Maybe I’m seeing things that are not there but it appears atheism is taking the world by storm. They are just everywhere and they are extremely confident in their superiority and invincibility. Every now and then they’d spread results of some studies showing their growing ranks but as far as wikipedia is concerned, they still make only about 10% of US population. Worldwide the number is 2% but there are great variations by countries and regions. France has 40% of them, UK 25%, and they are majority in East Asia.
Here’s the problem, however – lots of people do not identify themselves with any religion but still believe in some sort of superior power so when atheists attack religions they can list them as allies but when it comes to personal decisions, atheists are on their own, in clear minority.
Atheism might rise in the West (and Down South) and twenty years ago it would have been accepted as the future of the world but times have changed. West’s grip on cultural trends has long been lost, thanks to some very unpopular political decisions like wars in the Middle East and the rise of Japanese/Korean pop culture elsewhere in Asia. The world is flat now, fascination with Europe is not sustainable, people visit it a couple of times and maybe even fall in love but it doesn’t last, they are not giving up their cultural identities, so atheism will remain a tough sell in most of the world.
What they do have an advantage in is the Internet where they are extremely vocal and extremely prolific. Atheism and cynical attitude towards religious hypocrisy are very attractive to young people everywhere, especially if it is backed by allegedly superior reasoning and facts. Taking up atheism is easy, “good” arguments against God are aplenty, and no young generation has ever turned down an opportunity to rebel against the old order.
As people mature their cockiness subsides and atheism will be down to singe digits again but that will take decades, in the meantime we are faced with a growing chorus of downright disdain towards any notion of faith. Preaching in these circumstances needs to be adjusted, arguments need to be defeated and doubts needs to be dispelled.
Right now it’s far easier to come across a question seeking to establish superiority of atheism rather than a question seeking to debunk it. It is, of course, still the opposite in religious communities but those are shrinking, people who are not affiliated with any are more likely to listen to atheistic explanations than look for confirmation of their own nascent faith which they can’t even identify anymore.
I see two possible approaches here – first, atheism is not as bad as it sounds. Most atheists, IMO, are driven by the search for truth, the Absolute Truth, and they reject God not because they are demons but because God as they know Him has let them down. As soon as they see any sign of the Absolute Truth they embrace if wholeheartedly because jivera ‘svarupa’ haya — krishnera ‘nitya-dasa’ – it’s our nature to seek Kṛṣṇa everywhere we look. Atheists are no different no matter what they say.
They see Him in logic, they see Him in justice, they see Him in fairness, they see Him in honesty, they see Him in sound reasoning, they see Him in respect for other beings, they see Him in mercy. Curiously, there are more atheists among vegans, for example, while it’s the believers who can’t find any compassion for animals they eat.
They are attracted to God in each and every manifestation in this world which is still true and not corrupted by Kali Yuga, they are very sensitive towards all Godly qualities and we can’t be blind to that, we should appreciate this thirst for the Absolute, it’s a necessary step before giving God the Person another chance. Consequently, we need to speak to them in their own language about things they value the most. We have all the answers already with all the explanations, we just need to present them in the right way.
Here’s an idea – we don’t need to prove that Kṛṣṇa exists, we don’t need to prove reincarnation, we don’t need to prove that Vedas are sacred and really ARE the word of God. Preaching these glories of Kṛṣṇa to self-proclaimed infidels would be offensive, we should wait until they ask about it themselves but we must find a way to present Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the way atheists can appreciate right now.
It’s not going to be easy but we would be foolish to rely on our own limited abilities anyway, we should pray for guidance at the feet of our guru, we should appeal to the mercy of Lord Nityānanda, we should have full faith in Lord Caitanya’s mission. We should remember that He would always, always be very pleased with any effort that tries to bring conditioned souls out of their ignorance.
Thinking of it this way I see that we cannot avoid beating atheists at their own game. We need to be more logical, more just, more compassionate, more renunciate than them. Their so called “scientific method” has a lot going for it and we need to top it in every respect.
We should be more open-minded and ready to admit mistakes than they are. We should admit that we don’t know much either, not about things that they concern themselves with anyway. We have no knowledge of biology to speak of, rudimentary knowledge of evolution, very little knowledge of history, we know nothing about physics, quantum theory or the Big Bang. Yet we are absolutely convinced that scientists are wrong and we are right. That’s not going to work on these people – they appreciate the value of humility, if we don’t have it they won’t see us as representatives of the Absolute Truth.
So far our approach was to find holes in their theories and use them to undermine their entire premise, like what our devotees did with Forbidden Archeology. This is no substitute for actual knowledge of what has happened and so potential impact is very very limited.
One could say we KNOW what happened, it’s written in Vedas, but that is not an answer. We DON’T KNOW where dinosaur bones came from, how dinosaurs appeared and what killed them, we don’t know how Lord Brahma created all the species and in what order. We don’t know why their dating doesn’t match with ours, we have ideas but that they are not “theories” yet, just vague possibilities that don’t stand to scrutiny. Our explanations are only good to pacify our own concerns but they are not enough to convince anybody else.
So, let’s leave science to scientists among us, they have a long way to go and we should give them all support and we should start with a little humility here.
On our own level we need to find a way to relate to atheists around us who don’t know science either. They do have arguments that they themselves find convincing and maybe all we need is to top those. Not necessarily overturn them but provide a better alternative, better representing the values that atheists find compelling.
At this point I need examples and case studies but those are not ready yet, maybe tomorrow.