Religious fundamentalists are on the rise and that is bad for our societies. Most people will agree on this. Yet few examine who religious fundamentalists are. Obviously, such persons would want to stick to the fundamentals of their religion. They want to live a life that is advocated in their holy books and would please their God. Now, since religious fundamentalists pose a problem, does it mean that the fundamentals of religions are bad for our societies? Let’s look at the three biggest religions:

Concerning Christianity, fundamentalists believe that God has revealed himself in the Bible and sent his only begotten son to earth to save all mankind. They believe in the first commandment: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’. Therefore, all humanity has to believe in the God of the Bible and his only son, Jesus Christ. Those who do not do so, will end up in hell. “Go out into the world”, is a central tenet of the Christian faith and fundamentalists consider it as their duty to convert as many ‘heathens’ as possible to Christianity by whatever means.

Concerning Islam, fundamentalists believe that Islam is the only true religion and Allah the only true God who wants the whole world to submit to Him. Those who do not become Muslims will go to hell. It is a central tenet and keeps recurring in the Quran. Fundamentalists see it as their duty to make all of humanity accept Islam and often take literally commandments in the Quran like “Strike terror in the hearts of unbelievers.”

Concerning Hinduism, fundamentalists believe that Brahman (other names are allowed and in use) is the one true ‘God’. However, Brahman is not a personal God who saves those who believe in Him and damns all others. Rather, Brahman is the most subtle conscious essence that permeates everything and everyone, never mind, which religion he follows or whether he is an atheist. “Atman is Brahman” or “one’s own Self is the Divine”, the Vedas proclaim.

Now, all religions claim that there is only one Highest, one ‘true God’ in English or one ‘Allah’ in Arabic or one ‘Brahman’ in Sanskrit. And of course there is only one Divinity – the almighty, all knowing Presence that is responsible for the existence of the universe. How can it be otherwise? Hindus, however, often don’t understand that Christians as well as Muslims are really convinced that their one true God, respectively Allah, saves only the brothers and sisters of their own faith and sends all others as heathen or infidels into hell. This conviction is indeed difficult to understand for humans with a normal reasoning capacity. Yet if one grows up hearing repeatedly that only one’s own faith is true and other people are bad because they don’t accept this, it may actually make sense. It happened to me as a child – it made sense that only we Christians go to heaven, because we have been chosen by God…

So we have a situation in the world where Christianity and Islam, each one over a billion strong, rival with each other: “Our God alone is true! If you don’t believe it, you go to hell.” And the other group counters, “No. Our God alone is true! And if you don’t believe it you go to hell.”

One could laugh it off if it were not so serious. Fundamentalists stick to this belief – and unfortunately, the official clergy of both religions uphold it, as well. It is naturally a cause for great friction in the world.

Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma, as it used to be called) does not take part in this one-upmanship. It is ancient. It was there long before Christianity or Islam appeared on the scene. In Hinduism, Brahman is not a male entity who watches over us from somewhere. It is inside everyone, conscious, living and loving. It will always give another chance until everyone realises his true being and merges in Brahman, which may take many lives. The Hindu scriptures proclaim, “Humanity is one family”. “Brahman permeates the smallest as well as the biggest.” “Thou art That.” “Brahman is not what your mind thinks but That by which the mind is capable to think.” “See God in everyone.” “Respect nature.”

And they lead us in prayer: “May we be protected together, may we be nourished together, may we work together with great vigour, may our study be enlightening, may no obstacle arise between us.” “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.” “May everyone be happy”, and so on.

Many Hindus, too, don’t know these fundamentals of their religion and believe it is all about rituals, worshipping their favourite aspect of God to get their wishes fulfilled and celebrating festivals. They don’t realise that Hinduism is the only religion that is all inclusive. It does not set one group of people against all the others. It is also not opposed to science and does not only allow using one’s intelligence but encourages to do so.

Maybe that is the reason why in the west, Hinduism is sometimes even missing when the world religions are listed, as for westerners, a religion is apparently not a religion if it is not based on unverifiable dogmas, especially the one that sets it apart from other religions and which is so harmful for a harmonious living together of all humanity. Is it not about time for us in the 21th century to scrap such unverifiable, harmful fundamentals that set up one group of people against another group?

The best option is to follow the Hindu fundamentals. So let’s be Hindu fundamentalists who see Divinity in everyone, also in animals and in nature. Our world would benefit.

by Maria Wirth



Lessons Hindus Need To Learn From Christianity’s Exterminatio Of Paganism

Numerous British and more largely Western neo-Pagans seek contact with Hinduism. They recognize a similarity, both positively and negatively, both in their own religion’s characteristics and in the misfortunes that have befallen it. The extermination in summer 2014 of all the Yezidis (Kurdish Pagans) on whom the Islamic State could lay its hands has reminded many Pagans as well as many Hindus of what their own ancestors have had to suffer. We will start with a major negative experience of western Pagans of Hindus, viz. the challenge of Christianity, before addressing the similarities in contents.

Extermination of Paganism

European Paganism was exterminated by Christianity. The result was more thorough than in the case of the partial Islamization of South Asia, but far less violent. Initially, the Christians were a small and vulnerable community in the mighty Roman Empire. They had no real option but to adapt to the prevailing religious pluralism and to the Law of the Land. They have no separate systems of laws like Islam and ancient Judaism. So they didn’t have a law system to impose and could leave a society intact all while subverting its religion.

Rather than overthrowing a polity, they chose to work through its established authorities. All conversions were welcome, but the most promising ones were those of the king and his confidants. In Rome, the conversion of emperor Constantine changed history, turning a minority religion into the official and ultimately the only permitted religion.

In the case of England, for instance, Pope Gregory the Great decided on a mass conversion after he saw some handsome young British slaves at the slave market in Christian Rome. (Slaves in Christian Rome? A modern line of apologetics is that Christianity was disliked by the elites because it wanted to abolish slavery. Not true at all, though it limited slave-taking to the remaining Pagan populations. The nearest were  the Balkanic Slavs, hence the very word “slave”.)

So he sent missionaries to work among the British elites and the royal court. Once enough of them were converted, or were at least turned favourable to the missionary effort, they in turn loaded the dice in favour of Christianity. Part of the deal in many countries concerned was that the Church would support the king against unsubmissive nobles, thus encouraging the centralization of power, or champion the ambitions of whichever nobles were most amenable to accepting the Christian message.

A very powerful factor was the monopoly on education which the first monasteries came to enjoy. This must ring a bell among present-day Hindus, considering the role of Jesuit and other Christian schools among the Indian elite. Another was the prestige of the Roman empire as more civilized and more advanced than what the Pagans could muster.Before and during the conquest of the Roman empire by the Goths, they embraced Christianity thinking this was an integral part in their advancement. That the Romans, for instance, built in stone rather than wood counted as an impressive innovation, but had nothing to do with Christianity.


A similar thing is seen today: numerous Chinese and Koreans who migrate to the United States become Protestant overnight because they assume that this is a central element in becoming a real American.Among some Indian tribals, modern medicine passes as “Jesus medicine”, meaning “medicine coming from the same West as the missionaries”, though Jesus himself was an old-fashioned faith-healer who never used medicine. So, Christianity profited and still profits maximally from “merit by association”.

Christian subversion

One has to give it to the Christians that they were clever. They outwitted their opponents just as they are outwitting Hindus today. Thus, in the conversion of the masses, they made it a point not to destroy existing shrines: they replaced the central God-statue with a crucifix, but otherwise they allowed the masses to keep on visiting their old shrine, so that they would gradually attach to Jesus the aura of sacredness that they used to associate with their own gods. Many cathedrals were built on Pagan temples or open-air sacred places, but fairly rarely have Christians destroyed temples; only the “idols” in them.

They adopted holidays and celebrations but gave them a new Christian meaning. They turned old Gods into Christian saints. They Christianized the procession, originally the triumphal march of a Pagan God, now a display in the streets of the sacred Wafer representing Jesus. They accommodated the idea of pilgrimage, mostly to a purported relic of Jesus or a saint, eventhough the Christian view made nonsense of the idea that you can go on pilgrimage to the Omnipresent One. Like today in India, they used inculturation as a mission strategy.


And it worked. At the elite level, Pagan religion disappeared. It is common nowadays to bewail the injustice to the Jews because they were forced to live in ghettoes; but the Jews were at least tolerated as a standing witness to the “truth of the Old Testament”. By contrast, there were not even ghettoes for worshippers of Zeus, Venus or Thor.

As the Dutch poet Lucebert wrote: “Everything of value is vulnerable.”  When a body dies, one of the first thing to degenerate and disappear is the brain, while the bones can last for centuries. The fabled secret traditions of the Druids were killed off by Christianity and remain forever unknown, but many popular practices and indeed also superstitions have survived till recently. The Middle Ages, though Christian at the elite level, saw the survival of numerous Pagan institutions and practices especially among the rural folk (both Latinate Pagan and Germanic Heathenmean “rural, rustic”).

The Reformation in the 16th century delivered a body blow to the remaining Paganism, as Protestants started weeding out everything that was not Biblical, while the Catholics saw themselves forced to purify Catholicism and eliminate a number of practices that had come about as compromises with Paganism. A final blow was the Industrial Revolution, which saw the rise of an anti-religious mentality: it hurt European Christianity badly but it also flushed out the remaining Pagan practices among the common people.

So, Christianization was mostly effected through subversion and mass psychology. Instances of the threat of violence included the forced baptism of the Frankish king Clovis’ soldiers (“head off or head under [the baptismal water]”), or the threats by the king of Norway which convinced the Icelanders to adopt Christianity. Instances of effective violence include the lynching of the Neoplatonist scholar Hypatia or the slaughter of thousands of Saxon nobles by Charlemagne.

These were smaller affairs than the wars between Catholics and Christian “heretics”, such as that in the 5th-6th century between the Byzantine Catholics and the Gothic votaries of Arian Christianity, and in the 17th century the Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants. One serious case of a Christian holy war against Pagans was the subjection of the Baltic area by the Teutonic Order in the 13th-14th century; but that was after Christians had developed the concept of Crusade mirroring the older Islamic concept of Jihad.

Christian strategic acumen

The practical impact of this assessment is that it won’t get you very far to remind your audience of the violent element in Christian history, such as the burning of maybe 50.000 witches in the 16th-17th century. That violence was certainly there, but not enough to explain Christianity’s conquest of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Even the Native Americans, who had so much to reproach the Christians for, turned Christian in large numbers. (Indians do well to remember that the fate of the American “Indians” was in fact meant for the people of the continent the Conquistadores had set out to reach, viz. “India”.)


You will have to take into account other factors, such as:

(1) “merit by association”, viz. Christianity’s piggy-backing on a literate and materially more advanced culture, then in Europe like more recently in Asia; to which should now be added the propaganda linking Christianity with social causes and human rights;

(2) Christianity’s self-righteousness due to a belief in being the sole possessors of the truth, and the consequent contempt for non-Christians, a far more negative attitude than anything the Pagans could muster; or in other words, the unmatched power of hatred; as well as the consequent importance they attach to religious identity, which means the pressure to convert in a mixed marriage is usually on the Pagan partner;

(3) The Christian care to distinguish between Pagans and Paganism, which gave them a good conscience and strong motivation, because they believed they were loving the Pagans all while hating and demonizing Paganism, and that the effort to convert the Pagans was the supreme form of expressing their love for them;

(4) the Christian development of a sophisticated missionary strategy emanating from a goal-oriented strategic centre.

By contrast, Pagans have mostly been in retreat because:

(1) they have been on the defensive in material and “soft power” respects (though even where this applies less and less, such as in the Indian elite and in China, there are now numerous conversions to Christianity due to the other factors) and have successfully been demonized in matters of human rights;

(2) they don’t think of religion in terms of truth, so that Christianity might be a nuisance but not a “false” religion; believe in the good things claimed for Christianity; and don’t make sharp distinctions between the secondary aspects of the religion (which may be innocent or even laudable and are often borrowed from Paganism anyway) and its core truth claims, which are patently false; so that they consider conversion to Christianity as only a minor change which may often be justified;

(3) since they have comparatively little theological schooling and no catechism, they fail to distinguish between Christians and Christianity, and are easily duped by the existence of some fine Christians into thinking that the Christian truth claims must be innocent as well;

(4) the confused, unorganized, “me too”-imitative, uninformed and amateurish nature of their self-defence.

It happened to my European ancestors long ago, and I see it happening today in India. The Christian plan is to make the same destruction of Paganism happen all over India as well as the rest of the world. However, the rediscovery of the indigenous Pagan heritage among the natives of Latin America as well as those of Europe threatens to jeopardize their project, though as yet only marginally.

They have a more acute fear of Islam, in spite of (or, on the contrary, proven by) their numerous gestures of reconciliation with Islam, such as the Pope’s apology for the Crusades, contrasting with their lack of apologies to the heirs of the far more unjustly treated Pagans.

What to do after Christianity?

In Europe, at least, and to my knowledge also in Latin America, there is no direct or imminent threat of Christian violence. The battle can be won by consciousness-raising, which already happens automatically though it would benefit from a sharpening of its focus. Since the democratization of knowledge and of the scientific outlook, people have left the Churches in droves because they just cannot bring themselves to believing Christianity’s defining dogmas anymore. These ex-Christians (the majority of my own generation in the formerly very Catholic Flemish part of Belgium) are rarely tempted to turn back to the faith of their childhood, even on their deathbeds.

Some Christian apologists find hope in demographics, asserting that the remaining Christian couples have more children (viz. just above the reproduction level) than the ex-Christian couples. True, but even of these born-again Christian couples, many children when growing up are just as susceptible to the temptation of scepticism as my generation was. After all, we have been there before: in the decades when Christianity decisively lost its majority, both the Christian birth-rate and the differential with the secularized minority were even bigger than now. I, for one, born in 1959, am the second of five siblings. Of my staunchly Catholic parents’ fourteen grandchildren, only six have been baptized – and that too is only a formality which doesn’t mean that they will be Catholics as adults.


The last real hope of the Churches is the inflow of immigrants. In my country, the remaining Catholic churches are mostly filled with Polish or Congolese “new Belgians”. But there again, after a while many tend to conform to their ex-Christian environment. So, very much in contrast to India, where Christianity is making impressive gains, in Europe Christianity is largely a thing of the past.

That doesn’t mean these ex-Christians have lost the feeling for the higher things and immersed themselves in consumerism and sheer animality, as Christians tend to think. Nor are they without morality, which had unjustly been identified with being a Christian.

But neither religiosity nor morals can be deduced from or made dependent on the defining dogmas of Christianity, which have been pin-pricked as delusional. Belief in Salvation through Jesus’ Resurrection cannot be revived, but that doesn’t mean the subtler dimensions have died. So now our job is to oversee the development of a new worldview and a different way of life, punctured by old-new rituals and celebrations. It is here that renascent Paganism in Europe seeks inspiration from Hinduism as the biggest and most developed surviving Pagan civilization.

Written by

Koenraad Elst



Islam, Christianity clashed over faith, Hindu philosophy basked in peace

In many parts of Europe, religion has become an important topic only in the last few decades. In the 1970s, religion or rather Christianity, which used to mean religion then, seemed obsolete. It was considered something for children and old people. Ever since Christians got the freedom to leave the Church not so long ago (in the 19th century in northern Germany), many did so. And after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin came back from space and declared that he had not come across God, the Church lost out further.

Just an example: when I was a child in the 1950s, in our small town mass was held every day at 6.30 am, at 7 am and three times a week at 8 am. Since long now, there is no daily mass. Only the three services at 8 am have survived. When I was a child, three hours of fasting were mandatory before taking Holy Communion.

Now it has been scaled down to half an hour. Earlier, missing Sunday mass was a grave sin that would be punished with hell fire. Now one can attend it on Saturday instead of Sunday. Religion seemed on its way out, yet suddenly it is back and very prominent in the public discourse. The main reason is the increasing visibility of Islam in Europe. When the first Turks came to Germany as “guest workers“, it was considered great that our boringly uniform society turned “multicultural”, with more interesting looking people on the streets. Meanwhile, this enthusiasm has dimmed considerably. Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that the multicultural experiment has completely failed.

It is for the first time, after Christianity had crushed the pagan faith in Europe, that the locals are confronted in their midst with a substantial population of followers of a different religion, which, as aggressively as Christianity, proclaims that it alone is the true religion, and whoever does not join it, is damned to hell forever. Moreover, many of those followers seem to take their religion really seriously.

This jolted Germans who did not identify foremost with being Christian anymore. Yet apparently, now they feel the need to counter Islam with Christianity. Angela Merkel exhorted Germans to go back to Christian values. In 2011, she invited the Pope to address Parliament. While strolling through Munich city on a Sunday morning last winter, I saw many, including, fashionable youngsters, streaming into a big old church. Later I came to know that the priest of this church was very popular. Yet even in the small town where my mother lives, I saw many young parents take their kids to church for the children’s service. It would have been an unusual sight in the 1970s, when those same parents would have opted for a picnic instead.

What draws people to religion? What is it good for?

The most important point is in all likelihood an intuition in human beings that there is a higher, unfathomable power that is the cause for this vast universe and is also the cause for our own existence.

Further, there is an intuition that this power somehow knows us and even guides us in life by this small voice of our conscience. There is an inner communion possible, be it through prayer or a feeling of awe. This intuition makes sense. It is natural and does not require the label of “religion” and for many thousands of years it never had this label. The logical consequence of this intuition was to search for that power in oneself and outside. It prompted people to become mystics and scientists who pondered on what is true. We know that this went on for ages in the Indian Subcontinent as many invaluable ancient texts are preserved.

However, in the last 2000 years of the long human history, this intuition that there is a higher power was exploited to promote ideologies that claim supremacy and strive for world dominion. An elaborate story was invented about this higher power. It was called God, the Father, and it was claimed he had one son and had sent this son down to earth, etc. To make matters worse, it was declared that this story is the only truth, and everyone has to believe it. As soon as Christianity became State religion of the Roman Empire, its followers rolled over mystically inclined locals and forced their belief on the people of vast areas in Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

A few hundred years later, another story was woven around this higher power. It was claimed that this power has spoken again through a prophet, and this was for the very last time that it has made its will known. No more direct message from the highest power in future. Unfortunately, here too, this story was declared as the only truth and everyone has to believe in it.

It did not take long and the followers of those two different stories were at each other’s throat with each one claiming that the highest power wants everyone to believe their stories and not that of their rivals. Obviously, the highest power was misused as a front for gaining world dominion. The second story got in many areas soon the upper hand “with fire and sword”, as we can unfortunately vividly imagine. And of course, it did not bypass the wealthiest land on earth at that time – India.

Both these stories were called “religions”. In fact, Christianity and Islam are the main religions that come immediately to one’s mind when one hears “religion”. Hinduism is often not even mentioned when religions are listed, and this should be taken as a compliment.

In the Indian tradition, the intuition that there is a higher power was not exploited to enforce belief in one story as the absolute truth and to rule the world.  Here, not one story, but innumerable stories developed. These stories exist peacefully side by side. Devotees of Ram, Krishna, Shiv, Ganapathi, Devi, etc., are reminded that they must never be narrow-minded as Ram himself worshipped Shiva, etc.

In India, the natural, mystical path was pursued. The rishis pondered deeply and came up with profound insights. They defined absolute truth as That which is always – in past, present, future, and which shines out of itself. Is there anything that fits this definition, as the whole universe obviously does not qualify as being absolutely true? Yes, there is, the rishis declare: Pure, thought-free consciousness is absolutely true. But to really know this, everyone needs to find out in himself.

Neither Christianity nor Islam has a solid philosophical basis. They consider as absolutely true what simply cannot be absolutely true: a story about the Highest does not qualify as That which always is, as it depends on thoughts. Further, the claim that the Highest, by whatever name it is called, is a separate entity apart from creation is scientifically not tenable. Only the Hindu tradition is solidly grounded and does not have to fear scientific discoveries. In fact, it is supported by and can lead to further scientific discoveries, as Western scientist found out and took advantage of, for example in nuclear physics.

Not surprisingly, those religions, which don’t have a solid philosophical basis, rely on force and on catching young, impressionable minds. They expanded their reach by violence and kept their flock in check by brainwashing children and by threatening the adults with severe punishment if they dared to disagree with the story/ dogma that had to be accepted blindly as truth.

Ever since Christianity lost its power to enforce blasphemy laws, it lost followers. Nobody knows how many Muslims would leave Islam, if there were no more blasphemy laws in place.
In contrast, the Hindu tradition has no blasphemy laws and does not need any. Its philosophical basis is solid. Even in the face of danger to one’s life under Muslim rule and of being exposed to ridicule under British rule, most Hindus held on to their tradition.

However, in independent India, an insidious teaching that “all religions are the same and deserve respect” did a lot of harm and enticed many to convert for some benefits. “Respecting other religions” was said to be in tune with Hindu values, not realising that it meant respecting those whose explicit goal is to wipe out Hindus. Clearly, something is wrong with religions that need to threaten their followers with grave consequences, whether in this life or in the afterlife, if they dare to question the story they have been told to believe as the only truth. Further something is clearly wrong with the claim that the Highest is partial towards one group and will be exceedingly cruel to all others in his creation – letting them burn in hellfire forever and ever.

Some Christians realised this and also dared to say it. Voltaire suffered in prison for his outspokenness.  One of his comment is still highly relevant. He said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

Mark Twain also called the bluff of the organised, dogmatic religion. He said, “Religion was born, when the first conman met the first fool.” However, dogmatic religions are still going strong.

Too few people question. Too few dare to look closely. Too few object to the outrageous claims that are made.

Is it not outrageous to claim that Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, will burn in hell if they don’t convert? If a cricketer is not allowed to say this on the field, why are preachers allowed to spread this “absurdity” all over? Does it not encourage those who believe it to commit atrocities? Those who had the good fortune to grow up in the Indian traditions, which allow freedom of thought and a genuine enquiry into truth, need to be alert and guard this freedom. If this freedom is lost, humanity will be truly miserable.

Sadly, it is lost already in many places on this earth. Saddest of all, it is lost in what is today Pakistan and where thousands of years ago, human civilisation had already reached great heights.


Written by Maria Wirth is a German writer who has lived in India since 34 years. She authored two books and numerous articles in German and English.


Is religious conversion really a fundamental right, or can we ban it?

To most observers, India appears a paradox – teeming with diversity of cuisine, dress, language, pigmentation, and faith under one flag, yet simultaneously simmering with communal tensions.

The paradox is even more glaring in the light of the democratic structure of government, the constitutional protections to minorities, and the high degree of integration of various communities into the public sphere. Social theories shaped by the European experience and projected as universals flounder on India’s shores, confusing the neophyte and outsider alike.

The recent conversions and reconversions of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh serve to highlight how the import of a European ideal on religious freedom has the potential to stir up communal tension in India.

The crux of this discombobulation (confusion) lies in the weakness of normative vocabulary to describe India. While scholars have considered whether modernity can exist outside its present European framework, few have been brave enough to chase down the answer. As a result, false universalities of European history such as secularism, liberalism, nationalism, and even time are used to decipher the non-West; any society that fails to conform to these European ideals is thus seen to be less evolved or have failed.

The root of India’s communal tensions lie in its constitution. Outwardly appearing to take a neutral – secular and liberal – hand in religious affairs, the document remains a travesty imposed upon Indic culture. The reason for this lies in the Nehruvian venture. An Anglicised Kashmiri Pandit that he was, Jawaharlal Nehru made no secret of his disdain for Hindu traditions. In his own words, he approached them “almost as an alien critic, full of dislike for the present as well as for many of the relics of the past.” As a result, the Indian republic’s first prime minister transplanted the Western notion of a liberal and secular state onto Indian soil. The dissonance between East and West in this regard is made clear when comparing the Dharmic systems of the former with the Abrahamic faiths of the latter.

Unlike Indic belief systems, the Abrahamic faiths believe themselves to be of divine origin. In the time of Adam and Eve, there was the perfect religion from which Man fell into idolatry, superstition, witchcraft, and false worship; humanity was led back to the True Faith by God as He revealed Himself to Abraham. Since The Word cannot be false, Abrahamic religions came to revolve around a truth axis – either you believed in the true religion or you were wrong and therefore blind, misguided, or evil.

Dharmic faiths, however, remain closer to the true sense of the Roman religio. Wisdom, not truth, came from the meditations and experiences of previous generations as well as one’s own. A philosophical kernel was wrapped with customs, traditions, and rituals that were meant to bind families and communities together. Hinduism, for example, has no founder, no particular doctrine or practice, no specific scripture, no central ecclesiastical organisation, and even the concept of god is not essential to it. The notion of absolute truth in such a system is not just irrelevant but impossible to imagine. Thus, these faiths can comfortably coexist without competition and animosity.

This difference is highlighted in the famous conversation between French traveler François Bernier and some Brahmins in 1671 when he tried to introduce them to Christianity: “They pretended not their law was universal; that God had only made it for them, and it was, therefore, they could not receive a stranger into their religion: that they thought not our religion was therefore false, but that it might be it was good for us, and that God might have appointed several different ways to go to heaven; but they will not hear that our religion should be the general religion for the whole earth; and theirs a fable and pure device.”

The Hindu view of other beliefs, be they Indic or Abrahamic, can thus best be described as indifference rather than tolerance.

These two systems of thought are mutually exclusive: religion is about the absolute truth or it is not. There is one true faith and others are false religions or all beliefs exist in parallel. The True Faith is in competition with falsehood or beliefs are indifferent to one another. This antagonism creates a flashpoint when it comes to the freedom of religious thought and its propagation. To Christians and Muslims, the freedom to proselytise is essential to their competitive and antagonistic world view whereas non-proselytising religions find such behaviour to be an importunate intrusion into their world.

Unfortunately for the modern secular-liberal state, there is no neutral ground between these two positions; to pretend there is would be akin to accepting an agreement between the lion and the lamb not to eat each other. It is not about an agreement between equals. For a people whose conception of religion is not just a metaphysical and ethical philosophy but also a set of ancestral traditions, proselytism is felt to be an aggressive and often uncouth interference from the outside. Religious conversion disintegrates communities as the convert is torn from old moorings and subject to new rules governing inheritance, lineage, and familial life.

The moral condescension towards paganism often means an abrupt and sometimes hostile unmooring of a convert from family and friends, tearing the social fabric that had done so well until then with its stance of indifference or non-interference. The problem of social disruption is so severe that Mohandas Gandhi considered religious conversion harmful to the Indian social fabric. He wrote, “If I had the power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytising… In Hindu households the advent of a missionary has meant the disruption of the family coming in the wake of change of dress, manners, language, food and drink.”

The defence of proselytism and religious conversion bases itself on the notion of religious liberty. This is a befitting solution in a system wherein all religions compete against others

for followers and the supremacy of their truth claims but is not as appropriate in one in which some religions demand only to be left alone. As Jakob de Roover of Ghent University argues, the liberal principle of religious freedom implicitly endorses the Abrahamic view of the world that religion revolves around doctrines and truth claims and citizens should be able to not just choose in the free market of religious ideas but persuade others of one’s convictions.

Makau Mutua of the State University of New York, Buffalo, exposes the inherent bias of religious liberty by arguing that the doctrine does not level the playing field for all religions but creates an obligation on Dharmic systems – for which they are not culturally geared – to compete as Abrahamic faiths do. This benefits the evangelising religions in their quest for intellectual hegemony. In essence, the preference shown towards the competition of ideas is nothing short of a cultural invasion in a skewed contest to eliminate local customs.

Perhaps the most subversive danger in this debate is secular theology. Usually understood to be a movement from the early 1960s, secular theology was Christianity’s reaction to modernity. Scientific advancement and political utilitarianism pushed some Christian theologians to treat the Bible as Christian mythology, thus divesting the sacred yet retain the ideals. Taken out of context, Christian principles appear secular. For example, John Locke’s treatise on toleration can hardly be a secular creed when it excludes Catholics and atheists from its ambit. Furthermore, Locke’s tolerance appears to be based on the free will of souls to choose between good and evil without which salvation would be meaningless. Human existence is still divided into a spiritual sphere of the soul and a political one of the flesh, and the Protestant Truth was arrayed against the falseness of the world.

As SN Balagangadhara of Ghent University explains succinctly, the assumption of the cultural universality of Christianity informs the Western gaze. Christianity’s “theological truths have become the facts of western common sense and scholarly consensus.” One of the features of this universalism is that it wrongly puts Hinduism and other Dharmic faiths on a par with Christianity and Islam and to the detriment of the former.

To return to the Indian state, the framers of the Indian constitution implicitly endorsed the Abrahamic theological claim that religion is about truth when establishing India as a secular republic. An important virtue in a competitive market of religious truth like Europe or the Middle East, secularism has little meaning in a Dharmic system and only serves to buttress Abrahamic binaries when applied to Semitic and Dharmic religions evenly. There is nothing neutral about the Indian secular state; in fact, the constitution was informed by a negative attitude towards the local Dharmic culture.

The problem of Hindutva also stems from Nehru’s flawed sense of secularism. Temples were taken over and Hindu customs abolished while personal codes of the “minority” Abrahamic faiths were left untouched in the name of secularism. Faced with a political order that worked against them, Hindus were forced to respond to the doctrinaire threats to their way of life and defend their value of indifference. Attempts were made to define a core set of beliefs, customs, and scriptures, as is evidenced by movements like the Arya Samaj; the earlier attitude of indifference was replaced by tolerance, and Hindus claimed that their non-proselytising nature was a demonstration of their comity towards all faiths unlike Christianity or Islam.

The Hindutva adoption of the notion of equality of all religions upset the Semitic faiths – divine revelation forces the Christian or Muslim to accept his faith as infallible and supreme; the Abrahamic faiths at least shared a common God even if there was some disagreement about subsequent prophets and messiahs but to be measured alongside idolatrous pagans was unacceptable.

By privileging the Semitic moral world order, the Indian state sowed the seeds of violent conflict. The perceived protection of the state via preferential treatment in terms of personal laws, religious institutions, educational establishments, and the outright legal bias (think Shah Bano or the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill) instigates communities against each other and against the Nehruvian state. As Roover eloquently states, “the seeds of religious violence are sown by the liberal state; however, it is the communities that harvest them.”

Proselytism and religious conversion is a sore subject in many parts of the world. It is banned in Greece, China, and most Islamic countries, while many others such as Russia and Israel are deeply uncomfortable with it. While Hindu spirituality is not threatened by reading and learning from, say, the Tanakh, Christians, for example, can give up neither the Great Commission of Jesus nor Exodus 20:3-6. In other words, a Hindu need not convert if he wishes to incorporate any idea from another religion into his life but that is not an option for the Christian or Muslim. That is why, as one author wrote, banning conversions is not part of the Hindutva agenda but not banning them is the agenda of aggressive religions.

All democratic societies realise that freedoms are not infinite; as a result, international declarations such as the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981), the Unesco Declaration of Principles on Tolerance (1995), or the European Convention on Human Rights (1953) allow the limiting of religious freedom if it is necessary in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Though these are not normally considered to include a restriction on proselytism or religious conversion, they have only been tested in European conditions.

A complete ban on proselytism and religious conversion in India is hardly a curb on freedom of religious thought – from the Dharmic perspective, it is only a ban on religious thought of an exclusivist and binary nature; yet Abrahamic religions cannot abandon their doctrines of exclusive truth without violating their core principles. However, a ban on religious proliferation does not create any new obligations upon Christians or Muslims that would violate their sacred tenets. It would only protect local traditions and customs. For some, this might not be an acceptable solution. One can be reminded that secularism does not truly fit the Indian ethos but, more importantly, it is vital to realise that the public sphere has not be desacralised completely anywhere in the world, nor is it desirable.

Countries still place their weekends around the holy days of their majority faiths (Fridays in Islam, Saturday in Judaism, and Sunday in Christianity), and the common calendar is marked from the birth of Jesus Christ – anno domini; oaths are sworn upon religious texts, and Christmas is still a national holiday in many countries. Furthermore, restrictions and bans on controversial issues such as abortion and stem cell research are still informed by religious beliefs. In this climate, a hat-tip to the millennia-old traditions of the overwhelming majority of the Indian people without creating blasphemous obligations on other faiths ought not to be a problem.

Written by Jaideep Prabhu in http://www.firstpost.com


Hindu history of Afghanistan

Afghanistan” comes from “Upa-Gana-stan” Raja Jaya Pal Shahi, Ruler of Punjab bore the brunt of the Islamic Onslaught.

The year 980C.E. marks the beginning of the Muslim invasion into India proper when Sabuktagin attacked Raja Jaya Pal in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is today a Muslim country separated from India by another Muslim country Pakistan. But in 980 C.E. Afghanistan was also a place where the people were Hindus and Buddhists.

The name “Afghanistan” comes from “Upa-Gana-stan” which means in Sanskrit “The place inhabited by allied tribes”.

This was the place from where Gandhari of the Mahabharat came from Gandhar whose king was Shakuni. The Pakthoons are descendants of the Paktha tribe mentioned in Vedic literature. Till the year 980 C.E., this area was a Hindu majority area, till Sabuktagin from Ghazni invaded it and displaced the ruling Hindu king – Jaya Pal Shahi.

The place where Kabul’s main mosque stands today was the site of an ancient Hindu temple and the story of its capture is kept alive in Islamic Afghan legend which describes the Islamic hero Sabuktagin who fought with a sword in every hand to defeat the Hindus and destroy their temple to put up a Mosque in its place.

The victory of Sabuktagin pushed the frontiers of the Hindu kingdom of the Shahis from Kabul to behind the Hindu Kush mountains Hindu Kush is literally “killer of Hindus” – a name given by Mahmud Ghazni to describe the number of Hindus who died on their way into Afghanistan to a life of captivity . After this setback, the Shahis shifted their capital from Kubha (Kabul) to Udbhandapura (modern Und in NWFP). Sabuktagin’s son Mahmud Ghazni, kept up the attacks on the Shahis and captured Und. Subsequently, the Shahis moved their capital to Lahore and later to Kangra in Himachal.


The recovery and significance of the inscription, telling a story of the Hindu ruler Veka and his devotion to lord `Siva’, was told by leading epigraphist and archaeologist Prof Ahmad Hasan Dani of the Quaid-E-Azam University of Islamabad at the ongoing Indian History Congress here.

If historians, preferred to revise the date of the first Hindu Shahi ruler Kallar from 843-850 AD to 821-828 AD, the date of 138 of present inscription, if it refers to the same era, should be equal to 959 AD which falls during the reign of Bhimapala”, Dani said in a paper `Mazar-i Sharif inscription of the time of the Shahi ruler Veka, dated the year 138”, submitted to the Congress.

The inscription, with eleven lines written in `western Sarada’ style of Sanskrit of 10th century AD, had several spelling mistakes. “As the stone is slightly broken at the top left corner, the first letter `OM’ is missing”, he said.

According to the inscription, “the ruler Veka occupied by eight-fold forces, the earth, the markets and the forts. It is during his reign that a temple of Siva in the embrace with Uma was built at Maityasya by Parimaha (great) Maitya for the benefit of himself and his son”.

Dani said “the inscription gives the name of the king as Shahi Veka Raja and bestows on him the qualification of `Iryatumatu Ksanginanka’…. and (he) appears to be the same king who bears the name of Khingila or Khinkhila who should be accepted as a Shahi ruler”.

Dani further said “he may be an ancestor of Veka deva. As his coins are found in Afghanistan and he is mentioned by the Arab ruler Yaqubi, he may be an immediate predecessor of Veka deva…… Both the evidences of inscription and coins suggest that Veka or Vaka should be accepted as an independent ruler of northern Afghanistan.

“Thus we find another branch of the Shahi ruler in northern part of Afghanistan beyond the Hindukush. Veka is said to have conquered the earth, the markets and the forts by his eight-fold forces, suggesting that he must have himself gained success against the Arab rulers of southern Afghanistan”.

Dani observed that going by the findings it seemed that during the rule of the Hindu Shahi ruler Bhimapala there was a break in the dynasty — one branch, headed by Jayapala, ruled in Lamaghan and Punjab, and another branch, headed by Veka, ruled in northern part of Afghanistan.

“The northern branch must have come to an end by the conquest of Alptigin in the second half of tenth century AD”, he said.

(source: Inscription throws new light to Hindu rule in Afghanistan – indianexpress.com)

India has developed a highly constructive, imaginative reconstruction strategy for Afghanistan that is designed to please every sector of Afghan society, give India a high profile with the Afghan people, gain the maximum political advantage with the Afghan government, increase its influence with its Northern Alliance friends and turn its image from that of a country that supported the Soviet invasion and the communist regime in the 1980s to an indispensable ally and friend of the Afghan people in the new century.
(Source: Hinduism (The forgotten facts)’)

The case of “The Hindus”: Freedom comes with responsibility

By Vandana Vasudevan.

I just finished reading Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An alternative history.”

There was one word which was on the top of my mind when I finished the book: responsibility. As an author I understand the importance of creative freedom. But equally I am aware of a certain responsibility in presenting the truth. In non-fiction there is a huge onus to not mix personal interpretation with facts.


This increases by many orders of magnitude when it is a scholarly work that will contribute to the work of other researchers in the field. Even more so when one is an influential academic in the world’s most influential country. And lastly, the responsibility becomes staggering when you are writing about religion because you are stepping into a very personal, sacred mind space of millions of practitioners of that religion.


In this book, there is no denying that Doniger has been irresponsible in her presentation of the history and mythology that shaped Hinduism, simply because she has blurred the lines between facts from ancient texts and her own fantastical interpretation of them. She works hard to bring in a determinedly sexual perspective to fairly straightforward things and situations in a stretch of imagination that would be the envy of a fiction writer. (Someone needs to tell her: Wendy, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, you know.)


I am not getting into the details on the fallacies in the book as Aditi Banerjee in an article in Outlook on October 28, 2009 has done that with far greater rigour than I can bring and Aseem Shukla has composed a dignified retort to the book in faithstreet.com. Both echo the voice of moderate, liberal Hindu. (yes, such a thing exists).


I am not even dwelling on her annoying attempts to be cool and funky in the oddest of places.(Sita looks at the golden deer and is “delighted that Tiffany’s has a branch in the forest” or that the monkeys in Ramayana once got drunk like a “frat party out of control”) It makes one suspect the book is a collection of classroom lectures Doniger gave to American sophomores in the University of Chicago, because no Indian needs these analogies. Neither do Doniger’s genuinely scholarly colleagues from academia like David Shulman or Diane Eck who has written the wonderful “India: A Sacred Geography.” .


(I heard both these Indologists in a literary festival last year and was touched by their complete intellectual honesty to their subject.)


So, despite Doniger’s detailed and expansive coverage of the subject moving from the geological formation of the sub continent to present day NRIs in the US, the book does have passages which are misrepresentations and flippantly fictionalise and speculate on events and characters.


Now, different readers may react to this differently. The degree of offense that is “right” to take in the view of self appointed guardians of freedom is really a moot point. While I was merely amused by the silly digressions into fantasy that Doniger indulges in, someone else may be offended, another outraged.


Who decides which response is valid and comfortable for everyone? To someone a Facebook post is enough, to another a 500 word blogpost is a form of protest. The man who went to court felt strongly enough to issue a legal notice. What is wrong with that- no one burnt buses or broke shop windows. Going to court is a legitimate form of expressing one’s protest.


Some of our erudite commentators are missing the distinction between taking offense and the outcome of that offense. For instance, in a horribly elitist piece for the Daily Beast, public school and Oxford educated Tunku Varadarajan has lashed out on the man who dared to sue Penguin by mainly commenting on the latter’s bad English. Besides, Varadarajan’s tone and words are just as intolerant and fiery as those in the legal notice.


Here’s what I am saying: Yes, books should not be banned because creative freedom should be protected. But that is different from saying no one should take offense. Just as anyone ought to have the freedom to write what they want, the reader has the freedom to react however he wants.


No one has said it better than a philosopher from Doniger’s own land of the free. In 1908, American thinker John Dewey whose work has been very influential in social thought, wrote in an essay called “Responsibility and Freedom”


“An agent is free to act; yes, but-. He must stand the consequences, the disagreeable as well as the pleasant, the social as well as the physical. He may do a given act, but if so, let him look out. His act is a matter that concerns others as well as himself…”


Authors should keep that in mind when they write books with all- encompassing titles like “The Hindus”. Or if someone dares to write tomes called “The Christians” or “The Muslims”, which of course, as British historian Patrick French points out, is an unlikely possibility.


ராமாயணம், மஹாபாரதம் எல்லாம் உண்மையா சோ அவர்கள் விளக்கம்..

ராமாயணம், மஹாபாரதம் எல்லாம் உண்மையா சோ அவர்கள் விளக்கம்..

கேள்வி : இந்த ராமாயணம், மஹாபாரதம் எல்லாம் உண்மையாகவே நடந்தனவா? எல்லாம் வெறும் கற்பனைதானே?

சோ அவர்கள் பதில் : கற்பனை என்று உங்களுக்கு எப்படித் தெரியும்?

கேள்வி கேட்பவர் : அப்படித்தான் சொல்கிறார்கள்.

பதில் : அப்படிச் சொல்பவர்கள் எல்லாம்தான் இதில் அத்தாரிட்டியா? அவர்கள் சொல்வதே இறுதி முடிவா? இப்பொழுது நான் உங்களை ஒன்று கேட்கிறேன். உங்களுடைய தாத்தாவிற்குத் தாத்தாவிற்குத் தாத்தாவிற்குத் தாத்தாவிற்குத் தாத்தா என்று ஒருவர் இருந்தார் அல்லவா?

கேள்வி கேட்பவர் : ஆமாம்.

பதில் : அவர் நல்ல மனிதரா?

கேள்வி கேட்பவர் : ரொம்ப நல்ல மனிதர். நேர்மையானவர்.

பதில் : உங்களுக்கு அது எப்படித் தெரியும்?

கேள்வி கேட்பவர் : என்னுடைய தாத்தா சொல்லியிருக்கிறார். அவருக்கு அவருடைய தாத்தா சொல்லியிருக்கலாம்.

பதில் : உங்கள் தாத்தா சொன்னதை உண்மை என்று நம்புகிறீர்கள். வியாஸர், வால்மீகி இவர்கள் எல்லோருக்கம் முன்னால் வாழ்ந்தவர்கள். எல்லோருக்கும் தாத்தா. அவர்கள் சொன்னால் நம்ப மாட்டீர்களா?

கேள்வி கேட்பவர் : இதையெல்லாம் விடுங்கள். இந்தப் புராணம், இதிஹாசம் இவையெல்லாம் பிராமணர்கள் மற்றவர்களை டாமினேட் செய்வதற்காக எழுதி வைத்த விஷயங்கள்தானே?

சோ அவர்கள் பதில் :

பிராமணர்கள் எழுதி வைத்தது என்று சொல்கிறீர்கள். மஹாபாரதத்தை எழுதிய வியாஸரோ, ராமாயணத்தை எழுதிய வால்மீகியோ பிராமணர்கள் அல்ல. வியாஸர் ஒரு மீனவப் பெண்மணிக்குப் பிறந்தவர். வால்மீகி ஒரு வேடுவர். சரி. பிராமணரில்லாத இவர்கள், யாரைப் பற்றி எழுதி வைத்தார்கள்?

வால்மீகி சொன்னது – ராமரைப் பற்றி. ராமரோ ஒரு க்ஷத்ரியன். வியாஸர் சொன்னது – கிருஷ்ணரைப் பற்றி. கிருஷ்ணரோ இடையர் குலத்தைச் சார்ந்தவர்.

இப்படி பிராமணரல்லாத ராமர், கிருஷ்ணர் இவர்களைப் பற்றி, பிராமணரல்லாத வால்மீகியும், வியாஸரும் எழுதி வைத்ததுதான் ராமாயணமும், மஹாபாரதமும்.

சொன்னவர்களும் பிராமணர்களில்லை; சொல்லப்பட்டவர்களும் பிராமணர்கள் இல்லை. இப்படிப்பட்ட விஷயத்தை பிராமணர்கள், மற்றவர்களை டாமினேட் செய்வதற்காக எழுதி வைத்தது என்று எப்படிச் சொல்கிறீர்கள்?

சரி, வியாஸரோ, வால்மீகியோ கூட பிராமணர்கள் இல்லா விட்டாலும், அவர்களுடைய எண்ணம் ‘பிராமணர்களை உயர்த்திக் காட்ட வேண்டும்’ என்று இருந்திருந்தால், அவர்கள் என்ன செய்திருக்க வேண்டும்? ஒரு பிராமண கதாபாத்திரத்தை அல்லவா அவர்கள் மிக உயர்ந்ததாகக் காட்டியிருக்க வேண்டும்? ‘ஒரு பிராமணர்; அவர் சக்ரவர்த்தியாக இருந்தார்; அவரை மாதிரி ஒரு அரசர் இருந்ததே கிடையாது; மிகப் பெரிய வீரர்; அது மட்டுமல்ல, நியாயம் தவறாதவர்; எல்லோரிடமும் கருணை காட்டுபவர்…’ என்றல்லவா எழுதியிருக்க வேண்டும்? அப்படிச் சொல்லவில்லையே அவர்கள்?….

நன்றி ஹரிஹரன்..