Nirmukta is running a series on Facebook in which people are invited to submit a photo and briefly comment on being "more than an atheist". An editor invited me and Usha and asked, "can you send a pic in which both of you are together? It would be great to feature more couples."
Here's the comment and pic that Usha sent in:
I grew up in a relatively tolerant, liberal, Hindu family. We were taught that Hinduism accommodates atheism, and both my parents professed (mildly) to be atheists. Nevertheless, in my childhood, we regularly did pujas at home, recited Sanskrit prayers, and listened to or read the Hindu myths. But many of my earliest encounters with Hindu mythology awakened a rage in me, an anger at the way the stories made me feel as a girl. Long before I could understand these feelings or the reasons for them, Hinduism and Patriarchy became inseparable in my experience and understanding. And very soon, instinctively, I rejected both. At the same time, I grew up in an extremely conservative, backwards, and religiously overwrought small town in the American West, where friends and classmates regularly tried to pull me to their churches—Mormon, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist—each of them vying to save my soul in all the wrong ways, without a shred of actual human sensitivity. By my pre-teen years, I’d already abandoned all organized religion as useless, alienating, and corrupt. I wanted, instead, to discover a system of ethical beliefs that was meaningful to me.
Soon afterward, during my teens, my reasoning about the manifest world and the moral world together guided me away from all theistic doctrines of any kind. But I always knew that giving up faith in god or an afterlife wasn’t enough; that’s not where one can stop questioning one's beliefs and presumptions about ourselves and our world. We still must figure out what we value, how we might construct meaning in our lives, how we relate to others, and so much else. We all know of prominent atheists who are poor role models, having built upon their atheism their own versions of dogma and intolerance, which seem counter to the purpose of a seeking mind—atheism has hardly proven a cure for unreason and immorality. Rather than bludgeoning others with my lack of belief, I feel that each of us must work to forge our own synthesis of critical reason and compassion. So I seek to continue questioning dominant and reductive beliefs and practices around gender, race, caste, class, language, the environment, animal rights, economics, history, nationality, culture, and more. I find there’s often much to learn from and admire in other people, whether they are theists or not. But I knew early on that, for me, religiosity in a life partner would be a deal-breaker, for it’s essential to me that my partner and I should share our fundamental worldviews, and non-theism is fundamental to my apprehension of the world.
And here is mine:
I turned atheist near the end of sixth grade, sometime after I realized, with shock and disappointment, where babies come from. This was much too early for a sophisticated understanding of reality or arguments against god. Could it be that we come into this world with varying predispositions towards magical thinking? Anyhow, after my atheistic turn and as part of my teen rebellion, I had great fun at god’s expense. I stopped visiting temples and ridiculed priestly rituals. I argued with my grandpa and poked holes in his homilies of "Vedic wisdom". When my mother insisted that I say a prayer before my major exams, I’d stand before our little shrine at home and silently hurl the choicest maa-behen gaalis at the gods. And despite my anti-prayers—or was it because of them?—I usually aced those exams. :-)
My atheism eventually became one of the pillars of my moral and aesthetic sensibilities. It’s an indispensable lens through which I see my place in the world, a place with hope, beauty, and wonder. I couldn’t imagine a life partner who didn’t share this lens. But as I also realized, atheism is no insurance against asinine beliefs and assholish conduct. Being atheist doesn’t open the doors to practical reason any more than it opens the doors to other desirable human values like empathy and compassion. Experience also taught me that theism doesn’t make people less likely to be reasonable, kind, and generous. Indeed, I’ve opposed many celebrity atheists’ critiques of theism—not out of sympathy for theism but as a defense of reason (which too is a cultural construct, one that’s best spread through exemplary acts and persuasion). Especially in the socioeconomic realm, atheists, just as often as theists, harbor seriously problematic beliefs. As I see it, turning atheist is only a milestone in a lifelong journey of self-cultivation, not a destination.