Grandpa the Angry Atheist

Question from Nik:

I am an Atheist born in to a Hindu family in India. A month back, I revealed my atheism to my grandfather who is a more open and aggressive atheist than I am.

He went on to accuse me of visiting holy places with my family members and said I should be ashamed of myself. I on the other hand argued why I should stop from having good time with my family just because I am an atheist. I do not see any reason to accuse any one for believing in god or distance myself from others just because I do not share the same view as them.

Do you think it is obligatory for an atheist to let everyone know what their belief is? I was never forced to take part in any activity I do not like. But if I ever happen to see any one do atheist-bashing I will definitely defend it.

Am I really wrong in keeping my atheism to myself? I agree, at times I am guilty of acting as I do believe in god just to avoid unnecessary confrontations, though.

P.S. My parents do know I am an atheist.

Answer by SmartLX:
You’re certainly not alone in keeping your atheism to yourself. There are a lot of atheists who haven’t told anyone at all, so just by letting your family know you’ve been more open than many.

In principle, atheists have more freedom to participate in the rituals of faiths we don’t share than members of any religion, because we don’t have a jealous god who gets angry at us when we “stray”. The worst that can happen is that we get angry with each other, like your grandfather does.

There are two probable reasons for this, but I don’t think either one is very strong.

1. Perhaps he thinks you’re betraying your principles by participating in worship. Only you know what your principles are, and whether you’re actually worshipping the Hindu gods by visiting these places. You probably don’t give that impression at all when you’re out there.

2. These trips may support the religion itself, whether through monetary donations or simply by giving the authorities and other visitors the impression that the Hindu faith is more widely shared than it really is. It’s perfectly reasonable to donate to a religion if the money helps to maintain sites of not only religious but social and historical significance, and which everyone can enjoy. Also, there are ways to make it clear to the general public that the religious aspect is not the main reason why many people are there; in fact they probably already know this.

As for whether you should be proclaiming your atheism wherever you go, that’s really not productive some of the time. Yes, it’s good when a decent amount of atheists are open about it because it encourages others to “come out”, but if they’re disruptive about it they may generate an amount of antagonism towards atheism that isn’t worth the publicity. (Read about the Crackergate affair, where a student walked out of a Catholic Mass with a consecrated wafer and Catholics everywhere went ballistic. Atheist commenters condemned Catholics for their pointless outrage, but few if any condoned the student’s actions.)

I honestly don’t see anything wrong with what you’re doing, if you don’t. It might be useful to know exactly why your grandfather objects, in case I’ve missed the mark regarding his motivations. Maybe Rohit, our near-resident “cultural Hindu” atheist commenter, can help too.