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The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Monday, May 2, 2011

Respect and Empathy

[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.


  1. A good 25% of my friends are either atheist or agnostic and I can honestly say that they're some of the best people I know.

    They're also pretty accepting of philosophical differences. I think this was one of the things that made me start to question the tradition I was brought up in - if these people don't believe in God but are still wonderful people, how could God possibly do anything else but love them? And if the best way to teach someone about your own philosophy is to live it and be a good example, these folks are great examples.

    (My own dear husband is a sort of "inner divinity agnostic," and so even if our practices are vastly different, our beliefs are not so different.)

    As always, a great post.

  2. Rob Bell, a Christian author, says in his book "Love Wins" that he often has had religious discussions with atheists only to surprise them in the end by agreeing with them. "I don't believe in the God they don't believe in, either," he said.

  3. hi, this is interesting. I went back to your earlier post, your episode about offbeat site and I had to visit the site to understand what you meant.

    I think that she answered your episode through a post too. have you seen it yet?

  4. Oh, I hadn't seen that! Thank you. I guess I was too harsh. Her advice has almost nothing to offer me only because Christianity isn't in my equation, and that made me sad because I'd love resources for navigating inter-faith issues.

  5. Art, that's a really cool quote, I like it!

  6. i am certainly an atheist. but if you ask me i will call myself a hindu too.
    and not in a "i am culturally hindu but not religiously" way . so far what i have learned there doesn't seem to be any contradiction.

    i would love to discuss how do you determine that some one is hindu or not.

  7. Oh gosh, that's a tricky one. I wouldn't presume to say who is Hindu and who is not. I trust people to label themselves! I wouldn't want someone else saying that I don't count as a Hindu, so I don't want to say that about anyone else either.

    In the atheists I have known, I haven't seen a contradiction between atheism and Advaita! It really does seem like just different language for the same thing, but I might be really misunderstanding them.

  8. Atheism carries theism within its heart all the time. While theism always walks without an 'A'. Spirituality is about embracing people and entire creation, irrespective of their gunas. We do err sometimes, but we have to get back on the track and learn to respect people all the time. There is nothing great in believing in a God or call it by any name. One should be in constant vigilant and always ask, "Does God believe in me". Where love springs unconditionally, there lies the Good Lord of the universe. In drinkers shoes, and smokers' mouth and in meat eaters belly the Great One lies still, and what is there left to parade and feed the ego by proclaiming "I am a devotee of God"? Are we ready to embrace the creation which unconditional love? That day when people began to appreciate each and everyone without preconceived qualities and expectations, God will cease to exist, externally, and within us we shall build the temples, churches etc..ect. Nice write Aamba. Enjoyed reading this.

  9. Beautifully written, cyclopseven. I agree with you. I'm wary of telling others what I think their beliefs are, but in my heart I can't help but believe exactly this, that it is the external God, which is an illusion anyway, that atheists object to.