This is a post by Ms. Dixit Gargi that first appeared at Rational Libertarian Corner as a critique of Mr. Kalavai Venkat’s article challenging the libertarian foundations of religious freedom and was solicited by CRI for the benefit of its readers. CRI has already received a rebuttal to this post, which it shall be publishing tomorrow. Thus, this discussion of religious freedom is at least a three-part series. We thank Ms. Gargi for allowing us to re-publish her article here at CRI and we also thank Mr. Venkat for kindly agreeing to write a response to this rebuttal.
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People often rationalize to defend their un-defendable and irrational ideas. One such idea was recently presented on Central Right India forum and the idea was to defend the state and to employ the state against religions1 . The idea may sound similar to that of theocracy but in this case, the rules are expected to be written by atheists. No wonder people often term atheism as just another religion. However, such ideology doesn’t represent atheism; rather it represents anti theism.2
The writer of the article simply desires a state acting as a supreme being and to stress on his idea, he rationalized his idea of state to suppress Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism). While the writer has presented himself as an atheist Hindu, he has certainly exposed his irrational belief in Hinduism and a serious lack of knowledge about atheism. I will point out the obvious faults and contradictions in that article.
The writer asserts that
1) Individuals are not capable of deciding for oneself, and hence, the state should take decisions for everybody.
2) Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) are ill and detrimental to humans; while Hinduism is a great religion of peace and hence, the state should actively stop secularism and should culminate any freedom for Abrahamic religions.
3) Libertarian idea of separation of state and religion is arbitrary, unscientific, and irrational, and hence, state should actively work to curb relation violently (by confiscating all property of religious individuals and groups) and the state should protect children against their parents.
4) Libertarians worship American Constitution which offers the idea of separation of state and Church but fails to protect the state from religious interferences.
5) Christianity would have been weeded out in the US if the founding fathers of the United States hadn’t offered the idea of Separation of State and Religion.
6) Hindus have little need for libertarianism.
Libertarianism has its roots in Ancient Indian Philosophy
Often people claim that libertarianism is a western concept; however, they fail to notice that every concept of libertarianism is actually deeply rooted in Ancient Indian philosophy.
In order to assert that no individual can make an individual choice about religion, he cites Richard Dawkins and his idea of memes. No libertarian will actually oppose the issue of conformity; however, a libertarian will certainly propose a non-violent means to counter religious imprints. This is because of the fact that a libertarian is one who believes in Ancient Indian principle of Ahimsa, or Non-Aggression. It should be noted that self-defense is not aggression. This is the reason why libertarian idea about religious freedom is in fact a boon for atheists while maintaining the concept of Non-Aggression Principle.
While I agree with the concept of meme, I would like to point out that the writer is wrong about his assertion that most people do not make choices when it comes to religious belief. During the times of Vedic theistic religious beliefs in India, Samkhya, Mimamsa, Jainism, Buddhism, and various other atheistic religious philosophies developed with ease. The success of Buddhism wasn’t just limited to India; rather it spread around various other countries during the times of Indian Emperor Ashoka. This should be noted that Ashoka was a secular Indian emperor who offered complete religious freedom for individuals and the Wheel of Ashoka in Indian national flag is significant to the ancient Indian culture of religious freedom and freedom of thought, speech and expression3 . Yet, the concept of religious freedom for Individuals is much older than the legacy of Ashoka and religious freedom for individuals was one of the most important aspects of Ancient Indian Vedic period. Without this religious and intellectual freedom for individuals, there would never have been a Gautama Buddha, a Mahavira, or a Carvaka. Kalavai Venkat not only failed to realize the deep rooted libertarian principles of religious freedom and separation of state and religion in Ancient Indian philosophies, he also made a deep mistake by claiming that separation of religion and state is an American concept. Such mistake is obvious because just like other people, Kalavai Venkat is also unable to get rid of the meme’s and is unable to make any rational argument against individual freedom.
The idea of religious freedom and separation of religion and state is certainly Indian and it has been practiced in India since the times when there was virtually no civilization in the west.4 Thus, Indian libertarians who support separation of state and religion do not support the constitution of United States, rather; they support the cultural constitution of Ancient India which has offered immense success for the Indian civilization as whole.5
History Suggests that Individuals Can Make Better Religious Choices despite the Effects of Conformity and Coercive State
In order to rationalize his irrational view point, the writer has used a number of selective scientific theories. However, if he is a sincere rationalist, he should understand that a scientific theory cannot be used as a rationalization for irrational beliefs such as his. Indian history confirms that despite of issue of meme and conformity; individuals in a free society embrace new rational thoughts while giving up the irrational practices.
Another example of massive change of religious belief of Individuals is in the history of Christianity itself. Protestantism got its roots in Germany in 16th century and within years; a huge population denounced the authority of Roman Catholic Church and that was significant because during those days, Church represented the state; that is, there was no separation of Church and state and the State used to force people to accept the authority of Roman Catholic Church. Thus, there are historical evidences that suggest that people can change their beliefs and can make valid religious choices despite of aggressive force of theocracies and state.
Individual is Certainly Capable of Making Rational Decisions
Another of Kalavai’s irrational contentions is that every individual is incapable of deciding for oneself. In order to prove his point, he suggests that brain imaging of Buddhists meditators by Andrew Newberg showed that Buddhist or Hindu meditation is beneficial while brain imaging of individuals performing glossolalia suggests that it is harmful. He claims that people don’t denounce glossolalia and accept benefits of meditation because they are unable to make decisions. It is ridiculously insane idea and it is wrong too. Only a few Christians actually practice glossolalia and the writer accepts that, however; he ignores the fact that a huge portion of Christians have actually denounced their belief in glossolalia and yoga is actually a mainstream practice in almost all western countries including the United States. First lady of the United States Michelle Obama said, “Our goal today is just to have fun. We want to focus on activity, healthy eating. We’ve got yoga, we’ve got dancing, we’ve got storytelling, we’ve got Easter-egg decorating.6 ” However, American Christians do realize that Yoga isn’t just a physical exercise and they realize and accept the spiritual aspects of yoga too. The success of Yoga certainly shows the success of individual’s right to choose his religious belief and it is well expressed by Stefanie Syman in her book The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America7
Any individual can have a number of habits that may prove to be harmful to him such as, chewing or smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, eating in excess, eating very less or anorexia, and a lot more. A libertarian is least interested in saving an individual against his own actions. The basic principle behind this is the fact that if an individual isn’t able to decide for oneself, how can a few individuals who claim to be the government be able to decide for the whole population? The writer fails to see the contradiction in his preposition. Is he willing to say that Andrew Newberg will somehow succeed in scientifically proving that an authoritative state will be able to take better decision for individuals? What will change in an individual, who cannot take any reasonable decision for himself (as the writer asserts), that will help him in taking decisions for all other individuals if he happens to be a member of the authority of the state? Furthermore, history is evident of the fact that governmental bans, restrictions, and other coercive means have always failed to provide good results. As for example, the ill-practice of Dowry8 among Hindus of India is strictly banned by the state, yet, one can read news about dowry deaths every now and then. On the contrary, the state laws against dowry has caused a real havoc as many innocent individuals face coercive state actions just because someone framed them in false cases and accusations.
State Atheism is a Huge Failure
Failure of these bans is enough proof to suggest that state restrictions and state laws cannot reduce the effects of blind faith and irrational beliefs. However, governmental actions against irrational religious practices have also failed abysmally and that too in India. Indian Anti Superstition Lawis actually no less strict than the idea of State Atheism and it has been proven as a non-effective way to reduce and remove superstitions. Despite of this strict anti-superstition law, a school teacher in Maharashtra sacrificed her college-going daughter. He killed her daughter so that his wife may give birth to a son9 . In another instance, a woman in Bihar was accused of witchcraft and was tied to a tree and brutally beaten and killed by people10 . Such incidences are not uncommon in India and the Indian Law Against Superstitions has certainly failed to protect individuals against religious superstitions. While this failure certainly suggests a failure of the idea of state atheism, it is also true that state atheism can really prove to be a huge problem. There is no dearth of cases in which innocents were brutally exploited by state police on the name of Law against superstitions.
Various ill-practices of Hindus certainly suggest that Hinduism is no better religion than any other Abrahamic religions and it also has a huge share of superstitions, irrational beliefs, practices and patterns.
Kalavai Venkat claims that Christianity would have been weeded out in the US if the founding fathers of the United States hadn’t offered the idea of Separation of State and Religion. This irrational assumption suggests that Kalavai is not only an irrational person; he is a plagiarist who is trying to express an already experimented idea of State Atheism as his own. It is true that the founding fathers of the United States supported freedom of Individual which includes religious freedom, however, State Atheism was actually experimented by Marxist/Leninist U.S.S.R and Stalin exercised State Atheism to its extreme brutality.
Vladimir Lenin explicitly explained his idea of state atheism in the following words—
Religion is the opiate of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion. All modern religions and churches, all and of every kind of religious organizations are always considered by Marxism as the organs of bourgeois reaction, used for the protection of the exploitation and the stupefaction of the working class.11
In U.S.S.R, 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 while a much greater number was subjected to persecution12 . It should be noted that all education system of USSR was controlled by the state. Thus, USSR is the actual atheistic state that Kalavai Venkat is proposing as he also wants Indian government to confiscate all property and rights of Christians in India. It is nothing wrong in plagiarizing ideas and libertarians simply denounce the intellectual property rights, however, plagiarizing a dangerously violent and hugely failed idea is ridiculously insane. It must be noted that despite of the State Atheism, USSR failed to reduce religious spectrum in Russia and according to a demographic survey in 2006, approximately 83% of the country residents consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians13 . State atheism of USSR also provided proper provision of ‘protecting children’ from their parents by virtually discouraging any type of religious teachings in public and private fronts. This shows a huge failure of State Atheism. On the other hand, only 76% of the US residents recognize themselves as Christians14 . This suggests that idea of religious freedom proves to reduce the effect of religion in much better way than the compulsion of State Atheism.
Kalavai Venkat’s last contention that Hindu’s doesn’t need libertarianism again shows his lack of knowledge about Indian history and Libertarianism. Almost all concepts of libertarianism (including Individual freedom of speech, expression, freedom of intellectual thought and religion) are actually propounded in Indian culture and philosophies. In fact our founding father Mahatma Gandhi himself was a libertarian anarchist who offered an anarchistic idea for future India in his book Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule in which he explained that he wants to introduce a completely Indian system of self-governance and individual freedom based on Indian historical and philosophical concepts. Kalavai asserts that religious freedom is not an inalienable right, rather, it is a privilege. Obviously, he neither understand the concept of natural rights, nor he realizes that religious freedom is just a representation of an Individual’s intellectual freedom, freedom of free speech and freedom of expression and hence, it is certainly inalienable. Anyone who claims that intellectual religious freedom isn’t a right, believes that he can force people to not to think through state thought police.
Kalavai Venkat is an anti-theist who is certainly very angry against theists and hence, he wants to create a state atheism in which the state will be supreme being controlling every aspect of individual freedom. However, any such idea if implemented in India, will result in mass murders, extreme exploitation of individuals and a failure of rational people to reduce the effects of religious ills and superstitions.
- Libertarian Myopia and Religious Freedom, CRI [↩]
- Christopher New has explained an Antitheist as, “Antitheists, like theists, would have believed in an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal creator; but whereas theists in fact believe that the Supreme Being is also perfectly good, antitheists would have believed that he was perfectly evil.”, Antitheism: A Reflection, Christopher New, 1993 [↩]
- Gandhi praised Ashoka’s non-violence and his latter-day lack of imperial ambition. Jawaharlal Nehru admired Ashoka’s secularism and his efficient administration.,Ashoka: The Search for India’s Lost Emperor [↩]
- The famous verse saṃgacchadhvam, saṃvadadhvam etc., in the ṛgveda, calls for people to come together and exchange views freely and harmoniously. The rise of dissenting schools of thought like Jainism, Buddhism, Pāñcarātra, Kāpālika, Cārvaka etc., in the post-Vedic period and their coexistence with Vedic schools points to a society that allowed freethinking and intellectual freedom. When one is reminded of Socrates being accused of corrupting the minds of youth in Greece or of Galileo being denounced and incarcerated by the Church for going against the cosmological theories of the Bible, one realizes that this respect for divergent views in ancient Vedic society was indeed a great achievement., Religious, Intellectual Freedom in Ancient India, T.S Rukmani, Sanskrit Vimarsha [↩]
- The Epic Period was a golden era in Indian philosophical thought because of the tolerance of different opinions and teachings. In a wide scale, between sacrificial rituals to please the gods and complete agnostic and materialistic practices, existed many disparate and dissimilar ideas. The freedom to practice and follow any one of these teachers was unquestioned and unhindered. There was not only a freedom of religion but also freedom to practice a religion in any manner, without compulsion and decree or ordainment. This was the beginning of secularism and freedom of religion., Secularism and Freedom of Religion in Ancient India [↩]
- The White House Easter Egg Role and Yoga, Michelle Obama, English Central [↩]
- There certainly was no better proof that Americans had assimilated this spiritual discipline. We had turned a technique for God realization that had, at various points in time, enjoined its adherents to reduce their diet to rice, milk, and a few vegetables, fix their minds on a set of, to us, incomprehensible syllables, and self-administer daily enemas (without the benefit of equipment), to name just a few of its prerequisites, into an activity suitable for children. Though yoga has no coherent tradition in India, being preserved instead by thousands of gurus and hundreds of lineages, each of which makes a unique claim to authenticity, we had managed to turn it into a singular thing: a way to stay healthy and relaxed., The Subtle Body, The Story of Yoga in America [↩]
- A Rational Perspective of Menace of Dowry and it’s solution, Rational Libertarian Corner [↩]
- Maharashtra teacher sacrifices daughter to get son, Hinduism and Superstitions [↩]
- Woman killed in Bihar for practising witchcraft [↩]
- Lenin about the attitude of working party toward the religion, Collected works [↩]
- Religion in Soviet Russia, The Russian Orthodox Church [↩]
- Approximately 83% of the country residents consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians, although the majority are not regular churchgoers, US State Department Religious Freedom Report on Russia, 2006 [↩]
- Religious Composition of the US [↩]