Website authored by
Dr. Ram Puniyani
Issues in Secular Politics  •  Issues in Democracy and Fundamentalism  •  Secular Actions  •  Useful Links

Faith: Instilling Unity
06/29/2009
By Ram Puniyani

One has heard that faith can move mountains, but currently one looks forward to see that it restores peace and justice in society. We have been hearing about various Inter Faith Dialogues from quite some time. One such high level dialogue took place in Mumbai in second week of June 2009. This was attended by top clergy from Hindu and Christian religions. It came to the understanding that there should be no violence against minorities, there should be no conversions and that religious organizations will pool together their resources for charity.

The need for interfaith dialogue has been felt very acutely in the light of violence in the name of religion, which has intensified during last couple of decades. Faith has been misused during this time to launch violence by vested interests. The aim of this use, nay abuse, of faith for political goals was a very well calculated move by vested interests to come to power. Surely interfaith dialogue is the best contribution the clergy can make for the peace of society. It is also true that it is not the clergy which is instrumental in misuse of faith.

In last three decades faith has been misused for political goals by US when it resorted to cultivating terror groups and then launched War on Terror, unleashed ‘crusade’ and attacked Afghanistan. Then the Al Qaeda, Taliban types liberally misused the word Jihad, Kafir in an insane manner to launch their ‘revenge’ offensive, apparently for the glory of their faith. In India the adverse effect of Al Qaeda violence added on to the misuse of faith here. At another level with Ram Rath Yatra, as it was riding on the chariot of faith and leaving behind the trail of blood, the misuse of faith for divisive politics tormented the society. Those blinded by lust for power saw the resurgence of faith around the chariot and ignored the spilling of blood in the back. It did achieve the purpose of sectarian forces occupying the seats of power for six long years.

The other misuse of faith was around defense of Hindu faith by organizations in Adivasi areas. A group of swamis descended in these Adivasi areas and dubbed the charity work done by section of missionaries as being a danger to Hindu faith and so burnt a Pastor from Australia working amongst Leprosy patients and backed it up by further misuse of faith in unleashing violence in the Adivasi belt from Dangs to Orissa.

The clergy’s effort in the direction of restoring peace is laudable. Though the problem is not of their making they do realize a large section of society looks up to them for guidance. The organizations of religion have a very different role to play in today’s World. True, in feudal times, clergy was associated with the kings and legitimized the system of economic exploitation, social subjugation of landed labor and women. Today when democracy is struggling to be the norm, clergy has to play a different role. It should not associate with powers that be to perpetuate the unjust social, economic system. They have to act as the soothing balm to the suffering humanity. It is in this direction that the meeting of Archbishops and Shankarachayas is a welcome move. With such dialogues the perpetuators of violence in the name of religion will loose their legitimacy after such pronouncements by the men of religion, and that will be a big step in curbing the violence, emasculating the politics deriving its legitimacy in the name of religion.

One point which strikes in the discourse of these holy people is their emphasis on spirituality. While Cardinal Gracias said ours is a spiritual country, Sri Sarswati went in to call that India should be declared as a spiritual state. There is some problem here. Being spiritual is a personal Endeavour, effort to discover oneself, to connect one self with the divine powers etc., is a personal matter, not the matter for state apparatus to deal with. The state cannot be and should not be declared spiritual. In modern times even religion which has visible aspects in the form of identity markers cannot be a state matter. Spirituality is an abstract concept, persons’ own path to be at peace in the universe. Many a mystics, saints adopted the path of spirituality as a way of life for themselves. Spirituality can be expressed, but not transferred. In democratic society as religion is a personal matter, spirituality is much more so. Individual path of spirituality of people cannot make the state as spiritual. State has to have its own norms of laws, schemes for welfare of material betterment of its citizens.

As such the formulation that India is a spiritual nation is not a new one. It began with British coming to India. They propounded that India is essentially a religious country and spiritualism is its core. This myth was started by British rulers who were consolidating their hegemony over India. The sole aim of such a fabrication was to dominate the political, social machinery, the 'material realm' of socie­ty, while leaving the 'spiritual arena' for the Indians. The idea was to flatter the Indians away from the matters of civil and political society, where they wanted to establish unhindered hegemony.

The fact is, India was the cradle for multiple rich materi­al pursuits: trade and commerce, which was well developed, Indian traders going far and wide for their business pursuits, crafts­manship had reached its glorious heights in different professions. Art and architecture had a rich spectrum to offer from the paintings of Kangada Kalam, to temples of Khajuraho, to the majestic palaces of Kings to Taj Mahal.  It was a comprehensive develop­ment of all the faculties of society, spiritual and material. This civilization and culture had rich inputs from different cultures, which came and interacted with the local cultures.   Starting from Aryans down to British, all those who came contributed to the culture of this land.  Indian cul­ture is a rich outcome of interaction of multiple cultures and syncretic traditions which not only left their deep mark on the ‘way of life' of the people but also a pleasant imprint on  the social and cultural lie of society.

So while welcoming the move to understand each other, to shun from looking at the ‘other’ in a humiliating way, to having a pro-active affinity for each others’ positive values, one also hopes clergy tunes itself to the values of democratic society and democratic ethos rather than stick to formulations which are either borrowed from the practitioners of divisive politics or from the past, which have no relevance today.