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Chennai Freethinkers’ 22nd Meet

The 22nd Chennai Freethinkers’ Meet took place on the 3rd of March 2013.   Olga, who had attended our ThinkFest Symposium earlier this year was kind enough to host us at her residence.  Since her house was quite far off for many, we car pooled and hired a cab and went for a drive. 15 people participated in the meet including 3 first time attendees.

22nd Chennai Freethinkers' Meet

Vivek is working in the US and is visiting India for vacation.  He joined Chennai Freethinkers about 7 months ago and has been following our activities.   He was born into an orthodox brahmin family.  For the past two years or so he started questioning many of the rituals and renouncing them when he could not make sense of them through reason and logic.  He has come out to his parents as an atheist and hopes to come out to his extended family soon.  He came to know about Chennai Freethinkers through Nirmukta.

22nd Chennai Freethinkers meet

22nd Chennai Freethinkers meet

Avicenna Last (pseudonym) is a doctor at a local charity currently working with underprivileged people in a village near Chennai.  He frequently blogs at Freethought Blogs under Million Gods.  Avicenna was very critical of the medical service provided by Missionaries.  He made a clear distinction between missionary work and charity work.  Missionaries, over time make the population they serve reliant on them.  Whereas charities work on a deadline and move on to the next project. He quoted various examples of bad missionary work done in rural areas.  He has witnessed extreme poverty and child malnourishment in states like Bihar and Jharkand, the severity of which is comparable to sub-saharan Africa.  In fact India has more people below the official poverty line of $1.25 per day than many African countries, noted Avicenna.

Chennai Freethinkers' Meet

22nd Chennai Freethinkers’ Meet

Bharath, has been a non-believer since 2009 when he read Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World.  When asked about coming out to his family he said his father was a communist.

This started an interesting discussion about whether Marxism too has become a dogmatic ideology.  Olga remarked that the communist leaders and bureaucrats  themselves do not represent Marxism.  They just captured the flow of change in society to come to power.  She noted that in any social upheaval, the revolutionists themselves die in the revolution.  Hence the saying “Revolution eats its own children”.  We must observe Marx’s writings in the correct social and historical context, noted Olga.  She wondered if perhaps a different system or model of implementation would have worked for Marxism.

Avicenna pointed out that even though a communist society is a class-less society in theory, it is still divided into bureaucrats and non-bureaucrats.  However communism was ahead of its time in banning child labor and empowering women in the workplace, noted Avicenna.  The discussion was lively and informative.

Ganesh informed us about the recent lecture he gave to students at a local school about Charles Darwin and his voyage in the Beagle.  This was for the occasion of Darwin’s birthday.  He shared interesting anecdotes from Darwin’s life that he came across.  During the talk Ganesh concentrated mostly on the life of Charles Darwin rather than delving deeply into the Theory of Evolution.  However the topic of evolution was so fascinating that the students couldn’t resist asking about it during question time.  It was an hour long talk and the students, mostly from 8th standard, listened attentively.  He has promised to share the video of his talk once available.  It will be appended to this report.

Ganesh delivering a talk to school kids on Darwin Day

Ganesh delivering a talk to school kids on Darwin Day. Image source: Viduthalai Magazine. Image links to source.

Olga brought up the topic of marital rape, in which according to a recent judgement, rape can occur only between non-married couples.  It is difficult for many who are brought up in a patriarchal society to even understand the concept of consent, let along consent among married couples.  She noted the difficulties in getting a rapist convicted and pointed out that even if a husband walked into a police station and admitted that he just raped his wife, he would simply be laughed off.

22nd Chennai Freethinkers' Meet

22nd Chennai Freethinkers’ Meet

Madhavan was of the opinion that financial independence is the main pathway for women to break free of their social shackles.  Whenever a husband buys a house or property it should be co-registered with his wife, suggested Madhavan. Avicenna recalled a news from Spain where MPs have drawn up a marriage contract which obliges men to share household chores and care for the children.

Madhavan asked why many people find it difficult to say “I don’t know” when asked about the question of god’s existence.   For instance if we ask a person what the capital of some obscure country is, they may not hesitate to say “I don’t know” and yet when we ask them about god, even though they may not know, they are sure that god exists.  Also when it comes to money, an average person would examine any financial plan thoroughly before investing his/her money in order to make sure they get good returns.  Yet, when it comes to god they are willing to throw money away without looking at the track record.  Madhavan wondered if this was due to how our brain has evolved over the millennia.

Chennai Freethinkers' 22nd Meet

Chennai Freethinkers’ 22nd Meet

The next meet will be announced on our facebook page and under the Freethought events tab in the homepage.

About the author

Bala Bhaskar


  • A small correction. There are a variety of local charities with us and I am actually with them. It’s not an MSF charity that I work for out here even though I was helped to get this slot by people from there.


  • I would appreciate it if there is a mailing list or some sure fire way for people like me who AREN’T on Facebook to be informed of these meetings in Chennai. This is the second time in the past couple of months that a Chennai meet has happened without me knowing about it.

    And before anyone suggests it- no, I’m not going to create a dummy account on Facebook 😀

    • For better or worse, facebook has become our primary discussion and organising platform. We don’t yet have a mailing list. If you’re friends with anyone there, maybe you could ask one of them to keep you posted about upcoming meetups?

  • Clicking the ‘facebook page’ link shows ‘content not found’. How to join the facebook page of Chennai freethinkers?

    • Hi – the link is correct, you’ll just need to send a “Join Group” request – there should be a button for it on the page.

      • Hi, For me, the link is not working. It says content is currently unavailable? Suggest me a way to join the FB group.

        • Please try this link:

          If this doesn’t work either, just go search for Chennai Freethinkers on Facebook. Once you’re in any one of Nirmukta’s facebook groups, you can easily get redirected to all the other groups, including the regional ones through the links there. This is in case the links here aren’t working well for you. Else, all links are here. [You can find them at the right side of any post you read.]

  • Dear Bala,

    I have one doubt– you write that Mr. Vivek “started questioning many of the rituals and renouncing them when he could not make sense of them through reason and logic.”

    Yet rituals are not making truth-statements– as such, they can neither be true nor false. It would be like saying that one gave up shaking hands (a secular ritual) because one could not “make sense of [it] through reason or logic.”

    • You’re echoing Frits Staal’s theory of ritual. After studying the Agnicayana performed by Nambudiris in Kerala, he came to the conclusion that ritual was inherently meaningless.

      It’s a large generalization to make. There are many rituals which DO assume beliefs, such as if a certain graha is being propitiated.

      There are, however, equally many rituals which have nothing to do with belief– they are exactly the same as a handshake– and I agree with you that this must be acknowledged.

    • Cigarette-smoking can neither be true nor false, but one may choose to give it up based on a reasoned examination of the consequences.
      The orthodox make rather extraordinary claims about the benefits of rituals for which extraordinary evidence maybe demanded. So far no compelling evidence has been forthcoming. Arguing that ‘practices’ and ‘methods’ have nothing to do with ‘faith’ is a favourite apologist dodge, resorted to by both revivalists and New Agers with no sense of irony.

    • Tarun, this is a condensed meeting report so as such I cannot comment for Vivek. I will try to see if I can get Vivek to comment about it. Speaking for myself, I tend to agree with Ashoka’s comment that there are rituals that are performed with certain goal in mind, like for instance, doing pooja to a satellite and then launching the rocket during “auspicious” time so that everything goes well. These are factual claims and are hence subject to scrutiny. Whereas for things like Handshake or Namaste, I don’t think there are any tall claims being made as to the benefits of doing so. If there are, then these too should be examined, through reason and logic.

    • Thanks Ashoka and Bala for your comments. I suppose I would agree– there are many rituals I can think of which do in fact presuppose truth claims.

      Arvind, I’m not sure that I agree with you, however. Something like a ritual for a marriage ceremony, I would say, is not necessarily making truth claims. Referring to Ashoka’s post above, orthodox rituals which make truth claims and those which don’t can be separated, I feel. Of course, cigarette-smoking is not true or false, but it damages the lungs– other rituals which are purely action based are not necessarily harmful in the same sense.

      I would concede, however, that the distinction is becoming slim. Modern apologists, especially those from the Sangh, try and give “hidden meaning” to various rituals where they can find none. Hence the claims that the Vedas contain all of modern science, or that the soundwaves of mantras have some sort of special powers.

      • It may help to factor in opportunity costs of rituals as well, which are often overlooked in such discussions on potential harm associated with rituals. For instance, the seemingly benign (and now considered quasi-secular) rituals of garlanding and ‘shawl-ing’ chief guests are action-based (in that those who do them only go through the motions), but eschewing those rituals may free up non-trivial portions of an organization’s budget for more useful activity.

        Anyway, this discussion provided the motivation to compile a list of earlier discussions outlining a variety of reasons for freethinkers’ unease with rituals.

        Sacrifices, ritual worship and propitiation : claims,concerns and costs

        • I’m a little iffy about the opportunity cost argument. Yes, it costs resources to perform religious rituals, but it also costs (wastes) resources to do secular rituals such as throwing a parade, having a fight with water balloons, and many other things.

          An organization may save money without garlanding, but they could also do so without decorating a place with balloons, etc.

    • Of course, there are religious and secular rituals. Keep in mind that religion may very often appropriate secular rituals, like marriage.

      With regards to the Agnicayana, I agree with Tarun to an extent. Ever since Staal made the ritual famous a few decades ago, Hindutva has swooped down upon it. They claim that it can make the land more fertile, and BJP scientists often come to performances to take “measurements.”

      As a rule of thumb, I would say this: if you perform a ritual without believing that it will do anything supernatural, then it is secular and not religious.

    • Hey Cora,i just wanted to say that I love your tutorials and your style. I came across your YoetCbe-uhannul and I liked it from the frist video.Thanks for sharing your stuff with us. I´ll keep watching. Greeting from Germany.Tanja

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