This is a follow up to the Ridiculing Religious Insanity post. One reader, Alpana Sadya broadly agreed with the basic idea of the post but accused me of bias in that I did not object to incidents that involve goons of what she claims is my favorite party the BJP. She reported that there was a case of vandalism on Delhi University campus a few days ago and it was regarding the Ramayana. She feared that it portends ill for India and that India may break up in a civil war.
Just for the record allow me one clarification. I do not hold any brief for any political party or organization, foreign or domestic. I am free to criticize whomever and whenever I feel like. Most of the time my focus is on ideologies and not people. That distinction is worth keeping in mind. If ever someone misconstrues my criticism of an ideology with animosity against a group or a person, it reveals at best a reading comprehension problem and at worst guilt associated with a hidden prejudice of the reader against the group I am accused of opposing.
That last point is worth underlining. I am for or against ideologies, not people. I judge the people for how they behave, not what they fundamentally believe in. To lend support for my assessment of a certain ideology, I will have to point to specific actions by individuals or groups that acted in accord with the dictates of that ideology. I am given that opportunity by the actions of the followers of the ideology and is not something that I invent on a whim. If the facts I choose to highlight are in dispute, I’d like to be corrected. Otherwise I would like to hear an argument why the ideology cannot be judged, first, objectively without reference to actions; and second, by noting the consequences of the ideology as evidenced by the actions of those motivated by it.
Now on to other substantive matters.
By the time one has outgrown one’s childhood, most people without cognitive impairment figure out that one cannot eat one’s cake and have it too. We intuitively realize that there are trade offs in our universe: you either eat the cake and not have it, or you have your cake only if you resist eating it. Being unable to appreciate that basic principle is indicative of a mental defect. In very small children, it is cute to observe how they misapprehend the world but in adults that same behavior is pitiable.
Not everything that needs our attention can be attended to because we are finite creatures with finite resources. We have to prioritize things and then depending on our assessment of the urgency and importance of the things that need done, we sequence our actions. Not everything is equally urgent, or equally important. Some things are important but not urgent. The house burning down is urgent; getting daily exercise is important. Leaving the house to burn down because you have to get your routine jogging done is stupid.
The ability to make distinctions and see differences is absolutely critical. Perceiving the universe as one indistinguishable whole with no boundaries or distinctions is a wonderful mystical Zen experience perhaps but in our daily living we need to distinguish the benign from the malignant, the useful from the useless, the healthy from the diseased. We do that as a matter of course as it is ingrained in our genes: like all other living things, we are the descendants of a very long line of ancestors each of whom was successful in making that distinction long enough to mate and procreate.
We humans differ from other living things in one significant way: we live in a world of ideas, not just a world of things. Ideas can also be broadly characterized as benign, malignant or neutral. The same can be done for an ideology which is essentially a collection of ideas. The theory of evolution — like all scientific theories — is also an ideology, just like capitalism, or communism, or any other ism. Ideologies, like things, can be grouped and their characteristics examined. Any specific religion is an ideology. A group of related religions can also be examined as an ideology. Judging the goodness (however defined) of any ideology is no different from judging the goodness of things.
I have made the case that ideas matter elsewhere before and I am sure to do more of that later. But for now I will focus on religious ideologies only.
All religious ideologies are not created equal. They differ naturally because they were created by different people under different geographical and historical circumstances. Religious ideologies are contingent and don’t have any absolute existence, unlike say the ideology of the theory of gravitation. If you did the right inferences from observation, you would arrive at the same theory of gravity as someone who lived in a different land at a different time.
The major monotheistic ideologies were born in the Middle East and they share the same lineage. Their family resemblance is unmistakable. Judaism came first; the Christians acknowledge the Jewish bible and added their own two bits; then Islam came along and plagiarized bits from the preceding two and added its own twisted bits to it. Every age and every place that has been touched by the monotheistic ideology has suffered profoundly from its malignant influence. It has killed, raped, burnt, pillaged, and destroyed whatever it can. Not content with merely killing non-monotheists, it has encouraged its followers to turn their rage against one another. Sibling rivalry, perhaps. But the history books are full of rivers of blood shed by mutual hostility between Protestants, Catholics, Shias, Sunnis, and all of them at some point or the other against the Jews. Though Christianity and Islam are descended from Judaism, the Jews are held in special contempt by the followers of the other two. A Darwinist may explain that by saying that they all occupy the same ecological niche and hence the bitter rivalry.
But they are not equally vicious. The Jewish god is a monomaniacal savage but he does not command Jews to go out and kill the others. His world is restricted to the Jews and how he controls them. The Christian god is a much meaner god. He created a hell for non-believers and instructed his followers to go out and either convert or kill those who don’t follow him. A few hundred years later, the Islamic god upped the ante and instructed its followers to basically kill everyone who refuses to submit to him until the entire world is enslaved to him.
The sequence of origination ensures that the ideology which came later had the opportunity to revile the earlier one(s). Islam labels Jews and Christians monkeys and pigs; Christianity condemns Jews for having the blood of their savior on their hands. There is a progression of increasing violence in the three monotheistic ideologies.
One reasonable explanation for the savagery of Christianity and Islam is that they were invented by savages. They lived in a brutal and brutalizing environment. They lived in a dog eat dog world where worldly pleasures were few and far between. Their god is a reflection of that mentality that brutalizes humans and humanity. A brutalized male dominated warring society living in harsh conditions could not conceive of a god that was loving. The fantasies of a paradise which can only be described as an impotent man’s wet dream figures prominently in Islam.
How anyone can believe in a god of the monotheists is a fascinating subject. That god is literally unbelievable. This is widely recognized by the monotheists themselves — those who believe in the Islamic god vehemently reject the Jewish and Christian god, the Islamic god is unpalatable to the Jews and the Muslims, and the Christian god is idiotic in the opinion of the Jews and the Muslims. Each comprehends the utter stupidity of the other two, and non-monotheists arrive at the logical position — the logical union of the three views — that monotheism is utter stupidity.
What distinguished monotheism from other religious ideologies is that it is supremacist, exclusivist, and triumphalist. That attitude finds it most extreme expression in Islam — it claims it is perfection in every sense, no other ideology can be permitted to exist, and it will ultimately conquer every human for eternity. The non-monotheist religions are cautious and hesitant. Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism all claim to be correct but also make allowances that there are multiple ways and that different people will see the world differently. They are willing to accommodate other points of views, and other ways of living. But to the ideology of Islam, there is only one way and if you refuse to willingly submit to the dictates of Islam, you have to be subjugated and if need be, annihilated.
The followers of ideologies are humans. Human action is motivated by a wide range of impulses and incentives, not just ideologies — religious or otherwise. It is not too difficult to determine what the prime motivation may have been for a certain action. The kamikaze bombers of the second world war may have been Buddhists but the Buddhist ideology was not the prime motivator for their suicide missions. It was not an adherence to the principles of Buddhism but rather their allegiance to the Emperor and the nation that moved them. Stalin and Mao murdered scores of millions for a political ideology and not for their being atheists. They were bad people doing what came naturally to them as followers of a certain ideology.
Steven Weinberg has said: “Without religions, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. But it takes religion to get good people to do bad things.” I would generalize that observation: Without ideological motivations, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. But to get good people to do bad things requires bad ideologies.
So why am I writing about religious insanity in a blog which is about economic growth and development? How is religion relevant? Let me elaborate on why I think religion matters and why more importantly the ideology of Islam matters to India’s development.
As I have said before, all ideologies are not created equal. Some are benign and can be safely ignored. The Pastafarians will not sic their Flying Spaghetti Monster god on me if I call them ridiculous for their ridiculous beliefs. Well never mind the FSM as it was meant to parody monotheism. How about if I call Buddhists a bunch of retarded egg-heads and call the Buddha a dried shit stick? Not a problem. At worst someone may challenge me to a dharma duel which I could easily win by smiling stupidly as I make some seemingly profound statement like “what is the sound of one hand clapping” or “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
These days you can mock all ideologies — religious or secular — except one: Islam. Scribble something on a piece of paper and regardless of where you are and whether or not you have broken any local laws, Islam can and will take offense if it so pleases. That is usually followed by some of the faithful flying into a murderous rage (which is different from murdering people by flying planes into buildings) and setting out to kill you.
I object to an ideology that responds to criticism with violence and murder. Yes, the ideology has the response encoded within it. It is not the invention of the followers. By not allowing criticism, it forces a stop to human progress because it will not allow any idea — religious or secular — to survive if it is not consistent with Islam. This is why most countries where Islamic ideology is dominant do not figure in any area of science, technology, arts, and entertainment. Pretty much everything we know about the universe was discovered after the 7th century and therefore all that Islam could possibly know (and knows) was (and is) bounded by what was known by essentially ignorant people in the desert in the 7th century. So if Islam is allowed to dominate India today — today when it has finally emerged after a thousand years of servitude — it will be a disaster. What sort of disaster? Well, look at Pakistan and Bangladesh — those parts of the Indian subcontinent where Islam has triumphed.
Ideologies matter. Observe the differing performance of the differing ideological groups from the Indian subcontinent in Western nations. That is a natural experiment the results of which clearly demonstrate that Islamic ideology hinders the development of people because it prohibits precisely those freedoms that are most critical in human development and growth.
The ideology of Islam matters to today’s India and it has done so for around a thousand years. Will Durant, an American historian summed it up this way. ““The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in History. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown barbarians invading from without and multiplying within.”
The partitioning of India was based on that ideology of Islam. The Muslims of colonial India voted that they cannot co-exist with non-Muslims because their ideology did not permit that. The creation of Pakistan (and subsequently of Bangladesh) was the direct and unavoidable result of Islamic ideology. Thereafter, the constant state of war that exists between the three fragments can be reasonably traced back to the Islamic ideology of dividing all humanity into the land of Islam and the land of the kuffars. The millions of lives lost over the centuries continue to be added to every year — sometimes in bloody wars and more regularly in a war of thousand cuts of random acts of terrorism. Resources that could have been used in alleviating the misery of its poverty-stricken population, India is forced to use instead to buy weapons from the advanced industrialized nations to deter Pakistan from declaring and fighting one more of the Thousand Year jihads.
Being in a constant state of war with Pakistan is without doubt one of the reasons that India is miserably poor. I should hasten to add that it is not the only reason. Even without the existence of Pakistan, I am sure that some people would have figured out other ways of keeping India poor. And indeed they did. I have, for the same reason that it keeps India poor, opposed socialism and communism. But the Islamic specter haunting India is making the job that much harder. As the on-going conflict with Pakistan is religiously motivated — just like the partition of India was — I find it hard to evade the conclusion that India would have been much better off if it did not have to contend with Islam.
So now for the objections that prompted this essay. I agree that stupid people vandalizing property because of some offense they have taken is a matter of concern. But that is bad people doing bad things. None of the Indic ideologies (Jain, Buddhism, Hinduism) lend the least support to violence against people merely because of what they believe in or profess. I would worry about it but I would not lose my sleep over it. It is neither urgent nor important in the overall scheme of things. I could rant and rave about it but there are more pressing things that matter to me.
Which brings me to the point that I had made earlier in my response to Alpana in the previous post.
Alpana, it is a division of labor. You deal with what you consider to be the most pressing issues and I will do likewise. Our assessment will be different since we have different viewpoints. Besides, given that all tasks are not equally urgent or equally important, we have to prioritize and pick out battles. Complaining that I don’t balance out every instance of Islamic intolerance and terrorism I report on this blog with an instance of Bajrang Dal or Shiv Sena intolerance and mayhem is stupid at best. They are orders of magnitude different in their frequency and impact. And besides, like I have mentioned before, I am writing about a particular religious ideology and then illustrating the consequences of that ideology when it produces the natural result. Please feel free to do the same using your choice of religious ideology — I suggest Jainism as they are rarely taken to task and it has never been called a religion of peace. I am sure that you will have lots to write about Jain terrorism.
I know that I have a bias which reflects my personal history and upbringing. For instance, I am a non-Muslim and therefore my view of Islam is that of an outsider — an outsider whom Islam considers to be a little less than filth. As I was born to Hindu parents, I am a Hindu. As a Hindu I am quite familiar with the faults of Hindu society and I am critical of any bits of the ideology that is irrational and stupid. Fortunately, Hinduism is flexible enough that you can pick and choose the bits that appeal to you and reject the rest with nary a thought. For instance, I like the ideas behind the idols — the symbolic representation of the gods — even though I am not a theist.
Not only am I biased but I know that I am biased. I am not an impartial observer. I am partial towards rationality and reason. I don’t think tales of people rising from the dead and people flying off on their horses to the moon make any sense at all. Only those who don’t really understand what the world is clearly understood to be can entertain such idiotic notions. I think that anyone who seriously believes that the books that the monotheists follow were dictated by god — an omniscient eternal omnipotent being — is dumber than a doornail. Heck, those books are so full of nonsense and factual errors, that even a reasonably educated person living a thousand years before they were written would have known better. For instance, that the earth was a sphere was known since antiquity. Yet the authors of those books were clueless — they did not even have what is fairly common information. The so-called omniscient being apparent only knew what was known to ignorant desert nomads.
I have spent the last two hours writing this because I have had it up to here with the pseudo-secularists blaming the victims for the harm that is ideologically motivated and is unacceptable in a civilized society. I realize that it will not make me popular with that crowd because what I wrote will stick in their craw since they cannot factually refute any of the statements I made above. Their position is generally a fine mixture of illogic and ignorance — the antithesis of what I stand for. (It’s my blog. I can write this with only a hint of humor.)
So Ms Alpana, yes, India can break up in a civil war. It is quite possible. But to understand the likely cause, I would refer you to the previous break which was in the making for centuries but happened around 60 years ago. Examine the causes and it may give you a clue about the next one.
It’s all karma, neh?