Is India ready for atheism?

I just saw 'P.K.,' this Bollywood film that is thematically quite similar to 'O.M.G.' (and both titles are initials, weird!), except with aliens and journalists instead of atheists and lawyers.

For some reason I don't think it's as important to mention there will be spoilers since, well, I've seen like one Bollywood movie ever with an unpredictable ending, but: spoilers ahead.

Well, okay, the thing they really have in common—which is the centerpiece, I would argue the rest of the plot is essentially a bubble to support it while keeping audiences interested—is the corruption of organized religion in India. They both ask questions like why Hindus bathe idols in milk instead of giving that to all the starving people, why Muslims are told to buy altar cloths instead of clothing the needy.

Basically, religion has got to be a billion-dollar (yes, I mean dollar) industry in India, and if you've seen Slumdog Millionnaire, the kids who starred in it were still living in government housing until the director got called out on his bullshit. You can even buy shitloads of Sai Baba-themed stuff, and this was a man who actually lived up to the standard of rejecting the material world.

Don't get me wrong, temples are gorgeous—religious architecture in general—but seriously. Seriously.

Anyway, the other point both these movies have in common is that the character starts off as a nonbeliever in any sort of god, but by the end confirms a belief in the 'creator.'

Now, back in classical/late antiquity Rome, people shifted from being predominantly polytheistic to monotheistic, and of course now we're seeing a rising trend of atheism. With India, since henotheism is already pretty spread and Christians have been around for centuries, is there really going to be a big transition to monotheism before atheism?

Or, for that matter, a transition to atheism at all?

I can't at all speak to the Sikh or Muslim experience, and only a little to Hinduism since Jainism has its own set of deities and basic tenets (except that we go to Hindu temples like, all the time? I don't really question it because I love saffron water, almonds, and those weird giant sugar crystals they usually have. Eat shit, communion wine and wafer). But religion is very, very cultural in India. The movie theater has swastikas and other symbols for luck daubed on, everyone's got their little deity picture for the car or various symbols all over. Even without the beard and cap, you'd know if your rickshaw driver was Muslim vs Hindu vs Christian.

For some reason I didn't spend a lot of time photographing autorickshaws, so enjoy this temple instead. It may look more South Indian, but it's in Indore.
My uncle flat-out asked me if I was an atheist (I may have this terrible habit of questioning traditions I find pointless so...all of them that don't involve food) and, well, I'm not so answering that one was easy. But even if I had been, I'm sure I would have lied.

Going to temple and sitting around through puja (why do they put food on the thali and then chant for like a whole friggin' hour aaaaaaaaaah) aren't just religious things. They're part of your familial identity. Sure, I welch out of going to temple in the US all the time, but I wouldn't dream of it in India (well, I'd skip the fucking pilgrimage, but mostly because there's not a whole lot else to do in those areas), because everyone goes together. It's just a thing, as much as watching TV.

Anyway, my point is that religion is ubiquitous. I don't think there is a lot of incentive for people to come out and say they really don't believe in god, especially not when they're going to do the rest of the shit anyway. I mean, without religion, you can't pretend Dussera isn't more than an excuse to let your inner pyro out.

Best Ravan.

No comments: