I was born and brought up in a part of the world where there are many different religions. Most people there identify with one or other religion, even though many have but little knowledge of what they regard as ‘their’ religion and display even less practical commitment to it.
Given the pervasiveness and deep-rootedness of religion in the society into which I was born, it was perhaps but natural that I could not escape being conditioned by religion from childhood onwards, even though, mercifully, my parents themselves were not very religious in the conventional sense of the term. And so, at a relatively young age, even before I entered my teens, I developed an interest in things religious—to begin with, with a religion I was exposed to at home (aspects of what academics would define as three separate religions were practised by members of our household), and then, later, with a new religion, one that I came to learn about in my school, which was run by adherents of this faith. Then, when I went to college, I was exposed to another religion, which I found rather intriguing. That phase lasted for a while, after which I developed an interest in a different religion, and then, when I became disenchanted with it not much later, in yet another one. In this way, over a span of several decades, I was exposed to many different religions, taking a deep interest in them, one by one. And then, finally, decades later, I exited religion altogether, concluding that religion is, at least partly, a human construct. This was accompanied by the realization that one does not have to be religious, to believe in or identify with one or the other religion, in order to have a connection with the Creator God of the universe, whose existence is, to my mind, clearly obvious from the nature and immensity of the creation, which demands a transcendent Creator God in order to explain it.
Right through my long religious phase there was a mix of many factors that caused me to develop an interest in a religion and then, after a while, for my fascination with it to wane and for this process to carry on till I finally came out of religion once and for all. For much of this journey of mine, I was possibly impelled by a desire to be connected with the Creator of the universe. It could be that I intuitively believed that the Creator God definitely existed, and so this ruled out atheism as an option for me. Barring a relatively brief agnostic phase, for much of my life I felt I just had to be a theist because the evidence for the existence of the Creator God seemed so compelling. For me, during my long religious phase, theism seemed inextricably linked with religion. What made me think that theism for me necessarily had to take the form of belief in some or the other religion was the notion, which I had been somehow led to accept unquestioningly, that there was one—and only one—supposedly ‘correct’ way to be connected with God, to be in ‘His’ good books, to win ‘His’ favour and to merit ‘His’ grace, in this world and the world that comes after death and that this supposed ‘only one’ way to God was one of the many ‘world’ religions which millions of people followed. Now, each of the religions I had studied seemed to posit itself as the one true way to connect with God, and it is likely that this claim led me to believe that the way to connect with God necessarily lay in religion—in locating the supposed ‘only true’ religion and then believing and practicing it.
I had flitted from one belief system to another in the hope of arriving at this supposedly ‘one true’ religion, spending many decades in the process. But when I came to the very simple realization that there was no logical reason why God had to be found necessarily and only in one or the other religion and why one needed to believe in some religion or the other and practice it in order to be in communion with God, it facilitated my final (and rather hurried) exit from religion altogether. I could, I now understood, seek to connect with God directly, in the manner that resonated best with me, without having this connection being mediated by religion in any way. In other words, I could be a Deist!
Looking back on my long religious phase, I find it remarkable that the Deist option had never occurred to me much earlier than it actually did—the realization that one can relate with the Creator God without having to believe in, identify with and practice one or the other religion. Had I known that this was possible earlier on in my life, my exit from religion might have occurred then itself and I could have spent the many years that I had led searching for God, truth or comfort or whatever it was I was seeking in the realm of religion in a better way.
One simple reason why I hadn’t earlier thought it was possible to be in connection with the Creator God without having to believe in and practice a particular religion was that I don’t think I had ever met or even read or heard about even a single person who believed in the Creator God without also being a believer in some religion or the other. In other words, I had never met a Deist in all those many years, or if I had, they never revealed their Deism to me. Every single person I had met or heard of or read about who believed in the Creator was, as far as I can recall, also a believer in some or the other religion, or so I possibly implicitly assumed. It was as if belief in the Creator and belief in religion necessarily had to go together. As long as I held to this erroneous belief, I remained in the realm of religion.
But now, mercifully, I know better. I now know that one can connect with the Creator God directly, without believing in and identifying with any religion. Coming to know this has been one of the biggest discoveries—as well as liberating experiences—of my life. Truly, arriving at Deism has been such a big relief!