Hinduism: Religion, Culture or Way of Life?

Written by May 11, 2009 9:46 am 187 comments

Some of the recent criticism of our mission here at Nirmukta has come from Hindu apologists admonishing the writers for treating Hinduism as a religion. The often encountered claim is that Hinduism is not a religion in the same sense as the other faiths, because of various reasons that the apologists deem are unique to Hinduism alone. This propaganda has been pursued so vigorously by the apologists that it has become a mantra to be used as a shield against criticism. Millions of educated Hindus are taught these talking points, often ideas derived from some insignificant truism miscast into a vast theory of cultural significance. Such “special pleading” is a mark of all religions, asking to be considered unique and special. To begin, let us first look at some of the general qualities of religions.

The Nature of Religions:

If you ask different people what makes a religion a religion, you’ll get vastly different answers. If all these answers are compiled, it becomes templepossible that almost every group of people defined by their adherence to certain traditions or beliefs can be classified as a religious group. First there are the older religions. All ancient cultures have traditions that go back into pre-history, and the evolving beliefs and practices have become entwined with each other. Then there are some belief systems that came out of modern socio-political thought- for example communism, nationalism and capitalism- that some people consider as religions. Indeed, there are many qualities that make them similar to traditional religions. There are those religions that were founded in the last few hundred years, like Scientology and Mormonism, often called cults. Some would even say that science, secularism and atheism are religions.

For the purposes of this article I will disregard supernaturalism as a necessary requisite for religious behavior, although it is often an integral part of the more fundamentalist strains of religions.

It seems as though we are already nearing a nihilistic stalemate. Here is where an understanding of religion as a subset of culture can help us. Simply put, religion does not exist as a clearly defined phenomenon, but is an artificial part of the culture to which it belongs. Jonathan Smith writes: Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization.” This, in my opinion, is the single most important thing to remember when talking about religion.

The reason scholars study religion from an objective perspective is to try to understand these religions without bias. The objective/ scientific perspective in not an Eastern perspective or a Western perspective. It does not follow from any one religion, although all religions may have fragments of the type of reasoning spirit that permeates the scientific process. There is a huge gap between the objective understanding of what constitutes religion and the understanding from within each religion of what it represents. This article is concerned with the objective perspective. I look at religion as an entity in itself, behaving like any other entity that responds to its environment. With this perspective in mind, I look for any personality traits of this entity that may form the inclusive core of what constitutes religion. I submit three propositions which, when taken together, define the essence of these powerful cultural institutions.

1) Religion perpetuates an identity of itself as a group.

2) An authoritarian strain runs through every set of beliefs that can be labeled a religion.

3) Religions submit their believers through volumes of cognitive dissonance.

I wish to make it clear that there are many more popular ways of defining religions. I focus my criticism of the  arguments of Hindu apologists who seek special status for Hinduism by narrowing down on the most contested aspects of their religion.  If the argument is that I am re-defining religion in a specific way, then bring on your more conventional definition of religion. Hinduism satisfies those conditions more readily.

Let us look at the three aspects of religions that I have isolated for this exercise.

1. Group Identity: I have written previously about how group-centric thinking is a trait of all religions. This is a characteristic of culture itself. When certain beliefs succeed in grouping a subset of the population from others, the survival of those beliefs is directly proportional to the degree to which the believers in that group are prepared to defend the beliefs. This is the parasite-host relationship that Daniel Dennett Danger Religious Warspopularized in his book Breaking the Spell. The more virulent a belief system, the more aggressively will those beliefs be defended by its hosts. From a biological standpoint, the survival of the group symbolizes the ultimate altruistic cause for an organism. Even extreme behaviors such as suicide bombings are acts of ultimate altruistic service to members of the in-group. This is a direct result of moral evolution in social organisms such as primates (read more here). In humans, culture can replace kinship and genetic relatedness when it comes to forming in-group allegiances. This has the potential for much good. However, divisive ideologies make use of these behavioral tendencies in humans to spread themselves, often at great cost to their human hosts. Self-identified groups are a natural aspect of society, but when group identity combines with certain characteristics of religions they become dangerous.

2. Authoritarianism: Religions demand submission to authority figures. To a large extent, humans are creatures that respond to authority. The famous Milgram experiments showed us how decent people can behave like sociopaths when a voice of authority demands that they do so. Our systems of social organization evolved in primitive times in response to tribal conditions, and we react to the same instincts in much the same way today in the era of democratic societies. Idolatry behavior and hero-worship comes naturally to us. Religious beliefs hijack these tendencies within us in order to perpetuate themselves through culture. This is the simple way in which religions remove dissent from within while ensuring blind group-centric action.

3. Ability to Increase Cognitive Dissonance: Although group identity itself and the authoritarian hierarchy that holds it together are integral parts of a religion, there is a grey area where the beliefs of every religion overlap with the surrounding beliefs of the culture of which it is a part. This is unavoidable, especially in modern times where the cultural information available to each person is more and varied than in the past. Some beliefs of the group may be incompatible with the culture they are a part of. In order to reconcile the contradictions in belief, conflicting explanations, rules and guidelines are built into the religious literature over time. The most successful of these religions have believers of every possible stripe, justifying every possible intuition that they have, as part of the teachings of their religion.

Cognitive dissonance is a mental phenomenon in which conflicting beliefs held by individuals cause a subconscious discomfort in these individuals. Religions succeed by inducing cognitive dissonance in their believers. The resolution of this cognitive dissonance is through what is known as ‘confirmation-bias’, where the individuals ignore inconvenient contradictions in order to side with their pre-conceived biases. This allows for the believers to hold onto to conflicting beliefs, without noticing their own lapses in logic. Religions contain teachings that can be cherry-picked to pacify all kinds of people irrespective of their moral Meditatingintuitions. Since religion is a group-level belief system, the cognitive dissonance it induces and the ensuring confirmation-bias of its believers can also be observed at the group-level. When one’s cultural and moral beliefs lean to the political left, for example, one will find the appropriate justification from within the scriptures/teachings. If one leans the other way, the same religion can provide a moral justification for those opposing beliefs. Thus we see some Muslims claiming that Islam is a religion of peace while other Muslims blow up innocent people. You can have Hindus claiming how tolerant their religion is while other Hindus are hacking missionaries to death. You can have Christians who are pacifist because they believe that is what Jesus would do, while other Christians are sanctioning the deaths of thousands of innocent people in another country because they believe that Jesus is coming again. In each of these cases, the individuals involved are familiar with the opposite point-of-view held by others of their faith. But they choose to ignore that perspective because it is inconvenient. This kind of cognitive dissonance imposed on individual believers, resolving the believers into multiple camps promoting contradictory convictions,  is how successful religions compete with each other for dominance in numbers.

I wish to assert that these three qualities of religion are among the most relevant to the issue of criticizing religion objectively. The majority of the criticism (or at least, the ones that are removed of any slander or abuse) can be addressed using one or more of the above three points.

Hinduism Through an Objective Lens:

Imagine if Christianity had not spread to ancient Greece, and if all the Gods of the ancient Grecian myths were lumped into one (fictional) religion, Mythos, because the rest of Europe considered the beliefs of the Greeks too different from their own religion of Christianity. Now imagine if sometime in the 18th century, the Grecians took all the great philosophy from Parmenides to Pyrrho to Plato and incorporated all of it within the Mythos religion (despite the fact that these philosophers would have probably abhorred being associated with the superstitious beliefs of their time). All the philosophies from these ancient Greeks were compiled into one large group and differentiated from the rest of Europe. Epicurus, the great materialist of Greece who had no use for the afterlife or the soul is now a philosopher in the Mythos religion. All Greek atheists from Thales in 100 BC through Diagoras in the 5th century AD, to the later period where Mythos became one unified religion are all now considered part of the great Mythos religion. These materialists, the intellectuals declare, represent the atheist tradition within Mythos.

Now, consider that Mythos follows the three traits of religions we have identified:

  1. Mythos is a self-identified group. It is vigorously defended by its adherents.
  2. The leaders of Mythos are worshiped when they materialize objects using sleight-of-hand, and these same con-men have the power to have even politicians kissing their feet.
  3. The tenets of Mythos can encompass any belief one possesses, including the belief that Mythos is not a group and that the leaders of Mythos are not authoritarian.

I am, of course, constructing this hypothetical religion in order to demonstrate to Hindus what Hinduism looks like from the outside, looking in. Mythos, this fictional analog of modern Hinduism, can satisfy all the three qualities that I have identified in the section above. I will now proceed to apply these three traits to Hinduism itself to demonstrate its status as a religion. However, instead of focusing on Hinduism alone, I will compare it to Christianity and Islam in order to show how when it comes to these three essential properties of religion, they all share these common identifiable traits.

1. Hinduism and Group-identity: I have often been amazed at the irony when Hindus exhibit a strong group-identity (first clue that it is a religion) while defending Hinduism by saying that it is not a religion! No one should be surprised by this fact that Hindus tend to be protective of their group. Competition between religions leads to radicalization of the individual religions. I have addressed the aggressive self-perpetuation of competing ideologies in India. In modern times, this has increased a xenophobic fear among Indians that their beliefs are going to be replaced. Despite my focus on Hinduism in this article, it is the spread of Islam and Christianity that is the greatest threat to secularization in India, because as more people become educated about the global success of Christianity and Islam the result is an increased group-centric mentality and radicalization among Hindus. Hinduism would probably not exist if it wasn’t for Islam and Christianity. At least, not the way we know it now, as one religion. The Hindu identity is in part a reaction to the collective out-group status assigned to the practices that were different from Islam and Christianity. There was already, of course, much similarity in the practices, considering geographical proximity between the people, common evolutionary origins of both the people as well as the ideas, and constant exchange of ideas in ancient India.

Although I understand why group-identify evolved to such strength in Hinduism, the truth is that such group-centric thinking characterizes the religion today. Hindus act in much the same way as Christians or Muslims when it comes to vociferously defending their group. Everything that was part of the Indian tradition before the “polluting” faiths of Christianity and Islam entered India is claimed as belonging to the self-identified group, the Hindu identity. Hindus argue for hours on end that Hinduism is tolerant and multi-dimensional, but they still wish for it to be identified by a name and classified among the “worlds great religions”. Hindu children are indoctrinated, in much the same way as Christian andhindu-women Muslim children, about the virtues of their faith, so that they will grow up differentiating their group from the others. Hindus argue for a different academic approach to Hinduism’s pantheistic traditions, while considering a young Krishna devotee who knows nothing of pantheistic philosophy as more of a Hindu than a true pantheist who is born into a Jewish or atheist family but rejects labels. Indeed, the only affliction one needs to suffer from is the desire to label oneself a Hindu. If you possesses this desire, then you are part of the Hindu group. But one thing is for sure – it IS a self-identified group of the kind that religion requires.

2. Hinduism and Authority: There is another defense that’s popular with the “Hinduism is not a religion” crowd. It goes like this: “Islam and Christianity have authoritarian leaders whose word is considered within the community as God’s word. Hinduism has no such authority figures”. There are two types of misunderstanding here- (1) about the nature of authority, and (2), about the level of diversity found in religions other than one’s own.

Most Hindus (perhaps subconsciously) view Christianity and Islam as monolithic entities with a single chain of command leading all the way to the top. This helps them to validate their belief that authoritarianism exists in those religions and not in Hinduism. The truth is far from it. Modern Christianity is actually much less authoritarian than even Hinduism, in certain aspects. Several structures of past authoritarian control remain, but these are no different from those of Hinduism. In Christianity and Islam, just as in Hinduism, it is the extremists who are easily provoked by religious leaders into attacking members of other religious groups. In both Christianity and Islam, as in every culture, the socio-political beliefs of individuals are the determining factor when it comes to the personal degree to which they accept the authority of their religious leaders. There is no doubt that in these current times Islam takes the prize for religious aggression promoted using strict authoritarian behavior, but the power of aggressive Hindu leaders to exert authoritarian control over their followers is undeniable. India is split today because of powerful Hindu and Muslim leaders who hold sway over their groups. The people are goaded by these leaders into attacking any perceived threat to their respective religions.

Hindu authoritarian figures are a leading cause of insecurity among young people living in the cities, exercising their rights under the constitution. Millions of gullible Hindus “pay their respects” to authoritarian con-artists like Sai Baba and Baba Ramdev. Hindu authoritarianism leads masses of gullible people across the country to follow thousands of con-men and charlatans in the villages, roadsides, temples, small towns and big cities, the ashrams, tourist spots, at marriages and in office buildings, in the jungles and on the internet; anywhere they can capitalize on the ignorance of the superstitious. The poor and the rich, the professionals and the politicians alike are swindled by simple tricks that a skeptical child could figure out in a minute. Such is the authoritarian nature of religions that grown men leave their faculties behind as they blindly follow their leaders like sheep.

3. Hinduism and Cognitive Dissonance: The cognitive dissonance and subsequent confirmation-bias promoted by the modern Hindu institution is evident in the attempts by some apologists to disagree with the above two characteristics of religion by pointing to some truths of Hinduism while ignoring others. These apologists demonstrate their confirmation-bias by not mentally registering the inconsistencies in their beliefs. This leads them to look at the evidence from a tainted perspective and subconsciously ignore unfavorable information. I will not be surprised if we have comments to this article doing this very thing. This is the third trait of Hinduism that kamasutramakes it more like a religion.

Hinduism is right up there with Christianity and Islam, in the level of cognitive dissonance it induces on its followers. This subconscious deception is aided by the language of false tolerance. This is the most common argument from Hindus, that you can believe in pretty much anything and still be a Hindu. Well, then why have a label at all? It is indeed a varied religion, with many sects and practices. There are few central principles and one could remain a Hindu and not believe in any of these principles. Indeed, you could be an atheist and still surrender to the label of ‘Hindu’ (Similar to Judaism). Why? Because everything works in Hinduism.

Believe that Hinduism must be tolerant? No problem. Believe that we must kill all Muslims? Hey, check out what this guy did to his enemies in the book. Believe that uninhibited sex is immoral? Read these parts of the book. Believe that sex is a healthy/spiritual pursuit? Just look at the sculptures, will you? Believe that money is a cause of suffering? Why of course. Believe that money is God? Where is the money Goddess when you need her? Believe there is no dogma in Hinduism? Sure, Hinduism is an open and varied religion. Believe that Hindus must not eat beef, or drink alcohol, or marry “outside the community” or ….. you get the idea…? Of course you can’t, are you nuts?

Hindus often use scientific ideas to validate their religion, often forgetting that outside of one or two coincidental facts the majority of Hindu beliefs contradict our modern scientific understanding of reality. For example, Hindus point to Carl Sagan’s words about the relatively accurate time-line in the Hindu conception of the cosmos (unfortunately Hinduism’s human time-line is all wrong). However, the fact that Hinduism coincidentally got one truth claim correct does not legitimize it being designated a scientific or rational religion, in view of the hundreds of superstitions that also comprise it. Selective memory causes confirmation bias preventing Hindu apologists from identifying this error. Selective “cherry-picking” also helps ignore that Carl Sagan was opposed to all religions (see end of article). Contradictory beliefs can easily reconciled by “cherry-picking” from the “teachings” and ignoring the inconvenient parts. If the use of metaphor is allowed, practically any argument can be supported in Hinduism.This is the epitome of institutionalized cognitive dissonance.

The Diversity Argument:

There is a propensity among some Hindus to claim that Hinduism is diverse, as opposed to the monotheistic faiths, and therefore it is not a religion in the same sense as the others. There is some truth to this in scale, because Hinduism was put together differently, but the claim arises because of a poor understanding of the facts regarding other faiths. Off the bat, it is obvious that while Hinduism has been losing its diversity over the centuries, because of its more diverse origins, Christianity and Islam have been steadily increasing in diversity (because they had relatively narrow origins). But let’s get into some specifics here. Christianity is much more diverse than Hindus typically understand it to be. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are 33,820 denominations of Christianity in the world. The members of each sect may either consider the teachings of the others as patently false or may have compatibilist views. In either case, their functioning as social individuals can be vastly different depending on the sect. Through South and North America, Africa, Asia and Europe, there are flavors of Christianity that contain various local beliefs that the most well-known Churches in the US, England and the Vatican would consider as heretical. In Islam, again there are numerous sects, although not quite as many as in Christianity. The number seems to be between 50 and 100. Members of these Islamic sects may also either consider their beliefs to be the only true Islam, or have compatibilist views. The authoritarian rules of each of these sects hold sway within the sects and often do not apply outside of them.

The argument that Hinduism is unique because of its diversity fails to hold strong on scrutiny. As with Mythos, this supposed diversity within Hinduism derives from a multitude of historical ideas cobbled together into a religion by the revisionist tales of powerful men. There is no doubt that Indian philosophy contained much diversity in its heyday. This was before the modern institutionalism of Hinduism had taken place. From PositiveAtheism.org:

Much of the evidence for how India’s ancient logicians and scientists developed their theories lies buried in polemical texts that are not normally thought of as scientific texts. While some of the treatises on mathematics, logic, grammar, and medicine have survived as such – many philosophical texts enunciating a rational and scientific world view can  only be constructed from extended references found in philosophical texts and commentaries by Buddhist and Jain monks or Hindu scholars (usually Brahmins).

Although these documents are usually considered to lie within the domain of religious studies, it should be pointed out that many of these are in the form of extended polemics that are quite unlike the holy books of Christianity or Islam. These texts attempt to debate the value of the real-world versus the spiritual-world. They attempt to counter the theories of the atheists and other skeptics. But in their attempts to prove the primacy of a mystical soul or “Atman” – they often go to great lengths in describing competing rationalist and worldly philosophies  rooted in a more realistic and more scientific perception of the world….

….Similiarly, there is other evidence that suggests that amongst the intellectuals of ancient India, atheism and skepticism must have been very powerful currents that required repeated and vigorous attempts at persuasion and change. Nevertheless, over centuries, the intellectual discords between the believers and non-believers became more and more muted. The advocates of mystic idealism prevailed over  the skeptics, so that eventually, (at the popular level) each of these philosophies functioned as traditional religions with their pantheon of gods and  goddesses enticing and lulling  most into an intellectual stupor.

Thus a diverse philosophical tradition has been transformed into an ideological religion, mostly because of external pressures caused by the spread of the Abrahamic religions. Hindu theologians still debate complex philosophical ideas, just as the Christian and Muslim scholars do. But the kind of inquiry that characterized Indian philosophy during India’s rationalist period (1000 BCE to 400AD) occurs not in the religious schools but in secular philosophy classes and scientific conferences. The ancient religious scholars incorporated the arguments of the ancient skeptics and rationalists into their books because they intended to debate and disprove them. Modern Hinduism incorporates these  great philosophers into their portals because that is the best way to defend the label of Hinduism against criticism from modern rationalists. In all of this, there is no reason to believe that India’s greatest ancient philosophers and scientists would have ever restricted their ideas to a particular religion. The great atheists and materialists whom Hindus claims are part of the Hindu tradition would  have, in all likelihood, abhorred such irrelevant and torturous boundaries. Those ancient philosophers belong to the rationalist human tradition, not to the confines of the Hindu religious tradition.

Religion, Culture or Way of Life?:

If you look through the apologetic arguments presented by the scholars of multiple religions, you’ll see that much of the same arguments are used by each one of these religions to claim superiority. The most common among these arguments are the “Way-of-Life” arguments. The claim made is that the particular religion being defended is in reality a great civilization, a culture that surpasses every other that has ever existed… a WAY OF LIFE! At the time of writing this article, googling Islam “way of life” retrieves 1,570,000 hits. Christianity “way of life” gets me 3,840,000 search results. Hinduism “way of life” retrieves 766,000 hits. The internet is filled with people belonging to particular religious groups claiming theirs to be not just a religion, but a way of life. The truth is, every religion is a way of life. Every religion is a culture. Islam, Christianity and Hinduism all have left their mark on civilization. They have all stolen from civilization.

As a side note, Science “way of life” retrieves 6,140,000 search results.

I am not presenting any of this as evidence that Hinduism is not a way of life, just as evidence that all people think the same way about their own belief systems. There is no special status that Hinduism or Christianity or Islam deserves. They are all religions, acting in their own self-interest, perpetuating themselves at any cost. Next time you hear the argument that Hinduism is not an organized religion, or that it cannot be criticized using the “Western methods” you will know it is complete B.S. Hinduism is very much an organized religion, and I have demonstrated that the methods used are objective, scientific and equally critical of any system of beliefs that makes specific truth claims about reality.

The Essence of Being Indian:

The country of my birth, the land that I love, the people whom I cherish and the traditions that make me proud- all these things that make me who I am are being taken away from me because of a word. A word that is used to compartmentalize my past from my possibilities; my culture from my identity. I cannot agree with that. I do not subscribe to this artificial construct, but to a real one- a construct born of a culture that truly represents the best of our past.

How limiting to restrict the story of my past to 3,500 years, a brief moment in time! The current scientific evidence narrows down the colonization of India to ~70,000 years ago. In fact, the arrival of “modern humans”- Homo sapiens, may have led to the extinction of Homo heidelbergensis that had already colonized India, similar to the takeover of Europe by humans who displaced Homo neanderthalis.

There have existed a great many cultural and political events in the history of humans in India, most of which are not in our history books. Consider this:

Petraglia and James’ report presents evidence of creativity and culture in India starting about 45,000 years ago. Sophisticated stone blades arrive first, along with rudimentary stone architecture.

Beads, red ochre paint, ostrich shell jewelry, and perhaps even shrines to long-lost gods-the hallmarks of an early symbolic culture-appear by 28,500 years ago.

My ancestors made jewelery 28,000 years ago!

The true greatness of a culture will always be its openness to change. Such a culture is malleable and will survive where anything more rigid fails to adapt. Such a culture is free of the xenophobic behavior that institutionalized religion breeds.

Religion is like the heavy old rug in the room. The religious apologist may want the room cleaned as much as the free-thinker, but feels that the rug itself needs to be protected. So, hammering away at the metaphor, the religious apologist sweeps the dirt under the rug, intentionally or not. Religions breed a “no-questioning-allowed” spirit, to ensure their own survival. This spirit is repressive, preventing the natural evolutionary process by which bad ideas are excised and good ones imported into a culture. It is not an act of patriotism to defend every single aspect of one’s culture, by placing them all under the banner of religious protection. Sometimes it is patriotic to take the rug out and give it a good scrubbing, for the greater good of the culture. Sometimes it is patriotic to look for outside inspiration towards changing one’s perspectives. Taking India Cultureresponsibility for falsehoods perpetuated on the people in the name of religion and making a big deal out of superstitions that are keeping us a backward nation, are patriotic acts. Anyone who truly cares about a culture does not see a need to “protect” that culture from the influence of competing cultures, but rather sees a way to strengthen that culture by mutually co-operating with the others, sharing ideas and traditions. Thinking that cultures need to be protected from mutual sharing of ideas shows a lack of understanding on how cultures evolve.

Last month Raghavan Iyer who wrote “660 Curries” was on National Public Radio, and a great number of Americans got schooled on the diversity of the curries that can be found in India. I was awash in joy as Iyer explained to NPR’s American audience that the yellowish brown stuff in the jar marked “Curry Powder” has little to do with any curry you’d find in an Indian home. I am proud of the marvelous aromas, nuanced flavors and varied ingredients and cooking styles that mark the wonder of Indian curries. I find nothing wrong in promoting curry. Gau Mutra , that’s another story. Blind nationalism, like religion, tends to make people defend such backward and unhygienic superstitions as fact. The practice of drinking and bathing in cow urine is an embarrassment to India. Religion prevents people from seeing this ugly fact. Reason leads people to make their culture better and more integrated in the world community. Religion leads people to defend not just the good but also the bad qualities of a culture, ultimately harming the people.

I disagree with those who wish India to remain in this moment of stagnant conservatism that it finds itself in. I long for an India where the truly great cultural aspects of the land belong to everyone, not just to those who label themselves Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs etc. I long to celebrate the tens of thousands of nude sculptures and paintings that are the heritage of my ancestors; to read the myths of our forefathers in the light of our modern understanding of reality; to read Amar Chitra Katha and Pandava Tales to my kids as the fantastic mythological yarns that they are; to study and help translate the works of great poets and scholars from our past so that others can know them; to celebrate the coming of spring, during Pongal, and the festival of lights, Diwali, without having to subscribe to the religious beliefs that go with these cultural events (I’m happy to say that most Indians don’t care if you are not Hindu and still wish to celebrate Diwali); to care for the millions of poor and disenfranchised in the country by appealing to our common history and not by using ideology as a tool; to see our place in the world as it really is- a diverse and creative people who inhabit a chunk of land that slammed into Asia about 50 million years ago.

Let us rid our house of that dirty rug that has been allowing superstition, bigotry, hate, and inequality to fester, destroying the things that really count as the achievements of our predecessors.

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  • You are proud of India’s curries. You are proud that your ancestors made jewelry 28,000 years ago (dude. Are you serious?). Don’t you see in all this a fervent need to be proud of your unique heritage? Can’t we do away with that? It’s almost as bad as saying your religion/ideology/philosophy is better than other people’s.

    • Ajita Kamal

      This is the reason why atheism alone will never replace religion. You are calling for a complete excising of cultural meaning in people’s lives.

      Also, you are building a straw man argument, because I have never suggested that my culture is better than anyone else’s. Just because you are proud of something you have, it doesn’t mean that you think it’s better than everything else. Where exactly did you get this impression? In fact, I go so far as to say that every culture or “heritage” is unique and thta cultures don’t exist in vacuum. We should not only be proud of our Indian heritage, but of our human heritage in general. Don’t you feel a sense of pride at the achievements of other human beings? What about when your kids or your parents do something noteworthy? You don’t feel proud? Read my article on emotion and science in which I show how denying emotional satisfaction is not the way forward for the human species, if we want to get rid of religion. Emotional collectivism of a constructive and progressive kind is the basis of civilized society. Without it there would be no need for social cohesion. All emotions, including those towards family and friends, are related to this emotion. Damn right I’m proud of the fact that I’m descended (as Dawkins would say) from a long line of survivors who migrated from the plains of Africa and colonized the entire world. You can be proud of this fact. It doesn’t mean that you think that humans are better than kangaroos or whatever. Similarly, being proud that at least some of my ancestors were a refined and cultured people does not mean that I think other cultures are inferior. That would be the kind of nationalistic thinking that I’m trying to differentiate from.

      If you read some of my previous articles you would see the ridiculousness of your accusation. I call for recognition of humanity’s common purpose as greater than our personal quests. This is not a divisive perspective, as you falsely interpreted, but a unifying one. It is this perspective that will give us meaning in the absence of religion. As Sagan says, we are indeed special, because we are the universe contemplating itself. We can all be proud when humans finally set foot on Mars and when the first brain transplant takes place. We can all be proud when we listen to the opera or watch a bharathanatyam concert. Meanwhile, the only way to be a truly happy society is to recognize that our evolutionary past has made us care more for our neighbors. We have an extra fondness for things that are our creation, just like the soccer mom who proudly displays an “honors student” bumper sticker. She does not think of her son as superior to everyone else on the road. You might characterize it as “a fervent need to be proud”, but the more humane view is that it is love. A German who celebrates the fine beer perfected by his ancestors or the Belgian’s love for the chocolate of his youth, the Hawaiian’s will to protect the health of his ancestral white sands or the Quechua people’s last stance against the temptation to give up their ancient cultural practices and merge with the Spanish influence, the Parisian’s nostalgic fondness for her city or the Chinese orchestra keeping alive a thousand year old tradition, together we make up humankind. We all have our preferences. I have been arguing in the last part of the article for opening up to other cultures. But we cannot ignore our own either. We have a natural tendency to care about what is ours. The German will protect the best of his traditions and the Swede hers. I am proud to save the best of my tradition to share with all of humanity. No one among us can experience all the cultural and scientific delights there are in this world, in our brief lifetimes. That shouldn’t stop us from trying.

      The point of the last part was to show that we must not let dogmatic ideologies blindfold us into accumulating terrible practices in our culture. If I did not care about our culture why would I bother? Indeed, why would you bother even reading this? The responsibility of cultural stewardship is a two-sided problem. On one hand there are the religious fundamentalists who argue that religion must be defended, even if it is obvious that it contributes to suffering, and on the other are those who forget that we are all creatures with emotional needs, desperate for meaning in an otherwise unremarkable existence. These two extremes must meet a rational and caring middle if we are to rid ourselves of the virus of religion while still remaining human.

      • Ajita Kamal

        Group-centric altruism is both humanity’s bane as well as the reason for civilized society. The trick for humanity is to find the balance. Religious dogma usurps those altruistic tendencies, leads to the belief that one’s culture is superior and results in inter-group conflicts. Lack of altruism leads to social breakdown, emotional drought and a listless society not worth striving for. The balance is in rejecting dogma while celebrating the things that make us who we are.

  • “Emotional collectivism of a constructive and progressive kind is the basis of civilized society.”

    Well said.
    If we go far back enough, we are all descended from single cell organisms. That is a fact. But if look about 50000 years back, we are descended from humans who happened to migrate from Africa towards South Asia. That is also a fact.
    Now, which of these facts helps us more in understanding who we are today?

    • Ajita Kamal

      Thanks Krishna. I think I agree with you. I used to be a lot more reductionist when I was younger, but that was till I realized there was no such thing as absolute morality. Now I appreciate the role of culture and dialectical reason when it comes to social living.

  • “It is indeed a varied religion, with many sects and practices. There are few central principles and one could remain a Hindu and not believe in any of these principles. Indeed, you could be an atheist and still surrender to the label of ‘Hindu’ (Similar to Judaism). Why? Because everything works in Hinduism.”

    I think this is a fundamental problem that one faces while looking at Hinduism through objective lens. Since many things have no commonly agreed upon definitions, something about Hinduism could be argued as true, on the other hand its opposite could be considered true as well.

    I wonder if there ever was a study or poll conducted that posed questions like “What are the 5 things that come to your mind when the name ‘Hinduism’ is mentioned?” Such a study would really shed light on the true nature of popular Hinduism.

  • Hi Ajita,
    I thought you may be interested in the debate about your article here: http://satyameva-jayate.org/2009/05/09/atheism-spritualism-hinduism/comment-page-1/#comment-31856

    • Ajita Kamal

      Thanks Jasper. I looked at the comments there but prefer not to get involved because it could get ugly. I will however respond here to comment #35 by K. Harapriya, which was the only comment that addressed my article. I’ll break down the arguments into points, but first stating that the commenter’s accusation that I am not objective is patently false.

      1.The definition of religion: The commenter says: “Religions are usually (at least when defined by university professors as opposed to ignorant web bloggers) defined as a set of practices and beliefs held by a group where there is usually a theology behind it”

      There is one ad hominem attack here, “ignorant web bloggers” and there is a common logical fallacy as well, the argument from authority. But ignoring that, the rest of the argument is a redefining of religion in a certain subjective way. As I say in the article, I look at religion from a scientific perspective, as a subset of culture. Some aspects of religion that are extraneous to the thesis are ignored. I make no bones about this. For example, he says that theology is part of religion. No shit. I specifically say that I am disregarding supernatural beliefs in my definition- mainly because it is inconsequential to the arguments. It doesn’t affect them either way. Everyone knows that Hinduism has a theology behind it. The essence of a good argument is when you eliminate what’s unnecessary to make that argument.

      The other point is about rituals and symbols transmitted through the years. Again, this is inconsequential. Of course the other religions have these, and so does Hinduism. IT IS NOT A CONTESTED POINT.

      I didn’t see any criticism in the comment of my claims about religion itself, just nit-picking of the details with little harm done to the thesis. I essentially declared that the many aspects of religions have been diced many ways by scholars, and that I am picking these points because they offer the most insight. To this, the criticism is that I am not including the more commonly known sociological aspects of religion. I say bring it on. Hinduism satisfies those conditions more readily.

      2.Authoritarianism: I was not talking about specific authoritarian figures but about the tendency for religions to hijack the human propensity towards being led by authoritarian figures. The commenter misunderstands authoritarianism as a sociological concept, mistaking it for hierarchical organization. In psychology, authoritarianism is the tendency that allows for the kind of hierarchical organization mentioned. This tendency is re-inforced in childhood, from parents and from society. It is an essential part of who we are, but is hijacked by religious/political belief systems. Read more here.

      The article is clear that this is what Im talking about. I specifically mention that Christianity and Islam are NOT monolithic entities with a hierarchical ladder running up to one person at the top, and therefore that argument from the Hindus is moot. The ability to change one’s idolatry of a particular authority figure is irrelevant. Authoritarian personalities are an inherent phenomenon in individuals. Religions make use of this.

      3.Cognitive Dissonance: He says: “Cognitive dissonance is not a term used in psychology to refer to differing beliefs held by a group of people” and makes that the main point in his criticism of that part of the article.

      The commenter is misdirecting the focus of the argument, and lays in my lap a perfect example of how cognitive dissonance works. In the article I first say:

      “Religions succeed by maximizing the cognitive dissonance of their believers. This allows for the believers to hold onto to conflicting beliefs, without noticing their own lapses in logic. Many forms of religion can create a type of mental disorder in those who subscribe to them, causing these believers to ignore inconvenient contradictions.”

      I am clearly talking about individual believers here. The commenter (subconsciously) chooses to ignore this, while pointing to a side issue where I talk about how religion-induced cognitive dissonance leads to contradictory practices in the culture and then claiming that I believe that cognitive dissonance is a group phenomenon. It is not. It is an individual level phenomenon which has group level effects when group level beliefs are involved. I do talk about dissonant beliefs being held by individuals initially. I introduce groups level dissonance after that, because religion operates on a group level. If a significant number of believers hold contradictory beliefs on an individual level, at some point they will group up based on the direction towards which their confirmation bias leads them. Thus some Muslims may express the confirmation bias that Islam is peaceful (each one aware of the portions of the text that contradict this belief), while others will call for violence in its name (each individual forgetting the parts of the texts that oppose this). These biases are the result of cognitive dissonance on an individual level.

      Let me show you how the commenter himself has fallen prey to cognitive dissonance. The commenter must have read the lines that I just quoted from the article, and therefore known that I am aware of what cognitive dissonance means in individuals. But the commenter ignores this knowledge and focuses on a perceived distortion of cognitive dissonance, because his confirmation bias drives him to criticize my argument as false. Thus the knowledge that I have defined cognitive dissonance on an individual level takes a back seat to his dissonant belief that I have no clue what I’m talking about because I’m talking about groups. This is how confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance lead people to reach distorted conclusions. If sufficient number of people reach these same conclusions because of the same confirmation bias, that is a group level expression of cognitive dissonance.

      The last part of the comment shows the type of reasoning that confirmation bias, motivated by cognitive dissonance, creates. There is oodles of evidence of the fraud perpetuated by Sai Baba, if one only has the independence of thought to look it up. He is nothing but a conjurer, a cheap trickster, defrauding people of millions. Baba Ramdev sells quackery, injuring people’s lives every day. All this is available if only people had a questioning spirit when it comes to beliefs that they are biased towards. I don’t have the energy to go into this subject now; maybe some other time.

  • Ajita you write really well and your arguments are very impressive and I cannot help agreeing with you. India really has hope if young Indians think like you. Indian Sam Harris? :)
    On another note I am really dismayed at the rioting in Punjab as a reaction to the killing of a sikh guru in Vienna. It appears that the Sikh religious fundamentalists are no different from the Taliban or the VHP. And this is a typical example of how religion and blind faith is used as a political tool. Public property being damaged in Punjab because of something that happened in Vienna? WTF?? Maybe you should write an article on the Sikhs as well.

    • Ajita Kamal

      Thanks for your compliment, Ajit. I’m flattered. I have a lot to learn and am no where near Harris’ caliber :).
      I read about the riots you mention and completely agree with you about Sikh religious fundamentalists. The irony is that this is a conflict between two groups in the larger Sikh community and not between the Sikh community and another religious community. It’s a good idea to tackle this subject, but I don’t know squat about the Sikh religion. Maybe someone else will write about it. You perhaps?? 😉

  • Quietude, did you even read the article fully???

  • Ajitha you have a scientology google ad on this page ! :) scientology.org !

    • Ajita Kamal

      This is, unfortunately, the one drawback of using google ads. The way it works is that google automatically pulls relevant ads using crawlers that analyze the content. These crawlers cannot tell that we are criticizing religion and not supporting it. The thing is that free-thought doesn’t pay the way religion does, so most of the ads are religious ads.

      The idea behind having ads at all is to build up funds to support freethought in India. At the moment we have made next to nothing from the ads (since March, when we started showing them) but hopefully this amount will increase. We are also planning on adding a donations button. Nirmukta is not an official organization at this stage, so I will be donating the money as personal donations to various causes. Hopefully we will become a non-profit organization in the next year or two. The first donation will be made to Premanand’s Science Museum, sometime next month.

  • Good article.

    Strange you have to go to this length to define Hinduism as a religion! (It is pretty obvious).

    Bye the way, I am legally Hindu. There is no way I can be classified as “Not Hindu”. The only way that I can become a “Non Hindu” is by converting to another religion – for which I have no desire. As far as I can see there is no provision in the Indian constitution to classify some one as “Non Religious”. Is that right?

    I am curious -can some one can tell me what is the legal defention of a “Hindu” in the Indian constituion.

  • it is ridiculous to believe a Hindu can also be an atheist. It is like someone who believes in Nazism says that Stalin was a good man.

    The essence of Hinduism is trickery, deceit, superstitions, varna, caste, rituals, sacrifices(continue to this day), GODS, irrationality and i mean A LOT OF IRRATIONALITY, belief in maya, illusion and what not.
    Further there is no morality IN ANY of the Hindu scriptures be it shruti, smriti , myths, puranas or whatever that means.

    The Atheist movement we see in the Western countries(it always starts in west) is all about Rationality, Morality and most importantly Science. In this atheist movement there is an element of morality and it is not materialism. Materialism is a propaganda used by religionists against this Atheist movement.

    I dont know who Carvaka was. The bottom line is that what we call as Hinduism never considered his philosophy as important and even if it existed all i know is that it died a quick death.

    To call the Carvaka school as a part of Hinduism and then to claim yourself as an Atheist Hindu(or whatever that means) is one another means of deception so widely a trait of the entire pantheon of beliefs in Hinduism.

    So therefore I dont think there is any meaning in this word of HINDU ATHEISM….Either you are Hindu or an Atheist but not both.

  • Rupac Inca Huaco

    Brilliant analysis. I am astounded (and impressed) by your surgical savagery.

    Although I still have some mental meme struggle.

    I consciously became an atheist long back, and yet still had what you call the in-group desire.

    I rectified this by equating Hinduism with India, and thus correlating the word Indian with Hindu, just like the term originally meant. Hinduism encompasses all things Indian (and non-Islamic/Christian).

    I’m unable to see how your definition of religion does not work for nationalism. And so, I am a Hindu AKA Indian Atheist.

    If you’re able to clarify that then hopefully the conflicting memes in my mind will finally resolve themselves.

    • It is understandable that some freethinkers may pragmatically accept that the institution of ‘nationhood’ serves a provisional, intermediary function in the larger goal of advancing human welfare. To ensure that this intermediary function is not counter-productive or self-defeating, sectarian considerations of the sort religions wantonly or unwittingly promote, cannot be allowed to subvert the wider solidarity of nationhood.

      In this sense, well-meaning patriots who see patriotism as subservient to humanitarian imperatives, have very good reason to reject religious labels (The latter half of this article provides some historical illustrations). Further the ideals of nationhood can be upheld without resort to religious props (There are role models for this, as can be read in the latter half of this article).

      • Rupac Inca Huaco

        I reject all religious practices, but definitions still are playing havoc what with my total confirmation bias toward Hinduism.

        I’d like to see a rational discussion on Hindutva, considering that mentally I see it as a purely nationalistic, Jeffersonian, individual liberty movement, from which pure rationale can take hold.

        Brought up in a Hindu family, I still think Hinduism is the best way to go atheist, considering the freedom it gives to think, without explicit threats of punishment.

        Is it wrong to support Hindutva? Subconsciously when I see Hindutva, I think Indian.

        • Satish Chandra

          It depends on what you mean by Hindutva. Do you support book bans because of “hurt sentiments”? Do you support violence as a means to resolve disagreement ( and curbing freedom of speech) as the Hindutva folks seem to think? Do you endorse Swamy in taking away voting rights of people like me (Keeping in mind that Hinduism is a modern religion)?

          • Rupac Inca Huaco

            Must have been my confirmation bias that Hindutva is a Jeffersonian style cry for equal rights and freedoms for all Hindus (mentally I see indians).

            No sane (or rather, civilized) person agrees with those things that you mentioned. Although his post was a rant, which does address some deep issues among the anti-national allegiance of muslim.

            Outbursts like Swamy’s happen when there is a political correctness-oriented approach of constant blindness to the elephant in the room which does seem to causing all the major problems, islam.

            The linking of Hindutva with “Indian-ness” seems to appeal to me, since I interpret it as a fanatical adherence to our constitution and its freedoms and rights and ultimately equality for all. I agree with several things of Hindutva, such as the UCC. Is it just a religious ideology? :(

          • Satish Chandra

            Things like UCC are something that a freethinker too would endorse. But Hindutva is a lot close to religious ideology than anything rational. Any criticism of Hinduism is met with intolerance – “you are either with us or you are not”, basic human rights and freedoms be damned.

            Now you may argue that it is just a reactionary stance against persecution from other cultures. But that is an argument that has no merit. It had merit maybe 50-100 years ago. As Meera Nanda notes in her book, globalization has made Hinduism more stronger than ever. Freethinkers like me are a real minority in India and yet we don’t have the kind of persecution complex that Hindutva has.

          • Rupac Inca Huaco

            Yep, you’re right. If it were between Hindutva and some right-wing liberalism, I’d go for the latter.

            They paint the picture of the Congress as the stereotypical hypocrite, ready to sacrifice freedoms and rights in the name of “tolerance”, what they call appeasement. Which is certainly true.

            I don’t know which is reactionary to which, Hindutva to leftist hypocrisy or the other way around.

            I think I’m confusing Hindutva (or ignoring the religious aspect) with nationalism, what with my reluctance to give up the Hindu=Indian tag. Argh. Nirmukta should start a political party.

            I don’t know.

          • I think Satish has addressed many of the points you bring up. I’d just like to add one small observation. People of all religions tend to think of those belonging to other religious denominations as a homogenous entity, partly due to homogeneity bias. For example, very often in India you hear the claim that only Hinduism also includes atheism. This is untrue, considering that there are plenty of Christian atheists and even some Muslim ones. In fact, denominations like Unitarianism within Christianity are comprised of a majority atheist/agnostic folk. Religions groups such as Judaism, although traditionally requiring adherence to a god belief, are today overrun by secularists who reject such beliefs but still identify with the religion. Once we come out of our box, we can see how all these religious identities are just repressive, and we can do well to confine them to the annals of history.

  • Rupac Inca Huaco

    Your definition of religion seems to include atheism as well.

    There is definitely a group identity among atheists (probably due to the uniform ostracism from all other religions), similar to Hinduism during foreign invasion.

    The authoritarian nature and cognitive dissonance can be seen in communists.

    While it may certainly seem like I am mixing atheism and Communism, the similar argument goes for Hindu – the culture and the religion.

    • Ah, an argument over definitions! At Nirmukta, we are as much secular humanists as we are atheists. Some of us prefer to use the umbrella term “freethinkers“. Hope that clears any confusion as regards to what the word “atheist” means on this site and the relation of that meaning to authoritarianism and cognitive dissonance.

    • Shreyas Pathak

      Thats the mistake most people make! Mixing atheism with communism! All atheists are NOT communists! Communism is a dogmatic political ideology which seems to advocate atheism too, though the reverence with which communists talk about Marx and Lenin makes me skeptical about them being freethinking atheists. Communists might not believe in god but they have dogmatic, doctrinaire belief in their ideology, which resembles religion. Just because Marx, Lenin and Stalin claimed to be atheists does not make all atheists communists.

  • Funny, because Swami Chinmayananda and others in the Sankara sampradaya have been calling Hinduism a religion. Of course it is. The ‘great’ rationalist philosophers that you talk about were a bunch of hedonistic sadists (like Carvaka) who thought it was fine for people to enjoy sense enjoyments even when they were in debt. An economists nightmare = Atheism and its uglier counterpart, rationalism.

    • Pray tell us where the hedonistic sadism is in the tenets of the Charvakas. The excerpt linked to is not the Charvaka’s own sugarcoated spiel to get good press, but an acknowledgment of considerable merit in some of their positions by Madhava Vidyaranya, an Advaitic pontiff and hence an opponent of Charvaka worldviews by definition. Hyperbole of some sort is the staple of both evangelism and polemics, which means that ghee-guzzling debtor illustration ought to be taken with a pinch of salt as well (which asks for less latitude of interpretation than apologists accord to themselves while weaseling out of uncomfortable scriptural passages).

      • What other source of Carvaka text exists exactly? Wow. This is the first time I’m hearing of this. You have shown that you clearly have not read even the first chapter of sarva-darshana samgraha properly. So you admit that this is an uncomfortable scriptural passage for you. I’ve not weaseled out, I am answering you to the best of my knowledge actually. If others have done so, I am not aware. Do you have any texts of the carvakas that show a high degree of moral integrity? How is ghee-gluttony in debt not an instance of hedonistic sadism?

      • In the quotes attributed to the Charvakas in the first chapter of the Sarva Darshana Sangraha,there is a vigorous critique of resource-draining ritualism and a shift of concern towards human deprivation in the here and now. In this sense, there is a concern for human well-being that is not quite conspicuous in the ritualism of the time and the social organization that perpetuated it. One may choose to conveniently latch on to the rhetorical flourish of the dissolute debtor by wantonly missing the sayings of a conscientious critic in those verses. All this outrage over the self-destructive ‘sadism’ of the ghee-guzzlers seems so conspicuously lacking about the institutionalized oppression which the Charvakas lambasted with those carticatures. What apologists have to say about institutionalized oppression is not way off these lines from a recent role-play article:

        Varna dharma is a result of thousands of years of experimentation which lead to an efficient society. Sure there are aspects of it for misery porn aficionados to lust after, but doesn’t Karma dictate that such deprivation is fully justified?

        How’s that for hedonistic exceptionalism and targeted sadism?

        In fact, it is because discussions like these so quickly slide into the ‘You-can’t-even-read-properly’ kind of snides and personal attacks that a decorous role-play had to be written up in the first place (which is being criticized in our circles, I think rightly, for making apologists sound overly reasonable).

        • “All this outrage over the self-destructive ‘sadism’ of the ghee-guzzlers seems so conspicuously lacking about the institutionalized oppression which the Charvakas lambasted with those carticatures.”
          Institutionalized Brahminism is vehemently opposed. So is unregulated materialism.
          “Sure there are aspects of it for misery porn aficionados to lust after, but doesn’t Karma dictate that such deprivation is fully justified?”
          No, it doesn’t. It says its a natural consequence. Justification is a man-made conception – a useful one, but this word does not capture the essence of the meaning.

        • “In fact, it is because discussions like these so quickly slide into the ‘You-can’t-even-read-properly’ kind of snides and personal attacks…”
          the intention was to point out that one chapter was not properly read rather than generally stating “You can’t even read properly”. Although it is tempting to generalize by saying so now, it will be avoided since ad hominem attacks lead nowhere and are not at all agreeable. The first chapter presents the Carvaka worldview and actually does not criticize accept offering the view that “the majority of living beings hold by [this] refrain”. The second chapter offers a refutation based on Buddhist philosophy. The criticisms of the author of the Lokayata are evaluated and considered, but not accepted. Regulated views of materialism need to be offered and no such view was offered. In fact, statements like
          ” That the pleasure arising to man
          from contact with sensible objects,
          is to be relinquished because accompanied by pain— such is the reasoning of fools.”
          is absolutely true. Not all instances of pleasure arising from senses leads to pain. No alternative is given however as to how to regulate the pleasures that do later give rise to pain. Or perhaps there was and it got lost. We may never know. It was for a lack of philosophical rigor that this ideology did not gain favor and still does not by a majority of people.

  • The other thing is that when you talk of Hinduism, you are talking about a diverse set of beliefs. They are all rooted in Vedanta and Yoga, which is where you should try to make arguments against (although you will lose). Not puranas, smritis etc. where superstitions abound. The other thing is that Vedanta is NOT dogmatic as you try to portray it. Vedanta advises. People are left to decide whether they want to get drunk at bars or work intelligently and honestly. So far as Vedanta and science is concerned – imagine a society that did not have the technology or integrated central funding. How can science be practiced? The scientific method was not applied. I agree. But hypotheses were made which were later tested once a more rigorous method became prominent, mostly in the western world. Even in the Eastern world discoveries were made, but certainly not to the level of detail. The contention is with first finding. The contention is with labeling ancient Indians uncivilized or ignorant which they certainly were not. If you read Sushruta Samhita (it is not Vedantic, I am only making a point about science in ancient India) you will find primitive discoveries about anatomy and physiology. Yes, they lacked the depth and detail of modern science. So what? Aristotle, archimedes et al. did not have very in-depth scientific insights either. How come they get a name in the history of science and Sushrata, Aryabhatta etc. do not? Inquisitiveness and rational enquiry was part and parcel of ancient India. But the point is Vedanta (the core of Hinduism) isn’t here to go into the nitty gritty of every thing. That is not the purpose of Vedanta. Would you expect science to answer the question of how the recession came along? Or why a movie flopped at the box office. It is not in the purview of Science to do that. Science teaches us that we ARE matter. Vedanta teaches us that we ALL matter. Hope that clarifies.

    • Vedanta teaches us that we ALL matter. Hope that clarifies.

      No there is no clarification here. To say that such all-out materialism (rejection of immaterial soul) is identical to Vedantic teaching, couldn’t be farther from the truth. This and related points are addressed in this previous comment.

      Vedanta advises. People are left to decide whether they want to get drunk at bars or work intelligently and honestly.

      Why can’t folks here then be left free to discuss naturalism and humanism without having to contend with so much reproach and sermonizing from adherents of Vedanta, such a supposedly freedom-granting school of thought?

      • As for the quest for Brahman.

        Ajita Kamal had the same misconceptions about Vedanta as other Indian atheists I have come across. “Vedanta makes blanket statements and assertions of this physical world being an illusion without providing one shred of evidence to support such brazen claims.”
        Vedanta NEVER said that the world is an illusion. NEVER. Illusion is an English word that has been used to describe Maya. A better translation of Maya is false perception (hence the rope and snake analogy). The snake is NOT an illusion. The mind has attributed this label to something that is benign. Similarly, we make subjective statements about objective reality. That is Maya. That is not always wrong, but then we fail to see things as they are. Hence paper notes are called wealth and are desirable. Once you get rid of the government officials’ signature they become worthless. Once otherwise undesirable stones are dug from filth and mud and polished, they become worth something. When in fact, objectively speaking they are nothing but stone. Vedanta is extreme objectivism (better than what you atheists think you can muster up) so that we can have a progressive and peaceful subjective experience. It is not shunning the value of material objects, but placing human values above them.

        Read up on Sam Harris’ views on consciousness(one of the so-called four horsemen of atheism). He might not believe in Brahman, but he does insist that it would be spectacularly foolish of atheists to ignore the fact that there is a severe disconnect between consciousness and matter. Read up on Qualia and Self by VS Ramachandran and another ‘horsemen’ Dan Dennett and then convince me that Vedanta is not a rational way of looking at the world as people like Ajita Kamal so vehemently denied.

        Finally, even though Brahman is not experimentally verifiable (or has not been verified yet – or maybe it has and we don’t even realize it) it is a working theory that Vedantins go by. It is not an altered sense of reality or a delusion. Would you call a scientist pursuing a hypothesis-driven experiment deluded if he has not been able to demonstrate his hypothesis? Of course, there are problems with this analogy that I do realize. For one, there is a loss of time and effort if the scientist is not able to support his claims. However, in the path of Vedanta there is no loss – even if we can’t demonstrate the existence of Brahman. There is only gain.

        • Most accusations of ‘mischaracterization’ of the Vedantic position have been addressed previously here. It is not that we can’t tell the difference between the unfalsifiable and the falsifiable and it is because of this awareness that we find false equivalences between the Scientific Method and mystical traditions to be laughable. It is not that we don’t care about decorous discourse and efforts towards self-growth either.

          As for Prof. V S Ramachandran, here is more.

          There has been enough material provided in this very comment-trail to afford a suitable stock-taking of which side it is whose positions have been more grossly mischaracterized.

          • “It is not that we can’t tell the difference between the unfalsifiable and the falsifiable ”

            Good. Stop funding the monstrosity called the Large Hadron Collider immediately then. It sucks up way too much money anyway. But no, there is still that pathetic thing responsible for its very existence (which you mock spiritualists
            for) – HOPE. That you will find a theoretical particle. Perhaps it will be informative, perhaps it will be found – but for the moment its existence is also one of those ‘not even wrong’ arguments, just like Brahman. Why was LHC funded if Higgs boson is hypothetical? Ahh, because it had the label of ‘scientists’ working behind… validates the money vortex. So now, the new excuse – we can find other sub-atomic particles. Brilliant. Nice way to milk people. Hmmm…kind of like the evil brahmins.

            “Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender to God) features in the list of Niyamas in the Patanjali Yoga system. These qualifications insisted upon by traditional Vedantic schools include some traits which are not particularly seen as strengths by those adopting Science”
            Several people adopting science are vedantins. You’re not a spokesperson for Science, shockingly.

            As for your Ramachandran link. I’m afraid that for every instance of his that you provide (the link you provide is still supporting advaita, to your regret) I can give a stronger instance of him supporting Vedanta.
            “As someone who was born in India and raised in the Hindu tradition, I was taught that the concept of the self—the “I” within me that is aloof from the universe and engages in a lofty inspection of the world around me—is an illusion, a veil called maya. The search for enlightenment, I was told, consists of lifting this veil and realizing that you are really “One with the cosmos.” Ironically, after extensive training in Western medicine and more than fifteen years of research on neurological patients and visual illusions, I have come to realize that there is much truth to this view— that the notion of a single unified self “inhabiting” the brain may indeed be an illusion. Everything I have learned from the intensive study of both normal people and patients who have sustained damage to various parts
            of their brains points to an unsettling notion: that you create your own “reality” from mere fragments of information, that what you “see” is a reliable—but not always accurate—representation of what exists in the world, that you are completely unaware of the vast majority of events going on in your brain.”
            Ramachandran and Blakesee, 1998

          • I think it is clear that it is the Vedantic view that has been mis-characterized. Anyway, I will rest. Tomorrow is a busy day. Will be back later.

          • Satish Chandra

            I think it is clear that it is the Vedantic view that has been mis-characterized. Anyway, I will rest. Tomorrow is a busy day. Will be back later.

            Well, it is clear that you have succesfully “defended” Vedanta. So no need to come back.

          • Prof. V S Ramachandran studies what have been called religious experiences from a naturalist and reductionist perspective. In a chapter devoted to such studies in Phantoms in the Mind, he finds the hypothesis of an actual Presence called God to be the least useful among four for investigation (the others being psychiatric disorders,amygdalar projections to sensory cortices, and limbic seizures). A limbic seizure may produce very compelling sensations and a sense of ultimacy for a patient undergoing them, but does not offer a privileged view into objective reality. So much for the New Age claims that neuro-theology studies like those described by Dr. Ramachandran somehow are a failure of eliminative materialism and demand supernatural explanations.

            A scholastic interest in scriptural records of such experiences is of course to be expected in a researcher like Dr. Ramachandran and this doesn’t amount to a concession that those are true. As an analogy, the Greeks who thought the sun was the chariot of Helios could still trace the sun’s travel through the zodiac and this is of interest to us even as we now know it to be a fusion reactor. Likewise, the description of the impact of a limbic seizure in terms of poems of ‘divine ecstacy’ by a mystic of antiquity is still of historic interest. To misconstrue such an interest in Prof. Ramachandran and suggest that it is the ecstatic outpourings and metaphysics in the scripture that draw him, makes about as much sense as saying that historians of Greek astronomy are Helios worshippers. In Aristotle’s words, it is the mark of an educated mind to examine a thought without accepting it.

          • Who said Ramachandran believes in God? I have no interest in a personal, judgmental, I-laid-down-laws-and-you’re-condemned-to-eternal-hell-if-you-don’t-accept-them god, which is usually what is meant by god. That is a tiny god and Vedanta couldn’t care less about that god. Read the Nasadiya Sukta and tell me that you don’t think the ancient seers did not appreciate the grandeur and poetry of existence, nature and reality. The God (with a capital G) of Vedanta wasn’t something blurted out in a state of a limbic seizure by these mystics and contemplatives. It is, as said earlier, a ubiquitous human expression. If this is a limbic seizure then all forms of awe and wonder igniting scientific enquiry are limbic seizures also. An appreciation of natural phenomena, consciousness and selfless compassion are humane and these are the God of Vedanta. Prajnanam Brahman. So how can it be said that “A scholastic interest in scriptural records of such experiences is of course to be expected in a researcher like Dr. Ramachandran and this doesn’t amount to a concession that those are true” when in fact he explicitly mentions that “I have come to realize that there is much truth to this view”! This isn’t as supernatural as rationalists make it out to be. The link regarding the numinous is appreciated. It is my understanding then that secular humanism wants to market the notion that it can fill the void in human psyche that religion also claims to fill. That’s fine. But the competition has to be fair then to declare a winner – IF it really is pertinent in the first place. Which it probably isn’t that pertinent.

          • I think I have said enough. I can see that my presence is not appreciated and so will stop posting.

          • Satish Chandra

            I think I have said enough. I can see that my presence is not appreciated and so will stop posting.

            What took you this long? Tired of trolling?

        • Satish Chandra

          then convince me that Vedanta is not a rational way of looking at the world as people like Ajita Kamal so vehemently denied.

          Indeed, Vedanta is so rational. Here’s a perfect example:

          As I have told you before, the minds of the people from whom the Vedas came were intent upon following principles, discovering principles. They had no time to work upon details or to wait for them; they wanted to go deep into the heart of things. Something beyond was calling them, as it were, and they could not wait. Scattered through the Upanishads, we find that the details of subjects which we now call modern sciences are often very erroneous, but, at the same time, their principles are correct. For instance, the idea of ether, which is one of the latest theories of modern science, is to be found in our ancient literature in forms much more developed than is the modern scientific theory of ether today, but it was in principle. When they tried to demonstrate the workings of that principle, they made many mistakes. The theory of the all-pervading life principle, of which all life in this universe is but a differing manifestation, was understood in Vedic times; it is found in the Brâhmanas. There is a long hymn in the Samhitâs in praise of Prâna of which all life is but a manifestation. By the by, it may interest some of you to know that there are theories in the Vedic philosophy about the origin of life on this earth very similar to those which have been advanced by some modern European scientists. You, of course, all know that there is a theory that life came from other planets. It is a settled doctrine with some Vedic philosophers that life comes in this way from the moon.

          The rational principle of Vedanta is – perform a reviosionist reading so as to accommodate current understanding of the world and then pose “profound” questions, confound, and then declare with piety that Vedanta is rational.

      • I never said anything about all-out materialism or rejected an immaterial soul. I said that we all matter, not we ARE matter. That is not far from the truth. Read Manishapanchakam of Sankara and Bhagavad Gita Ch 5 v 18. Oh wait, no you won’t. Then you would risk educating yourself on Vedantic thought.

        “Why can’t folks here then be left free to discuss naturalism and humanism without having to contend with so much reproach and sermonizing from adherents of Vedanta, such a supposedly freedom-granting school of thought?”
        What is there to discuss about naturalism and humanism? The only reason you discuss is because we exist! That’s funny. The only reason you discuss anything is because you see our philosophy as a threat. You are clearly not a group discussing science alone, otherwise you would not give your opinions on sociology, spirituality and politics. Atheism can not be discussed unless there is a theism. Humanism can not be discussed unless there is a transcendentalism. So if you can attack transcendentalism and offer strawman arguments like you have done in the past, then we have to defend. Again, we won’t force our opinions. But we will defend them. I am not sermonizing you on anything. Did I tell you how to live your life? I really don’t care about what you do in your spare time. I do care if philosophies that affect my lifestyle are being attacked, without considerable thought. Hence my presence. Nice to meet you. :)

        • Satish Chandra

          Of course you are the great defender. As if atheism is a mainstream position and the greatest horror on Earth has been unleashed by the evil atheists. That is why in India you can’t even put in “No religion” in most official forms.

          • No. It is not a mainstream position. I never said that the greatest horrors have been unleashed by atheists. I am saying its adherents (!) can not point fingers at religion and call for its demise (don’t tell me you don’t believe this, I have read enough to know you want this) because some religious people did heinous acts in the name of religion. A tiny bit hypocritical.

        • Humanism can not be discussed unless there is a transcendentalism.

          Tolstoy thought so too, but we have an alternative conception that does not resort to transcendental hypotheticals but is driven by ethical imperatives.

          Sanatana Dogma is a kind of transcendentalism that is often obviously at odds with humanism and why this is so can be read in the comment trail of this article (which has sufficient participation from a self-styled transcendentalist as well, thus putting paid to ‘echo-chamber’ laments)

        • Read Manishapanchakam of Sankara and Bhagavad Gita Ch 5 v 18. Oh wait, no you won’t. Then you would risk educating yourself on Vedantic thought.

          Nobody here is scared of the ‘risk of educating oneself’. Here is more on the Bhagavad Gita and the Maneesha Panchakam too. Also, this post places verse 5:18 of the Bhagavad Gita in its historical context of the ‘Upanishadic revolution’ against Brahminical exceptionalism and orthodoxy.

  • Let me show you based on your own criteria how secular humanists/atheists can be categorised as following a religion also
    1. Group Identity. Most Hindus are against labels too. But you have to call yourself something. You call yourselves atheists or secular humanists or whatever. Why do you do that? Isn’t that a label too?
    2. An authoritarian strain. If a janitor advised you on how to run an experiment would you listen to him or a scientist? Authority exists at several levels not to subjugate, but to guide. Swamis and gurus are counselors, not dictators. You would obviously not want to hear a lawyer explaining quantum mechanics to you. A physicist on the other hand would be a better authority to approach on the matter.
    3. Cognitive dissonance. Atheists are also under the cognitive dissonance that atheism itself has not lead to mass murders, violence etc. as Dawkins, Hitchens et al. would have you believe. History tells us otherwise. Albania violently persecuted Xians for following their religion. Soviet Russia the state expropriated all church property, including the churches themselves, and in the period from 1922 to 1926, 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 priests were killed (a much greater number was subjected to persecution).
    You still believe that atheism has done no harm. THAT is cognitive dissonance. The only reason that examples are few is because atheist states have been few. But ALL the atheist states that have existed have harrassed, harmed or discriminated against religious people.

    By your own criteria, atheism is a religion. Proved.

    • Bill Maher explains in this video ‘Atheism is NOT a religion’, how, though rationalists may not be immune to the failings of human nature, they don’t revel in these failings and take it to the point of sickness as the faithful do. And before reflexively typing something to the effect that Sanatana Dharma is immune to the sort of criticism that is leveled against, say Mormonism, consider reading this and this.

      • How do we revel in failings of human nature exactly?

        “Far from repudiating hereditary privilege, the scriptures of this faith hold that the circumstances of one’s birth are not accidental but indicative of acquired merit;”
        How is it not a privilege to be born into a family of scholarly and wealthy people? Why should anyone repudiate hereditary privilege, instead of appreciating being born into a family that can provide with resources for one’s well-being? You confuse me. Also, the verse you have quoted from the Bhagavad Gita might be indicative of something seemingly supernatural, but once again – it was an explanation for why different people (even babies!) are born with different tendencies. This is not acquired merit. It is an acquired neurological state. It’s actually funny that you show a video by Prof Ramachandran that talks about Gandhi neurons to try and refute an invisible tenant of goodness, but he says this in the very video you linked(I think this might explain the question at hand) “you’ve dissolved the barrier between you and other human beings, THIS FORMS THE BASIS FOR EASTERN PHILOSOPHY…you are quite literally connected by your neurons…there is no real distinctiveness of consciousness… This isn’t mumbo-jumbo philosophy, it emerges from our understanding of basic neuro-science” Who’s to say that the Qualia associated with the matter/neurons of a person are not recycled into another body? If someone disproves this, then we can argue about this. For now, neither you nor I have a say in this. There are several gaps in our understanding of consciousness and Self and what gives rise to both.

        “and far from treating all humans as deserving of dignity, holds the view that belonging to a certain occupation (or gender!) is itself an indignity !”
        Wrong. The papa-yonayah refers to people born from sinful deeds of which they are not responsible for eg out of wedlock. Sanskrit did not have punctuation marks to differentiate papa-yonayah, [comma] women, merchants, shudra. On top of it you have made a strawman argument! I’m getting tired of correcting people on this verse. It does not say it is an indignity, it says that such worldly-minded or busy people can also become Self-realised… not just the brahmins. In fact, this is a strong refutation of the supposed caste system that Vedanta had given rise to.

        • How do we revel in failings of human nature exactly?

          By recommending and rewarding infantile behaviour and paternalistic establishments

          By discouraging examination of the biases via which privilege perpetuates itself

          – By treating arguments from ignorance about the nature of Consciousness as on par with findings established by the Scientific Method

          • “- By recommending and rewarding infantile behaviour and paternalistic establishments”
            Swami Vivekananda –
            ‘one is responsible for the miseries one suffers. If I set the wheel in motion, I am responsible for the result. And if I can bring misery, I can also stop it. It necessarily follows that we are free. There is no such thing as fate. There is nothing to compel us. What we have done, that we can undo…’ (no infantile behavior recommended)
            ‘Why are people so afraid? The answer is that they have made themselves helpless and dependent on others. We are so lazy, we do not want to do anything ourselves. We want a Personal God, a Savior or a Prophet to do everything for us.’ (no paternalistic tendencies recommended)

            “-By discouraging examination of the biases via which privilege perpetuates itself ”
            Swami Vivekananda –
            ‘Our aristocratic ancestors went on treading the common masses of our country underfoot, till they became helpless, till under this torment the poor, poor people nearly forgot that they were human beings. They have been compelled to be merely hewers of wood and drawers of water for centuries, so much so, that they are made to believe that they are born as slaves, born as hewers of wood and drawers of water. With all our boasted education of modern times, if anybody says a kind word for them, I often find our men shrink at once from the duty of lifting them up, these poor downtrodden people.’
            ‘Ay, Brâhmins, if the Brahmin has more aptitude for learning on the ground of heredity than the Pariah, spend no more money on the Brahmin’s education, but spend all on the Pariah.’ (analyses a social hierarchical structure that perpetuates hereditary factors as a ‘privilege’ and yet places emphasis on more responsible behavior to counter-act pre-established stereotypes and “mutually cause each other to behave more responsibly”)

            “- By treating arguments from ignorance about the nature of Consciousness as on par with findings established by the Scientific Method”
            Quite the contrary. I have provided you with evidence that although there is no concrete conclusion as to the nature of consciousness, what is known is that we all develop a sense of reality by virtue of a mind that superimposes its views and values on an objective world. There is evidence that consciousness is connected. How is this not on par with scientific findings exactly?

        • It does not say it is an indignity, it says that such worldly-minded or busy people can also become Self-realised… not just the brahmins. In fact, this is a strong refutation of the supposed caste system that Vedanta had given rise to.

          During the curricular saffronization of the late 1990s, there was a news report about how a history textbook in a BJP-ruled state had something to the effect that “Akbar was a good king even though he was a Muslim.”

          Why do I bring that up now?

          Let us read that contentious verse again. To say that “Anyone can benefit from the teaching even though they maybe women or shudras” is contemptuous of women and shudras for the same reason that saying “”Akbar was a good king even though he was a Muslim.” amounts to casting aspersions on Muslims. The underlying pejorative connotation in the verse is hard to miss by anyone but conditioned apologists.

          • This is comparing apples to oranges. The statement in the history textbook mentioned is clearly pejorative since it directly implies that belonging to a faith impedes good leadership.

            The verse in the Gita is not pejorative. Consider the following statements.
            “He took time to spend with his son EVEN THOUGH he had a packed weekend.”
            “She obtained a good education EVEN THOUGH she faced financial difficulty.”
            These are in no way offensive.

            Similarly, women, merchants and harijans have more important things to do than sit and read the nitty-gritty of Vedic philosophy. This was socially desirable at the time and I would say it still is. I would rather an industrialist make crucial (and fruitful!)financial decisions than to sit for hours in a day meditating or reading shastras or sitting idle contemplating. If s/he can find the time to do so it is their choice and it is no one’s business to tell them what to do.

    • Just because someone gives an answer it doesn’t mean that it is a logical one. I never even mentioned Stalin, Pol Pott or Hitler, so why you even give me something to read about them baffles me. I think you are the one that needs to do some reading on state atheism and how it IS the Atheism that has caused the crime. Don’t hide under your fallacious logic of moustaches and all to try to justify atrocities. I have heard this time and again by you people… “Oh, well the crimes were not committed because of an atheistic ideology.” Yes they were.

      • Satish Chandra

        Maybe you should educate yourself on what communism is really about.

        • Satish Chandra

          And then take some time to learn about contemporary ethics instead of building exquisite strawmen.

          • This is a typical game played by atheists. Communism is given the blame for immoral acts, when in fact, it has nothing to with communism or socialism truly speaking.

          • Satish Chandra

            How many atheists today would support persecution? And how many religious people would? Theirin lies the answer to typical games.

        • What does communism have anything to do with this? Do you really think that it was only communist regimes that were violent against religions? Do you really think that capitalist regimes are incapable of atheistic thought and persecution of religious groups?

          • Further more, do you think that religious communists don’t exist? In fact, communism was initially formulated by Christians. I think you are the one that needs to be educated on Communism!

    • “How many atheists today would support persecution? And how many religious people would? Theirin lies the answer to typical games.”

      That’s a poor argument at best. How many devout hindu stay-at-home moms would support persecution? How many Protestant pastors would support persecution? I can’t put a number on this and neither can you BTW. To imply that a majority (or all) of atheists today would not support persecution is a self-assured statement. Even if this were true, so what? Who’s to say that in the future there can not be atheist dictatorships or tyrannies committed by atheists out of greed? Or do you have a crystal ball to look into and tell people that all will be fine if everyone becomes atheist. Even your great hero Richard Dawkins does not believe that all crimes and atrocities will come to an end with the end of religion (alone in his opinion).

      • Satish Chandra

        The moral code that people follow dictates how many would allow persecution. Didn’t I ask you to read up on contemporary ethics?

        • “The moral code that people follow dictates how many would allow persecution.”
          Not as simple as that. There is such a thing as hypocrisy, finding excuses etc. These are influenced by the environment. Moral codes and principles are (just like genes) always under constant selection pressure. Beliefs in and of themselves do not dictate anything. Characters and innate or developed traits do.
          “Didn’t I ask you to read up on contemporary ethics?”
          Well, apologies for not devoting time to this and having a life other than starting and maintaining organizations on false premises out of resentment. There is no need to read up on contemporary ethics since the problems are self-evident but the solutions are diverse and contradictory. Especially since no single strategy can alleviate suffering – natural resources will be used up, people will die and get diseases and so forth. I’m more interested in a subjectively deterministic view when it comes to facing challenges rather than to have a group of ‘rationalists’ tell me that they have an answer to ethical dilemmas. A realistic approach in understanding that we have to make the best of what we have while living rather than arguing endlessly and then trying to convince everyone to voice a monotonous and carbon-copy opinion on complex issues. Sounds more cult-ish than coherent. Science backs up a view that we are driven to certain social protocols due to certain memes passed on through generations and it seems that the ones that are most suitable for collective survival are selected for. Even evolutionary biologists abhor this naturalistic view – quite naturally, ironically! Yet, the claim is that we as a species choose the laws and codes that best fit our survival and contribute to well-being. Certainly, a discussion over values is the most important discussion of all. But discussions will only end when humanity does. I have more important things to do.

          Finally, a link to ‘Morality of free-thinkers’ on an insignificant web forum where voices and opinions are lost in a sea of ‘my opinion is right because it is supported empirically’ is not an adequate reference to a vast and diverse a field as contemporary ethics.

          • Satish Chandra

            It is quite evident what kind of important things you have to do – like trolling “insignificant” websites for one.

          • I knew this would be the retort. It really doesn’t take me much time to ‘troll’ (ie provide logical critiques against the views in this forum). It does take time to split hairs over whether it is morally acceptable to adopt children of different races. This is where I couldn’t care less. Attack on fundamental human principles to seek the numinous is something I do care about. Even atheists like Hitchens and Harris feel that it would be a great mistake to not investigate this properly and be ignorant of a ubiquitous human experience by calling it hallucinogenic or irrational.

          • Satish Chandra

            Even atheists like Hitchens and Harris feel that it would be a great mistake to not investigate this properly and be ignorant of a ubiquitous human experience by calling it hallucinogenic or irrational.

            It is indeed an experience that is ubiquitous. So ubiquitous that religion actively hinders it.

          • Apropos nurturing the numinous and seeking opportunities for self-growth, similar complaints have been addressed here and here.

  • Satish Chandra

    And here’s some more uber-rationality of Vedanta:

    All the actions that we see in the world, all the movements in human society, all the works that we have around us, are simply the display of thought, the manifestation of the will of man. Machines or instruments, cities, ships, or men-of-war, all these are simply the manifestation of the will of man; and this will is caused by character, and character is manufactured by Karma. As is Karma, so is the manifestation of the will. The men of mighty will the world has produced have all been tremendous workers — gigantic souls, with wills powerful enough to overturn worlds, wills they got by persistent work, through ages, and ages. Such a gigantic will as that of a Buddha or a Jesus could not be obtained in one life, for we know who their fathers were. It is not known that their fathers ever spoke a word for the good of mankind. Millions and millions of carpenters like Joseph had gone; millions are still living. Millions and millions of petty kings like Buddha’s father had been in the world. If it was only a case of hereditary transmission, how do you account for this petty prince, who was not, perhaps, obeyed by his own servants, producing this son, whom half a world worships? How do you explain the gulf between the carpenter and his son, whom millions of human beings worship as God? It cannot be solved by the theory of heredity. The gigantic will which Buddha and Jesus threw over the world, whence did it come? Whence came this accumulation of power? It must have been there through ages and ages, continually growing bigger and bigger, until it burst on society in a Buddha or a Jesus, even rolling down to the present day.

    And then, the one truth that chases away maya:

    All this is determined by Karma, work. No one can get anything unless he earns it. This is an eternal law.

    When compared to this, Vedanta is so rational and scientific. A wise guy once said this to science – Tat tvam asithat science are Vedas. What an eternal truth realization.

      • Satish Chandra

        Meh. Find me a neuroscientist who believes in contra-causal free will. And in the nonsense called Karma.

        • You have a nice way of jumping from one topic to another when I show you the fallacies in your arguments. Esp with regards to communism, ethics, and this time free will and not being able to discriminate that ‘life comes from the moon’ is a poetic statement, could have well said life comes from the Sun and still would have been true, in that sense. So, now you move onto karma! What if I told you that karma is a cause-effect relation and has nothing to with some supernatural mumbo-jumbo like you make it out to be? Take the butterfly effect, for ex. A classic instance of karma. I have already talked about re-incarnation with your friend so won’t repeat that again. Collective actions fructify in individual or collective benefits/losses. Only a dope would deny that. That’s called karma and it’s self-evident. For the Hindus that do think there exist supernatural laws for karma etc. I don’t speak for them. You can ask them about their beliefs.

          • Satish Chandra

            Accumulate bad Karma, and pay for it. But what if you die before you pay for it? So the logical conclusion is there is an entity which survives after you die, and keeps tally of the karma. And then pays for it in the next material manifestation. I didn’t make that up btw. You are the resident expert on Vedanta. So you should know.

      • Satish Chandra

        And I’m surprised that you didn’t misinterpret Dennett’s free will compatibilism and flaunt it as if it exonerates Vedanta’s nonsensical beliefs.

        • I’m not interpreting any scientist/philosophers views on free will and saying they support Vedanta. Don’t put words in my mouth. I was pointing out that the ‘illusion’ of free will is not a settled matter in science and for you to selectively cherry pick an article (written by a plant biologist of all people) and imply that it supports a universal opinion is ludicrous. Rationality is limited because people’s minds are limited, as you can now clearly see, since rational people disagree on same issues. You don’t seem to be a scientist since you are biased in your approach. Whereas I can actually come out and admit that several things in the Vedas and Upanishads are poorly worded, sanskrit as a language has poor punctuation and that Vedantic beliefs on certain matters might be wrong, you don’t sit back and analyze that perhaps your views are based on an emotionally charged rhetoric, like desiring an end to religion and calling anyone that offers a different and elucidating standpoint a troll.

          • Satish Chandra

            Contra-causal free will is a settled matter in science.

          • As long as you are in the network of time, space and causation, to say you
            are free is nonsense, because in that network all is under rigorous law,
            sequence, and consequence. Every thought that you think is caused, every
            feeling has been caused; to say that that the will is free is sheer
            nonsense. It is only when the infinite existence comes, as it were, into
            this network of Maya that it takes the form of will. Will is a portion of
            that being, caught in the network of Maya, and therefore “free will” is a
            misnomer. It means nothing-sheer nonsense. So is all this talk about
            freedom. There is no freedom in Maya. – Complete works of Swami
            Vivekananda Vol 3, ‘The Free Soul’

          • although i myself don’t agree entirely with Vivekananda… i am open to debate on this

          • No contra-causal free will in Vedanta –
            When we speak of free will, we mean the will is not caused by anything. But
            that cannot be true, the will is caused; and since it is caused, it cannot
            be free-it is bound by law. – Complete works of Swami Vivekananda Vol 8,
            ‘I am that I am’

            I only mention this now because I read a new post by Sam Harris on his facebook page and thought I would share. Like I said, I am not convinced entirely… but then again I haven’t read the science thoroughly

          • Satish Chandra

            The “causal” in Contra-causal free will means causality in a materialistic deterministic Universe. CCFL doesn’t mean that the will isn’t caused by anything. It means anything caused by that which doesn’t fit in a materialistic deterministic Universe.

            A lot of semantic acrobatics can be performed when it comes to free will. Only by expanding meanings of words can flaws in reasoning can be found out. Vivekananda’s world is not the same as that of science. So you can’t merely compare words without comparing the context.

            “Such a gigantic will as that of a Buddha or a Jesus could not be obtained in one life, for we know who their fathers were. “ is a valid statement in Vivekananda’s world. It is a will that is bound by maya and hence not “free”. But it is also a will for which there is no scientific evidence. That is why it is contra-causal.

          • maya by definition means material, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.

          • Satish Chandra

            Is this also “by definition” – Whence came this accumulation of power? It must have been there through ages and ages, continually growing bigger and bigger, until it burst on society in a Buddha or a Jesus, even rolling down to the present day.?

          • Uh…Yeah…
            just like Carl Sagan was adamant that the Earth was a ‘pale blue dot’ instead of the ‘third oblate spheroid shaped planet from the star at the center of the solar system’. Maybe we should erase all of the geography textbooks and educate all of those third standard students about the splendor of this pale blue dot! Poetry is expressed all the time.

            Let me translate the verse for you
            “The karma of past people (collective actions) accumulates into an environment conducive to the birth of people like Jesus, Buddha (and Newton and Pasteur also mind you) and their contributions are felt to this day”

            Maya is the perception of matter (I state more accurately), it has a material basis and thereby it functions on a material plane. Even VS Ramachandran has talked about Maya. It is what Vivekananda meant when he said there is cause behind free will. Nothing spooky about maya in the way you want to spread around in public.

            Maybe you can get a sense of why I accuse you and your fellow grouches of misrepresenting Vedanta. And why people call rationalists arrogant. Arrogance is stubbornly speaking out of ignorance.

          • Satish Chandra

            That is your revisionist interpretation. And one that is conceited enough to ignore non-human factors (Quite similar to some mullah saying indecent women cause earthquakes). Even if I consider your revisionist interpretation, the statement No one can get anything unless he earns it is still absurd and at odds with science because some people do get somethings without “earning” them. That’s how nature operates. “Bad” people do live happily until the end of their life. “Good” people do suffer till their last breath.

            Let me see what kind of apologetics you will cook up to get out of that one.

          • No it is not revisionist, several gurus have this interpretation of collective karma. As for a supernatural karma force that magically surrounds the universe, I have already told you and made it clear that I don’t subscribe to that view. Not every Hindu believes in everything in the sastra. According to one’s temperament, one follows sastra. No other religion allows this. Shastras give us guiding principles, not dogmatic axioms. As for the age old “why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa” lament; stuff happens. End of story. Like I told you. Not everyone subscribes to the notion of a supernatural cause to questions like this. In fact, people like Swami Dayanandji have said it IS rather conceited to think that good things should happen to anyone. Swami Krishnanandji has echoed this. Who are we to categorize good and bad, and why would the universe (maya or prakriti more precisely) care? Weak people go by the “why me” mentality.

            As for the often pinned ‘apologist’ label. I don’t justify each and every statement in Vedanta. To me some principles (among many others) hold truth, which you won’t find in any science class today (unless the teacher gets a little nostalgic!). One is that we are all connected, by some way or the other. The other is that seeking, inquiring etc. are common human traits that should be encouraged even if it involves seeking something that is numinous. The third is the mind has to try at least to master the senses rather than the other way around. Finally, do the best we can and take the fruits of our actions as and when they come. Equipoised in success and failure. Only few books teach all of these principles together. There are many other principles that I value. Then there is the culture itself, that I don’t want to lose because I enjoy it. I don’t impose it. But if it is deliberately targeted I make my opinion heard. At the same time, I am not like one of those saffron brigade bigots from Bajrang Dal who have shot Dharma in the foot.

            Neither am I like a mullah who says God is punishing people with natural disasters because of their paapas. That is a superstition that has little support from Upanishads. None of my friends believe this either. In the puranas yes this is mentioned. But puranic literature has always been criticized by non-dualists. I couldn’t care less for them. The message is important. Not the story.

          • Satish Chandra

            Since your minority revisionist position abdicates the ugly aspects of Vedanta, any rationalist who points out the ugliness in the majority view is a grouch? And the majority view includes people like Vivekanada who did believe in CCFW. A rose by any other name and all.. If you have any doubts as to who is the minority/majority, I suggest this questionnaire to settle the matter.

          • Well, on certain issues I try to point out to some of my Hindu friends themselves some of the wrong notions they have about their religion. Take for eg Vaastu. So are rituals for boons as per your questionnaire. These are actually not even mentioned in (at least not in a pleasant tone) in, say, the Gita which is so venerated by the same people who practice these sort of nonsensical things. These are a majority of people I agree. But they have no relevance to Upanishadic thought. I don’t hold back punches when attacking astrology and supernatural karma etc. only to bear the wrath of a few of my superstitious friends. Whereas supernatural karma does have a basis in Upanishadic thought, even that has to be superseded. Then why should anyone believe in it? These are the points I ask other Hindus. I agree that it is a majority. It is a majority that can not even name the prasthana trayi (or even know what it is) and what role these texts played in shaping vedantic thought. The reason I call you grouches is that, correct me if I’m wrong, but unlike atheists of the west who seem to be ok with private spiritual tenets, you seem to be against ALL forms of spiritual inquiry. Even something as liberal as Vedanta.

          • Satish Chandra

            Non-Indian atheists don’t get to see the reality of what kind of a society Vedanta has lead to. And the reason you call us grouches is, correct me if I’m wrong, because you (and a few others) believe that you are the only true Scotsman and nobody else should dare point out that there are No True Scotsman.

          • Satish Chandra

            As an example of the society that Vedanta creates, I challenge you to show me a decent portion of Vedantins who support affirmative action. Given absence of CCFW, and given that you fully understand what that absence means, seeing the validity of the premises that lead to affirmative action is a no brainer.

          • i don’t know what kind of society you are talking about. I’m assuming you mean a combination of 1) A superstitious one? Certainly. 2) A one where caste system is followed? Yes, in rural areas mostly then why haven’t the governments past and present stopped the classification? 3)One in which hindu terror is on the rise? Yes. None of these are a result of Vedantic (esp. advaitic) philosophy. 1 is a result of local beliefs or traditions and they are harmless until they are commercialized or politicized. 2 is a result of manipulating a simple, natural classification system by some greedy individuals and was first denounced by Indians long before foreign intervention. 3 is a result of communal tension and group labeling. There are political and historical reasons for this.

            Believe me, I have come across ‘the bajrang dal and vhp activists are not true hindus’ rhetoric myself. Like I said previously, according to one’s temperament one follows scripture and that is allowed, so long as it does not cause harm or stunt the growth of individual and society. A society of zombies is not possible (thankfully). You yourself stated previously “how many atheists today would support persecution” and “the moral code that people follow dictates whether they support persecution”. I showed you that even secular humanists will vary in their beliefs, decisions and actions regarding each and every aspect of life. When you have people who share a belief and identity with you but then are detrimental to society, you are cornered into making statements like ‘ well none of us would do that now’ or ‘true ABCians wouldn’t do that’. The problem lies in the labeling. As a scientist I get this also. X scientist lied about cloning human embryos therefore scientists are corrupt. Generalizations and counter-generalizations are easy to make but the truth is more complicated than that.

            But you haven’t clarified the issue. I get a sense that you’re contention is not just that there are no true vedantins, but rather that there should be no vedantins. As for affirmative action, I don’t think that vedantins have been surveyed to know about a ‘decent’ portion. I would like to see that done myself. Although, I still think a majority would support affirmative action even though they can be superstitious. There are people, like Francis Collins for ex, who know when to disconnect their faith side from their reasoning side.

          • Satish Chandra

            Yes, in rural areas mostly then why haven’t the governments past and present stopped the classification?


            Although, I still think a majority would support affirmative action even though they can be superstitious.

            My experience has been otherwise. The evidence I can cite is the vehement opposition to Mandal Commission from the “enlightened” classes and of course present day anti-reservation sentiments.

          • I have thought about these issues also. I think instead of reservations, why can’t the govt generate universities with majority seats for people of SC/STs? The issue is with what one of the people in the video has said. Mandal Commission etc. should be on basis of income, not caste. This is unfair to poorer SC/STs also, since the richer people belonging to SC/STs will anyway have the resources for studying and obtaining the qualifications for getting admissions/jobs. This is a vicious cycle! The only way to get around this is to generate institutes of higher ed tailored to SC/STs and to make income based reservations. As for the brahmins in the video – they are sadly mistaken. Our monks know better. They have fought for centuries to end this


          • Satish Chandra

            Mahesh, I had guessed as much and your arguments only prove my point. I’ll end the discussion from my side with this link – http://balagopal.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/REPORTS_This-Anti-Mandal-Mania.pdf

          • This perhaps answers why you feel vedantins don’t support affirmative action. The issue is because a reverse discrimination happens. I have seen the reverse discrimination also. This can only end if the caste system is eradicated and people are educated. It is happening.

          • Satish, if reservations can rid of the caste system I am all for it and will shout from the rooftops when it succeeds in eliminating the caste system. I look forward to that day as much as you. Anyway, I guess this is my cue to stop. I enjoyed this (very long) discussion, even though you probably didn’t :) Bye… take care

        • Finally, if Vivekananda was talking about luminiferous ether then he was wrong. But read what he says ether is. It’s a language problem. You can call it whatever you want. The fact is that there is a widely held belief that matter can be explained by a single principle. Hence the elusive Higgs boson, Bell theory, M-theory’s cosmic music resonating through hyperspace (read Michio Kaku) and Vedantic prana. To dislike a word just because it is said in a language other than english is disingenuous. To further distort a tradition’s views because of prejudice and the fact that science is coming closer to accepting its core beliefs is propagandist and biased. A passing glance at a high school textbook teaches more (and accurate) science than Nirmukta, and doesn’t end up brain-washing readers either. Hate groups like yours eventually perish, even if you take up the banner of ‘Science’.

          I told you I was not going to post anymore since a discussion seems out of the question and it is rather incredulous of you to start provoking once I have said I would not ‘troll’ again. That is pathetic forum etiquette. Then again, you probably need a few hundred more ‘trolls’ like me to teach you a thing or ten about Vedanta and science.

          • Satish Chandra

            Hate group? And can you show me in which school text book one can find this?

            Ergo, troll. QED.

          • Satish Chandra

            I told you I was not going to post anymore since a discussion seems out of the question and it is rather incredulous of you to start provoking once I have said I would not ‘troll’ again. That is pathetic forum etiquette.

            This is an open site. I was making a point about the cherry-picked rationality of Vedanta. You do have the option of not visiting this site.

  • What a beautiful peice of article. Simply beautiful. I wish Ajita Kamal were still alive today. What a mind! Just what a mind! His life ended too quickly, he could have gone farther, but we must make sure his writings and spirit of freethinking continues.

  • Nice article. But the website seems to be a bit biased towards one religion alone. That is not good. Anyway, in my opinion, pagan religions/way of life need to be celebrated rather than bashed up like this (science is one way of worshipping/understanding nature if you will). At its core philosophy hinduism is a pagan religion. Our ancestors devoted 40% of the vedas to a drug (the soma), scientifically studied the universe to the best they could do at their time (especially in infinite series), studied the body through yoga and on and on. The most important thing is that hinduism got the most important part of sex right; it never demonized it but celebrated sex. shiva lingam is a penis in a vagina. Cannot get more graphic than that! I am not an apologist or religious, but there is merit to following a fun way of life celebrating nature in every possible way. In this philosophy science is never a problem as it only increases understanding of nature. Somehow I feel that this might have been the state at some point in India’s past, before the urge to control people took over the need to just relax and enjoy life.

    • Satish Chandra


      Are you sure that you aren’t projecting your own biases on to this site?

      And are you talking about the same Hinduism that the article is talking about? The article goes into a great bit of detail on what is a religion and in what way Hinduism fits that bill. If you still think your notion of Hinduism is the same as the one in the article, you might be interested in this questionnaire.

      • I gave my opinion. Does that qualify as bias straightaway for you? I thought different viewpoints were welcomed. U r quick to classify me as an apologist, I am not apoligizing for anything. In any case, I am not religious; I interpret the world through mathematics and empirical experiments. This is my profession. And yes, whether you like it or not, our ancestors were obsessed with infinity in a spiritual, philosophical sense and interpreted it through the math of infinite series. These approximations to complex numbers forms the backbone of numerical alegbra in this computer as I type. And yeah the article is flawed in interpreting hinduism as one umbrella. iyers and iyengars dont get along to begin with. very different from abhramhic faiths which go by the book. I was rferring to the cultural aspects of the past that this article refers to

        • Satish Chandra

          And yeah the article is flawed in interpreting hinduism as one umbrella. iyers and iyengars dont get along to begin with. very different from abhramhic faiths which go by the book.

          It appears you haven’t read the paragraph in the article starting with “Most Hindus (perhaps subconsciously) view Christianity and Islam as monolithic entities with a single chain of command leading all the way to the top.”

          • Unifying on cultural identity against an external influence is extremely different from being unified at the end of a sword to follow one book. It appears you have no idea on how different religions were consolidated and formed. ‘Hindu’ is a new term. There are too many different faiths within faiths in hinduism. It was never united to begin with; rather forced due to invasions and geopolitics. The abrhamic faiths (other than jews) were literally forced down the throats of natives the world over. If truth is a bias, then yeah, I am biased. Which part of Im not religious u didnt understand? All I see is that you go after one religion, as you go after the other, well you are no longer a ‘free thinker'; you will be just another hindutva guy. And this should give you pause so u can see the irony in the level of debate on one faith vs the other. As an atheist, all faiths are on the table. Selective targeting is highly suspicious and shoddy. unless u r an apologist for islam or xtianity…

          • Satish Chandra

            It appears you have no idea on how different religions were consolidated and formed. ‘Hindu’ is a new term.

            I’m aware of that. This article says as much.

            Now, so what? We live in the present where the ills of Hinduism plague us. Just because a religion was more bad many years ago, and just because one religion is more bad today, and just because you want to indulge in what-aboutery, this site should stop criticizing Hinduism? And saying “selective targeting” is a laughable claim. One of the my links point to articles on this site where other religions too get criticized. And do go through our network before making ignorant assumptions.

      • in fact my views line up with the last para in this article. however, if you turn your lens equally on all religions, the first thing to note is that not all religions are equal. the desert religions are more barbaric. while the article itself states that indian philosophers were debating serius stuff, till about 400 years ago, one would be put to death for mentioning anything other than the book. This has never been a part of hinduism. Unifying on cultural identity is extremely different from being unified at the end of a sword. this is probably why the abhrhamic faiths have not been mentioned much in thi article. I recommend you watch Sam Harris’s videos when he compares religion. A fanatic iyer or jain or buddhist, while he might be superstitious and believe in outdated knowledge, is different from a fanatic abahrahamic follower.

        • Satish Chandra

          the first thing to note is that not all religions are equal.


          There is no doubt that in these current times Islam takes the prize for religious aggression promoted using strict authoritarian behavior, but the power of aggressive Hindu leaders to exert authoritarian control over their followers is undeniable.

          So what exactly are you disagreeing with? The fact that Hinduism is being shown for what it is? And just because something worse exists than Hinduism, doesn’t mean that you ignore Hinduism. There is a ton of literature criticizing Islam and Christianity. Not so much on Hinduism. Surely there are better things to do than to duplicate efforts. But what this all simply confirms is your bias for Hinduism.

          • Like I said, I am against a ton of crap in hinduism; I am a fee thinker myself; but I agree with the last para; there is much in our history that is actually of value. The bashing going on here overlooks the key difference in hinduism vs other faiths: hinduism is cultural ethos as well, meaning that a lot of day to day items have symbolic meaning. It is impossible to disentangle life from hinduism, from food to clothes etc. So while I am with you in crtiquing some of the nasty aspects of hinduism (wife eating after husband for example), the same religion also gave us the kamasutra that I am very proud of. That was a scientific text. But cultural and religious. It is not easy to disentangle something that was part of the fabric of civilization. So I feel you guys tend to overlook that aspect. However, it is easy to leave abhrhamic faiths, as everything goes by the book. Walk away from the book and you are done. Its not that simple with hinduism. You cannot walk away from the sweets,foods, festivals etc etc… Also, the critique is extremely one sided. And this I suspect is due to the fact that if u critique other religions, well u r another hindutva guy.

          • Satish Chandra

            “The bashing going on here overlooks”

            As I said, that is just your projection of your own biases. The “ton of crap” that you are allegedly against is what gets bashed here. Nothing else. If you had actually bothered to read the articles I linked to, you would have noted that there is nothing against Indian culture per se. In fact, the good aspects of it are celebrated. You can be proud of Indian culture and still be against religion. The two are not mutually exclusive.

            Also, let’s apply the very same standards you use to conflate Indian culture with Hindu religion to Christianity. All the music, art, literature, rituals, ceremonies, festivals produced over the years in Europe and other Christian societies are an intrinsic part of Christianity. Part of the fabric of those civilizations. There are many people who don’t go by the book but still consider themselves as culturally Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Ignoring all that and simply asserting that only Hinduism is linked to a culture is the very epitome of being wilfully ignorant. It is rank delusion to believe that every Christian lives by the book. A freethinker lives by logic, reason and science. Not by delusions.

          • So are you commanding me on how to be a freethinker? Wow, you are no different than the religious zealots. The very epitome of reason is conversation. Starting off on the assumption that I am an apologist (which I am not), you then proceed to attack rather than debate a point. FYI, my work is in producing science based on logic and reason, which no doubt is useful to us to frame our arguments, so you are preaching to the choir. In fact, I would probably make the claim that I know more about science than you, so I dont need any lectures on this point. My bias is the truth, and the truth is that this website is selective to one religion. If you are a freethinker, all religions are on the table and yes, the truth is that all religions are not the same. The history and politics at the time of that’s religion’s creation greatly influence the underlying message. A bunch of hippies getting high at rishikesh and coming up with some stuff while praying for rain is radically different from a geopolitical movement to unite middle eastern tribes. If this basic first step is beyond your comprehension, it is hard to further this debate. For example, 99% of christian festivals were not christian to begin with. These are the pagan rituals of the conquered and subjugated peoples of Europe when Constantinople and the Church was aggressively consolidating their empire in the ‘dark’ ages where free thought resulted in death. Islamic poetry and science in the first few centuries was the product of the persian people, who were always creative, but islam claimed it as their own after conquest of persia. And then the stronger Islam grew, the more this was suppressed coz as usual, the results of the science greatly conflicted with the book. Notice how judaism did not suffer the same fate, again for different geopolitical reasons. You have to contrast this with the philosophical debates at the same time in the subcontinent when most of the philosophy was formed based on a spirit of rational enquiry and science rather than blind superstition. And there was no standardized book in the subcontinent philosophy but many different philosophies; which is the biggest plus point if you ask me. The minute you have a book and a set of rules, things are going downhill. I have argued enough with ISKCON devotees that their view of the world is only a little bit better than the taliban, but that s a conversation for another day. Going by the facts, the foudning principles of all religions are not the same. I dont see why that basic fact evades you. Now you can critique aspects of all religions (self immolations in buddhism vs jihad) but once you skew your lens, your output is going to be questioned. Read hitchens, harris or dawkins: they go after everything. However, when you start showing your bias, then you dont have the courage of your convictions. Like I said, I strongly suspect that since coming across as a islam basher is a politically incorrect thing to do these days, this website takes the easy way out. The biggest gripe I have with this artcile is that it treats all religions equally and then proceeds in its assesment of hinduism. This is flawed. Forget hinduism (which is just a consolidated term), all pagan religions (like heresy or heritism in europe and Zoroastrianism in iran) are straight away better than the ‘book’ religions; the founding principles are important. Stating this obvious fact does not make me an apologist, but its the truth. If you now choose to skew the truth to fit your arguments, then thats your bias. I suspect that this enables the writer of this article to then critique hinduism in a manner similar to other writers who have critiqued the book religions, but that approach is flawed. The reason hinduism today seems to be united as it were in India, has more to do with nationalism and politics rather than the religion itself. But these same nationalists have a tough time pulling out passages from the ancient texts to justify their unity and thus resort to the history and a perceived sense of injustice. Contrast this with the book religions which explicitly give rules on how to go about consolidating the mob based on divine order. These are important points that you and the author seems to ignore and I dont know why…However, once we move beyond these points, I strongly agree that practices in hinduism needs the ridicule it rightly deserves, starting with raahukalam which has ruined many of my morning sleep times in my childhood.

          • Satish Chandra

            I have no reason to doubt that you are here as a Hindu apologist. There are different shades of apologists and your kind conflates Hinduism with Indian culture, and takes affront when the former is criticized believing it to be an attack on the latter.

            In all your whining, you don’t have a single shred of evidence to support the claim that Indian culture is bashed here. All that gets bashed are the irrational aspects. You have to be truly deluded to believe that Hinduism doesn’t share any aspects with other religions. The article lists what those aspects are. A proper “debate” would involve you stating which premises of the article you disagree with.

            But you have your pre-conceived notions. You ignorantly stated that this site doesn’t criticize other religions. You are just too lazy to follow up on the links I provided. Here are a couple:


            Some “conversation” you are interested in where you can’t even be bothered to read what the other interlocutor is saying. All you are interested is in preaching your view point.

            You then whine about “attacks”. It is no different than what Dawkins, Hitchens or Harris would do. I guess you are fine with it as long it is directed towards irrationalities in other cultures. But when it is directed towards your culture, you get butt-hurt and think I’m “commanding” you. Btw here’s an article from this site, by the same author, featured on the Richard Dawkins site addressing tone trolls like you – http://old.richarddawkins.net/videos/5414-is-richard-dawkins-arrogant-ridicule-passion-and-the-%C3%A2%C2%80%C2%98new-atheists%C3%A2%C2%80%C2%99

            And before pontificating, maybe should go and read the books of Dawkins, Hitches and Harris again. A tiny fraction of their books deal with Hinduism. Not surprising as people criticize what they are familiar with. This site does the same. Most criticism is on Hinduism and some on other religions.

            And this community is part of the out campaign run by the RDF and members have provided translations in Indian languages. But you will still whine that this site is selective, because at the end of the day, you are a Hindu apologist who doesn’t like it when Hinduism is criticized.

  • I am not scholar on this, just a random reader here actually. I respect everyone’s views here and am writing this in complete humility. whenever they talk of Hinduism as a way of life, they mostly talk about the diversity which, as you have told here, exists quite a lot in other religions too. but one thing that does strike as unique is the tolerance factor. right from protecting the persecuted parsi community to not burning heretics, mostly( there are cases indicating otherwise of course, I am not denying that, but they are undoubtedly very less than those by Muslim and Christian armies.) no disrespect intended,once again. I’m saying we wouldn’t kill Galileo or simply refute Copernicus and Darwin. in fact, science too had been acclimatized in the religious sphere to quite an extent. of course now, religion has smothered it by applying “Hindu” tag, I agree with that. and the other thing that Hinduism does not focus so much on conversion. because those people talk about these things who believe that only they are right. and this kind of ‘with us or infidel-heretic-doomed’ stance seems to make religion more like a political tool, and makes way for violence too. so this acceptance, does set hinduism somewhat apart, doesn’t it ? (i am not saying better or worse, just apart) so it still looks different from other religions in a big way. wouldn’t you agree ?

    • Captain Mandrake

      I have to respectfully disagree with almost everything you said.

      Conversion: Well, Hindus are just as much concerned about conversion as Muslims and Christians. If Hindus are truely not concerned with conversion they should not make a big deal out of Muslims and Christians evangelising the Hindus. The fact that they do make a big deal out of it means that they are not the tolerant enlightened people you make them out to be. Besides, what do you mean Muslims and Christians are focused on conversion. If that is true shouldn’t India be entirely Muslim or Christian what with hundreds of years of Muslim and European rule. The fact that India is not entirely Muslim or Christian seems to suggest that Muslims and Christians are not as focused on conversion as you make them out to be.

      Tolerance: Didn’t Hindus kill a lot of Muslims in Gujrat recently? How about the destruction if babri masjid? So I disagree with you on tolerance as well.

      • Captain Mandrake

        Oh, and another thing I forgot to add to the tolerance part. The cruelties of caste system seems to set the Hindus somewhat apart from Muslims and Christians. In that sense I agree with you.

        • first and foremost, sir, the caste system is a SOCIAL ISSUE, not a religious one. it is a social inequality given a religious sanction by those in power to make its enforcement efficient. you can check any authentic source for that. before the French revolution the kings preached the theory of divine rights of the king, saying that the king is king because god has made him so and therefore his word is god’s will and so on. so will you say that the atrocities on commoners was committed by Christ and Christianity? no. it was a social inequality given religious sanction. there is a difference between the two.there exist hundreds of such examples in the Islam and Christianity, far more atrocious, but that is not what I intend to discuss there. that is the people and not the religion. secondly, I am not wrong on the conversion issue, maybe I just couldn’t get my point across. Islam and Christianity simply refute the existence of any other faith than theirs. for them there is only their god and their way is the only way to reach him. rest anything and everything is wrong.there seems a certain element of bigotry there. Hinduism seems to accept that there are more than one ways to reach god and one may pick any one of his own choice. no one may force their will on other. that is why you won’t even find Hindus trying to convert any one. the reason they do make a fuss out of the conversion issue is because of the fear of loss of one’s religious identity. there is still tolerance there. because there is a difference between protecting oneself and attacking others, which I was talking about. and of course I do not make Hindus to be angels. gujarat and babri masjid as you have mentioned are shameful examples. I’m not talking about the people, but the religion, the theory. thanks for being respectful. I appreciate it.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Ok, whenever I point out the horrible flaws is Hinduism or Hindus you tell me that it is a political problem or people problem not a religious problem. Couldn’t a similar argument be made for Islam and Christianity? May be conversion is a political problem and not a religious one, ie if it can be called a problem at all in the first place.

        • I would argue that caste is also what prevented Hinduism from becoming a proselytizing religion. Buddhism which shares a few with things with Hindusim has been co-pted by modern day Hindu missionaries as being part of the ‘grand dharma’. But Buddhism is essentially a proselytizing belief system. They travelled far to spread their faith.

          So what stopped Hinduism from following Buddhism? Ambedkar says it is the caste system. I tend to agree with his analysis.

  • i dont know if one can call the hinduism as any of the three. it definitely cannot be called as religion as there are too beliefs , folk and scriptural and everyone wants to differ from the other. it cannot be called a culture either as there r innumerable cultures in india clubbing them all into one is just foolish. and when it is this varied it cannot even be called as “a way of life” . and there is nothing like a group identity with this much diversity , everyone wud just b
    many hindus/indians r stratified and divided by many social aspects like castes, region, language, belief . one can hardly see any unity among hindus or indians. and any little unitedness they show just seem like a facade or it just fades away very fastly.
    it just seems like the word hindu or hinduism or being a hindu are all oxymorons.
    hindus r trying to create a group identity as a means of survival and to compete against well organised abrahamic religions. hindu idiots just donot realize just how much oxymoronic it is.

    • Captain Mandrake


      i dont know if one can call the hinduism as any of the three. it definitely cannot be called as religion as there are too beliefs , folk and scriptural and everyone wants to differ from the other.

      Well, Sunnis and Shias believe in different tenets. These sects further split into several subsects. Similar schisms can be found in Christianity as well.

      By your logic Islam and Christianity can not be called religions either.

      it cannot be called a culture either as there r innumerable cultures in india clubbing them all into one is just foolish.

      But culturally an Indonesian Muslim is lot more different from a Uighar Muslim than are any two Hindus in India. The Mormon Christian from Utah is also culturally very different from a Coptic Christian from Egypt.

      It is foolish to say that cultural diversity is unique to Hinduism.

      it just seems like the word hindu or hinduism or being a hindu are all oxymorons.

      Not really. But people who think so can be called morons.

      hindus r trying to create a group identity as a means of survival and to compete against well organised abrahamic religions.

      It is less about survival and more about xenophobic hatred of Muslims and Christians.

      • “Not really. But people who think so can be called morons.”

        So we’re allowed to make sarcastic remarks to each other, but not the author?

    • Captain Mandrake

      BTW, did you even read the article?

      • i’m not really expressive here but my point here is it cannot be anything , neither “a religion” , culture nor “a way of life”

        • Captain Mandrake


          i’m not really expressive here but my point here is it cannot be anything , neither “a religion” , culture nor “a way of life”

          I fully understand what you say. I also understand the reasons behind the point you make. But can’t we make a similar if not identical point about Islam and Christianity? That these are not religions, cultures or way of life?

    • Abhi,

      You are spot-on, kudos! Hinduism is certainly a religion, but it is the world’s youngest and is practiced mostly by members of the Indian diaspora and the Sangh Parivar.

      Captain Mandrake’s objections don’t hold that well. His assumption that any two Hindus are more similar than an Indonesian Muslim and an Uighur reflects a middle-class bias. Certainly, a Madiga priestess has very little in common with a Kashmiri pandit.

      What we are told constitutes Hinduism simply doesn’t exist for the most part– the staggering amount of Sanskritic works are not referred to as “scriptures” by most, karma is more of a theodicy than a worldview (as anthropologists corroborate), and most have scarcely heard of an entity called “Brahman.”

      Academics are divided into two camps. While both agree with the above objections, one side claims that Hinduism is a useful heuristic while others claim that the concept distorts phenomena “on the ground.” Below are a few works one could look at, if interested.

      1) Unifying Hinduism by Andrew Nicholson– argues that “Hinduism” started to form in the Middle Ages due to the philosopher Vijnanabhikshu

      2) Orientalism and Religion by Richard King– says Hinduism was a product of orientalism

      3) Was Hinduism Invented? by Brian Pennington– he argues that Hinduism is a useful concept

      • Captain Mandrake



        You are spot-on, kudos! Hinduism is certainly a religion, but it is the world’s youngest and is practiced mostly by members of the Indian diaspora and the Sangh Parivar.

        What is Abhi spot on about? Abhi says the following which seems to disagree with your view on what Hinduism is.

        it definitely cannot be called as religion as there are too beliefs , folk and scriptural and everyone wants to differ from the other.

        As to your reference to my comment about cultural diversity.

        Captain Mandrake’s objections don’t hold that well. His assumption that any two Hindus are more similar than an Indonesian Muslim and an Uighur reflects a middle-class bias. Certainly, a Madiga priestess has very little in common with a Kashmiri pandit.

        Sure a Kashimir pandit has very little in common with a Madiga priestess. But are the cultural differences between these two Hindus more significant than the cultural differences between any two Muslims? Are you sure?

        But why are we debating this point. Abhi made it sound as if cultural diversity was unique to Hinduism. But is cultural diversity unique to Hindus? That really is the question I posed to Abhi. The thing about Uighar Muslim and Indonesian Muslim was just used as an example of cultural diversity among Muslims.

        The larger point that was being made is that there is nothing exceptional about Hinduism when it comes to diversity in culture or in beliefs. If we can not call Hinduism a religion or a culture because of some kind of diversity then we can not call Islam and Christianity a religion or a culture either for the same reason.

        • Hi Captain Mandrake,

          Perhaps I should backtrack and make myself more clear so that we are operating on the same definitions.

          I do not believe that there was any such thing as a “Hindu” (in a religious sense) or “Hinduism” for the great majority of Indian history. This concept originated in the confluence of European colonialism and the aspirations of the Indian middle class. I believe that the VHP and the Sangh Parivar is actively trying to read history in such a way that “Hinduism” exists. Conveniently, Hinduism is a word of colonial origin, so the Sangh Parivar has had to invent a word, “Sanatana Dharma,” to proxy for it to show that it existed in the past.

          You mentioned Islam and Christianity. What gives Islam and Christianity unity is the fact that the followers of these faiths call themselves Christians and Muslims and felt some sort of group identity. Even if Sunnis felt that Shias were “doing it wrong” or if Protestants felt that Catholics were “doing it wrong”, they at least had a category to refer to.

          If we look at India’s past however, we see no religious label corresponding to “Hinduism” (or in fact, a word for religion). If you delve into the past, many “Hindu” schools had more in common with Buddhism than other “Hindu” schools– the astika/nastika dichotomy is relatively late. Even Adi Sankara, who today is considered quintessentially Hindu, saw more eye-to-eye with Buddhist philosophers than Vedic Mimamsa philosophers.

          So the issue is not about whether Hinduism is a religion or a culture or what not. There simply is no Hinduism. No concept like it has held the sway of Indian thinkers before Vijnanabhikshu at the earliest, and given that there are few good definitions for it, it cannot be a useful concept. The proposed definitions of Hinduism also don’t hold water– that is, “the worldview including varna, dharma, karma, moksha, etc.” This is a hodgepodge of views that anthropologists and sociologists cannot find “on the ground–” if this is Hinduism, then most of India, including most Brahmins, cannot be Hindu– the only practicing Hindus, by this definition, belong to the Sangh Parivar.

          Look forward to hearing from you.

          • Sorry for the long post. But quoting from the article itself:

            “Hinduism would probably not exist if it wasn’t for Islam and Christianity… The Hindu identity is in part a reaction to the collective out-group status assigned…”

            I definitely agree with this, though I don’t think Christians had much to do with it. But I also don’t think the Hindu identity exists at all! Many people whom I have spoken to did not know that they were Hindu until they had to fill out an application. Kancha Ilaiah, the Dalit writer, did not know it either. I think Hindu identity is growing, in part due to government policies, another part due the Sangh Parivar and our modern conceptualization of religions, but it’s still not there yet.

          • Captain Mandrake


            I do not believe that there was any such thing as a “Hindu” (in a religious sense) or “Hinduism” for the great majority of Indian history. This concept originated in the confluence of European colonialism and the aspirations of the Indian middle class.

            So what? The origin and the spread of Islam and Christianity would have also depended on a confluence of various historical and social events. What is so special about Hinduism?

        • Well, the point I’m trying to make is that the denomination of “Hindu” means nothing to most Indians. As a man once told me, “I did not know I was Hindu until I was 16. For me, Hindu is just a tick-mark on government applications.”

          You ask what is “special” about Hinduism. I don’t really know how to answer that question because it assumes that something called Hinduism exists. I have argued in previous posts that this is not the case. Here on Nirmukta, the definition of “Hinduism” that is worked with is really a 19th century invention adopted by the middle class and rich. It hasn’t trickled down. To prove that Hinduism exists, you need to 1) give a definition, and 2) prove that the umbrella is meaningful to those you call Hindus.

          Anyway, thanks for the discussion.

          • Captain Mandrake

            Well, the point I’m trying to make is that the denomination of “Hindu” means nothing to most Indians. As a man once told me, “I did not know I was Hindu until I was 16. For me, Hindu is just a tick-mark on government applications.”

            Interesting anecdote. Are you sure I will not be able to find someone who says the some thing similar about Islam and Christianity somewhere in the world.

            You ask what is “special” about Hinduism. I don’t really know how to answer that question because it assumes that something called Hinduism exists.

            HAHA! You use a bunch of reasons to claim that Hinduism does not exist. Could someone not be able to come up with similar if not identical reasons to also claim that Islam and Christianity does not exist?

            I have argued in previous posts that this is not the case. Here on Nirmukta, the definition of “Hinduism” that is worked with is really a 19th century invention adopted by the middle class and rich. It hasn’t trickled down.

            Again, So what? May be various versions of Islam were also 8th, 10th, 13th century inventions that trickled down to various parts of the world and adopted by various strata of the society in various ways.

            Why is “Hinduism” any different from “Islam”?

          • You say you can make similar arguments that Christianity and Islam are not religions.

            Well why don’t you make them? That’s the whole point of the discussion isn’t it? :)

            Interestingly enough, Wilfred Cantwell Smith argued that we shouldn’t talk so fervently about abstractions like “Islam” or “Christianity.” People still do, though. It probably makes more sense to talk about empirical realities anyway (i.e. this swath of people does this and believes this.

          • Captain Mandrake


            ** Well why don’t you make them? That’s the whole point of the discussion isn’t it?**

            It has been repeatedly made. Let me try again. Ashok says that Hinduism is an invention from 19th century and it hasn’r trickled down enough so it can not called a religion. By the same token I can say Islam is an invention 8th century and it has not trickled down enough so it can not be called a religion. If that does nor convince you then hoe about Scientology which is a 20th century invention which has not trickled down enough but is still considered a religion.

            So what is so special about Hinduism that you are reluctant to call it a religion?

          • Captain Mandrake

            Previous post should have been addressed to S and not to Manav.


          • Hmm well the point is not that it hasn’t trickled down “enough.” I’ll explain myself a little further, but I think Manav made a great point a little further down.

            The point is this: if you define Hinduism as “karma, dharma, moksha, etc.” and all the stuff we are used to the VHP saying, then most of India is not Hindu. This is empirically true.

            If you define Hinduism as the religion of those in India who are not Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, etc. you end up with a mess, because there is no unity there– and more importantly– for most of history, UNITY WAS NEVER IMPOSED by the Indians themselves. Especially, you run into problems when asked why Jains should not be considered Hindus.

            To see where I’m coming from, Manav’s exercise is probably best. Let us define Asianism. Using your reason, what does Asianism have that Christianity and Islam don’t that make it not a religion?

          • Satish Chandra

            The point is this: if you define Hinduism as “karma, dharma, moksha, etc.” and all the stuff we are used to the VHP saying, then most of India is not Hindu. This is empirically true.

            Remove Hindutva and you’ll actually find that the belief in “karma, dharma, moksha” is a pretty good indicator of being Hindu. Those are what that regularly influence Hindus in their day-to-day life. Be it the perfomance of various rituals and regular visits to temples to avoid bad karma/score good karma, the preference (however small) for a male child who can deliver them from limbo, the pilgrimages that most elder Hindus take up, the post death rituals, the donations to religious institutions that a majority of Hindus consider as money well spent (regardless of whether they themselves have donated), the recital of pious literature and the mere act of listening to such recitals, poojas etc.. I could cite a lot more, but I think you get the idea.

          • Well Captain Mandrake,

            I have to say that if you believe that, you are empirically wrong and that the opinion of the overwhelming majority of academia is against you. I cannot say more than that.

            As I said earlier, your statements reflect an urban, middle-class, and upper-caste bias.

            I won’t go into detail this time. Why don’t we start with karma. On the ground, noone is preoccupied with “good” or “bad” karma. Karma is not considered something to accumulate to better one’s station, but rather, a theodicy to explain away one’s suffering. An anthropologist who visited a village in Tamil Nadu commented that “karma” was often used as a synonym for “fate that one cannot control–” indeed, the very opposite of what karma is supposed to be in Sanskritic literature.

            Also, to claim that there is any uniformity in rituals across India is to privelege the Brahminical Sanskritic tradition over local traditions that continue to thrive, let alone the variation and mutually exclusive camps in the Sanskritic tradition alone.

            Obviously, continuing this discussion won’t be fruitful given that we come from completely different assumptions. I would suggest, however, that you read up on local traditions and maybe the debate about the Invention of Hinduism in academia. Maybe then you will see where I come from.



          • Satish Chandra


            I did not say that Karma only means something in relation to accumilating ‘good’ or ‘bad” of it. I know that there are other ways it is used in. The examples I gave aren’t exhaustive. My last sentence was meant to signify that. Just like Hinduism, you won’t find a ‘perfect’ definition of Karma. So I stand by my assertion. Karma is a believed in by a majority of Hindus. The range of diversity of what constitutes Karma isn’t that different from range of diversity you find in Christians when it comes to the role of god – someone who created the Earth 6000 years ago (as believed by creationists) to someone who created the existence as we know it (as believed by people like Francis Collins). Which really is what the point of the article is. Whatever criteria you use to classify Christianity as a religion also will classify Hinduism as a religion.

            I also did not claim that there is a uniformity in rituals across India. I’d say you are putting words in my mouth. My claim is that a belief in Karma is one of the defining characteristics of Hinduism. I never said that it was ritual.

          • Excuse me, I meant to address Satish Chandra, not Captain Mandrake.

          • Captain Mandrake


            Hmm well the point is not that it hasn’t trickled down “enough.”

            May be Islam/Christianity has not trickled down enough either.

          • Captain Mandrake


            I would suggest, however, that you read up on local traditions and maybe the debate about the Invention of Hinduism in academia. Maybe then you will see where I come from.

            The fact that Hinduism is a new concoction is not news around here. You can follow this thread (http://nirmukta.net/Thread-Hinduism-as-a-modern-religion-Academic-references-and-analysis ) to know more about it.

            But I do not agree with you that the date of invention should determine whether or not Hinduism can be called a religion. After all every religion has an invention date.

          • I think everyone agrees here!

            Everyone agrees that Hinduism was invented around the 19th century.

            What Captain Mandrake is saying is that Hinduism managed to “convert” most of the subcontinent from then until now I think– is that correct?

          • Captain Mandrake


            Yeah, right. You are essentially back to the “it has not trickled down enough” argument as an excuse to not call Hinduism a religion.

            The problem is that the same argument can be applied to Islam/Christianity as well.

          • I find it funny when you say most of the Hindus don’t know that they are Hindus until either they had to fill a govt form or anything similar. Not sure about you or your acquaintances but I never came across any such person in my life so far, I believe you went somewhere deep inside Himalayas in search of Hinduism !
            Sorry if i hurt your feelings.

          • Ashwin,

            My claim is certainly true groups which do not represent the upper-caste and middle class. Rural dalits, for example, fit this bill. This claim is corroborated by anthropological fieldwork.

            This should not surprise us, given that Hindu as a meaningful, and moreover religious, group identity only started being used during the late colonial era by the nationalist middle class.

            Your interactions, should they have been with people who are also in the middle class, are thus not surprising.

          • And Also, Ashwin,

            As far as the comment above you goes– it’s a legitimate problem. Where would we draw the line? There are no doubt people whom we would call Muslims whose practice of the faith is bizarre in terms of our expectations. How can we best use labels like “Hindu” or “Muslim” without making them inane?

            So yes, in one sense, India is filled with Hindus. But if the claim is that all Hindus have a certain set of beliefs– i.e., karma, moksha, Brahman, etc. then I take issue, because it’s empirically not true.

        • Maybe I can help you two.

          Why don’t I define a religion now called Asianism, defined to be the traditions and beliefs of people living in Asia. Can you prove, or disprove, that this is a religion?

          Sure there is diversity, but there is also diversity between Muslims and Christians. Why is Asianism not a religion?

          • I think Ashok’s point is that any construct must be meaningful to the people it seeks to describe. All categories are constructed, ultimately.

          • Satish Chandra

            any construct must be meaningful to the people it seeks to describe

            That is not a valid argument. To see why, do you think what you would say about the Taliban (say like ‘fundamentalists’) is acceptable by the people who call themselves as the Taliban? They would in all probability consider their worldview as the only valid one and would call us fundamentalists of debauchery or some such. A label used to describe some people need not be accepted by that group of people for that label to serve a useful purpose.

          • *sigh* This is about constructs dealing with group identity. The Taliban call themselves the Taliban, no problems there. The Hindus didn’t call themselves Hindu though, and most still don’t. Not yet anyway.

            You can’t tell someone they belong to a group if they don’t feel the same way.

          • Satish Chandra


            You can sigh when you tell me how much the most in “most still don’t” is. If were to pick a 100 people randomly from India, how many do you think wouldn’t call themselves ‘Hindu’?

  • A nitpick, but an important one nonetheless!

    “Blind nationalism, like religion, tends to make people defend such backward and unhygienic superstitions as fact. The practice of drinking and bathing in cow urine is an embarrassment to India. Religion prevents people from seeing this ugly fact.”

    The drinking of cow urine is not necessarily a superstition, recalling that superstition is a statement of cause and effect involving supernatural mechanisms. Drinking cow urine is often simply a ritual behavior, but not a superstition.

    Of course, there are those who would claim that cow urine can cure cancer or is good for health (as I gather from Edward Luce’s book)– something like that would surely be superstitious behavior.

  • I think you have to understand the forces behind what made Hinduism into a unity.

    For instance, if the British made the diversity in India as a argument for denying it its independence, then there would be a natural reaction to asserting “unity in diversity”.

    Likewise, much earlier, when Mahmud of Ghazni was uniformly slitting people’s throats and destroying their statues and temples in the name of exterminating idolatry, then it would be natural to unite.

    Even today, secessionists make a case for the break-up of India based on Indian diversity. History shows however, that such a divided India has invariably lost its political independence, as outside powers, whether from Central Asia or Europe are able to conquer the parts piecemeal. So there is a strong impulse to assert unity.

    Until you are able to disentangle the political, economic and historical forces from the core philosophies and practices will you be able to make a proper critique, in my opinion.

    • Arun, I remember reading that the “Hindu” identity was never a religious one but an ethnic one. Muslims were referred to as “turuqa” in inscriptions, indicating their Turkic origin. The Hindu-Muslim divide was never seen by Hindus as a religious one.

  • Christianity is much more diverse than Hindus typically understand it to be. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are 33,820 denominations of Christianity in the world. The members of each sect may either consider the teachings of the others as patently false or may have compatibilist views. In either case, their functioning as social individuals can be vastly different depending on the sect. Through South and North America, Africa, Asia and Europe, there are flavors of Christianity that contain various local beliefs that the most well-known Churches in the US, England and the Vatican would consider as heretical.

    All the diverse Christians all agree on Christ as the only savior, despite all their disagreements among themselves. There is no such central belief in Hinduism. Moreover, Hindus can accept Christ as one of many saviors, it is his exclusive status that they disagree with.

  • Religion perpetuates an identity of itself as a group.

    The historical evidence is that the “Hindu” identity crystallized only as a reaction to others (Islamics, Christians) to whom religious identity was central.

  • Authoritarianism

    Who were these authoritarian figures in India? Please don’t quote colonial stories in this regard.

    • Satish Chandra

      Religious authority figures include parents, pious people in the family, priests, schools, sect leaders (ex: this guy. When he came to our town people lined up to get his adivce), godmen and babas. The source of the authority in these cases usually comes the knowledge of Vedas, smritis and shastras and the Gita.

  • This thing about “cognitive dissonance” is silly. Noone holds all of the beliefs the author listed at once. Even the Hindutva fanatics who hark about the tolerance of Hinduism will say that Hindus have been tolerant “until now,” and that’s why they need to be violent now.

    But forget that. Even if people did hold such beliefs all at once, it says less about religion than it does about human nature.

    Values are not formed in a logical way. For the most part, they are taken in from the environment and assimilated. This is how we evolved.

    We’re all hypocrites in one way or another. Heck, I can come up with one now– it’s socially acceptable to see a woman in a bathing suit but not in underwear. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE!

    • Satish Chandra

      Cognitive dissonance is a cognitive bias. Everyone has it. No exceptions. But we can try to be wary of it. What is silly is your argument which implies “Nyah, nyah everyone does it so it is okay”. That really is no excuse to tolerate irrational bullshit. If such stupid excuses had their way, untouchability would still be considered acceptable.

      • Thanks for the link. I think you missed the point I was trying to make though. Nowhere did I say that cognitive dissonance is good or bad. I merely said that it’s a poor criterion to apply when deciding what’s a religion and what isn’t.

        I don’t think that the author is using the term cognitive dissonance properly, however– the Wikipedia page for the term highlights that the individual should be AWARE of the contradiction. Most of the time when we see an apparent contradiction of views, such as on sexuality, the person who holds such beliefs has a way to sort them out and sees no contradiction.

        I’m not sure how you draw implications from this to untouchability, it seems we’re talking about completely different things.

        • Satish Chandra

          All the author did is apply criteria which are usually applied to religions and see how Hinduism fares. Cognitive dissonance is an excellent crietria to identify religion. If you say the same criteria apply elsewhere to some other thing and want to call it a religion, knock yourself out. It is standard practice in Hindu apologetics to see Hinduism as something completely different from other religions. This article says why it isn’t. That is the point. The point is not that cognitive dissonance applies only to religion. That is a strawman argument.

          • “Cognitive dissonance is an excellent crietria to identify religion. If you say the same criteria apply elsewhere to some other thing and want to call it a religion, knock yourself out.”

            Well, that’s not particularly useful is it? You say that cognitive dissonance implies religion.By that regard, physics is a religion because physicists are in cognitive dissonance until a theory of quantum gravity can be found. Social norms are a religion due to the standards of modesty which Manav pointed out.

            Of course, I think much of this is splitting hairs. Ajita herself wrote in the article that religion has no clear definition, so any attempt to refine a definition is futile. Most people like Daniel Dennet make use of an ad hoc definition to prove their point, and that’s okay.

          • Satish Chandra

            Let me clarify. Cognitive dissonance is just one of the useful criteria to identify religion. It must have slipped my mind to clarify my position as I must have thought that it was obvious from the article that it doesn’t just rely on cognitive dissonance.

      • but isnt that how society is . full of idiots and very few wise people and very few with brains who can think.
        what majority(idiots) thinks/does becomes normal even if it is bad. idiotism rules in a society.

  • what does author trying to prove here?? does he say all the achievement should be labeled as indians but not hindu

    If hindu is part of brahman priest origin than why do not we call it as aryanism that is the apt word.I admit superstitions and rituals are not part of the six darshans but why do not we call it as hindu philosophy then what does the word “india” means??.both “hindu” and “india” means same that is culture,race,religions from sindhu or indus valley civilisation.

    Kindly do not post the article with half baked knowledge and with the knowledge what is available on the internet

    • Sure, you can redefine “Hindu” to mean “Indian” if you’d like– but would you include Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc. in that label? Probably not.

  • stormchaser1983

    While I agree with what the author says, there are a few points being missed out. First, education is the answer to all problems…the more education, the lesser the superstitions. Lest the author forget, before the invasions, India was the most developed, educated nation with 50% of the world GDP and the problems it had then paled when compared to the rest of the world, for that time …of course, as all great civilizations, it has stagnated and regressed actually… and education and thought has all but disappeared till reformists over the last entury made an effort. The current religious nationality and cognitive dissonance is the remnant of those invasions, from the british and the mughals. People tend to cluster together, even if its over really stupid things like drinking cow urine to basically safegaurd ‘a way of life’. That trend blindly continues to this day…. rather than understand the undercurrents, the author takes the brute force approach; this makes people cluster together even more. The comments section here is an indication. I would advise the author to convolve his valuable message with some sensibility towards his target audience (the religious hindu) to affect positive changes. Here is an example: when you have folks in the country happy that the british came to india as ‘they gave us railways and english’ (a truly stupid thing to say, engligh never came in peace), the average nationalist gets even angrier and tends to stick to even stupider things to ‘stick it to the elites’.

    • This is an unlikely model of history. I don’t think India ever had 50% of the world GDP, if memory serves me right the figure was closer to 20%. But the reason this declined was due to the Industrial Revolution and Europe benefiting from it– the decline of the Indian textile industry due to the British spinning jenny and automatic weaving loom is a classic example of it.

      Until the late 20th century, this idea of invasions and a stagnating Indian civilization was popular. In the wake of postcolonial scholarship, we see that it is wrong. Oriental scholars themselves used to talk of a decline and a “glorious Vedic age” with no idols, caste, temples, etc. and organizations like the Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj took this up. Only recently are we freeing ourselves from that. Similarly, with invasions, we are ignoring how Muslims from the very start ingrained themselves in the social fabric and did not simply act as invaders.

      With the rise of Hindutva, it becomes more problematic to say this stuff about invasions.

  • Hinduism is also a religion, for example when we were invaded by foreigners to destroy our religion and establish their atheistic religion our kings fought to defend our religion and our people. If we did not care about our religion and our people the first thing our kings would have done is to do what any other Hindu kings did, such as be a subordinate of powerful Islamic kings and enjoy your kingship and make more money enjoy raping Hindu girls. Now you should ask me so, “are there are some Hindu kings who chose compromise religious value in Hinduism ?”.

    • correct. for example, what is A, what is B, what is C, and what is D? letters of the alphabet are they not??? it is similar.

  • Puzzled Indian

    I am impressed by so many scholarly articles on Hinduism (mostly negative). These are welcome, though debatable, articles which will add to one’s understanding. However, is it a coincidence that there is very little on Islam? These days I have evolved a formula? I believe anything written from atheistic point of view only when an article also discusses Islam, otherwise, I don’t regard it as logical. Because complete truth cannot said or written under duress. Why fear discussing Islam so much, when you show rare audacity in discussing Hinduism.
    I completely disagree with you on many things about Hinduism. But I commend you for enriching the debate. This is so Hindu-like. And you are desisting from discussing Islam on this portal. This is also so Hindu-like. No?

  • Hinduism is a religion, an oldest still thriving. By modern concepts, religion has ‘Sanskara, rituals, god head, Hell heaven, and authoritative books to guide. Hinduism has more sanskaras than any other religion, defined goals for salvation, logical interpretation of life, its purpose and so on. tell what is lacking in Hinduism compared to others! And these Sanskaras didn’t appear because some one called us ‘Hindus’. They were ancient! Till Jesus appeared, old testament was practiced, Tora is jewish relious book still there. Hinduism is more like a reference book where as Christianity and Islam, text books. Where it is said that a religion has to have certain founders? In fact if there is a founder, that qualifies also for cult.
    Recently, many spiritual leaders or cult heads of Hinduism have been trying to redefine hinduism as ‘way of life’ because they want to lure people from all religions and cultures to their club. We have this slave mentality to endorse western thoughts.

  • Dear Ajita,

    You write well and beautiful. I tell you beforehand i am one person who does not like to use the work Hindu, for debate of all sorts, but Sanatan Dharma or simply Dharma. I Do believe, there may be many ways to say this is a religion or sect or anything but for me its deep rooted philosophy. I find myself close to it because it belongs to my land which i love (I AM NRI), more than i was born into it. It is more of philosophy then anything else.
    The beauty of this Dharma is that it can evolve like it has for past 3000 Years, still gives direction and change course like Ganga. I may sound more emotional then academic, but that’s how close i feel for it. I am not proponent of this the best, but a proponent of this was has served us well till now, can take us to great height, can evolve, and most of all, a reason my country is still together despite being made of various nationalities, and sub nationalities. If we take the similiarity with Judaism, they became athiest and work as a single nation, are at top of world, I do beleive we could do it, coz this Dharma makes us brother in arms.
    One Important point is, many Fundamental Hindu organization violent or non violent, has the concept of Bharat Mata as its core of belief then anything else.

    And yes you do write like Sam Harris, myself a big fan of him.

    Ankit Goel

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