How Abrahamics Imprisoned And Debased The Idea Of God And Religion
This article by R Jagannathan was published by Swarajya here on 23 October 2021 and has been reprinted by India Facts with permission from the author.
A Muslim in Tamil Nadu, A Suhail, is reported to have filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court challenging a rule that allows only Hindus to apply for jobs in educational institutions run by the state’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department.
Among other things, he claimed that since even the Supreme Court agrees that the word “Hindu” does not connote only a religious identity (“it is a way of life”), he is entitled to apply for jobs funded largely by donations from Hindu devotees in state-run Hindu institutions.
One hopes that the court not only throws out the petition, but also imposes costs on this mischievous petitioner. As far as the petitioner’s temporal interests in a job are concerned, all he needs to do is renounce his religion, which forbids consorting with idol-worshipping faiths, affirm that he is a cultural Hindu and believes in the Hindu way of life (Mohan Bhagwat, at least, would be happy), and try again.
What he cannot do is despise the institution he wants a job in by insisting on his own religious dogmas.
However, all this is BTW. By-the-way. But it is as good a time as any to examine the idea of what is religion, and what constitutes religious freedom, and which idea of God makes sense in a 21st century world.
Just because God and religion have been defined in a specific way by the Abrahamic world, it cannot be imposed on others. That would be intellectual colonialism of the worst kind.
If, in the Abrahamic context, Hinduism is not a religion, it should be equally possible for Hindus to redefine Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – as non-religions.
They are more about politics than religion. Nobody would object to a Muslim praying five times a day, but everybody should object to him occupying public spaces for the same. The first part is religion, the second part is pure imposition on others, and hence about asserting political muscle.
Nothing I am saying here has not been said by brighter Hindu philosophers (or even atheists in the western tradition) a long time before me, but it needs reiteration because the Abrahamics cannot presume — and get away — with the idea that only their definitions are valid. They are not, and often they don’t make sense.
The fundamental difference between Indic and Abrahamic religions is that religion should be about seeking a path to God, to sacred spaces, to higher ways of experiencing the truth and the larger reality.
Abrahamic systems are about belief, about arbitrarily deciding who is God and stopping further explorations of the idea of God and sacred spaces.
Choosing a likely path to God means one need not arrive at a final conclusion based on emphatic assertions in unprovable holy texts. A path, if not fruitful in terms of experience and insight, can be abandoned and another chosen.
In short, Abrahamic faiths are about excluding free enquiry into the idea of God. Indic faiths are open-ended and capable of course-correction.
In my view, this is about imprisoning God, converting him/her/it into a bigot, and debasing him/her/it. I deliberately use the word “it” as an additional option for describing God, for the real God – assuming we ever find that entity – may be neither male nor female, nor even someone imaginable in human form.
In the early Mosaic tradition, God was first converted into a bigot, where he refuses to share space with other Gods. While we find jealous gods even in Hindu stories and traditions, there is no real requirement to elevate this into eternal hatred for followers of other Gods.
There is nothing structural in Hinduism that converts Gods into implacable bigots with no tolerance for any other ideas. The Abrahamics converted God into an intolerant bigot, who can’t stand non-believers or believers in rival Gods.
The second thing the Abrahamics did was to “imprison” God into their own finite timeframe for their own political and temporal ends, making it clear that no higher forms of God can ever evolve through a pursuit of larger truths or deeper human insight and spiritual experience.
Now, why do I say God is “imprisoned” in the Abrahamic tradition? Consider Christianity. Even though they worship the trinity and an abstract idea of the “Father” God, it is the Son of God they really worship by making him co-equal with the Father God.
The Father is now a figurehead, not a real God. It is his Son who rules. Not only that. Now that Jesus has been designated Son of God, more Sons of God cannot be procreated in future by his Father. God’s rights have been circumscribed by all-too-human ideologies masquerading as religion.
How can we claim God as omnipotent and eternal if he cannot evolve beyond what some Desert Cults imagined 2000 or 1400 years ago? Not only that, but he cannot even send more Sons of God or Prophets to bring fresh ideas and spiritual perspectives for his earthly subject. God is now in chains.
Another reason to consider the idea of the Abrahamic God as too narrow is this: God cannot be about politics. God becomes political when the idea transcends religious boundaries and seeks to impose himself/herself/itself not only on willing believers but even those who do not find the idea appealing.
Religion is about following a path to God; politics is about imposing a consensus view created by the elite on the whole population. Both Christianity and Islam want to fundamentally change the status quo on faith by insisting that theirs is the only way, and all others must ultimately agree to submit to their way of thinking.
This is no different from Godless Communism, which is about the politics of the few imposing itself on the many by claiming to represent the latter. Thus, numbers matter, and not the quality of those numbers.
Both Christianity and Islam (but not Judaism, which has this redeeming feature of not seeking to impose itself on the unwilling) are pursuing numbers like FMCG companies seek market share.
How can this attempt be called religion by any stretch of imagination? This pursuit of religious market share would make Hindustan Unilever of Procter & Gamble as worthy of religious faith as the two Abrahamic ones.
If the reduction of God to an FMCG product is not debasement of the idea of God, what is?
Now, let’s come to this matter of freedom of religion. Where is the freedom in asserting that only my God is true and not others, when there is no proof of either? If God himself/herself is not free to evolve and reveal his/her self as human imagination and capabilities improve, where is the freedom of religion here? It is stuck without hope in the past.
Now consider how Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism look at the idea of God. Two of them even find that they can be moral and ethical without any idea about God, while Hinduism gives every individual the right to imagine and re-imagine God in the way that suits his or her own Svadharma. Here, God serves the individual impartially, and is not subservient to some powerful church or mosque or denomination.
God empowers the individual, not the powerful multinational religious institutions that preach that faith is truth, with no need for personal observation and experiential validation.
God in the Abrahamic tradition is eternally part of the Earth-is-Flat side of reasoning. God in the Dharmic tradition is capable of scientific improvements, where we can go from Earth-is-Flat to Earth-is-Round to Earth-is-Shaped-Like-An-Imperfect-Orange. Or, maybe, something else in the future, as more is learned about it in the future.
In the Abrahamic tradition, God is bottled or stagnant water, not the fresh and clean stream that quenches thirst and keeps moving along continuously.
Freedom of religion is about the individual’s right to make his choices, not about the right of large and powerful religious multinationals seeking to hack the human mind and impose their own agendas.
Additionally, why is it necessary for any individual to buy the whole package and not just its good parts? For Gandhi, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount was a huge inspiration, and he adopted that part of Christianity as his own guiding principle.
But he could remain a Hindu and seek Ram Rajya at the same time. You may not agree with what Gandhi did, but did he not exercise his personal right to freedom of religion which did not involve accepting all the other dogmas of an Abrahamic faith?
In the Abrahamic worldview, freedom of religion is about insisting that you buy the whole album of songs, most of which you may not like, instead of buying the one song you do.
So, ask yourself again: what is true religion? And what is true freedom of religion?
It is time to debunk the idea that religion is what the Abrahamics say it is, and freedom of religion is what the US Commission on International Religious Freedom says it is: the right to convert everyone to your brand of God-blessed soap powder that will wash away all your sins and crimes.