Second place — Persons of color essay contest: Kea Ravi
Nonviolence, acceptance and freedom
FFRF awarded Kea $3,000.
By Kea Ravi
Throughout my life, I was often one of the only (now ex-) Hindus in the room. I felt a drive to defend Hinduism against false claims, to give it the same level of legitimacy as Christianity. During British colonization, my great-great-grandparents defied colonial and supremacist attitudes by retaining their Hindu faith and not converting to Christianity. Rejecting the religion of my ancestors seemed like a betrayal of my culture, the anti-colonial efforts of my forebears.
I realize now that I was thinking in an “us versus them” mentality — a mentality encouraged by my religious upbringing.
While my parents always taught me to be accepting of other faiths, a religious person cannot ever truly accept another’s eschatological views while harboring their own. Ultimately, I am right and you are wrong, a judgment not passed by facts but by beliefs. By pitting Hinduism against Christianity, I did not see the tragedies Hinduism has caused in its own right: its treatment of Dalits and perceptions of women. Socially conservative viewpoints exist in every religion, and, in another world, we could have just as easily seen ideas of Desi supremacy rather than white supremacy.
After examining my beliefs, I saw a contradiction. Hinduism, the religion that espouses ahimsa or nonviolence, was also violent, both physically and mentally. By forcing everyone to believe in an idea without any evidence, it executes mental violence in the form of cognitive dissonance and makes its followers pursue physical violence through the subjugation of women and people of lower castes.
Being nonreligious helps me achieve a greater, more nuanced understanding of the world around me. The absence of zealotry lets me engage with new philosophical ideas and grapple with old ones using an unclouded mind.
In fact, I became more interested in religion as a nonbeliever. I studied Buddhism as a researcher and read the bible for the first time. As an atheist, I did not try to disprove the claims inside religious texts. It is up to each individual to decide what works best for them.
Instead, I fully accepted and appreciated what the sutras and proverbs were for: a way of finding direction in life. Studying religion as a nonbeliever helped me form my own philosophy for my life without the outside pressure of faith. I did not have to reprimand myself for forgetting the words to a sloka. I could put that effort into helping others in more concrete ways than “thoughts and prayers.”
This journey would have been much easier if I did not feel the need to defend a faith I did not believe in. The secular community in the United States tends to be both white and relatively wealthy. As atheists, we agree that it is not reasonable to believe in a higher power which cannot be proven to exist. What often ends up happening in these spaces is a competition to see which religion is the worst. This is a pointless conflict. Demonizing one religion over another misses the point that all religions advocate unequal treatment between the believers and nonbelievers.
As a person of color, much of my community in the United States is based around religious groups and spaces. If the secular community emphasized its commitment to racial justice, more people will engage with us. The hardest part about leaving a religion is leaving a support system. If we build up our own systems, more people will achieve the liberation of thinking for themselves.
Kea, 19, is from Westerville, Ohio, and attends Ohio State University, where she is studying computer science. She hopes to attend law school after graduation. Kea enjoys reading, crocheting and rock climbing, and has worked as a florist.