Pseudoscience & Religion

RESOLVING THE CONVERSION CONFLICT:

A Rational Response To Shashi Tharoor.

Shashi Tharoor, one of the diplomats in contention last year for the position of U.N. Secretary General, recently wrote a series of articles in the Times of India and The Huffington Post, criticizing the Hindu extremists in India who violently protested the conversion of poor and disenfranchised Hindus to Christianity. These three articles (1,2,3) by Tharoor echoed the standard liberal-Hindu positions on religious tolerance – popular ideals among Indian intellectuals.  Here is my response to Shashi Tharoor.

Let me start by briefly describing Tharoor’s arguments.

The Three Articles:

The entire first article was a reaction to the recent spate of violence in Orissa between Hindus and Christians. Tharoor blames the politicians and other profiteers from violence who use the “politics of division” to their benefit and admonishes the extremists as not acting as Hindus.

The second article is mostly a response to the public reaction to his first article, and is in itself more rational yet objectionable, nonetheless. He defends individual freedoms while displaying his laissez-faire leanings by hinting at the idea that the spiritual lives of India’s poor should be for sale to the denomination with the highest bid – a sort of free-market evangelism.

In his third article, Tharoor is peddling the neo-Hindu intellectual’s version of Hinduism as an all encompassing religion that has the principles of tolerance built into it. This has a lot of truth to it and I am partial to Hinduism, in spite (or because) of my childhood indoctrination as a Protestant Christian, but there are many things that are wrong with Tharoor’s understanding of, and therefore predictions about, the religious situation in India. I will address these now.

Conflict Looms:

Hindu Fears of Christian Prose

Hindu Fears of Christian Proselytization

I would like to first state unequivocally that I condemn the violence perpetrated against the Christian evangelicals in Orissa. Unless the individuals are being forcefully coerced against their desires to convert to Christianity, the law should protect these individuals as well as the missionaries, and prosecute those Hindus or Christians who resort to violence and intimidation. That having said, the rest of this article will focus my criticism on Shashi Tharoor’s influential opinions.

Tharoor’s approach, which comes through in his three articles, applies a popular postmodernist take on epistemology that has become so common in India these days. Tharoor believes that the case in question must be viewed through the lens of religious qualification, and in particular, some ideal standard of Indian religious qualification. There is no objective reality to this view.

Let us take a more scientific view of the situation. Consider inter-religious conflict in general. This is a subset of inter-group conflict, something that biology can provide some insight into. This type of behavior is common in all social animals, where increased inter-group competitiveness displayed by one group increases the fitness of that particular group. Because of the importance of culture in organizing human societies, we have evolved group-centric emotions that demand us to fight for and protect our cultures and beliefs.

The evolution of lethal inter-group competition between humans has been studied by researchers. In their book “Evil“, Roy F. Baumeister and Aaron Beck, have this to say:

“Whether one looks at religious warriors, members of fascist or communist groups, or modern members of street-gangs, one finds the same pattern. The group is regarded as above reproach. The members of the group may sometimes think rather poorly of one another but the group as a whole is seen as supremely good….natural selection has shaped human nature to need to belong to groups. One factor that seems especially to intensify the need is competition with other groups…..This tendency towards inter-group competition fits well with what we have already seen. The words “Devil” and “Satan” are derived from the words meaning “adversary” or “opponent”, which fits the view that rivalry or antagonism is central to the basic, original understanding of evil. Evil is located in the group that opposes one’s group. The survival of one’s own group is seen as the ultimate good and it may require violent acts against the enemy group.”

The authors then go on to talk about the “discontinuity effect” wherein the behavior of a group tends to be more extreme than the sum of its individual members. This effect can be observed in all the communal conflicts in India.

Hinduism being polytheistic is often accepting of other faiths as containing some other form of “higher truth”. This kind of postmodernism is built into the modern intellectual consensus on Hinduism. However, what led to this tolerance that Hinduism is known for is the fact that so many devotees of so many Gods had to co-exist with each other for centuries, living in close proximity and being influenced by each other’s fervor. It is conceivable (although I have no factual knowledge of this) that devotees of one Hindu Deity may have fought with those of others, before Islam became a common foe because of its relative “out-group” status. Increase in intra-group co-operation (co-operation between members of a group) in the face of inter-group competition (competition between separate groups) has been well established. Puurtinen and Mappes in their research paper write:

“Although competition between groups is generally regarded as the ultimate selective force favoring costly within-group cooperation among non-related individuals, it has received relatively little attention from empiricists in comparison with the various forms of reciprocity and punishment that have been suggested to function as proximate mechanisms allowing the maintenance of cooperation”

Red-Christianity, Green-Islam

Red-Christianity & Green-Islam. Abrahamic Religions Have Taken Over The World

There is something about the Abrahamic faiths that is different. The first clue to this is that the youngest of the Semitic faiths, Islam and Christianity, have the most adherents. There are some qualities to these religions that are common to them and must have been established early in their evolution. What were these qualities that prevented them from being engulfed by other belief systems, during their conquest of the world? What gave Christianity and Islam the ability to co-opt many of the traditional practices and beliefs of local populations, as their own religious memes raced through the human species?

The Roman polytheists were a diversely invested group of worshipers. We know what hit them – Christianity! Somewhere along the line, religions evolved a virulent strain that attacked other religions and competed violently for ‘belief space’. The monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are the most virulent of the lot, condemning the Gods of other belief systems and denouncing the followers of these other religions. There is no room in Christianity and Islam for tolerance of the kind that Tharoor extols Hinduism for. You either believe in them completely, rejecting every other God, or you are a heathen doomed to the fires of hell.

This is not lost on the adherents of Hinduism. Given these historical facts, the Hindu extremists are aware that without taking a stance against these virulent forms of religion, their own traditions are left defenseless and under attack.

You will notice that I am not making any value judgments about these different belief systems or their virulence. I am just stating facts that influence human social behaviors such as inter-group competition. These well respected scientific concepts are completely ignored by influential Indian intellectuals and policy makers like Shashi Tharoor. Without addressing these objectively observable and quantifiable phenomena, Tharoor’s approach to understanding and dealing with the problem of communal conflict in India is grossly inadequate.

The Real Story:

My wider criticism of Tharoor and many of the other prominent Indian intellectuals is that they are missing the greater human story that science has made available to us. Take for example the case that Tharoor makes against those Hindus who attack Christians as being non-Indians. He brings up the fact that many Indian Christians have served our country and that there were Christians in India before the Europeans ever colonized us. These criticisms may have a temporary emotional appeal but in the long run they only serve to reinforce the divisions between the different religious groups. More importantly, they miss telling the real story.

Origins of the Indo-Aryan Proto-language

All Indian Hindus have ancestors who were not Hindu. In fact, every human-being on earth had ancestors who subscribed to now-extinct religions. This is a particularly poignant fact for Hindu Nationalists. The current scientific consensus is that many of the fundamental tenets of Hinduism were invented by people outside of India. Archeological and linguistic evidence point to the fact that the ancestral languages to the Indo-European group of languages were most likely spoken by a group of people who lived over 4000 years ago in what is modern day Turkmenistan. The work of Russian archeologist Viktor Sarianidi has helped uncover many elements of these people’s lives, some of which are described in the oldest of the Vedas, the Rig Veda. A process of acculturation, starting around the time of the decline of the Indus Valley civilization and leading up to the settlement of the Gangetic plains, is considered the most plausible explanation of the spread of these Central Asian cultures into India. Once there, it is likely that these non-native beliefs were modified by the local beliefs already present in India.  There is significant linguistic evidence that the Indo-Aryan languages underwent a “shift” as they were adopted and modified by native Dravidic speakers. (Just to be clear, I am not endorsing the Aryan Invasion Theory here; the theory that there was an actual invasion into India by a different race of people who then became the higher priestly castes is very controversial and the limited molecular genetic data available to test this theory is hotly debated. I am only talking about the acculturation of Indic peoples by the language and rituals of the Central Asian people who had migrated south and were in close proximity.)

Think about the implications of this fact for a bit. Hinduism is in part a “foreign religion” to India. This is something that, if made common knowledge, has the ability to dissipate much of the neo-Hindu obsession with religious nationalism. More importantly, it has the ability to actually enlighten the masses.

The Benefits of Rational Inquiry:

The Great Human Story

Adopting a naturalistic approach to the problems of communalism has many long term benefits that myopic, post-modernist strategies such as Tharoor’s cannot provide. For instance, popularizing the scientifically established “Out Of Africa” theory of human history is conducive to establishing a sense of universal human-hood that no other universal “truth” can attain. I have written about the advantageous of such an approach here. Briefly, such an unbiased view of human history has the potential to make us understand the superficiality of constructs such as race, religion and even culture, and show us the wonderful common heritage that we all share.

In presenting irrational and highly subjective ideals as solutions to the problem of increased conflict between religious groups, Shashi Tharoor and others are contributing to the status quo. There is no respite from the current situation unless naturalistic reality becomes popular in India over the next few decades. The key to this is education. A top-down intellectual plea for tolerance, in the face of competition for supremacy of group-specific belief systems, is inferior to a system that encourages a real understanding into the silliness of such group-centric beliefs in general. This real understanding comes from a bottom-up approach, using education to create a fact-based awareness of our true human condition.

As communities become more connected by technology, the likelihood of conflicts between those opposed to each other based on cultural constructs only gains in momentum. All the good intentions of intellectuals cannot address the problem of communal violence in India. The ideals of religious tolerance and pluralism, standard arguments proposed by the secular majority, only go to reinforce the pacifist sentiments of those individuals in society who are intrinsically not of a conflict-driven nature. There will always be individuals to whom the innate competitiveness ingrained in our species by the forces of natural selection will override these platitudes offered by the elites.  These individuals will be more receptive to the unifying emotions of brotherhood that a reason-based understanding of our common past can induce in people. I conclude by stating that in order to rid India of communal conflict, we must popularize our wonderful human heritage through education and rational thinking, rather than continue to divide people based on such absurd belief systems as irrational religious ideology.

* Update: After some communication with Meera Nanda, I have decided that I had previously understated the capacity for group-centric violence that Hinduism can evoke. I may have also overstated the the influence of cultures from outside India in Hinduism as it is now practiced. It seems likely that it was the coming together of these outside and native influences, and their further evolution within India, that led to Hinduism as we know it. The central thesis, however, remain unaltered.

About the author

Ajita Kamal

14 Comments

  • Ajita, this is brilliant — one of your best posts, in my opinion.

    It is very disheartening to see people of Tharoor’s stature talking at the same level of petty politicians.

    BTW, a recent news on TV was about Bal Thackaray praising Salman Khan and his father Salim Khan for showing the right way to Indian Muslims. What did they do to gain Bal’s respect? Celebrated Ganesha festival in the Hindu way (with Aarti and all). It seems to me that Tharoor’s article is at the same level.

    P.S: I’m waiting for some Islaminc groups to announce a fatwa on Salim Khan.
    P.P.S: I’m not waiting for news about Bal celebrating Id in his house.

  • I read the tharoor’s article you mentioned……I really appreciate his language against anti-christian activities….Other than I dont see any intellectual claims by him in those articles,….I see it as statement from an ordinary liberal or moderate hindu, nothing else…..May be in some where he would have claimed such things, I dont know much about tharoor,..but with respect to his article you mentioned here, your attack on his lacking of intellectual approach for reality to this particular article is irrelevant…..I just dont see that tharoor intellectually claiming or rebutting to those recent anti-christian activities…..I see him rebutting as moderate hindu,…..I donno why you inquire him as “intellectual” about that particular article…..If you ask any other moderate hindu or any good person who is hindu religious person, you can get the same kind of language……Tharoor himself in those article cliamed himself as “hindu”,…..what else would you expect from him ?……Let him talk first about his support against ant-christian violence……let take him on somewhere else…. I would be so happy if any fanatic hindu, least listen to tharoor and change his position on anti-christian violence,…All I want is first let this violence to stop…….then we come back to tharoor…….I would be so happy if you written now against VHP or those culprits or Bal thakery or islamic groups…….May be you are discussing tharoor long before about his claims somewhere else,..but here in nirmukta, in your out of 4 article, this is the only one article you have written about an issue…….when tharoor talking against violence, then you are lecturing him about anthropology , and sociobiology, then I dont see any relevance……Yes, I dont agreee with Tharoor’s position that Hinduism as the most tolerant religion,…if tolerant to other faith but not tolerant to its own faith, then how come hinduism be any tolerant ? still people of India are suffered and segregated for the hinduistic values and beliefs,….if those doesnt belong to the category of tolerance the what is the meaning for tolerance……..but certainly I dont want to tell this to tharoor, because he is not talking to us about hinduism or in general, his auidence or he wants this statement to reach to those communalist…….but you are lecturing him like he is talking about hinduism in general……

  • Indian_the_patriot,
    I see that you have completely missed the point of the article. There are so many wrong characterizations in your comment that I can only address a few of them. Here goes:

    I’ll start from somewhere in the middle because I think that it shows that you have the wrong idea about who we are at Nirmukta.

    “I would be so happy if you written now against VHP or those culprits or Bal thakery or islamic groups”

    The article is about offering a secular and rational alternative to the solution provided by Tharoor. Nirmukta is not explicitly concerned with political attacks, although it may be required as part of our overall criticism. The point of the article is to criticize the popular short-sighted and unscientific view of religious conflict as stated by Tharoor, not to simply condemn the violence and the groups. There are many news dailys and thousands of blogs that do that. Here at Nirmukta we are concerned with rational thought.

    “I donno why you inquire him as “intellectual” about that particular article”

    Intellectuals are people who hold sway over other people on issues of academic interest. They influence policy decisions as well as the minds of the citizens over the years. If their policies are short-sighted, its Nirmukta’s place to point it out.

    “when tharoor talking against violence, then you are lecturing him about anthropology , and sociobiology, then I dont see any relevance”

    I am surprised that you don’t “see any relevance”. Do you believe that violence has a supernatural cause? The idea is to put violence in a scientific, reality-based, objective context and show why such an approach will provide us real long-term gains in reducing violence. Pleading for tolerance is ineffective given the conditions involved. That is why you need the scientific perspective. Please re-read the last three paragraphs of the article.

    “If you ask any other moderate hindu or any good person who is hindu religious person, you can get the same kind of language”

    This is a point that I have stated already in the article multiple times. It only adds to my argument that there is no use in asking for the terrorists to be tolerant because the only ones who will agree with you are those who already feel that way. Again, this theme runs through the entire article, I don’t see how you can have missed it. For example, in the first paragraph I state that Tharoor’s view is the “standard Hindu-liberal position” and in the last paragraph I say “The ideals of religious tolerance and pluralism, standard arguments proposed by the secular majority, only go to reinforce the pacifist sentiments of those individuals in society who are intrinsically not of a conflict-driven nature.”

    “Tharoor himself in those article cliamed himself as “hindu”,…..what else would you expect from him ?”

    The same thing I expect from everyone. A rational approach to reality. If they don’t have it, I must point it out. Do you want me to excuse a creationist just because his christian belief leads him to his uninformed positions? Isn’t the questioning of traditional beliefs the whole point of this exercise?

    “Yes, I dont agreee with Tharoor’s position that Hinduism as the most tolerant religion”

    Again, you must have misunderstood me. I actually agree with Tharoor on this point. It is a reletivistic claim. Compared to the other two major religions (and excluding Buddhism), Hinduism is the most tolerant by nature of its postmodernist interpretaion.

    “if those doesnt belong to the category of tolerance the what is the meaning for tolerance……..but certainly I dont want to tell this to tharoor, because he is not talking to us about hinduism or in general, his auidence or he wants this statement to reach to those communalist…….but you are lecturing him like he is talking about hinduism in general”

    Thats the second time you used the word “lecturing”. Its a condescending way of telling me that I am not worthy of debating this issue on these terms and am talking to someone who knows more than I do.
    Meanwhile, I’m not sure if you even read the whole article because you missed its entire point. I was under the impression that I built up my case carefully by pointing to the virulent nature of religion (especially the more successful ones), the nature of group-thinking towards competition and violence between groups, and therefore the uselessness of promoting a false “tolerance” as a long-term strategy.
    If people of influence like Tharoor would actually look at the scientific research, the conversation would be at a higher plane. If they refuse to do so, it is my intention to promote the application of freely available scientific data and research towards making our society better. It is possible that Tharoor is unaware of the research. In that case, he is uninformed and his status as an intellectual is unwarranted. It is possible that he knows about the research in this field. In that case, his status as an intellectual is being misused.

    My main crticism of Tharoor, of course, is that he is an apologist for religion in general, thus contributing to the continued existence of these ideologies that divides us, causing communal violence.

  • I dont agree with your argument……You take the statements of tharoor out of contest and argue for your sake….What tharoor should think or not is not matter here, you took him out of contest and make different thing out of it…….again, he is not talking to you or in general those articles, his targeted audience are communalists, he neither asks in general how everyone should think of religion nor he represents you and everyone else in those articles….He is talking to particular audience from his religious views…..I dont care what his personal religious views are, I do care about personal liberty,…..I am certain as you are, that in those articles he never represent everyone in general….so I dont mind what he tell anti-social hindus what he thinks as hindu…..

  • Thanks for your comment.
    I welcome your contrary point of view. It is indeed the freedom to speak our mind (personal liberty, as you say) that is the characteristic of a democracy. Unfortunately Tharoor does not think so, as you will have read in the first paragraph of the article.

    You seem to have the wrong idea of what we do here at Nirmukta. The idea that religion is beyond criticism just because it is someone’s “personal religious views” is absurd. There is no reason why irrational dogmas that are dangerous to society should not be questioned. In fact, it is unpatriotic not to question such protectionist attitudes of certain ideologies.

    In your claim for protecting “personal religious views” you are questioning my “personal liberty” to question that such views are personal. I happen to think they are not personal at all. You can argue that religious views SHOULD be personal, but that is just wishful thinking.

    And again, you side-stepped my entire central argument that says that Tharoor’s views are not useful and actually contribute to the continuation of such violence because (1) He is not convincing anyone because only the pacifists appereciate his message and because of all the other reasons that I mentioned regarding the conflict between religions, and (2) He is being an apologist for Hinduism despite the fact that it is such irrational group-think that causes such conflict of ideologies and peoples. What this means is that Tharoor’s reasoning excuses Hinduism itself, thereby preventing other intellectuals to think about replacing such irrational divisive institutions with naturalistic alternatives.
    We here at Nirmukta not only question dangerous irrational ideologies, but also try to provide long-term naturalistic alternatives to these ideologies.
    Please address my actual argument in your comment. I look forward to it.

  • well, you seem to have the wrong idea of what I was mentioning before. Your claim that I am opposed to the religious criticism for the sake of personal religious view shows that not only you failed to grasp what I was talking but obnoxious blind attack on my thinking. You can argue that everyone should think rationally, but that is just wishful thinking.

    And again, you side-stepped my entire central argument that Tharoor is talking to particular audience in those “particular” articles, you also mentioned that you are discussing those three articles, in which he clearly speaks to those communal elements not in general about hinduism. Its outrageous that you are arguing that I am questioning your personal liberty, no where I was asked you stop questioning against any immoral, irrational, religious bigotry, but I mentioned that you take him out of contest. You, the rationalist, well arguing with linguistic , archeological evidence, but failed to recognize evolutionary psychology, mementics and sociobiology. I am pragmatic but you are ideologist. What if Tharoor start speaks to those communal elements (I am talking about those three article in particular) in same words as you ? Then he wouldnt be hindu anymore, he will be rationalist like us, but I dont expect him change his mind and talk as rationalist. I want more Tharoor like people should talk in VHP, RSS and whatever those crap are, because first I want an end to communal violence. I never supports his view about hinduism, but I want him to talk to those communalists.
    As Meera Nanda said, those communal elements consider rationalism as imperial western exploitation. I have same doubt about you, that you expressed over Tharoors response to those communal elements not useful to stop those killings, how your rational response to the murderers would stop those anti-christian violence ?
    You talk as an ideologist, but I want to end this killings right now, then take Tharoor on what he thinks about hinduism. I dont dream that I convinced you, I expect you come up with same ideological position. Once again I say, “in those articles”, I dont see Tharoor like vivekananda giving speech at Chicago, but he is trying to do some crap to stop those killings, but you see him as giving vivekananda speech “in those articles” ( underline).
    I dont say that Tharoor is not advocating hinduism, or stop you to questioning him (oh…um…..How many dont’s , never, not,….I need to put here……wow,)….I donno whether tharoor’s response to those communal elements would stop killings or not, after all I am just a science junkie…….Could you to tell any practical ( not which could have happen, but which should happen) approach which stops those killings immediately……..
    Do you know why rationalism, atheism are less attractive than religion ? You need to change your PR…..I wan anything pragmatic, what you are talking is ideological…….Dont again come up with your own illusion that so I am supporting religious bigotry, atrocities, irrationality, right wing ideology …..I am saying this because that what you are claiming above about me without any idea of what I am stand for…..

  • Again Thanks for the comment.

    As I have stated twice already, please address my central argument. I have already addressed yours.

    You describe your argument here: “And again, you side-stepped my entire central argument that Tharoor is talking to particular audience in those “particular” articles, you also mentioned that you are discussing those three articles, in which he clearly speaks to those communal elements not in general about hinduism”

    You keep saying that I have not addressed this but if you read the last paragraph of my last response to you, my response to this argument is clear. I am saying that Tharoor’s articles, whoever they are addressed to, are not useful and are , in fact, dangerous. My central argument has already answered yours by describing why Tharoor’s strategy is pointless. These are not the kind of crimes that a plea for tolerance can prevent. Tharoor could be talking to a bunch of dodos, for all I care. My criticism is that the whole argument is flawed and useless- this has nothing to do with who Tharoor talks to. More on this at the end of this response.

    You keep saying that I have no solutions to the problems of communalism and ask me to provide any. Please go back and read the last three paragraphs of my article. I have clearly suggested a more useful way forward. You are just not interested in seeing what I have clearly outlined because you are intent on defending Tharoor’s failed and flawed plea to the extremists. There is nothing ideological about promoting the education-based approach that I am advocating based on my understanding of how religion and cultural beliefs work. What you are proposing has been proposed since time-immemorial. I am saying it does not work (read point 1 and point 2 of my previous response). In light of the failure of this strategy, it is you who is ideologically clinging to hope (without any evidence) that Tharoor’s strategy is useful.

    You say “Your claim that I am opposed to the religious criticism for the sake of personal religious view shows that not only you failed to grasp what I was talking but obnoxious blind attack on my thinking.”
    But how blind is my argument if you had said in your previous reply “I dont care what his personal religious views are, I do care about personal liberty”. Whether you meant to or not, you were defending Tharoor’s arguments as stemming from his “personal religious views”. In my reply to that, I was clearly saying that there is no such thing as “personal religious views” in this case. If Tharoor’s religious views affect my life (because he is setting the tone for the public conversation on religion), then they are not personal at all. Just as my views about the dangers of religion may seem personal to me but since they have the potential to affect religious people, they are not really personal.

    You have called me obnoxious and under “illusions”. Such ad hominem attacks only serve to highlight a weak philosophical argument. I think we will do better to stick to discussing things in a civil manner. There is a difference between “attacks” (which you unfairly accuse me of) and arguments. I proposed arguments not attacks.

    Your last paragraph:
    “Do you know why rationalism, atheism are less attractive than religion ? You need to change your PR…..I wan anything pragmatic, what you are talking is ideological”
    I simply don’t see how anyone who understood my analysis of human group behavior and the nature of religion can say that about my article. I find it ironic that after I carefully explained the reasons for why group-centric violence is the problem and why divisive ideologies must be eliminated in time using reason because their defense will continue such atrocities in the future, that I am accused of being ideological. I have given you reasons. You have not. If any one of us could be accused of being ideological, it is you.
    What exactly is your answer to “why rationalism, atheism are less attractive than religion”? I don’t see you proposing anything. If you really want to know my thoughts on this, please read the “about” page at nirmukta. Also, check out the description of the social philosophy of “cultural naturalism” at culturalnaturalism.org . You claim that I am ignoring the sociological points of view. My entire argument is rooted in sociobiology. If you understand evolutionary psychology correctly, you will understand that the group-centric aggression models that I have presented are central to the scientific understanding of cultural conflict. I cannot, for the life of me, see how you can claim that I am ignoring evolutionary psychology. I have also clearly stated in the article, the fact that such group-centric conflicts in human societies are the result of perceived cultural differences. These different cultural points of view are obviously a result of memetic evolution. I don’t understand how you can accuse me of ignoring this when I have clearly talked about the sociobiological rationale for my argument while you yourself are not proposing any kind of rational reasons or evidence for your arguments. Are you simply throwing these words out there without reference to my actual arguments?

    Meera Nanda has, as you say, written about how Hindu nationalists and extremists look at rationalism as “Western”. This is well known. You don’t really need Meera Nanda to tell us this. Hindu nationalists say this themselves, all the time. I am pretty sure that her solution would not be to avoid rationalism and promote apologetic deference to “moderate” religion. In my opinion, the answer is to find other, better ways of promoting rational ideas and the implications of science. All the preaching of religious tolerance in 20th century India did not prevent partition, three wars, an endless arms race, perpetual communal tensions and bloodshed and the escalation of extremist elements in our society. And, it is only getting worse. Maybe instead of promoting tolerance for all these decades, we should have focused more on teaching young kids about the social and moral implications from our understanding of biology and comparative religion. We are in a much better position to do this now. Again, please read the last three paragraphs. This is a long-term solution, as I have stated in the article, but it is the one surest to lead to a near-complete end to the problem of religious warfare.

    You say: “Dont again come up with your own illusion that so I am supporting religious bigotry, atrocities, irrationality, right wing ideology”
    Tharoor is an apologist for Hindusim. As long as you defend him, you are contributing to the defense and continued existence of ‘religious bigotry, atrocities, irrationality, right wing ideology’ . I never said that you are directly supporting these things. You are twisting my words. For you to get a more detailed idea of why your defense of Tharoor is indirectly bad for the rationalism movement, I would like to point you to Sam Harris’ argument here:
    http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Secular-Philosophies/The-Problem-With-Religious-Moderates.aspx
    If you read the above article, you will see why Tharoor must be criticized for his moderate views- more importantly than simply criticizing the extremists, who do not care for your views anyway. The way to bring about change is by talking to those moderates who set the standard for the conversation, and getting them to take the conversation to a rational place. Simply imagining that Tharoor’s apologetic defense of their religion will convince the extremists and stop the violence, is short-sighted and even irrational.

    Again, to make sure you know what my central argument is, please look at point 1 and point 2 in my previous response. I will keep waiting for your response to these. If you keep ignoring my arguments and keep asserting your assumptions that are completely unproven, I will have no choice but to close comments on this thread. I hope that this will not be so and we can actually address each other’s arguments after carefully reading them.

  • The claim that Hinduism is completely foreign to India is highly mischievous (typical of the Christian subversives) and false. Hinduism as of today incorporates elements from from both vedic and local traditions as they have existed since about 2000bc, evolving along the way. In contrast, the Semitic faiths are foreign to India and have caused wanton destruction here.

    It is a fact that the Islamists were smashed in India not by the Kshatriya kings but by the so called shudra and OBC chieftains. Almost every resident of this land had accepted the Hindu construct and made it their own. Also, though the PEOPLE who composed the Vedas MAY HAVE COME FROM A PLACE OUTSIDE THE SUBCONTINENT,almost all of our sacred literature was composed right in the subcontinent, after many generations of living here. No sane person can conclude that the principles of Hinduism are alien to this land.

    • Hi chenchu,

      This is a strawman argument because nowhere in the article have I claimed that “Hinduism is completely foreign to India”. If you need to put words in my mouth in order to criticize, then your criticism is not of me but of a view that you are inventing for the purpose of criticizing. Also, are you ignoring the update at the end of the article, or did not not read the entire article to the end.

      It is uncontroversial now that aspects of the Hindusim originated in regions that are not part of India as we know it today, as you have yourself acknowledged with your use of the word “almost”. It is true that some of the ideas of the Vedas belonged to people who originated elsewhere (North of the Indus valley and probably all the way up in Central Asia), and the genetic evidence shows that in the period after the Indus valley dried up and people moved to East into the Ganges plains the ideas spread but the people did not. I have clearly stated that these pre-vedic ideas, some of which were probably imported from Central Asia, were incorporated into existing traditions local to the people already living in the region to form the first versions of Hinduism as we now can recognize it. Hinduism as we now know it may have been put together in India alone, but some of the ideas that comprise Hinduism were initially alien to the subcontinent. I am not trying to present Hinduism as a whole as alien to the land, just to show that even if some minute part of it originated elsewhere then the arguments for “protecting Hinduism from Semitic religions” become purely ideological dogma ignoring the evolutionary spread of cultures and ideas. Of course all evidence of this can be conveniently dismissed as a “Christian perspective”. But my point to this whole thing is that cultures are mot monolithic. Sanity has nothing to do with it. It is a more general outlook of cultural evolution that we are after.

      Humans have lived in the subcontinent for between 40-70,000 years, going by molecular-genetic evidence. It is highly conceivable that during this time numerous local religions have come and gone. The most preserved groups of indigenous Indians (some tribes that have been identified as genetically ancestral to the people that eventually traveled down the islands of the Pacific and into Australia and New-Zealand) still maintain traditions and beliefs that were present before Hinduism because dominant. It can be argued that Hinduism “caused wanton destruction” on their beliefs. But truthfully, its just the nature of cultural evolution. I have specifically explained the Hindu aversion to the Semitic faiths because of their foreign origins, but I am suggesting that this is not a black and white issue but a matter of scale. All religions evolve and no one culture can claim complete dominion over any one region or people.

      When you say “Almost every resident of this land had accepted the Hindu construct and made it their own”, I submit that this is a myopic perspective. Hindu beliefs evolved and replaced other pre-existing and more indigenous beliefs, in the way that all cultural beliefs do. The culture of the last 2000 years hardly describes the entire history of people in the Indian subcontinent.

      The solution is not to spend resources attempting to restrict irrational ideologies to their place of origin, but to rid such irrational beliefs that so restrictively divide people into groups to begin with. I did not write this article to criticize any one specific religion but to make a general point about the nature of ideological beliefs and how they spread. Therefore any criticism at my arguments here must take into consideration the context. I appreciate that you did not make personal attacks in this comment but if there are any accusations in any other comments I expect that the right context be provided and an explanation for the accusation be clearly detailed. I will never censor alternative points of view but accusations of impropriety must be supported.

  • As expected you indulge in obfuscation and evasion. The claim “many of the fundamental tenets of Hinduism were invented by people outside of India” is false. The only “tenet” common to vedism and the andronovo culture(which must have had horses) is the horse sacrifice and this too is only of the vague and “remote plausibility” type. The vedic ashwamedha is done by an emperor, the notion of which itself may not be possible in the andronovo culture. No connection can be made between the two.As we know, sacrifice is common to all ancient cultures. The complex motivation for the vedic sacrifice and its calendrical significance is absent anywhere else. Your mischief continues unabated.

    I still contend that almost every one in India (before semitism reached this place) accepted the dharmic framework. Buddhism and Jainism which are represented as “revolutions against the brahmanic system” in fact had brahmins as their greatest thinkers and philosophers. Morever, these religions as they are mistakenly referred to were not religions at all. A lay person could simlpy not be a jain or a buddhist, only patronise the local monk or monastery.

    The traditions of the pre-vedic peoples have not been destroyed. They survive in the form of the innumerable deities of the villages, region specific festivals and rituals etc. Any tribe or totemic group was given due representation in the Hindu construct and that is precisely the reason why these tribes accepted the orthodoxy even if only in a passing manner. Hinduism never physically wiped out other cultures and peoples by genocide and terror as islam and christianity have done everywhere(including in India, though they didnt fully succeed). This is the reason why not even the Dalits (whom the missionaries thought would be an easy target for conversion) have converted en masse to the semitic faiths. Hinduism has its drawbacks, but they can be fixed. The same cant be said of the other faiths.

    • “As expected you indulge in obfuscation and evasion.”

      You have to point this out specifically. This article, like any other, has a limited focus. Just because your point is not addressed you cannot accuse me of evasion. If your point is not being given importance in my article, that is not obfuscation. I have specifically pointed out that you lied in your previous comment by misrepresenting me in order to build your strawman arguments. This is plainly dishonest and yet you are reticent to admit your deception while accusing me falsely of the same.

      “Your mischief continues unabated.”
      I have clearly pointed out where you were patently wrong in your previous comment. You are repeating the same criticism that has been proven false, especially when I have addressed that very statement you are referring to in the update at the bottom of my article. Clearly you are the one who’s “mischief continues unabated”.

      The rest of your comment is the usual factually deficient broad-stroke defense of Hinduism that is not relevant to my article except to confirm my thesis that such group specific categorizations of peoples based on ideology rather than on reason, leading to inter-group conflicts, is why religion needs to be criticized and the scientific story replace the myths and fables of ego-maniacal sects.

  • I don’t think “Out Of Africa” theory gets more attention then it should. Like Darwinism it can have a major impact on peoples perspective of religion and race.

  • Terrific article, references and conclusion Ajita. At the core of the issue is the fitness increasing inter-group conflict, and the all-consuming intolerance of monotheistic religion. The 2 sides will go at it forever, unless informed and illuminated by science’s narrative of human and cultural evolution.

    I was drawn to this article due to new back-and-forth between the 2 sides.
    http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/mathew_n_schmalz/2011/01/conversion_and_indias_supreme_court.html?wprss=onfaithpanelists

    http://www.hafsite.org/HuffingtonPost_Evangelism_in_India

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