The Pretence of Pluralism
Rajiv Malhotra’s bestseller Being Different has helped me to take the discussion on secularism in India forward from the historical perspective I gave in my previous article. Secularism and respect for other religions is enshrined in the very ethos of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism as its known today. Accepting another way of worship or respect for an alternate idea of the ‘Absolute reality’ and in fact exploring this alternate idea to enrich the over all spiritual experience was and is an accepted practice. We Hindus all along have held the belief that this is the case with other faiths such as Christianity and Islam, that they reciprocate our respect for their faith but it seems this is not the case, its a one way street and we are stuck on the ‘no entry’ end.
In this book the author raises a pertinent point at the very outset about the pretense of pluralism in western civilisation and society, which has also infected us in India with the disease of ‘secularism’. Rajiv’s sharp mind has pierced through the fog and illuminated upon on how Hinduism and its Dharma based philosophy is ‘tolerated’ mind you and not respected, till such time that it can be digested or destroyed by the Judeo-Christian centric western civilisation.
Rajiv Malhotra shows us that by clever semantics the Judeo-Christian system obfuscates facts and is loath to the idea of accepting Hinduism as its equal. In many of the inter faith dialogues he participated in, he finds the Christian religious leadership very defensive or out rightly dismissive of accepting the phrase ‘mutual respect’ instead of ‘tolerance’ in the discussions or the resolutions that are passed at the end of such dialogues and discussions. Why do simple words such as these make any difference one may ask, it does. In Latin meaning of ‘tolerance’ refers to ‘enduring’ or ‘grudgingly bear’ which is not same as mutual affirmation or respect. The definition of ‘mutual respect’ in Latin is to hold someone in high esteem and the term presupposes we are equally worthy of honour. Thus Judeo-Christian religion does not accord Hinduism the later status.
In a UN sponsored Millennium Religion Summit in 2000 in New York, the Vatican delegation led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope Benedict brought the entire proceedings to a halt by objecting to the Hindu delegation position led by Swamy Dayananda Saraswati of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha who insisted that the word ‘tolerance’ be replaced with ‘mutual respect’ in the official resolution. Pope Benedict put his foot down, after all how can heathens be accorded equal status and respect, which would undermine the Christian justification of evangelizing and converting them. The high profile event was on the verge of collapse with no official resolution but Swamy Dayananda Saraswati held firm even though a great deal of pressure was put on the delegation to relent. He was emphatic that the time has come for the non-Judeo-Christian religions to be respected as equals and not just tolerated by the three ‘religions of the book’ and dogma. At the last minute the Vatican blinked and conceded, the resolution declared that all religions would agree to respect one another. This was big news and was broadcast widely among the non-Abrahamic religions.
Its another matter that a few weeks later the dept of Inquisition at the Vatican responsible for formulating Church policies (and a small matter of massacring millions who did not go with the Church) retracted from the joint UN resolution by declaring that all religions are not equal and while one may experience divine grace in another religion but its still deficient as compared to a salvation which only the Church can provide.
In the light of the above observation, one must stop and think how hollow is secularism that we follow in India and the glib talk of the intellectual opinion makers. How misled is a Hindu into believing that all religions are the same and should be respected when the dogma of the Abrahamic faiths flies in the face of secularism and the values we hold so dear to our hearts. It is important that a Hindu better understands Hinduism, its core philosophies and how different they are from the others. Somewhere in the years in between we have forgotten what our elders used to tell us, ‘we are different from them’. It is important to understand that its OK to be different and yet be treated with respect and be held in high esteem.
Shankara is a friend of CRI and can be found on Twitter as @Sshankara
Image from here.