Pseudo-Secularism

Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The hidden face of secularism

By Ashoke Dasgupta

A language may have its limits. When European Christians first landed in deep forests of Africa or came well inside of Asia, neither they nor the African-Asian peoples understood many of the terms and terminologies of each other’s language.

The Christian European races gradually became the colonial powers of the African-Asian countries. Colonialism cannot rest causing only political enslavement of the people of the colonies; it, in parallel form, asserts to dominate cultural, moral, political understanding of the people by introducing the terms and terminologies of its own values and understandings. Such assertions are powerful ingredients to serve the political end of colonialism. The Macaulay report on the education policy in India is a mirror of this design of colonialism.

After Independence (1947), the thrust of English language has been sustained in Bharat more vigorously than ever before. New politico-social terms and terminologies have easily crept into the general political-social-administrative vocabulary so that the whole concept of administration and education has become subsumed with the conceptual inferences of the English politico-social terms and terminologies. Dharma: religion; darshan: philosophy and many such terms have swept away the original, sensitive meanings of Dharma, darshan, etc. to Christian Europe’s expression by religion, philosophy, etc. In such way capitalism, feudalism, socialism, communism, fascism, nazism, proletariat, bourgeoisie, political democracy, and many such others have already caused havoc with basic ideas and terms of Bharatiya origin that infer to better understanding of such ideas. In this way the Christian Europe’s socio-political terms and terminologies have been playing havoc in the mental and intellectual capacities of Bharatiya people.

New politico-social terms and terminologies have easily crept into the general political-social-administrative vocabulary so that the whole concept of administration and education has become subsumed with the conceptual inferences of the English politico-social terms and terminologies. Dharma: religion, darshan: philosophy and many such terms.

Secularism—the most rabid political term used in Bharat for the last decades to cajole the Muslims to earn their support as a vote-bank, is such a term. Secular, secularity, secularisation, secularism—each has a different matrix of meaning. Peace of Westphalia, 1648, is regarded as a very significant treaty in the realm of inter-state relations in Europe. The word ‘secular’ was first mentioned at that time. Europe witnessed, through centuries, bloody, inhuman torture by one sect of Christianity on the other sect. Poor, ignorant, superstitious, hapless peasants and artisans of Christian Europe were intolerably exploited and tortured by two institutions—feudalism and Pope’s Christendom. At the advent of national states in Europe, a severe diplomatic, political and armed struggle persistently was waged between states and Christian sects which was invariably related with wars between the states. Catholics, Protestants of various states, Presbyterian, Calvinist, East Roman Church, Orthodox Church and dozens of such sects of Christianity waged inhuman torture and exploitation on each other. One need not go along too long a way to know all that history—only Renaissance literature in Italy including Decamaron and Voltaire, Rousseau and Bertrand Russell are sufficient to show the superstitious, grim picture of persecution, torture by one Christian sect on the other.

At last, the tired, exhausted societies of Christian denominations felt that governing bodies of the states should not have acted in support of a sect of Christianity against the other. Thus came the word ‘secularisation’ to put a balance between intra-Christian feuds of barbaric magnitude. The word was coined from Latin ‘secularist’—worldly, temporal, opposed to eternal. States and governments are of temporal nature, so the eternal issues should be out of the bounds of the governments. Thus came the ‘secularisation’ of government function to save one sect of Christianity from the oppression of the other. Hence, this secularity is an intra-religious issue of Christianity. It had no connection with inter-religious issues, because no other religion ever prevailed in Europe in a major form historically. Hence, this compromise amidst the Christian sects has little relevance in Bharat where the issue is inter-religious in character. Yet, in Europe the horrible torture on the working people and peasants didn’t diminish. Came ‘secularism’ from secularisation. Secularism owes its name, and in a large measure its existence, to George Jacob Holioake (1817-1906). In the Reasoner he wrote, “We are not infidels if that term implies rejection of Christian truth, since all that we reject is Christian error.” Politically secularism was strengthened in the turmoil that preceded and also followed the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832 in England.

“Its matrix was provided in the somewhat incoherent socialism of Robert Owen and his followers and in the ill-fated Chartist movement.” The influence of secularism was apparent during the middle of the 19th century. Then it decayed rapidly and almost disappeared from independent existence, being merged with organised rationalism, i.e. when intra-feuds within Christian sects diminished because of the rise of colonialism. History is not silent to state that the so-called age of reason in the West is not wholly disconnected with the age of colonialism. Philosophically, secularism became obsolete in West as it proposed a limitation of human knowledge and interest to the material sphere—an attitude which, whilst possible in practice, is impossible to justify or establish from the theoretical standpoint, as secularism essayed to do. In practice, there are millions who are confined to material aspects of life. The weakness of secularism is that it offers needless and insufficient reasons to mankind for doing what they can and will do without requiring the reasons.

Then it stands that ‘secularism’ is a term which:

1. originated from the bloody, inhuman internal feuds of Christian sects, i.e. it is intra-Christian in character.

2. It has no relation with inter-religious questions.

3. It has the inherent inability to appreciate the distinction between fact and value—which has resulted from a theory of negation.

Peace of Westphalia, 1648, is regarded as a very significant treaty in the realm of inter-state relations in Europe. The word ‘secular’ was first mentioned at that time. Europe witnessed, through centuries, bloody, inhuman torture by one sect of Christianity on the other sect. Poor, ignorant, superstitious, hapless peasants and artisans of Christian Europe were intolerably exploited and tortured by two institutions—feudalism and Pope’s Christendom.

The problem in Bharat suffers not from intra-squabbles of any particular religion. Bharat deals with inter-religious relations. Here ‘secularism’ is a borrowed term; it comes from a different socio-cultural complexity. The people of Bharat are not at a cross with the question whether to live only within a material way of life or not.

Long, long before, a few thousand years back, Bharat had realised that state and governance are matters of ihajagat, i.e. temporal phenomenon only and man’s search for non-temporal consequences are a different form of higher pursuits. This concept is basically different from what the Christian world has even thought of.

Bharat follows sarvadharma sambhava—and it is not ‘secularism’. As per Bradlaugh, after Holioake, secularism commits itself dogmatically to agnosticism. Secularism demands that government should be irreligious and supercilious to ethics and morality that emanate from religion but should have obligatory reverence to agnosticism or atheism. Is it not a faith in a new creed, though political? This inconsistency has made it wither away in Christian Europe.

The question of the limits of language was stated earlier. In Bharat, as in other states in Asia and Africa, secularism is a misnomer, an inadequate term which is causing more ills thus confusing ethical, moral senses of tolerance in the Bharatiya and oriental societies at large.

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