Interview September 21, 2007 Interview

A few weeks ago, I had a phone interview with Laura Sheahen of

The conversation was transcribed, and it is currently on their front page!


You can read the full interview here.

[tags]atheist, atheism, I Sold My Soul on eBay[/tags]

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  • Congrats, Hemant! May your amazon rating go through the roof!


  • Bad

    This is totally random, but I like you better with the glasses. I don’t know why. You look cooler with em. 🙂

  • Remember thou art mortal. (Congratulations!)

  • Skevimc

    I just came across your interview (linked from reddit). I am a Christian, for my own personal reasons, that wouldn’t make sense to you. And sometimes don’t even make sense to me. I have been called “not a real Christian” by several “friends”. I am a Christian in a sense that I let what I have studied about the life of Jesus, be my example. Of course most of the stories come from the Bible, but once I learned what the writters were trying to say, things fell in to place.

    So anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I really enjoyed your interview and your open attitude. I will plan to buy your book (when next month’s budget starts). There are Christians yelling at me on one side saying I’m going to burn, and some atheists saying I’m an idiot on the other. It’s nice to hear a moderate voice. I think our world would benefit greatly if there were more of that.

  • Kate

    I think Hemant looks VERY handsome. What a great spokesperson for the non-religious!!!

  • Kate

    I am a Christian in a sense that I let what I have studied about the life of Jesus, be my example. Of course most of the stories come from the Bible, but once I learned what the writters were trying to say, things fell in to place.

    That’s not the mark of an idiot. Anyone who approaches their beliefs with a critical eye and a goal of always striving for the truth…not an idiot. You have my support as well.

  • Good interview Hemant. Though I hope you do realize the irony of this quote of yours:

    Usually what they come up doesn’t have to do with religion. It’s following the Golden Rule sort of thing.

    I know what you mean, but you are aware of the fact that the Golden Rule is actually from the Bible, aren’t you? (cf. Luke 6:31)

  • Mriana

    This is sooo COOL! You made Beliefnet! Now you are right up there with Dawkins and Harris. 😆

  • BTW, thanks for the shout out. 🙂

  • Maria

    Great interview Hemant!

  • The golden rule was around long before the Bible, and it is not solely a Chrsitian idea.

  • The golden rule was around long before the Bible, and it is not solely a Chrsitian idea.

    No, of course it isn’t. But as it is a principle found in many religions, including Christianity, it does, by definition, “have to do with religion”. Which is why I found Hemant’s statement to the contrary rather humorous.

  • Mriana

    It’s also found in Taoism, which is not technically a religion and also found in other sources dating back to the Egyptian book of the Dead and the Hammurabi Code. So, technically it is inherent to human society and really has nothing to do with religion.

  • So, technically it is inherent to human society and really has nothing to do with religion.

    I think what you mean is it does not exclusively have to do with religion. Obviously saying that it has “nothing” to do with religion is false, since we’ve all agreed that nearly every religion teaches it. Thus it must have something to do with religion, even if it’s found elsewhere too.

  • Mriana

    More like human society, since every society has such a rule. Not all philosophies have deity. Eastern religions like Taoism is one, yet the Tao has it’s do onto others. Religon is also a side-effect of society.

  • grazatt

    Hemant, you look very Dapper in your picture!

  • I’m not sure a belief system has to have a deity to be considered a religion. That’s not my understanding of religion anyway, and I’m pretty sure it’s not the sociological definition either.

  • Mriana

    Religion was created by society, just as God is a human concept. No, disrespect Mike, but no one’s particular god swooped down and said, “Hey, this is your religion and you will follow me.” It was humans who came up with a groups religious ideology and it either caught on with other societies or it died out. You know how to kill a god? Stop believing in it. Meanwhile, the Jews were whoring after one god after another. El Elyon, El Shadaii, El Adoni etc are not the same god. They are different gods. Moses’s volcano god Jealous was predominate at the time his follows recreated the golden calf (Baal). Moses was trying to switch from the bull to the ram at the time. As the leader, he had to put social pressure on them to switch gods. What is more intimidating then a hot volcano? That was a great help with a superstitious lot. Of course, Moses was not alone with the social pressure. He had his brother Aaron and a few others to help him.

    That’s only one example, but religion is a social thing created by humans. If it wasn’t, then why do all the hardline Evangelical literalist try to impose their god so hard and so strongly? If religion were innate, why teach it to your children? No, morality has nothing to do with it, contrary to popular opinion: There are more articles explaining the topic too. But morality is a societal thing so everyone can get along with each other. Even without religion there would be rules to live together as a society.

    So, all the Els and Ra’s in the world don’t make any difference, but some many humans seems to like chasing after various gods. If it’s not the Christian God it’s Allah, or Jehweh or buddha, or Krishna, then they play the game “My God’s better than your god.” 🙄 When in reality, even their god is a human creation. BTW, check out the Tenth teaching (both the 9th and 10th teachings are full of “I am”s) of the Bhgavad-Gita verse 32. Krishna says, “I am the beginning, the middle, and the end…” Christ: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end”. Very interesting. Turns out in the Eleventh teaching, Krishna is the incarnation of Vishnu on earth. Christ is God incarnate on earth. Humm… I Am I Am I Am Seems many gods are the great I Am. Guess who wrote the Gitas? Humans. Just as they did the Bible.

    Sorry, Hemant. No disrespect to your family’s Jainism. I’m just pointing out that humans create religion and probably share or extrapulate from other religions. The Jews worshipped various surrounding gods- one group broke off and worship one god while they criticised the other group for continuing to worship other gods. Christians borrowed from other religions too, besides Judaism, with their texts, but none will admit and some will fight the idea vehemently. Then turn around and impose their god on others, since the second century C.E. or a little before. I have yet to find Hindus attempting to impose their god(s), but no one kept from stooping so low as to steal some of their texts and/or ideas. I will concede that Judaism came before Krishna, but Christ came after Krishna. Krishna/Krista/Kristo/Christos/Christ Krishna/Christna

    It’s all a social thing, but you may have your god and attribute your morality to him, for I would never dream of taking him from you. It’s too much of shock to the system when you realize what is really happening with religion and no, I figured it out all on my own when I started studying other religions and myths.

  • Mriana

    BTW, the Gita is just one example of what I’m talking about religion being a social thing. I can go into other religions and myths that Christianity probably extrapulated from too, but I’m not going to write a book. Judaism borrowed from the various religions around them too and then they decide they want to be different and worship one god, yet they still adapted stories to fit their culture. Like I said, it’s all a social thing.

  • Jen

    I’m not sure a belief system has to have a deity to be considered a religion. That’s not my understanding of religion anyway, and I’m pretty sure it’s not the sociological definition either.

    I don’t know. It seems most religious people will refer to atheism as a religion, and the atheists hate this. And Google isn’t being helpful, although I did find a message board where one person suggested that what makes a reigion a religion is “worship”. I am not sure that is satisfying either, but I think that is closer to what I think religion is, though I think it would make (some) Buddhists irreligious. Anyone have their sociology textbook from college laying about?

  • Mriana

    Will umpteen Psychology textbooks work just as well?

  • Jen

    Go for it! Do they define religion?

  • Mriana

    I didn’t take the Psychology of Religion class, but I wish I did. However, they do briefly cover it in one of them. I remember reading it recently. Let’s see if I can put my hands on it again.

    OK not the one I was reading, but the Adjustment and Growth text book (copyright page is missing, but I took this class in the early 90s) has a whole section called “One Nation Under Gods” and is discussing the U.S.

    In summery, it says “The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the world (no surprise). Religion is one of the shapers of human beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. People’s religions refect and contribute to human nature. They (religions) not only provide a sense of people’s place in the universe and moral codes of conduct, they also provide traditions which help people adjust to life cycle events such as birth, marriage, and death.”

    So it is very social and the Humanists are not too far off when they say religion fills a social need, thus the Humanist ministers provide Naming Services, marriages, and Funeral celebrations because they are important social events and life passages for the human(s).

    The Racial and Ethnic Relations (copyright 1996) has many pages on it, so give me time to summerize it in another post. I’m sure you don’t want the many pages typed here. 😆

  • Mriana

    OK obviously this book relates religion with one’s social group (or rather ethnic group) and in the U.S. one is forced to conform with the social norms of society, even in the case of religion. Thus it is once again associated with society and explains the Religious Reich too (if you ain’t Christian, you get the Bible slammed over your head, esp in the Bible Belt). The prime example of being force to conform to society is the Native Americans forced conversion to Christianity. It speaks of how Christians used religion to oppressed others over the centuries. Islam, esp in recent years, isn’t doing very much better.

    Religion and Basic Values (in summery):

    The cultural religion brought over in the early centuries of the U.S. were primarily English and Protestant- Quaker, Anglican, Presbyterian, Congregationalists and Separatists, Puritan, and Baptist is what they list. They helped to form Separation of Church and State, but the English dominance decreased Catholic, Jewish, and other religions. So, religion is very cultural.

    “Puritanism was important in establishing the “Protestant work ethic” at the center of the value system. Idleness was regarded as a sin. So again, it is cultural and the culture is Anglo-Protestant. Not the Roman Culture or we’d all be Catholic and affiliated with Rome, not Britian. Or if we were an Islamic nation we’d be affiliated with the Middle East. OR if the Indians had been lucky enough to colonize the U.S., we’d be various sects of Hindus. The list continues, but it shows that religion is very much a human creation, cultural, and societal.

    It speaks of how the Roman Catholic Church has been very important to Italian Americans. It also discusses the religious cultural aspects of Judaism too. Again this is cultural.

    Long story short with this book: Religion is made up of society’s cultural norms.

    Therefore, religion itself has nothing to do with morals, but rather one’s culture. It is a human creation to control society. So, we could all be atheists and still have many social norms without any established religion. Religion or a belief in a deity has nothing to do with anything except one’s cultural background.

    Up next Abnormal Psychology (Copyright 1994)

  • Mriana

    Oh now this gets a bit off the wall, but in the 13th century the mentally ill were considered witches. Witchcraft was instigated by the powerful Satan of the heretics, and was itself a heresy and denial of God. Talk about social pressure to conform to Roman rule! In 1484 Pope Innocent (not so innocent) VIII, went on a witch hunt. I guess if you didn’t bow to him as Lord, then you were a witch. 🙄 Not sure what all that has to do with abnormal psychology, but it goes through the whole craziness of Rome imposing religion on others and killing those who would not conform. So, again, religion is societal and people either conform or face ridicule of some sort.

    Ok everything else deals with what I said before about religious ideology being a symptom of mental illness. Note: Mental illness is an extreme of the norm. So, any extreme of anything, even religion, can be a symptom of mental illness. IF we were to take religion out of society, would it still be a symptom of mental illness? That’s just something to ponder for those of us who understand psychology, sociology and alike.

    Child Development (copyright 1994):

    This is where the family unit comes into play. One of the functions of family is to “perform vital services for the society of which it is a part of” and each of the following functions “must be” carried out for a society to survive:

    1. reproduction
    2. economic services
    3. social order: Procedures must exist for reducing conflict and maintaining orderly conduct.
    4. socialization: The young must be trained by mature members to become competent, participating members of society.
    5. emotional support: Procedures must exist for binding individuals together, harmonizing their goals, dealing with emotional crises, and fostering a sense of commitment and purpose in each person.

    Over the years institutions developed to assist with certian functions, and familiest became linked to larger social structures. One them being religious institutions. “Religious institutions supplemented both child-rearing and emotional-support functions by offering family members educational services and set of common beliefs that enhanced their sense of purpose and shared goals (Lerner, Spanier, & Belsky, 1982).”

    Again, religion is a social creation to unify, create conformity, and shared values/beliefs. It is once again a cultural invention. Religion is not inate to the human being, but rather an indocternation of shared beliefs for a society. Start at an early age and you instill conformity of the young to the society in which they are being raised.

  • Mriana

    If you want more on this topic you can read a review of a book called “The Psychological Roots of Religious Beliefs”:

    According to M. D. Faber’s The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief, although we are born free of religious inclinations, widespread belief in a personal God has its roots in our early childhood development. In infancy, for instance, a child relies on his or her seemingly omnipotent caregiver (a “proto-deity”) to supplicate cries (“proto-prayer”) for nourishment and care. The child is consequently primed to map this process onto a religious narrative complete with its Parent-God. By promoting a religious narrative early on, religious institutions lay the groundwork for religious belief by exploiting an essentially subconscious process before a child has fully developed the ability to reason. None of us are quite “wired for God,” however; the existence of nonbelievers testifies to the possibility of accepting alternative narratives by the time one is exposed to religious ones.

    Mind you, this is only a book review and not a section out of the book.

  • ash

    ‘defining’ religion is highly problematic; most definitions are either too inclusive or exclusive. as a religious student, the model we’ve been taught to use so far (as a best of the bunch kinda yardstick) is Ninian Smart’s 7 dimensional def. – useful ‘coz it recognises different aspects and functionalities in religion and allows for them to be present in varying degrees. it would be exceedingly difficult to force atheism to fit his definitions for ‘religion’, but football? maybe…!

  • ash

    ok, if the link still doesn’t come up, wiki Ninian Smart for a brief description…

  • Mriana

    I am taking religion as a minor currently and I have not seen or heard of Ninian Smart’s 7. Are you attending a secular or a religious college? Myself, I attend a secular university. The thing is, the Golden Rule is applicable to atheism too because it is not a religious thing, but rather a necessary rule for society to succeed. Religion is only a secondary human creation that is applied to society.

    BTW, I got the link to appear via email:

    Professor Roderick Ninian Smart (6 May 1927–29 January 2001) was a Scottish writer and university educator. He is considered by many to have been a pioneer in the field of secular religious studies.

    Experience – “Religious experience”, very non-ordinary
    Social – More than one person claiming Experience
    Narrative – Story of Experience for later participants
    Doctrinal – Beliefs, must be rational and logical within entire system
    Ethical – Behaviours that correspond to beliefs
    Ritual – Repeated access to Experience
    Material – Material manifestation for participants

    Atheism and Humanism fit into about four of them, but they fit more of what I listed for society.

  • Mriana, I think you’ve misinterpreted the point I was making above, and most of your post seems to be responding to something entirely different than what I was saying. As I’ve already tried to clarify my point several times now (and apparently failed) I think I’ll just give it up. Peace.

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