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In Conversation with Rustam Singh — Editor-in-Chief, Secular World

2022-12-13

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/01/25

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you grow up? Was religion a big part of life? How did you come to find the non-religious community?

Rustam Singh: I was raised in a humble Punjabi Sikh family in north India. Religion was a huge part of my life growing up, and since Sikhism is more visible (thanks to the turban) than Hinduism, that affected my perception of myself well into high school. As a Sikh boy growing up, I was obligated to never cut my hair, which meant tying a turban whenever I stepped out of my home. I hated wearing the turban with extreme spite. It restricted my vision, gave me a debilitating headache constantly, restricted my movements, and made me feel extremely cautious of myself. I felt like just because I’m wearing a turban I’m obligated to represent the entire Sikh community — thus restricting my otherwise outspoken personality.

While I studied in a Christian convent school and barely attended the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) once or twice a week, I began to feel progressively more detached with the concept of religion because no matter what I prayed for, things just seemed to happen as they would have if I didn’t pray. The stories started making no sense, and I felt like I’ve been tricked into a huge scam all my life. The internet answered several deep life questions I could ask, and for once, they had demonstrated proof instead of expecting me to just believe. And I’ve never looked back.

Jacobsen: How do you view the world now? What seems best to explain the world in theory and practice? What ethic, for action in the world with others, seems to make the most sense to you?

Singh: In theory we are literally at the peak of scientific progress we have ever been, leading much longer, happier and fulfilled lives largely free from mass epidemics and world wars. In practice, religious hate hasn’t diminished; it has just evolved and neither has their hateful regressive beliefs. The gap between the privileged and the underprivileged is wider than ever before.

I believe a society which keeps religion strictly inside homes alone, refusing to allow it to step into culture, education, public spaces and practices will naturally be more rational and scientific, thus ensuring maximum inclusion of all individuals. Rationalism and a science based lifestyle makes most sense to me.

Jacobsen: What is your current involvement with the international or simply local non-religious community? What do you get out of it?

Singh: I work with Atheist Alliance International (AAI) as the editor in chief for their quarterly magazine, Secular World, since 2014. I finally feel like I’m not alone in seeing through the obvious pseudoscience and inequality so visibly rampant and normalized in Indian society around me. This sense of inclusion and the existence of a support system to battle social inequalities/ restrictions on freedoms and render a voice to rational individuals and communities gives me an immense sense of pride.

Jacobsen: If you could take any piece of advice or quote from people living or dead in the non-religious community, what would be that advice or quote?

Singh: Carl Sagan’s famous Pale Blue Dot imagery along with the passionate speech embarking the fragility of our species in the infinite cosmos is the most inspiring quote for me. “The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.”

The concluding line, where Sagan talks about how alone we are in the universe, and it is our responsibility to rise above hate to preserve and cherish the only home we have ever known is humbling and motivating.

Jacobsen: How do you hope the non-religious community comes together and forms just that, a community, of like-minded people founded in sympathy and decency of conduct?

Singh: I hope the non-religious community strives to take their activism beyond Facebook and into our law books. Let us be active members of the law making process, education systems, and vocalized opposition to religious dogma. From casual bar talks to enunciated debates and from letters to our representatives to voicing an opposition protest to bigotry- let’s strive for a rational tomorrow.

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Singh: I would hope the international humanist community does not neglect third world nations such as India where religious persecutions not just result in loss of lives, but millions of unaccounted children growing up never hearing the voice of reason as well.

These are the communities we must include in our struggle for a rational world. Reaching out to adults is much harder `because of decades of religious indoctrination and inherit biases. Instead of spending our limited resources to tap each other’s backs, let us at a privileged position help empower small and localized communities to take action promoting critical thinking skills, scientific temperament and humanism without religion.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Rustam.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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