How I became a freethinker – Discomfited by religious constraints


By: Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh

The theme redux of this article is the message that all the people in Manipur should be united in the same mind and judgement regardless of different Gods or no Gods. This brings me to this topic of mine ie I am a freethinker who looks at every religion with an external perspective.

A freethinker is one who forms one’s own opinions rather than depends upon authority, especially about social and religious issues. ‘Freethinking’ is a term made popular during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th Century England, by a philosopher, Anthony Collins in his book – Discourse of Freethinking in 1713.

Collins wrote: “Perfection of the sciences is only to be attained by free-thinking and the stories of the devil’s power were founded on lies of some and credulity of the others.”

In Germany, Frederic the Great became a great freethinker. Voltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau and others made it popular in France while in America, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson made the impact.

Thomas Jefferson, the 4th American President (1809-1817) in his ‘Works’, wrote to his school boy nephew: “The God of the Old Testament – the God which Christians worship – a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust” (Works Vol. IV, P 325).

In another letter he wrote to John Adams, a short time previous to his death: “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin will be classified with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter” (Works Vol. IV, P 365).

These men were indeed very brave people to wage war against the powerful religious establishment, which the Church jealously guarded. Any dissent was regarded as a criminal act. In 1702, Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) wrote a pamphlet – The Shortest Way with Dissenter, mocking the Anglican intolerance. He was arrested, fined, imprisoned and pilloried.

For a freethinker, Reason supersedes Authority, such as Stephen Hawkins’s attempt to solve the beginning of the universe, or the Origin of man in Africa by Christopher Stringer, in contradiction to the established view that God created the universe and man, with emphasis on the experimental method of science.

FREETHINKING should be distinguished from FREETHOUGHT, which is a Catholic Jesuit invention to free God from his association with the evil of this world. It is the same for other religions. For all the man-made or natural disasters, the Hindus will dissociate God and say ‘Ishwar ki leela’ (the God’s play); for Muslims – Allah ki meharbani (the grace of Allah), and for Christians – the will of God.

It was about thirty years ago when I was stirred by a feverish dissent against the authority of religion by the steady triumph of historic events created by freethinkers. It was an expression of decay of imaginative joy and rapt wonder stimulated by the lack of evidence of God’s presence in this visible world.

Now, a post-modernist (apparent realities are only social constructs and therefore subject to change) and relativist (truth and justification are somehow relative to something else) eras
have begun to shape my view of the reality of God.

The 20th century will be remembered more for the failure of communism than any other disaster. The Soviet Union, which was launched with high hopes for the proletariat, soon became one of the most oppressive states in the world.

With the collapse of the Soviet Communist regime in 1991 due to economic failure there has been restoration of religion in Russia. Though no more than 5-10 per cent takes their faith seriously it is fashionable to be religious in Russia to identify themselves in a new society.

Oxford’s McGrath, atheist turned religionist, discerns that the cause of the collapse was because, for once in power, atheism delivered not enlightenment in utopia but rather barbarism in the gulag. Politically discredited and imaginatively exhausted, atheism has been forced into an astonishing defeat before advancing Pentecostal preachers and Christian fabulists.

Those who believe in the rights of dissenters like me have considered the unreality of God from his long history of inability to protect humanity from inter-ethnic murders, Jihadis, natural and man-made disasters.

My religious indignation at the lack of divine retribution for all these atrocities that must be an offence against ‘God’s truth’ gives me an intellectual challenge in the authenticity of his existence.

The conflicting human imagination of the active commitment of God in the welfare of humanity is petering out by advances in science.

The 20th century witnessed the discovery of many wonderful advances in physics and cosmology, starting with Stephen Hawkins’s Theory of the Big Bang and the Blake Hole.
The world woke up to the sound of drumbeat of the discovery of the scientific universe for the first time. Now we are witnessing the exploration of the relationship of humanity to the Newtonian Universe.

Newton’s universe was based on absolute space and time, to which we have no direct access. It is similar to God’s existence. How would we know what God says if we hear him only through what some people say. Only the very pious and schizophrenics can claim to have heard God speak.

As Newton’s theory of motion, partly relying on god’s help was unsatisfactory it was replaced by a new theory of motion by Albert Einstein. The application of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity has led us to our understanding of the cosmos. We have seen the technology of the lasers and semiconductors based on Quantum mechanics and new physics.

The Theory of Quantum Dynamics and the application of photons have allowed us to look deeper into what we have until now called the mysteries of God. Unlike laser that can slice through solid steel, photon beams allow us to transmit thousands of telephone conversations and myriads of internet connections to inhabit the same fibre optic cable without destroying it.

We do know that the universe is not only expanding but also accelerating, as observed by Edwin Hubble’s telescope. We know the existence of Quasars which are extremely distant star-like objects. They are the power source of radio-waves and other forms of energy.

A Black Hole is a region of space that has so much concentration of massive dense objects generating so much strong gravity that nothing, not even light can escape its grip.
Unlike scientists, asking theologians and philosopher about the existence of God will end up with slapstick answers such as, everybody has a father and thus there must a God, but God does not have a father; because God is God.

It’s like asking someone how long a piece of string is. Back comes the answer that it is twice the half of its length. When I was a trainee doctor in Newcastle, I went to buy a refill for my
Parker ball pen. I asked the girl shop assistant how long it will write. She thought I was daft
and gave me a daft reply – it depends how fast you write. The correct scientific answer should be 5 miles.

In the 4th century, St Augustine who was a philosopher and theologian posed the question of the beginning of the universe in his book ‘Confession’. He came up with a strikingly modern daft answer: “Before God created the world there was no time and thus ‘no before’. There was no ‘then”. It cuts no ice for me.

Nothing slips more glibly from the tongue than the word God – Omigod. The image of God is avant-garde of early human thoughts, dreamed up in the febrile minds in search of an audience. Others were simply brain-stormed. They were longing to find if there was anything beyond their world, someone so powerful who could create the universe. They thought for an answer.

From time out of mind, men always had a quest for the unknown and untried, death, and life after death. The emergence of man-made unified God was of fairly recent origin but before the beginning of science.

The ancient writings of religious people were simply passionate outbursts of their idea of a supernatural something to which they gave a name – the ever-elusive God. The Sanskrit Vedas were such outbursts.

I am painfully aware of my religious heterodoxy that might be regarded by many as a kind of innuendo as well as a dastardly dose of mockery. That is not the intention. We live in democracy and in a democracy we are allowed to think and act differently.

People should have freedom to think and question in all subjects ranging from the theories of science to the origin of Meitei language. But everyone should be able to explain in what he believes in. Anybody who thinks Meiteilon is Tibetoburman should be able to explain why, as I have done the opposite. I am also conscious that more reasons will certainly be needed to sort out this problem.

However, the problem of the origin of the universe no longer belongs to the metaphysics or religion, and the laws of science may hold even at the beginning of the universe.

It is the high noon for God to come out and explain himself why we should believe in him/her/neuter. Until then I will keep my options open to myself, if you do not mind.

The writer is based in the UK


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