Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
The other day, chatting about atheism with a friend, I said that the hardest part of being an atheist was coming to terms with your own mortality. An atheist has to accept that death is the end: there is no afterlife, no rebirth, no greater meaning to live towards. Just that thought makes it so tempting to believe in God—one reason, no doubt, why so many people who don’t think of God for much of their lives turn to religion towards the end of it. How else to cope?
Well, reader Amit Panhale wrote in today to point me to a fascinating piece by Bhagat Singh on why he is an atheist. It contained the following excerpt, written while he was awaiting his judgment, knowing that he’d be put to death:
Judgment is already too well known. Within a week it is to be pronounced. What is the consolation with the exception of the idea that I am going to sacrifice my life for a cause? A God-believing Hindu might be expecting to be reborn as a king, a Muslim or a Christian might dream of the luxuries to be enjoyed in paradise and the reward he is to get for his suffering and sacrifices. But, what am I to expect? I know the moment the rope is fitted round my neck and rafters removed from under my feet, that will be the final moment – that will be the last moment. I, or to be more precise, my soul as interpreted in the metaphysical terminology, shall all be finished there. Nothing further. A short life of struggle with no such magnificent end shall in itself be the reward, if I have the courage to take it in that light…. I know in the present circumstances my faith in God would have made my life easier, my burden lighter, and my disbelief in Him has turned all the circumstances too dry, and the situation may assume too harsh a shape. A little bit of mysticism can make it poetical. But I do not want the help of any intoxication to meet my fate. I am a realist.
I don’t know much about Singh apart from what one reads in school history books and Amar Chitra Katha, but I suddenly want to find out more about the man. Many martyrs are driven by self-delusion—from this piece, Singh seems to have more clarity than that.
Earlier on atheism: Atheism as the Absence of Belief.
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