Diary of an Atheist

I never start anything with an apology. What the heck, I’ll set a precedent here & get the queasiness out of the way. My Mea Culpa: This post is auto-biographical & I’m not at all sorry about that. I’ve compulsively & maladroitly changed the names of all the characters. But they are all from real life, poorly & incompetently veiled. Now I can get on with business. Sehr Gut, Nicht Wahr – as they say in Germany. Not that I’ve ever been to Berlin, but I imagine that’s how they speak. My imagination is as limited as my German vocabulary.

I called this a “Diary”, but I don’t have the habit of keeping one. Once when I was 12 years old, I decided to keep one – since all the girls I knew had one. They wrote their most intimate thoughts in it, in pink ink. “Sheetal loves Fayaz”. “Meera Smoked a Ciggy Today!” They never traveled anywhere without their diary, tooth brush & Teddy Bear. How can I be left behind. I wrote on the fly leaf of a thin, dark blue leather-bound diary: “Its indecent to read another person’s diary”. After that, much to my chagrin, I had run out of material. And I had misspelt “diary” as “dairy” in my hurry. So, I filled my “dairy” with New Words & Phrases, World Capitals, Cricket Scores (Edited mendaciously to favor Kapil Dev & Vivian Richards), Favorite Theorems, Lyrics for Thomas Dolby’s songs, My “Discoveries” such as “Why I believe Hydrogen to be a Metal”.

Why am I saying all this? I want you to know that I’m using the term “diary” simply to denote the veracity of my post. These things happened, mostly as narrated. Events are not presented in a strict chronological order, because – Well, everything in life isn’t neatly docketed & ordered. Dissonance, the way of life. Our hope, to untangle it to a more coherent mess.

When I was in 4th grade, my favorite possession was “Our Solar System” – a small, 100 page book on Astronomy. I loved this puny book. There were 9 planets. Some of them had many moons. Planetary flotsam called “Asteroids” could hit us any time. The sun was a star (Yowza!). Our galaxy is shaped like a “J”. Soon after, I acquired another fascinating book – “The Composite World Atlas”. I also owned a less revered text book on “Moral Science”. In retrospect, it is the latter that gave me much food for thought. In my Roman Catholic school, “Moral Science” was a euphemism for teaching a bland, secular hodge-podge of “good & wholesome” ideas taken from various religions.

I bluntly asked my dad one day: “Appa, I can’t locate any place in the Atlas marked “Heaven”. Is there such a place?”. My father looked at me & smiled. “Also – I’ve read my Astronomy book. And all my text books on Science. Nowhere does it mention God”. “So what do you make of it?” asked my dad. “Well, all books talk about the big bang & how it caused us into being. It talks about how atmosphere & water help us live. And about planets without life. There are theories & experiments to prove all this”. My dad looked at me encouragingly – “Go on”. “I mean, my legitimate text books don’t leave a place for God in their scheme. Only my namby-pamby Moral Science book talks about God. Do you believe in God?” My dad scratched his head & said – I’ll never forget it – “If there isn’t a God, we’ll create one to regulate our lives”. I stoutly said, “Well, I don’t believe in God”.

“You can’t disprove God, can you?” – This was Mr Swami, our neighbor & Math Professor at the local university. We were walking around the lake & we sat on a grassy knoll. The university’s adopted dog, Blackie, looked at the professor lovingly & slobbered all over his face. “No Sir, I can’t. But that’s not how science works. You believers haven’t provided a shred of evidence to prove God exists”. The professor chuckled. “Consider this, Priya. What do you have to lose by believing in God? In any case, that’s a safe bet!” I burst out laughing – Pascal’s Wager! I should have expected this from a Math Professor. “Sir – You want me to hedge my bets? What are we discussing – my investment portfolio or my belief system?” The professor shrugged – “Eternal Consequences, my dear girl”.

My friend Pat asked me once, “Believing in God gives me strength. What does your disbelief give you?” I thought about the “Digital Signal Processing” exam that I had endured last semester. It was too advanced a subject for Under Grad levels & our lecturer was as ignorant as his students on the nuances of signals. We were quaking in our boots before the exams. But many of my classmates – sent a prayer to their favorite presiding deities. And entered the exam hall more resolutely than me. All I had was existential angst – that’s what my disbelief had given me. Faring well in this exam was almost completely dependent on how well I had prepared. Knowing this fact certainly did not help me. I ended up acing that exam – but all I remember is how my stomach was in knots the day the results were announced. It was an ugly feeling.

“So what is your stance?” – my mother asked me one day – “There may be a God, you know”. Yes, I agreed – “Amma, there could be a God. But as of now, God is a moot point”. My mom asked me – “Then, are you an Agnostic? There seems to be some doubt in your mind”. “No mom – Agnostics think the existence of God & After-life are unknowable. I merely think its a matter of time before we know the truth. If we don’t have answers to many questions today, we should be patient & try to uncover more data. Instead of jumping into the conclusion – that there is a God”. As Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning”. The answers are not too important, but an enquiring mind is.

Where does that leave me? People are free to follow a religion of their choice. I just choose not to. Again, if people choose to believe in God – I respect, but don’t share, their opinion.

As for God – who knows, there may be one. Till that is proved to the satisfaction of the scientific community – by that I mean the skeptics, not some crazy dude with a doctorate who believes in “Magic Messages from Water” – I classify myself as an atheist who’s almost sure there’s no God.


  1. Quote

    Priya, That is a very interesting post. One good thing about atheists is they have a strong opinion of existence of God and they live with that very happily and peacefully. At times when they have difficult times(like your exam), they may either become stronger atheists or weaken and pray secretly.

    On the other hand, theists are also in a safe haven. Their thoughts are clear and they believe in the force, bear all consequences and get support from the strength of the belief.

    I am worried about the majority we see everyday..those who are opportunists like the ones who bargain Lord Venkateswara that they will put $1000 in hundi if they get $10000 in profit, those who think of God in times of need and conveniently forget, those who get blackmailed every day by God-men (being a victim myself…I can write pages about these mediators) and priests…these are the kind of people I see everyday…I feel sorry for them.

    If there is God, He must be a Supreme and Divine and encompass all the knowledge – known and unknown to the man. He must have become stoic enough not to pay attention to these folks. Or he must be busy creating an alter Garden of Eden along with Adam ver 2.0

    On the other hand, dont you think Atheists are also believers in something…that is probably the strength for them. To prove that they are strong enough to perform equally if not better than theists and prove that they are self-made without any divine support. With no religions in atheism, we can probably say that is the most homogenized group of humanity with a single belief. Something better than all the religions fighting for supremacy.

    I visit temple, cannot stop from appreciating the fact that most of the time everyone thinks pure. At the same time I could not stop from thinking whether the priest will bestow me an apple or pomegranate…same day morning at Publix, the price of pomegranate is $3 and apple is something like 20 cents. Then guilt engulfs me completely…and then my nostrils detect the yummy masala dosa from the temple canteen..again guilt… in the 10 minutes I spend inside temple if I cannot resist so many deviations…how could Adam resist the fruit of good/evil. It must have been the best tasting fruit ever by humanity…because it’s forbidden… I am atheist? Or Am I theist or Am I confused? Or Am I mix of everything? I rest my case…

  2. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 24, 2008, 9:22 am:

    Vamsi – Thanks for your comment.

    A person who caves in during stress & secretly prays to God can’t be an atheist. S/he is a believer who has some doubt in their mind on the existence of God.

    I think atheists have a lot of diversity. There are people who look down upon those with even a scintilla of doubt. There are those who are agnostics. And in any case, we are a small group of people.

    Atheism is not a religion. Religions are based on faith. Atheism is based on science, which is based on questioning.

    Do you believe in a supreme being? Then, you are a theist. If you don’t think anything super-natural is around in this universe, you are an atheist.

  3. Quote
    Jaskirat said January 24, 2008, 9:49 am:

    I could probably call myself a weak agnostic or a umm I-dont-know , anyways I hate being classified πŸ˜‰
    Pascal’s wager ? Hehe Thats me ! Hmm yeah the strength of belief from prayer at weak times is probably why i am on the agnostic-theist side.
    OK Belief in god is something that has to be answered in yes or no , so i go with yes here and thus if you ask me why the sky is so high i can be my ignorant self and answer “I dont know” or choose god to defend me with “Cos god wanted it that way”
    I believe in god more as an abstract object with protected/private attributes with a few public methods to serve my purpose but religion I really dont know , its like there are so many options! I should probably create my own religion with needs that suit me, what i think is good or bad, i stick to this particular religion probably because of family but then like you maths teacher said ” what do i have to lose?” πŸ˜‰

  4. Quote
    Jaskirat said January 24, 2008, 9:55 am:

    P.S: I do believe in a supreme being (err can i reserve my views until Q.E.D-ed?) But then yeah i do believe in signs, super-natural stuff like patterns sometimes but heck i say it again what do i gotta lose?

    I dint hedge my portfolio and got screwed this week, I think i should atleast “hedge my bets” as you said πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜›

  5. Quote
    Jaskirat said January 24, 2008, 9:58 am:

    P.P.S: Reading all that again ! Jeez ! i sound SO confused, I hope you got whatever i was trying to say !

    Nice post btw! and sorry for spamming *grin*

  6. Quote

    Vamsi.. Today, we could see so much of people who dont even give us the money they have to.. I really wonder at those who deposit $1000 out of $10,000 in our tirupathi hundial, inspite of knowing that Sri Venkateshwara wont come and collect these money..

    Let’s appreciate their honesty & commitment.. They may be ignorant (to priya’s benchmark.. or more heavy words). But there is no harm in that.. they voluntarily add Sri Venkateswara as their business partner, and promptly settles the corresponding share of profit in the Hundial..

    If we were so smart, we could have used this as an opportunity, to serve the needy..

    Priya.. your post is straight forward..

    The majority of Atheists in Tamilnadu, who could capture power by denigrating gods, while giving all support to their wife (or wives πŸ™‚ ) to worship “Prithungaradevi” or to get blessings from “Sai baba” under the guise “i am going to ask funds from sai baba for cleaning chennai” or could give a splendid explanation “Falling in an elders feet is not wrong”, when their wives call Sai Bab to their home and fall to his feet and get blessing..

    The worst pscyho (there are better words to curse..) with the name of the epical god, who would pray ganesha personally, who would marry a 16 year girl at his 70th year, and give sermon “Women has to throw away their chastity, and choose any one they wish at any time..”.

    It required a great brave poet, to expose all these naunces..

    From my personal life.. I was atheist, during my initial stages of teenage.. (5th to 9th std).. but gradually started believing in gods..

    My brother was more stern atheist.. He has to accompany us in most of the festivals.. and he would go away during pooja’s, and particularly, he would not have the “Thiruneeru” because he dont believe in god..
    All his decade long belief, suddenly changed, when he could not get through, even after clearing written, GD, Technical interviews. He lost many such opportunities..
    Few weeks back, after so much failures, he went to our gula deivam, and surrendered himself completely before attempting the next written test..

    Life’s too uncertain.. I stayed in my grandma’s house for two years during my college.. the nearest home would be some half kilometers away. Even if we shout to our full force, it would be heard by them.. Such was the isolation, that every one of us lived..

    Personally, i would want to make you live in my grandma’s house for 1 full day (24 hours…) lonely, during the most rainy seasons, with heavy thunders πŸ™‚ .. or even better.. to make to you ride a cycle at midnight, from our nearest bustop which is 2 kms away, to my grandma’s home… And after that, if you still able to write another such post, i would fall in your feet… you are my god πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  7. Quote

    Priya, I agree with you regarding faith. I am not aware of diversity of atheists. But I know that in AP there is a group affiliated to CPM party called Jana Vignana Vedika(JVV) whose leaders always challenge babas and try to bring rational thinking to the forefront. They also issue statements on how Ganesha idon cannot drink all the milk (and all that milk was not collected by devotees..for it would disprove the belief there and then…so few millions of gallons of fresh milk goes all into the mother earth)

    Senthil..I am not very good follower of Tamilnadu politics..but I heard that atheism is deep rooted principle in all major parties there.

  8. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 24, 2008, 11:53 am:

    Jassi – Thanks for your comment.

    A little uncertainty in defining your beliefs is a good thing. That leaves enough room to see both sides of the argument.

    >> I believe in god more as an abstract object with protected/private attributes with a few public methods to serve my purpose

    Hee hee hee! ROTFL πŸ˜€

    And I think – instead of sticking to all precepts from 1 religion – taking what you like from various religions builds tolerance & promotes peaceful co-existence.

  9. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 24, 2008, 12:09 pm:

    Senthil – Thanks for your comment.

    What Vamsi means is, God – if there is one – must be beyond petty “business” transactions such as these. I know of many believers who’ll never ask God what they want. They think the power called God doesn’t micro-manage & hence doesn’t involve itself in day-to-day transactional stuff. It requires a primitive belief system (there – a better word than “ignorance” – just to please you, my dear) to be a believer & barter with God.

    There’s nothing wrong in changing one’s stance due to data & better understanding. But someone who changes their belief because of difficulties faced in life – did not have a well thought-out belief or dis-belief in the first place.

    Thunders?? Only children are afraid of thunders, Senthil πŸ˜‰ My father’s terrible road accident – where we thought he won’t survive, but I’m happy to say he is alive & well – didn’t make me a theist. Fierce Hurricane Georges didn’t make me a theist. I have a feeling that the thunder-storms in your grandma’s place will be a gentle drizzle in comparison πŸ˜€ Well thought-out positions change only with data, analysis & rumination – not because of fear & helplessness.

    Would you become an atheist because of continuous failures & problems? I think not.

  10. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 24, 2008, 12:17 pm:

    Vamsi – Thanks for letting me know about JVV. I like their cause.

    Yes, most of the parties in TN profess atheism. Whether they are really atheists is a different question. Karuna Nidhi never appears without a yellow shawl – people say he believes that its his “lucky” color.

    People wouldn’t normally care, but then Karuna claims to be an atheist – that’s when believers get irritated. He’s a politician, not an atheist.

  11. Quote
    Samuel Skinner said January 24, 2008, 1:29 pm:

    Agnosticism is a position on knowlege. Atheism and theism are about faith. You can be an agnostic atheist (I can’t prove God doesn’t exists) or an agnostic theist (God is unknowable). There are non agnostic atheists- these are people who state that since the idea of God is logically contradictory, it can’t be true. Atheist doesn’t require rationality or sanity (although they are corralated)- supersticious people can be atheists. It only mean being free of the belief of a diety.

    I hope this helps.

  12. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 24, 2008, 10:34 pm:

    Samuel – Thanks for your comment.

    The term “Agnostic Theists” – I did see this mentioned in Wikipedia, without any citations. But it sounds like an oxymoron, since Agnostics are skeptics. I like the distinction Bertrand Russell made: “An Agnostic suspends judgement on whether there is a God or not. If an Agnostic thinks God is improbable, his (sic) position is more like an atheist”. Those are the 2 types that are classically accepted.


    I don’t think “Atheism” is based on faith. Richard Dawkins wouldn’t agree with you. Neither would I. We have just chosen to discard beliefs that are not falsifiable (AKA not testable). The universe may have been created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster πŸ˜€ Discarding that notion is not an article of faith.

    All kinds of people call themselves atheists. This includes irrational people, insane people, superstitious people, rebels who just want to look like a badass. None of them have clearly articulated positions & they are not atheists in the real sense of the term. Their claim that they are atheists doesn’t dilute the definition of the term.

    Hope that clarifies my position.

  13. Quote
    pk.karthik said January 25, 2008, 12:05 am:

    Priya…Thought provoking a write up in you own satrical style :).

    I can call myself Agnostic Theist as you put it……

    IMHO i was an atheist myself….but then once a casual conversation with a God man in a train made me change….

    I was argueing against God and he was listening to me calmly…he just compleletd with one statment…Have u seen USA..I said no…He asked me do you belive that US exists ..I told me yes…..He asked me why..I told him that i have met ppl who have been to USA …
    So he told me that he has met people who have seen God…so he does believe in it…

    He told me that its not wrong to question the existance of God ..but to write Him/Her( I dont know God ‘s gender)…is wrong till you have investigated properly….

    I could not but agree with him:)

  14. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 25, 2008, 12:18 am:

    Karthik – Thanks for your comment.

    “Agnostic Theist” was a term used by Sam Skinner in his comment, not by me. Theism is a matter of faith. I don’t have a problem if people choose to believe in God, since that gives them hope, direction & positive motivation.

    I disagree with the God-man you met on the train. Even though you haven’t been to the US, you can make a trip & confirm your impression that such a place exists. You can see pictures of the US in “The National Geographic”, for example. You may not have seen the planet Neptune, but you can look at the evidence that scientists have produced. Or, you can rely on other scientists who have cheked & double-checked the evidence. Science relies on verifiability & testability of a claim.

    Whereas about God, no such proof is possible. We are unable to scientifically & independently verify the statements made by people who claim to have seen God. Some of these people who’ve seen God have mental illness & they are truly confused. On humanitarian grounds, it bothers me that these people are not getting the requisite medical attention – instead, they are put on a pedestal for seeing God.

    God is not testable (AKA falsifiable, in the parlance of logic). Again, some proof may become available at a later point of time. But, there is none now that’s accepted scientifically.

  15. Quote
    Jaskirat said January 25, 2008, 6:59 am:

    Peaceful Co-existence?

    No no you got me wrong I m not for that , I m the bad guy >:)


    Hehe !

    P.S: My “Nice post btw” seems to be an understatement, “I love the way you write” is probably what i should be saying πŸ™‚

  16. Quote

    I don’t know whether I am an agnostic or an atheist.

    Although I was raised as a God fearing person and continued to be one until my late 20s. The past few years i have started questioning the concept of religion and God. At this point of life i am always considering my consciousness as my guide. According to my thoughts, God and Religion were created to drive people to adhere to laws without which human race would drift away just like if we don’t have a speed limit we would be just driving ourselves and creating mere choas.

    Religious books and stories were just created to help people make good choices. If there is no punishment and rules, life wouldn’t be as streamlined as it exists now.

  17. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 25, 2008, 8:55 am:

    Jassi – Thanks for your kind words. Yeah, now that you mention it, I can really see the bad guy under your nice guy persona πŸ˜€

  18. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 25, 2008, 8:57 am:

    Sujatha – Thanks for your comment.

    Interesting observations on religion & God. They do serve a good purpose as you say. But, as long as people follow the letter of the law, they should be free to choose precepts from various religions & their own free will to govern their ethical behavior.

  19. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said January 25, 2008, 10:22 am:

    great post Priya. Loved the takedown of tween girls and their diaries πŸ™‚ As for me, i am an agnostic for 2 important reasons:

    1. Humans yet don’t know a lot about the universe and even less about even our own human body. So to claim that there is no God definitively is a difficult position for me. Being an Agnostic, allows me to have an open position on God.

    2. 95% of the world are believers. This tells me that an atheist’s stand about God would not allow me to be empathetic to the general population at large. Inability to empathize with people on this issue is a problem for me.

  20. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 25, 2008, 11:12 am:

    Sukumar – Thanks for your comment & your kind words.

    Yes, agnosticism finely straddles the line between theists & atheists. Even though I’m an atheist, I’m sure I’ll also have an open mind about any scientific proof that is offered about God.

    You got me on the empathy bit, pal. I respect the faith held by other people – which pretty much means I know its off-limits for my wise-cracks πŸ˜€ Just kidding, man. I respect other positions because I know I could be proved wrong any minute, should new data become available.

    Have some empathy for my atheism. 100% of the people you live with are atheists πŸ˜€

  21. Quote

    Sukumar, I agree with your 2) point 100%. We see around how many millions are dying in wars. It is particularly dangerous now with every major religion in conflict with every other one. We saw how moderates in every religion watching helpless. If this one fundamental concept of empathy, which BTW is the core principle in every religion, is practiced by 95% the world would be a much better place to live in.

  22. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said January 25, 2008, 12:19 pm:

    Thanks. If i can be empathetic with 95%, 100% is not such a big stretch, right πŸ˜›

    Thanks. Yeah, i wish more people were empathetic about other religions. Religion, supposedly the biggest uniter, is actually the biggest killer disease.

  23. Quote

    My first time here.

    Priya – Excellent post.

    I am an atheist because there is no evidence of god around. I do not claim or believe that there is no chance of existence of a supernatural power . How can you prove the absence of an entity, anyway? you can only provide proof for existence. Thus the onus is on the theists to prove the presence of god.

    Also, I would recommend this article by Austin Cline on agnosticism vs atheism.


  24. Quote
    Priya Raju said January 30, 2008, 10:34 pm:

    Gokul – Thanks for your comment. And welcome to Sastwingees.

    I agree – God is like Russell’s “Celestial Teapot”. Not falsifiable. I do agree that a proof for God is possible, though it doesn’t seem probable.

    Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

  25. Quote
    padma ashtekar said June 12, 2008, 9:31 am:

    I love to believe in God!It gives me Strength!
    Imagining and analysing about this Universe,science,destructions.,evolution of our planet etc confuse me!Being a staunch believer,I have questioned myself many times,I have asked my inner mind,I have doubted his presence..But still I love to believe in God!!Many Ups and downs of our lives force us to take different directions and thought processes work for different persons in different ways.It varies from person to person ,mainly depending on his mental strength.Taking refuge in God gives some relief to people who are in distress.I know it is difficult to convince atheists,and i would not like to…
    But many miracles do happen in believer’s lives..priya!..Anyway!Let God bless you with great strength to be an atheist!!!

  26. Quote

    Padma – Thanks for your comment.

    Seemingly miraculous events happen in everybody’s lives – Atheists & Agnostics are no exception. We just look for a rational explanation, instead of thanking providence.

    To each his or her own. If belief in God gives you comfort, go for it. Many people believe in God for the same reasons that you’ve cited. I just wanted to share my views – its not my intention to bring others to my way of thinking. For, I may be wrong.

  27. Quote
    Hemanth said June 13, 2008, 5:11 am:

    Love is God.What is the use of having so many things in the name of pooja,rituals etc., when the man doesn’t love each other.The pity lies in the fact that people are killing each other in the name of religion to justify there own God is True God,forgetting the fact that Love is God.

  28. Quote

    Hemanth – Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with you. Some people are so dumb: They go thru their prayers in an unthinking manner, like monkeys on the trapeze – without understanding what peaceful co-existence means. But these days, many people live & let live. Its the crazed few that give religion a bad name.

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