It took me some time to frame this question and I still don’t think I’ve done a good job of it but something to start with.
I am not religious in a traditional sense. I’ve tried to define religion for myself and the boundaries of it. Luckily, being a Hindu, I’ve got much more liberty to do that and play around with the whole idea of it. I don’t visit temples. I don’t do “pooja”. I haven’t believed in any blind beliefs – at least not the religious ones – as far as I can remember. I don’t have any idols in my house. Although I have a Ganpati badge and a Lakshmi coin in my bag. That too wasn’t kept deliberately but it was kept once for lack of an appropriate place and I never took it out after that.
But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that even if you don’t believe in something, it’s not necessary to criticize or mock people who believe. And this also holds true, the other way around. I always try not to do that. If I end up doing that and realize it later, I try my best to ensure not to do it again.
I find it a bit disturbing when atheists who mock religious beliefs or religious people just for the purpose of doing that. For one thing, it’s definitely not constructive. It may as well be counterproductive. It doesn’t initiate any dialogue or thought. All it promotes is a negative feeling, and in some cases, hatred. It is essentially about asking ourselves a few questions – 1) How much negativity we want to store in ourselves and relay it. 2) If we don’t believe in something, do we want to invest so much time and effort to make others also not believe it or we want to make peace with the status quo as long as it doesn’t affect us. 3) What is our compulsion to criticize or mock others for their belief system?
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you cannot convince (if that’s really your objective) another person by mockery or criticism. That will hardly ever work. It has to be respectful as much as possible and logical.
Faith is very essential to the overall existence of human beings. While atheists may be tagged as “non-believers” or they may like to tag themselves that, the underlying thing is that we all are believers. We may believe or have faith in different things but our lives run on a belief system. We may also have had stupid beliefs in the past and even in the present, may not necessarily be religious. Anything which we believe just on the basis of hearsay is a blind-belief, in a way. Our biases, presumptions, pre-conceived notions – all will fall in the same bucket. But apart from that as well, our lives essentially rely on those millions of occasions when we put faith in total strangers.
When we take public transport, we put faith in the driver of the bus/train to take us to our destination, even when we don’t know her/him. In this case, essentially, we’re putting our lives at stake. In case of airplanes, besides the pilots, we also put faith on those tens or hundreds of technicians and other ground staff who are responsible to ensure that the plane that takes off, lands as well safely. Our lives are in their hands. When we go to a restaurant, we trust the chef, whom we may not even see ever, to give us good quality, non-contaminated food. When we go to a hospital, we trust all the doctors and nurses to diagnose us correctly and cure us well. When we buy house/condo, we put faith in the quality of the structure built by the builder. When we do investments, we put faith in the financial system of the country to do its job properly and give us deserved returns.
The only difference, a big one, is that when atheists’ belief is broken, there is accountability (whether that actually means anything may still be a separate story).