Believers of the world, unite!

Not only Hinduism, Christianity is equally under threat from the forces of a godless, selfish and aggressive culture

India appears to be plagued by the resurgence of religious fundamentalism. The unfortunate aspect of this resurgence is that it is not limited to intellectual discourse, but has degenerated into physical violence and systematic attacks on people and institutions perceived to have views which are not in conformity with those of the proponents of fundamentalist convictions.
At the very core of Indian civilisation is the spirit of tolerance and non-violence. Indian history, for as far back as it goes, is witness to this spirit of acceptance of differences, whether linguistic, cultural, religious or ethnic. No other comparable civilisation can boast of a society as multi–cultural, multi–ethnic, multi–linguistic and multi–religious as India.
Modern secular societies are post-industrial revolution and have emerged out of the conflicts of industrial disputes and global wars. India’s secular character, on the contrary, is inherent in its cultural identity.

Even a cursory glance into Indian history shows that this society always accepted influences and ideas from all over the world. Apart from these cultures which became indigenous to India, there were widely differing ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural groups which constituted Indian society, even before the influx of external influences. Indian society was never (and even now, is not) homogeneous ethnically, linguistically, religiously or culturally. Tribal animism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other distinct religio-cultural realities are as much an integral part of Indian society as Hinduism. Even Hinduism is not a homogeneous, monolithic religious entity. There is no orthodoxy in Hinduism; nor is there a central religious authority which determines and promulgates what is orthodox or not. Hinduism embraces all shades of belief from atheism to pantheism; from strictly individual and personal dharma to collective bhakti.
This open and eclectic society, which accepts widely differing intellectual, spiritual and ritual realities, is a model of what a secular society should be. Indian secular society should make every Indian proud of being Indian. The recent trend of intolerance and violent dissent, therefore, is not only regrettable; it is also totally alien to what constitutes Indian culture.
What then is the reason for the rise of religious intolerance?

The first hypothesis is that the real reason for the intolerance is not purely religious. A very insignificant religious minority likes the Christians, who are not more than 2.4 per cent of the total population of India cannot possibly pose a threat to the religious majority in terms of conversions. The factual situation is that the proportion of Christians has in fact declined from 2.8 per cent in 1947 to 2.4 per cent today. Therefore, the attack on Christians and Christian institutions on the grounds that they are forcing conversions is totally untenable.

The existence of educational, social and health institutions cannot possibly pose a threat to the religious convictions of the Hindus. On the contrary, there is intense pressure on Christian educational and health institutions to admit the children of Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and other religious groups.

The bogey of forced conversions cannot survive logical scrutiny. Therefore, we have to look elsewhere for the motives for the attacks against Christian institutions and personnel.
The second hypothesis is that the motives of the fundamentalists are social and economic. The real reason that there are concerted attacks against Christians and Christian institutions is that Christians preach and propagate the idea of the dignity of all human beings as children of God. This means that all persons are equal and deserve to be respected as equals. This doctrine is not palatable to some persons who still firmly believe that men are not created equal, but that some men belong to a lower status and are destined to serve people of a higher caste. This social inequality is given religious sanction, and any attempt to disturb this situation is a threat to those who stand to benefit from this inequality. It is no secret that Indian society is firmly based on the caste system, which the fundamentalists are striving to preserve at any cost. They feel threatened by the social doctrine, which challenges this age–old system of social inequality. Christianity is the embodiment of the doctrine of the equality of all men and women, notwithstanding that even some Christians fail to live up to this doctrine. Hence, Christianity poses a threat to the fundamentalists.

The third hypothesis is that fundamentalism is a reversion to tradition when modernity poses a threat to social systems. It is a well–accepted sociological phenomenon that when a society or a community of people cannot withstand the pressure of change, it seeks security in a reversion to traditional values and ways of doing things. Rituals are an important aspect of this blanket of security. Hence, fundamentalist movements flaunt symbols and rituals to assert their identity. This explains the widespread use of the trishul and the provocative display of the saffron flag to herald the fundamentalist resistance to change.

This reversion to tradition by the Hindu fundamentalists is also displayed in the pseudo–swadeshi movement on the economic front. The fundamentalist swadeshi movement is not the swadeshi movement of Mahatma Gandhi. It is a distortion of Gandhi’s concept of swadeshi. Gandhi’s swadeshi movement was intended to build up self–reliance in India’s industry, and to reverse India’s dependence on goods and services provided from outside. It was necessary under the circumstances of colonial exploitation.

The fundamentalist swadeshi movement, however, is a blind opposition to anything and everything that is not Indian. The fact remains, however, that the economic context has changed since the time of Indian independence. The fundamentalist swadeshi movement is an anachronism in today’s global and interdependent world.

Unfortunately, the Hindu fundamentalists equate globalisation with Christianity and its social values. This is a totally distorted view of Christianity. Christianity does not stand for any particular economic system; nor does it represent any geopolitical ideology. Christianity has serious concerns about some of the negative aspects of globalisation and the competitive theory of economic development. It is a totally misguided enthusiasm, which drives Hindu fundamentalists to attack Christians on the mistaken belief that Christianity is responsible for the negative consequences of globalisation.

Hindu fundamentalists are propagating the view that Christianity is posing a threat to traditional Indian social values. This charge is patently false. Christianity does not represent modern western social or cultural values. Christianity transcends social and cultural systems. Christianity is at home in any cultural context; and is indigenous to all social systems and cultural climates. However, it comes into conflict with only those systems which deny the fundamental dignity of the human person. It needs to be strongly reiterated that Christianity is built upon the fundamental value that every single person is created by God in His own image and likeness. Any society or culture which transgresses this principle stands in opposition to Christianity. Any social system, which denies, either in theory or in practice, the fundamental dignity of the human person, stands in conflict with Christian principles.

The value system, which is prevalent in the western world today, has emerged out of a culture of competitiveness and aggressive individualism. It is a form of economic Darwinism. It is the new face of post-industrial colonialism. It has given rise not only to economic competition, but is also responsible for the mad rush for military superiority. The limited resources of the earth are being wrongly harnessed to build weapons of mass destruction instead of being invested in promoting human development. It is an insanity of modernism that urgently needs to be reversed.

These values are totally un-Christian. For the Hindu fundamentalists to infer that the spirit of aggressiveness and individualism is derived from Christianity is totally erroneous.
The post–industrial culture has also resulted in the degradation of family values. Women, and even children, are treated as mere commodities to be exploited. The family as the basic unit of a healthy society is under tremendous pressure because of the rampant individualism of an economic system based on the principle of the survival of the fittest.

This is a cultural aberration, which is as abhorrent to Christianity as it is to traditional Hinduism. However, it has to be acknowledged that this culture is NOT the result of any religion. It is the outcome of a culture which has divested itself of religious and moral values.

For the Hindu fundamentalists to aver that Hinduism is under threat from Christianity is to completely misunderstand the sociological processes underway in today’s world. The fact is that not only is Hinduism under threat, but that Christianity is equally under threat from the forces of a godless, selfish and aggressive culture. Instead of mobilising its energy to fight Christianity, enlightened Hindus should join forces with Christianity to reverse the unfortunate trends which are adversely affecting modern society.

This has to be done in a spirit of dialogue and mutual understanding – not in a spirit of confrontation and aggressiveness. The need of the hour is for all religions to pool their resources to create a truly humane society, which works for the proper human development of all humankind. Inter–religious rivalry is misguided and inappropriate.

Instead of religious confrontation, the ills of modern society call for more inter–religious dialogue and a common quest for appropriate remedies. After all, all religions represent the highest aspirations of their adherents. This is a common endeavour. If all the forces of good are harnessed, there is hope still for the regeneration of the social order.

Archived from Communalism Combat, January 2000. Year 7  No. 55, Reader's Forum



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