Recently I saw an avowed atheist drop a kind of a bombshell – God doesn’t exist and people’s religious beliefs are simply a product of their environment. Of course there’s nothing new here but that second part made me think – he might be right more than he realizes.
If I honestly analyze my path to where I am, there’s nothing supernatural to it. I can interpret it as Kṛṣṇa’s will, or Kṛṣṇa’s mercy, or soul’s eternal and irresistible attraction to the Lord, or aggregated sukṛṭi, but I could also interpret it in purely materialistic, “objective” terms, too. That’s what atheists do and it makes sense to them.
I did not choose my upbringing, I did not choose the magazines with articles on yoga which I read after my father was done with them. I did not choose Christianity appear as stifling and confusing – my teachers taught me that. I did not choose how my outlook on life changed in my teens, I did not choose how it changed in college either.
I did not choose books I read. Well, I did choose them in the library but my picks were guided my interests and my interests depended on what I had already read before. I also did not choose books that had profound impact on my understanding of the world, people gave them to me. So, by the time I got my hands on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam I was already half done, it was just a topping on the cake.
Specifically, the way I remember it, I read something about Brahman and I tried praying to it for guidance, and that eventually led me to Bhāgavatam, in a few days time. I did not choose that book about Brahman either, friends gave it to me, it was cool, they said.
At that time I didn’t have any pressing engagements or unavoidable obligations so it was given than I would have tried to join the temple. Once in the temple I didn’t get to choose which speakers to listen to. It’s true that only one of them was truly inspirational but, in retrospect, it could be explained by my guru displaying the outlook on life I was more compatible with.
TBH, now, many years later, I rue the missed opportunities to pay as much attention to other sannyāsīs passing through our temple. I still don’t see any one of them as equal to my guru but they had their own good points and I would give an arm and a leg to get their association now. But I digress.
The choices I made during the time of my active service weren’t free either. I had a certain set of skills and I was engaged according to them. Things that I was bad at never worked out, and there was nothing “transcendental” about it.
Family life was totally predictable, too. Some astrologers looked at my chart and laughed when I was insisting on staying in the brahmacāri āśrama. They were right and I was wrong, and there was nothing transcendental about it either.
Point is – at every stage of my life I was a “victim” of the circumstances, a slave to my karma. It’s my good luck that the biggest chunk of it was guided by devotees and ISKCON in general but that influence was objective, predictable, and measurable, not “transcendental”.
I bet similar analysis can be made for every member of our society, too. We did not have any supernatural inputs at any stage in our history. Money, temples, deities, paraphernalia, books – none of that came out of vacuum. All the elements and causes were already present in this world, they were just assembled in a certain way at a certain time.
We can say that Śrīla Prabhupāda was a messenger from Kṛṣṇa but we should also agree that he can be described in terms of his external upbringing. He was born in a certain place, he was taught English at a certain school, met a certain guru, and there wasn’t any real choice back then. He heard certain teachings, he heard about the value of books, which wasn’t a supernatural judgment as well, he heard of the need to preach in western countries – there really isn’t anything Prabhupāda could have done differently. The prediction of late in life traveling and opening a hundred temples was in his chart, too.
So, are atheists right when they say religions are nothing special and can be explained as any other natural phenomenon?
Yes, but not in the way they expect.
Religions are part of this world BUT they are started by the Lord. He personally appears here or He invests His preaching potency into a suitable body, like that of Vyāsadeva.
I’m not sure it’s even the right way to describe what happened. It’s not like appearing as Vyāsa is Lord’s personal decision, Vyāsa is a post that comes with the universe, like Lord Indra or Lord Brahmā, it’s all built in and happens according to the schedule.
What I mean to say is that God’s connection with the universe is not casual or accidental, it’s an integral part of universe’s existence. So yes, religions are part of this world and they are not supernatural.
Atheists can purge religion from one corner of it but I doubt it’s sustainable and it certainly can’t be universe wide. The Earth is a place for human beings and humans will always have some sort of a religion, it’s their nature. Otherwise souls would get born on asuric planets. Religion is a dharma of a human being, can’t change that, it will be here as long as there are humans.
The fact that some of us reject the Lord is part of the deal – we need to have options to make a choice and some will make the “wrong” one. It’s not wrong per se, it’s a soul’s desire and we have to respect it, and as a result of this choice atheistic souls will probably populate planets of the demons. Internet there is faster, I heard, and wifi is everywhere, they’ll be right at home.
My larger point today is that it’s not a bad thing that we have no proof of supernatural influence on our lives, we should not fall into that trap set up for us by atheists. “Supernatural” is their word, not ours, soul’s dharma is to serve the Lord, dharma cannot be supernatural by definition – dharma is NATURE of a thing.
We can, of course, make a distinction between material and spiritual nature but both are Lord’s energies and the Lord does not treat His inferior energy with contempt, He uses it to manifest His pastimes before our eyes all the time. Until the moment of liberation everything we see here as spiritual is actually made of that inferior energy – deities made of clay, gurus bodies made of cells, holy name made of audible vibrations of our vocal chords and so on. It’s just that when this inferior energy is connected to the Lord it becomes spiritualized, it acts as if it was spiritual, and that’s what we have been taught from day one.
Atheists usually refuse to grasp this point but it doesn’t make it untrue or their observations incorrect.