Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

The July edition of the Bengaluru Freethinkers meet happened yesterday (26th July 2015) at the National Gallery of Modern Art. The topic of discussion was selected a couple of months in advance.

The effects of superstition on the way we think was the topic and this time it was a little more structured than usual. Ajay Basarur had agreed to lead the discussion as he was the one who had suggested this topic. The discussion started around 40 minutes late. The total attendance was a modest seven. That also meant very few introductions.

Ajay started by giving us a premise about the topic with real and hypothetical examples. The first set exploring if certain superstitious people suffer from OCD. The second set of examples tried to establish the emergence of superstitious behavior due to anxiety or depression. The point was if such mental conditions could be held responsible for at least some superstitious behavior?

Lilith courtesy Wikimedia Foundation

Lilith courtesy Wikimedia Foundation

As the discussion opened up, it was agreed that none of us were qualified to validate such assumptions when experts themselves are divided over various issues. The magnitude of the irrational behavior, the harm such behavior does to the person who practices it, the reasons that drive people to exhibit such behavior etc. were some of the points touched upon in the subsequent discussion.

The conversation gradually shifted to other issues ranging from TV series and black metal to a freethought event that would happen during the next weekend. As per schedule the next meeting would be on 30th August 2015. The topic chosen is Violence versus Cruelty in what we eat.  This is in the context of protest against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival and also to question the subjective morality within the freethinking community. Requesting the participants to share links for further reading/ arguments shared in the meeting.

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The monthly BFT meeting for the month of May was held at National Gallery of Modern Art on the 31st of May, 2015. Scheduled to start at 11am the meeting officially took off at around 11:30 as members started joining prompting us to join tables. The total headcount was around ten. The topic for discussion was “Insults, their effects on us and how we can respond to them outside safe-spaces and our daily lives.

This time the meeting was a little different as we had fellow freethinkers who happened to be in town joining our meet. It provided an unusual opportunity to compare the movements in both countries. In the German context, the topics addressed were about resisting Homeopathy and anti-vaccination. We were given button badges and pamphlets carrying messages. Also copies of a magazine. They also introduced us to Dubium C30. It is ordinary sugar branded as a jibe at the sugar pills used in Homeopathy. They also told us about the 1023 campaign. However the materials were in German, if you have understand the German language or you want to read the translation you can visit their web page or their page on facebook.

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The discussion moved on to the topic that was picked in advance for the meet. It took a bit of effort to convey what the topic was and why it was important to discuss it. While it is relatively easy to curtail the use of sexist, racist and ableist language in safe spaces like the BFT page, when in other social circles it is hard to sensitize people who are oblivious of such issues and the harm it causes. It is so pervasive and widespread that most of us don’t even realize it most of the time. Often it is cloaked in humor which makes the person questioning it seem like the aggressor. To ask the person to explain the ‘joke’ was a useful tactic that was suggested. Sexism, racism and casteism in the mainstream mass media also came up for their role in promoting stereotypes.

The next meeting is scheduled for 28th of June, 2015.

 

The April Edition of Bangalore Freethinkers Meet was held at the National Gallery of Modern Arts at 11:00 am on 26th of April. I reached the venue around half an hour late. The group that had gathered was much smaller than usual. None of them were new faces for me as well. There was a casual round of introduction, which somehow seamlessly transformed into a discussion about marriage, monogamy, polygyny. The role of religion in marriage. Whether religion predated societal morals in promoting monogamy? Attitudes about monogamy in various religions and societies.

LogoNGMA

picture courtesy: NGMA

We reached an agreement that the topic that we stumbled on was more interesting to discuss rather than the topic that was designated for the day. Which was Net neutrality. Though it was a very relevant issue, it was unlikely to draw a lot of disagreements as we would unanimously support it. The discussion on marriage was continued. The discussion moved on to violence in religions and how reform is needed in religions for them to achieve peace. The recent trend of moving towards a right wing philosophy was also among the concerns raised.

The discussion hovered around the caste system for a while too. Ambedkar’s view on the caste system and his explanation on why it would be hard to eliminate the caste system, as long as people keep taking pride in their caste and look down on those belonging to lower castes.

Towards the end of the discussion we agreed to decide on a topic of discussion for the next month in advance. We came up with two. The topic of discussion for the Meeting in May (To be held on May 31st) would be “How to deal with insults in non-safe spaces”

The meeting in June would discuss the topic of “Cognitive Bias in Superstitions”.

There was also a call for better co-ordination with other rational and like minded groups in order to achieve common objectives on the ground. If you were present at the meeting and you feel I have missed something please bring it to my notice. Also please feel free to share links or resources that were discussed in the meeting or relevant to the topic. I’m sharing two links below. The first one is about a matriarchal society in China. The second one is about a form of polygamy practiced in India.

http://www.mosuoproject.org/walking.htm

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/open-magazine/the-water-wives_b_7041320.html

Before I start I’d like to put out a disclaimer. The title of this post is misleading. This is not about any prediction or prophecy. It is an attempt to sound clever by combining two different topics which were discussed on the 26th of October 2014. This time the Bengaluru Freethinkers Meet had a brand new venue. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at the 1MG Road Mall.

mgroad06

Picture Courtesy: http://www.onemgroad.com/

I walked in around half an hour late to find the tables being arranged to accommodate our group. Around half of those who had turned up were familiar faces. The turnout was a little lesser (roughly fifteen) than that of the previous meetings (I would blame the Diwali holidays for it), We settled down looking at new menus rather than the Coffee Day ones which we had grown accustomed to. The usual round of introductions ended very briefly. There seemed to be an urgency in getting to the discussion.

This time around, there were two topics that were scheduled for discussion.

– Astrology and its ill effects on society
– LGBT rights, sexuality and homophobia

It was not surprising that there was not much support for Astrology. Participants shared their personal experiences with astrologers. Also instances, where their relatives or friends were influenced by Astrology. The methodology in astrology was also touched upon. Since we did not have an astrologer present we were mostly left with speculating how good an astrologer is at his craft or whether there is merit in calling it a craft. An interesting question raised during the discussion was whether astrologers themselves believed in astrology. If they did they would be sincere in their advise. if they did not, then it would imply that they are an industry of con artists. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is true. Astrologers do change their opinion when they are bribed.

Then there is the thriving marriage industry rooted in astrology. Astrology becomes the first criteria when you are searching for a bride or a groom. The fact that the practice is widespread makes the outlook even more depressing. There was also a brief discussion about astrology in different cultures. From the zodiac signs to Chinese. The lack of expertise among the participants prevented an in-depth discussion. In the initial part of the discussion there was a focus on why people believe in astrology as well. People tend to remember the hits and forget the misses. The vague language used by astrologers and cold reading among other tools used by the practitioners to reinforce the belief were also some of the topics touched upon.

Coffe Bean

A random picture of the coffee table. Entirely irrelevant.

The discussion moved on to the second part “LGBT rights, sexuality and homophobia”. It started with the announcement of the Pride March which would be held on 23rd Novemeber (Sunday) which would also be the next time the members meetup. LGBT issues put forward were new for some of the members. Intersectionality was a term which was new to me. Two of the members admitted, how the discussion changed their view on LGBT issues which was for me the highlight of the day. The discussion moved on to Sec 377 of the IPC and what it exactly means and why it makes no sense. With decriminalizing of consensual gay sex being a big obstacle, marriage equality is a distant dream. The lack of empathy from society toward LGBT issues was a feature of the subsequent discussion. The older generations are not even willing to acknowledge the existence of the LGBT community, making the coming out process harder than it already is. The lack of acknowledgement makes it hard even to discuss the topic. Satyamev Jayate also came up in the discussion for taking up LGBT rights into the mainstream media.

There was again a call for moderation to make discussions more structured. Whether we could have a venue with a projector available. If the topics could be decided in advance giving participants time to read up on it.

After the scheduled closing time of 1pm members started leaving. Around half of the group stayed back hunting for a restaurant. After a bit of deliberation we settled on a place that offered Mexican food. We continued our discussions over food and drinks (Also a bit of magic).

P.S: A link to an article about the Pride March done last year. The picture features at least seven nirmukta members.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/sexuality-minorities-march-with-pride/article5387020.ece

28th September (Sunday) morning witnessed the latest meetup of Bengaluru Freethinkers.  Breaking from the ‘tradition’ of meeting up at Coffee Day, this one was in Cubbon Park. For those who don’t know yet, Cubbon Park would be the venue for all meetups till we come across a better location. Scheduled to start at 11:00 am, very few turned up on time. By 11.30 enough people had trickled in for us to start searching for a spot. Chaitra deserves a special mention here, as she not only setup the meet, but was also thoughtful enough to bring newspapers for the participants, so that they did not have to sit on wet grass.

Picture Coutesy: Swathi Nair

Picture Courtesy: Swathi Nair

The topic for discussion was:

Religion vs Free-thought
—Morality – Divine Command based vs Evidence based
—Modern Ideals on Gender Equality, Freedom of Speech and Expression, Homosexuality, etc

The total headcount was around twenty. The discussion started even before the introductions were done. The introductions as usual was peppered with the individual ‘coming out’ stories. A variety of topics were brought up even before the official topic for debate was announced. There was a lengthy discussion over the ethics of eating meat. The vegetarian cause did not have enough backers making the discussion look one sided. It transformed into an attack on religion, because in India, religion is held responsible for most of the vegetarianism we see.

Picture Courtesy: Swathi Nair

Picture Courtesy: Swathi Nair

Having a bigger group is always an encouraging sign. When the discussion diverges into three to four different topics among the sub-groups that spring up spontaneously, the purpose is defeated. This happened a few times where the discussion had to be stopped to assimilate the diverging topics.We briefly touched upon other topics like the caste system, racism, homosexuality etc. The meeting wound up as it had been planned at around 1 pm. There were a few announcements made for the future meetings and events.

  • The meetups would now happen regularly on the last Sunday of every month at Cubbon Park till we find a better venue. The next meeting would be on October 26th.
  • Continuing from the last Meeting Dr. Hippu reiterated his idea of reviving the print magazine ‘Indian Skeptic’. He invited articles and coming out stories to create a buffer of material that could be published.
  • There is a spot fixing drive by ‘The Ugly Indian’ on October 2nd at M.G. Road. Contact them and sign up if it interests you.

If you were at the meeting and you think I missed out capturing something, kindly bring it to my notice. After the meeting half of us headed to Coffee Day Square for lunch.

Under God’s Grip

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Blog, Religion

As India celebrated its 68th Independence Day, I went to attend another Nirmukta meet. I reached around five minutes late. It was delightful to see a full table of around eight who had already arrived (Usually it takes time for people to turn up). As usual, only a few faces were familiar. People were trickling in well into the discussion even after an hour or so. The total headcount rose to 23, (I had to count from the below picture) which was impressive when compared to previous meetings. After flipping through the familiar menu we placed our orders and started the customary round of introductions. It turned out that there were quite a few members who had joined the fb group recently. I wondered why there was a sudden surge in membership, but we had a different and better topic for discussion.

BFT Aug 15

Courtesy: A lady from the Coffee Day Staff who shall remain anonymous for now.

‘What makes religion so potent, that reasoning can’t change the minds of the religious?’ was the official topic for discussion. We used a shortened form though. Something on the lines of ‘persistence of religion’ from which I derived the title for this post. It was a topic most of us could relate to. Telling someone that you are an atheist, almost always sparks a discussion. The conversation started around the idea of god being seen as a watchful protector. Indoctrination from an early age, a sense of community, the want to be immortal, religion being projected as a pseudo-science, blind faith and an unwillingness to acknowledge concepts that challenge their beliefs were some of the points brought up. The debate also went off on a tangent a few times.

Though it was heartening to see a bigger group than usual, it came with a few problems. Some of the few voices were too faint to travel across the table. The music that was playing in the background was making things even worse (The staff turned it out after a request from one of the participants). A few of the more vocal members ended up dominating the discussion.

As the discussion was drawing to a close, the participants started to give suggestions for future meetings and things we could do. (If you participated in the meeting please feel free to comment on any points I may have missed)

The points raised about the meeting were:

  • Appointing a participant as a moderator, so that the discussion stays on track.
  • Having scheduled meetings on a particular day of the month.
  • Finding a better venue for holding the meetings (preferably with wheelchair access)
  • A longer time period to intimate the members of a meeting (related to the second point)

Some of the ideas proposed for the future were(I have a feeling I missed something here):

  • Reviving the magazine ‘Indian Skeptic’ (with better writing than what you see on this blog)
  • Creating a list of topics for future meetings or presentations
  • Posting links for some of the things discussed

I would appeal to those who suggested the initiatives to take charge of their respective ideas. The ideas are promising but I have seen a few plans in the past fail to take off. Belief and faith are words we normally don’t associate with, but I hope these ideas come to life and make a difference. I personally love both ideas and see a lot of promise in them. It goes without saying that the ideation process does not stop with this. More such ideas and their implementation, would make what we are doing more meaningful.

As the time started to run out, we quickly took a few pictures of the group. One by one the group got smaller as those with prior commitments started heading out. Even after the meeting officially got over with us leaving the table some of us gathered in smaller groups chatting about different topics. Seven of us carried on to a nearby restaurant for lunch, before heading out on our separate paths. Please do bring to my notice if I have missed anything. 

Yet another post documenting a Nirmukta (Bangalore Free Thinkers) Meet. As the title suggests this meeting was about how to move on from online activism and discussions over coffee to a real world impact. This was about acting on the ideas we discussed over the past few months. No action was taken at this meeting as well. This time however the whole purpose was to discuss on a plan of action for 23rd March which is being observed as Indian Atheist Day. This time the turn up was impressive. With 11 individuals, it was a healthy headcount for a productive discussion.

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It was at a Coffee Day as has now become a norm for these meetings. This time the subtle change was that this was one in Jayanagar near Ashoka Pillar. It was scheduled to start at 2pm. People continued to trickle in till around 2.30. Some of the participants had unfortunately sat at different corners of the venue but thankfully found their way to the main group. The discussions started in an unstructured manner as we kept adding chairs to accommodate the latest entrants. The broad theme of topics ranged from the history of Atheist movements in India to the manners in which Atheism can be taken to the public without offending the hyper-religious. Another topic which divided the group was the perception of the word Atheist.

The discussions carried on about how one can go about educating people about science, philosophy and logic. The discussions were peppered with personal experiences. After a few hours of free-flowing discussion we came to the consensus that the general discussion should be put on hold and we need to look at the matter at hand. To have a presence for the Atheist or Non religious community it was proposed that we should have a helpline of sorts apart from a possible website and e-mail id where we could be reached for support. The idea is to have a sense of community for people disillusioned from religious institutions. This was more of a long term plan since the specifics and the scope would have to be fleshed out in the coming weeks/months. It may also need some kind of investment.

The immediate goal would be to organize an event on 23rd March. The most feasible idea which came up was a stall at a popular mall (tentatively Forum Mall, Koramangala) where we could engage with the public and discuss Bhagat Singh’s ideas and the importance of Freethinking. More details would emerge over the next two weeks. Anyone who fancies the above idea or wants to be part of this is welcome. The exact concept and scope of this outreach is still to be finalized. Any feedback would be appreciated.