HINDUISM was brought up in the cradle of atheism. But it was the rejection of Christianity that led to the growth of atheism in Europe.
For fifteen hundred years Europe was under the tyranny of the cross and the sword. They enforced silence and piety. To speak ill of Christianity was a criminal offence. When Europe became free of this tyranny, the Europeans chose to reject Christianity. Today, only two per cent of the people of Europe attend the church. The rest, almost all atheists, are searching for a new belief.
Did this loss of faith affect the church? No. The church is a rich and powerful organisation. It can do without the flock.
It was the conversion of Emperor Constantine into Christianity (4th c AD) that made it respectable. For four hundred years Rome refused to accept Christianity.
Rome was of course ready to accept any cult so long it did not disturb the Roman way of life. For the maning of life, they turned to their philosophers, not to religion. In fact, they made fun of their gods. Christianity tried to enter this liberal society with its emphasis on one god (the Christian god) and one religion. No wonder, Romans turned hostile to Christianity.
Marcion, a Roman thinker (100-160 AD) set up a rival church. He was able to attract large following. He asked: “How can a good God create a world full of evil and pain?” Christianity had no answer to this.
Celsius, another philosopher (2nd c AD), told the Christians that God was of all men, not of the Christians alone. Thus the Greek-Roman world found the god of Christianity “unworthy of worship.”
It was the Holy Roman Empire (a condominium of the cross and the sword) that stemmed the growing disbelief. It kept Europeans under a leash for 1500 years. But there was no stopping the loss of faith.
The reformation was the first revolt against the tyranny of Rome. It broke Christianity into two – Roman Catholic and Protestant. But it brought freedom to the Romans.
The Age of Enlightenment (Age of Reason, Renaissance) produced some of the greatest thinkers of Europe. They were invariably atheists. Schopenhauer was perhaps the first to express his disbelief in Christianity. He was a great admirer of the Upanishads. He said that both Judaism and Christianity had a primitive view of history.
Hegel, the greatest German thinker (1770-1831 AD), considered Judaism an “ignoble religion” responsible for the primitive concept of God and the wrongs that followed as a consequence of that belief. He saw the Jewish god as a tyrant, demanding unquestioned submission.
Everything was wrong with Judaism, according to Kant. Marx adopted the Messianic view of history and Judeo-Christian tradition. But he dismissed God as irrelevant.
Nietzche went to the extreme. He declared God dead. And he introduced the superman in the place of God. (1880) He declared war on the old Christian values.
God was in illusion to Sigmund Freud (1851-1939 AD) He was the most scholarly critic of Christianity. He exercised great influence on his age.
Dostoevsky, one of the greatest novelists, declared himself a child of his age – a child of disbelief and doubt.”
Semitic gods had been a problem throughout history. But their death will create a greater problem. Tennyson exclaims with horror what it would be like to live in a world which has no purpose.
Man is facing today a greater danger than ever before. But he has nowhere to look to – not even to God. Helplessness was thus the mood of Europe. This was reflected in a few thinkers of the age. For example, Jean Paul Sartre (1931-1980), who wanted to ban god under any circumstance, for, he says, god negates human freedom.
Albert Camus (1913-1960) was another. He preached a heroic atheism. He wanted people to reject God defiantly so that they can “pour their love on the humanity. Prof AJ Ayer says that the death of god had liberated mankind.
We Hindus have been living with atheism from Vedic times. Which is why we are the most tolerant people on earth. But we are still living with our gods. You may ask why? Because we never made our gods into tyrants, with power to punish. We have left punishment to Karma, to the actions of men and women. Our gods do not interfere with our life. Take Krishna, for example – a playful god. No other people have a more lovable god.