Sunday, November 27, 2011


(A Viable Alternative to Secularism in India)

From the above study one might rightly say that Western Secularism, without radical changes in it, is totally out of place in India. Rightly therefore Upendra Baxi states with the support of socio-political thinkers like Madan T. N. and Ashish Nandy:

“Secularism, in the prevailing conditions in South Asia as a generally shared credo of life, is impossible, as a basis of state action impractical, and as a blueprint for the foreseeable future impossible…. Madan describes secularism ‘as an alien cultural ideology, which lacks the strong support of the state:’ ‘secularism’ has become a ‘vacuous word’ and a ‘phantom concept’…”[1]

            This does not mean that we can ignore without serious consequences to national unity and integration, the reality of Religious Pluralism, inter-religious rivalry and the rise of Religious Fundamentalism in practically all the religions of the sub-continent. Our formula, “Religiosity of Dialogal Liberation”, seems to be a right alternative to ‘secularism’, capable of doing justice to the various challenges of the Indian situation of religious pluralism and socio-economic injustice. We use the term “Religiosity” to give the central place to religions respecting the Indian ethos. If this “Religiosity” is dialogal it cannot degenerate into fundamentalism or fanaticism. As we have seen just above, Islam has problems of dialoguing with other religions with a sense of equality accepting their salvific values. Hinduism may find it difficult in collaborating with other religions in liberating people from caste-oppression or economic misery due to their faith in karma, especially sanchit and prarabdha karma. In our effort to face problems of this sort from various religions we shall first deal with the axiomatically accepted view that context changes the text and then consider the praxis of re-reading the non-Christian scriptures from the context.

The Axiom ‘The Context Changes the Text’

One of the chief assumptions of contextual theology is the saying that context changes the text. This assumption is today accepted almost as an axiom. The context of a person is a sort of mental category, a la Kantian Categories, through which the subject tries to reach the Noumenon. Let us take the example of a film like The Bandit Queen. In this film what would strike the high-caste Hindus and what would strike the oppressed caste of Phoolan Devi herself must have been very different. The high-caste Hindus might not have found anything abominable or even strange in the approving looks of the wives of the men who were raping her or parading her naked through the length and breadth of the village. How different must have been the perception, both in details and in substance, of the women of the caste of Phoolan Devi! One might say that in films people would perceive what they are interested in, on the conscious or the unconscious level. This is the psychological aspect of the influence of the context. Oxford Companion to Mind says: “…the direct realism of immediate experience of the object world has been abandoned. It is now, however, fairly generally accepted that stored knowledge and assumptions actively affect even the simplest perceptions.”

Let us take the example of Magnificat about which the Liberation Theologians wax eloquent. Traditionally it was understood as a hymn of praise and thanksgiving sung leisurely by an immaculately conceived innocent village girl. But what a different meaning the poor and the oppressed Christians of Latin America gave to this hymn! They primarily concentrated on the following verses:
            ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
            and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
            because he has taken upon his lowly handmaid.

            He has shown the power of his arm,
            he has routed the proud of heart.
            He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
            The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
            (Lk. 1:46,47,51,52)

For persons who suffer oppression it is the cry of an oppressed woman for justice. It is a revolutionary song, which needs completely a new revolutionary tune and a thoroughly new interpretation.

But there are other epistemological aspects too in the above-said axiom that context changes the text. From the time of Heisenburg even scientists began to take for granted the subjective elements even in the most ‘objective’ physico-chemical sciences. It is much more so in human sciences like history and sociology. William James used to say that in Love, Politics, and in Religion people prove what they want to prove because they have to prove it. When we are involved with the poor, poverty, misery and oppression have different meanings.

Re-reading the Scriptures

            When we enter into dialogue with other religions, we have to be aware not only of the above axiom but also of the praxis of the Liberation Theologians of re-reading the scriptures. But in the context of religious pluralism and dialogue we are called upon to re-read not only the Bible but also the non-Christian scriptures. As far as the Indic Religions are concerned, as we have seen in our study of Indian Ethos, dialogal attitudes come natural to them. In the past, where the Muslims were a small minority, their talk about dialogue and secularism seems to have been a ploy for survival. Now it seems that a few Western Muslim Scholars began to have sincere dialogue with other religions especially with the Christians. Such dialogues led them to re-read the Quran and they have begun to bring out Quranic texts which are inclusive and inspirational for inter-religious dialogue. Here a few sample texts from the Quran are given:

To you be your way, And to me mine” (Holy Quran, 109:6).

“To each among you have prescribed a Law and an Open Way. If God so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute” (Holy Quran, 5:48).

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair), of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. (Not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all these things)” (49:13). Cfr. Also 2:213; 10:29; 30:21).

Some Anti-caste texts from the Hindu scriptures:

Here we shall narrate the well-known Upanishadic story which shows how the character of a person determines his caste, not his birth. The story of Satyakama described in the Chandogya Upanishad well brings out this idea (IV:4:5). Satyakama, the bastard son of a low caste woman goes to a Brahmin sage named Gautama with the desire for learning. When he was asked about his gotra (family) he told the truth. Pleased with his truthfulness the guru said: “None but the Brahmana could thus explain. Bring the fuel, my dear, I will receive you as a pupil. Thou hast not departed from the truth”. Gita IV:13 and IX:4:32, could be interpreted in this way.[2]

            Here below a paragraph from Dr. Pandurang Kane, a scholar in Dharmasastra Literature is given. It is the result of the Re-reading of the Mahabharata with an anti-caste mind-set.  

Shanti 188:10 says ‘there is no real distinction between the varnas (since) it was formerly created by Brahma, and has the system of varnas on account of the various actions (of men)’. Shanti (189:4 and 8) avers ‘that man is known as brahmana in whom are seen truthfulness, generosity, absence of wickedness, shame (restraint for avoiding wrong-doing), compassion and a life of austerity; if these signs are observed in a sudra and not found in brahmana, the sudra is not a sudra (should not be treated as a sudra) and the brahmana is not a brahmana. A similar passage occurs in Vanaparva 216:14 and 15[3].

            Recently, I had the privilege of attending an international seminar organized by a group of secular persons from different parts of the world. One of the main topics of this seminar was The Humane face of Socially Engaged Hinduism. The participants including those from the West, were well aware of the common and uncritical understanding of Hinduism, as a world-denying religion with no concern for the sufferings and miseries of fellow human beings, be it poverty, disease or caste-discrimination.

            They were also aware of another uncritical assumption about Hinduism. It is that because of the Hindu belief in Sanchit Karma (accumulated evil effects of the actions of the previous birth) the victims of contagious diseases, social marginalization, economic injustice, etc. suffer in the present birth as a just punishment for their sinful deeds in the previous birth. Hence, we would have no serious responsibility of alleviating their sufferings since they suffer what they deserve.

            A number of scholarly papers could parade numerous scriptural statements from the Vedas to the mediaeval and modern bhakti literature which teach the value of compassion and loving service. Here we shall cite a few of them:

Rigveda (10:117: 3 and 5)

Bounteaous is he who gives to the beggar who comes to him in want of food and feeble.

Success attends him at the shout of battle. He makes a friend of him in future troubles.
Let the rich satisfy the poor implorer, and bend his eye upon a longer way.
Riches come now to one, now to another, and like wheels of cars are ever rolling.

Bhagavad Purana

Na tvaham kamaye rajyam na svargam napunarbhavam, kamaye dukataptanam praninamartinasham
The meaning of this verse in a rather liberal paraphrase is that the Saint begs of the Lord, as the greatest gift and grace, to allow him to share the sufferings of all the people, for he considers this grace greater than that of his own Salvation.

Bhagavad Gita

            Those who work for the total welfare of all beings (loksangraha) (Cfr. 3:20 and 25), are worthy of ‘Salvation’.

            Those who are involved in the well-being of all beings (sarva-bhuta-hite-ratah) are also worthy of ‘Salvation’ (cfr. 5:25 and 12:4).

From the Sacred writings of the Saints

            From Thiruvelluvar :

“To give to the destitute is true charity. All other gifts have the nature of (what is done for) a measured return. (Even in a low state) not to adopt the mean expedient of saying, ‘I have nothing’, but to give is the characteristic of the man of noble birth. The power of those who perform penance is the power of enduring hunger. It is inferior to the power of those who remove the hunger of others”[4]. 

            From the writings of Thirumular:

“Padamada kovil pahavarku onru eel, nadamadakovil nambaarku anka aha.
Nadamakovil namabarku onru eel  padamadakovil pahavarku  atu ame.”
It means that what we offer to the Lord in the temple will not reach our fellow-humans, but what we offer to the walking temple that is our fellow human being will certainly reach our fellow humans, and it may also reach the Lord.” 
            From the writings of Narsinh Mehta:

Vaishnava janato tene kahiye pida paray janere
Paradukhe upakara kare toye man abhiman na anere
(= They are the true Vaishnavas who know the sufferings of others. And if these people do something to alleviate the sorrows of others they do it with no sense of pride or a superiority complex).

Our Formula as an Alternative to Western Secularism:

Religiosity of Dialogal Liberation

            In this formula for the Indian context, religion is brought to the centre in keeping with the spirit of the Indian Ethos. But we give religion this central place in so far as it is in dialogue with other religions without letting it fall into religious fundamentalism. Besides, the various religions are expected to cooperate with one-another for the total welfare of the people and of the nation as a whole. The three concepts in this formula are complementary and mutually enriching.

            We accept the axiomatically considered formula in situations of Religious Pluralism that “To be Religious means to be Inter-Religious”. In situations of Religious Pluralism a fundamentalistic, exclusivistic and self-righteous religion, with no openness for dialogue with other religions, will function like a cancer-cell. A cancer cell is one of the most powerful and the most rapidly multiplying cells. But the fact is that it eventually destroys itself and the body (organism) as a whole, as it happens to any parasite. The reason simply is that a cancer cell does not follow the homeo-static system of the organism, which is responsible for the multiplication and differentiation of the various organs and limbs of the organism. A particular minority community in a nation can take all the advantages of being citizens and the privileges all the minority communities while at the same timework as terrorists and fifth-columnists. The Rightist parties in the Western Europe accuse the Muslims of such parasitic disloyalty. Here I shall cite just a few sentences from a speech by a panicky Rightist MP from Netherlands: “The Pew Research Centre reported that half of French Muslims see their loyalty to Islam as greater than their loyalty to France. One-third of French Muslims do not object to suicide attacks. The British Centre for Social Cohesion reported that one-third of British Muslim students are in favour of a worldwide caliphate” (From the speech delivered in New York by Geert Wilders, an MP from Netherlands). In a country like ours, inculcating and promoting a culture of dialogue on the personal and the institutional levels are of paramount importance.

            Following the example of Aloysius Piereis SJ, we do highlight the Liberative potential of all religions. All the religions in India have the ideals and potential to cooperate with other religions to build India as a prosperous, progressive, well united peace-loving and peace-making great nation.

            Recently the Polite Bureau of the Marxists has publicly declared that it does not oppose true religiosity (spirituality) but opposes mechanical ritualism. Dialogal Liberation implies cooperating with people of other religions to make India a better place to live in and to oppose the dehumanizing factors of Indian society, whatever these things may mean. For instance, so many of us Indians complain about corruption in various sectors of Indian life. If all the Religions in India cooperate to eradicate corruption on the basis of different religions, India will not remain one of the most corrupt countries of the world. Remember, the national ideal expressed in the mantra SATYAMEVA JAYATE has become an empty slogan. The unfortunate thing in our country is that adharma (all kinds of evil) conquers dharma because the so-called religious people are busy with opposing and putting down other religions thereby losing the precious time and energy meant for “dharma samsthapana” or the establishment of dharma with all its values. To fight for the national priorities like ecological balance, national hygiene including the cleaning up the polluted rivers, opposing caste-atrocities and fighting against the adharma of degrading poverty, side-by-side with dehumanizing luxury, all the religions could be brought together. This means that the religion to which we want to give a central place in Indian life is not an escapistic religion but one that can collaborate with people of all the religions of India for a better present and a brighter future.

            Religiosity of dialogal liberation is not an unrealizable Euthopian dream. Let me tell you what happened to me some years back. I was invited by a Catholic priest to inaugurate a bridge in the Kottayam dist. of Kerala. This bridge was built with the cooperation of the Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities. The idea of this bridge was mooted by a Catholic priest in consultation with a couple of Non-Catholic Christian priests, when the government had failed to respond to their applications. This bridge would serve the Hindu pilgrims to Sabarimala by shortening the distance by several miles and by making the route through a less dangerous forest. When the Hindu and Muslim leaders were contacted they were only too willing to cooperate with the Christians. Though the chief beneficiaries of this new bridge were the Hindu pilgrims, all the other communities on the other side of the bridge could get easy access to the nearby town. For the inauguration a sumptuous meal was organized for the thousands of people who took part in building the bridge and the road which connected it to the main road. The meal was prepared by the women from the three communities while the men-folk were still busy with giving finishing touches to the bridge and to the roads. At the end of the meal all were served delicious payasam, a south Indian delicacy. At the end of the inaugural functions, I ended my speech with the following parable:

             Once a man, fairly well dressed, knocked at the door of a house and asked for a meal. The housewife told him that the family had already taken the meal and so she would not be in a position to give him a decent meal respecting his status. Taking out a smooth white stone from his pocket, the guest said, “This magical payasam-stone can produce delicious payasam if you could put a pot of water on the stove.” When the water was about to boil, he put the payasam-stone into the pot.

            Due to the peculiar dynamics of the rural communication system, already some neighbours had arrived to observe the magical power of the payasam-stone. After tasting a little liquid from the boiling pot, he said, “Excellent payasam! But if somebody could contribute a little salt, it would taste better.” After tasting the liquid again, he asked for some rice and some milk. The neighbours began to vie with one another in complying with his polite requests. After tasting the payasam again and again, he courteously requested for sugar and coconut chips and then for some spices like cardamom, cumin seed, pepper and the like. After tasting the payasam getting ready in the pot he said: “I am going to serve the most delicious payasam the type of which you have never tasted. But if somebody would bring some cashew-nuts, I can assure you that it will give you some unforgettable taste”. While keeping on stirring the payasam in the pot he requested the house-wife to make the people sit in a line and give each one a bowl or a cup. He served all of them delicious payasam.

            This parable illustrates the underlying assumption of this paper – that religions are not contradictorily opposed but complimentarily related notwithstanding their serious differences. All the religions in India have the ideals and potential to make India a better, greater and a more united nation. By speaking about Dialogal Liberation we want to point out that here we are not advocating a status-quo religion or an escapistic religion but a religion which is conscious of its duty of dharma-samsthapana in its broadest sense. In a dialogal sense it can include the World Family Ideal, the Christian Kingdom of God Ideal and the Umma Ideal of Dialoging Muslims.
To Conclude
            Right at the outset we tried to understand the Western concept of secularism. In the light of various descriptions and definitions of this concept from different sources, we came to the conclusion that secular ideology in its initial stages was very much materialistic and worldly, and that ‘Lokayata’ would be a right translation of this ‘Western Secularism’. We also saw that the secularism prescribed as pancea for all the ills of Mother India is not a well thought out and philosophically digested ideology, but the fall-out of various anti-clerical, anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment, revolutions and upheavals in the West.

            The result of this ‘secularism-drug’ had been disastrous in the Western ethos notwithstanding its minor gains. As far as India is concerned, the artificial separation of state and religion on secularistic prescription would go against the Indian mind-set and ethos. But the truth is that the communalistic cancer is sapping Mother India’s energies and resources which are needed to help her millions of hungry, naked and homeless children. To make India united, integrated and energetic the formula suggested by us is Religiosity of Dialogal Liberation. This ideal is not very different from the Gandhian sarva-dharma-samabhav or sarva-dharma-mamabhav except that the religions should not stand for status quo but must use their collective energies to build up a better and a greater India according to the ideals of vasudhaiva kutumbakam or Kingdom of God. This ideal is totally against ghettoistic, exclusivistic and self-righteous religious attitudes.

            Training in such ideals and axioms as ‘to be Religious means to be Inter-Religious’, ‘context changes the text’ and ‘re-reading the scriptures’ from the context can promote a culture of Religiosity of Dialogal Liberation. This can be done in the existing national structures like the educational institutions, panchayat institutions, Gandhian institutions like Ashrams and Gandhi Vidyapiths. In some of the educational institution of Western Europe there are centres for training in citizenship substituting the traditional centres for religious teachings (catechism). In India such centres could be started with an emphasis on Religiosity of Dialogal Liberation. Common celebrations of national and religious festivals can inculcate inter-religious values especially among the common folk. Multi-religious symbols could be promoted in the government offices without at the same time giving the freedom of using the symbols of one’s own religion. The mass-media could be encouraged to present India as a mosaic of many religious, ethnic, linguistic and racial groups, as a living symbol to the ideal of unity in diversity, and a model in the process for many nations which are struggling to cope with problems of Religious Pluralism and Religious Fundamentalism.

Amidst the din of communal politics, our suggestion for educating the people in the Religiosity of Dialogal Liberation would be like a cry in the desert. But I firmly believe that sooner or later our traditional resilience and wisdom will triumph. Let us cooperate with our countrymen in the spirit of the Religiosity of Dialogal Liberation to realize the ideal of our ancestors, vasudhaiva kutumbkam and atraiva vishvam bhavati eknidam.

[1] “The ‘Struggle’ for the Redefinition of Secularism in India: Some Preliminary Reflections” in Secularism and Liberation, Rudolf Heredia & Edward Mathias (edit)., New Delhi:: ISI, 1995, p.56.
[2] Cfr. Ishanand Vempeny, “Inspirational in the Non-Biblical Scriptures”, Bangalore: TPI, 1973, p.203. In the same book an effort was made to re-read the scriptures with an anti-caste mind-set. Cfr. ibid., pp. 199-206.
[3] Kane, History of Dharmasastra, vol.5, Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1962, p.1642.
[4] The version of Andrew and John Lazarus, Madras, The Teachers’ Publishing House, p.47

Monday, November 21, 2011



1. The Positive Results

From the various good results of secularism in the Western countries we shall enumerate just a few. Because of secularistic ideology no Galileos had been victimised for scientific inventions and discoveries, and no Savanarolas had been burned at the stake for going against the religious dogma. Another fallout of secularistic ideology was the tolerance of religious pluralism which we notice in most of the Western countries though the Marxist brand of secularism was totally intolerant not only of religions but also of non-Marxist, secular ideologies. A third good result of the triumph of secularism was the release of an enormous amount of church-property for the use of the impoverished masses.

Certainly secular ideology helped people to take earthly life seriously, feeling responsible for its development and progress. In other words people were saved from escapistic, other-worldly religious doctrines which gave little importance to earthly concerns and values. Here we are in the good company of Max Weber and Karl Marx. And finally the secular ideals are responsible for the success of Western Democracies in freedom, scientific invention, industrial progress and economic growth. In the secular democracies of the West the Christian Religion, by and large, does not interfere with your eating habits, dressing styles or artistic expressions. Today, however, by the advent of religions like Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism these freedoms are partly curtailed for the members of these religions. Remember the recent prohibition of building minarets in Switzerland

2. The Negative Consequences of Secularism

One of the basic drawbacks of secularism was that it caused people to be satisfied with the letter rather than the spirit of the law, with external conformism rather than inner acceptance of the moral code. Thus a person may be a good citizen before the state but a perpetrator of evil before his fellow citizens. You are  a good citizen before the state provided that you commit your crimes in such a way that you are not caught. In such a situation the state will not get the hearts and souls of its citizens and hypocracy and duplicity would become the accepted norm in human relations, as is so obvious in today’s real politik and in the politicians.

The law of the jungle ‘might is right’, still reigns supreme in secular states without any saintly Bishop Ambrose to inflict humiliating punishment  on an Emperor Theodosius for shedding the blood of innocents, or a Pope Gregory VII., to make the all powerful emperor Henry IV stand barefooted in the snow to do penance for his crimes. Obviously we are not advocating such medievalism, but are searching for a system which moves the hearts and souls of people and promotes truth and love without which true humanization is not possible.

Sociologists would say that for true humanization, a society needs a Central Value System. Now, in any society, even in the secular societies of the West, consciously or unconsciously, officially or unofficially, it is the given religious systems that are the vehicles of these values. Religions, especially theocentric ones, tend to bind people in conscience, so to say, and demand acceptance of certain socio-economic and religious values. One of the reasons for the rampant real-politik both in the West and also in the East is the absence of commitment to a central value system that binds absolutely one and all.

Secular politics in the West had made the Church look more and more irrelevant. As we have seen above, the vital sectors of human life like economics, education, social welfare, etc. became the exclusive domains of the state. Religion became a private affair relegated to the sacristy. Today the Church has become a marginalized, peripheral reality causing more amusement and diversion than love and commitment. As Harvey Cox points out, “for some religion provides a hobby, for others a mark of national or ethnic identification, for still others an aesthetic delight”[1]. To make matters worse, this Church-state dualism based on secularism, is partly responsible for the artificial division between the natural and the supernatural, worship and work, this-worldly values and other-worldly values, and the like, an artificial division which frustrated the very purpose of the Church, namely the Christification of the world.

According to a political analyst like Rashmee Z. Ahmed a Western Secularist should not be committed to his Church[2]. Commenting on Tony Blair’s religiosity he says: “Blair is a social democrat in political terms with notoriously church-going, happy-clappy Christian instincts”[3]. What is interesting to not is that this author considers true Christianess is opposed to true politics. He seems to think that both G. W. Bush and Tony Blair are not good politicians because they are good Christians. This is, of course, the point of view of a Muslim author who would not speak about a Muslim politician in  ‘secular Muslim’ countries like Malaysia or Turkey. In this context we can understand the annoyance of many Hindus to be called “communalists” just because they are committed to their religion.

Secularism above all was a betrayal of Christ and his ideals. The central message of Christ concerned the establishment and spread of God’s Kingdom which is not primarily a promise for the pie up in heaven. It is rather a socio-economic, politico-religious system, built on truth and love, which is partly realizable here on earth though its full realization would be in the beyond. ‘Truth’ in the Kingdom ideal would be radical opposition to externalism, a commitment to the spirit rather than to the letter of the law, and a thorough condemnation of hypocrisy and duplicity, something so rampant in today’s real-politik. According to this ideal, the chief law of social organization would be love, expressed in economic sharing, in equality of status and opportunities, in checking offenders through fraternal correction and forgiveness, and above all in showing special consideration for the poor and the oppressed. In such a society the power and authority of the leader would be primarily for empowering the powerless rather than for inflating the egos of the leaders.

Christ came to establish and spread God’s Kingdom, God’s reign, not merely in the sacristies and sanctuaries but in the whole world. God’s law should reign supreme in all spheres of human life not merely in matters of liturgical rules. In a Christo-centric world Christ is the alpha and omega (Rev. 22:12; 1;17; 2:8; Jn. 1:1-3; Eph. 1:10; et psssim)[4].  Vat. II proclaims loudly the truth of a Christo-centric world taught emphatically by John and Paul:

“The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longing of history and civilization, the centre of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings… Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which full accords with the counsel of God’s love: ‘To re-establish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth’ (Eph. 1:10). The Lord Himself speaks: ‘Behold I come quickly: And my reward is with me, to render to each one according to his works, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’” (Apoc. 22:12-13, G.S. No.45. Cfr. also N.A. no.1).

On the basis of the Johanine and Pauline Christo-centric world Teilhard de Chardin could speak of the Christification, and indeed the Eucharistization of the world: “I your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world”[5]. Elsewhere in the same prayer, changing the metaphor slightly he prays: “Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day”[6].

The Indian ideal of a universal family (vasudhaiva kutumbakam) is homomorphically similar to the Kingdom Ideal. If a few rays of the Kingdom-ideal had been present in the secular states of the West, there would not have been such ruthless colonial oppression and exploitation, nor would have grown unchallenged such satanic political powers as Hitler and Mussolini. If the Indian leaders, after the independence, had accepted a balanced view of secularism rather than blindly following its western interpretation, perhaps there would not have been a Hindutva movement calling the Nehruvian interpretation of this ideal called by the Sangh ParivarPseudo Secularism’.


A. The Immediate Context

The vivisection of Mother India and the communal carnage that followed was a traumatic experience for our Founding Fathers. Though most of them were educated in the secularistic West and were familiar with the various anti-religious rationalistic groups in Europe especially in England[7], hardly anyone of them was anti-religious, and most of them including Gandhiji, Sardar, Ambedkar, Rajan Babu, Rajaji were deeply religious. Yet their religiosity was such that they appreciated and respected other religions while remaining faithful to their own. To express this attitude to different religions in the Indian situation of religious pluralism, Gandhiji and Sardarji used the term ‘sarva-dharma-samabhav’ which means respect and love for all religions from the stand-points of respective religions. The models they had in mind were the Gandhi Ashrams where people from different religions lived, prayed and worked together, and from where they could launch some of the most astute political movements like the Dandi Yatra. But Jawaharlalji was very much of an exception and he tried to implement the Western concept of secularism with its negativity towards religions.

Today in India, one group of people is trying to transplant the fully-grown up tree of Western secularism into the totally different soil of the Indian situation. There is, however another group in India which interpreting the Indian ethos in terms of Hindu ethos, tries to impose on India a Hindu theocracy without bothering about the sensitivities of other religious communities. It seems to me that neither of these two groups takes into account the spirit of the Founding Fathers of our nation or that of Indian ethos taken as a whole.

B. The Indian Ethos and Secularism

When we speak of the Indian ethos we mean not only the Hindu but also the Buddhist, Jain, Islamic, Christian, Parsi, tribal, etc. ethos. Here, however, no such classified study is intended. Pointing out certain areas and instances by way of random sampling would serve our purpose. Since the Hindu ethos in its broad sense could be called the ‘mother ethos of India’, there will be a greater emphasis on the Hindu ethos in this sketchy and patchy view of Indian ethos.

Muslims constitute more than 12% of India’s population. It is by far the largest minority community. The problem of secularism arose during the pre-independent and post-independent years of India, in the context of Islam especially in the context of Hindu- Muslim conflicts. Though the ethos mothered by Hinduism is very different from Islamic ethos no one can deny the mutual influence on each other to create a composite ethos. Here the consideration of Islamic ethos is specially important because of its radical opposition to Western Secularism.

C. Secularism from the Point of view of Indic Religions

(i) Religion not a Superstructure but a Basic structure

The term for religion used in most of the North Indian languages is dharma which etymologically taken, (dharayati iti dharma) means that which holds things in unity and harmony. Sri Aurobindo writes: “Dharma in the Indian conception is not merely the good, the right, morality and justice; it is the whole government of all the relations of man with other beings, with Nature, with God, considered from the point of view of a divine principle working itself out in forms and laws of action, of the inner and the outer life, ordering of relations of every kind in the world”[8]. The following verse from the Hitopadesa shows clearly the place of dharma in human life:

“Aharanidara bhaya maithunam casamanya etad pasubhir-naranam
Dharmo hi tesamadhiko viseso dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah.”
(In the matter of food, sleep, security concerns and sexual intercourse man and animals are the same; but it is dharma which makes the difference, without it man is equal to animals[9]).

According to this view of dharma, it is religion that distinguishes man from animals, and the term is as extensive as the term human values. According to this understanding of religion, separating religion from the state would be like letting the state follow the law of the jungle, and it would be a centre of power for dehumanization.

In the West, after the artificial separation of Church from the state, and after the increasing marginalization of religion, Marx could easily show how religion is a superstructure. Another German philosopher Feurbach had paved the way for this conclusion of Marx’s. For the Hindus, “Dharma is the foundation of the whole universe” (Tait. Ar. 10:79). Hence Manu would say: “Dharma being violated, destroys; dharma being preserved, preserves: therefore dharma must not be violated, lest violated dharma would destroy us’ (Manu Smruti, 8:15). In India, one might say, everything has a sacral and religious atmosphere, as everything forms part of the Cosmic form of the Lord (Gita 11). Scientific writings on medicine (ayurveda) on grammer (Panini) on architecture, etc. (consider the seven Vedangas) have a sacral aura.

(ii) Tolerance and Inclusivism of the Indian Ethos

            As we have stated elsewhere in the paper, the tolerance and inclusivism we see in Indian ethos are very much the products of the Indian mindset itself. From the Rigvedic times there existed this inclusivistic attitude in India. Let us take the following two mantras: “Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti (=Truth is one but sages interpret diversely (Rg. 1:164:46) and Ekam santam bahudha kalpayanti (=Though truth is one, it is diversely imagined (Rg. 10:1l4:5). This inclusivistic mindset is equally visible in the Bhagavad Gita. As typical examples we shall cite just two verses:

yo yo yam yam tanum bhaktah sraddhaya rcitum icchati
tasya tasyacalam sraddham tam eva vidadhamy aham
[=Whatever form (whatever god), a devotee with faith desires to honour, that very faith do I confirm in him (making it) answering-and-secure]. (7:21) (Cfr. 7:22 & 25).

Ye ’py anya-devata-bhakta yajante sraddhaya nvitah
te ’pi mam eva, Kaunteya, yajanty avidhi-purvakam
(=Yet even those who lovingly devote themselves to other gods and sacrifice to them, full filled with faith, do really worship Me though the rite may differ from the norm). (9:23) (Cfr. also 9: 25).

The following verse which was chanted continuously in the Sanskrit film on Shankaracharya and which is recited in the daily prayers of some devote Hindus, is also a typical scriptural verse for inclusivism:

akashat patitam toyam yatha gachhati sagaram
sarvadeva namaskarah keshavam pratigachhatti
(=Just as the rainwater falling from the sky reaches the ocean so too the prayer addressed to different gods reaches Keshava the Ultimate Reality).

            The above pre-Christian verses from the sacred Hindu scriptures express the tolerant and inclusivistic ethos of Hinduism. If the stone edict of Emperor Ashoka, given below, shows his magnanimity and inclusivism, it is because he had inherited it from the Hindu ethos of his ancestors:

The Beloved of the God… honors members of all sects, whether ascetic or householders, by gifts and various honors. But they do not consider gifts and honors as important as the furtherance of the essential message of all sects. This essential message varies from sect to sect, but it has one common basis, that one should so control one’s tongue as not to honor one’s own sect or disparage another’s on the wrong occasions; for on certain occasions one should do so only mildly, and indeed on other occasions one should honor other men’s sects. By doing this one strengthens one’s own sect and helps the others, while by doing otherwise one harms one’s own sect and does a disservice to the others. Whoever honors his own sect and disparages another man’s… does his own sect the greatest harm[10].

            Like Ashoka a number of Indian Kings like Harshvardhana, Cheraman Perumal and Shivaji Maharaj kept up this tolerance during their reign. If the great Muslim Emperor Akbar was tolerant towards other religions and if he founded the religion Din-I-Ilahi with openness to all the religions, it must have been due to the influence of his Hindu wives and friends.

(iii) The Islamic Ethos

            According to Donald Smith there is nothing in Islam which could advocate secularism. He says:

“The Muslims and the Sikhs have little in their respective traditions which lends positive support to the concept of secularism, yet they will strengthen Indian – Secularism chiefly by guarding the rights of their respective communities… Both the Muslims and the Sikhs have strongly theocentric elements in their traditions, and secularism does not have much inherent appeal, apart from their minority status”[11].

            Sheikh Salman b. Fahd al-Oadah, General Supervisor of Islam Today, says in his Website:

“The struggle between Islam and secularism is nothing new. It is just the old age struggle between Islam and Jahiliyyah (The word Jahiliyyah refers to the times of ignorance before Islam) in a new guise. Jahiliyyah, the way of ignorance, comes in many forms, has many names, and adopts various symbols, but it always has the same common denominator – polytheism. The conflict between Islam and secularism is none other than the conflict between Islam and polytheism. It is the struggle against the enemies of the Prophets that began in antiquity when Allah sent the very first Prophet to humanity and it will continue until Allah puts an end to the Earth and everything on it”[12].

            Commenting on the biblical verse “Give unto Caesan what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s (Mt. 22: 15-22 and Mk. 12: 13-17, Lk. 20: 20-26) the same author says that this division for God and for Caesar was existing in Mecca when Mohammad was sent there by Allah. The division for Allah and for others including the rulers is totally against Quran. He quotes Surah al-An am, 136 and Surah al-Nahl, 62: “They assign unto Allah, of the crops and cattle which He created, a portion, and they say: ‘This is for Allah – in their make-believe – and this is for His partners with respect to us’”. “And they assign unto Allah what which they themselves dislike, and their tongues pronounce the lie that the better portion will be theirs. Assuredly their will be the Fire, and they will be hastened to it and abandoned”.

            We can easily understand why Sheikh Salman says that such a division between for God and for others means the acceptance of polytheism. He says: “How can we reconcile secularism with the meaning of the declaration of faith ‘There is no God but Allah’ which means that no aspect of worship or devotion must be offered to anything or anyone besides Allah? All worship directed elsewhere is polytheism, false and rejected. Therefore, secularism is polytheism. It states that the mosque is for Allah and everything else is for other than Allah, or as the Christian’s say: ‘for Caesar’”.

            Here an important point has to be noted. According to Sheikh Salman’s view of polytheism even the Gandhian interpretation of secularism in terms of sarva-dharma-samabhav too leads to polytheism. From the Islamic point of view the Ultimate Reality has to be Allah in its vachyarth and bhavarth. That is why, the Muslims do not like to translate the Ultimate Reality with any other word except the Arabic word namely Allah. For the Muslims the other terms like Yahweh, Ishwar, Brahma, Vishnu, Tao, Ahurmazada and the like are not acceptable. In fact, the well-known Rigvedic mantra cited above “Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti” insists on the necessity of sticking to the bhavarth or laxnarth rather than the vachyarth of the terms used for Ultimate Reality. This will partly explain the recent halla-bulla in Malasiya when the Christians began to use the term Allah for the Ultimate Reality.

            According to this author, secularism has no place in Muslim countries and he assigns the two reasons given below:

“The first of these is that Islam is the religion that Allah sent down to replace the previous manifestations of the faith and to govern all aspects of life. The simplest Muslim can see how Islam explains all matters in detail. It is impossible for a Muslim to feel that the religion that regulates his marital affairs, his business, his eating habits, his manner of sleeping, and even how he goes to the bathroom could ever leave managing the political and economic affairs of society to other than Allah. For Allah says: ‘We have neglected nothing in the Book’ (Surat al-An am: 38). ‘We have sent down to you the Book explaining all things’ (Surat al-Nahl: 89). This issue is not open for debate. Islam, as the final religion, has supremacy over all faiths and over every aspect of life. There is no place for secularism in the lands of Islam or among the Muslims.

“The second reason is that throughout the history of Islam, it never experienced the troubles that were faced by Europe on account of its corrupted faith. Among the most important of these was the horrific breach that took place between religion and science. Religion fought against science so fiercely that the church burned some scientists to death on the grounds that those scientists went against the word of Allah. Islamic history contains nothing of the sort. Islam opened the doors to scientific enquiry and encouraged intellectual activity. Scientists were frequent guests at the courts and assemblies of various caliphs and received a fair share of royal gifts and patronage”[13].

            This author, giving the example of Turkey, says that secularism in Muslim countries is a betrayal of Islam:

“One of the first countries to fall into the hands of the secularists was Turkey, which at one time was the center of political power for the Islamic world. It fell as a result of what some Christians like to call ‘the struggle between the Cross and the Crescent’”[14].

            According to Sheikh Salman the secularists, chiefly the Christians and the Jews, made a hero out of Kemal Attaturk in order to use him to spread the anti-Muslim ideology of secularism. He then points out how through Kemal Attaturk the secularists managed to separate Turkey from the Muslim world (Umma). He considers the imposition of dressing code, Latin alphabet, etc. as something very much opposed to Islam.

             Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, on Secularism vs Islam, follows the line of thought propagated by Sheikh Salman:

“Secularism may be accepted in a Christian society but it can never enjoy a general acceptance in an Islamic society. Christianity is devoid of a shariah or a comprehensive system of life to which its adherents should be committed. The New Testament itself divides life into two parts: one for God, or religion, the other for Caesar, or the state; ‘Render unto Caesar things which belong to Caesar, and render unto God things which belong to God’ (Matthew 22:21). As such, a Christian could accept secularism without any qualms of conscience. For this reason, the call for secularism among Muslims is atheism and a rejection of Islam. Its acceptance as a basis for rule in place of shariah is downright riddah[15].

            Do these assertions mean that Islam cannot enter into dialogue with other religions with openness? In fact, during the pre-Vatican era, the Christian churches including the Roman Catholic Church held a similar theory of Salvation. But, inspired by the Vat.II, as the Christian dialogists began to re-read the Bible, and saw a number of inclusivistic texts in it, so too, from situations of Religious Pluralism, the non-Christians too, including the Muslims, are beginning to re-read their scriptures.

Part  V will be in the next post.  
For Contact:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sister Valsa John

 Sr. Valsa John

KOCHI: At Sister Valsa John's ancestral home at Edapally in Kochi her family is understandably distraught. On Wednesday night she had spoken to them on phone from Jharkhand and just a few hours later they got the news that she had been murdered. She was hacked to death by mining mafia at Pachwara village in Pakur district last night.

      Sister Valsa, 53, a professed nun with the Sisters of Charity of Jesus And Mary, had been working among tribals in the coal rich region of Dhumka for the past 20 years. The tribals have been displaced from their homelands and subject to inhuman exploitation by the coal mafia and Sister Valsa had taken it upon herself to resist the mafia. In the end she had to pay for it with her life. "She had mentioned about certain threats, but we never thought that the mafia would finish her off," said her elder brother M J Baby. Baby and two relatives will leave for Dhumka on Wednesday evening. "Most probably, the funeral will be conducted at Dhumka itself," Baby added.

     According to an official communication received by her family, Sister Valsa was murdered by a group of persons armed with lethal weapons around 2 am at her residence. "She was pursuing a course in LLB. Her life was under constant threat and she had communicated it to Jharkhand political leaders like Shibu Soren and Stephen Marandi," Baby said. Sister Valsa, who took her vows in 1984 had, true to her vocation, chosen the less easy path. She had been teaching economics at St George High School in Kochi but quit to take up missionary work in Dhumka. "She always wanted to work for the welfare of the downtrodden and the poor," revealed Baby, who said she became emotional whenever she described the plight of the tribals. Apparently, she was approached by the coal mafia several times for a settlement. "But she was firm on her stand and demanded due share for the tribals from the revenue generated from the mines," Baby said. Sister Valsa last visited her home in Kochi in August.

News Courtesy
Photo: Google

Rev. Fr. K. P Vincent SJ

Tuesday, November 15, 2011



 Bandhu Ishanand Vempeny, SJ
‘Secularism’ is not a dispassionately thought out, philosophically established and theologically legitimatised concept. One may say that it is rather the fallout of various socio-religious, economico-political, etc. movements and upheavals in the West. Here we provide a brief over-view of these circumstances. The various movements or circumstances described below are not only not exhaustive, but also not mutually exclusive or independent of each other.

1. Anticlericalism

Anti-Caesaro-Papism and Anti-clericalism have quite something to do with secularism and secularist movements in the West. After the fall of the Roman Empire there was no political leadership in Europe equal to the task of saving the people from lawlessness and chaos. The only institution, which could rise to the occasion was the Church. The Pope, Bishops and the Priests, by and large, were the most learned people of the period, and people to a great extent, found them reliable and trust-worthy. Kings and princess began to function in subordination to the clerics. The medieval European princes, however grudgingly, considered the Pope their Suzerain Lord and he anointed the European kings with the implication that they should obey him. The Pope and the Clergy rapidly acquired enormous wealth, privileges and power which caused great resentment among the masses, nobles and the kings. If religious leaders with their enormous powers, both esoteric and exoteric, are looked upon as oppressors in practically all the religions, in medieval Europe there were additional reasons for this resentment.

The Popes (“Sovereign Lords”), Cardinals (“Princes of the Church”) and Abbots (‘Land-Lords’ and ‘Commanders’ of large number of loyal, dedicated and self-sacrificing ‘armies’) were real critics and challengers of royal and princely power and authority. In an age which was connected with the eras of the “Divine Rights of Kings”, and in which knightly chivalry, belligerency and war-mongering were glorified, it was natural for kings and princes to look down upon, if not always oppose, these ecclesiastical leaders, especially those who did not have a military or royal background. The Church leaders gradually began to lose authority and power over such spheres as politics, economics, education and the like. This anti-clerical situation paved the way for this Western ideology.

2. Renaissance

The Encyclopedia Britannica points out that “The ‘Renaissance’ or ‘Renascence’ is a term used to indicate a well known but indefinite space of time and a certain phase in the development of Europe[1]. Roughly speaking, during the period 1450 to 1500 the wind of Renaissance was the strongest which, though started much earlier in Italy began to sweep over the whole of Western Europe. This phenomenon is also known as the “Revival of Learning” to insist on the shift of the great men of the period away from the traditional Christian literature especially Scholasticism, to the world of the Greek and Latin classics. It was an age of intense inquisitiveness, daring adventure and undreamed of discoveries and inventions. To speak of Italy alone, the cradle of the Renaissance, Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio in the field of literature, Raphael, Da Vinci and Titan in painting and Donatello, Michelangelo and Sansavino in sculpture blazed new trails. In the evolution of ‘secularism’ and ‘real-politik’ the influence of political thinkers like Machiavelli and Guicciardini cannot be exaggerated. Aristo in Italy, Cervantes in Spain, Erasmus in Holland, Rabelais in France and Shakespeare in England placed before the people new worlds of ideas and feelings, through their writings. The two competing absolute powers, the theocratic state and the theocratic Church, on which medieval culture stood, began to be questioned, challenged and sometimes ignored.

As in the case of any revolutionary change and upheaval, however, the Renaissance was not all milk and honey. This is what the Encyclopaedia Britannica with reference to Italy says about its evil fallouts:

“Italian society exhibited an almost unexemplified spectacle of literacy, artistic and courtly refinement crossed by brutalities of lust, treasons, poisonings, assassinations, violence. Steeped in pagan learning, desirous of imitating the manners of the ancients, thinking and feeling in harmony with Ovid and Theocritus, and at the same time rendered cynical by the corruption of papal Rome, the educated classes lost their grasp upon morality. Political morality ceased almost to have a name in Italy. The Christian virtues were scorned by the foremost actors and the ablest thinkers of the time, while antique virtues were themes of rhetoric rather than moving springs of conduct”[2].

During the Renaissance, with its worship of reason and unbridled pursuit of freedom, religious obscurantism, dogmatism and authoritarianism were opposed vigorously. The Church with its claims of super-natural revelation and emphasis on other-worldly concerns began to be sidetracked and looked down upon. Such a situation augured well for a ‘secularistic ideology’.

3. Revolutions in Science, Technology and Industry

It is too well known to labour the point concerning the numerous scientific inventions and discoveries of this age, which paved the way for industrial revolution, and which in its turn accelerated the pace of urbanization. The names of Copernicus, Descartes, Roger Bacon, Darwin, Leibniz, Newton, Galileo, Columbus are bound up with the Renaissance. Our interest in speaking of the scientific achievements of this age to see how it prepared the world for ‘secularism’.

Whereas pre-scientific man offered divine or super-natural explanations for such natural phenomena as earthquakes, epidemics and solar eclipses, the man of science began to explain them through causes and effects perceivable in the world. As scientists began to unravel more and more the mysteries of the universe, religious assumptions and beliefs with regard to the origin, destiny, etc. of the world began to look more and more irrational and outdated. The success of the scientists in their own field was stupendous, but when they got into the fields of philosophy and theology they began to make arrogant and dogmatic pronouncements. When Lamarck told Napoleon Bonaparte that he did not need the ‘God-hypothesis’, he was voicing the opinion of many a scientist of the fag end of the Renaissance.

4. The Reformation

The Reformers like Luther, Calvin and Melanchthon made clear-cut division between the Church and the state, making them two parallel centres of power catering to different needs of man. This led to the 'privatisation' of religion narrowing its realms of operation more and more, while the state began to take control of areas like education, health care, social welfare etc. The Reformers were very religious persons, and what they wanted was to see the Church engaging herself with the spiritual welfare of the Faithful rather than accumulating enormous wealth and worldly power without allowing her to have time or interest for the spiritual welfare and the other worldly concerns of the Christian people.

The Reformers had their reasons for opposing the Church authorities especially the Pope and for supporting the princes and the kings. The Medieval Pope’s like Boniface VIII wielded almost unbridled authority. The Bishops and Priests too were very powerful. The monasteries with their huge amount of wealth had become like independent princely estates. The Church as a whole became very authoritarian and fell into various types of corruption. The kings and princes who had been struggling to get rid of the papal authority over their kingdoms, were hand in glove with the Reformers.

5. The French and Marxist Revolutions

The French and Marxist revolutionaries opposed the churches tooth and nail. During the French Revolution, as a symbol of the triumph of reason over religious dogmas, state over the Church, a nude woman was made to dance on the altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Marxists turned many churches and cathedrals into museums and other institutions of secular interest. They put in prison numerous priests and nuns who represented religious authority. Whereas the secularism of the Protestant Princedoms, which got independence from Papal authority, was religion-friendly the secularism of the French and Bolshevik Revolutionaries was anti-religious and atheistic. The secularism, however, being practiced in the West European Democracies, is one that has clipped the wings of religions and confined them to the sacristies and sanctuaries. Rightly, therefore the Dictionary of Christian Theology concludes: “Thus ‘sacred’ or ‘religious’ activity has been increasingly confined to a narrow area of ecclesiastical activity and personal piety”[3].

[1] “Renaissance”, Op. Cit., Vol.,19, p.122
[2] Op. Cit., p.128
[3] A. Richardson (Edit) London: SCM Press, 1976, p.310