Secularism: State and Christianity (1)

India proudly proclaims in its Constitution it is a secular country. Let us examine the substance of this Indian secularism and what it has returned back to India during the period of over half a century.

Let us be honest and examine the facts first.

India is a country that is home to millions of people who are devoutly religious by nature. These people profess different religions – Hindus, Muslims, Shikhs, Christians, Parsees and many more. Almost all religions of the world and their vast number of sects and sub-sects find a place for their profession in this country. Out of all these religions, Hindus account the most – they are more than 80% of the population. These Hindus here engage their whole life dedicated to achieve the fruits that are declared by their religion to be the highest desirable thing in this world, which they call ‘Mukti’ or emancipation from the bond of life, death and rebirth – again and again.

Then, there are millions of Muslims living in India whose whole life is entirely devoted to fulfill the mandates of their Holy book ‘Koran’. There are likewise a great multitude of people in India who are Christians and they are completely devoted to accomplish the mandates of their Holy book ‘Bible’. There are also considerable number of Sikhs, Jain, Parsi and similar other religious groups of people in India who are devoutly religious by temperament.

For all these highly religious people, this world and this world’s institutions – whether these institutions are political or social in nature – are only secondary in importance to their religious objectives.

But the paradox of the situation is that these very people are expected to elect and man their government, which government is supposed to have nothing to do with (their) religion. They themselves become the part and parcel of this government. But they have their varying religious allegiances. They are mandated by their particular religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity etc. – to carry forward their religious duties and mission in their private and public life. And, these religious duties and missions are mostly clashing in their nature with each other. While electing their government or becoming part of the Indian State, these people who mentally submerged in their clashing religious fervor do not and cannot divorce their personal allegiance to the objectives of their religion. In fact, they advance the agenda of their particular religion.

It is but natural. It cannot be otherwise. It is normal human nature to advance the cause of a thing that one cherishes the most. This paradox becomes clear when one finds that historically there is an incompatibility among these diverse religions and their followers.

It becomes an ironic thing when such people with their diverse religion and with their clashing missions are called upon to elect and run their government in the secular manner.

What is a religion? Materialist philosopher and revolutionary Karl Marx famously described religion as the opium of people. He is wrong there; it is not so. Humans are not animals because they have evolved themselves above animals. Humans are motivated like animals in their daily activities by the basic necessities for their survival, like food, shelter, cloths and amenities. But in these activities, humans unlike animals are guided by their emotions, like love, hate, revenge etc., and their mental thoughts and ideas. Only these mental thoughts and ideas make humans separate from animals.

Religion – and everyone of them – is a bundle of peculiar ideas, with which most part of the humanity is afflicted. Religion divides people on the basis of their different ideas. Religion puts them into separate groups, which are bound by their common interests. Religion is a reality for humans.  Animals are immune to religion because they are animals. And in this way religion is an indicator too of human evolution. But it splits them; it divides them. And these divisions are real. All religious groups are bound together with their common interests.

Most often, these religious groups are so vast that they populate the entire country or even a number of countries. Religious ideas firmly grip the mind of common people, make them separate in identity, commit them to their peculiar certain ideals and almost always put them against each other. It is the reality of human society. One cannot overlook this reality of human society.

What is secularism? The essence of secularism is, ‘State has no institutional connection with religion; State is independent of religion’. It is defined by the Oxford dictionary as the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions. The origin of this principle lies in the Christian history. The invention of this social device was made in the context of Christianity. Apart from this context with Christianity, secularism has no connection with any major religions of the world.

It is a fact that secularism is the invention of western Christian democracies. It originated in England of the sixteenth century. It was invented there to tide over a peculiar difficulty that was being faced by the rationally awakened common masses of Europe. This difficulty arose out of a clash between the Christian religious dogmas, which had behind them the power of State controlled by the Christian religion, and the new scientific ideas, which were being discovered then by the mentally enlightened scientists. Christian dogmas and the newly discovered scientific ideas were incompatible with each other. Only one out of the two could be true and accepted as such. But there was the Christian State power behind the Christian dogmas. This State power was legally bound to punish the new incompatible scientific ideas. It was a horrific situation for those who were mentally awakened and dared to put new scientific ideas before the public. Christian dogmas pricked the common sense of these awakened people but they could not do anything against the Christian State.

The seventeenth century Europe was witnessing a renaissance of mind. It was making new scientific discoveries, which were showing the utter falsity of the views held by Christian Cardinals but were enforced by the might of Christian state power. For example, a new scientific discovery was made by an Italian scientist Galileo Galilei that Sun is the center – the point – around which Earth revolves and, therefore, it was false on the part of Christianity to claim that Earth is the center around which this universe and Sun revolve. And, he demonstrated this truth with the help of his newly invented telescope. This scientific discovery was making an unwelcome impact on the mind of ordinary masses following Christianity. As this scientific fact went against the Christian holy book – Bible, which stated Earth is the center of universe and Sun – there was a fundamental clash between the two. It was pricking the common sense of people and eroding their faith in Christianity. While it was a serious thing for the Christian State authorities, it was  a dangerous one for the people to speak their disagreement with what Bible said. They could not believe in such new ideas openly because it went against Christianity and the Christian State had a power over their life.  They could be made to pay a price with their life for this heretic blasphemy. They believed in the new scientific truth but they also saw with their own eyes that Galileo had to pay a heavy price for telling a truth. Galileo was first accused of challenging Church in 1616 and then imprisoned in 1633 for life by the Christian State for telling this truth. He died in prison. It was his crime of blasphemy against Christianity. Before him, Giordano Bruno, another Italian scientist and philosopher, was burned at stake in Rome in 1600 AD by Christian Church. His crime was that he proposed that stars in sky are just like our sun and that they may be having planets – like Earth – revolving around them, where possibly life might be existing. He also held that there is soul and incarnation of that soul. He was tried for heresy in 1593 and burned to death on 17 February 1600.

What was the way out from this horrific situation? It was solved by inventing the principle of separation of State from the religious institutions. It was called secularism. Secularism owes its genesis to these difficult conditions prevailing in the seventeenth century Europe. It was a solution invented by the political thinkers of the time and endorsed by the popular will. This popular will forced the Christian State to accept it. This is the story of the birth of secularism. Its worth lay in tiding over the difficulty cteated by the Christianity’s dogmatic adamency. Beyond this it had no worth.

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