For years I did not know what opportunities to practice equanimity I had missed, till I finally got a TV set some 3 years ago. In the beginning, I certainly did not remain calm under all circumstances. What intense emotions in just an hour of listening to panelists on the news channels! However, slowly I learned to sit back. I could admire the quick-wittedness and the amazing ability to talk or rather shout while listening.
These anchors and panelists are no doubt intelligent, nevertheless their choice of topics is often pathetic, and they get some points consistently wrong. One such point is ‘secular’ or ‘secularism’. Since secularism is mentioned daily in Indian media and since it is a western ‘invention’, I would like to put it into perspective:
Contrary to the general perception in India, secular is not the opposite of communal. Communal as such is not objectionable either. It simply means ‘pertaining to a community’. In Germany, elections to local bodies are called “communal elections” (Kommunalwahlen).
Secular means worldly and is opposite to ‘religious’. Now ‘religious’ in this context refers to Christianity, i.e. to a well-organized, dogmatic religion that claims that it is the sole keeper of the ‘truth’, which God himself has revealed to his Church.
And what is this revealed truth? In short: the human being is born in sin, which dates back originally to Adam and Eve. But fortunately, some 2000 years ago, God had mercy on humanity and sent his only son Jesus Christ to earth to redeem us by dying for our sins on the cross, then rising from the dead and going back to his father up in heaven. However to be able to get the benefit of Jesus’ sacrifice, one must be baptized and become a member of the Church, otherwise one will be singled out for eternal hell on Judgment Day.
Understandably, such claims did not appeal to those who used their brains, but for many centuries they had to keep quiet or risk their lives. The reason was that for long the Church was intertwined with the state, and harsh laws made sure that people did not question the ‘revealed truth’. Heresy was punished with torture and death. Even in faraway Goa, after Francis Xavier called the Inquisition to this colony, unspeakable brutality was committed against Indians. In many Muslim countries till today, leaving Islam is punishable by death.
Significantly, those centuries, when Church and State were intertwined, when the clergy prospered and the faithful sheep suffered are called the dark ages. And the time when the Church was forced to loosen its grip, is called the age of enlightenment, which started only some 350 years ago. Scientific discoveries, which could no longer be brushed under the carpet, played a crucial role for showing the Church her place. Now, more Europeans dared to oppose the stranglehold of religion. Many went to prison for doing so.
Slowly, the idea that reason, and not blind belief in a ‘revealed truth’, should guide society, took root and this lead to the demand for separation between state and Church. Such separation is called secularism. It is a recent phenomenon in the west.
Today, most western democracies are ‘secular’, i.e. the Church cannot push her agenda through state power, though most western democracies still grant Christianity preferential treatment. For example in Germany, the Constitution guarantees that the Christian doctrine is taught in government schools. Further, the Churches have retained special labour laws that make it obligatory for Church employees (alone in Germany over one million) to conform to Christian norms. Nevertheless, the present situation is a huge improvement over the dark ages when one had to pretend to believe unbelievable dogmas.
In India, however, the situation was different. Here, the dominant faith of the Indian people never had a power centre that dictated unreasonable dogmas and needed to be propped up by the state. Their faith was based on insights of the Rishis and on reason, intuition and direct experience. It expressed itself freely in a multitude of ways. Their faith was about trust and reverence for the One Source of all life. It was about doing the right thing at the right time according to one’s conscience. It was about The Golden Rule: not to do to others what one does not want to be done to oneself. It was about having noble thoughts. It was about how to live life in an ideal way.
However, this open atmosphere changed when Islam and Christianity entered India. Indians, who good naturedly considered the whole world as family, were despised, ridiculed and under Muslim rule killed in big numbers only because they were ‘Hindus’ (which is basically a geographical term). Indians did not realise that dogmatic religions were very different from their own, ancient Dharma. For the first time they were confronted with merciless killing in the name of God. Voltaire, who fought the stranglehold of the Church in Europe, had accurately observed, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.
Guru Nanak left a testimony how bad the situation was, when he cried out in despair: “Having lifted Islam to the head, You have engulfed Hindustan in dread…. Such cruelty they have inflicted, and yet Your mercy remains unmoved…” (Granth Sahib, Mahla 1.360 quoted from Eminent Historians by Arun Shourie).
During Muslim rule Hindus had to lie low for fear of their lives, and during British rule they were ridiculed and despised by missionaries, and cut off from their tradition with the help of ‘education’ policies. Naturally, this took a toll on their self-esteem. In fact, till today, this low self-esteem especially in the English educated class is evident to outsiders, though it may not be so to the persons concerned. Swami Vivekananda’s efforts to give Hindus back their spine did not impact this class of people. Nevertheless, it is a great achievement that Hindu Dharma survived for so many centuries, whereas the west succumbed completely to Christianity and over 50 countries to Islam in a short span of time.
Coming back to secularism. Though Hindu Dharma survived and never dictated terms to the state, ‘secular’ was added to the Constitution of India in 1976. There might have been a reason, as since Independence, several non-secular decisions had been taken. For example, Muslim and Christian representatives had pushed for special civil laws and other benefits and got them.
However, after adding ‘secular’, the situation did not improve. In fact the government seemed almost eager to benefit specifically the dogmatic religions (for which secularism was coined) and occasionally had to be restrained in its eagerness by the courts.
This is inexplicable. Why would ‘secular’ be added and then not acted upon? And the strangest thing: ‘secular’ got a new, specific Indian meaning. It means today: fostering those two big religions which have no respect for Hindus and whose dogmas condemn all of them to eternal hell.
It is a sad irony. Can you imagine the Jews honouring the Germans with preferential treatment instead of seeking compensation for the millions of Jews killed? Yet Islam and Christianity that have gravely harmed Indians over centuries get preferential treatment by the Indian state, and their own beneficial dharma that has no other home except the Indian subcontinent, is egged out. And to top it, this is called ‘secular’!
Obviously Indians have not learnt from the European experience. Hindus have not yet realized the intention of the dogmatic religions, though they say it openly: Finish off Hinduism from the face of the earth. Hindus still ‘respect’ them, though this respect is not and cannot be reciprocated as long as those religions claim that their God wants everyone to worship exclusively Him. Hindus don’t realize that an ideology that uses God as a front does not become sacred, but all the more dangerous.
Media and politicians do their best to muddy the water. They call parties that represent a religious group, ‘secular’, instead of ‘religious;’ which would be the correct term. When the state gives in to demands by the big religious bullies it is also (falsely of course) called ‘secular’. But WHY would the government do this? It clearly plays with fire. Does it want to give its citizens a firsthand experience of what the dark ages were like? In the interest of all Indians it would be wise for the state to simply ignore the powerful, dogmatic religions and focus on all its citizens equally. This means being ‘secular’.
However, western secular states are not role models either. There is a lot of depression, drug abuse, alcohol and people are generally not happy in spite of doing everything to ‘enjoy life’. Here, India has an advantage over the west. Her rishis have left a great heritage of valuable treatises not only dealing with how to live life in an ideal way, but also how to conduct economy, politics, management, etc. If those guidelines are considered, and if India becomes a state based on her ancient dharma, she has good chances to regain the lost glory as the wealthiest and most advanced country in the world whose citizen are open-minded and contented. If not, probably the west discovers this treasure trove and adopts it…..first.