As an atheist, why I'm running scared of the God-fearing lot during the coronavirus pandemic

After massive swarms of locusts hit Gurgaon and parts of Delhi last month, in the middle of the pandemic, I couldn’t stop myself from going down this rabbit-hole, despite being an atheist all my adult life: what if there really is a God?

Aditya Mani Jha July 28, 2020 16:08:05 IST
As an atheist, why I'm running scared of the God-fearing lot during the coronavirus pandemic

After massive swarms of locusts hit Gurgaon and parts of Delhi last month, in the middle of the pandemic, I couldn’t stop myself from going down this particular rabbit-hole, despite being an atheist all my adult life: what if there really is a God? What if his wrath really is all fire and brimstone, and butterfly laps in a heated pool? It was a troubling thought, and I may or may not have had a cuppa immediately thereafter, for my nerves.

See, the world has always been fond of sending Hallmarks to the big poobah in the sky. We’ve always loved God, for reasons I’m clearly too dumb to comprehend. This devotion is global and all-encompassing — a wireless, tireless love that mobilises people on a massive scale. Occasionally, it also topples governments, which is why most lawmakers around the world actively manipulate some version of religious dogma. The pandemic has only amplified this love, with a little help from Biblical conduits like the locust. You can see it all around you: the COVID-positive Amitabh Bachchan declaring that he “has surrendered to God”, Florida governor Ron DeSantis calling his own state “God’s waiting room”, or Karnataka’s health minister saying, “Only God can save us now” (Karnataka is among the worst COVID-affected regions in India currently).

This is why atheists (like this writer) are getting worried, particularly in countries like India, where the ‘divinity per square mile’ was sky-high to begin with. We atheists know what happens when God gets their own TV show, so to speak: they insist on appearing as every single character, and in all the commercials as well, just to rub the omnipotence in our faces. Off the top of my head, here are some less-than-savory things bound to happen, should the business of organised divinity be allowed a free hand during the pandemic:

1. Two kinds of people make a lot of money whenever people are forced to confront their mortality — lawyers and priests (And if you’re a lawyer, you’re either an atheist or you’re one rough day away from suing God for breach of contract). During a recession, this is downright immoral, don’t you think? Grab a pink slip and get in line with the rest of us, if you don’t mind.

2. Because of governmental pressure (charmingly euphemised as “public sentiment” or “the way the wind blows” by conformists everywhere), Netflix, Amazon, Disney and co. will make Indian mythological epics on war footing. Is there anybody out there who wants, say, another Jai Shakumbhari Maa, a film on the patron deity of vegetarians? (For an entertaining account of the making of this 2000 film, read Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City.)

3. Soon, ‘Moral Education’, the thinly-disguised religious component of most primary school curricula in India, will grow in importance — trust this government to make it, let’s say a compulsory subject for Engineering/Medical entrance examinations, one that you have to score passing marks in.

But let’s be honest for a second: this laundry list of would-be complaints comes from a place of fear. It’s a place of tremendous irritation and frustrating, circular conversations, often with devout loved ones, yes — but mostly a place of fear. Are we genuinely scared that you lot believe in concepts only marginally more believable than unicorns? Yes, indeed we are, and not just because unicorns would be improvements on a lot of so-called Gods.

We are scared because for a change, this time it’s we who know ‘the way the wind blows’. In the past week, we’ve seen allegedly devout, barely coherent armies of cyber-warriors (and their assorted bots) descending upon stand-up comedians, going through years-old tweets with a fine-toothed comb — the objective is to find and complain about ‘offensive’ jokes or ideas. It’s a bit of a spectator sport, this advanced doxxing (comedians found their phone numbers displayed on the internet, their families being threatened, venues vandalised, inboxes littered with rape threats) game that ‘believers’ play so often.

Basically, we are scared because we know you lot fear criticism more than you fear devils or apocalypses. We also know that as considerably more of you assume power, considerably less of us dare to speak out (so much so that a certain H-word is conspicuously absent from this very essay). We don’t want to be sacrificial offerings at the altar of your collective projection. If institutional ‘godliness’ continues to steam ahead at the pace it is right now, a lot us atheists will be forced to seek refuge.

Hell, a bunch of us might even get together and start living communally (before you outrage, devotees, do look up Webster’s, this isn’t ‘communal’ the way you think it is). You know, get together in the mornings, stew apples (or boars), make up stories about this and that — there’s a name for all of this, but having skipped Moral Education, I can’t, for the life of me, remember the word.

— Illustration © Satwik Gade for Firstpost

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