Continued from How I became a Hindu – part one.
Having been brought up in a small town that was almost exclusively white and Christian, at University I met a number of people from all over the world and of all religions. In fact I have lived in ethnically diverse cities since then.
This in itself had a major impact on my understanding of Christianity as “the only way to salvation”. One of my closest friends at University was a Sikh, and whereas it is one thing to theoretically hear that people you don’t know will be destined for hell, it is quite different if you know this is talking about friends, fellow students, work colleagues, etc. It is obvious to anyone who meets people from many different religions and cultures that if God is loving, then it can’t be true that only those from one particular religion will be saved.
The strength of atheists’ arguments
I also met many articulate atheists. These were in general sincere, people of integrity and they had very logical arguments. Nobody should doubt that the atheist worldview is consistant and logical. It is based on certain assumptions on what makes a valid predicate, but given those assumptions then the logical conclusion is atheism, or to be more accurate extremely sceptical agnosticism.
Many of the arguments that Christianity uses against atheism are really weak. Pascal’s wager only works if there are two options: Christianity or atheism. The Prime mover argument really hasn’t been valid since Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding.I know now that these are rolled out because mainstream Christianity misses the point. They look for physical proofs because there is a mistrust of spirituality, they say that “revelation is sealed”.
These arguments, combined with the lack of practical significance of Christianity to me, lead to a period of agnosticism. Sometimes I felt that atheism swung the argument, sometimes theism – but for most of the time I just did not think of religion at all. This lasted for many years, my beliefs swung between atheism and theism but it did not seem to be of much practical importance. I did attend church again briefly for a while, but by that time I was beginning to realise that my beliefs were no longer Christian.
A seed is planted
Recently a work colleague asked me what had first made me consider Hinduism, was it something that someone had said to me. This made me think, and I remembered something that at the time had seemed insignificant. I was at a friend’s house and their young daughter had a Hindu friend visiting, and they were discussing RE (religious education) lessons. My friend’s daughter was saying how each religion thought that it was the “true way”, Christians thought that they were right and others would go to hell, Muslims thought that they were right and others would go to hell, and so on. The Hindu girl said “no, it’s not like that at all. God loves everyone and gives people chances to know him in different forms. Those who don’t get things right in this life will get another chance later“. This probably planted a seed.
I started to read more about reincarnation years later after a relative married a Buddhist. One day I realised that I believed in reincarnation! Not completely, it was more of a case that when I was weighing up atheism and theism it was between a theism that included reincarnation, the concept of eternal hell was just too ludicrous to anyone who believed in a good God rather than a devil being in charge.
I think that the idea of eternal hell can only make sense to people who have no concept of vastness or infinity. Even a lifetime of a century is a fleeting instant from this perspective. Judging for eternity on the basis of a single life would be like releasing mice in the middle of a room and looking at the direction of the very first step they took. Those that stepped right would be given rewards for the rest of their life. Those that stepped forwards, left or backwards would be taken and tortured for the rest of their lives.
I realised that my beliefs were no longer Christian. At this time my wife was still a mainstream Christian, and we thought that attending a Unitarian congregation could be a good way of worshiping together. I also rather naively thought that universalism would provide some sort of meta-belief, being able to take what is good from each different religion and ignore the rest.
Now there are some very good people who are Unitarians, but it became apparent that Unitarianism in the UK was plagued by internal politics. There were the Christian Unitarians, some of whom said that those who did not have a bible-based faith should be expelled. There were the Atheist-Humanist Unitarians who seemed concerned by not being offended by others using the word “God”. And there were other groups like the “earth spirit” network.
The result of this was that many services were a sort of secular collection of hymns, not really saying anything about any particular belief out of fear of offending anybody. There was a lack of any passion or feeling about belief, and I think that when it was shown it was frowned upon. I remember someone saying that they “hoped everyone had passed the childish stage of a belief in a personal God”.
It became apparent that rather than a meta belief learning from others there was a sort of “lowest common denominator” belief, everyone not wanting to offend others. Since then I have seen that this is not the way to respect other beliefs. There is more respect of different beliefs every day in our Mandir then I ever saw by Unitarians. The Vishnava will pray to Krishna or Rama alongside the Shaiva worshiping Shiva and the Vedantist looking for enlightenment within. All respect each other’s views because they are totally dedicated to their own path.
Anyway, both my wife and I found Unitarianism unsatisfactory. We really just became disengaged with it over time, especially after I (and later my wife) started on the path of Hinduism.
Continued in How I became a Hindu – part three.