All my working life I was an atheist in the closet simply because my bosses & colleagues were of the religious kind, intolerant of atheists and I didn't wish to rock the boat.
But fast-forward to 2017 CE.
Place is Mysore, India and I am 80 years young. I can now safely call myself an atheist morphed into a secular humanist, after 40 years of deep study of cosmology, biological evolution, anthropology, evolutionary psychology, comparative religion, philosophy of Humanism, values and meaning of life. I have finally come out of the closet.
What a relief! I don't feel like a hypocrite anymore.
This philosophy means four important things to me:
1. It means you do good for its own sake, not because you desire rewards or fear punishment in this life or in the afterlife. You have to have better ethics & morals than an average religious person.
Religious people are also good most of the time. But their goodness is often confined to their kith & kin, their own Bhajan mandalis, their caste, their religious community and often have a tunnel vision.
Whereas a secular humanist has to be compassionate towards all human beings & animals on planet earth (the entire biosphere) and try to do as much good for them as he possibly can. I am not trying to arrogate to myself the quality of being a perfect Secular Humanist. Far from it. No false modesty here though. When I rate myself on the scale from 1 to 10, I think I fall on 4 right now, but I am a WIP (work in process/progress). May be on my death bed I will be satisfied if I hit 7. To get a rating of 10 one has to be a superman.
2. It means you are accountable to yourself, not to some divine voyeur who is constantly micro-managing by looking over your shoulder and marking down your every transgression, no matter how insignificant, to be used against you at a later date. You are the jury & the judge for all your actions.
3. It means you think of yourself as a self-styled “Badli (substitute) worker’ in a factory to replace an absentee regular daily-wage employee. In our case the absentee worker is God or gods. Billions of people are praying to these non-existent gods in the 4800+ religions currently existing in the world but sadly it turns out that these prayers are nothing more than a “Soliloquy”. Thus there are billions of earnest pleadings from people all over the world, which are not being received because there is nobody at the other end of the line.
All secular humanists should consider themselves as substitute workers for absentee gods. We cannot ameliorate the pathetic plight of these billions but we can reach out to & help one other person to the extent we can. We can throw one single suffocating starfish stranded on the beach back into the ocean and resuscitate it.
4. It means you believe in an egalitarian society. Equality for all -- women are equal to men, all castes are equal, animal welfare as important as human welfare.
I have resolved that I should, unlike most humans, tolerate differences. The greatest dichotomy among humans is the religious vs non-religious. Unlike many atheists I don’t hate the religious. They are like that because of the indoctrination they received from their parents and one can’t choose one’s parents.
To my mind, Religiosity is a habit like cigarette smoking. However much we may tell the smoker about its ill effects, he may not be able to change his ingrained habit. In any case it’s what you do & how you behave that matters and not what you believe in the privacy of your own mind. And most of the religious people in Hinduism and that includes most of my family members, are harmless. They don't behead people who believe in other gods or no gods.
So I have decided to 'Live & let live'. This too is egalitarianism, don't you think?