[Well, I didn't go to the Ganga-ji talk. Sorry, guys. I was exhausted. Lately I've had things I need to do every night of the week. I keep trying to cut back, but something always seems to come up to fill the blank spaces.]
I got an email recently from someone reading my episode about Glee and it's portrayal of religion and atheism. This person is an atheist and said that when he first saw the post he was afraid that it was just going to complain about the lack of Hinduism on Glee. He was surprised by the respect I have for atheism as a valid choice in life and asked why I am not an atheist if I hold such a view.
I thought that was a very interesting question.
First because I think it is sad that people do not expect respect or empathy from religious people. People expect me to think only of my personal interest, my own religion, and leave everyone else to fend for themselves for respect.
Second is the idea that if we understand something, would we become it?
I am definitely not an atheist. I respect many atheists for reasons that they probably would not be comfortable with! To some extent one can only see the world in his or her particular way, and so we find strategies to help us try to understand they way the people around us see it.
I have dear friends who are atheists and I've found them to be moral people, with a strong sense of dharma that comes from within. To my mind, they are close to Truth because they feel the divinity of the universe within themselves rather than without. They might be highly offended by that view!
People who are invested in the idea of Christianity being the only truth sometimes see my religious behavior and justify to themselves how I seem to be a moral person on a good track by thinking that worshiping Krishna is just another name for worshiping Jesus (it's not, but I know people who have used that logic in order to accept me).
Even if atheism is not at all similar to how I see it, I still believe that people who choose it deserve respect. Something along the lines of: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." --Evelyn Beatrice Hall, on Voltaire's philosophy. It might not be my philosophy, but everyone has the right to find and practice his own philosophy. I would not want that taken away from anyone for the simple reason that my right could then be taken away from me.
I guess in terms of proselytizing I look at it like the airplane announcement about the oxygen masks. Put your own mask on first before attempting to help others. I will work on my own life, work on freeing my own soul and then I will be able to see more clearly how I can help others.