An Atheist Walks into a Confession Booth

Perhaps every Yug calls itself KalYug to pardon itself of its sins. The myth of an earlier golden age is so prevalent across cultures that it makes its way down to family legends. All Indian families have a SoneKiChidiya story about lost riches and chronic bad luck. Even partition families who survived genocides and British rule look back fondly…at least the air was cleaner. The most narcotic drug in the world is past glory. At an individual level childhood is always a dreamland of simplicity and good intentions. It later gets corrupted by circumstance and society and betrayals. But it is never your fault.

The cinematography may change but the basic story is one of loss of innocence, its simplest form being the garden of Eden. And the basic emotion being guilt. Guilt, of having higher consciousness yet falling prey to desires and addictions. Guilt, of exploiting nature and animals beyond monstrous levels yet not being able to stop. Guilt, of not treating others the way we want them to treat us. Guilt, of not being kind even when it is easy to do so. Guilt, of not being honest even when no one is looking. Guilt, of simply being alive when many meet untimely death, disease and tragedy. Guilt, of still not being grateful of the cards that we’ve been dealt.

As all institutions from religion to government to corporations loose credibility there is nowhere left to park our fears and self-loathing. Everyone has blood on their hands and there isn’t enough delusion in the world to wash it clean. Very soon, psychiatrists will be the only authority figures left, at the cutting edge of medicine and philosophy. The format is an old one though: Confession. Beautiful in its simplicity and effectiveness. But someone has to underwrite all the repentance, we find ourselves too weak to audit our own wrongdoings. A great man once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” So an entire machinery props priests up to a level where they can simply pardon your sins. But that’s too much pressure for any man to absorb. And often, unsuspecting choir boys are collateral damage.

And this will happen to whoever become the new authority figures, be it shrinks or content creators. Carrying one’s own life’s burdens is difficult enough. One cannot do it for an entire community, not without the fantasy of a divine ordinance. And even then pressure builds up; if not over a lifetime, then over generations. And it has to be deflected, often and conveniently towards a common and external enemy. Once the war machine is set in motion, enough investors and benefactors pop up to keep it rolling. As a real journalist once said, ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought.’ Millions of souls are denied redemption and civilization marches ahead with faster wheels and deadlier weapons but the same guilt. Aggression may build empires but only kindness brings peace.

Rare individuals see the light once every few hundred years. And they are able to reflect some of it so brilliantly that it shines though all the blood and gore. But then; they die. And their inheritors try to sell t-shirts and subscriptions in their name eventually ending in crusades.

At the height of psychology and social sciences, we can at least agree on some truths:
Everyone suffers
Pleasure; by its very nature, can only be short lived
Luxury and decadence further rob life of meaning
Relationships are also a form of attachment doomed to disappoint
Feedback loops ensure we make the same mistakes over and over again
Empathy is a real biological phenomenon and not a higher virtue only to be aspired to

Buddha said all of this 2,500 years ago, in bullet points. And yet; here we are, sending toys to Mars while still fighting over the colors of our flags. Even when we are mining gold from asteroids a few years from now, the guilt will remain. Hypocrisy will be the last sin to be conquered. And it can only be done individually. Groups and authorities always magnify it.

Redemption cannot be passed on in a template. Everyone has to earn it for themselves. Atheists also walk into confession booths all the time but only with themselves. They may still turn out to be nasty people. But at least they never blow themselves up in crowded trains.

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