"Prof. Kumar", my walking friend Sreeni asked " what were the initial emotions in you when you felt you have lost faith in gods, soul, afterlife & the works?"

I said, " Well, I soon realized that I was a free bird! I was accountable to myself, not to some divine voyeur constantly looking over my shoulder and marking down my every transgression, no matter how insignificant, to use against me later. A picture came in front of my eyes. I am writing an exam and the invigilator is hovering near me and I find it extremely difficult to concentrate on my answers. Time is short and I still have to tackle many questions. But my mind goes blank. All of a sudden he disappears and I feel a sense of immense relief. My creative juices start flowing again." 

Sreeni: That must have been a very liberating experience?

Me: You bet it was! It is like the delivery pain which a woman experiences during childbirth. Unless you are a mother, you cannot imagine how intense it is. So it is with this disillusionment. You have to experience it to feel the joy of emancipation! Yet. Along with this freedom, there is a responsibility we are constrained to shoulder.

Sreeni: What would that be?

Me: Having concluded that God(s) are a delusion of the mind and if Gods are not ruling the world and seeing that justice is done, taking care of needy people, guiding our priests and leaders, answering prayers, rewarding the good……. then each of us shoulders more of the responsibility for those things. In short, without God, our lives could become more responsible & meaningful, because without an omnipotent God each individual must assume more responsibility for what happens. Only humans in the biosphere, can empower themselves and learn to save the environment, live in peace, love one another, help the poor and disadvantaged and help themselves too. The other constituents of the biosphere like animals & plant life cannot do these things.

Realizing that belief in gods leads to a lack of responsibility, or belief in eternal life diminishes efforts to improve real lives on earth, as a secular humanist, you feel powerful like a god and as ' noblesse oblige ' you start treating others with compassion & kindness. You do whatever you can to ease the misery in other people's lives. Since God is dead, you are constrained to assume the role of a “Badli worker” (substitute).

Sreeni: That's a colossal & formidable responsibility if you ask me!

Me: You bet it is. Though it is a nice feeling to be a free bird, the freedom is tantalizing. Worry lies the head ......... Sometimes I feel some ice has formed on my wings which is weighing me down & slowing my ascent to the upper atmosphere of ecstatic euphoria!

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Comment by V.N.K.Kumar on January 17, 2014 at 12:57am

My dear friend: I am not suggesting that you should be good because you will then be rewarded in heaven or else you will be punished for eternity in hell. That is the opinion of the religious people in all cultures, your Muslim culture or my Hindu culture. I am advocating "Doing Good" as an end in itself.

Why be Generous?

First, because people have an inherent propensity to be fair to others, recipients of generosity will feel pressured to reciprocate it. Thus, when you are generous to others, you attract generous behaviors from them in return. In other words, what goes around, comes around. 

Second, in a phenomenon known as homophily, when you are generous, chances are, you will attract others who are similarly generous to you. And hanging out with generous and compassionate people is, for obvious reasons, more happiness-enhancing than is hanging out with self-centered and materialistic people.

Finally, perhaps the most important reason why being generous enhances happiness levels is because of the story you tell yourself. When you are generous, the story you tell yourself is that you have everything you need and more (Abundance mentality), which is why you can afford to be generous. In contrast, when you are greedy and miserly, the story you tell yourself is that you are a beggar who is dissatisfied with what you have and that you need more to be happy.

Think about this. Taking might give us temporary happiness but giving will give meaning to our lives psychologically. It even gives us happiness......

How Altruism makes us happy :
1. Helping others trigger feel-good hormones. The brain's pleasure-linked chemicals such as Dopamine and various Endorphins are released into the blood stream, when we engage in helpful behaviour, creating euphoric energy called "Helper's High", similar to "Runner's high".
 
2. A research study has identified high levels of the hormone "Oxytocin" in people who are generous. The hormone Oxytocin is best known for its role in preparing mothers for motherhood - to induce contractions, but it is present both in males and females.
Unlike Adrenalin which causes "Fight or Flight" behaviour in response to threats, Oxytocin causes " Tend & Befriend" behaviour which prompts us to manage stress by affiliating with others and working co-operatively.
 
3. Helping others raises our self-esteem and enables us to forgive our own mistakes, failings and shortcomings according to a controlled study. This self-forgiveness is the key to a sense of well-being.
 
4. Some people are reluctant to help others because they are pre-occupied with their own problems. Yet after you start to help others, you may find that your pre-occupation with your own problems recedes and with it, the anxiety that can block your happiness.
Comment by Masry on January 16, 2014 at 10:48pm

@Prof. Kumar, thanks for your reply but I disagree with you about being good, not to sound evil here but "being good" was one of the reasons I became an atheist.

I was always told to follow the ethics of the prophet hoping that someone is storing all the good I do and will repay me someday, but yet when I look at the real world the chance to find such ethics are small to non-existent, so my question here is why should I give more than I take?

Comment by V.N.K.Kumar on January 14, 2014 at 9:28pm

@Masry: I notice that you have an intellectual self which is rational & skeptical but an emotional self which has not been able to outgrow its religious indoctrination. It might take time but eventually you will be able to resolve this cognitive dissonance. The main thing is "To be Good ( Kindness, compassion & Empathy)". Whether we are " Good with God" or "Good without God" -- the crux of the whole thing is "Being Good". That is the Lowest Common Denominator of being a Human being.

Comment by Masry on January 14, 2014 at 8:55pm

Hello Prof. Kumar, I was just about to post about this subject of free will and you beat me to it and you did a great job too.

See I have a problem with free will and responsibility, first time I was an atheist I have never felt such freedom, and that I can do anything I want and if something I do goes wrong or right its because of my actions, but I've found out lately that I still have god complex, that someone is still controlling what I'm doing, and blame God or karma or whatever for what happened to me, and don't really feel in control, and have to exert a lot of mental effort to get out of this state.

In my religion they always say to leave your responsibilities and worries to God and just do what you can do, I grew up on that and it stuck to me, yet can't find a way to change how my brain works.

Comment by Michael Penn on January 14, 2014 at 7:34am

That's a well put piece, Kumar, and it makes perfect sense. I find it strange in American society when christians claim it's the belief in god that holds them together and even stops them from commiting crimes. So many of them say they can do nothing without him, and they cannot even live without him.

My advice to them would be to grow up!

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