My Religious Journey

22 December 2021

I was raised in a Hindu household. I was taught to believe in all the Hindu gods, such as Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, Rama, Hanuman, and all the others. I believed it unquestioningly and was even wholeheartedly devout at one point. But as time went on, I became disillusioned with the concept of religion as a whole. This is my story of how I became an atheist.

Tuesday is the day my father does his pooja (his time to pray and make offerings to the Gods). I don’t know when I joined him, but I was doing pooja with him from a very young age. Why? Well, I was a child, of course. I just wanted to do what my dad did and be with him. I didn’t really understand what I was doing. The meaning of God to me was rudimentary and childish – he’s someone you pray to so you could get what you want. 

My parents explained to me other aspects of Hinduism in basic terms – if you lived a good life, you won’t get reincarnated, and you’ll go to heaven. If you lived a bad life, you’ll get reincarnated, not as a human but as an animal. If you lived an extremely bad life, you’ll get reincarnated as a dog, the lowest form of life. I also learned about Hindu mythology – the story of Rama and his 14-year exile into the forest. The story of Krishna, and how he defeated the demon Kansa. The story of Holi, how Prahlad’s devotion to Vishnu saved him from death. All these stories I believed were real.

Of course, I did ask a few questions. I learned in school that humans have only existed for tens of thousands of years. But the events in the Ramayana happened millions of years ago! When I asked my dad about this, he said that scientists don’t have the ability to trace humans who lived that long ago. 

Then I discovered that other religions exist. How could this be? Again, asking my dad, he said that Hinduism was the only right religion, and that everyone else would go to hell. I believed these answers to my questions without further thought.

One day, my dad bought me the Bhagavad Gita. This Bhagavad Gita was written by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. ISKCON, whose followers are known colloquially as the Hare Krishnas. It is an offshoot of Hinduism that places Krishna as the “Supreme Personality of Godhead”, or “Brahman”, and believes that everything in the world stems from him. In reality, mainstream Hinduism believes that Krishna is just an avatar of the god Vishnu, and that Shiva was the one who created the universe, and designated roles to the other Gods. Their translation of the Gita is not faithful to the original and is heavily slanted to favour their beliefs. I did not know this though and attempted to read this Bhagavad Gita from cover to cover, reading not only the verses but the long purports explaining the meaning of these verses. These purports were very misleading and propagated the beliefs of ISKCON. People who didn’t know better, such as I, thought these were the beliefs of Hinduism as a whole. And so, I started taking these beliefs seriously. 

This commenced a short period in my life where I was determined to reach heaven and be with Krishna. (I had started to believe the Hare Krishna version of Hinduism rather than the Hinduism my family practiced.) The Gita said I had to constantly think of Krishna at every second, so that’s what I attempted to do. Obviously, I failed a lot. I was about 10 years old at the time and had distractions such as school and friends. How could I possibly do that? Nonetheless, I persevered. I would often daydream of living an ascetic life devoted to Krishna, offering all my food to him before eating it myself, and conversing with him every day. I also remember making a photo of Vishnu as the family iPad's wallpaper.

None of my friends and family knew of this change in me. And looking back on it now, it was almost as I had been brainwashed. 

I don’t remember how and why I stopped. But most likely, it was just a lot of effort, and a 10-year-old like me had other priorities in life, like watching TV. So, while I still believed, I wasn’t as devout as before.

The moment that changed the game for my relationship with religion was my transition into intermediate/middle school. I was under the belief that I would go to the same intermediate as my friends. But my parents wanted me to go to a Catholic school instead, as the quality of education there was better. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to be with my friends. And I wasn’t familiar with Christianity at all. So, I prayed as much as I could to God to please please please let me go to my friends’ school, and not this weird Catholic school that would make me do who-knows-what.

Alas, that did not happen. To get into the Catholic school, my mum had to obtain some sort of letter of permission from a Catholic priest. She was successful, and she handed this into the school along with my enrolment application. 

Thanks to the letter, it was an automatic enrolment. 

I was beyond devastated. I’m pretty sure I cried in my room and was upset for the rest of the day. I was disappointed that my prayers to God didn’t work, and as the day went on, my sadness morphed into anger.

That night, before I went to sleep, I asked God why he sent me to the Catholic school. I had prayed so much. Why didn’t he listen? 

So, in a fit of anger, I said to myself that I no longer believed in God.

As I said that, I felt fear wash over me. What was going to happen to me now? Yes, I had just told myself that God doesn’t exist, but a nagging feeling in the back of my mind said that there is still a chance he might. Would God punish me? Would I be sent to hell?

Cut to Catholic school. My first few weeks were scary. I had my first mass that time and didn’t know what to do. During the receiving of the eucharist, I didn’t know what was happening, and thought that maybe I had to eat that waffle thing that everyone was taking. I realized that was the wrong thing to do when my teacher approached me at the end of the mass and told me off. As a result, I had a small, scared feeling at the back of my mind for years. Maybe I’ll definitely be sent to hell.

The year passed, and I learned about Catholicism and Christianity. I’d already known about Jesus’ crucifixion on Easter and his birth on Christmas, but I didn’t know about Lent. I never gave up anything for Lent during this time, and therefore lied about it to my teachers. I learned about feast days and how mass worked. We read Bible passages and parables. We sang Christian songs during assemblies. 

I remember asking my best friend at the time about her faith. I asked if she had ever doubted the existence of God. She replied “no”. I was shocked. I thought everyone had doubted the existence of God at some point. But after more prodding, it seemed her faith never wavered even slightly. I could not comprehend this.

Then I went home to ask my mother. She said no too. Then she went into detail about how her worship to Shiva allowed her to complete her education in New Zealand. She was raised in Fiji, and her parents were too poor to afford her education. Eventually, my great-aunt and great-uncle came to Fiji to take her to New Zealand and finish high school here. My mum credits this to her worship of Shiva.

Again, this questioned my belief in God. Was Shiva really the reason why mum was able to finish her education? Or was it just a coincidence? Am I normal to have these thoughts about the existence of God? Is there something wrong with me?

There was something else during these years of Catholic intermediate that was changing my attitude to religion. I do not remember how it happened, but I came across the site called thereligionofpeace.com. This was during the year of 2016, when several terrorist attacks by ISIS had been committed all around the world, and the threat of radical Islam was in the minds of everyone. The website opened my eyes to Islam and its teachings. You could say that a 12–13-year-old wasn’t supposed to be reading these sorts of things. But the more I read into it, the more it made sense. There was just so much wrong with Islam. 

Sexism was rife. Women comprise the majority of Hell's occupants. A woman’s testimony in court was worth half of a man’s testimony. Women need to sexually submit to their husband at all times. If a woman didn’t obey their husband, he was permitted to beat her. A man can divorce his wife on will, but a woman needs to go through the courts. A man could have multiple wives, but a woman could only have one husband.

Islam is much more aggressive towards non-believers than Christianity. Apostasy means the death penalty. Non-Muslims must pay a tax to Muslims. The murder of non-believers is mandated by the Qur'an. It is a test of faith.

Muhammad himself was a questionable person. If Muhammad is not meant to be worshipped, and is simply a prophet, why is he held in such high regard? If Muslim men could only have a maximum of three wives, why was Muhammad allowed to have 11 at the same time? (Sike, we know the answer – Allah gave him permission to.) Why was Muhammad allowed to marry a 6-year-old girl and consummate their marriage at 9?

The website taught me all of this, filled with sources, and much more. It stressed, however, that most Muslims are ordinary people who are not aware of what their religion teaches, and that they should not be persecuted for their ignorance. It’s a lesson that I still carry with me to this day.

This convinced me that all religions are flawed. All religions are man-made. If God is so perfect, why did he use a flawed humanity to get his message across? How are we supposed to know which religion is the right one if we cannot trust the flawed texts?

So, coming into high school, which also had a Catholic character, I was a staunch atheist. Everything I learned about religion was for educational purposes only. In my first three years of high school, there was definitely a subtle push during religious studies classes and masses for us to be Catholic. At least it wasn’t like my intermediate where I felt scared to admit I wasn’t Catholic, let alone admit my atheism. But in my final two years, there was a more open-minded approach to religious studies, as we looked at the Bible and religious issues from a more critical perspective.

I also occasionally watched atheist YouTubers. I don’t watch them anymore, as I find a lot of them arrogant, and our worldviews aren’t that similar. Still, it was interesting to know other people’s opinions and rebuttals on religious beliefs, and their atheism journeys.

It wasn’t until last year, though, that I realized I had learned so much about Christianity and Islam’s flaws that I couldn’t even point out my own religion’s flaws. In fact, I felt like I hadn’t reached the tip of the iceberg with Hinduism, despite my knowledge of the countless mythological stories and fundamentals.

As the Bible says, I was taking the splint out of others’ eyes before taking the log out of my own.

There aren’t a lot of good resources out there for ex-Hindus. Most resources for atheism are centred around the Abrahamic religions, and the ex-Hindu subreddit concerns more about religious issues in India, a place I have little connection to, despite being Indian myself. (More on this on another article because it’s confusing.) So, I’m planning to undertake this journey myself in the future. When, I don’t know, because I have a lot of other priorities now. But that is what I plan to do.

Which brings us to today. My parents don’t know about my atheism. They most likely have an inkling that I am not really that religious anymore, but they kind of ignore it since I still partake in religious activities with them. I still do pooja every Tuesday with my dad. I still celebrate Hindu festivals like Diwali. It’s an inconvenience I have to face all the time. My parents still wholeheartedly believe in God. They wouldn’t listen to my reasons anyway. A confession of atheism brings shame to the family.

I’m much more open about my atheism to others, however. I sometimes talk about religion with my friends, whom themselves are questioning their beliefs. We discuss and share our reasons and questions, but at the same time we respect our religious choices.

So, what are my opinions on religion today? It’s mixed. On one hand, I know how much religion can mean to people, and that religion can do some good. Religion gives people a moral compass, something to turn to whenever trouble arises, and is a source of comfort. Religion can inspire people to do good for the world and encourage selflessness. On the other though, religion can suppress critical thinking, teaching that everyone should unquestioningly accept whatever they are told. It can be used as a channel of fear, weaponised whenever someone wants to enslave another to the feeling of guilt.

I don’t think it’s correct to outright say religion is good or bad. Perhaps it is morally grey, just like a lot of us people. It knows us what good and bad is, while simultaneously being good and bad.

Regardless, all the above is why I believe what I believe now. This is my story.