Let me explain two things today that are part of who I am, two things that appear conflicting to others but stem from my beliefs, my mind - my vegetarianism and my atheism.
I am from a part of the country where vegetarianism is an anomaly, where a vegetarian meal is considered frugal. Always irreverent towards custom, I even indulged in beef, that holy cow of the Hindus (unfortunately, failing to shock my liberal parents, which took away most of the fun of the experiment). While I laughed or argued vehemently at disparaging remarks of acquaintances, my love for meat - while never interfering with my spiritual well-being - always troubled my animal-loving nature. (Have you ever gone to buy chicken for your dinner? Have you seen the cramped poor conditions the birds are kept in, and the inhuman painful way they are slaughtered? I cringed each time I saw it - yet, hypocritically, still enjoyed my chicken curry dinner.) I first experimented with vegetarianism not out of the best intentions - more out of spite, of the stubbornness that does not turn down a dare. I switched back to non-vegetarianism after a couple of years, but never took to it with the same gusto. Now I am back to being a vegetarian and - surprise - never miss non-vegetarian food.
Let me recount another about-turn in my personality. People who know me now for the confirmed atheist I am may be surprised to learn that I was once a devout believer, if not overtly religious. I believed worship is personal and hated loud/intruding forms of religion. But I was also rational, and sometimes I felt my religious beliefs did not seem logical. I pushed those doubts aside because I did not feel strong enough to face the world without a benevolent 'Heavenly Father' to make everything come right in the end.
A few years ago, my dad was in the hospital in another city battling cancer, and I was at home praying hard for him. At first, my faith helped - it gave me strength. But then, doubts began to creep in. I asked myself, will this help? Is there really someone out there who’s got no other business but to make things right for me? It did not seem to ring true. I had thought, earlier too, that God doesn’t really exist – people had made him up to feel stronger, to feel safe in the belief that nothing could go really wrong as he was there to fix everything. I wanted that belief, that strength. I felt lost without it. But all of a sudden, I couldn’t believe any more - much as I needed that belief in my moment of trial. Once I had looked myself in the eye and acknowledged what my mind was saying to me, I could not continue to fool myself. I realized that belief in God was a weakness, and I could do without it. I could be mature enough to look at the world and realize that this is all we have, no perfect heaven exists, no all-powerful maker who would make things right for you. Only you can change things for yourself…
My belief made me weaker – because I had no faith, and little hope – but it made me stronger too, because I was strong enough to deal with it all. I have not yet broken down. And it has not made me any less moral. My values, my principles, are not in the least weaker – they may even have got stronger, because the only reason I have for following them is my own conviction, and that is all the reason anyone should have.