Chatline British humanist Jim Herrick talks to P. Sujatha Varma about his next book on ‘Gora' and his approach to positive atheism
T here's something very smooth, sharp and crystal clear about his countenance that catches attention immediately. His intelligence sparkles through his eyes which often gives the impression that they can see right through almost everything.
At 67, Jim Herrick, a British humanist and secularist, carries an upright posture which truly reflects his vibrant thought process. “This is my fifth visit to this city, and the longest one – 10 weeks, to be precise,” says Herrick who is on a mission to study Gora and his lifestyle for a book he proposes to write on the renowned social reformer, freedom fighter and a staunch atheist. Brought up in the Church of England, Herrick and his twin sister were ‘quite the believers'. “But as we grew up, my sister got more and more religious while I drifted away from it. I began reading books. It wasn't one person or a single incident that changed the course of my thought process. It happened slowly. At 30, I got interested in the history of atheism. There had been various movements away from religion and not many people are aware of it,” he says.
He's been to Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kerala, Agra and Jaipur. “The best part of India is that you never finish, you never end. Indian Constitution is yet another impressive feature. It may not work every time but the manner in which it allows religions to live side-by-side is amazing.”
He says in England, statistics suggest that about 30 per cent population represents non-believers, 30 per cent believers and “the remaining 40 per cent are kind of ‘don't know”.
After pursuing BA in History at Trinity College, Cambridge, Herrick worked as a teacher for few years. His desire to explore the roots of humanism enabled him to penetrate deeper into the subject and in the next few years, he was editing publications like The Freethinker, New Humanist and International Humanist and Ethical News . He is also the former chairman of South Place Ethical Society.
“Atheism is a better word to use in India whereas the word ‘humanism' is more associated with the Western countries. The best part of being an atheist or a humanist is that it lets you live your life your own way. It leads you to think and tells you to do things. Nobody is without any doubts. Otherwise you are not thinking and thus, not learning,” he says in a matter-of-fact way.
The British writer is in awe of people's resilience in India. “I am impressed by the way the atheist society is democratic in India,”
To be able to know Gora from as close as possible, Herrick is reading Gora's books, talking to people he knew and visiting places where Gora was active. “I am trying to get to the roots of Gora and Saraswathi (Gora's wife) and their ideas on atheism. It's taking longer than I thought. I wish I had known him in person,” he says looking at a giant portrait of Gora in the background.
Herrick says his book will be read by both, people who knew nothing about Gora and those who knew him well. “Gora impressed everyone by his integrity. He practiced what he preached. He said things directly, no flim-flam, just directly. I met Saraswathi but could not speak to her because of language barrier,” he rues.
Delving deeper, he points to the compound he is sitting in and remarks: “Gora's nine children live here. That's an obvious thing to talk about. He was here…right here; his children and grandchildren are still here. Isn't that amazing?”
The most disturbing thing about India for Herrick is the poverty around. “One feels completely powerless. But Gora believed that he had the power to change things. That is the power of atheism,” he says expressing a firm belief that pure humanism will be the religion of the future. “Atheism has been around for a long time and it is worth your attention.”
The best part of being an atheist or a humanist is that it lets you live your life your own way. It leads you to think and tells you to do things. Nobody is without any doubts. Otherwise you are not thinking and thus, not learning