There is an article by Vir Sanghvi on the editorial page of today’s Indian Express (or the New Indian Express, or the Sunday Express, or whatever they call themselves. I couldn’t find the article online except at Vir Sanghvi’s own site), that calls for religion to be left a private and personal affair. Why this article caught my attention is because I had almost exactly the same discussion with Srikanth at the lab last night. In any case, the article appears in a column that’s called Parallax View.
That last bit is quite unnecessarily, really – nothing in the article is even remotely revolutionary. Don’t get me wrong – the article is eminently sensible. It’s just not something that you or I couldn’t think of, or haven’t thought of. Srikanth would say, for example, that sex and religion are fundamentally private matters and are best left that way. Sanghvi comments that it is perhaps surprising that Hinduism and Judaism, the two oldest religions in the world are also the least aggressive when it comes to converting people. In fact, Hinduism and Judaism seem to actively shun converts.
Having said this, Vir Sanghvi talks about Hinduism’s catholicity (not to be confused with the Catholicism of the Roman Church, mind; we don’t rape children) and why this is a better model for a religion than the monotheistic dogmas of Islam and Christianity. He’s talking of Hinduism’s acceptance of other religions and faiths, or of no faith at all. That last point is where I particularly become interested. Hinduism has a tradition of calling religious dissenters – atheists and agnostics – ‘Hindus’. Now, whether or not this is necessary in the modern context, it would’ve been a fantastic thing to have in a religion in anything but the post-colonial age.
So, while I am in no sense a ‘Hindu’ today – I don’t worship any of the half a billion gods, I enjoy beef, and the only reason you’ll see me anywhere near a white thread is if I’m buying masala vadai from the corner shop – I would’ve been one a thousand years ago, and wouldn’t have been ostracized for saying I don’t believe in a god.
Which is more than I can say for the radical Islam of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Taliban-ruled parts of Afghanistan Pakistan, or the slightly less radical Christianity of America’s bible belt or of the Catholic Church, (especially under that evil motherfucker).