Thursday, 5 January 2017

Religious Liberalism Versus Secularism

From Hindustan Times.
I am a Shiva devotee. And I’m as devoted as they come. It’s no surprise therefore that in my puja room at home, I have an idol of Lord Shiva in the centre. But I also have idols of other Hindu Gods, like Lord Ram, Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesh, Lord Kartik, Durga Maa, Kali Maa, Parvati Maa ,Saraswathi Maa, Lakshmi Maa among many others.We Hindus have many Gods.
Equally importantly I also have the holy pictures of othr religions in my puja room — pictures of the Ka’aba, Mother Mary, Jesus Christ, Gautam Buddha, Guru Nanak, Prophet Zarathustra, the Star of David, among others. I worship all of them regularly.
Some people have told me, in jest, that I’m hedging my bets; that I’m trying to ensure that I am blessed by ‘God’ regardless of whichever religion turns out to be the ‘true religion’! That’s obviously not true. I’m only following the culture of my great country. A culture I learnt from my family.
I was an atheist for many years. The repeated communal riots of the early ’90s had turned me against religion. My devout father tried to explain to me that religious extremism cannot be combated by secular extremism, for any form of extremism is harmful. Countering religious extremism with secular extremism only replaces one monster with another. I didn’t understand my father’s words as a teenager. I do now.
The answer to religious extremism is not secular extremism, but religious liberalism. This leads one to the obvious question: what is liberalism? For in modern Indian public debate, the definition of liberalism has been distorted. Being liberal is very often misconstrued as being leftist. But I have met many leftists who are as illiberal as the right-wing extremists they oppose.
The best definition of liberalism is brought forth in a statement that has been popularly, albeit incorrectly, credited to Voltaire (it was actually written by Evelyn Hall): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
How does this translate into religious liberalism? I have my true religion and you have your true religion. I will respect your right to follow your truth and you must respect my right to follow mine.
Liberalism has to be enforced by the elite (and at times mandated by the constitution) if the society is, at its core, bigoted. This has been the case in many societies. Not so in India. We are, at our core, a society that believes in religious liberalism. In fact, we go beyond Evelyn Hall’s definition of liberalism. We don’t profess to ‘tolerate’ religions that we actually ‘disapprove’ of; we actively respect religions that are different from our own.
The Rig Veda, the oldest scripture of Hinduism, has this beautiful Sanskrit line:‘Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti’ — Truth is one, but the wise men know (or speak) it as many. Before anyone assumes that liberalism is only a Hindu trait in India, allow me to cite a few more examples. Consider the case of the Muslim Manganiyars who sing devotional ballads based on the Ramayan; they don’t feel they are being any less Islamic in doing so. Consider the Mount Mary church in Mumbai, where Christians welcome Hindus as well, allowing us to pray in our own way. Consider Ajmer Sharif, the tomb of a Muslim Sufi saint, visited with devotion by Hindus and Christians.
This is what needs to be cherished in India: the ability not just to respect but celebrate other religions, while being proud of one’s own. We have to realise that religious extremism will only be defeated by religious liberalism, not by ivory-tower, secular homilies from our elite. But that is not the only benefit of religious liberalism. We are faced with many social problems today; a result of centuries of societal decline. I believe that religious liberals — especially those who remain fiercely apolitical — can help solve many of these problems. People will change their regressive social attitudes when they realise that their religion tells them to do so.
Women should not be empowered? Really? Listen to the magnificent tales of Shakti Maa and change your mind. Women should not conduct religious ceremonies or be a part of spiritual discourse? What nonsense! Read the conversation between Maharishi Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi Devi in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad and realise how wrong you are. Women should not work? Then how does one explain the fact that Prophet Mohammed’s wife, Khadija al-Kubra, was a businesswoman and the Prophet worked for her before he married her. The caste system based on birth is divinely ordained and cannot be challenged? Rubbish! Read the tales of Maharishi Satyakam and Maharishi Valmiki, learn from them and attack the caste system as it exists today. You are not supposed to question religious instructions or ancient traditions that don’t make sense? Not true. Read the deeply profound 18th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita and use your brain to make decisions, as Lord Krishna instructs you to. Honour your elders, even if they are wrong? Our scriptures say something different. The Taittiriya Upanishad clearly states: “Honour those who are worthy of honour”.
We religious liberals can solve many of India’s social problems. And we are a vast majority in our country. Unfortunately, we have abdicated public discourse to secular and religious extremists.
We religious liberals must rise. We must speak loudly. We must bring out the liberal interpretations of our respective religions. It is our patriotic duty! 
t Shetty

Samir Patil How we can do this in a society following any one of three abrahamic
Samir Patil Religion? I mean how true religiousness would be translated in Jewish, Christian or Islamic society? Hafiz Saeed leads a large Islamic charity... So what the article calls as true religiousness is a dharmic or pre non organized religious strand...
Aparna Krishnan i did not follow.
Samir Patil Is this article only for India and thus predominantly sanatani Hindus? If not then how Islamic society become truly religious and liberal? The close endedness of book , mutual exclusivity of race or religion, the very conception of God is problematic...
Samir Patil The gentle people are gentle and bullies are bullies. Bullies won't become gentle if gentle people become more gentle, liberal, docile etc.
Aparna Krishnan i never even think of them. the thinking people there will figure it out. this is for us - thats how i see most things. we need to correct the wrongs of our community, and there are enough.
Aparna Krishnan the choice is not between right extremisim and 'docility'. 
Samir Patil Two dharmas yug dharma and sanatan dharma. That why I feel even Thackeray and vhp have role. old quote Gandhi couldn't have succeeded everywhere and always. Eg. Hitler, Mao and a lot... There is limitations of Ahimsa and Ahimsa includes himsa as well...
Aparna Krishnan what yug dharma is it that takes in the likes of thackery ! i will step out of that yug dharma.
Jus Ajeesh atheism disconnects the atheists from society is a completely wrong notion.
Aparna Krishnan  i would be the last to say that. because the finest person i have known, who had eliminated his sense of self and worked for the poor, was a self proclaimed atheist. though i would consider him most religious in the deepest sense.
Aparna Krishnan what i meant was that a certian pulse of the people, and their inner sense of godhood, we lose connect to.
Aparna Krishnan and that is a very deep identity of the people.
Samba Siva Rao Kolusu The answer to religious extremism is not secular extremism, but religious liberalism. ... have my true religion and you have your true religion. I will respect your right to follow your truth and you must respect my right to follow mine.

-- my question and the answer would be quite obvious, hence not asking 
Aparna Krishnan what is the question ?
Samba Siva Rao Kolusu which all religions profess this view, and how to find peace with those religions that do not do so?
Aparna Krishnan i dont care. in my understanding all religions have the essence of peace and goodness. whether it is 25% or 95% today is irrelevent. That essence has to be built up on by the practitioners of that religion. thats is why kabirs and nanaks and meeras come ... to anew rewrite and reinterpret.
Samba Siva Rao Kolusu we should certainly welcome such wonderful change, but i doubt if it comes even in a millenium; but yeah, some good men and inspiuring events can create peace during their lifetime
Aparna Krishnan why ... it always happens. there are always kamsas and krishnas. and meeras and narayana gurus.
Samba Siva Rao Kolusu exactly, less than a dozen in 7 thousand years of known human civilization
Aparna Krishnan well, if that is god's design, thats that! we chose our place in the flow of creation.
Aparna Krishnan but i actually dont think its that bad. there are some very bad, and some very good people. and a vast number os ordinary simple good people as in my village ... who follow generosity, and for whom the rains fall.
Aparna Krishnan today we need to take on structural issues - because the sheer inhumanity of moderity has so isolated and seperated people, that they are unabel to understand and differentiate bad from good.
Samba Siva Rao Kolusu i think it would be better if india can postpone any religious discussion for a decade or two and concentrate on economics alone, as Narendra Modi said; but that is easier said than done. we have far too many external challenges that we cannot control
Aparna Krishnan modiji is gifting away india's forests and mountains and rivers to the corporates - indian and foreign. anyway that discussion does not belong here.
Aparna Krishnan and economic extremisim, corporate extremisim, religious extremisim - all need to be dealt with daily ...
Samba Siva Rao Kolusu it has always been a compromise between development and tradition/culture; i hope NAMO focuses on SMEs than MNCs, the latter brings lot of destruction and fewer jobs than the former which brings more jobs at far little investment, and very little ecological damage
Aparna Krishnan for me the writing on the wall is clear. the ordinances passed speak for themselves.
Samba Siva Rao Kolusu is it the ordinance route or the bills themselves that you are objecting?
Aparna Krishnan i will tag you in another post.
Samba Siva Rao Kolusu okay, and thank you in advance 
Zulfi Haider I dont think Islamist can embrace any religious liberalism! for them it is either their way of the highway. sure sufi traditions were different...but they are either completely gone or highly marginalized, and intimidated by aggressive wahabis and salafists, or shia fundamentalists and so on. Sorry to say but all liberal societies will have to brace themselves and contain their kind. How we do it without harming the curious, the questioning, the one who truly searches and says "i dont know'...well i dont know. The same would apply to proslethysing christians, and the hindutwa proponents. Any one who beleives that they are right and you are wrong...and not just wrong, but 'bad'; i do not see any possibility of engagement with them. It seems pretty hopeless...and that is where teh skeptic, the agnostic, the one who proclaims atheism offers a ray of hope; they can be the only who can embrace humanity, look with awe at creation, feel humbled and see the absolute sillyness of fighting and claiming over whos god is great!
Aparna Krishnan seeing my village, i would still feel that people are able to stay rooted in the fundamental ethics of religion. and that that is the rule, and the rest aberrations. hindutwa, proselytysors etc ...
Aparna Krishnan and the rise of hindutva i would lay at the door of the liberal irreligious - as they lost a certian pulse of the people. a very basic and important religious pulse.

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