no trouble at all. When it comes down to it, you are simply unable to let go of the label ‘Hindu’ that you identify yourself with.

      our family members and friends are hindus, they celebrate hindu festivals and we also involve with them.”

      Again, I say that you have not read the article. Why do you supporters of Hinduism simply refuse to read any criticism of your religion and instead simply jump to its defense? The answer to this is also in the article.

      The entire point of the article is to demonstrate that much of what you call ‘Hindu’ festivals are simply the appropriation of Indian mythology and history by the label ‘Hindu’.

      “moreover, even if we don’t believe in god, we can’t do away with hindu baggage of ‘caste’ which is asked many a times by our purportedly secular government.”

      Firstly you are sadly mistaken if you think that the Indian government is secular. Secondly, you seem to be advocating the Hindu caste system because of your dislike of the government involvement in asking for caste status. This tells me that you are one of those people doesn’t like the government’s role in setting right the evils of the caste system, and so are resorting to justifying the Hindu caste system which probably benefits you. In other words, you would prefer the status quo over any attempts at reformation based on reservations for the most oppressed sections of Indian society.

      “almost all indian rationalists criticise hinduism alone and that too when everyone knows which religion is biggest curse on humanity.”

      This is the popular argument of pseudo-rationalists in India. Please name one Indian rationalist who criticizes Hinduism alone. You are not only defending Hinduism, you are lying while doing it. This argument is called a straw-man argument, as I have pointed out multiple times in the comments. You don’t have an arguemnt, so you simply make one up. For your information, we rationalists criticize all religions, and if you had read the article you’d have seen that I consider Islam more dangerous than Hinduism in general, but we are talking about the Indian context here. There are very rational reasons for why we criticize Hinduism the most. Tell me this.. if you have a mosquito problem in Mumbai, will you spray mosquito repellent in France? This about it before you immediately try to defend your religion. Here are a couple of articles on why most Indian rationalists criticize Hinduism the most:
      http://nirmukta.com/2008/09/30/why-i-criticize-hinduism-the-most/
      http://nirmukta.com/2008/11/15/further-thoughts-on-why-i-criticize-hinduism/

      “hindus, in general, aren’t exclusivist, totalistic, violent, regressive and most importantly don’t force their beliefs on others unlike some other religionists.”

      So? You can say the same about the advocates of all religions, ‘in general’. What’s your point? You are here pushing your religion, aren’t you? That’s your allegiance. You are equally to blame for the suffering caused by the fundamentalist violent elements within Hinduism as the moderate Muslims are for the fundamentalist elements within Islam. In any case, let’s keep the argument on Hinduism here. There are plenty of reasons for criticizing Islam or any other religion, which I have done in other articles.

      “first priority for atheists should be to fight for secularism all over the planet.”

      It would help if atheists from India are not arguing with other atheists in defense of a religious ideology that is responsible for perpetuating much superstition and suffering on the Indian people.

  • “Firstly you are sadly mistaken if you think that the Indian government is secular”

    I tend to agree. If we adopt the definition of secularism as separation of church and state, then Indian state is too much involved with religion and religion with state. Neither in theory nor in practice, the state just does not maintain enough distance from religion to justify calling Indian government secular.

    There is another definition of secularism that Indian state seems to have tacitly accepted: Equal treatment of all religions.
    At first, this appears as a benign and creative redefinition of secularism, but it has many problems. One problem is it is very difficult to practice. Even more fundamental problem is how do we come up with criteria by which we can tell if the government is treating all religions equally? It may be a noble goal to adopt this definition of secularism, but the necessary political and philosophical debate required to sort out the attendant questions has not happened and neither does it seem, it is going to happen in the future.

    So there is no meaningful definition of secularism according to which we can claim Indian state is secular.

  • I have to agree with the last part of Carvaka. The Label INDIAN is Not any Different really to Hindu.

    My understanding is a little different, if we say that Hinduism describes a whole diversity of groups that have distinctly different cultural practices or if you like religious practices then is this not similar to the describing a secular state? I would go as far as to say Indian Muslims and Christians could also fall under the label as Hindu as they and many cultural similarities.

    While you may say it is negative that hindus, be it a atheist hindu like me or a believer in god, are grouped together, I believe this is only natural for human beings to want connect find things in common and belong to a group. This is human nature, it is an instinct, and any self respecting atheist can see this as an evolutionary phenomenon.

    Do most hindus not share a generally humanist and cultural morality which is you will commonly find in secular states between different religious groups?

    There are some very interesting things I have noticed between NRI Hindus from all over the world and Indian Hindus, they can come from all parts of Indian, but they all share a lot of moral values. This is if they believe in god or not, and therefore choose to group ourselves willingly as part of the same system.

    Lastly I feel privileged that I belong was born into Hinduism, sheer chance, which is why I am able to logically decide on the Atheists Path.

    very thought provoking. Rebuttal anyone?

    • I have to agree with the last part of Carvaka. The Label INDIAN is Not any Different really to Hindu.

      Sure you may agree with anyone you want, but I have already presented my rebuttal to that argument and you’re conveniently ignoring it. The label ‘Indian’ is very different from the label ‘Hindu’. Again, from my reply to the very first comment to this article:

      “There are no absolutes in such divisions as human culture. We are only pushing the line of division to where it makes the most sense. Political nationhood, geographical boundaries and shared cultural history are all on the more well-defined side of such categorizations of humanity, as opposed to arbitrary cultural sub-groups that rely on deceptively smudging the boundaries of their own meaning in order to exist as parasites within the greater culture of which they are a part. The external origin of the name only demonstrates how it was external influences that drove the evolution of the ideology and deception of ‘Hinduism’. It is not the foundation of the argument being made. It is mentioned as a reference to the irony in the adoption of a name from an external source by an ideology whose sole reason for existence is to distinguish itself from that external source. What is more important here is the abuse of Indian culture by a dangerous and deceptive sub-culture. You can change the name ‘India’ to anything you want and yet the concept of nationhood remains well-defined. You can change the name ‘Hinduism’ to anything else, and yet it remains an ideological, selective and arbitrary muddling of the history and culture of India.”

      This is the fourth or fifth time I have had to reply to the same argument, and not once has anyone offered a reasonable response. Yet I keep seeing this same tired old justification for adhering to the Hindu label. Much of this can be avoided if everyone commenting here actually read the article properly.

      “My understanding is a little different, if we say that Hinduism describes a whole diversity of groups that have distinctly different cultural practices or if you like religious practices then is this not similar to the describing a secular state?”

      Firstly, you are wrong in your definition of Hinduism. Hinduism does not describe groups that “have distinctly different cultural practices”, as I have taken pains to point out. What all religions, including Hinduism, possess is “certain specific traits” which I detail in the article. From the article:

      “From a scientific point of view, we can define religion as a sub-group within a culture, possessing certain specific traits. ….. The most successful religions are those that have managed to extend the label of the religion over the entire cultural spectrum of a population. The religions that manage to do this have achieved a stranglehold over the cultural evolution of that group of people. ”

      So, in essence, Hinduism has no distinct cultural practices. In fact, Hinduism is nothing but a label that is slapped on any aspect of Indian culture that those who subscribe to the Hindu label wish to appropriate from Indian culture. None of these practices were ever part of one unified religious ideology. As pointed to above, this is not at all akin to the concept of nationhood, which is a well-defined political category.

      “I would go as far as to say Indian Muslims and Christians could also fall under the label as Hindu as they and many cultural similarities.”

      No, they fall under the label ‘Indian’. The cultural similarities are Indian, not Hindu. In any case, one main point in the article has to do about cherry-picking. You may choose to call all Indians Hindus, but that’s not what the majority of Indians think, including Hindus, Christians and Muslims. The label appropriates any belief that’s convenient in its proselytism. Here you pick one that most people would disagree with.

      “While you may say it is negative that Hindus, be it a atheist hindu like me or a believer in god, are grouped together, I believe this is only natural for human beings to want connect find things in common and belong to a group. This is human nature, it is an instinct, and any self respecting atheist can see this as an evolutionary phenomenon.”

      I guess I must be a “self-respecting atheist’ then :) Read the section titled “The Biology Of Groups” in the article. The argument is that the religious label ‘Hinduism’ is “negative” for India and Indians, not that it’s unnatural. There are plenty of natural things that are “negative” (which is admittedly a relativistic values judgment that ideally must be grounded in facts), and much of our existence is devoted to ridding humanity of such “negative” natural things. The best example is disease, which forms a perfect analogy with religion. The error in reasoning that you’re committing here is a form of the naturalistic fallacy. Just because something is natural doesn’t make it good.

      The point of that section of that article was to demonstrate the evolutionary reasons for our tendency to adhere to gorup labels. But of course, labels and groups are an essential part of what makes us human, and I’m not arguing for an end to such categorizations in general. I’m arguing for the end of certain “negative” categorizations such as religion. We cannot approach culture with black/white thinking. Not all types of cultural categorizations are bad, but some are.

      “Do most hindus not share a generally humanist and cultural morality which is you will commonly find in secular states between different religious groups?”

      Firstly, which secular states are you talking about where you commonly find a humanistic understanding of morality?

      Secondly, no, Hindus do not share a humanistic interpretation of morality- not by the wildest stretch of the imagination.

      Thirdly, the problem is not what we have in common but what religious labels such as Hinduism tend to make exclusive and then divide people based on. The problem is all the unethical, superstitious and downright disgusting things that the label promotes.

      “Lastly I feel privileged that I belong was born into Hinduism, sheer chance, which is why I am able to logically decide on the Atheists Path.”

      No, that is not WHY you are “able to logically decide on the Atheists Path”. Many people who were born into Christianity but are atheists today, despite the fact that Christianity is more stringent in its requirements for a literalistic interpretation of “divine scripture”. The scriptures themselves are mostly irrelevant. The rigor with which god belief is indoctrinated by a religion is dependent on many factors that are part of the cultural evolution of the members of that group at that time in history. There was a time when Islam was more moderate than Christianity. Of course, today Islam is the most tyrannical religion in the world, requiring absolute adherence to the scriptures. Judaism and Buddhism are known to have high numbers of atheists. Some religion-like subcultures such as Shinto are also famously comprised of large numbers of atheists. In fact, the Japanese are mostly atheistic, although they have numerous other superstitions (such as belief in spirits) that are given cover by the Shinto label.

      Most importantly, you are granting to religion (and by default to superstition) what is due to reason.

      You are on the “Atheists Path” DESPITE your religious conditioning, not because of it. But even if it were because of it, Hinduism remains a deceptive and dangerous religious label that provides cover to superstitions and repressive cultural practices such as the caste system. As stated in the article, “It would take many pages to simply list all the regressive aspects of Indian culture for which the ‘Hindu’ label provides protection against criticism. The lack of criticism that results from this protection allows malignant beliefs to fester and erode Indian culture from within.”

  • MALLIKARJUNA SHARMA

    To my little knowledge both Hindu and India or Indian are derived from the same word, Sindhu, which meant a waterbody – may be a river (Indus) or a sea (Arabian sea) and most probably Indus river. Persians pronounce ‘s’ as ‘h’ and so it became Hindu, Hindustan etc. Greeks pronounced it as Ind or Indica and so it ultimately became India or Indian.

    • Yes, that may be true, but India, by whatever name you call it, is part of a well-defined category- the nation state. In fact, this is even more reason why Hinduism and indeed all religions are “arbitrary cultural sub-groups that rely on deceptively smudging the boundaries of their own meaning in order to exist as parasites within the greater culture of which they are a part”. The “outsiders” referred to the land/people as Hindu/Sindu/Indu. But the development of the religion called Hinduism was as a reaction to Islam and Christianity, co-opting in the process the word that was used by these outsiders to describe the people/land of India (this is how the in-group identity was forged). Again, I’m not referring to all those aspects of greater Indian culture that are now appropriated by this religious label Hinduism, but to the religion itself.

  • Yes, Hindu Atheist is a valid term.

    It means that you personally identify with Hindu culture (Hindu temples, Hindu mythologies, Hindu philosophy, Hindu classical music, Hindu names like Krishnan, Arjunan, etc.), but are not religious – i.e., you do not pray or believe in God.

    It’s an empirical fact that the term Hindu is coherent. For example, I am a Hindu, so is my family and a very large majority of my friends. If you feel like calling yourself a non-Hindu, that’s your prerogative.

    The etymology of a word might be useful in shedding some light on the meaning of the word, but is otherwise useless in determining the word’s meaning. E.g., Plumber, Argentina.

    • I see that you have not addressed anything that I actually claim in the article, like most of those who identify with the ‘Hindu’ label have done in the comments here.

      The object was to question the validity of the value placed in the term ‘Hindu Atheist’, not simply to question if people use the term. Validity is not simply acquired by the fact that a word exists and someone is using it. Of course people use the term! Your entire comment simply reiterates a key premise of the article.

      But if you look at what the term ‘Hindu’ really entails, it is a label and nothing else objectively, one that is unnecessary, repressive and leading to the type of in-group mentality that often has rational thinkers providing cover and intellectual support for those who subscribe to dangerous and deplorable superstitions and communal violence. The objective is to question the usefulness of the label and to present the reasons why the sooner we get rid of it the better for the people of India.

      “It means that you personally identify with Hindu culture (Hindu temples, Hindu mythologies, Hindu philosophy, Hindu classical music, Hindu names like Krishnan, Arjunan, etc.), but are not religious – i.e., you do not pray or believe in God.”

      You are simply stating the premises from which the article draws the central question “Is ‘Hindu Atheism’ Valid?”

      “It’s an empirical fact that the term Hindu is coherent. For example, I am a Hindu, so is my family and a very large majority of my friends. If you feel like calling yourself a non-Hindu, that’s your prerogative.”

      The term Hindu is a proper noun. There is no doubt about it being coherent, let alone it being an empirical fact. But your next sentence is a non sequitur. The fact that you and your family identify as Hindu is not what makes the term Hindu coherent. The fact that it is a name is what makes it coherent. But this is all it is. A name. And of course it is my right to call myself what I want, and you are free to do the same. But ask the questions that have been asked in the article.

      “The etymology of a word might be useful in shedding some light on the meaning of the word, but is otherwise useless in determining the word’s meaning. E.g., Plumber, Argentina.”

      The etymology of the word is inconsequential to the argument. I strongly urge you to actually read the article, and the comments too if you are interested. You may actually have something to add to the conversation if you know what the conversations is about.

      • Your argument is not v.clear!

        (A) The words Hindu, Hinduism etc. are in active use by a lot of humans (numbering in the billions). They use it quite unambiguously. E.g., my family is Hindu. As a matter of commonsense, this *empirical fact* alone is sufficient to render a term “valid”. Popular usage is how words mostly come into existence in the first place.

        The word Atheist also means something – someone who doesn’t believe in a God or Gods.

        So, Hindu Atheist is a Hindu who’s an atheist. It’s a coherent concept – what more do you need to render the term valid?

        What is your idea of “validity” of a term?

        (B) You also say that the term is *harming* the cause of rationalism. I don’t think you’ve proven rigorously that, indeed, (B.1) it’s the term that is responsible for continuing the evils of superstition, etc., and if yes, (B.2) why abolishing the term is the only cure for this harm.

        In addition, there are quite a few inconsistencies in your case. Just to cite two:

        1. You simultaneously claim that “Hindu” and “Hinduism” are meaningless labels, and *yet* you use them as if they mean something (e.g., “In this article we will see how what we label today as Hinduism..”, “This tendency for group identity is the main reason why Hinduism came to be accepted as an all inclusive tradition in India” – implying that there *is* something that’s labelled HInduism).

        2. (I said that) The etymology or the recency doesn’t invalidate a term. E.g., Argentina, Pakistan. In your reply, you agree, and state that “The etymology of the word is inconsequential to the argument.” And *yet* you seem to be hung up on the etymology of the word and it’s recency to show it’s invalidity in the article.

        It seems that you’re campaigning for a nullification of the word “Hindu”, “Hinduism”. I and many people like me might well be sympathetic to the idea. But the onus then is on you to present a rigorous case concisely and clearly.

        • Your comment indicates that you have failed to take into consideration what I had already mentioned.

          “It’s a coherent concept – what more do you need to render the term valid?”

          You have completely failed to understand what I said. Of course the words are coherent. As stated before, validity is not simply acquired by the fact that a word exists and someone is using it. “The object was to question the validity of the value placed in the term ‘Hindu Atheist’, not simply to question if people use the term.” So you are missing the point. And just because you are unable to understand what the point is, you cannot state “Your argument is not v.clear!”. When I ask Is Hindu Atheism valid, I’m asking if we should continue using the term when we are simply lending tacit support to the evil done in the name of Hinduism.

          You said: “What is your idea of “validity” of a term?”
          Did not you read the blod part of what I stated? I am talking about the validity of the value placed in the term ‘Hindu Atheist’, which would be apparent if you actually read the article.

          Your entire argument is a straw man. You are choosing to focus on the etymology and are ignoring the key argument.

          “You simultaneously claim that “Hindu” and “Hinduism” are meaningless labels, and *yet* you use them as if they mean something”

          It is NOT an inconsistency to use a term used by certain people, in order to refute its use. Other people use the term in a certain way, which is what is being criticized. You have to use a term in order to refute its use. When I use it I refer to other people who use it.

          “And *yet* you seem to be hung up on the etymology of the word and it’s recency to show it’s invalidity in the article.”

          This is why I asked you to read the article properly, as well as the comments. Here is what I said in response to the first comment:

          “The external origin of the name only demonstrates how it was external influences that drove the evolution of the ideology and deception of ‘Hinduism’. It is not the foundation of the argument being made. It is mentioned as a reference to the irony in the adoption of a name from an external source by an ideology whose sole reason for existence is to distinguish itself from that external source. What is more important here is the abuse of Indian culture by a dangerous and deceptive sub-culture. ”

          The thing is that in order to defend your need to use the term, you are ignoring my key argument and keep suggesting that my actual argument is something else. I am clearly stating that this is not the case. Please refrain from such straw-men arguments. I have made it clear what my argument is. Now ask yourself the question why you are contributing to the perpetuation of superstition by adopting a term that is meaningless except as a label. Also, I do not have much time to keep restating points that have already been made, and you will be in violation of our comment policy if you persist in making these repeat assertions without acknowledging what has already been said in answer to them.

          • I think there are (at least!) two questions here:

            1. Does the term “Hindu Atheism” mean anything? Does it make sense?

            2. The question of harm:

            2.1. Have the terms “Hinduism”, “Hindu” usurped the “Indian culture”?

            2.2. Does the continued usage of “Hindu Atheism” provide cover to irrational forces that work under the label of Hinduism?

            Most people would interpret the sentence “Is Hindu atheism valid?” to mean question 1. You are *equivocating* when you use it to mean question 2. This was only implicit in your article, but you made it explicit in your reply:

            > I am talking about the validity of the value placed in the term ‘Hindu Atheist’

            Validity of a term =/= it’s harmfulness. If the term “Hindu atheist” conveys a clear concept as per popular usage, it’s very much a valid term. End of story.

            Now,

            > Etymology – your entire argument is a straw man.

            Not really. Note that I have only addressed Question 1. The foreign origin or the recency of the term Hindu has VERY LITTLE to do with its current meaning and relevance, whereas in your article, you rhetorically exploited it to imply otherwise. I had to call attention to this fact.

          • “1. Does the term “Hindu Atheism” mean anything? Does it make sense?”

            That is a question that you ask, not me. The question the way you framed it makes no sense. It is a proper noun, and all proper nouns make sense as proper nouns.

            “2.1. Have the terms “Hinduism”, “Hindu” usurped the “Indian culture”?”

            This is a question that I answer in the article. Of course, this is one you choose to ignore, because you do not have a refutation of my arguments.

            “Most people would interpret the sentence “Is Hindu atheism valid?” to mean question 1. You are *equivocating* when you use it to mean question 2. This was only implicit in your article, but you made it explicit in your reply”

            This would make sense if I had not, right in the title, suggested what Q1 was about. I had, and you’re wrong. The “most people” comment is a platitude. Most people used to think the earth is flat. phooey.

            “> I am talking about the validity of the value placed in the term ‘Hindu Atheist’

            Validity of a term =/= it’s harmfulness. If the term “Hindu atheist” conveys a clear concept as per popular usage, it’s very much a valid term. End of story.”

            Even after quoting me you are unable to remain consistent in replying to me. Do you know the meaning of the word “value”? You keep referring to validity in etymological terms, when the article clearly makes a case for the lack of value in such a term, thus making it invalid.

            “The foreign origin or the recency of the term Hindu has VERY LITTLE to do with its current meaning and relevance, whereas in your article, you rhetorically exploited it to imply otherwise. I had to call attention to this fact.”

            You call attention to your own inadequacy in thought, and nothing else.

            The foreign origin of the word has something to do with the current meaning of the term, as well as its relevance. Just because the etymology is not relevant to the argument about the validity of the term “hindu atheist”, doesn’t mean that it has nothing to do with the current meaning and implication of the word. There is more than just rhetoric at stake here, but you seem to be unable to handle more than one concept at a time.

            This is the what I state at the beginning of the article:
            “In this article we will see how what we label today as Hinduism was developed as a reaction to the threat of cultural irrelevance posed first by Islam and later by Christianity, and how this label has been packaged as a cultural competitor to these two ’super-religions’. Further, we will see how this meaningless and concocted label ‘Hindu’ may have served India well over the past centuries by keeping dangerous ideologies at bay, but may well have outlived its useful phase. ”

            But more importantly, you are continuing to ignore the core argument and focus on the etymology, and you are blatantly lying when you say that I “rhetorically exploited it to imply otherwise”, implying that I use the etymology of the article to make my point. Focus on my argument. You are nothing but a Hindu troll intent on muddling the facts.

  • The basic problem with this article is that,

    (A) The author is prescribing a course of action: Hindus who are atheists should stop identifying themselves as “Hindu”.

    (B) BUT, the author couches it in a descriptive form (“Hinduism is a meaningless religious label.”, etc.) that’s clearly wrong. Hinduism a standard name given to a major religious tradition in the world – this is not a mere assertion, it’s an observation of a fact of the matter. Hindu puranas and epics, Hindu temples, Hindu devotional dance and music, Hindu holy places, Hindu saints, Hindu gods and goddesses, Hindu philosophy – all are artifacts of this religious tradition. Hinduism most definitely is not meaningless.

    The fact is that quite a few atheist Indians were born into Hindu families. They had a Hindu upbringing, read the Hindu holy texts as children, etc. They might not subscribe to the religious ideas any more, but when they call themselves Hindu, they are merely stating a fact about the aspect of Indian culture that they most closely identify with. You could even say that it’s a form of sub-nationalism.

    The main reason for abandoning the Hindu identity is stated to be:

    > The Hindu label provides cover to all those things that we rationalists are concerned with.

    This is simply NOT correct.

    Anyone is free to attack most of what would pass as Hindu traditions. The fact that they are “Hindu” doesn’t offer them any protection.

    For example, the Vedas might well be a huge pile of useless metaphysical speculation. Worshiping Shiva is a waste of time. You don’t gain enlightenment by sitting under Banyan trees and meditating. Astrology is obviously hogwash. Etc.

    • “(A) The author is prescribing a course of action: Hindus who are atheists should stop identifying themselves as “Hindu””

      … if they care about the traditions, culture, art, history and people of India.

      “(B) BUT, the author couches it in a descriptive form (”Hinduism is a meaningless religious label.”, etc.) that’s clearly wrong. “

      You have to demonstrate WHY I am wrong, not just declare that I am. Despite making this unfounded accusation at me, you do not once explain why my statement ”Hinduism is a meaningless religious label.” is wrong. Hinduism is nothing but a religious label, and is meaningless except as a religious label. I present clear arguments. You are simply ignoring them.

      “Hinduism a standard name given to a major religious tradition in the world – this is not a mere assertion, it’s an observation of a fact of the matter.”

      And the earth is round. No one is refuting this fact Oh wait, no one, EXCEPT YOU. You just said that my statement ”Hinduism is a meaningless religious label” is wrong. Get your facts straight…but I guess I cannot expect a religious apologist to stay true to reason.

      “Hindu puranas and epics, Hindu temples, Hindu devotional dance and music, Hindu holy places, Hindu saints, Hindu gods and goddesses, Hindu philosophy – all are artifacts of this religious tradition”

      This is the pack of lies. All of the things that you claim are Hindu, in this sentence, are part of Indian culture, and remain so from before the Hindu religion ever existed. the problem is that you fail to take into account much of what has been said about religion. It is expected. You are, after all, a religious apologist.

      ” Religions have always benefited when the facts are ambiguous. One such religion-driven ambiguity is in the definition of the notion of religion itself. This is the first place to start any such discussion on religion.
      From a scientific point of view, we can define religion as a sub-group within a culture, possessing certain specific traits. The most fundamental of these traits is the strong group identity that religion strives to instill in its followers. In this sense, religion can be observed as a set of memes. The evolution of a religion can be studied through the memetic evolution of individual religious ideas, including the central meme that holds the religion together- the group label. The most successful religions are those that have managed to extend the label of the religion over the entire cultural spectrum of a population. The religions that manage to do this have achieved a stranglehold over the cultural evolution of that group of people. This is the most powerful strategy that religious memes have at their disposal. The way a culture gets out from under the burden of repressive religious labels is by denying religious memes their hunger for co-opting the knowledge attained by rational discourse. That is, religion is designated a limited status, separate from factual aspects of the culture in which it exists. In most Western countries, the role of religion has been mostly designated to non-rational affairs. This removal of the repressive influence of religion from fact-based aspects of human culture has been the greatest achievement of reason. Unfortunately, In India the ‘Hindu’ meme has successfully prevented many rationalists from differentiating between the religious memes of the group label ‘Hinduism’ and the rest of Indian culture.”

      So, what you are doing, in essence, is defending the Hindu meme. Not just a religion, but a religious label that has appropriated many aspects of Indian culture.

      “Hinduism most definitely is not meaningless.”

      The ‘Hindu’ label is meaningless except as a religious label that is opposed to other religious labels. You have failed to take into account what religions really are about, and are deliberately choosing to muddle the idea of religion with culture at large, as most religious apologists do (including Islamic ones), in order to escape criticism of your use of the label.

      “The fact is that quite a few atheist Indians were born into Hindu families. They had a Hindu upbringing, read the Hindu holy texts as children, etc”

      Of course many people have been brainwashed by religious memes. Duh!

      “They might not subscribe to the religious ideas any more, but when they call themselves Hindu, they are merely stating a fact about the aspect of Indian culture that they most closely identify with. “

      If they do not subscribe to the religious ideas anymore, they cannot call themselves Hindu without being hypocrites. And by they, I mean you. Actually, I diagree that you are a non-religious Hindu, because you are a religious apologist. There is no such thing as a non-religious Hindu. By subscribing to and defending the label Hinduism you are automatically forfeiting any claim to being non-religious.

      “You could even say that it’s a form of sub-nationalism.”

      Or I could be honest and call it what it is; religious identification.

      “> The Hindu label provides cover to all those things that we rationalists are concerned with.
      This is simply NOT correct.”

      I disagree, so lets see your evidence.

      “Anyone is free to attack most of what would pass as Hindu traditions. The fact that they are “Hindu” doesn’t offer them any protection”

      I don’t know if it is the article itself, but you seem to be having trouble understanding what the argument is about. The argument is not that you cannot criticize Hinduism, but that Hindus use you to defend their superstitions.

      “For example, the Vedas might well be a huge pile of useless metaphysical speculation. Worshiping Shiva is a waste of time. You don’t gain enlightenment by sitting under Banyan trees and meditating. Astrology is obviously hogwash. Etc.”

      The Vedas are staunchly defended by many Hindu atheists, including some who have declared themselves Hindu philosophers. Just do a google search. Worshiping Shiva is a benign superstition, compared to the many hundreds of thousands of Hindus who argue that Hinduism is scientific and that the cure to many illnesses lies in the holy books and concoctions of those who promote them. These are not the real problems with the Hindu label. Please address the actual accusations against you in the article instead of presenting what you think I should refute.

      But none of these address the actual problems with Hinduism, and the usurpation of Indian culture by the label Hindu. I am not going to make the entire argument again, since you have failed to read the article. So I will briefly point out a fact that has escaped you.

      What you are doing here is defending the label ‘Hindu’. You are, by your own admission, not defending the religious beliefs. You are not defending Indian culture, I am. You are simply here defending the religious label ‘Hindu’, while I’m defending Indian culture from the destructive nature of this religious label.

      The fact is that your defense of the ‘Hindu’ label is a natural reaction to a challenge of your ‘Hindu’ identity. Instead of blindly reacting to the accusation that you are defending the Hindu label, think about why you are doing what you are doing. As I have already said, those of us atheists and freethinkers who are Indians staunchly defend all aspects of Indian culture that are not superstitious and nonsensical. What do you think ‘Hindu Atheist’ has to add to this? Nothing. All you are doing is defending you religious identity, under the delusion that you are not. If you really care about India, go and fight the superstitions, the social evils, the communal violence and the many Hindu mystics who are trying to now usurp science itself in order to use the legitimacy of reason for marketing all sorts of garbage to the masses.

  • Rationalist is most popularly a better word than “atheist”. Now there is an incentive for the believer to make the switch! Ajita makes me weep with this article. I dont need to identify myself as a hindu to carry on my day to day activities as a rational person ignoring the eon old customs and traditions thats prevalent around me. The word “hindu” clearly has religious connotations. I would not get carried away by the need to emphasis on the superiority of “Indian” philosophy of the past and therefore call it “hindu”. Like every other world philosophy that has tried to explain the most pressing questions, the people of India may have just been the earliest. Just may be! It proves nothing! Just like years past, so do numbers mean nothing if you are believing in made up stuff. Why bother to listen to a billion Muslims just because they have the number ? Even if it was just one believing muslim he would still be wrong.
    I whole article is pointless and such a waste of time! Human species is more important than race and the authors pressing need to identify with the “hindu”! such a shame. May be you are not a complete convert and I should “judge” you and advice you to stop this nonsense. The west has given more to the mankind in the last 400 years than the rest of human history combined. Now that is a sobering thought!

    • It pays to read the article first before commenting on it. In fact, it doesn’t look like you’ve even managed to read the title. Either you are extremely lazy, or I can only conclude that you are simply not literate in English.

    • Hahahaha, did you even read the article? Moron

  • AntiSpeciesist

    Disclaimer 1: I am an agnostic(and Atheist for all practical purposes)born & brought up in a Hindu family. I doNOT identify myself as Hindu Atheist. But I identify myself as Indian Atheist as I live outside of Bhaarat.

    Disclaimer 2: I’ve read whole of your article and only skimmed through comments.

    And I have a problem: The term India not only has similar origins as term Hindu but also has similar evolutionary path and causes. In that sense the label “India” is also meaningless as it was also something given to people living on banks of Sindhu by ‘outsiders’. Why then should I(or any rationalist) use this meaningless label? The label “Bhaarat” to mean land where king Bharat* was once a ruler makes more sense. This label can also cut across religions helping to ease Indo-Pak relations as well. At the same time help alienate the state from religion. Won’t it?

    *i.e. if my knowledge of history is correct :))

    • Yes – that is correct – neither hindu nor india have any basis in Bharatiya culture. There is another word that has been misinterpreted as well i.e. Veda – originating from the root “vid” – “to know”. For a rationalist the goal is to seek knowledge and if that’s what culture and dharma of this land was all about, may be this sanskrit root can be used to derive the word that should represent its philosophies and the land itself.

      This site has some interesting articles – including this one. At the same time there is something unsettling about many of these articles including the views expressed by Meera. Standards for rational thinking are no different for people who call themselves liberal as they are for those who are conservatives.

      I am an atheist, consider evolution to be the backbone of biology, and I am open to ideas coming from anyone. I also believe standards that I set for myself for what is rational are lot stringent than those who live their lives buried in some combination of dogmas. But what saddens me sometimes is that those propagating such rationalist perspectives – do not view the world without the bias that Buddha tried so hard to eliminate and stress in his teachings.

  • I agree with your claim that the term Hindu originated in reaction to Islam and Christianity. In fact, I think many Hindutva people would agree with you on that. If I understand correctly, the RSS line is that the term Hindu actually refers to the people and the culture of the subcontinent and not to a religion.

    Viewed that way, we realize that the Indian culture was much more amenable to rational thought before the arrival of Europeans and Islam. Hence, I think it is important to keep that thought alive. Hence the need for the label ‘Hindu’. If you do not like the word ‘Hindu’ with all it’s connotations, invent a new one. But the important thing is to not let the truth that – India was largely a free society – die.

  • When Indians feel proud that atheistic philosophies existed in India, it does not mean that only India produced such philosophies. But rather that despite expressing such atheistic or unorthodox philosophies people weren’t burnt at stakes, or beheaded or their books burnt. The fact that such ideas were in the mainstream and that such books survived for centuries speaks volumes about the tolerance of different ideas in the Indian culture. But that of course changed with the arrival of Islam and Christianity.

    That is why it is important to keep alive the truth about our glorious past. Call it Hindu or call it something else. But keep it alive.

    Finally, since Carvaka school was a part of this glorious culture of India, it makes sense to label or in your words appropriate it into the label ‘Hindu’. If you do not like the word Hindu, then I suggest pre-Islamic Indian culture, or pre-Islamic Bharata culture.

  • Doesnt Matter

    I would really like to see a world where there is no religion and no faith… However, in all the ugly stew of disinformation and ignorance, i dont see how the author is so sure about anything she is talking about.. to me, everything about the past is plain bullshit and it really does not matter.. All that i care for is no god damn muslim or christian comes about proselytizing his nonsense to me.. and it is even more unacceptable when one is being coaxed/threatened/forced on anybody…
    Religion and Faith are the cancer of the human thought.. Sadly, free thinking souls are like the yet uninfected limbs of the body which eventually will collapse…
    As long as you either follow a religion and preach against it, failure is certain..
    Of course, this will ranted against with heavy words and ostentatious claims of how stupid i be and how omniscient they are… but people, just let go of all this nonsense. It does not matter.

  • Excellent article.This exactly explains why there no one common book,one common deity in Hinduism.Rather there are many books,many deities and many traits,which have been given the false label of Hinduism,unlike other religions such as Christianity and Islam.

  • Isn’t then Hindu equivalent to being Indian.I am not totally convinced given India’s huge population and high illiteracy, at present that shedding the hindu label would be a good idea.Islam is increasing fast across the world and in India to around 13-15% should be a cause of concern.But if you read books from Sam Harris “End of faith” or Ibn warraq “Why I am not a muslim”
    and Richard Dawkins “God delusion” or even Quran and the hadiths you will realize you need an opposing force to counteract.There is no preoselytisation in hinduism(because it itself is one bogus term reiterated by S.N Balaguruswamy).It was started by Arya samaj in retaliation to islam and christianity to keep it at check.BJP has fought hard for an uniform civil code but still we have the draconian sharia law in india.Read(arun shourie – The World of Fatwas or the Sharia in Action).I myself(atheist 6.9/7 as dawkins says) look at indian mythology as fascinating and good material for a action-drama packed movie nothing more.

    • Satish Chandra

      Isn’t then Hindu equivalent to being Indian.

      WTF? Earlier you said “definitley its valid if the people of india are called hindus than Hindu atheism is valid”. Agreeing that it was a stupid statement is the least you could have done.

      And then some false dichotomies:

      1. Islam is increasing fast across the world and in India to around 13-15% should be a cause of concern.

      The “fast increasing” claim is a charming refuge for bigots and I will reserve my judgment till I see some evidence it. Anyway that is strawman argument as far this article is concerned.

      However I will not say that Islam isn’t a cause for concern (neither will other freethinkers). But just because it is a cause for concern doesn’t make pointing out the harm that Hinduism causes a mutually exclusive option.

      2. There is no preoselytisation in hinduism(because it itself is one bogus term reiterated by S.N Balaguruswamy).

      Again, because there is no proselytisation of the Christian kind in Hinduism doesn’t make pointing out the harm Hinduism causes a mutually exclusive option.

      3. I myself(atheist 6.9/7 as dawkins says) look at indian mythology as fascinating and good material for a action-drama packed movie nothing more.

      So? Does that make criticizing Hinduism irrelevant?

      • Why so much hostility?

        • What hostility? Is it anyway related to this?

          • As someone who left religion thanks to the New Atheists (as they are called), I tend to agree with Satish. It’s not so much hostility as relentless honesty about their beliefs. But you are welcome to do so in return. For example, Satish obviously reads a lot on this site (always ready with the link) but probably does not otherwise. He misses simple things like, just as to many Indians Goras = angrez, to many people in the world hindu = Indians. You are welcome to point out to him that this happens because Freethinking does not necessarily equate to thinking freely.

            Point is, Indian’s in general but Hindus in particular along with Jains/Buddhists are raised in a way to avoid some conflicts and to not ruffle feathers. Feel free to do so in return….

          • The context of this discussion should be obvious, unless you are a troll. So stop wasting bandwidth.

  • Is ‘Hindu Atheism’ Valid? definitley its valid if the people of india are called hindus than Hindu atheism is valid .What you are arguing about is if its detrimental to indian culture.”This is the new paradigm that rationalists must endorse to break the spell of ‘Hinduism’ that is slowly choking India.”.On the contrary it actually provokes thought among hindus and non-hindus who are frankly unaware of what hinduism is.Thus Amartya Sen labelling himself hindu atheist is beneficial-how the hell he is a hindu and atheist .Hindu identity is a reaction to abrahmic religions and is needed to put a check on them.Those who claim to be Hindu atheists do not necessarily mean that they are not critics of other aspects of hinduism.Secularism creates this myth that all religions are similar they are equally good or bad.No they are not.Parties like INC and DMK create this false myth in supporting secularism.Instead what we need is anti-religious, pro-growth political parties.Leftists have rewritten indian history deleting all the destruction caused by islam in india.

    • Satish Chandra

      definitley its valid if the people of india are called hindus than Hindu atheism is valid .

      People of India are called Hindus? Who told you that? I’m an Indian and I’m not a Hindu. So are many people like me.

      Hindu identity is a reaction to abrahmic religions and is needed to put a check on them.

      Get out of your bigotry, will you? Do you think blind belief and superstition in Hinduism magically become less of a threat to India because there *was* a threat to Indian belief systems sometime in the *past*?

      What we care here is about *today*, you know where millions of people in India throng temples to bribe gods so as to get favors and mindlessly perform a myriad of rituals. When any attempt is made to show how pointless such things are, people like you crop up with strawmen arguments like –

      “Secularism creates this myth that all religions are similar they are equally good or bad.”

      A Muslim or Christian praying to god is no different than a Hindu praying to god. Just because there are more extreme elements in Islam world over doesn’t make for an excuse to look the other way when it comes to other irrational beliefs in *all* religions. Nuance is not what apologists like you are capable of handling.

      “Parties like INC and DMK create this false myth in supporting secularism.”

      Because some power craving people say it, it doesn’t mean that blind belief and magical thinking become non-existent among Hindus and that the Hindu label cannot be used when criticizing such things.

      “Instead what we need is anti-religious, pro-growth political parties.Leftists have rewritten indian history deleting all the destruction caused by islam in india.”

      OMG! Islam is teh bad! These rationalists must be sooo stupid to criticize saintly Hinduism and not “real” religions!

      Thus Amartya Sen labelling himself hindu atheist is beneficial-how the hell he is a hindu and atheist.

      Ask the people from whom you learnt that “Secularism creates a myth” and that “Leftists have rewritten indian history” how “Hindu” Amartya Sen is. Seriously, ask them.

      • Not too many persian friends Satish? my 3.5 persian friends all refer to me as a Hindu, not because of my religion but Hindu = Indian for them.

        To them you are a hindu, sorry.

        • Are you Persian? So, if Iranians or South Americans (they do the same thing, calling all Indians Hindu) get it WRONG, should we as well? Can’t you see that it is Hindu propaganda and the fact that religion is pervasive that is responsible for such silly generalizations?

          • I never proposed that Indians should get it wrong too. I was responding to the exchange about “People of India are called Hindus” and my point is that they are.

            Never in that have I suggested that because others do, so should Indians. You are reading things in my post that I have not written.

          • More disingenuous argumentation from you. Obviously Satish was saying that not all Indians are Hindus, when you asserted that Persians think so, to which I said that is irrelevant because the Persians are wrong. The “I never proposed Indians should get it wrong too” is funny. Of course you did.

        • Well, their assumptions are wrong. Did you try to correct them? Btw, did you know that Hindus (= Indians by your logic) drink cow piss? So you must be drinking cow piss.

  • it is ridiculous to believe a Hindu can also be an atheist. It is like someone who believes in Nazism says that Stalin was a good man.

    The essence of Hinduism is trickery, deceit, superstitions, varna, caste, rituals, sacrifices(continue to this day), GODS, irrationality and i mean A LOT OF IRRATIONALITY, belief in maya, illusion and what not.
    Further there is no morality IN ANY of the Hindu scriptures be it shruti, smriti , myths, puranas or whatever that means.

    The Atheist movement we see in the Western countries(it always starts in west) is all about Rationality, Morality and most importantly Science. In this atheist movement there is an element of morality and it is not materialism. Materialism is a propaganda used by religionists against this Atheist movement.

    I dont know who Carvaka was. The bottom line is that what we call as Hinduism never considered his philosophy as important and even if it existed all i know is that it died a quick death.

    To call the Carvaka school as a part of Hinduism and then to claim yourself as an Atheist Hindu(or whatever that means) is one another means of deception so widely a trait of the entire pantheon of beliefs in Hinduism.

    So therefore I dont think there is any meaning in this word of HINDU ATHEISM….Either you are Hindu or an Atheist but not both.

    I hope Brahmins do manage to post my ideas here. Because I see mainly Brahmins have this affinity with the word ATHEIST HINDU. It is tantamont to saying I renounce being a king but I shall not give up my title.

    Hinduism in his history has done the criminal thing of borrowing ideas from other religions under its own name. That one reason is sufficient to prove my point

  • To further my point, a chief thing noticed in Indian/Hindu society that they shamelessly borrow ideas from West or even among their own people to potray it. And they dont feel a pinch of guilt of the crime of theft. We all see it in Literature, in our movies – both Bollywood and South Indian, and in general in our ideas…..Where does it all come from?…….I believe it comes from the Criminal thing which Hinduism has managed to do since its history…….
    That modern Hinduism has many ideas borrowed from Buddhism and Jainism is a fact which is beyond any doubt. Anyone questioning it should see the Bhagavat Gita who has shamelessly copied an entire sentence from the one of Suttas of pali canon and claim it to be Krishnas word.

    Even Gandhi and many others have no shied away from this sin. Gandhi borrowed Jain principles and gave it a label of “Hindu”. Even our modern day Anna Hazare does the same.

    The problem is not so much of the shameful thing of copying but the problem is that this culture creates a sense of lack of guilt in doing so.

    I guess this lack of guilt comes from the fact of Lack of pride in anything and due to this lack of pride comes lack of effort and from lack of effort comes this shameless copying of other ideas.

    In fact, this idea of borrowing or stealing other religions is peculiar to only Hinduism. For example you dont see Christians claiming the medeival Islamic scientists as their own and even the Muslims (albeit grudgingly) agree that most modern development is due to western civilization but they make NO ATTEMPT to steal other cultures or ideas and call it their own.

    This in my opinion is the way forward.

    So therefore this idea of HINDU ATHEIST is not only abhorant but also downright dangerous for the future.

    • kingjohnthegreat69

      “That modern Hinduism has many ideas borrowed from Buddhism and Jainism is a fact which is beyond any doubt.”

      Lol.

      It’s “beyond any doubt,” is it? Only if you believe that it is a settled matter that the Vedas were composed around 1500 BC, that the Upanishads were all written between 1000-400 BC, that the Buddha and Mahavira were both born between sometime 400-600 BC, and that there was a so-called “Hindu synthesis” around the beginning of the common era.

      Not ONE of these enormous assumptions have ever been proven. It is all utter speculation, based upon nothing but attempts to compare “relative” events in various texts, with no way whatsoever to ascertain facts.

      You seem to be one of those revisionists who have fallen wholesale under the sway of Marxists “historians” (and, of course, their sectarian Buddhist allies, most of whom are obvious converts), who try ceaselessly to promote the lie that everything great about Ancient India came from Buddhism or Jainism.

      Who was Siddhartha Gautama, shall we ask? Into what kind of family was he born? Into a KSHATRIYA family, one of the four CASTES of Indian society, which originated with (and has only been preserved by) Hinduism (or “Brahmanism,” orthodoxy, or whatever new ridiculous title the Marxists want to give it today). He was undeniably taught the Vedas (being a prince), and based most of his arguments in response to the Upanishads. He was THOROUGHLY influenced by Hindu (“Brahminical”) philosophy and thought. It is perfectly possible that Siddhartha copied many of his ideas from the Gita, which may have been written far before he was born. Just think what will happen to the modern construction of Indian history if the Indus Valley script turns out to represent Sanskrit: Hindu (“Brahmanical”) philosophy and ideas will be pushed back at least many thousands of years, and the Buddha will be restored to his position as a mere student of the Hindu sages, which is exactly what he was considered for the vast majority of Indian history, until the last century or so.

      Finally, “nothing to be proud of?” You must be joking. Let us take just a brief look at “Brahminical” achievements, shall we? The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and Mahabharata (arguably the very essence of “Indian culture”), the magnificent art and architecture based upon famous “Brahminical” stories and literature, the sublime classical music (derived from the Brahmin Bharata Muni, and focused almost entirely upon devotion to Hindu deities), an incomparably noble codes of war, and astonishing achievements in science, mathematics, and astronomy (accomplished almost solely by adherents of “Brahminical” religion). The sum total of Buddhist and Jain accomplishments in India rather pale in comparison.

      Finally, the unsubstantiated speculation about “what Hinduism borrowed from Buddhism and Jainism) is complete nonsense. Whenever Hindu (“Brahminical”) philosophers have engaged with Buddhist (or Nastika in general) ideas, whether to expound upon them or to condemn them, they have done so openly, without any hesitation or mincing of words. All the tortured attempts to force something Buddhist or Jain out of ancient Astika thought almost universally come to the same inevitable conclusion: the whole idea is pure fiction.

  • Ramkumar Ramesh

    A brilliant article, and quite clarified lot of doubts about the religious meaning of the word Hinduism.

    It does not take a genius to realize that Hinduism is not like the organized homogeneous Semitic religions, but rather an amalgam of ideas.

    I used to think that the word Hindu simply means Indian, and use them interchangeably. In that respect, I don’t see the problem in Hindu atheist. Since the boundaries of Hinduism aren’t clearly defined, I assumed it just meant all things Indian, and like you said, non-Islamic and non-Christian.

    • Satish Chandra

      On what basis are you saying that semitic (I think you meant Abrahamic ) religions are homogeneous? For example, how do you explain different denominations of Christianity if Christianity is homogeneous?

      • Ramkumar Ramesh

        Sorry, I meant largely homogeneous.

        If somebody proclaims themselves as Christian, there are few things that I can infer such as Christ is the savior, Hell, Heaven and so on.

        Similarly for Islam, that Mohd is the messenger and so on.

        A person identifying themselves as Hindu gives close to no information about what he believes, except that there is an Indian connection somewhere. Hence.

    • furiouslysleepy

      Specifically, the problem with “Hindu atheist” is that it lumps me together with a group of people with whom I have literally nothing in common as far as my belief system is concerned.

      If common origin is all that is needed to be Hindu, we should be calling people “Hindu Christians” and “Hindu Muslims”. As you might expect, that does not go down well with Christians or Muslims, and the term “Hindu atheist” is horrible for the same reason.

  • Hindu a derogatory term given by Persians, Indian a label by British, but the true label is ARYAN. Once this is the starting point then the debate shifts. Terms such as superstition, caste and even science are used by Christians the last rulers. Unfortunately the debate is around these terms then there are problems which includes The English language.(Sanskrit is a far superior language for its is similar to computer code) Science was needed by Xians for the bible did not provide answers. The above article correctly points out “Hindus” need no such label (science) maths Sanskrit, invention of language (includes English) are all Aryan “inventions” . One of the Aryans greatest invention was ZERO if any scientist can explain its existence logical using the English language then I will be surprised.

    • Why don’t you consider writing to the Vishva Hindu Parishad to delete the ‘Hindu’ in their organization’s name? Had you similarly objected when the Sangh Parivar was raising the slogan ‘Garv se kaho ham Hindu hain’? We cannot wait for the apologists and bigots to make up their minds on what to call themselves, for us to raise our objections about the atavistic and supremacist ideas they hold. Also, here is a relevant read about the standard forward-mail fare of Sanskrit having been demonstrated as most suitable for programming.

  • Very interesting article. I am in the U.S. so I am rather more concerned about Christianity than Hinduism at this point. Nonetheless your analysis is helpful to me in understanding Christianity, and in particular some recent attempts to rehabilitate the medieval Catholic church.

    It’s also inspired me to take a closer look into Indian culture, and especially Indian ancient history. It had struck me that there seemed to me too much disparate material gathered under the umbrella of “Hinduism” to really constitute a coherent religious worldview and your analysis tends to confirm my suspicions.

  • Good Article. I believe that religion has lost almost all relevance in this age.

    Is it not easier to bring more people to believe that they are Hindu Atheists. Trust them to begin examining their beliefs and then guide them into finding about the misleading name?

    People like to maintain status quo; and this will perhaps be a smoother transition?

  • India as a nation, is quite complex in its internal administrative policies. One such complexity is the necessity for a citizen to identify with a religion and also caste (in case of a Hindu). Religious demography is running in the veins of political functioning. No ancient scripture of this land recognizes any specific group in their subjects. Hence this land only had it’s culture and concepts of life. The concepts varied from proposition of existence of Soul and rejection of existence of Soul. Nothing imposing on another. It was academic in nature. With the invasion of muslims, the groupism started. The rule of the British systemized and exploited. The present governing policies continue exploition. But politically, Hinduism will continue to exist as long as other religions continue to exist.

  • Very interesting article indeed, I too am a Hindu atheist :).

  • Clearly the author, who despite mentioning Savarkar has not read any of his writings and why he calls himself a Hindu Atheist. Not to forget it was Savarkar who made the term Hindu Atheist household in India

  • furiouslysleepy

    Thanks you! I have previously sniggered at the term “Hindu atheist”, but next time someone seriously suggests to me that Hinduism accomodates my atheism, I will point them to this article.

    I have tried to pin people down on what personal belief would make me STOP being Hindu:

    If I don’t believe in gods, is that enough? No.

    If I think beef is delicious? Still hindu.

    If I don’t believe in vastu and tantra and yoga and ayurveda? No, I’m still a hindu.

    If every single line and cermony at hindu weddings is repugnant to me? Nope.

    If I convert to Islam for legal benefits? “You would no longer be my son!”

    Kind of telling.

  • Author took sides. You should’ve explained the sides, fairly and without bias.

    • Satish Chandra

      What sides are you talking about? The author clearly stated what his claim is and then backed it up with the rest of the article.

  • Hinduism = 70 – 75% Atheism
    Judaism = 60 – 70% Atheism
    Christianity = 40 – 50% Atheism
    Islam = Less than 5% Atheism

    It is only natural that Hinduism encapsulates Atheism without much fury from HINDU equivalent of CHURCH.

    You state: Many would reject the oppressive “Hinduism” label.

    As such there is not much oppressiveness tied to Hinduism ….however if you are referring to practices such as caste-ism, Sati it may be true. It is only matter of time that these will be abhorred by the Hindu masses.

    • How exactly were those percentages arrived at? By checking how many lines of scripture were devoted to penalties for apostates? By guessing what percentage of self-identified believers are actually apatheists? Or by simply making the stereotypes of each of these categories line up in one’s head and confirming one’s biases?

      Also, once you acknowledge that ‘it is only a matter of time’ before the worst of Hinduism ‘will be abhorred by the Hindu masses’, why such discomfort with articles which suggest that it is already time for such abhorrence and disowning?

  • Some info that I got from ..wait for it… Conservapedia
    In 1966, the Supreme Court of India defined what Hinduism is for legal purposes:
    1. Belief in the authority of the Vedas (an ancient collection of hymns to the gods, written in Sanskrit). The oldest collection of hymns in the Vedas is the Rig Veda, which was written between 1800 and 1300 B.C. The greatest Veda hymn is the “Bhagavat Gita,” a section in the Mahabharata concerning life’s never-ending spiritual journey towards perfection. Bhagavat Geeta is rendered as a dialogue between Shri Krishna (incarnation of Vishnu) and Arjuna (the great archer) in the middle of the battlefield.
    2. Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and respect an opponent’s view.
    3. Belief in world rhythms: long periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession.
    4. Belief in reincarnation (rebirth) and preexistence.
    5. Belief that there are many ways to salvation.
    I just wanted to know the validity of this info. Going by the first rule, there are probably only a handful of ‘Hindus’. I also wanted to add that though the label ‘Hindu’ is a recent phenomenon, I believe that there is a modern day identity emerging through politics and media of being a ‘Hindu’.

  • You quote in your article:

    “The origins of the word ‘Hindu’ lie in the Persian word for the river Indus. The people who lived east of the Indus river (Sindu in Sanskrit) were called Hindus by the Persians.”

    What would be the argument against using the label, ‘Hindu’, purely in a geographical context, devoid of any religious implications?

  • I think Hindu Atheists call themselves that as they agree with the philosophy behind Hinduism. If one looks deeply into “Hinduism” you will see that a lot of it resembles what we now learn as science. And science, while we believe to be rational, is not. My favorite of the sciences – Physics – has no basis behind it’s laws. They have simply been proven to be true. In books on Physics, the experiments which led us to these conclusions are rarely shown and sometimes, as in the case of Newton’s Laws of Motion can’t even be proven. Hinduism then, could also be like Physics, deep down. If you cut through the crap and the stories and get down to what Hinduism really says, the term “Hindu Atheism” should prove to be valid.

    • Satish Chandra

      Zach,

      If you are going to define Hinduism as everything Indian, then obviously Hindu atheism is valid. However the article asserts that such a use of Hinduism “is a semantic impediment to the natural evolution of cultural knowledge in India.”. The article then explains why it is so. It is from those arguments that the author concludes that Hindu atheism isn’t valid.

    • Captain Mandrake

      Zach,

      My favorite of the sciences – Physics – has no basis behind it’s laws.

      Can you please elaborate. What do you mean by no basis?

      They have simply been proven to be true.

      Isn’t that sufficient. What more do you want?

      • What he meant was- it just given that its proven, and the proof is not given. I suggest he use internet. And he’s actually right about Newton’s Laws. They were wrong.

        • Captain Mandrake

          Can you explain what you mean by Newton’s laws were wrong.

          • Oh, sorry for not making it clear last time. It seems you’re unaware of Quantum Physics. Newton’s laws fail for particles of microscopic dimensions. It can be said that the laws are just an approximation case when quantum mechanics is applied to particles of madroscopic dimensions.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Yash,

            Thanks for making me aware of Quantam mechanics. I agree that Newtonian physics breaks down at such small dimensions. Now does that mean that you can call it wrong? Also, is Hinduism wrong in the same sense Newtonian physics is wrong? That is the point made by Hindu nuts like Zach.

            Do you subscribe to the same views as Zach?

            Please do not lose sight of why we are debating this point.

          • Oh no, I don’t agree to his views at all. Being an Indian myself, I know that ‘Hinduism” has been corrupted with lots of superstitions and all. And its not that Newtonian physics breaks down at such small dimensions. Its is itself based on wrong assumptions. And for Zach there is nothing Hinduism itself says. Its just crap and over-exaggerated stories that make up any religion.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Yash,

            Thanks.

    • I consider myself a Hindu atheist, so I will give my perspective.

      In mathematics there is something called the “Axiom of Choice”, that deals with the nature of infinite sets. It is something that cannot be proven true or false based on fundamental assumptions. Rather, it is something that you choose to accept or reject, and then base your system of mathematics from that fork. There has been much debate historically over whether it should be accepted. Nowadays almost all mathematicians accept the Axiom of Choice, even though it leads to apparent paradoxes such as the Banach-Tarski Paradox. Quick explanations can be found for all these ideas by searching on the web.

      In the same vein, I am not endorsing Hindu beliefs on an epistemological ground. But accepting many of them as _axioms_ in my belief system allows me to have a more fulfilled life. I cannot justify vegetarianism based on rationalism. It is something I choose axiomatically. However, believing in Gods, especially interventionist ones, does conflict with my system of logic. Therefore while choosing to follow much of the Hindu lifestyle, I can still reject most of the supernatural aspects.

      • Captain Mandrake

        I cannot justify vegetarianism based on rationalism.

        Sure, you can use rationalism in conjunction with your value system to justify vegetarianism with out invoking religion.

        1) Do you value minimization or maximization of suffering? Being a vegetarian is a step towards minimization of the suffering of sentient beings. See, no religion required.

        2) Given what you know about global climate change do you want to reduce your carbon footprint? If yes then being a vegetarian (http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/global-warming.aspx ) is path towards that goal. Again, no religion required.

        You can also watch these videos to take it even further to veganism (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti-WcnqUwLM and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHzwqf_JkrA ). Again religion not required.

        However religion could be used as an excuse (“Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”) to continue to eat meat.

        • Captain Mandrake

          Also want to add that assuming vegetarianism follows from Hinduism ignores lifestyles of millions of Hindus who not only eat meat but also celebrate religious festivals with feasts that is predominately non-vegetarian.

        • Vegetarianism was just one example, and might not have been a very good one. However, to address your questions specifically:

          1) From a strictly rationalistic viewpoint, I maximize my OWN happiness (and minimize my own suffering). For example, if I sold my motorcycle and gave the money to charity, I would be lessening the aggregate suffering of all sentient beings. But my belief system does not require me to do that.

          2) Reducing my carbon footprint does not necessarily reduce the overall carbon output of the planet’s population by a corresponding amount. When I buy less gasoline, gasoline prices go down, and other people buy more. Additionally, there is no compelling self interest in what the planet will look like in 50 years.

          So my main reason for being vegetarian is that I buy into a package deal, i.e. Hinduism. More specifically, I follow “mitahara” in my diet. But I recognize that this is entirely arbitrary, similar to observant Jews not eating meat and milk together, or Muslims not eating pork. I am not doing it for logical reasons.

          • Captain Mandrake

            1) From a strictly rationalistic viewpoint, I maximize my OWN happiness (and minimize my own suffering). For example, if I sold my motorcycle and gave the money to charity, I would be lessening the aggregate suffering of all sentient beings. But my belief system does not require me to do that.

            2) Reducing my carbon footprint does not necessarily reduce the overall carbon output of the planet’s population by a corresponding amount. When I buy less gasoline, gasoline prices go down, and other people buy more. Additionally, there is no compelling self interest in what the planet will look like in 50 years.

            There is so many offensive things in that post. But I will just stick to vegetarianism and whether it follow from religious edict or from reason.

            In my original post I said rationality in conjunction with your value system can lead you to vegetarianism. Let me elaborate. If your value system only takes into account your happiness/suffering alone then, yes, you may not arrive at vegetarianism.

            The whole argument was contingent on what is that you value. What you value need not be something that is written in stone. Today you might want to be concerned about happiness/suffering of you alone. As you spend time with your friends and family you might figure out that you want to include some of their happiness/suffering into your value system. As you further interact with more segments of the society you will expand your circle of concern. As this process continues at some point this will include non-human sentient being and you could end up becoming a vegetarian.

            So my main reason for being vegetarian is that I buy into a package deal, i.e. Hinduism.

            The problem now is that this package also comes with the baggage of misogyny (http://nirmukta.com/2011/08/27/the-status-of-women-as-depicted-by-manu-in-the-manusmriti/) and social injustice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Untouchability). Now with out using reason how will tell the good parts (assuming that you think vegetarianism is good) from the bad parts (assuming that misogyny and social injustice is bad)?

            You also mentioned the you live your life in fulfillment by sticking to your belief system. How do you know you lived your life in fulfillment? Are you going to tell me that you know that because you stuck to your belief system.

          • The view that vegetarianism naturally arises from minimization of suffering is contrived. I will give a concrete example. In my area there is sometimes an overpopulation of deer, which leads to many of them literally starving to death. Managed hunting keeps their population in check, and certainly reduces their overall suffering. By eating venison which is a product of that hunting, I am reducing suffering.

            You are overly simplifying the basis of happiness, instead of approaching it purely from a rational viewpoint. The only reason you value the happiness of your friends and family is that their happiness in turn leads to your own. If your family’s happiness caused you excruciating pain and no mental benefit, then you would not work towards that goal. It would be the same with society in general. Altruism is based on personal happiness – if you do not get anything at all out of helping other people, you won’t.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Chandran,

            The view that vegetarianism naturally arises from minimization of suffering is contrived. I will give a concrete example. In my area there is sometimes an overpopulation of deer, which leads to many of them literally starving to death. Managed hunting keeps their population in check, and certainly reduces their overall suffering. By eating venison which is a product of that hunting, I am reducing suffering.

            It is these kind of arguments (venison) that are contrived. You have to follow these arguments with a convincing analysis showing that this does not bump up the demand for venison (venison is tasty) to the point where there is a manufactured concern for managed hunting.

            Having said that sure there are several hypothetical instances (What if you are lost in a jungle with nothing to eat but wild animals until you can find help?, Or what to do with road kill? ) where you may have to eat an animal. In that sense rationality does not prevent you from eating an animal. But such instances are so rare that you can for the most part be a vegetarian.

            Again you brought up this issue of vegetarianism as an example of something good and that you could only follow it because it was given to you in a Hindu package. What you have not told us yet is how you came to the conclusion that vegetarianism is good.

            BTW, you are yet to answer another question I asked you. Let me repeat.

            You said So my main reason for being vegetarian is that I buy into a package deal, i.e. Hinduism.

            To which my response was the following.

            The problem now is that this package also comes with the baggage of misogyny (http://nirmukta.com/2011/08/27/the-status-of-women-as-depicted-by-manu-in-the-manusmriti/) and social injustice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Untouchability). Now with out using reason how will you tell the good parts (assuming that you think vegetarianism is good) from the bad parts (assuming that you consider misogyny and social injustice is bad)?

            Can you please respond. Do you just happily carry on with the misogyny and social injustice as these came along with the Hindu package that you bought? Do you just live your life in fulfillment by sticking to these beliefs?

          • You are talking about an ancient text that predates Christ, that is not even considered a core part of Hindu teachings. Hinduism has evolved since then. Einstein’s work contained its share of fallacies, but we don’t throw out the entire general theory of relativity over those. And you don’t see Christians rushing out to construct altars made of Acacia wood. When I talk about Hinduism as a package, I’m talking about a modern interpretation, the same way that if I were talking about Newtonian mechanics, I would be talking about the current state, not what Isaac Newton put down in his notebooks.

            As far as vegetarianism, you are now admitting that you are putting the cart before the horse. You are acknowledging that there are certain (rare) cases such as roadkill where NOT being a vegetarian is the rational choice. But you are willing to ignore logic and make the irrational choice in those few cases. So in effect you are saying that you decided to be vegetarian, THEN came up with a logical framework in support of it, but if the logical framework does not fit, you will choose to ignore it in those cases. You are putting vegetarianism as a behaviour ahead of vegetarianism as the reasoned outcome of your value system – which is exactly what a Hindu would do.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Chandran,

            Nowhere in my posts did I make vegetarianism an absolute. All I said was you can arrive at it using rationalism along with your value system. You do not need a religious dictate to hold on to vegetarianism is the larger point. And I gave you two lines (suffering and carbon foot print) of argument. Now there are going to be extreme instances (you are lost in the woods with nothing to eat but rodents, or roadkill being donated to food banks) that are rarely encountered where rationalism will of course allow you eat meat.

            When I talk about Hinduism as a package, I’m talking about a modern interpretation, the same way that if I were talking about Newtonian mechanics, I would be talking about the current state, not what Isaac Newton put down in his notebooks.

            However, you are yet to tell me why is that you think vegetarianism is good and something to hold on to. And what is with this modern interpretation of the Hindu package? How did this interpretation come about that asks people to hold on to vegetarianism and throw away (though it has not really been thrown away) misogyny?

          • Captain Mandrake

            Chandran,

            Let me make it easy for you, as you have either not understood or unwilling to answer the question that was asked.

            You say You are talking about an ancient text that predates Christ, that is not even considered a core part of Hindu teachings. Hinduism has evolved since then. Einstein’s work contained its share of fallacies, but we don’t throw out the entire general theory of relativity over those.

            If there are any fallacies in Einstein’s work we do throw those out but keep the general theory of relativity because evidence supports it.

            In the same sense, when you say that you will keep some of the Hindu teachings but throw away the rest how do you determine what is good and what is bad?

          • You are overthinking the issue of good/bad. How does anyone determine if something is good or bad? When you were 6 years old, you probably understood that punching another child in the face was bad. But you certainly didn’t have a full fledged theory involving minimization of suffering to make that determination. You were brought up a certain way, and determined your morality from there on out.

            In the same way, I am using Hinduism as my starting point. No individual enumerates every possible action they can take, and then uses formal logic to decide the moral implications of each action. It just doesn’t work that way. We have systems thrust upon us in childhood – if we decide later that they don’t work for us, we discard them. In most cases some modifications are necessary. For Hinduism, if you were brought up to believe in untouchability or misogyny, then you are free to decide those are wrong, and refuse to follow them. They are not a core belief of Hinduism. For that matter, if you are Hindu and believe that eating beef does not conflict with the core beliefs, you are free to do that.

            Also, I did not claim that ALL modern interpretations of Hinduism require vegetarianism. Given the many schools of Hinduism, some eat meat, some don’t. For me personally, Mitahara is a good way to define my dietary limits. But for someone else, abstaining from beef while eating chicken, while entirely arbitrary, might be personally satisfying.

      • Could you list these ‘axioms’, show how they are quintessentially ‘Hindu’, demonstrate how they related to ‘fulilment’ and explain why this ‘fulfilment’ is something worth seeking and somehow unattainable without ‘Hindu axioms’?

        • Yes, saying “vegetarianism” without any additional information was misleading on my part. Mitahara would have been a better description. I follow the principles of Mitahara even though it makes it more difficult when everyone else wants to go to a high-end steak house for dinner. But I am not interested in spending the time to develop a diet plan from philosophical fundamentals. By following Mitahara I feel I have clearly set boundaries, so there is less mental effort involved in deciding “should I eat this or not?”

          I also do Ashtanga yoga regularly. Not just for the physical fitness aspect, but to pursue the concepts such as Pratyahara. I know that based on a modern understanding of physiology, many of these ideas are completely unscientific. However, by embracing them, I see tangible results in my life.

          • When the benefits attributed to mitahara and pratyahara are really the benefits of controlling caloric intake and of disciplining one’s attention away from distractions, why painstakingly establish a tenuous’Hindu’ basis for these commonsense practices? Doesn’t such endorsement come with the side-effect of unwittingly sanctifying so much other atavistic baggage associated with such a label? Doesn’t it play into the hands of those making exaggerated and often downright false claims about, say, the benefits of Yoga?

          • You say that by following Mitahara there is less mental effort required on your part on “should I eat this or not?”. But is it really true? Don’t you think that by being a non-vegetarian, you can just eat everything you want(according to your taste buds of course)?

            You have mentioned in a previous comment that in a rationalistic approach, you will be more concerned in maximizing you OWN happiness. Then why impose these difficulties on yourself? You can accompany your friends to the high-end steak houses and eat all you want!!

          • I agree that many of the claims about yoga are exaggerated. I certainly don’t believe that it cures cancer. But for example in long range shooting (over 1000 meters), yoga is invaluable in allowing the breathing and heart rate control necessary for near perfect steadiness. I have friends who are evangelical Christians that do yoga to improve their shooting. Is it possible to construct a parallel system just in order to exclude yoga? Of course. But why bother? Yoga is a packaged system and even atheists agree that it has benefits. If you’re trying to develop your own system in order to avoid a certain religious label, you’re letting your ego eat up your time. Are you going to develop your own postures? Your own timing? Your own version of Shavasana?

            Following Hinduism is not “painstaking”. It is already laid out for me and I only need to make minor modifications. I’m not claiming that it works for everyone, but it works for me. To respond to skeptic, if I ate whatever I wanted when I visited a steakhouse, I would weigh much more than I would be comfortable with, so my overall happiness would be decreased. My friends are constantly debating “is it OK to have butter on my baked potato?”, or “should I get a 9oz steak or a 6oz?”. With Mitahara, my rules, while arbitrary, are clear.

  • ‘Hindu’ label ‘Hindu’ label ‘Hindu’ label.

    But you used another so called ‘label’ many times in this article, which is ‘India’. You said Indian Philosophy is construed to be ‘Hindu Philosophy’. But what is this “Indian” philosophy?

    You pointed out a problem, but proposed no solution.

    From this standpoint, this article creates a lot of fuss about nothing.

    • Captain Mandrake

      Sunder,

      *You pointed out a problem, but proposed no solution.*

      If a friend who visits your house finds that your roof is leaking his responsibility ends when he points out the problem to you. It is upto you to find a solution.

    • Captain Mandrake

      BTW, the article not only points out the problem but also proposes a solution. In case you have trouble picking it up, let me try simplifying it.

      Problem: Some atheists hanging on to the Hindu label.
      Solution: Give up the Hindu label.

    • I agree with @Sunder. Data and references are correct but the fuss is kinda unnecessary. how do you you know the term “Indian Philosophy” is not going to cause pride or Ego (and hence violence of thought) in Indian philosophers or rationalists, when put on a world stage?

      • Satish Chandra

        @Manoj,

        The article doesn’t say that pride is ‘violent of thought’. I don’t know from where you got that idea.

  • The truth is “no religion” is the best religion

  • The author is rigidly trying to define the term Hinduism. Hinduism indeed
    is very much more a culture/ lifestyle than a full blown monolithic religion.
    To define it as religion, then you must try to refer to different traditions or movements within the umbrella term of Hinduism. The mimansa tradition is interpretation of the manifestation of karma not needing divine authority, so refutes theism. Honestly it’s ignorant to try to cram this into a single uniform thing that is practiced all the same. Hinduism is an extremely broad and liberated culture. In many ways it is synonymous with India because it was where it originated and flourished before the arrival of Islam and other groups and as well much of the tradition of many ethnic groups have significant influence from it. It may seem easy to predispose it to be a rigid institution, and sometimes it is enforced to be, I believe any religion is no matter what it is.

    • Pflloyd,

      I’m not sure how you came to the conclusion that the author is trying to rigidly define Hinduism. He says quite explicitly that there are two facets to Hinduism – one as a religion and the other as a cultural identity. It is the cultural identity part that he is questioning in this article. In fact he is directly attacking the conflation of Indian identity with Hinduism.

      • I guess what I meant was that the author’s point of Hinduism as undermining philosophic thought by conferring it upon its bodies of works, the ‘Vedas’ and other texts, is a bit ignorant. In a way the term Hinduism as a label is exactly what it is, to wrap up the continuous flow of thought and ideas throughout the India (probably why ‘Hindu’ stuck). As a religious body, obviously the most popular factions are the ones that believe in a supreme godhead such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism as they are the oldest traditions, but he is condemning it as if it is just that and nothing else. I think the author, by criticizing the appellation of the umbrella term, which cannot denote a single aspect, is rigidly alluding to it being only a theistic manifestation based on doctrines that try to suck everything into it. Many of the philosophers of different streams of thought deliberately define their ways under the umbrella as they intend to improve it through some means. The Buddha, as stated in early Pali scriptures of his life, started his teachings witnessing the cruelty of some aspects of Hindu life. He never condemned the religion and didn’t vehemently abhor a godhead but he noted that initial belief in a deity before initial knowledge of oneself is dangerous, so he maintained a non-theistic stance, not complete denial of a god. He didn’t mind that some had incorporated it into Hindu thought and it did influence many Hindu texts from thereon. Many did see it as an off-shoot or school of Hinduism, because he intended exactly to improve what was already there. The reason Buddhism is a religion on its own is that the Buddha wanted to maintain his teachings without them being obscured or lost later on so he divulged his teachings to followers and maintained an oral tradition until the scriptures were produced. Even the scriptures today are written after many schisms in the original teachings. It is the same with Jainism. It makes sense to limit the term Hinduism with India because everyone who had different thoughts and tried to find a way for civilization to exist harmoniously did so keeping in mind what was already built. Maybe the author is irritated at the fact that original scriptures were deemed words by god to be written down by ‘hearers’ enacting that theistic notion from the start, though immediately some did not agree to that and saw them as human-made scriptures by wise sages. Therefore, people had originally conferred knowledge before Vedic Hinduism came into popularity, but the acceptance of the Vedas as divine was what set them apart and feel like the divine beliefs overshadow the non-theistic thought. Broadly, nastika and astika were terms to correlate that schism. As for people who maintain that they are ‘Hindu atheists’ it can make sense because the umbrella term does denote the collective conscience of the Indian people.

        • Satish Chandra

          @Pflloyd,

          The author isn’t saying that the label has only theistic connotations, but rather is pointing out the problems of using the ‘Hindu’ label for both theistic and cultural aspects. As I explain in another comment, when a label can interchangeably refer to opposing views, it ceases to be of any use other than to serve the purpose of obfuscation.

  • What’s in a name? I am an atheist myself but I don’t see why we should care whether it is ‘Indian Atheist’ or ‘Hindu Atheist’. You posted it yourself, its a Persian word for people living across Indus. So why bother about a title? You can say an English derived word or a Persian derived one.A person does not become religious or superstitious because of a title.
    P.S. You posted a long story about religious aspect, which is completely irrelevant to the topic.

    • @Kartikey,

      You are free to believe that labels have no meaning, but for many others they obviously do. They care so much that they conflate all knowledge that arose from the Indian-subcontinent with Hinduism. That’s like saying all European knowledge, including things like evolution, is essentially “Greek”. Such labeling is done with a specific purpose to hide the complexity of cultural evolution and show only a simplistic narrative of one grand way of life giving rise to everything. It is this papering over of a cultural narrative that the author is questioning.

      Another way understanding how the label Hinduism is used is to imagine a label X which says that both evolution and creationism are acceptable. Such a label has no useful purpose. The only thing it is good for is for it to be a duplicity. Whenever somebody criticizes creationism and X, the broad meaning of X allows supporters of creationism to say that X also accepts evolution so no one should talk badly about X. The end goal they want to achieve is that no one should talk bad about creationism.

      Also you completely misunderstood the topic of the article. Never does the article say that one becomes religious or superstitious because of a label. That is a strawman argument. Let me make another analogy to show what the article is saying – labeling all Indian achievements as Hindu is like labeling all European achievements as Christian (or any other label that is commonly used to refer to a religion).

    • The problem is that “Hindu” is being used as a synonym for “Indian”. It is just sloppy labeling and should be rejected purely from the view of proper methodology.

      Among the belief systems Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Atheist – Hindu and Atheist are different in that they overlap. So while the majority of Hindus are not atheist, and the majority of atheists are not Hindu, if you happen to hold exactly the right combination of Hindu beliefs and lack of belief in god(s), then “Hindu Atheist” is the correct nomenclature.

  • The name India is derived from Indus, which originates from the Old Persian word Hindu. The latter term stems from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, which was the historical local appellation for the Indus River.The ancient Greeks referred to the Indians as Indoi (Ινδοί) which translates as “the people of the Indus”. The geographical term Bharat, which is recognised by the Constitution of India as an official name for the country, is used by many Indian languages in its variations.The eponym of Bharat is Bharata, a mythological figure that Hindu scriptures describe as a legendary emperor of ancient India. Hindustan was originally a Persian word that meant “Land of the Hindus”; prior to 1947, it referred to a region that encompassed northern India and Pakistan. It is occasionally used to solely denote India in its entirety

  • \\labeling all Indian achievements as Hindu is like labeling all European achievements as Christian (or any other label that is commonly used to refer to a religion).//

    Here european refers to the contienent where as christian refers to organised religion latter is particular of whole but what about the word hindu or sindhu or india everything are whole.

  • Could someone please explain this to me? In the comments, most people seem to agree that Hinduism is a recent construction and that Hindu is a meaningless label.

    Why then do commentors continue to speak about “Hinduism” as an intelligible identity?

    • Captain Mandrake

      Ashoka,

      In the comments, most people seem to agree that Hinduism is a recent construction and that Hindu is a meaningless label.

      In which comments did people agree that Hindu is a meaningless label. It is just as meaningful a label as Muslim and Christian.

      Trying to wish away Hinduism out of existence. Yet another sign of a Hindu apologist.

      • And yet another sign of name-calling.

        Your logic would make Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Frits Staal, Richard King, Andrew Nichols, and hundreds of other scholars apologists.

        It is in fact a joke in the American Academy of Religions that you can identify Hinduism scholars by the size of their biceps, which they exercise each time they put up quotation marks when saying “the religions we have come to call Hinduism.”

        There are legitimate counterarguments against this view. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, for example, doesn’t subscribe to it.

        But on such an occasion, you state your view. There’s no reason to resort to nasty invective.

      • “Hinduism is a meaningless religious label.”

        This is Ajita’s fundamental claim in the article. Hence, my sincere query to Nirmuktans.

        • @^ Perhaps all that was meant was was Hinduism most often refers to a post-hoc appellation of a syncretic religion, and is not a distinct (let alone supreme) system of philosophy as the cultural hegemonists claim. The sentences following the quoted one in the article seem to make that adequately clear.

        • Captain Mandrake

          Asoka,

          Why then do commentors continue to speak about “Hinduism” as an intelligible identity?

          Because of its role in this, this and other similar incidents. How would something with out an intelligible identity cause so much horror?

          But on such an occasion, you state your view. There’s no reason to resort to nasty invective.

          The fact that you keep repeating this Hinduism is not an entity because of its recent construction and the difficulty in nailing it down with a description when its negative impact on society is for all to see is the reason why I called you a Hindu Apologist.

          • Well, I’ve already mentioned above why your criterion for “apologists,” when taken ad absurdum, leads to ludicrous results.

            I suggest that the label be applied with more precision– to label people who defend particular aspects of doctrine– or it becomes absolutely meaningless, not unlike the word “Communist” during the Red Scare of the 1950s.

            As for my claim, I’ve made it abundantly clear why I think it’s true, no need to harp further on that.

  • Ashoka, consider the label “tall”. There is no agreement between the line between “tall” and “not tall”. Norwegians might have a different dividing line than the Japanese. But that does not mean the descriptor is automatically invalidated. Everyone can agree that someone who has a height of 7 feet is “tall”.

    Similarly, there might be debate over where the edges of Hinduism are. There might be debate over the etymology. But someone who believes in all the core tenets, follows the lifestyle requirements, and goes to temple regularly should be considered Hindu without any dispute. Historical analysis cannot be used to determine current epistemological validity. Otherwise we could write off the entirety of chemistry as just another offshoot of alchemy.

    For those who do not embrace ALL the beliefs, there is a spectrum. But that is similar for most descriptors in natural language, because natural language is sloppy. If someone has three grandparents who are white and one who is black, but self-identifies as black, are you going to tell them that they are wrong?

    • The above seems to be the following commonsense assertion: Saying “There is no comprehensive authenticated list of Hindu traits.” does not mean that “There are no such things as Hindus.”
      We may add the following : Saying “Not all Hindus exhibit some unfavourable traits.” does not mean that “No criticism of some traits commonly encountered in everyday Hinduism is useful.”
      Keeping the above in mind, here is an attempt to come up with a plausible working definition using some commonplace traits : A simple questionnaire for the Hindu apologist

      • The questionnaire is somewhat of a strawman argument. It is like saying “almost all grass on the planet is under 20ft tall, so bamboo should not be considered a grass”. Simply identifying the majority does not definitively categorize Hinduism.

        Yes, the vast majority of Hindus believe in Gods and reincarnation. And those specific beliefs can be criticized and debated. But there is at least some significant number of people who consider themselves Hindu, while not believing in God. So the label still has to be broad enough to include those people.

        The only effective counterargument would be to say that it is impossible to be Hindu and atheist at the same time. But I have yet to see anyone make that argument convincingly.

        • The idea wasn’t to arrive at definitive categorizations in the first place (i.e. one that wouldn’t miss any Hindu), but a working definition (i.e. one that would include more than exclude) and hence there’s no case for privileging exceptions and mavericks over the most commonly encountered varieties.

          Shouldn’t the burden of proof be on those who are making the positive claim that there are such things as Hindu Atheists? In other words, those claiming to be Hindu Atheists need to first show both how they are Hindu and how they are atheists, not just by proclamation but also in practice.

          Some commonly trotted out examples of ‘Hindu atheists’ can be handily shown as not meeting one of the above criteria.
          1) Charvakas : The origins of the term ‘Charvaka’ and ‘Hindu’ were not historically contemporaneous (‘Charvaka’ greatly predates ‘Hindu’)and nowhere in classical antiquity or even in the medieval era were both labels applied to people holding the same beliefs.

          2) ‘Cultural nationalists’ : Only those who subscribe to a overreached definition of Hinduism to subsume national identity and simultaneously subscribe to a denatured definition of atheism stripped of its incompatibility with sectarian ethnocentrism, can with a straight face refer to, say, Savarkar as a ‘Hindu atheist’. So much for the insistence on plausible definitions.

          • To get at the necessary condition to be a Hindu, I will directly quote the article – “From a scientific point of view, we can define religion […], possessing certain specific traits. The most fundamental of these traits is the strong group identity that religion strives to instill in its followers.”

            By that definition, belief in God, reincarnation, and so on is not a necessary condition for being a member of the religion. The fundamental trait is group identity itself. As a Hindu atheist, I celebrate Holi, I go with friends to the temple, and do many other activities that non-Hindus do not do. My family is all Hindu, and all our marriages and celebrations are Hindu. All my paperwork says I am Hindu. So from the viewpoint of group identity alone, I am definitely Hindu. But of course, since I don’t believe in God, I am also atheist.

            You are stating that SOME examples of Hindu atheists are invalid. But that is not enough. You have to show that ALL examples are invalid. I, on the other hand, only have to present one example (myself), to show that Hindu Atheist is a class, albeit a very small one.

            The etymology of the words “Hindu” and “Charvaka” are irrelevant. In the 5th century CE for example, there would have been no reason for a term to describe Hinduism in general, since other religions did not have a foothold yet. We are using “Hindu” to describe something that was in place well before the term was used. The term “Catholic” was only used in the 2nd century CE, but that certainly does not mean there were no Catholics before that.

          • Granted the above is an effusive wholehearted admission of belonging to what is called the Hindu community. Do you notice that there is no accompanying evidence provided for belonging to the atheist community but for cursory lip-service? It’s almost as if ‘Hindu-is-as-Hindu-does’ has been used as the criterion for Hindu-ness but the criterion for being called an atheist has conveniently been watered down to simple self-proclamation. There maybe enough in the above admission for Hindus to consider those making it one of their own, but there is nothing there to convince atheists that some aspects very integral to their group identity are present therein.

            Consider the term ‘Indian-American’ typically understood to apply to someone with Indian parentage and American citizenship. The hyphenated identity is tenable because of considerable contributions from both identities. The hyphenation ‘Hindu-atheist’ is more tenuous because it seems so disproportionately Hindu in its identity claims in a manner that precludes the rejection of religious dogma characterizing so much atheist/humanist mobilization today.

            Returning to the historical aside, referring to ‘Charvaka Hindus’ (as some online interlocutors do) makes even less sense than referring to ‘Buddhist Hindus’ or ‘Jain Hindus’ (which even the most crazed revisionists refrain from saying). It makes no sense to refer to the adherents of diverse schools of thought in the Indian Enlightenment as ‘Hindus’ by default, and that renders hollow the apologist claim that ‘Hindu thought accommodated Charvakas'(As a matter of fact, the epics didn’t.). So, no, there were no ‘Hindu atheists’ in antiquity.

          • Why would you require elaborate evidence for being an atheist? Atheism is simply defined – so as soon as one states that he/she does not believe in God, atheism is established. There’s no reason for me to give a verbose explanation when a single line will do. Showing that I am Hindu takes much more justification, since I cannot say something to the effect of “I believe in Brahma and reincarnation”.

            What constitutes the group identity of atheists? Science and logic cannot be used as the basis – because a large percentage of scientists are deeply religious, and a large percentage of atheists have no deep knowledge of science. There are no common rituals, no families bound though generations of atheism, no atheist holidays. As soon as you decide you’re an atheist, you’re a member of that community. Nothing more.

            You are focusing on Charvaka which is much closer to atheism in the spectrum. But what about other schools such as Mimamsa? Mimamsa believes in Dharma, which is certainly not an atheistic idea. Also, Charvaka is a belief system. If we are defining religion by group identify, then it makes more sense to ask how the adherents of Charvaka lived – did they perform the same rituals and ceremonies as their theistic contemporaries?

            As far as the term “Indian-American”, in the US that refers to race more than anything else. It is along the same lines as African-American, someone whose family has been in the US for five generations and whose ancestors were from Jamaica would still be considered African-American. In the same way, someone whose grandparents are racially Indian, but who has spent their entire life in the US, does not know anything about India, and only speaks English, would still be considered Indian-American.

          • For purposes of the article, the term ‘atheism’ seems to have been more broadly imagined than a literalist definition. Keeping that in mind, a question that arises in this discussion is : If your Hindu family’s word can be taken to attest your Hindu-ness, then shouldn’t an active atheist community also have some say in declaring whom they consider as belonging to their ranks? If ‘playing Holi’ is some kind of demonstration of Hindu-ness, then some ways of demonstrating belonging to what may loosely be called the atheist camp, are ‘coming out to one’s family, donating to Non-believers Giving Aid, enrolling in the Atheist Census etc. Otherwise, the claim of belonging wouldn’t exactly meet contemporary benchmarks, pending which you’re free to call yourself a ‘Hindu atheist’ though many atheists would class you as simply a dictionary atheist. If there is any broad range of potentially enriching activities or payoffs atheist groupings are missing out on simply because they don’t allow the hyphenation of a Hindu label, pray list them. What has your supposed atheism (purportedly Hindu)inspired you to do that you wouldn’t have done otherwise? The default assumption among those involved in freethought advocacy is that there is little to lose in not painstakingly appropriating one more species of dictionary atheists fond of the ‘Hindu’ label.

            A less misunderstanding-prone self-identification for people adopting one of the more mildly ritualistic Hindu lifestyles is perhaps cultural Hindu. Cultural Christian seemed a perfectly serviceable term to Prof. Dawkins and it’s surprising why more Indians haven’t claimed the ‘cultural Hindu’ label but are instead anxious to tag on the ‘atheist’ bit explicitly by calling themselves ‘Hindu atheists’. Has the term ‘atheist’ acquired some irresistible appeal in the recent past?

            Aside : Dharma is also not an exclusively theist idea. It is very central to heterodox (and for lexical purposes, atheistic)schools like Buddhism and Jainism, whose influence on how Dharma was conceptualized in latter-day Hinduism cannot be waved away.

      • Thank you Arvind and Chandran, the points are well taken.

  • Asking what I have done to confirm my atheism is much like asking what I have done as a direct consequence of not believing in Santa Claus. I live in a metropolitan area, so being an atheist is not at all transgressive. You are the one trying to replicate the group identity found within religion, to create an entirely artificial community of atheists. For me, being an atheist is similar to disliking bagpipe music – I don’t feel the need to join a community of like-minded bagpipe haters, or write elaborate tracts about how I dislike bagpipes. If it comes up in conversation, then I have no problem saying I am an atheist.

    I agree that “cultural Hindu” is good from a descriptive viewpoint. But the problem is the same as with the earlier discussed Indian-American term. Black people in the US are African-Americans. Chinese are Asian-Americans. Then you have Indian-Americans and Mexican-Americans. Meanwhile, whites are just called American. This creates a dichotomy between real Americans and hyphenated Americans. It is not uncommon to see bumper stickers reading “Not a hyphenated American”. In the same way, “cultural Hindu” would become a second tier, as opposed to “real Hindu”.

    In the interest of succint nomenclature, Hindu atheist works well. Is a cultural Hindu necessarily atheist? If someone follows all the rites and practices of Hinduism, but believes in a single god in the Judeo-Christian vein, they would be a cultural Hindu. Atheism is the single definite criteria separating me from someone is mainstream Hindu. I would argue that it is a disclaimer rather than an attempt to be trendy – by tagging on the term atheist I am letting people know that ideologically I am very different from what they would normally consider Hindu.

    • Satish Chandra

      Chandran,

      You are using an extremely broad definition of Hindu whilst using an extremely narrow definition of atheist. It you use the same standards of defining in both cases, you’ll see what Arvind is saying.

    • As mentioned earlier in the trail, one is free to call oneself whatever one wants, except that no instant ratification is owed from others. There maybe a more productive way to proceed than to strive to agree upon definitions of ‘Hindu’ and ‘atheist’, for the same working definitions won’t serve the purposes of two parties whose projects are different (or occupy different positions on a priority list, as is abundantly clearly from this exchange so far). Irrespective of what the pet projects of commentators here are, the project of this website is “promoting Science, Freethought and Secular Humanism in India.” So a productive way to wrap this up may perhaps be to summarize what we as ((insert self-identification)) bring to this project. Quoting PZ Myers,

      Atheism is such a general club, and it’s so easy to fall into the definition, that it’s silly to sit around arguing about how close to the fence you’re sitting.

      I don’t care. Tell me what virtues you bring, what experiences brought you here, why your values matter to society. The fine-grained shuffling about to define yourself so precisely is simply narcissistic masturbation.

      For many regulars at this website, here are the contributions and takeaways. Atheism for these people is not a largely inconsequential preference like say one’s favorite spin-bowler, but serves to trigger a re-evaluation of priorities and a reinforcement of a new worldview and value system . It inspires some to prune their routines of habits that do not make naturalistic sense, to attempt to limit reliance on emotional props that are inadequately compatible with reason and to earnestly strive to connect with others who wish to adopt such a lifestyle. Those atheists-in-name-only or dictionary atheists for whom these questions of worldview and lifestyle are irrelevant (and instead opt to look,talk and walk like the co-religionists of their inherited faith in their public lives) don’t quite fit into this scheme of things and the committed movement-atheists aren’t obliged to humor them.

      • Captain Mandrake

        Good post.

      • Arvind, this discussion was never about how to be more productive, so I would say you are moving the goal posts. When a site posts an article with the provocative headline “Is Hindu Atheism valid?”, gets comments from an actual Hindu atheist, and then decides that the answer is not helping promote secularism – that doesn’t do much to advance the cause of secularism and freethinking.

        Consider a Christian forum that creates an article “Are atheists angry and poorly educated?” and then when an actual atheist replies, wraps up the forum comments with “Well, this board is about Christianity, so let’s stick to that”. Yes, that’s expected in the religious world, but not in the secular one.

        Hardcore (for lack of a better word) atheists do not necessarily help evangelize science or freethought. If anything, Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like perpetuate the stereotype of the angry atheist who is bent on tearing down all religion, and offending as many people as possible every single day, and twice on Easter. You don’t get people to join your side by alienating them and screaming logic in their ear. From that viewpoint, I would think Hindu atheists are quite useful, in the same manner that the post-Christians in Europe are.

        • Satish Chandra

          This actually goes back to Arvind’s point about what it means to an atheist. A mere disbelief in god is of little use. Being an atheist means living by some standards one of which is using evidence when making factual claims. You claim that outspoken atheists don’t help propagate science of freethought. This is provably false. Many people have joined the atheist movement because of outspoken atheism. There are meet up groups, conferences, big organizations and hell, even lobbyist groups thanks to many hardcore atheists.

          • I am not understanding where you get your definition of atheist from. From the 15th century on, the term has simply meant “not believing in God”. And that corresponds to the even earlier Greek atheos, which quite literally means “without God”. I am not even aware of any controversy with regards to the meaning, beyond the usual agnostic/atheistic argument which I am sure you are familiar with. The meaning is quite clear to almost any lay person, so why try to muddy it? The standards of using evidence and so forth are part of freethinking, not atheism.

            You may have standards that you would LIKE atheists to live by. However, consider Jeffrey Dahmer. He claimed to be an atheist, and said “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges?” Would you consider him an atheist?

            I would be interested in your proof that outspoken atheists are more effective, or effective at all for that matter. Yes, there are some who would be convinced, but how many further entrench themselves in the theistic camp by being forced to choose sides?

          • Satish Chandra

            Arvind has already linked to an article which lists some problems with dictionary atheism. I too can throw a modern day dictionary at you and say that that settles the argument. But as far as I’m concerned there is nothing more useless than arguing by definition. That doesn’t mean that I don’t use definitions. I do. But I can taboo the word in question and still make my point as I can substitute a definition with its lower level constituents. My point is you are being hypocritical with the standards you use for defining “Hindu” and “Atheist”. I’ll leave it at that.

            Coming to your proof, I present you the Nirmukta community. Many of us took the plunge into whatever activism it is we do after being influenced by outspoken atheists. And here is the result of that.

            Another point I’d stress is there are different approaches to spread science and freethought. There isn’t just one possible way to do it as you are suggesting.

          • Satish,

            The word atheist means ‘One who disbelieves or denies the existence of god’. Period. Why are you trying to fancify a simple, well-known term?

            You said, ‘Being an atheist means living by some standards one of which is using evidence when making factual claims.’ This in no way defines an atheist. You are just noting down some characteristics that you would prefer all atheists to possess. Its the same as saying ‘Being a human being means being kind and compassionate towards all.’ At best, it can be the definition of a ‘kind’ human being! But that’s not the Definition of a human being. It’s just the way human beings should strive to act(if they want).

            Also, you referred to ‘some standards’. What in your opinion are those standards? I am an atheist and I don’t want to think that in coming years Nirmukta or some other group will define the standards of an atheist. Then it would become something like an atheist church! Also, I call myself an atheist because I feel it’s highly unlikely that a god has created the universe or us. At this point in my life, I do not have the time to start a movement. But does that make me less of an atheist? Does that mean I do have some faith? No. it doesn’t.

            My request is do not go about changing definitions of well-known, globally accepted words. And if you do want the term atheist to mean something else, clearly mention that. Write that you Wish and Want that all atheists start behaving in such and such manner and that in coming time we can say that ‘Being an atheist means living by some standards one of which is using evidence when making factual claims.’ Because otherwise, my friend, you are all set to write your own 10 commandments.

          • My request is do not go about changing definitions of well-known, globally accepted words.

            My request is please refrain from rehashing tired old laments about supposed abuse of language, unmindful of history and contemporary priorities of freethinkers here and this very comment trail. There seems to be no shortage of ‘Hindu atheists’ who seem convinced that harm caused by non-standard word use is somehow more urgent to hyperventilate about that so much other harm caused by organized religion they are inured to by force of habit.

            Because otherwise, my friend, you are all set to write your own 10 commandments

            That may not be such a bad idea if the 10 Commandments take a new shape like this.

          • I understand that you very desperately want the word ‘Atheist’ to become synonymous with your ideas. You can keep harping all you want that it actually does mean so and all so-called free thinkers have accepted it. Perhaps a few of your readers will naively believe your words. But be aware that your words might have an alienating effects on atheists who are not part of your group or movement. I will certainly be more wary of movement-atheists from now on!

            Also, I am very interested in knowing the standards you have set for a person to be qualified to be and atheist. ‘Some'(as used in your definition) is too vague. I am also interested in knowing what you would call a person who does not believe in god but need not always follow ‘some’ standards. Will you say she is not an atheist? And if not, how will you refer to them?

            And please do not compare the word ‘gay’ and ‘atheism’. People understand the newer(or shall i say other) meaning of gay. Infact, it is the newer meaning that comes first to mind when you hear the word. You can’t say the same about atheist. I am sure as a very enthusiastic(I did not want to use the word movement, since I do not know you) atheist, you would prefer that the word becomes synonymous to free-thinker or something of that nature. You want that because people will then feel proud when they call themselves an atheist as in the modern vocab it would mean being a rational thinker. Being an atheist will sound way cooler than it does now! That is actually a brilliant idea and can benefit your movement a lot(could have said ‘our’ movement perhaps, as we are actually on the same side). But it has not happened yet!! Please understand this. Maybe inside your own group, but certainly not beyond that. Saying that it has, will only invite criticism or ridicule from people outside your group as it certainly does not sound rational.

            So I suggest you do not go about printing your own defintions in your website. I will rephrase that. You can of course print whatever you want, but don’t try to sell that your definition indeed is the globally accepted one. The meaning of the word can of course be changed in due course of time. But please do that in a more subtle manner.

            One last point. You shared with me a new set of 10 commandments by Christopher Hitchens. The eighth commandment according to him should be “Turn off that fucking cell phone—you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us.”. Of course Hitchens was trying to be funny but frankly this commandment seems a little ridiculous to me. So already you are starting to create a divide between atheists. If this continues, soon there will be 100 different churches of atheists – all with their own commandments or standards.

          • Satish Chandra

            But be aware that your words might have an alienating effects on atheists who are not part of your group or movement. I will certainly be more wary of movement-atheists from now on!

            The noisome fumes of smugness and pretentiousness are strong in that. We’re doing fine without the likes of you, whom I hold in the same contempt PZ holds.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Skeptic,

            The word atheist means ‘One who disbelieves or denies the existence of god’. Period.

            That certainly is true. But will you consider Raelians as atheists?

            Clearly something extra needs to be added to the ‘One who disbelieves or denies the existence of god’ definition to keep these ‘We do not believe in God but in extraterrestrials who can do all the magical things that God of Christians can do’ clowns out of the atheism tent.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Skeptic,

            But be aware that your words might have an alienating effects on atheists who are not part of your group or movement. I will certainly be more wary of movement-atheists from now on!

            My view is that we cannot reduce atheism to a simple definition like ‘One who disbelieves or denies the existence of god’. There is a reason why people spend so much time and energy identifying themselves as atheists when they do not spend any time at all identifying themselves as non-believers in yeti or loch-ness monster. The reason probably is related to the nefarious effects belief in God has had on society. Thus when you say you are an atheist you are not only identifying yourself as ‘One who disbelieves or denies the existence of god’ but also as someone who understands that a belief in God has had negative effects on society and as someone who to various degrees want to rectify these affects. This is where values of skepticism and secular humanism implicitly sneak into atheism. Values of skepticism will keep people like Raelians out and values of secular humanism will keep homophobic atheists and anti-choice atheists out. Not a big loss to movement atheism. Can you show me who else this expanded atheism keeps out and why it might be a bad idea?

        • Consider the age-old question “When a tree falls in a forest with nobody around, does it make a sound?”. In this useful post by Eliezer Yudkowsky, the fake-profundity and equivocation that this question triggers is forestalled by disambiguating ‘acoustic vibrations’ and ‘auditory experiences’. For these working definitions, the answers to the question are yes and no respectively.

          Come now to the question of “When a closet atheist lives as a Hindu for all practical purposes, does ze make a difference?”. Again, it helps to disambiguate difference to mean ‘undisclosed deconversion’ or ‘vocal disavowal of religious dogma’. For movement atheists, the word atheism stands not just for an opinion but is also a shorthand for a broad range of activities. It’s somewhat like how charity may refer to ‘a mental disposition of goodwill’ or to ‘a range of activities involving donations, volunteering etc.’. Several activities under the atheism umbrella have been mentioned in this thread (meetups, advocacy groups, secular charities etc). Incidentally, many of these activities in the 2000s were inspired by hardliners rather than anodyne (insert religion)-atheists. It is the latter meaning that movement atheists assume, analogous to treating ‘sound’ as ‘auditory experience’, because this discussion is happening in the context of a collective audience.

          So the answer to the question “When a closet atheist lives as a Hindu for all practical purposes, does ze make a difference?” that a movement atheist would give is “No!”

          There’s a phrase to describe a purported Hindu atheist who plays along Hindu taboos, stand up to be counted only among Hindus and in general perpetuates the status quo : one more Hindu

          (Readers may replace Hindu by another religion of their choice. Whether movement atheists should treat the sort of labeling above as part of the problem or part of the solution is left as an exercise to the reader.)

          • Going with your definition of atheism – let us go back to the case of Jeffrey Dahmer. He did not believe in God, and there is no dispute on that fact. His behavior was immoral and criminal, but to him logically consistent. He did not go to meetups, advocacy groups, and so on, as far as anyone knows. So by your definition, would you claim he is not an atheist?

            The big difficulty I have with your reasoning is that atheist/agnostic/theist are precise demarcations to the lay person. You are taking definitions that have been working well for hundreds of years, and trying to muddy it for political reasons. Before the Dawkins-Hitchens era of atheism as social club, it was a simple categorization. If you saw atheist/agnostic/theist on a form, it would take you a second to check one box. Now you want people to complete an entire questionnaire. If you don’t donate X rupees per year to a secular charity of our choice, then you’re not an atheist, sorry.

            I still think that Hindu atheists, and other “boundary” cases, have a much better chance to change the status quo than a hardcore atheist. If you look at the countries where religion is fading, the biggest factor has not been logical argument. It has been the agnostic crowd who are in the middle, and are ambivalent about the ideology.

          • Satish Chandra

            Chandran,

            It is reasonable today to expect an atheist to have a scientific worldview and subscribe to humanism. Are there exceptions? Yes. But it is bad form to harp on the exceptions when discussing the non-exceptions. Also, meanings of words change. Get over it.

            And it doesn’t matter what you feel or think when it comes to factual claims. Outspoken atheism works. If you don’t agree and want to try another approach, go ahead. But I do find it highly amusing that when hardcore atheists keep saying that there is plenty of room for a pluralistic approach, you, who think of yourself as some better alternative to them, are insisting on The One True Way to spread science and freethought.

          • Satish, could you please cite some of these sources that use your new definition of atheism? When you ask almost any lay person, atheism simply means “not believing in God”. And that is the definition I have always gone by. Could you please point to one single reputable scholar that disagrees with that? Specifically one who would claim that Jeffrey Dahmer is not an atheist? You are conflating outliers with counterexamples – anything that does not fit your proposed hypothesis cannot be written off as an outlier, it must be explained if your hypothesis is to hold water. When I say “all bears are brown”, and you show me a white bear, it does not make sense to say “white bears are just outliers, all bears are still brown”. Similarly, if your definition is to make any sense, you should be able to apply it to any arbitrary case. Which brings us back to Dahmer. I agree he was certainly not typical, but by your definition do you consider him an atheist?

            It is disingenuous to post a headline with “Is Hindu Atheism valid”, and then in small print claim “we are using a special definition of atheism that no one else on the planet uses”. If you are redefining atheism to your own ends, of course the statement would be true.

          • Satish Chandra

            Chandran,

            My definition isn’t new. This isn’t a site frequented by your version of the layperson. Stop making strawman arguments.

          • Satish Chandra

            Oh another thing, here’s a data point that shows how dishonest your argument by definition is. When I told people who are not atheists that I’m an atheist, their first impulse was to ask me why I don’t believe in god and their next step was to get me to admit that “I don’t know everything” with the intent being to show that science doesn’t know everything and that there is some power you can’t explain. So much for your straw-lay person.

          • It escapes me why Nirmukta participants are waved aside as ‘no one in the planet’ and how at the same time a certain Jeffrey Dahmer is some very defining figure on whom comment is due.

            Some ways how conscientious skeptics can respond to the risk of nihilism is the topic of this thread.

            As for who has the locus standi to propose and popularize use of some words in new senses, one criterion could be the credibility that accrues from putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. Folks who volunteer time and resources in outreach efforts like Nirmukta or RDF or Freethought Blogs may quite reasonably stake their claim to the legitimacy that comes from putting their money where their mouth is, something Hindu Atheists have shown little evidence of.

            I am sure there was also a Save-The-Dictionary brigade out in force in the late 20th century crying hoarse that gay simply means lively and must continue to mean just that. Any guesses who was on the right side of history?

          • If you are using a word in a non-standard way, then the burden is on you to justify that usage. The word “gay” only became a synonym for homosexual after it gained widespread usage. One small group did not unilaterally decide that they were going to change the meaning of the word, and expect the rest of the world to bow to them. You have not shown me one single scholar who disagrees with my definition, any example of common usage, or any evidence that anyone outside Nirmukta is using your particular definition.

            Even more disturbingly, you are trying to redefine the word simply for political means. You are making the rather incredible claim that you are entitled to redefine words based on your civic participation. If you are a linguist or logophile you might have more right than others to redefine words, but all you are claiming is participation in a certain community. But without a common morality granted by religion, why should your opinion be any more valid than a criminals? It seems to me that you are trying to set up a church without God, where you are the high priest and gets to decide who is a member.

            If your view of “atheist” is completely different from common usage, then of course your idea of “Hindu atheist” would be too. In that case you should state that up front. It makes no sense if my webpage has the title 2×3=5, but then I tell you later that I use x instead of +.

          • Widespread usage is an outcome of earlier avant-garde usage which may at the outset seem cranky. Activism for civil liberties and greater inclusion of the marginalized often led to shifts in language use, without too many linguists or logophiles in their ranks. Let’s not pretend that the contemporary usage of gay became universal overnight after a bunch of academics decided to ratify it. So the laments about lack of rigour seem misplaced. The blogosphere doesn’t quite function like academic journals.

            The nihilism thread linked to earlier was precisely in anticipation of the following sort of apologist argument : A Hindu Atheist has a fallback for a sense of community and a code of conduct by leaving Hindu default settings alone. Without the Hindu default settings or equivalent, isn’t a plain atheist prone to be an anti-social element with no moral standards for conduct?

            Here’s a suggestion for ‘Hindu Atheists’ : Please resume that silent unsung charm offensive that you are supposedly undertaking that has the result of deconverting fencesitters by night, without them or any others knowing. That much-vaunted charm doesn’t quite seem to be working here, so it would help everyone if you noiselessly fit back in among the Hindu masses as befits your own description of style of functioning.

      • Captain Mandrake

        Hindu atheist

        My view of what a Hindu atheist is the following.

        This person does not believe in God(s) but will ….

        1)… hold on to his/her caste identity. Will not marry out of caste.

        2)… will carry on with nonsense like astrology and vastu-sastra with a “whats the harm in following traditions” attitude.

        3)… will be more critical of Islam/Christianity than of Hinduism.

        From the perspective of the modern atheist movement Hindu atheist (or Islamic atheist or a Christian atheist) is only marginally better than a homophobic atheist or a pro-life atheist.

        • Aside from 1 and 3, why is 2 wrong? I take Dawkins’ lead that it’s okay to do rituals if you don’t tack on the supernatural belief.

          • Supernatural beliefs aren’t the only problem associated with rituals. Take a look here.

          • Thanks, Arvind– I remember we had a similar discussion about this on another thread.

            I’m hesitant to take such an absolutist position myself, however– many of the problems in your link seem to presume the supernatural belief.

            As for the opportunity cost, one could certainly argue that there is food wastage and resources contributed for religious rituals. But activities like concerts, or secular rituals like parades have the same problems associated with them.

            It seems to me that our judgements must be made on an ad hoc basis. We would certainly have trouble with goat killings in Kalighat on the basis of animal cruelty, but there’s little to say about touching the feet of elders and the elders giving a ritualistic blessing. Or, when a guest is about to leave, putting fruits in a plate and putting kumkum on their forehead.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Participation in any ritual has costs and benefits. Some costs are tangible in $ where as some costs are intangible. For example, touching the feet of elders can unnecessarily create a sense of undeserved reverence for the crazy ideas of the elders. These costs should also be included and weighed against the benefits before participating in such rituals.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Aside from 1 and 3, why is 2 wrong?

            Even if astrology and vastu-sastra is followed mechanically during events like wedding and house warming ceremonies without the hindu-atheist participant actually believing in the supernatural, he gives credence to this superstitious practice that thrives on exploiting the gullible hindus who actually believe the supernatural.

  • Captain Mandrake

    Chandran,

    Let me take a stab at this Hindu-Atheist thing that you are debating with Sathish and Arvind.

    If we take a look at the label XYZ-Atheist. XYZ could to one of three things to what Atheist in that label means.

    1) XYZ – could complement the term Atheist in the label. Examples would be when XYZ is “Feminist” or “LGBT”. It is obvious why that is the case. Theism has been one of the major source of misogyny and homophobia the world over. So it is reasonable that someone could have arrived at atheism through the route of feminism or GLBT rights.

    2) XYZ – does nothing to the term Atheist in the label. Examples for XYZ could be “Marathoner”. In this cases the term XYZ is irrelevant to the label but does not do any harm. But couple of Marathoner Atheist could certainly meet up in an atheist conference and share training tips for the upcoming Marathon during the lunch break.

    3) XYZ – takes away something from the term Atheist in the label. That will be when XYZ is “Hindu”. It must be obvious why. First Hindusism being a religion makes the label sound idiotic. But even if we ignore that what can not be ignored is that Hinduism has been a source of social injustice, misogyny, and xenophobic hatred in India. In this context Hinduism does take something important away from atheism. That is why the atheist movement will not welcome the Hindu Atheist with open arms.

    • Arvind Iyer

      Captain,
      There is another way in which ‘Hindu Atheism’ detracts from an important part of the rationalist cause that most atheists support, namely the countering of what maybe called quasi-Hindu woo. Quasi-Hindu woo is feted in campuses nationwide (1, 2) and here too, sunlight is the best disinfectant. However, we may reasonably expect Hindu Atheists to say, “Look, such beliefs are part of the cultural milieu. Why don’t you guys grin and bear it when Sri Sri is invited one day? All you need to do is invite a scientist the next day. Maintaining goodwill by timely concessions is key when our numbers are low.” As we have seen in this comment-trail, a certain shapeshifting accommodationism comes as a package deal with the label of Hindu Atheism, and this all too often has inadequate guarantees against conceding away some non-negotiables, let alone for striving to stay true to one’s convictions under all circumstances. Here’s an old post on how the sanctimony of accommodationists is a drag, and how it can be countered.

      Besides the excuse that slapping on the Hindu label is an safeguard against nihilistic withdrawal, another excuse is that it is a safeguard against deracination and Eurocentrism which ordinary Indian atheists are prone to according to ‘Hindu Atheists’. To address the plaint that plain atheists are unwitting Eurocentrists and the non-sequitur that only bend-over-backwards atheists can engage others in their societies, here is a post attempting to disambiguate pluralism and postmodernism and how the former is desirable while the latter is not.

      • Captain Mandrake

        Arvind,

        Thanks again for the informative post.

        Yes, Hindu-atheists spend all their time trying to soften up atheists so that they will approach the Hindus nicely. I do not see any evidence for them trying to push the Hindus towards the atheist position.

    • Captain, I think #3 would be the closest to my point of view. Since we are taking away theism, #1 does not feel appropriate. And #2 we can obviously scratch off the list since the average lay person would assume a Hindu to be a theist, so atheist certainly changes the term.

      But some important points for #3:

      First, you are implicitly defining religion as theistic. Buddhism and Jainism do not fit this category. Therefore, I am saying we should put Hinduism in the same category as Buddhism. If you agree that Buddhism is not a religion, then Hinduism is not either. But I think most people would agree that Buddhism is a religion even though it not theistic.

      Second, you are still conflating the simple definition atheist with the broader sociological “atheist community”. Neither Arvind or Satish have replied yet to justify why atheist automatically implies that you must be part of a group. The widely accepted meaning is the simple one. So it would make sense to say the freethinker community would not accept a Hindu atheist. But I am never claimed to be a Hindu freethinker, so that is irrelevant.

      Yes, Hinduism has a history of social injustice. But North Korea is not religious and also has a history of social injustice. So does China. Injustice arises in society with or without religion – religion is just a justification. The solution is to reform the social structure in that case. If converting people to atheism were required to end slavery, there would still be slavery in the US. Your strategy there is not logical. If you want social justice and an end to misogyny, it is much easier to convert a hardcore Hindu to an agnostic Hindu, than it is to convert them into a fullblown atheist. This has been shown time after time, in culture after culture.

      • Satish Chandra

        Neither Arvind or Satish have replied yet to justify why atheist automatically implies that you must be part of a group.

        I’m not sure if you have read my comments. If you did, I’m baffled as to where you got that idea. What I said is this – It is reasonable today to expect an atheist to have a scientific worldview and subscribe to humanism.. You seem very eager to ascribe what you think I must have said to what I have really said. For example, the word “automatically” is you concoction. Nothing I said leads to the implication of that word. For someone who wants to play the stupid game of definitions, I’d expect more care in the words you use.

        • Satish, again, you are missing the logic. It is reasonable for me to expect that a swan is white. Does that mean if it’s not white, it’s not a swan? Ditto for atheism. Just because most atheists do certain things, that does not imply that those who do not do those things are not atheists.

          • Satish Chandra

            Enough bullshit with the dictionaries and definitions. What a damn waste of comment space. Make your point without using the words “Hindu” and “Atheist”. Based on the article, this is what I’ll say without using the words in question – people who don’t believe in a god and yet give a pass to beliefs that are shaky at best on scientific and humanistic grounds don’t have much to contribute to a conversation about freethought. If you can’t respond without resorting to some more malarkey on definitions, then heed Arvind’s advice here.

          • ‘Hindu Atheism’, BTW, is in scare quotes even in the article title, indicating exasperation about a coinage that strains credulity.

        • Satish, are you serious? The headline of this post is “Is Hindu Atheism valid”. And now you want me to make the point without using the words “Hindu” and “atheist”? Is it OK with you if I use “valid”? How about “is”?

          Words fail me.

          • Satish Chandra

            Chandran,

            Can you get any more dishonest? You played the stupid game of definitions. Enough has been said on that front. And now you are feigning ignorance of all that? Come back when you can make an actual point.

          • Chandran,

            I think Satish is right about definitions.

            I have myself been criticized by other posters at times for being nit-picky on definitions and such.

            I think you’re meant to take problematic words like these as heuristics rather than rigorous definitions. In common parlance, rigor won’t get you anywhere as we would have to deconstruct most words we use (“religion” would go out, as would “Hinduism”).

          • Captain Mandrake

            Chandran,

            And now you want me to make the point without using the words “Hindu” and “atheist”?

            Why is that so difficult? Sathish has shown how this can be done.

            Make your point without using the words “Hindu” and “Atheist”. Based on the article, this is what I’ll say without using the words in question – people who don’t believe in a god and yet give a pass to beliefs that are shaky at best on scientific and humanistic grounds don’t have much to contribute to a conversation about freethought.

            Why are you reluctant to make a similar attempt?

            I also believe that you have probably misunderstood the article.

            The article makes an appeal to people of Indian origin who value freethought and secular humanisn to stop calling themselves “Hindu Atheist” as such a term is not in-sync with their value system.

            It is clear that you are neither a freethinker nor a secular humanist. So go ahead and call yourself a “Hindu Atheist”. No one will prevent you from doing so.

        • @^ Words aren’t the only things that failed here. If someone presses interlocutors whom they don’t know offline, to explain how their stance is different from a deceased American psychopathic murderer’s, how can they expect to be treated as someone intending constructive engagement? Interesting that such heckling is adopted by critics of the supposedly overly confrontational approach of the New Atheists.

      • …And some things I said were…

        Folks who volunteer time and resources in outreach efforts like Nirmukta or RDF or Freethought Blogs may quite reasonably stake their claim to the legitimacy that comes from putting their money where their mouth is…

        Several activities under the atheism umbrella have been mentioned in this thread (meetups, advocacy groups, secular charities etc). Incidentally, many of these activities in the 2000s were inspired by hardliners rather than anodyne (insert religion)-atheists.

        So, there was no implication of anything ‘automatic’ from my side as well. Just that the term atheist applies with fewer contradictions to some than to others.

      • Captain Mandrake

        Chandran,
        First, you are implicitly defining religion as theistic. Buddhism and Jainism do not fit this category. Therefore, I am saying we should put Hinduism in the same category as Buddhism. If you agree that Buddhism is not a religion, then Hinduism is not either. But I think most people would agree that Buddhism is a religion even though it not theistic.

        Who cares? I do not know anything about Buddhism but let me take a stab at this. Even if it is the case that Buddhism does not make any claims about the existence of God as you suggest, it certainly does not oppose the God claims like atheism does. In that sense it is not atheistic. But this point is really trivial and I can let go of it. What is more important is that as a religion Buddhism has had the same negative effects on society as had other religions. A simple example can be found in the vicious xenophobic hatred coming out of the Buddhist leadership in Srilanka. In this sense Buddhism is no different from other religions. Given this background if a Buddhist wants to call himself a Buddhist atheist he can certainly do so but he/she cannot expect a warm reception in the modern atheist community.

        Second, you are still conflating the simple definition atheist with the broader sociological “atheist community”. Neither Arvind or Satish have replied yet to justify why atheist automatically implies that you must be part of a group. The widely accepted meaning is the simple one. So it would make sense to say the freethinker community would not accept a Hindu atheist. But I am never claimed to be a Hindu freethinker, so that is irrelevant.

        Not sure what game you are playing with Arvind and Satish. But let me express my views. You can call yourself an atheist all you want. But your views on a lot of other views will determine how much recognition you get from the modern atheist community. If you crave any recognition from this modern atheist community you have to work at it. But I am not going to tell you what you need to do. Figure it out for yourself.

        Yes, Hinduism has a history of social injustice. But North Korea is not religious and also has a history of social injustice. So does China. Injustice arises in society with or without religion – religion is just a justification.

        When talking about society where social injustice like the caste system arose and persists because of sanctions from a religion we need to attack the religion. In societies where social injustice occurred because of nationalism (eg. Fascist Germany and Italy) we have to attack nationalism. In societies where social injustice occurred due to communism (eg. Stalin’s Russia and Mao Zedong’s China) we need to attack communism.
        Just because social injustice can be the result of different root causes we cannot say that each root cause should not be eradicated on an individual basis.
        If you want social justice and an end to misogyny, it is much easier to convert a hardcore Hindu to an agnostic Hindu, than it is to convert them into a fullblown atheist. This has been shown time after time, in culture after culture.

        What the fk is the use of a fullblown atheist if he hold on to labels like “Hindu Atheist” even after the ill-effects of Hinduism has been shown to him? The full blown atheist of your sort who thinks that answering the question “In what sense vegetarianism is good or bad?” an exercise in overthinking but just follows a religious code that was given to him as a 6 year old by his Brahmin father is totally useless for social progress because social progress would actually require a lot of overthinking involved in understanding and addressing the inherent prejudices and privileges in society.

        • Captain Mandrake

          as a 6 year old by his Brahmin father

          I should have said “Hindu” and not “Brahmin” as I have no data.

          My bad.

        • Captain, you are still missing the point. I am not looking for recognition from the “atheist community”. My claim is that the word “atheist”, without any qualifiers, simply means disbelief in God. When I claim to be “tall”, it would be ludicrous for you to say that since I am not a member of groups fighting for rights of the tall, I should not consider myself that. Now I will freely agree that “Hindu freethinker” and “Hindu humanist” are not valid terms. But this entire discussion is about whether “Hindu atheist” is valid, and my rather simple point is that neither you, nor anyone else on Nirmukta, exercise any control over who is an atheist and who is not. I have carefully looked through all of your comments, as well as those of everyone else here. I have still not seen one mention of a credible authority (logophile/linguist/religious scholar) who would argue that someone who does not believe in God can somehow NOT be considered an atheist.

          You are also misjudging who organized religion is afraid of. They don’t care about the Dawkins/Hitchens group because those people can be scapegoated as extremists. What they are terrified of is creeping secularism, not atheism. This goes back for decades, in 1943 William Temple, widely recognized as the best Archbishop of Canterbury, said:

          “Christian tradition… was in danger of being undermined by a Secular Humanism which hoped to retain Christian values without Christian faith.”

          This is what religious leaders are afraid of, not atheists demanding that logic be followed. Other countries are already on this path. England by 2030 will no longer be a Christian country due to the rise in numbers of people who do not identify with a religion (not necessarily atheists). You are trying to reinvent the wheel for Indian society – almost every western country, including Australia, is firmly on the path to secularism right now.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Chandran,

            Now I will freely agree that “Hindu freethinker” and “Hindu humanist” are not valid terms. But this entire discussion is about whether “Hindu atheist” is valid, and my rather simple point is that neither you, nor anyone else on Nirmukta, exercise any control over who is an atheist and who is not.

            Here is a cut paste from an earlier comment that addresses the issue.


            I also believe that you have probably misunderstood the article.

            The article makes an appeal to people of Indian origin who value freethought and secular humanisn to stop calling themselves “Hindu Atheist” as such a term is not in-sync with their value system.

            It is clear that you are neither a freethinker nor a secular humanist. So go ahead and call yourself a “Hindu Atheist”. No one will prevent you from doing so.

          • Well put, Captain.

  • i want to clear myself on some issues related to this article:
    1.So you are trying to say hinduism is nothing but a reaction to christianity and islam??
    2. if Hinduism is just a reaction then what was the prevailing connecting link thousands of years ago in india?
    3. By taking the name of indian culture..how do u segregate it from religion?
    Everyone knows that ‘hindu’ is a name given to people living across indus..it is the popular name. But its actual name thousands of years old is “sanatana dharma”.
    I am failing to understand what do you mean by religion.
    Religion is basically a science. Science is what? which we can practice and so the philosophy in action is religion!
    And please for logics’ sake DONT call castism and superstition as a part of “sanatana dharma”.
    Religion itself is not dirty, people sometimes make it dirty.
    Can you say democarcy and political governance is dirty?? NO
    but few people have under their selfish motives have misused democracy.
    So what should we do?
    uproot democracy?
    sounds childish!
    i respect your views but still i cant draw some drastic points.
    The saddest part of article was the comments about bhagwad Gita.
    Bhagwad Gita is not a novel which u can flip through.
    It bears subtle knowledge with suggestiveness of words and examples. One needs a teacher to understand it till every depth.
    One last question:
    Tell me how do you interpret things which are beyond science
    like basic things.
    From where we came ( now plz dont tell me the procedure i know as i am a medical student)
    but that conciousness which makes us alive..where did it come from?
    and where does it go when we die??
    just acquaint me with your views on these questions because i also want to find the answers to the same!!

    • Captain Mandrake

      Neelkanth,

      First, I do not think you have understood or even read the article. Please read this part from the article.

      Many Indians intellectuals who don’t believe in supernatural gods or powers fail to separate their non-belief from the ‘Hindu’ identity. The desire to belong to a dominant cultural group is so strong in us that these so-called ‘Hindu Atheists’ invent the most convoluted justifications for their acceptance of the Hindu label. But does it really make sense to call oneself a Hindu Atheist? What does one truly mean by the word Hindu in this context? The object of this article is to get rationalists and atheists from India who identify themselves as ‘Culturally Hindu’ to question this label with which they are associating themselves.

      It is a call to Indian atheists and freethinkers who call themselves Hindu atheists to stop doing so. Since you are clearly a Hindu and non-freethinker (your comments on science clearly shows that) it is not addressed to you.

      Everyone knows that ‘hindu’ is a name given to people living across indus..it is the popular name. But its actual name thousands of years old is “sanatana dharma”.

      What difference does it make whether you call it “Hindu” or “Santana Dharma”? This an inhuman irrational philosophy that should be gotten rid off.

      Religion is basically a science. Science is what? which we can practice and so the philosophy in action is religion!

      “Religion is basically a science” is like saying “cow shit is basically a food”. Science has no place for supernatural nonsense like God. IMO, you should learn something about science before you become a fully certified medical practitioner for the sake of your future patients.

      Religion itself is not dirty

      Wrong again. Religion is built on supernatural claims. To date no one has provided verifiable evidence to back up those claims. So yes, it is dirty. Get rid of it.

      And please for logics’ sake DONT call castism and superstition as a part of “sanatana dharma”.

      Please show us why logic demands that castism and superstition can not be part of “sanatana dharma”.

      The saddest part of article was the comments about bhagwad Gita.
      Bhagwad Gita is not a novel which u can flip through.
      It bears subtle knowledge with suggestiveness of words and examples. One needs a teacher to understand it till every depth.

      How do you know that people here who criticize the Gita are not one of those teachers?

      From where we came ( now plz dont tell me the procedure i know as i am a medical student)
      but that conciousness which makes us alive..where did it come from?

      Your consciousness comes from your brain much like your capability to walk/run comes from your legs. But for the sake of the argument let us say that we do not know where the consciousness comes from. Under that scenario the answer to the question “Where did consciousness come from?” is “I do not know.”. You cant not make up shit like “It comes from God or Brahman”.

      For a medical student you do not seem to know much about science.

      • Captain Mandrake

        “Religion is basically a science” is like saying “cow shit is basically a food”.

        Totally forgot that you Hindus are fond of eating cow shit.

        My bad :)

        • after going through your rply first i would like to say i am not here to learn science and with heartfelt gratitude i wud like to say you need not to worry about my patients.
          Now coming to the point :
          1. I see Hinduism as a way to improve myself and it also gives us freedom.
          I personally dont like all those rituals associated with it.
          But i draw a lot of my inspiration from the philosophy.
          I m just trying to decipher where do you people derive your inspiration from and how do you view life then??
          grow up earn money get married earn some more money have children list goes on and then eventually die !! Dont use terms to make me understand, i m talking at very basic levels.
          if u call urself free-thinker, then i assume your basics must be clear.
          2. Hindu philosophy has taught me accomodativeness. Its fine for me if someone doesnot believe in my faith.
          I can accomodate because people have different understanding.
          From where will u derive inspiration to accomodate believers when you have so much sarcasm to fire??
          3.Bhagwad Gita
          I m not here to re-establish the glory of Gita because it is self glorified and also its of no use to you. So i omit this point here. But would like to tell what i have learnt from Gita.
          The 3 ‘gunas’ are actually mental temperaments and with reason its written why we should transcend it. Not because they are evil!
          If you feel disgrace in accepting some superpower, dont accept!
          Gita has the subtlest of descriptions of human mind which we can easily relate to without considering some superpower
          4. Superstitions are made by some pundits who were craving for power and then later got support from britishers and so they fooled people.
          For handful of people my intellect does not allow me to discard the beautiful philosophy.
          5. Now talking about from where that concsiouness came?
          I cannor satisfy my inquisitiveness by supplying a ‘i dont know’ to my brain.
          I need answer. If you have one i’ll b happy if you share that with me.

  • I apologize if my question has been answered in the article.

    Given that “Hindu,” when introduced to India, initially was a cultural distinction used to separate Turks from the others, would it be wrong to use the term Hindu to describe non-Islamic/non-Christian/etc. cultures in India? I gather that this is how the term is used in Indian legalese.

    • i.e. I have a Sanskritic name, dress in saris (if I am a woman), and celebrate functions like Diwali therefore I am a Hindu?

      • From my point of view, having a sankrit name and celebrating diwali are all outer representations of a hindu and most unfortunate is that most of the people remain stuck only to this grosser aspect.
        Because every action bears a deeper significance.
        For eg. if we are to decipher the meaning of diwali-
        “On the day of deepawali at dusk, when darkness intensifies, all homes are illumined by lights. This is a day of prayer and expression of love. Get out of your homes in the evening and embrace every other individual in society not because they are Hindus but because they too are small flames of same divine light because this can impart a joyous sense of perfection in the ways of men and women. Diwali is a day dedicated to inner purity and noble character. Let us all meet their friends and neighbours at the same table. Let all misgivings be forgotten, all grievances forgiven. Let us remind ourselves, at least on this great day that we can be victorious over our impulses and come to illumine for the world around, the lamp of wisdom”

        p.s. Now its not that only one day out of 365 days should be for inner purity and nobility, but out of 365 days, we celebrate one day to inspire ourselves. Like its not that we shud plant trees only on ‘environment day’ and all the other 364 days, cut down the trees.
        These days are celebrated to focus ourselves to some cause, to inspire us.
        So are the festivals.

    • Captain Mandrake

      Ashwin,

      Given that “Hindu,” when introduced to India, initially was a cultural distinction used to separate Turks from the others, would it be wrong to use the term Hindu to describe non-Islamic/non-Christian/etc. cultures in India? I gather that this is how the term is used in Indian legalese.

      I understand what you are saying. It is true that this term was originally used as a cultural differentiator. But what I believe the article says is that there is a tendency among people to equate Hindu with India when in fact Indian culture is lot more than just Hindu culture. When you call yourself a “Hindu atheist” you might be doing just that with out it being your intention. And this is something the author advises against. Just read the last part of the article.

      In a way, this is an issue of patriotism (of the rational and thoughtful kind). Indian culture is being hijacked by a label- an idea that is itself a reaction to Islam and Christianity. It is a label that keeps us from absorbing beneficial things from other cultures and ridding our culture of harmful ideas from within it. In essence, Hinduism retards healthy cultural growth. Hinduism is unpatriotic. This is the new paradigm that rationalists must endorse to break the spell of ‘Hinduism’ that is slowly choking India.

      IMO, the author asks atheists who with out much thought call themselves “Hindu atheists” to instead call themselves “Indian atheists” as Hindu identity is too narrow and is non-inclusive. It can be argued that this advice sounds a bit silly. After all “India” itself derives from the word “Hindus”. But then the counter argument is that today we use the term “Hindu” mostly in the context of religion and the term “India” mostly in the context of citizenship or country of birth. So it does appear that “Indian atheist” is a better term.

      • Thanks, Captain, it makes sense, especially the part about Hindu meaning only religion today. I am worried, however, that by calling myself an “Indian atheist” I’ll lose vocabulary that will describe the characteristics I listed above– dress, names, etc.

        For Muslims, people can use “Islamic” and I’ve heard Jews speak of being “cultural Jews.” Would “cultural Hindu” be acceptable, or would it have the same drawbacks discussed in the article.

      • After all, in using Indian atheist and not Hindu atheist when other groups use similar terms, I’m afraid of doing exactly what you said– taking Hindu secondary characteristics and making them correlate with the label “Indian.”

  • Hinduism discuss the hypothesis of original truth and its creation. Now if you wanted to debate you should accept the hypothesis of reincarnation, soul supreme soul and karma bhumi. I mean you have to come to the debate of such hypothesis. If you grab a note from here and there then you waste your time and we waster our time. So be specific what you want to address.

    • Jaycdp

      Hindu doctrine does not propose reincarnation,individual soul (jivatma), supreme soul (paramatma) and karma as hypotheses.

      When you propose something as a hypothesis, you need to validate and reasonably prove it by supporting facts, evidence and other means of validation. Belief, faith and accepting scriptural testimonies and opinions of authorities are not valid and acceptable means of establishing a hypothesis.

      Something cannot remain a reasonable or valid hypothesis when no evidence or proof is forthcoming.

      That is why critics dismiss these tenets of Hinduism as dogmas or doctrinaire concepts. So there is no question of any acceptance since these are not hypotheses at all!!!

      Critics or Skeptics are not grabbing a note from here and there. They have examined the internal evidence for these concepts in scriptures and also the opinions of Hindu religious authorities and weighed the arguments of apology and failed to find any substance or truth in them.

      Hindu myths describe creation, but there is very little discussion of the process of creation. Original truth, Ultimate Truth etc. are just fancy terms or names for absolutist dogmas which is the fundamental problem of all religions.

      You need to be specific, instead of beating around the bush with vague remarks and assumptions.

      • Dear Dr Ranganath
        1 MISCONCEPTION
        Of course, Hinduism is not a hypothesis in the sense of modern science. I can understand your concern about me, which could be stemming from the idea that I am going to prove Hinduism is scientific. Well, I have no such intention. But for clarification of spiritual issues we I need some tools to reach out to people like you. First of all reincarnation is truth and not just a hypothesis. Athma is the one who incarnate and atma is a being and it has faculty of mind intellect and collection of decisions (sanskar). Atma is self-conscious when it is not under the influence of body and bodily relations. Athma when comes to deep bondage of body over prolonged period of time will be convinced that it is I am the body. So all kind of assumptions and inference that coming from such souls will be biased by the body and its five emotions such as anger, greed, sex lust, and ego. Atma itself is the one who supposed to be in control and feel good in the body. The paramathma is the father of all souls. Life is like a drama of the souls with its deep sankars. Furthermore new atmas are also coming from soul world and they do not have much bondage with the body and this is why they feel intimidated by the religious souls of old world. Of course new souls are not wrong about the arrogance of people who has deep bondage. The problem is the new souls do not have the capacity to make an inference based on long term goals other than what they think is significant. Again there are two type of old souls. One constantly stick to the old theory and old principle of religious dogma and the other who look in to himself as a soul and able to accept the change in bodily life and make inference on the basis of life from several cycle. It is mentioned in Ramayana that ram and ravana. Rama was sun dynasty( SUR) AND ravana was (ASUR DYNASTY). Please read this article about inference ( anumana kalamana and upamana)( please do not just stick to greek inference of I am arristotle and I am a mortal thery alone for inference). http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-03-30/news/31261250_1_shiva-ravana-mount-kailasa

        • Jaycdp

          This is completely inane, insane,incoherent and rambling loose talk of spiritualism.

          Not a word of this is evidence or proof of reincarnation or soul. We need evidence not a ‘wall of text’

          This all looks like a straight lift from the satsang and ‘speaking tree’ nonsensical monologues and other puranic rural legends.

          I went thru the link. My reaction is “Shame on Economic Times for publishing this kind of utter rubbish and spiritualist trash!!!”

  • That is why critics dismiss these tenets of Hinduism as dogmas or doctrinaire concepts. So there is no question of any acceptance since these are not hypotheses at all!!! The critics that you have mentioned are expert in medical science or material science. I do not have any objection of studies in material science and I honestly think study of matter and science should be respected as a profession and fixing self on the study itself is the job of a scientist. However, science is also an evolving study therefore simply sticking with the study itself is a disservice to such study and its reputation. I honestly do not think you have a problem accepting the bias and learning from mistakes in science. When it comes to a material study we need clear proof. For example you are studying about a disease then you need to come up with clear documentation of what is that disease and you should define the disease to establish a therapeutic standard. Let us take an example of treatment for depression. We have theory of serotonin and it is almost proved that serotonin has a major role in depression. So we have developed medication that address such concern. Obviously SSRIs are not the ultimate answer for depression. In the beginning we thought just give medication and then the disease is treated. Now we understand various risk factor and association with depression and even a theory of viral infection in the nervous system is also on the way. We have also found cognitive behavioural therapy very useful for depression. On the negative side we have suffered immensely from the people who simply trusted science and fixed the therapy of depression only on antidepressants and as result lot of people who were suffering from depression did not find therapy useful. Only now learn to go beyond medication. even that is a hard sell to the most elite and knowledgeable doctors who have good back ground in science. On the contrary we have pharmaceuticals using science to sell more medication is also creating trouble by investing billions in studies to create articles with bias. Now we have learned about systemic review and meta analysis so that we can reduce the bias. The problem is that we are facing is negative side of science and political bias of self interest. Now I am coming back to the spiritual issue and dharma issue is more significant than simply a science. I have no intention to attack the good work of hard mental and slave labour by scientist who do to the world. Some scientist can be a slave while other can be independent in thinking. The leadership is a the key and not the money invested and hardship or slavery by the scientist. My argument here is that instead of talking about the hard labour of scientist it is time for us to discuss the dharma leadership of people in society in all variety of life other than just focussing on science alone. Sorry to hurt your feeling if you happen to be a hard working scientist. My intention is not to hurt any one but to address the real concern of real self.

  • I am a Muslim Atheist.

    I do everything that the Quran says, except I don’t believe in Allah.

    —–

    Does that make any sense?

    The article is just appealing to those that associate their disbelief in god with a well established religion known for inflicting harm in the society.

    You can be an atheist if the said religion allows you to, but if you want to be a freethinker, then you must let go of it.

    • dear salman; could you write me your concern as sentence and tell me what you mean by religion inflicting harm to society. did you mean Islamic terrorism. Did you mean a religious person cannot be a free thinker. In that case can you give examples to back up your point of view please.

      • Captain Mandrake

        Jaycdp,

        could you write me your concern as sentence and tell me what you mean by religion inflicting harm to society.

        Castism, misogyny and xenophobia inherent in Hinduism is one example of religion inflicting harm to society. Religion inevitably breeding morons like you is another example.

        Did you mean a religious person cannot be a free thinker. In that case can you give examples to back up your point of view please.

        As to the question of whether a religious person can be a freethinker the answer is NO. A freethinker does not accept any proposition with out evidence. Your belief is God(s) disqualifies you.

        And all your posts are loaded with logical fallacies. Please go back to school.

  • this is to reply to the author Ranganath. I am really concerned about your statement that it is not easy to comprehend such wild assumption. Of course I do accept the complexity of the information that I have provided. Moreover I am not making a preaching in one paragraph. I would ask you to bring one statement at a time and we can have a long discussion and arguments if you are interested in souls, reincarnation, supreme being, life drama, life cycle, karma etc. If you are only interested in defaming a book for political reason then you should accept the politics and let us go that way. if you wanted to discuss only the science of Upanishad then you should make it clear let us not go in depth about the teaching let us look how we can prove the material outcome of such study by using material academic science. I am very open for any of the discussion. This is completely inane, insane,incoherent and rambling loose talk of spiritualism.

    Not a word of this is evidence or proof of reincarnation or soul. We need evidence not a ‘wall of text’

    This all looks like a straight lift from the satsang and ‘speaking tree’ nonsensical monologues and other puranic rural legends.

    I went thru the link. My reaction is “Shame on Economic Times for publishing this kind of utter rubbish and spiritualist trash!!!”
    Permalink: http://nirmukta.com/2009/11/28/is-hindu-atheism-valid-a-rationalist-critique-of-the-hindu-identitys-usurpation-of-indian-culture/
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    Dear sir, You are given complete freedom to make a wild assumption. I would ask you to argue outside the context of science, since the matter that we are discussing not merely a pure science. If you had to argue only on the basis of science then let us talk about science alone and not to mix science with Hindu scripture which has no foundation on science. You must give room for argument from both side. If I chose only to adhere my argument on science then I have to give up the original argument. if you would like to discuss spirituality and science then we should have a separate discussion. I don’t know what is your scientific back ground . if that was the case I should be competent with the scientific back ground to go in depth and invest a billions of dollar and find people to make legitimate papers published. Unfortunately I don’t have that kind of funding to invest. If you have that kind of funding you are welcome to invest. But if you wanted to borrow some papers here and there to make wild assumptions or an inference based on your limited resource then you should not argue on facts cut and right. You are allowed to state your implication and you should support your argument on such implication. Do not use the curtain of scientific work done by people for the purpose of academics as a real study to investigate Upanishad or Hindu scripture. If you have papers to support your implication then you should produce such papers and let people react on such legitimate science instead of going on wild assumption and implication on a very small study or perhaps inference. Now if you do not have such funding for proving your arguments then you should use your opinion and inference. Now again if you wanted just to focus on reincarnation then you can argue reincarnation is false because there is no evidence to back such theory. Or as you called a believe system. In Hinduism no body is forced to believe he incarnate or reincarnate as you can see in Islam or Christianity to believe blindly. However some Hindus chose to believe blindly and they force the idea that they have to their immediate family members. If you are fighting with those who believe blindly then you should address the issue separately to those people. I am addressing reincarnation as a theory and not asking any body to believe such theory. I will be more than happy to see people condemn and argue with all they got to prove it is false. But that will not be a proof to acknowledge reincarnation is false. The soul is a being and the soul is defined as able to experience peace by itself. However the reason given behind why soul is no longer experiencing its original quality is due to the fact of soul experiencing himself as a body and due to the collective history of soul thinking he is a body he experience sorrow due to the influence of five vices. Say for example in your case you feel intimidated when I have addressed spirituality in terms with hypothesis. Your ego said hypothesis should have an academic structure otherwise I will consider such hypothesis as trash. there is no need for a Hindu saint( not our gods) who wrote the book to invest a billion dollar and hire 100 thousand scientist to write his paper in academic level of todays standard. Now you are saying ok I can accept that they did not had any scientific back ground so I cannot take any of such theory as theory and I condemn all theory just because those article did not meet a Cambridge standard. My argument here is leave it as an article written by saints of those time. And leave Hindus as a group of people who either followed such study or they have a religious faith other than such theory. Majority of Hindus were not even to the level of such academic level so they chose to follow Hinduism or the religion as a way of living than just a theory. So when you are making a general statement you should give room for Hindus from different back ground to and respect the inference makes on their limited inference skills or their rehearsed inference skills. Hinduism does claims god is omnipresent and god is ekvyapi ( present in one). So again when you are putting all Hindus as pro Hindu gods then you are talking to a minority of Hindus. when you are talking about Upanishad you are talking to a minority of Hindus who are elite in academics of such kinds. definitely you are not an expert in academic study of Upanishads. then again hindu scriptures like Upanishads is giving knowledge of self and asking you to apply that knowledge in your life and experience the original quality of soul. It has clearly defined when you are under the influence of emotions such as five vices then you are not yourself. So if you chose to stay in the influence of five vices and ignore the fact of experience beyond the five vices then you wasting your time. Say for example you can claim that I don’t believe Indian martial arts of high caste jats were actually inferior. Now you are making an allegation of people who lived 1000 years back. The bias here is the perception of self of mans of those days and mans of today is different. The competency requirement of a soldier of those days and today is different. So you should look into the limitation and find ways to overcome such limitation by creating an artificial war and observe. Even if you put a 1000 billion dollar you cannot make an experience spirit of such souls on those days with today people. Of course you may be able to create a notion that is equal to the physical war of history. because you don’t even have such investment in your ambition then you should address the arguments that we souls who experience our self as souls. If you wanted to brush of inference of the experienced people on the basis knowledge then you should simply focus on an academic argument for the sake of writing essays.

  • Hindu atheism (whatever than means) is more dangerous than Hindutva in the sense that it indirectly helps Hindutva.True atheists should discard all such labels.

  • If you accept the terms of discourse that ill fit what is being described, it will either look ridiculous & confused or it will make you look like a fool. It is not very difficult on grounds similar to the above article is written, to apply it to physical theories. All one has to do is find naive similarities and start mapping the religious categories on Scientific categories and then describe science as religion. That will be obviously ridiculous to all who are debating here. Exactly similar situation is created in this article. You are taking the categories describing Christianity & Islam and applying these to Indian categories based on Dharma and drawing your conclusion. However since this mapping has been carried out by colonial narrative and that being the only narrative most (99.9%) Indians understand they start describing Indian notions in terms of the mapped categories. Thereby not only confusing the already confused situation but drawing conclusion on question that could not have been, even, asked.
    The first category that has been bent entirely out of shape is the term “Dharma” that has been translated as religion. A translation, which is an absolutely non-sense. In fact as much of a non-sense as when we translate Science as religion. And then ask question about atheism, creationism etc in Physics.
    Let me stick with Dharma. Dharma being a Sanskrit word comes by Unnadi process of joining two roots Dhri & Ma.
    The Dhri arises from Dhrinya and implies supporting, holding, and sustaining. The ma arises from Mange implying measurability. Thus Dharma is applicable only to measurable entities & characterizes the supporting sustaining framework of the measurable entity. This measurable entity can be tangible or conceptual. In particular the measurability provides the very clues of what sustains the entity, supports the entity or holds the entity together. As an example consider friendship. What sustains and allows friendship to continue. Let us say it is trust between the friends. Thus Trust is the dharma of friendship. If you violate that trust your friendship will be doomed. Let me take another example of say water. Let us ask the question about Dharma of water as an existent. In order to know that you will have to know what allows water to be as it is. The answer is its chemical structure of H2O. This structure is a measurable aspect of water. And if that composition is destroyed, the water can be no more water. That is the nature of Dharma. This brief outline will allow you to understand one of the characterizations of Dharma which says “Dharmo Raxshati Raxshata:”. That is Dharma protects so long it is protected. It is not a vengeance issue, but only the issue of what holds it. Given this meaning of Dharma what will question of Atheism imply in Dharma tradition? It will be pure non-sense unless you map it as religion. The notion that Dharma proclaims is of “SAT”. This again has unfortunately been translated as Truth. However “SAT” does not imply “Truth” but “Existence” The “SAT” that is being talked about is the primary existent, irreducible existent, that was a-priori and from which every thing else comes about. Now the term Aastika (Asti), implies one who believe in a-priori existent and NAastika implies one who does not believe in any a-priori existent. Again, if you wrongly translate Astika as Theist, and NAastika as Atheist you will get strange and expected results. The translator and those who believed in that translation will be wrong. You will draw ridiculous conclusions as the above article has, but that will be writer problem. This whole debate is a-priori fixed for this reason alone. Conclusion is that if you are using the terms of debate that do not apply to Dharma tradition you will ask question that could not be asked within Dharma, but are asked. That will give you answers you want.

    • You very conveniently ignored this article that the author linked to where he explains what constitutes religion. Had you read it, you could have saved quite a lot of key strokes and spared us your homilies about colonialism and what not. So by failing to read the article and understanding the arguments therein, you setup a strawman the size of a typical Dussehara-ten-headed-Ravana effigy and then adroitly set fire to it with the smug satisfaction that that pointless exercise came anywhere close to addressing the arguments in the article. So before typing another homily, try this exercise – taboo the words “religion” and “dharma” and see if you can form anything that has the semblance of an actual argument instead of giving out noisome fumes of logical fallacies.

  • The term ‘Hindu’ is irrelevant as an adjective to any worldview. It’s likely more dangerous than anything else because it will conflate religiosity with non-religiosity.

    Anyway, having gone through the article and all of the posts, one thing is clear: this is just an echo of Dawkins-style atheism. You guys are just trading atheism of the Subcontinent for an Anglo-led atheism so that you, too, can claim to be relevant voices in a rising worldview under the greatest superpower the world has ever seen, USA. As you put it, ‘Hindus’ wanted to remain relevant to Islam and Christianity. Now, it’s your turn as West-led and -style atheism rises.

    Go ahead, then. See where this Newtonian, materialistic, mechanistic worldview takes you. (My best guess is that you’ll remain stuck at the hard problem of consciousness.)

    Let’s work with what all people have in common: a desire to raise awareness of the degrading biosphere and act to change the imbalance for the better.

  • Two things this article assumes is a very specific definition of ‘Hinduism’ and an assumption, based on mostly whims, as to what is ‘Brahminism.’

    1. Hinduism is a recent term that assumes a unified religious system. But the reality is that there were many philosophies and beliefs that were compiled and reflected on. Some of them assume no creator or nothing other than an underlying physical law of nature. It is up to the individual to take what she pleases.

    2. Even the term ‘Sanatana Dharma’ is totally misleading to the ancient culture by assuming a single eternal belief system. We accept the Greeks, Celts and Nords had different beliefs coexisting and mixing and matching, why not India too? It was just the way things were at one time among human races.

    3. Hindu really was a designation for all things east of the Sindh river. Even India is called Hindustan in some languages. So it is more a geographical designation.

    4. Brahmin as a terminology is seen on the Ashoka pillars where it meant learned people. This was in the days when not many were literate. Early Buddhist doctrine use the term Brahmin to mean student of Buddha. The Dashakumaracharita uses the word Brahmina for student. In that book the Brahminas are students of varied subjects from archery to drawing. These are all the earliest meanings of the word Brahmin.

    4. The Rig Veda is abstract poetry written in ‘Twilight Language’ which means the meanings are not literal. For this reason a lot of muck has been written as to what they really mean. But the truth is, no one really knows, especially those who are looking to write their thesis.

    • Satish Chandra

      I don’t think you understood the article at all. It very clearly says that there is Hinduism the religion, and then there is Hinduism the blanket term for everything Indian that isn’t influenced by Islam and Christianity. The author says he is talking about the latter and goes on to explain why it is a meaningless label.

      Also, Brahmanism has a meaning which isn’t whimsical at all.

      • No, I got it.
        It was just that the article had a pedestrian and emotional argument rather than one made with rigorous thought, so I wanted to call it out.

        By the way, I don’t identify myself with any religion (I am sure you assumed otherwise based on the simplistic black and white tone of most of the articles here ignoring the beauty of human complexity). Also, I have no problems getting rid of the Hinduism word at all. I do have problems with the article though. It is not at the level of what we would see at RDIF or other rational sites.

        Though I do read Sanskrit and much of these articles are based on assumptions which do not tie in with the original sources. So that is why I bring up ‘Brahminism.’

        It is easy to make ‘Brahminism’ the reason for all of India’s problems, mostly because most of us are not Brahmins. But that is because of cognitive limitations of human identity. To have an identity requires for many, an enemy. And in Indian this ‘enemy’ is the mythical ‘Brahmin.’

        But in literature the Brahmins are not the big wealthy law makers in high chairs with whips and slaves. Actually the Brahmin characters are described in the actual stories as:
        1. A Brahmin living simply in the forest with his family
        2. A Brahmin as an adviser to a King
        3. A Brahmin begging for food from door to door
        4. A Brahmin as a teacher of archery
        5. A Brahmin composing a poem

        You can say, this is because the Brahmins were the literary ones who composed these stories so they will write of themselves in a different light from the reality. But for the most part, any educated person who devotes their life to learning is a Brahmin. But in those days literacy was not so common. You needed to learn from another literate person.

        It is actually an interesting and admirable idea that a learned person (and poet) was considered superior to one who was capable of great violence. This is a distinct feature of Indian civilization. How this got turned into the evil caste system (similar to the feudal and caste systems of Europe) is a mystery though.

        If we were to use the kind of ‘argument’ used on this site to say something that seems to be more telling, it’s that the reason why India was not a country where creativity was admired for so long is because we made our poets into the villains.

        • Satish Chandra

          It was just that the article had a pedestrian and emotional argument rather than one made with rigorous thought, so I wanted to call it out.

          Calling out an argument usually involves a lot more than flamebait one liners. Like showing which premises are false, or why a conclusion does not follow from the given premises and so on.

          And for someone who fancies himself as the arbiter of what is rigorous and what is not, you sure wasted no time in adopting the strawman argument that Brahmanism == Brahmins are teh eevil. So if this is how you argue, I suggest you stick to sites that only critique Islam and Christianity and so play to your confirmation bias.

        • It is actually an interesting and admirable idea that a learned person (and poet) was considered superior to one who was capable of great violence. This is a distinct feature of Indian civilization. How this got turned into the evil caste system (similar to the feudal and caste systems of Europe) is a mystery though.

          No, this is actually not an admirable idea at all. Educated people and people who fight for the country are equal. Both are people with necessary occupations.

          Your history is also questionable. I can just pick one thing:

          Brahmin as a terminology is seen on the Ashoka pillars where it meant learned people.

          No, actually, “Brahmin” in the Ashokan edicts very specifically meant Vedic holy men. We know this because it is always used in conjunction with “Bhikkus.”

          Satish, he does criticize particular premises. These ones are not that bad:

          1. Hinduism is a recent term that assumes a unified religious system. But the reality is that there were many philosophies and beliefs that were compiled and reflected on. Some of them assume no creator or nothing other than an underlying physical law of nature. It is up to the individual to take what she pleases.

          2. Even the term ‘Sanatana Dharma’ is totally misleading to the ancient culture by assuming a single eternal belief system. We accept the Greeks, Celts and Nords had different beliefs coexisting and mixing and matching, why not India too? It was just the way things were at one time among human races.

          3. Hindu really was a designation for all things east of the Sindh river. Even India is called Hindustan in some languages. So it is more a geographical designation

          • Satish Chandra

            Satish, he does criticize particular premises. These ones are not that bad:

            The author already knows that Hinduism is a recent term, that a multitude of philosophical systems are clubbed under it and that Hindu nationalists term everything in India that isn’t Islam or Christianity as Hindu. It is that usage of the label “Hinduism”, to denote all those things that is being critiqued in the article. So what premises have been criticized? Kit merely restated what has been said in the article.

  • ok
    1. yes hindu and hinduism was a term given to every religious practice in ancient india when muhammad bin qasam came through the sindh.. so it ends up encompassing half a dozen different things.

    2. vedic hinduism basically says that God (ultiamte Reality) is the source, the destination, the way… as far as vedic hinduism goes – everyone is a hindu because all souls end up with God (in Ulitmate relaity)

    add 1 and 2 and you can see why the whole thing is so confusing today

    3. the mimamsa school of hinduism is considered atheistic.

    the problem is simple: abrahamics consider god to be a personal god.. so when they asked buddhists/various hindus – hey do you believe in a creator god adn we were like ummm nooo they were like OH SO YOURE ATHEISTS.

    they never thought that a) there are concepts of god other than a personal god (parabrahman or brahman saguna), and b) never bothered to ask if we held a non-personal god….

  • Amazing and insightful article! I am a practicing “Hindu” (to use that controversial term), yet I am in full agreement. However I do not understand, is this against the non-atheistic/Astika philosophies of India? The ones that would become Hinduism today? Or is it against the religion of today or the religious philosophies of yesterday?

    • What do you mean by a practising “Hindu” ?? Do you follow a Brahmin-written Sanskrit shastra or a folk religion of your region?? If the former , which Sanskrit shastra do you think is compatible with the rest ( like no Hadis can contradict Koran or no Gospel to the same to Bible) ?? Iam just curious to know how 80% of this nation comes to be classified as Hindu , though do not even remotely have any “One religion-sense”.

      • Hindu, as in I accept the Vedas and Om, and believe in a version of Vaishniv branch.

        • ##Hindu, as in I accept the Vedas and Om, and believe in a version of Vaishniv branch##

          Have you even read the Vedas , that you accept them ?? If you have , you will be aware of its contradictions & also notice that it is more of folks ,myths , poetry , tales of their conquest & debauchery etc. of early Indo-Aryan speakers than any philosophy to believe.

          Also , Vaishnavism is separated from Vedas by almost a thousand years. By the way , which Vaishnavism you follow : Brahminical ones (eg. Chaitanya) or non-Brahminical ones (eg. Warkari) ??
          You talk as an ISKONite , I assume .
          Also do you know that non-Brahmins never read Vedas untill recently (& even now they blindly venerate Veda but do not read it) , so are you a Brahmin??

  • Hello,

    I thought thss was a good piece of history (I already knew HIndu was a label but it was actually first given by bin qasam when he came through the sindh, sindh = hind, hindustan)

    Howver I have some points of contention. There is Hinduism the religion, and Hinduism the label that encompasses philosophy and perhaps as a respect to our ancestors we should separate the two by giving the philosophy the name of “Ancient Indian Philosophy”. From now on let me refer to “Ancient Indian Philosophy” and “Ancient Indian Religion (ignoring that this too atm is an encompassing label). I wll only name ONE point of contention right now.

    2. What in Hinduism is Religion, vs. Philosophy. Is it SO easy to delineate? The vedas are they philosophical works or religious works? Or not mutually exclusive (ie both)

    If religios works, then there is indeed atheism in ancient indian religion, just read the nasadiya sukta.

    If philosophical works, then what is Ancient Indian Religion texts if not the vedas?

    If both, doesnt that prove that the line between the two is difficult to make out, and thus ancient indian religion does accept atheism?

  • ###There is Hinduism the religion, and Hinduism the label that encompasses philosophy and perhaps as a respect to our ancestors we should separate the two by giving the philosophy the name of “Ancient Indian Philosophy”.###

    There is no particular Hinduism the religion but rather many religions. Two assumptions are made while calling Hinduism as a generic religious term :
    a)Vernacular folk traditions ( mostly created by non-Brahmins & even tribals) are ignored in favour of the baggage of those Sanskrit shastras while characterising the term .Nevertheless comm. having the primacy of former over latter are still called hindus – this in turn helps their sanskritisation & thus consolidation of hindu identity. b)Also it ignores the differences amongst Sanskrit-scriptures : Vedic vs Shramanic Tantra . Vedic vs Upanishads . Samkhya vs Vedanta etc.(all creations of Brahmin caste).Thus word Hindu philosophy is hollow.
    It alone cannot be called as Indian Philosophy as we also have Buddhist & Jain philosophies .
    ##The vedas are they philosophical works or religious works?##
    They are none but collection of tribal poetries of those tribal settlers of Indus valley . It includes the ritual customs , habits , myths ,philosophy of those people.Nasadiya sukta shows the agnostic leaning of any arbit poet & the other contradictory prajapatiya sukta of someone else.It also talks about their debauchery , violence etc– just a primitive scripture.

    ##thus ancient indian religion does accept atheism?##
    Yes, It does but Confucianism & Taoism , Jainism & Buddhism also include atheism. Moreover , today when we usually refer to “atheism” we mean also “Rationalism” ,”scientific enquiry” , Secular Humanism not just rejection of religion/god(s).

    • Captain Mandrake

      **There is no particular Hinduism the religion but rather many religions.**

      Similarly Islam or Christianity are not one particular religion but many religions. So your point escapes me.

      • ##Similarly Islam or Christianity are not one particular religion but many religions. So your point escapes me.##

        When dealing with an entity practically , one does come across seeing many variations within it but Theorectically all those variations claim common origins . So I will only restrict my point to the theoretical ones.
        Theoretically all Islam & Christianity claim origins from Muhammad & Christ , & has got only one ultimate scripture Koran & Bible.
        What about the Hindus (I m refering to all 80% of India’s populations) : a) Are Vedas the ultimate scriptures of Hindus??Tantras contradict Veda & if you ask the Lingayats ,they have a myth where they made dogs speak Veda in order to humiliate a particular Brahmin who approached them. b) BG is also not the ultimate Hindu scripture .The BG goes contradictory to Samkhya , Nyaya etc. & also Shaivas do not recognize it. But this is all Brahmin-origin Sanskrit hinduisms.
        The rest of the argument I have already given in the second para of the above comment about non-Brahmin & esp. lower caste-origin Vernacular hinduisms.
        These all create strong divisions amongst Hindus & thus continue to make the overall Hinduism “nebulous”. Further you should read DN Jha’s “Rethinking Hindu Identity”.

        • Captain Mandrake

          The_eddy,

          **has got only one ultimate scripture Koran & Bible**

          Are you sure about that? There are a variety of bibles including the Book of Mormon which is the ultimate book of Mormons but not of other Christians.

          As I read your comments on various thread I do not understand why you keep making this special pleadings for Hinduism(s). Because I can also do similar pleadings for Islam(s) and Christianity(s).

          • Keeping in mind I guess you are not an ex-Hindu .You better read D N Jha’s “Rethinking Hindu Identity” or Thapar’s “Syndicated Hinduism” . Islam & Christanity at least symbolically have a common origin.Had majority of ex-Hindus stuck to the line of the above , I am sure Hindu Identity would have been easily falsified.Unlike Islam that was never exposed at all & Christanity that was exposed but its historicity not falsified , Hinduism was both exposed & its historicity falsified.It has been repeatedly pointed out that Hindu identity is a modern day identity coming out of birth of Indian nationalism .One cannot expunge Hindutva , untill one internalises that idea.

            ##Are you sure about that? There are a variety of bibles including the Book of Mormon which is the ultimate book of Mormons but not of other Christians.##

            But do Mormons reject Christ or reject Bible or the idea of one God ?? Lingayats & Tantras reject Vedas. Samkhya (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samkhya) which is also termed Hindu in modern times , was rather an atheist precursor to Buddha.How do you accomodate these anti-God thinkers alongside polytheists , or say strict monotheists like Arya Samaj?? This makes it a Kichdi. ,doesn’t it?? Thus atleast my understanding does not permit these groups under a common term, whatsoever it is. This inherent disunity among the hinduisms , is the major reason why Islam ,unlike ex-Hindus , could easily obliterate Hindus from Sindh,Punjab & Kashmir ,

  • SHEKHAR SATHE

    Just as we must wear clothes, we must have labels. Both are intended to cover the naked truth. Both must be correctly tailored to give appropriate identity. A misnomer and a misfit can twist an identity. The article passionately and correctly tells us why the “Hindu” label is a misfit for a person with a rationalist disposition. It also suggests that “culture” is a wider identity than religion. Cukture allows for lingustic, geographical and even religious variation. It helps a lot to place the clamour for a religious identity in the context of our recent past, especially the period of our colonial history. Prior to the arrival of the modern Western imperial powers in India the word Hindu was merely a “placeholder” and did not denote a religious monolithic identity. What then should we call ourselves in the prior centuries? The author has suggested “brahmanism” as a possible alternative. But that sort of labeling leads to a wrongful (or not entirely rightful) condemnation of just one section of the community viz the brahmins. I think whatever its specific religious belief, each section of our society across its linguistic and territorial diversity subscribed to the system of caste based on the four varnas which should be considered as the core of our religious identity. If the label “Brahminism” refers to the chaturvarna system, then the label is appropriate. In that sense I would tend to call the Indian identity as varnik identity in the period prior to the advent of the British. The mughals and other muslim rulers in India (I am not saying rulers of India) did not touch the varna system but conveniently and deftly fitted into the position of kshatriyas or the feudal lords. It was the liberal Western thought that dealt the first blows to the varna system so deeply rooted in the Indian culture. Having said that, I agree that “Hindu Rationalist” is a misnomer. Indian or Bharatiy would correctly describe our cultural affiliation. I would hate to allow Hindu nationalists to usurp our cultural bharatiy heritage.

  • I read this. Disagreed completely with the author [1] Hinduism means all the philosophy and traditions existed in India-it is never a single religion [2] During the time of Mauriya, a son didn’t need to follow his dad-neither anyone used to be born into any religion. By religion, Indians and thus “Hindus” always meant ” his way of life” which he found through his realization. Chandragupta accepted Jainism-his son, Avajika and his son Ashoka, Buddhism. None of these had God or theism into it [3] Besides, most of the spiritual traditions of Hinduism or the highest tradition of non-dual philosophy does not admit God. Indeed most of the branch of Hindu philosophy does not accept God as a creator. In non-dualism, they claim, I am HE. Which is essentially a pantheism. So, as an atheist, it will be our duty to prove, atheism forms the core of Indian philosophy or Hinduism and it is not Abrahamic style deism.

    • “By religion, Indians and thus “Hindus” always meant ” his way of life” which he found through his realization. Chandragupta accepted Jainism-his son, Avajika and his son Ashoka, Buddhism. ”

      There was no concrete idea of “religion” in South Asia ,East Asia ,Southeast or even in the Americas & Africaas. There were elite philosophers who had their philosophies , but ordinary people rather followed a syncretic blend of beliefs emanating from different sources ,but not those philosphies.So in this way , often beliefs , ethnic traditions ,folklores profane & sacred intermingled with each other , but those philossphies had minimal influence on the general populance. . But it were local folk-beliefs superimposed by Brahminical ,Buddhist or Islamic influences that form the backbone of rural & tribal belief-systems , not Vedanta ,Brahminism ,Charvaka or Buddhist philosophies etc.

      “Chandragupta accepted Jainism-his son, Avajika and his son Ashoka, Buddhism.None of these had God or theism into it”.
      Jains often absorbed Hindu devi-devatas (both Sanskritised ones & local ones). Ajivikas often worshipped Shiva too , though they were agnostcs . Kautilya was an Ajivika who worshipped Vishnu. Ashoka was a Buddhist but nevertheless he was called Devanampiya (Prakrit for “Beloved of the Gods”.

  • kingjohnthegreat69

    I believe that the author is making quite a big fuss about nothing. As Shakespeare might say, “What’s in a name?”

    The point is not whether we choose to call it Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma, or anything else. The point is simply that there were two general TYPES of thought in ancient (pre-Islamic) India: one which accepted the authority of the Vedas as supreme, and based all of its philosophy, ideas, and ethics upon this foundation, and one which did not.

    The first type may be called orthodox, Astika, “Brahmanism,” or whatever else you wish. The second type, obviously, must therefore be called unorthodox, Nastika, etc. Although “Hinduism” is obviously a fairly modern term, what it in essence means is this first type of thought (notwithstanding the zealots who stupidly try to include ALL Indian thought in this category).

    It’s really that simple. HOWEVER, what the author seems to be missing is that the VAST majority of the accomplishments of ancient India- be they in art, philosophy, science, mathematics, architecture, sculpture, music, or dance- came from the first group, that is to say, the “orthodox.” This is simply because the vast majority of the population always belonged to this category.

    The stunning sculptures of gods and deities, the magnificent temples and artwork, the incomparably noble code of war, the epics and stories cherished so dearly by almost every child growing up in India, the utterly sublime music and dance forms, the grace and beauty of out weddings, our ornaments and jewelry, and yes, caste, with all its implications- all of the things that lie at the very root of “Indian culture,” almost all of it is the product of “Brahminical,” Astika schools of thought. Virtually every one of these categories is inspired by theistic episodes, by stories of the gods, by supernatural stories, all of which were very often anathema to the Nastika doctrines (although Buddhism and Jainism did tend to adopt various Hindu deities as minor objects of veneration).

    This is NOT AT ALL to say that Buddhists, Jains, Ajivakas, Charvakas, etc. didn’t all make their wonderful contributions. But these were almost exclusively in philosophy, and their ideas were never characteristic of the vast majority of the Indian people. Atheism, total abandonment of social duties, and nihilistic doctrines never really characterized the Indian ethos.

    Ultimately, although the author may certainly (and rather needlessly, since we all know where the term “Hinduism” comes from), please don’t try to portray ancient India as some kind of utterly rational, atheist paradise. The vast majority, as stated above, of ancient Indian accomplishments are directly the result of orthodox, Astika ideas. And this type of thought- which is comprised basically of the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and Ithihasas, along with a variety of regional literature- is what we call “Hinduism” today.

    • kingjohnthegreat69

      Slight edit to my last comment (sorry):

      Ultimately, although the author may certainly attack the name “Hinduism” (rather needlessly, since we all know where the term comes from), please don’t try to portray ancient India as some kind of utterly rational, atheist paradise. The vast majority, as stated above, of ancient Indian accomplishments are directly the result of orthodox, Astika ideas. And this type of thought- which is comprised basically of the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and Ithihasas, along with a variety of regional literature- is what we call “Hinduism” today

    • Satish Chandra

      I believe that the author is making quite a big fuss about nothing. As Shakespeare might say, “What’s in a name?”

      Funny how that works. We’ve got Hindu apologists who go to great lengths to justify labels like ‘Hindu atheist’ and yet somehow it is the author who is making a ‘big fuss’.

      And to say Indian culture is primarily Brahmanical is so laughable, but I guess that is to be expected given how the Indian society is homogenizing and upper caste, Brahmanical mores are being paraded as the universal for Indian culture. No doubt, caste is a result of Brahmanical ideology. But it takes some special kind of ignorance to conflate Brahmanism with the actual culture practised by the out castes and the lower castes. If only you bothered to read dalit-bahujan literature, you’d know that.

  • The so-called “Hindus” hardly even have a concrete identity of their own. Ask any “Hindu” to come up with a concrete definition of “Hinduism” that includes all so-called “Hindus”, and watch him/her fail. The term “Hindu” itself is not even an Indian word, but a Persian word that was first used under the Achaemenian dynasty of Iran in the 6th century BCE, in reference to its Indian subjects. When Persianized Muslims conquered most of the Indian subcontinent during the medieval period, they used the term “Hindu” as a blanket term for any non-Muslim Indian. Even Indian Christians were referred to as “Hindu Christians” (a term that would nowadays be considered an oxymoron) as late as the 19th century, but never Muslims, because the “Hindu” identity was nothing more than an oppositional identity with relation to Islam. It was coined by Muslim elites to distinguish the “true believers” from the “pagan kuffars”, and since the “Hindus” themselves lacked any concrete identity for their themselves, they adopted this foreign terminology. It should be mentioned that “Hinduism” are the only major religion in the world where the followers of the religion use a foreign (even pejorative) term to describe their identity. To put this into perspective, this would be as ridiculous as Muslims calling themselves “Saracens” after Westerners, or Christians calling themselves “Gentiles” after Jews.

    In reality, the so-called “Hinduism” is nothing more a bovine purity cult, and the only thing that virtually all Hindus have in common is that they greatly adore cows (even more than certain human beings) and refuse to eat beef. To eat beef is considered by most Hindus to be even sinful than to forsake belief in any deity itself. Eating beef is considered extremely polluting and disgracing, and it is the main religio-cultural tenet that is shared by a Kashmiri brahman, an Assamese shakta, and a Kannadiga lingayat (who otherwise don’t have a great deal in common, and today live under a single government only because of British imperialism).

    Someone in the comments above mentioned “Sanatana Dharma”. You should be aware that this term was invented by Arya Samaj in the late 19th century, and was never used by pre-modern Indians in reference to any religion. Arya Samaj was itself a highly Westernized/Islamicized organization that pretends to represent some “pure, original Vedic Hindu faith”. Since most Indians (and by extension, most Hindus) are ignorant of history, preferring fanciful mythology instead, they are able to easily fool many of the so-called Hindus.

    • Quite rightly said . But I have my doubt on the following :

      ###In reality, the so-called “Hinduism” is nothing more a bovine purity cult, and the only thing that virtually all Hindus have in common is that they greatly adore cows (even more than certain human beings) and refuse to eat beef.##

      Do Aghoris , Kapalikas , Nathpanthis etc. also have inhibitions towards beef , since they too are placed under the rubric “Hindu” ??

    • kingjohnthegreat69

      Well, there are lot of inaccuracies in your post. Setting aside the origins of the name “Hinduism” for a moment, I would have thought that the beliefs of Hindus are quite clear. I do agree that there is tremendous diversity within Hinduism, but all Hindus do share a few common characteristics.

      Specifically, all Hindus believe that the Vedas are absolute truth of divine origin, that were revealed to humanity by higher powers. Even if the common Hindu doesn’t know what the Vedas actually say, he at least knows to treat them with extreme deference. All Hindus base their philosophy upon the Upanishads (again, even if they have never actually read them); in these texts are found the origin of the most characteristically “Hindu” concepts, such as Karma, Dharma, Samsara (reincarnation), and Moksha. Furthermore, all Hindus- regardless of caste, region, or language- know the Ramayana and Mahabharata (with the associated Gita) by heart. These are among the first and most beloved stories they grow up hearing. The epics, indeed, are the bridge that allows the common Hindu to connect to the philosophy of the Hindu sages. They are the lifeblood of Hinduism (and, indeed, of almost every area where “Indian culture” has historically spread). All Hindus revere certain Puranas (depending on their sect), and know by heart many of the stories from these texts. Finally, all Hindus practice caste of some sort or the other, and specifically make sure that they perform the Samskara rituals (of birth, marriage, and death). Notably, no one who does not fit all the above criteria can call himself a Hindu. Thus, regardless of the “universalist” tendencies of many uninformed Hindus, Lingayats, Kapalikas, Aghoris, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, those who reject the Vedas, etc. are emphatically NOT “Hindu.” Hopefully, that should clear up the amusing (but understandable) idea that Hinduism believes in anything and everything.

      Hinduism indeed does revere and venerate the cow (although many Hindus, especially low-castes in the South and East, do eat beef). But this is only one of the many things that bind the philosophy of the religion together.

      Coming now to names. Granted, “Hindu” and “Hinduism” are thoroughly foreign names (although they are based ultimately on the Sanskrit Sindhu). One point to note, however, is that the term “Sanatana Dharma” was not “invented by [the] Arya Samaj.” The phrase is present as early as the Ramayana, where a sage tells Rama that following his duty as a king (that is, protecting the helpless) “is the Sanatana Dharma.” So there was certainly a concept of an “eternal” Dharma. However, what the Arya Samaj may have indeed done (although there is really no proof of this) is apply this term for the general Dharma of nature to what we today call “Hinduism.” In any case, the name itself is apt, I would say. Hindus call their Dharma “Sanatana” because it is, at its core, largely the same Dharma that was practiced during Vedic times (although many new concepts and ideas have of course been added over time). Thus, the major Yagnas at marriage, death, etc. are still performed, the same Sanskrit mantras from thousands of years ago are still recited, the same caste system still prevails, etc. It is called “eternal” because it has survived the heresies of Buddhism and the Nastika movements, countless invaders, a virtual genocide under Islam and Christianity, and now relentless Marxist revisionism.

      But if you don’t like the term “Sanatana Dharma,” shall we call it something more historically concrete, then? How about Astika? That was a known word that described all the philosophies that accepted the authority of the Vedas. That would surely be a perfect word to describe modern-day Hindus, wouldn’t it?

  • weaponx4001

    I think the author has good points.

    I talked to a lot of people about this.

    I think the article can list some other reasons why some (whoever – Atheist, Rationalist, Vedantist, Christian, Hindu) people may adopt the Hindu label or want to preserve it, and if possible address them :

    – Because it is propagated by most South Asian Studies all over the world, where they group all ancient Indian traditions, cultures, philosophy under one label. (Fall out of Oriental-ism maybe)

    -Needed/Convenient for forms, surveys, documents etc

    -They look at it ‘Hinduism’ the way the Japanese do about religion.

    -“It is what allowed diversity to exist in India, this shared ethos and allowed various traditions to be preserved and recorded. This thing that allows the ‘Augmentative Indian’ to exist. Not the idea label of hinduism but what it implies ‘Unity with Diversity’,’Understanding the other'”

    -“Why cant I associate ‘Hinduism’ with Culture and not ‘Religion’?”

    -“This article represents a dichotomy in values, an ‘us vs them’. I want a continuum between any value systems.”

    -They do not want to be associated with the ”the west” (Rational thinking is not western but it doesn’t help that most of the scientific revolution took place in the west) – inferiority complex

    -It refers to where they came from, cause an ‘Indian’ atheist can be a former Muslim/ Christian/ Jew or Zoroastrian. Even a Buddhist, Jain can be a ‘Indian Atheist/Rationalist’

    -They think of ‘Hindu’ as label convenient for outsiders but amongst themselves they don’t identify as ‘Hindu’

    -They see ‘Hindu’ as referring to the zeitgeist of the nation. Like the atmosphere, ‘feel of the land’, unconscious beliefs that distinguish thought process of anyone from the subcontinent and outsiders, glue that binds everything that arose on the subcontinent, the world-view common amongst Indians, ‘cultural flavor’ of India

    -They recognize differences between rationalists from other places and themselves, and thus want a label

    -There are some values, assumptions that they derive from ‘Hinduism’, which is why they feel ‘Hindu’. They be reject it later on but it helped shape them to where they are now.

    -“If the label is lost, what binds the varied traditions. Not ‘Indian’, which is a political identity.”

    -‘Hindu’ is not a bad label because pilgrimage was the norm for many believers in ‘Hinduism’ creating a mythic landscape of ‘Bharat’ (By myth I mean ‘ A popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal, severing as a fundamental type in the world-view of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or delineating the psychology, customs, or ideals of society’)

    -Recognize kinship with family and community. They say it doesn’t mean they have to swallow anything they don’t want to.

    – “If there can be a ‘cultural Jew’ why cant there be a ‘cultural Hindu'”

    – They may still want to be able to enter temple and do ‘darshan’ (habit or meditation) (No one would stop them even if they not identify as ‘Hindu’ but they feel guilty about it and feel the need to give back – their way is by identifying as ‘Hindu’) (cultural reason)

    -They are atheists but are not rationalists, because they see reason as a tool, a ‘means to an end, not an end in itself’. There are other ways to see the world. “So I a ‘hedging my bets’/’diversify my portfolio’ and identify both as ‘Hindu’ and ‘Atheist'”

    -“Without the ‘Hindu’ myth, we end up becoming a country with a ‘Western’ myth”(identity problem)( this was from a guy who mentions stuff relating to Devdutt Pattanaik) (I would like to know what your organization think of Indian Mythic Writers – eg, Ashok Banker, Amish Tripathi, Devdutt Pattanaik and their ideas about ‘Hinduism’ )

    -Religious ‘Hinduism’ is constantly evolving and diversifying, some turning more philosophical like the Ramakrishna Mission (they grant that it is still wrong on stuff, it is not static organization).

    -“Isn’t this all about a matter of perceptive. You can define Hinduism n-number of ways. I think of it like ‘Health’ – not well defined but I know that it is important to me. ”

    -“By this article’s points, Vedanta should be a separate religion.”

    -“You cant separate culture from religion because both have belief as the basis in it. Secular Humanism has beliefs in it that I think can’t be proven rationally.”

    -“Just because I don’t like something in ‘Hinduism’ doesn’t mean I chuck out the label. It means I need to raise critical thinking in people and allow them to question stuff, allowing a peripheral control of religious ‘Hinduism’ (i.e make it personal, not derived from authority.)(I think he also implied that the any ancient texts should be seen as man made)”

    -” If my belief is not resulting is ”bad” (he asked what is bad) behavior according to the law, it is none of your business how I identify myself. If someone uses me a source of authority or confirmation, that is not my fault. If it is confusing (non-rational) to you that I identify as ‘Hindu Atheist’ then that is your problem because your assumption must be different from mine.”

    -Hinduism is the cultural flavor of India

    – “If you see Hinduism as religion it is religion, if you see it as culture is it culture. It depends on you.”

    -” ‘religion was indistinguishable from the greater culture’ that still holds true for Hinduism today or else we would be a ‘Hindu’ country not the secular country that India is. Why do we have atheist parties in Tamil Nadu/Kerala/West Bengal is that is not the case. ”

    -“India as a political identity is weak but Hinduism is strong. If you lose this label then what connects North and South India.”

    -I think you idea of Hinduism as static and ‘losing its diversity’ seem wrong. The label is just that a label. What falls under the label is not subject to anything imposed on it by that label. Diversity depends on the people and from what I understand you think just because people accept a label that they accept everything that the label covers.

    -The label is not important, what you do with it is

    -” I use it to generate conversation. “Hindu atheist” seems a contradiction because labels are categories defined as small or big as you want. If you think of ‘Hinduism’ as religion, then you have see all the Indian traditions and philosophy. If you think of ‘Atheism’ as non-belief of god then you don’t know much about that person. Makes you research the topics.

    Thank you for reading

    As additional sources for your research I recommend the Oxford Center for Hindu Studies. They have videos on Youtube and Viemo.

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