Reason and Faith
How to create a secular India, a secular democratic society?
“Two extravagances: to exclude Reason, to admit only Reason”
Modern life is as much about sciences and religion, as they ever was at any time. Also, reason and faith. They too are as much about our life, our everyday life as ever!
But there is history and historical developments. There are also the big questions.
The new year-eve, at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 brought home the very same big questions from some big mind’s responses to them.
It was as much about sciences, the universe, the cosmos and these developments, these new ‘truths” also brought home how at every stage we change our opinions, be it the sciences, the scientific truths as well as the religious truths.
Now, we are told human evolution was all about man becoming a meat-eater. Now, the evolutionists say that evolution started with man learning to cook food. Cooked food gave man the leisure and the free time enabled us to devote our time for other cultural achievements.
Sciences too are changing, they say, with the data as sciences are baded on evidence that once the data changes sciences too revise their knowledge. So, sciences are also based on faith, the scientific faith is all about how we view the universe, even here the truth is about whether it is all about matter, space, “energy-stuff” or matter.” Our whole picture of the potential future of the universe has changed…” says a recent newspaper sumup of a group of the current intellectual elite when quizzed about whether sciences or the scientific truth is so proven. The plain answer no truth, scientific truth for that matter is no more so proven or provable.
This brings back to the old debate, stated famously by Karl Popper, the philosopher that any truth is falsifiable, more so the scientific truth.
But then is the religious truth so conclusive?
There is a lot of superficial talk about even at the intellectual level about religion and seculairsm. Reason and faith. What makes for new knowledge and what remains as certain unalterable traditions?
As for India and Indians there is this problem with our peculiar colonial history. Though we all take our long ancient history and civilization, there is this Westernised elite, the Euro-centric view of philosophy and truth, the European Enlightenment and the rise of the many modern theories, modernity, post-modernity etc that somehow confuses the Indian mainstream ideas about our exact intellectual positions on a host of serious words and concepts like truth, faith and reason and also what constitutes our corpus of superstitions and exact scientific knowledge.
Among the two words that have troubled generations of thinkers are faith and reason.
What exactly is faith? What exactly is reason?
If you read a scholar like Isaiah Berlin, as I have done(as he was professor at Oxford in my time) you are likely to be extremely enlightened, he clarifies many obstract and obtruse ideas associated with reason, it is reason that is all light. It is unreason that is associated with all obscurantism. It is as simple as it can be!
Faith is a critical concept
But then, faith is a much more troublesome concept. Faith is of course is not all about religion and unreason as we might tend to imagine. There can be reasoned faith. Faith has moved the peoples in all stages of history. Faith is much more than religion and religious belief and certainly faith can no more be associated with organised religious beliefs.
For me, faith is as important as reason based much on the Western learning process, a process that grew out of Greek philosophy, through Italian Renaissance to European Enlightenment to the current, my own times’ Viennese Logical Positivism. I am a product of the Logical Positivism, though I know there is now much progress on the front. We need to be much more careful about our uses of words and phrases and also not take too much of skeptical positions as to make our lives totally “meaningless” in the sense in which my Oxford tutors used to drive us, students!
Faith has to be taken as seriously, as Pascal, if not more seriously these days.
The world we live in doesn’t give us any other alternative sense of security or belonging unless we develop a new concept of faith, based as much on philosophical and scientific arguments as on our own inner resources of the mind, soul or consciousness or some other irrational faculties too.
Faith is what drove people down through the centuries to search for eternity, truth and God in all its manifestations.
In India, we have had very ancient traditions of pilgrimages. Why our forefathers went all the way to the Himalayas, crossed the rivers and braved the natural barriers to reach the origins of Ganges or the Manasvaror lake or the Himalayan snow peaks and they all thought and believed ,it was their faith that the God dwelled in such heights and in such rare and remote places.
That was how faith built up the belief systems, the philosophies, and the temples and the religious faiths, religions arose out of such deeply held faiths. This applies to all religions and all peoples. Faith only held people together in communities; they jointly created cities and civilizations. History can be defined as a history of faith or faiths!
So, too the rise of reason. It is reason that made modern, civilized world. When the natural sciences grew, there grew pout of them our conceptions of man and his various faculties. Social sciences grew out of the humanities and sciences and out of them grew the modern conception of man as a free individual. So, arose the concept of secularism. Secularism might mean or might not mean much to the developed Western societies. For India, for a modern India, for a liberal democracy like India secularism is the very defining character of our society. A society based on multi religions and languages and cultures and faiths too!
So, seculairsm is very modern view of seeing man’s many social and other issues purely in terms of a modern view of knowledge and ideas, not invoking any religious sanctions.
That is why the BJP view of society is historically false and ideologically dangerous. A thousand Modis or Advanis can’t advance from their present predicament, come as many election chances or election victories. They are against the current of history!
So too the Leftists, the CPI (M) and their allies! The Communists when they came to power in Russia experimented with a sort of Secularism that was not just Godless, they were against the very humanity of man, they were against the human aspirations and even we can say against the very human nature. That is how Stalinism arose as a barbarous monsterity that treated man as animal! Hence the Gulags, as bad as Hitler’s Holocaust! So much for the faith vs. seculairsm. The point here is that secularism is as much about humanism, about human freedoms, human rights and human dimensions and possibilities of enhancing life’s many rich diversities. There can be no limit to human imagination or human creativity and hence the stress on human freedoms and the stress on democracy at all times.
The world is steadily moving towards democracy only everywhere in every country of the world. That is the greatest gains of modern secularism in the post-Communist world.
The new century seems to have come to us with lots of blessings and also with lots of new problems. The blessings we can count. New technologies have enabled us to live in a more integrated world. Globalisation is the buzzword. Yes, our current mode of life, the lifestyles and the living have all become, in a significant sense, more meaningful, if we can use a more reader-friendly way, richer, more enjoyable and more and more affordable to more and more number of people. Is this n’t a real blessing?
Also, at the same time, our current mode of living has come to us with a more terrifying unstable and life-threatening way. The rise of the international terror after the 9/11 terror attack had opened up a floodgate of terrorism all over the world.
This then, hadn’t created a more stable world, rather the opposite.
So, there is a new turbulence in the life of the average citizen of the world, a turbulence that is more of international reach and international significance.
We all thought the world had become more modern and post-modern and much else! No, the world seems to have once more is on the verge of a new world war, if not a world war, a series of wars that are now very real considering the rise of terrorism everywhere, in every developed and developing countries.
In most Western European and now we are told in central and Eastern European countries. The decade of the post-communist Europe is no less haunted by the Islamist threats of terrorism or militant terrorist organisations, funded and promoted and leading to much internal unrest, from Bosnia to Hungary to Romania and Bulgaria. The UK is also now home for much of the terrorist funding and training and home for much of the ideological motivation. Some of the young brains have come from UK or after a visit to UK and work there.
What is deeply worrying in all these developments is how the new terror-driven religious fanaticism, Al Qaeda to other terrorist groups have derived inspiration from religion.
Not an easy question at any time. More so, at the present time.
There is a superficial public perception that religion is all about superstition and has no reasoned philosophical basis. This is not true. One can be a religious person and yet with a modern secular outlook.
This is more relevant an issue for a society like India where there are traditional and modern forces at work. Also, political parties like the Left and the BJP are working at cross purposes. The Left seems to give the impression, though not stated clearly and openly, its position on religion. The atheism supposedly held by the Communists and even the regional chauvinist parties like the Dravidian ones are bogus, to put it so bluntly. Atheism can be anything, not about the existence of God alone. God itself can be a philosophical and metaphysical concept. God need not be a theist concept or conception. There is no logical necessity to be God being only theist conception. The very evolution theories show this truth so plainly.
Religion is as old as man. Today’s man seems to be no different from the olden time man either. In fact, today’s man is more confused with all the civilisational advances and more violent man had become! That is what we see with all the rise in religious violence, there seems to be new century crusades of sorts, considering the buildings and conversions and bombings and destruction and the killings of innocent lives. All in this age of so much knowledge and achievements of man. Voltaire considered only some peaks of human achievements commendable for man. The Greek rise, the Italian Renaissance and the European Enlightenment, perhaps the French Revolution and the spread of reason, freedom and sciences.
Certainly, those who are stuck with a Euro-centric view of the world, it is the 16th and the 17th centuries that are the brightest, with the rise of reason with Descartes and other philosophers.
Now, in the new century all such views seem very limited and slightly out of date for our current guidance.
As for Indians of this time, certainly there is room for much hard work.
When Dr.S.Radhakrishnan came on the scene, we should not forget that men like him and even Mahatma Gandhi, they were operating under the burden of the colonial rule and as such they were trying to find a niche for the Indian voice. That is all. Radhakrishnan’s interpretation of the Hindu religion was at best a more modern and an Anglicised version in a more rhetorical English language. Even he was not taken seriously by his own contemporary Oxford philosophers, some of the most inventive and also more open-minded thinkers like Bertrand Russell, A.J.Ayer (1910-89) and the very Cambridge and Oxford schools of philosophy. It is rather ironical that the very Oxford philosophy was concentrating on the “Language, Truth and Logic” the very title of the book Ayer published in 1936 and which remains even today as “the classic statement in English of “Logical Positivism”.
I am sure Radhakrishnan must have read this book and must have interacted with Ayer, he of course interacted with others, like Russell .And yet we don’t have any evidence from his numerous writings any references to these philosophers or their books and certainly for a man of his stature, there must have been troubling questions as to what meaning his statements must have had for the Western readers especially when they, the Western readers, would have been really skeptical as to the very many claims Indian philosophy makes or philosophers make.
I am sure readers would agree with me when I ask myself:” Why Dr.Radhakrishnan, a great man and an greater intellectual didn’t think it only proper he must make some comments, compare his notes with the notes of his British academic colleagues, specially when it came to talking of some common themes like truth and arguments, the use of logic and reasoning in his discourses”.
In a place like Oxford that was throbbing with philosophical debates in his time, for a great Indian and Indian spokesman of his own country’s philosophical traditions, just to leave out altogether the great intellectual currents of his own teaching university still puzzles me!
Reconciliation of the Eastern and Western philosophy
I remember distinctively that in 1959 when I once invited a Ramakrishna Math sanayasin of great standing to give a lecture on Indian philosophy at my Oxford College, New College which was home to Ayer and his own teacher and predecessor in the professorial chair, H.H.Price, a great philosopher in his own right and many others who later went on to establish their names in British philosophy. In fact, I invited Prof.Price to preside over the meeting and the speaker, the late Swami Ranganathananda, spoke in such a rapid fire seed that the English philosopher didn’t have any opportunity to put any counter questions. For every query, the Swami would retort and quote some sloka and give a small lecture of sorts! This was the sort of Indian speech making or preaching! Radhakrishnan <I would contend, was no less guilty.
So, I am not surprised to read now, from Prof.J.N.Mohanty that “much of the work, for example, of Radhakrishnan left me cold ,and I was bored to death”(An Autobiography, page 113,OUP).The reason or reasons seem to me simple. We, Indians, are a bit complacent when it comes to our own religion or philosophy. We take many things for granted. We feel we needn’t explain and justify and defend our positions when it comes to interpreting our own traditional truths when the need arises.
So too we see Gandhi’s own interpretations of Hinduism and what he understood when he tried to incorporate the elements from other religions, especially from Christianity.
In the end where a lifetime of work led? It ended with the tragedy of India’s Partition!
So, a word like religion too needs to be studied in historical terms and also with a sense of historic perspective.
Religion is many things. Organised religions are different and they center around the “churches”. After Rome converted to Roman Catholicism, the many troubles arose; the history of religious wars is such a bloody history. I am troubled by the thought that whether the world is not witnessing the same old history, this new religious crusades of today! So much funds, so many buildings of mosques and churches, so much fanaticism to impose a religious agenda on an unwilling world which is so much a secular a reality today!
Secularism: needs in-depth analysis!
Secularism, in my opinion, is an outcome of the rise of sciences, the natural sciences in the world. Secularism has evolved a great deal in the light of modern day knowledge of the sciences, humanities and the social sciences researches. Our conception of man, his evolution, the basis for many of our scientific beliefs is all based on the great advances in the many branches of knowledge.
Whatever be the religious terrorism and its challenges today, the world had changed for the better. The religious terrorism is bound to subside and the spread of modern ideas and much of the social and cultural changes are bound to impact this rise and intensity of the religious strife today. The very logic of human existence, the very logic of human progress, the creation and spread of wealth and knowledge, the very evolution of modern institutions of democracy, conflict resolution would put pressure on desperate forces to fall into some orderly behaviour. The spread of democracy, the very concept of an election and elected governments is gaining credibility all over the world. Human rights and human freedoms are valued as never before. The process towards such a progressive, liberal and open society would only further pressurise irrational elements in all societies.
This, in brief, is all about human progress and human civilisation!
Richard Dawkins is the new atheist and his relentless attack on God has in fact tired even his numerous admirers, including me! Why? He is denouncing a God that is a theological construct! Dwakins might not bother to know there can be any number of philosophical constructs of God, metaphysical and even philosophical or logical constructs which can be taken as a God that explains the many mysteries of the universe or the cosmos. Why not?
There is too many church or churches-related theologians, priests who come out with so many accounts of how they approach the subjects of God and church. This is a field in which I am not interested. I am a secularist and yet I retain my Hindu identity. Why not? One can have so many identities, ethnic, linguistic and national and religious. Yet, one can still have the larger and more secular identity of a progressive and international identity so that we live as citizens of this larger world and work for the peace and prosperity of the peoples and nations. We have to be having many identities in order to overcome and be useful as members of our communities, the smaller and larger, local and the global communities.
For me at any rate, religion, in a secular way, is about values, family values. Community values and values in general, values that would define our personality and our moral persona. It is about a series of qualities, our quest for truth, ethics, right and wrong, duty and responsibility, the worlds and concepts that would my value system could be as large and as varied as my learning and standing and my own sense of ego and self-knowledge and self-image demands. Why not?
Religion and science, reason and faith, belief systems and atheism, superstition and irrationality are all critical words and concepts about which there can’t be a final say at any moment.
Yes, these are the words and topics that are very much in the public mind and most of the time. And there is any number of books being written on these topics.
Need to search and establish in terms of Indian philosophical traditions
There is so much talk these days of globalisation about the breakdown of identities, so far established in closed communities and the worlds. There is also now the largest-scale of human migration. More Indians are now migrating then ever in our history. So, the breakdown of national and ethnic identities is a real issue for the present times.
What our intellectuals have done about the identity question?
India-based intellectuals don’t seem to have given us any recognisable ideas. In Nirad Choudhary times, he was seen as one intellectual who was hammering out his own tehses, whatever be the opinions and now, even his theses seem a bit out of date. Among the NRI intelelctuals, Prof.Amartya Sen has some views. Others like writers, Salman Rushdie or the garrulous V.S.Naipaul have their own bees in their bonnets!
We need a much more serious approach. Indians and the Indian traditions can’t be so easily defined unless we look at our whole history, our whole civilization and traditions and belief systems. We can’t ignore our classical philosophical schools and see Indian identity in any other terms. This is my position, though I am not the qualified person to tackle such a heavy topic!
Our very modern day lives are centered on the words and concepts like what we believe and what we believe to be truth and morality. What is right and wrong? All our waking hours we have to interact with a variety of tasks, with a variety of people, some are simply and others are complex, people are also of varied capabiltiies, some are simple folks, others are more educated and gifted.
In India in particular we also have some other aspects of our life and living.
The world is no more West-centric or Europe-centric and yet our Indian education history and tradition are such that even now, in the new century we take our intellectual beliefs as given and shaped by the European scholars and the European scholastic traditions.
Now, after the globalisation and the large-scale migration of educated Indians to the American shores, there is this new phenomenon of the NRI scholars. Most talented Indians, even those who had won the Nobel Prizes and other distinctions, got distinguished teaching posts in the prominent American universities, now come often to India and deliver lectures on a wide variety of topics and they even give us much advice as to what is wrong with the Indian scene and they go back again to their favolured sanctuaries.
The pay and perks, the privileges of the foreign university assignments are very good compared to what one gets if one is make an academic career in India and also the publicity one gets as a visiting American or British or a Canadian faculty in the Indian academic and public platforms are so different that there is the new danger of India and India-based talents not getting the attention and recognized as that are their due.
Thus, if we take even the field of philosophy, one of the hallowed humanities branches of knowledge there is very little work done or known to the public in India. After Dr.S.Radhakrishnan, there is very little that is known by way of Indian philosophy.
I read two books, or two collections of philosophy essays and I was puzzled as to what is exactly the current status of Indian philosophy.
One: Indian Philosophy: A Counter Perspective by Prof.Daya Krishna who passed away only recently. He was for long a professor of philosophy at Rajasthan University and a national fellow of the Indian Council for Philosophical Research. I wanted to know more about him and what I got was a brief mention in a newspaper obituary but no more other in-depth writing anywhere in the journals or magazines. That was a pity I thought, this disinterest in our intellectual traditions. Daya Krishna was a bold thinker for he raised some of the most original and provocative questions. I would just give the readers just a few questions he has raised. Is Indian Philosophy ‘Theological in Character? Three myths about Indian Philosophy.
The myths are Indian philosophy is basically spiritual. Is this true? Prof.Krishna points out that the claim of Indian philosophy being spiritual is not in any way an exclusive character of Indian philosophy, even if we admit. Any other philosophy, more so the Western philosophy too can claim to be spiritual. One minute of reflection would show that all great and serious philosophies are concerned with ultimate reality, mind and spirit and these are what philosophers call metaphysical questions. So, even at the very beginning we can see that some questions are asked routinely and whoever is responsible this particular public perception of Indian philosophy only being spiritual is not just true or correct. So, we need to think further and ask and search for a more precise nature of the Indian philosophy.
The point I want to convey to readers here is that we Indians are just lazy to ask serious questions or search for consistently challenging answers that might not please the orthodox views of a conservative society. That is all.
What we need is a seriousness to pursue higher knowledge in some of the frontier areas of humanities and sciences. This is not just happening. I have found in my encounters with scholars, both the visiting ones and the India-based university men, there is no serious interest in such matters!
Prof.Daya Krishna’s views
Anyway, to complete Daya Krishna’s other two myths, he also asks whether it is true that Indian philosophy is based on authority. This is based on the authority of the Vedas. There are various ‘orthodox’ schools and they too (unfortunately) don’t agree on the authority of the Vedas. Prof.Krishna goes into details.(see pages25 onwards).There are ‘orthodox’ and ‘unorthodox’ schools, then subdivided into Buddhism, Jainisn and Charavaka and into Nyaya and other five categories.
The point the learned skeptical philosophy asks here is that if you stick to one school or other, then how you can write a history of Indian philosophy, history means change and development and innovation. Once you freeze a particular philosophic conclusion into a school and a history can’t be written! There must be some room for speculation and refinement and this has not been done all the last few centuries after Samkara! From the 8th century onwards we don’t have any growth nor have we done any effort to restart our philosophic speculations after we encountered the Western knowledge, Western philosophy!
Prof.Krishna’s other three concepts of Indian philosophy are also controversial, given the nature of his questions. Is Indian philosophy all about leading us to moksha or is it linked to our sadhana or yoga and he cites two other authorities who might be new to readers of this piece and so I don’t burden them with the names. Except the one Indian philosopher he mentions, the late K.C.Bhattacharya who was an authority and an original on Indian philosophy. I have some personal references to him for when I studied at Santiniketan his distinguished son, himself a philosophy, namely, Prof.Kalidas Bhattacharya who was also my teacher and became also Vice Chancellor of Visva-Bharati. Prof.Daya Krishna refers to his review of K.C.B’s book in the learned journal published by Visva Bharati, the Visva Bharati Quarterly. In the issue of 1960 he wrote this review and when I was there this subject was very much discussed in our midst’s and hence my interest in the subject of Indian philosophy!
Now, I want to break from this line of thought for the subject is vast and complex and I am not a professional philosophy scholar, I am just a philosophy enthusiast, I must confess!
For Daya Krishna goes into further explaining about why he wanted to explode the three myths and the three conceptions and also asking more uncomfortable questions like the “Vedic Corpus: Some questions”(Chapter 5).”The Upanishads-What are they?”(Chapter 7) and “The Yoga-Sutras: The Undeciphered Text”(Chapter 8)”Vedanata_Does it really means Anything?”(Chapter 14) and many such provocative questions in each chapter of this absorbing book. (Indian Books Centre, Delhi, 2006).
For a genuine philosophy student the book would offer endless delights, I am sure, both in the East and in the West. As I have also come to hold the view that when it comes to serious modern philosophy, in its most rigorous analytical sense, there is no logical or epistemological barrier to understand such basic issues of philosophy, any issues, be it the conception of truth or knowledge, or metaphysics or in advancing arguments based on modern logic.
There can be historic and cultural traditions that are peculiarly unique to each philosophical tradition, both Indian and the European and the strictly British empirical traditions. But I feel that the time has come to reach some common knowledge base and establish some common language of talking and debating philosophy for we seem to live in only one world where any branch of modern knowledge has to be necessarily universal, internationally communicable in a common language and categories.
Under Dr.S.Radhakrishnan the West came to appreciate Indian philosophy in a broad manner. Given his time and the stage of the East-West understanding there were barriers, the historic and the colonial mindsets.
Max Mueller, Will Durant
The British scholars, given their empire mentality were not prepared to concede any ground for the Indian philosophical traditions. Even after the work of Max Mueller, there was this deep prejudice and division of the intellectual traditions. To some extent, for this the Indian side also contributed. Even Swami Vivekananda took that traditional view of Hinduism being unique among the world religions and the West didn’t know much about the more depper philosophic schools and the finer points. The America scholar, Will Durant’s contributions to bring Indian contributions to world civilisation are no less relevant here. Hinduism was equated, of course unwittingly, in my view, with all that was about Indian religion and philosophy. Today we see the deeper divisions among the various Indian religions also. There is Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and then Veera Saivam, Saiva Siddhanta and other minor religions or sects. Also, there is the clear division between religion and technical philosophy. In India we didn’t have a tradition of the religions with a church, no theology and no organised doctrinaire religious sects as we have in the Western religions, especially in Christianity.
Our history has been different and to that extent we have to define our history, our culture and also our political and economic history.
It is also my view that owing to our peculiar history, the colonial history as it developed, the rise of new knowledge in Europe, from Italian Renaissance to European Enlightenment, to French Revolutionary ideas and ideals, like freedom, reason and the growth of science and the impact of modernism didn’t touch the Indian lives.
We were fed with the Macaulay diet of a clerical class and hence there was no chance for our indigenous education traditions to get impacted with the flow of modern currents of thought.
So, in a way, until Dr.Radhakrishnan came on the international stage we were all conditioned by the prejudices of the British scholarship and whatever little differing views were there from the European scholars, mainly German and French, they didn’t make a real impact for radical changes.
My worry is even today the Euro-centric view of the world, the Euro-centric view of the paradigm of knowledge prevails. Indian identity is still split and there is no chance this split identity, split between the Euro-centric view of India and Indian knowledge base and the current tensions and struggles and confusions that we find as the indigenous scholarship and indigenous talents come to give India a new thrust, be it in economic development, IT or outsourcing or even in the cultural and humanities fields, be it Hollywood-beating cinema or Booker Prize-winning English novels or even winning the Nobel Prizes for Literature, Peace or Economics.
Indian identity is yet to take a full-blown transformation.
A recent writer in The Times Higher Education Supplement in fact says that” the real world exists outside our metropolis” implying that the famous figures in social sciences so far, sociologists and economists, were both Europeans, and white! He calls the metroploes as the “global North”.
The social processes in different regions of the world are not captured in our intellectual discourses or deliberately run down. Though the write is based in Sydney, he seems to be quite unaware or doesn’t do his homework fully and therefore doesn’t mention the names that are all now outside the charmed Euro-centric world view. There are now international-level writers of novels, economics and even sciences and arts. May be some of them are based in the USA but these writers and academics are from all parts of the world, from Asia, from India, from Japan and China and also from African continent. Even sociologists like the late M.N.Srinivas cant are ignored. If you don’t read him then you don’t know the Indian caste system and caste formations. It is as simple as that. The very same arguments can be advanced in favour of the philosophers working on Indian philosophy and it just happens they live and work in some foreign countries. Their contributions are giving our world a new international flavour.
Western prejudices still persist!
Yes, it is still a fact of life that the scholarly publishing industry is concentrated in the West and also established magazines like The Economist, or the Spectator continue to write anti-Indian stories only. But we in India know well that when it comes to business, software and IT, the Brits are no match for our average young IT talent! That is what counts ultimately, right?
Yes, we need more articulation on the subject of the Indian identity, India ,even after 60 years of political freedom and in the context of the growing political instability in India’s neighbourhood, considering the growth of Left politics, only in India we still have the CPI(M) forming and running governments and also being a constituent of the coalition that rules in Delhi and there is also the rightwing extremism as represented by the BJP and the rise of regional extremisms, caste and ethnic chauvinism-all posing challenges to the forging of a pan-Indian identity. So, India has to seek its national identity in nationalism. Though nationalism is sought to discredit in the West for quite valid reasons, in India the problems seem very different. We see this need for a nationalist identity in other countries too, in Russia, in China and even in Iran. Each of these countries seeks their own identities in terms of their territorial integrity and this applies to India as well.
The world is very much a different place since the end of the world war.
Though the world wars stopped in 1945,there are other wars. As Niall Ferguson, the historian observed, the third world war is the third world’s wars only! In Vietnam to Africa and the Asian, Latin American countries there are still wars and conflicts and now after the 9/11 terror the world faces new threats and uncertainties.
In such a historic time what sort of national identities countries like India must seek?
In my view India has to seek a national identity, the religious identity can’t be wished away and so we have to make room for some religious harmony based on some of the recent experiences.
Religious and racial reconciliation
Religion is one form of fanaticism. This is a very old story. Slavery is another scourge that defiled much of human dignity. Another is the racial divisions. Racial hatreds had led to large human massacres and deprivation. All these Dark Age mentality had been attacked and reformed and religions have also done much to change the world.
In South Africa, we saw Archbishop Desmond Tutu set up the path-breaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. He did the pioneering work for forgiveness and reconciliation of the healing of communities, between the black and white populations in his country. Apartheid was the dreadful word that was sought to be removed from social relations. The work in the USA also can be counted as a work towards this forgiveness and forgetfulness as great human virtues. There are now a good many books on this topic of truth and reconciliation and forgiveness as supreme moral virtues.
Values in the West and the East
The religious identity people seek is often vague and undefined. In India there is this religious fervour which is often a mix of superstition and superficial beliefs only. There is this widespread new awakening of new religious fervour. May be the rise of materialist society creates in turn the fears and uncertainties about the world and thus gives rise to new religious fervour. Yet, superstitions abound in the new religions and new godmen’s own various prescriptions for a spiritually fulfilling life. In the West, church attendance declined, so many new family values broke down, co-habitation, single mothers, rise of feminism, new sexuality. Gender, race, politics and society. In India, the breakdown of caste bars, more progressive views of a range of issues including the family values, breakdown of joint families, rise of nuclear families, the migration of educated classes, the loneliness of the parents, elders and the aged, the rise in divorce and separation of spouses and the new laws against domestic violence, the law about punishing the neglect of the aged etc are all the new phenomena ,as far as changes in the family values are concerned.
What the future holds for the hold of religion, organised religion? Very difficult to predict but one aspect can be surely predicted. Secular society is becoming a reality, no one cares for many of the old assumptions and there is a loosening of the many of the traditional bonds and taboos and a new attitude to welcome new relationships in the families and society can be discerned. In Britain, they trace these changes since the First World War, then the 60s and 70s are traced to radical changes or breakdown of family values.
Family values matter! It all times!
The Western concepts not relevant to Indian society!
See the British and French fall of standards!
British Queen’s household no more represents family values!
Tony Blair changes religion
French President and the loosening of the family values!
It is rather the irony of the times that once what the world was fed with certain beliefs are turned upside down.
The British Queen was once the symbol of family values. Now, her own household is a dismal failure and she herself is an old fossil no one cares about. The former Prime Minister, Tony Blair changed to Roman Catholicism and no one took notice of it! So too the new French President, the quirky short fellow, Nicolas Sarkozy, divorced his wife while in office and yet he cared a damn and went for Christmas holiday with a once top model,39 and showed her off as he threw all conventions and protocol of the high office he holds and this public display of his private “morals” raised a public outburst all across Europe! The President of the Fifth Republic created by the great de Gaulle, a symbol of French values, including family values, now shows himself off in his short sleeves, his top buttons undone, sports dark glasses, receives his ministers with his legs on the table and now, the unpardonable sin of all, he holds his new love tightly in public, his hand falling on her hips so openly and so provocatively! The President had been criticised among others by his political opponent, Ms.Segolene Royal, the socialist whom Sarkozy defeated also called names of the man.
Ms.Royale’s own life was query rather. She has four children but hasn’t married! Lives in cohabitation!
So, what have become the French values, of family and political values!
But India and Indians can’t anymore the Western ways. We may be Westernised or Europeanised in many areas of culture and our belief systems. Or, for that matter we can’t become Americanised too in our family values or in our secular values. The Americans with all their democratic credentials, are also funny when it comes to practicing their family values. Their own Presidents are no examples of the paradigm of virtues. See Clinton or even George Bush who wears his religious credentials so brazenly and yet his political outlook is not that enlightened or extends to the world at large. So much for India and Indians’ own perceptions of what they see as virtues of Western ways and belief systems. Yankeeism is also skin-deep and this our educated youth must become aware in some discerning manner.
Truth, like Reason and Faith, is also a difficult word, concept. Your Truth is not my Truth! Yes, it is as easy or as difficult!
Gandhi’s Truth is much talked about. What is Gandhi’s Truth? His Truth about God or Religion? Or, his Truth of India? It ended in Partition. His Hinduism? It invited his assassination in the hands of a Hindu fanatic. His education, his rural India. All ended in thin air! His view of God? It is no different. Is Gandhi a saint or a sinner of both? Very difficult questions. After the news about his relations with very many women came out, after the new books on his life, including the one by his grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, we are no wiser!
The point is that my considered view is that Gandhi’s Truth, at best, is as good as or no better than, say Montaigne’s Essays, or Pascal’s Pensees. All great men are great thinkers too in a way.
John Ruskin and Tolstoy, Gandhi claimed to be his spiritual fountainheads. But also as a student of these two great men, I often wonder whether Gandhi fully understood Ruskin’s or Tolstoy’s artistic side of their genius. Not at all, in my opinion!
So, my conclusion is: all great men, more so the spiritual and artistic geniuses, are both sinners as well as saints!
Life doesn’t offer too many freedoms. There is this eternal conflict between freewill and determinism.
So, faith is all-embracing and overwhelming.
Sciences are as much faith based.
Scientists base their conclusions or articulations on some ultimate realities, faiths, as regards the universe or the cosmos.
Philosophy too, is not all about proofs.
There are certain realities that rest on our hunches and faiths. Like metaphysical faiths. Men live by faith.
Otherwise, our lives, including our personal lives end in disasters.
Bertrand Russell’s own personal life was a big disaster, at the end of the day, so to say!
Secular religion possible??
Dr.S.Radhakrishnan wrote an essay or even a book with the title, “Recovery of Faith”. This gave an impression that faith is a religious faith and we have lost it owing to modern changes in our lives. It also gives the impression that we have become materialistic and we have lost our spiritual beliefs. So, the impression is that faith has to be necessarily religious faith or spiritual faith.
This view is certainly no more relevant today.
For India in particular, secularism needs much explanation and qualifications. One can be religious in one’s personal beliefs but one cane is a robust secularist in one’s public conduct. In a multi-religious society like India with a traumatic history of Partion based on religion, it is all the more important to see to keep organised religion away from the state policies. The BJP Hindutva confuses private religion and the state’s public policy. It also divides the Hindus and the Muslims on the basis of state policies. Unfortunately, our religious mutts, some of the prominent Hindu religious mutts and their heads also help to contribute to these confusions. These otherwise learned men seem to confuse what is Hinduism and Hindutva. One is religion and the other is partisan politics!
Indian state, let us make sure, is a secular State under the Indian Constitution. Let us hope this evolution of the modern world, based on the secular principles of European Enlightenment are the basis of the modern world’s much progress of man, man’s equality and liberty are all the benefits and the future seems secure only on these secular principles.
One word of caution or reminder. There is much in the Indian classical philosophy, the dharshanas that can be interpreted as based on some sound logic and reasoning. The point is that reason and logis is not alien to Indian culture. This needs further elaboration in this line of thought.
We have seen that there is no such thing as religious faith. Faith is a neutral concept that is relevant to any non-religious, non-theist, secular development of society and politics. Since the rise of European Enlightenment we see the rise of secular values like freedom, equality and a democracy, parliamentary democracy where you don’t need a divine monarch nor any monarch or such feudal constructions.
So, also the faith or the beliefs in the institutions that govern today’s much of our lives.
In a recent Supreme Court judgment (on government’s commitment to some entrepreneurs)the Bench notes how the faith of the people in the government, in the institutions are based government’s commitments and credibility. In the short judgment the word, faith, occurs three times! Such is the power of faith. “Faith of the people in government. faith the maintenance of good governance etc! So, faith needn’t be anything to do with just extraneous worlds! It is as simple as just faith is one of our core values!