If you’ve read similar articles, then you’ve probably come across several Indian Americans pointing out their shame of being Indian around Middle School before accepting their Indian heritage later on in life in some form. My journey was a bit different; although, I’m pretty sure most other Indians grew-up with the same uncertainties and doubts that I had judging from the other personal stories regarding this specific topic.
Around age 14, I was beginning to question the existence of God due to my comparisons between Hinduism and Christianity.
By age 15, I began to seriously question my religious faith in Hinduism because of the ubiquitousness of Christian culture throughout the United States. In fact, it was at 15 that I became agnostic. I’m not sure whether or not most Christians realize how ubiquitous the Christian imagery and culture is, it seems to me that the implicit assumptions about Christianity and Jesus Christ in US celebrations and the US media that simply aren’t inclusive to non-Christians. Although, I don’t wish to be misunderstood here, the main motivator for my shift to agnosticism was because I would constantly think over what it would really mean if either Hinduism or Christianity were true but I never felt any appeal towards another faith. My choice was always between the Hindu deities being real or agnosticism as a result of feeling that other religious faiths were equally valid to Hinduism. If Hinduism were true, then the entire population, or close to the entire population, of the US was simply wrong about their religious faith and probably would be reincarnated after death. Yet, these millions upon millions sincerely believed that Jesus Christ was their Lord and Savior. Conversely, thanks to my parents having taken my siblings and I to repeated vacation trips to India as a child, I knew that a whopping percentage of millions of people believed in Hinduism. I had come to realize that if Christianity were true then almost the entirety of India, my entire family, and myself would be sent to hell for the crime of having a different opinion from Christians. I was well aware by this time that Hindus really did believe in Hinduism. On one occasion, among one of my trips to India with my father, I had spent nearly 8 hours sitting out in the cold to watch an exasperatingly lengthy wedding ceremony for a cousin of mine and my middle school mind simply couldn’t believe that anyone who would subject themselves to such religiously oriented festivities wasn’t a real believer of faith. There were key differences between India and the USA though, India was a third world country with pollution, disease-ridden areas, lack of education, and mocked by the rest of the world as backwards. The US is constantly known for being the greatest country in the world with the best of everything.
So did that mean Christianity was superior to Hinduism because of how different India and the US were? A terrible generalization and flawed line of reasoning, it was evident that scientific innovation and scientific progress and not Christianity were the reasons for these differences because of the education and innovations that US citizens took for granted. In fact, my interactions with Christians online during my high school years was quite enlightening regarding the immediate negatives that I saw in the Christian worldview. I had honestly believed that Christians who espoused the arguments of “original sin” were simply trolls online that were insulting the Christian faith with a deep level of bigotry and hate for all Christians. I ended-up getting moderated on a religious forum for trying to defend Christians from what I believed were bigoted views from people making fun of them. It wasn’t until a little later at age 15 that I found out that Christians seriously believed in original sin and that it wasn’t just a bunch of trolls mocking innocent Christians. To be perfectly frank, and I apologize if this offends anyone, when I first heard of the concept of original sin I had immediately concluded that anyone who believed in such a concept was deeply insane and needed serious mental help for having such an unhealthy and evil belief. I would like to stress that I am not saying this because of any antagonistic feelings towards Christians, I am sharing this because it is what I honestly thought upon my first real contact with understanding Christian theology. I had honestly believed that those self-described Christians were trolls who were mocking real Christians by implying they were all mentally disturbed. I had been briefly hopeful that this aspect of Christianity was simply an antiquated form of it, similar to Hinduism’s caste system, but learning more from living in a predominately Christian culture and conversing with Christian classmates from high school made me realize how shallow such a belief was on my part as I was growing up.
Despite that, Christianity was a comparison and I realized later on during age 15 that I was still being shallow. Even before comparisons to Christianity, which I had simply used as reference because Christian culture was more ubiquitous than either Judaism or Islam to compare Hinduism with, I began to realize that there was no real way for all four religious faiths of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism to be correct. Moreover, I really didn’t like the idea of hell – regardless of if it meant the absence of God in what seemed like eternal emptiness or eternal hellfire – and I was deeply confused about why Christians in the US couldn’t see the clear contradictions with believing that Jesus had to be their Lord and Savior versus living in a Republic that expressed freedom of thought. Now, those two beliefs aren’t mutually exclusive, but back then I was confused by why Christians didn’t seem to see any contradiction with believing that people who don’t accept Jesus would be going to hell for the crime of freedom of choice versus believing people should have freedom of choice to believe in what they want. I’ve since concluded that it was my naivety in not understanding the complex intricacies of religion and democracy when I was in high school.
Evidently, critical thinking won out completely because by the time I was 17, I came to accept atheism completely. Although, I suppose a critical influence during this period was Atheist videos of the New Atheist movement and their arguments against the existence of God. From my personal life, the Principal and Superintendent both speaking parables from the Christian Bible in celebration of the high school graduation ceremony was an event that fully convinced me of becoming an atheist because of how utterly meaningless and empty I felt those parables were. They were just a bunch of words spoken in English that sounded as if they were coming from some foreign world of make-believe. I didn’t identify with them and it just looked to me like the ramblings of two men who had temporarily gone insane during the graduation ceremony. The majority of the people, mostly Christians themselves, were visibly uncomfortable with what the Superintendent and Principal had decided to do because they did seem to recognize that it was a form of exclusion towards non-Christians. After all, if they’re allowed to use such parables then why shouldn’t Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other religious faiths be able to speak their religious parables?
After that, I pretty much accepted the fact that the “Indian” identity seemed objectively meaningless for myself. After all, I didn’t speak the language well, I didn’t know how to read or write in any of the Indian languages, the culture itself seemed to be trying to Americanize anyway since every Indian I had met, admittedly very few and this too was flawed reasoning, seemed to shower America with praises.
The rest of the story I’ll share at a later time. I don’t want this to be a total infodump, I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading thus far.