Asian Lite marks the Holy Month with a series of Ramadan Musings with Masarat Daud
For many religious practitioners, it is unsettling to understand an atheist. We often view the world around us through a prism of our own ideas and choices. It can be baffling to understand how can one live a life without a framework that we are so accustomed to?
Smriti Lamech is an atheist who was born into a Protestant family but a little over a decade ago, chose to opt out of an organised religious framework. Our conversation centers around two themes: one, to understand her journey from faith to non-faith and second, to understand how life is without a religious scaffolding.
“I used to sing in a choir and I have also studied Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, I’ve done that whole journey before I reached where I am right now,” she says.
She explains that it is most important to connect to the majesty of the human experience. “You don’t need religion to be able to experience the majesty of Niagara Falls or the Himalayas. It is simply a human trait. You can be a Mowgli for that matter!”
The mention of Mowgli reminded me of an 11th century story written by the Muslim philosopher Ibn Tufayl called ‘Life of Hayy’ about a feral child, raised by a deer who starts seeking the meaning of life when the deer who raised him, dies. Through the long-winded journey of self-exploration and discovery, what Hayy learns is that even if there was no religious framework we were taught or born into, it is intrinsic to human experience to seek the Higher Being. It is simply who we are.
Religious choices (or the lack of it) make us vulnerable to judgments. Smriti admits that when she meets new people, to be introduced as a person of faith is not out of the ordinary, but if she mentions her humanism, it usually results in gasps from people who mostly wonder how is it possible to live life without a religion.
When Smriti married her husband who belongs to a different faith, there was a strong opposition from his family. It was then that they both agreed to never allow religious differences to create rifts between them.
“My parents are from two different Christian communities so they had already experienced these barriers. They refused to be defined by the communities they belonged to. For example, my father does a lot of charity but it is not exclusive to the Christian communities. It extends to anyone in need,” she adds.
Growing up in an open-minded family made her “curious” of religion but not a “devout” version of it.
She continues, “I had studied Christianity a lot and I found that it did not work for me. But it didn’t mean that I started looking at other religions. For me personally, the concept of Faith simply did not work. I could not understand how a kind God can rain atrocities and terrible tragedies on simple, unassuming people.”
Speaking of a universal common human experience, she says, “Eventually, every religion has a common moral base. They teach you similar things, such as not to rob, cheat and kill. These basic moral structures are already within us.”
Usually, stories from religious texts are cited as examples of moral learning. Her children read stories from the Bible and Hindu traditions; they also read Greek and Roman mythology so the lessons from the stories remain with them and they still reflect on what lessons can be drawn from them.
Through many personal events, the question has persisted in her mind: why did God allow the negative incidents and tragedies to occur?
She found solace in her family and her friends. She sees a divine presence in them through the way they help her, support her and are ever-present in times of need.
“If prayer is about talking to someone you love and sharing your troubles and thoughts, then I do that with my husband. It is not a one-sided relationship. I don’t have to wait for things to happen. I fight for everyone: animals or human. Every action I take, I ask myself if I am hurting anyone.”
Instead of using religion to divide and label everyone as ‘Others’, Smriti is content with having a system that helps her not to discriminate on any basis.
It is an interesting question for us to look within and to ask ourselves that a religion, as a discipline for the self and our society is making us a better person or just the opposite?
(Masarat Daud is many things. A girl’s education campaigner, a TED speaker, a TEDx curator, a recent SOAS MA graduate and a politically-incorrect humourist currently based in London)