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A smart person speaks out the truth. A wise person doesn’t care about speaking it out, as much as he or she cares about utilizing that truth in the society, in a way that brings most progress, in a way that brings most human development. And that’s the purpose atheism should have.
The focus of atheism should be on rational thinking, not on disbelief in God.
This is a message from the celebrated Neuroscientist and Humanist Abhijit Naskar, to all the conscientious atheists in the world, on how to take humanity in the path of collective progress.
What happens when science and religion meet? Well – for starters you get a Scientist named Abhijit Naskar, that’s me. But jokes apart – when science and religion meet we get a field of human understanding that belongs to the domain of science as much as it belongs to the domain of religion. And that field is called “Neurotheology” – which is a communion of science and religion. It is the only field of science that actually has to do with religion as much as it has to do with science.
But why? Why do we need Neurotheology? We need Neurotheology because it is the only field of rational thinking that attempts to understand the roots of religion, religiousness and god without a predominate urge to refute and undermine religion all together. And we do it based on empiricism, not mere optimism, even though optimism is there in us, aiding in out research.
The first criterion for doing research into the tangible earthly roots of religion, is that you need to be free from obvious religious biases – you cannot do such study with a predominant detestation of religion or a radical obedience to faith. For example, if you are to study the neuropsychology of racial biases then you cannot expect to do so with a predominately explicit attitude of racism. So to study racism you need to be not a racist. And to study religion at a molecular level you need to be neutral in terms of religious biases.
In Neurotheology we scientists study the roots of God and its associated religious sentiments in the human mind. And here by God, I mean the God or the Gods that humans worship. We are not trying to understand whether there is an actual Supreme Divine force out there that’s running the universe. Even if that God does exist, it has nothing to do with life on earth. The Gods that humans worship, like Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, Rama and all others, are creation of the human mind itself. And we Neuroscientists in the field of Neurotheology attempt to understand the roots of these Gods of the human world, and as for the Supreme Divine Entity running the universe, I’d rather leave that to the Physicists to find out. That’s their expertise. Which means that if the majority of the physicists come to me and tell me – “Hey Naskar, you know what, we just discovered that the universe is not run by a Supreme Divine Entity”. I would most graciously accept their consensus, because I know that they must have done their research on the issue quite rigorously and then they have come to the conclusion that there is no actual God. That’s called trusting the expert in the field.
If you truly want to know about the universe you need to seek answer from a physicist, not from a biologist or a celebrity. Likewise if you want to know about life you need to seek answer from a biologist, not from a physicist or a celebrity. Also if you want to know whether Global Warming is real, you need to ask a climatologist, not a president or any of his white supremacist pals. Ask the expert, if you seek real answer, not just an answer you feel comfortable with. Although in today’s society we see a behavior quite contrary to this. We see anti-intellectualism. And that may not be dangerous, but it surely is unprogressive.
I am Neuroscientist, which means, I can tell you about your mind, your emotions, your thoughts and your behaviors, but I may not be able to fix your water supply at home, when it’s not working. For that you’d need a plumber. The plumber is the expert in fixing your water supply. The electrician is the expert in fixing the electrical wiring of your home. A Neuroscientist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist is the expert in fixing the wiring of your mind. Every work needs expertise. One expert cannot boast about being an expert in various fields. It is possible, but in rare occasions.
So the work that we Neuroscientists do in Neurotheology is to study the gods of the society. And we have come a long way in this path. We have discovered facts that would appear to the radical believer as nothing but blasphemy. But the point is, we are civilized beings today. We no longer are medieval idiots who used burn and slaughter innocent lives for holding different belief system. So I am sorry to say, the idea of blasphemy has no place in today’s society – no wait, actually, I am not sorry at all. It’s them who should feel sorry, for being barbarians still while endorsing primitive ideas of blasphemy, apostasy and all sorts of evil. These terms can no longer hold any value to the civilized conscientious human.
Now to get back to the topic at hand, which is Neurotheology – it is quite gloriously a newly emerged field of scientific endeavor. In this context, let me bring up an excerpt from my book In Search of Divinity: Journey to The Kingdom of Conscience.
“Through the newly emerged field of Neurotheology, Scientists such as Andrew Newberg, Michael Persinger, myself and a few others have already taken the first step from the side of Science, to diminish the gap between Science and Religion. Now it is time for Religion to do the same. And the moment any religion does that, the eternal battle between Science and Religion would slowly start to disperse.”
In the brief journey so far in this field, we have understood a lot about the neurological roots of religious and spiritual sentiments of the human mind. We have even analyzed closely the transcendental experiences of the past that gave rise to the religions of the world. And as we keep moving forward in this field with an unbiased look at religion and God, we will discover various new elements of the human mind that may contribute to the sentiment of religiousness and spirituality. And they will allow us to understand the human mind in a better way. And when we understand the mind better, we can develop techniques to deal with its issues in more effective ways.
(Simultaneously published on Goodreads.)
There is a question in today’s society that has got quite a grip over people’s psyche – rational and not so rational alike – whether religion is basically good or basically evil. Here my question to you is, how do you define a religion as either good or bad? How do you define good religion and bad religion? Do you define based on the books, like scriptures, or do you define based on humans? What’s more important – humans or scriptures? And if you still define religion based on the elements that come from some ancient books, then what’s the difference between you and the fundamentalists who actually cause all the violence in the name of religion? If you still think that religion is violent because its scripture has some violent instructions then what’s the difference between you and others – others being the fundamentalists? There is no difference.
You are a rational being. You have your own mind. You have your cognitive capacities to think for yourself – to give humans more attention than books, than doctrines, than dogmas. Then how do you define a whole religion – an entire population of people – your own kind as terrorists! Are they! Are you! Say your culture has a scripture that says, “if somebody does not obey every word in this scripture, then that person must be demolished from earth by the chosen few to whom this scripture has been given by the Lord Almighty himself”. Whether you follow it or not, doesn’t matter. Whether you accept it literally or not, doesn’t matter. Just because it is a part of your culture, does that make you a terrorist – a religious terrorist, since it is the book of your people. Being a part of your culture, that book instructs you to kill people for holding different belief system. And without even knowing whether you follow it directly, indirectly, consciously, subconsciously, if somebody simply assumes that because it is a highly venerated book in your culture, you must be absolutely obedient to it and would be willing to kill the infidels, is that person making a rational assumption, or simply a lousy mistake!
Being religious does not make a person terrorist, even if his or her scripture has fundamental elements of terrorism. Religious people are just as peace loving as anybody else. Not all the people who call themselves religious, actually follow every single word of the scripture. They don’t feel the urge for it, without even being aware of it in most cases, they just don’t. When a brain is healthy, it has the capacity to filter information and distinguish between good and evil. In most cases, this process of filtering happens quite subconsciously, and in some other cases not so much. That’s what you know as the human sense of morality which is a magnificent construction of the brain circuits, especially the frontal lobes. In case of one’s religiousness this morality comes into action as well.
A good human being will never accept things like beating a wife for not having sex with the husband or killing people for holding different belief system, even if his or her scripture says thus. So it doesn’t matter what the scripture says – a healthy human brain has the capacity to filter those instructions. An atheist brain does this quite consciously, whereas the peace-loving religious population does it in most cases quite subconsciously. Their brain does that for them, because they are conscientious civilized beings. And unless you are a mental retard – unless you are suffering from delusional disorder, like the fundamentalists, you still can judge for yourself, so do the religious people. That’s why all religious people are not terrorists.
Those who are terrorists, they only hold on to the few instructions of certain scriptures, that fuel their predominant rage against some parts of the world, some people, and that rage becomes the driving force behind those acts of terrorism. Those instructions in those books fuel that rage. So they feel like they are doing it for a greater purpose, because their brain lacks healthy and civilized functioning of the frontal lobes, but this is not true for religious people. Religious people are just as peace-loving as anybody else. And not all religious people say – their religion is the best and everybody else’s is false – their god is the only god and everybody else who follows different gods are all doomed to burn in hell for eternity.
They are simply happy with their religion, and what’s wrong with that! Of course it would be wrong if they say – you hold a different belief system so you are a lesser human, you are doomed, you are possessed by Satan. But they are not saying that. They are happy, they are talking to people from different religious backgrounds, because that’s what makes us humans. That’s what makes us civilized humans. We accept each other, we love each other, we embrace each other. It’s about religious acceptance, it’s no longer about religious tolerance. Toleration may make you decent, but it’s acceptance that makes you civilized. Toleration was a matter of the previous centuries – through this idea of toleration, thinking humans took the early steps towards a society free from religious sectarianism. The parliament of religions was and still remains a glorious emblem of this endeavor of religious toleration. However, time has changed and so has its needs. The need of this century is acceptance. Every generation must think several steps ahead of their previous generations. That’s the way to progress and that’s the way to become more and more civilized human beings.
We are the most civilized species on earth, because we grow every single day – we grow – and we will keep on growing with each other. We will keep on growing with our brothers, sisters and friends, whether they are from different religions, different race, different languages, colors, sexual orientation, gender – it doesn’t matter. We are all humans and we have to grow together. It’s not enough to be diverse. For a species to evolve, for a species to survive, you need to accept that diversity. Because if you don’t, then that diversity has no value. Accept the diversity and the growth of us humans – the progress of us humans, will be much faster and smoother.
(Simultaneously published on Goodreads)
I say things – things that would most gloriously make me appear as an atheist to people, such as – “God is a human creation” – “scriptures come from humans” – “forget the gods and pay attention to humans”. However I never hail myself as atheist, and you never hear me saying out loud that I am an atheist. And it is because one simple reason, I hate discrimination, I hate bigotry and I hate creating walls. I don’t want to create a wall between me and all the peace loving people in the world who are just happy with their religiousness and they are not trying to impose on anybody’s else’s beliefs. Now, these are the people are I work for, just like I work for all other humans who want progress, who want the world to be a better place, if not for us, at least for our children. That’s why I don’t call myself an atheist.
Because when you put a label on yourself, that label comes along with a log of psychological baggage. And in most cases you may not be aware of these correlated psychological elements, but those who listen to you may do. So in their brain they would draw an image of your personality. And they will give that image qualities based on their subjective understanding of the label that you imposed on yourself. Like when you say you are an atheist, usually the religious population of the planet would very easily deem you to be against all of their religiousness – religiousness that is a part of their identity. And you cannot take away that identity – if you try, then there would be no difference between you and the religious fundamentalism.
And though I am not anti-religion, I am anti-fundamentalism. Fundamentalists do not make up the whole religious population on earth. As a scientist, as an educator, of course I am against indoctrinating children, I am against teaching them biblical stories as factual truth, I am against prayer given more attention than actual human contribution in the society. Still I am not against religion, because of those people who identify themselves as religious but do not take their scriptures literally and have the brain capacity to think which part of those books are good and which are not. And this process of taking the good things from the scriptures and ignoring the primitive ones, happens in most of the religious psyches of the world quite unconsciously.
I am not an atheist, because of these peace-loving religious people who are simply good people and they accept people from different religious orientation as equal. And no, not all religious people go around their neighborhood screaming the exclusive superiority of their religion and God over all others. They love their religion, but they don’t make a fuss over it, like the fundamentalists do. Religion is simply a part of their cultural identity, nothing more – it is fostered as a supremacist ideology only in the head of the fundamentalists. The fundamentalists are the enemy because they are driven by the elementary primitive notion of their religion being superior to all others, and hence other people are lesser humans. Fundamentalism is the enemy, not religion. In fact, fundamentalism is an enemy of religion itself, because in a progressive civilized society religion means realization of your inner divinity, not meek obedience to books of the dead people.
I am a scientist, and as such one of my core purposes is to understand the truth behind various phenomena of the universe with as much accuracy as possible And one of those phenomena is religion. And in order to understand it with as less subjective biases as possible, I must refrain from being called either “religious” or “atheist”. Now that’s the scientific reason for me to not hail myself as either atheist or religious. And as for the humane reason, which is more appealing to me as a human being, it is that the only label I go with is “human” – because that’s the label I received from Mother Nature. And that’s the label that makes me a part of human lives in human society, regardless of religion, regardless of race, regardless of gender and regardless of sexual orientation. The label of human is beyond race, beyond religion, beyond gender and beyond sexual orientation.
(Simultaneously published on Goodreads.)
Abhijit Naskar’s message to the world on gender discrimination!
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(Transcript is available on YouTube)
Abhijit Naskar, 2017, The Bengal Tigress: A Treatise on Gender Equality
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Episode 3 of Nature, Naskar & Neurons, where Abhijit Naskar sheds light on the idea of God and elucidates its rise in the human mind as an evolutionary mechanism.
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