Libertarian Myopia & Religious Freedom

A Response to Critics – Part 1[1]

 

In my article, Libertarian Myopia & Religious Freedom, I had argued that the libertarian notion of religious freedom is arbitrary, unscientific, and irrational. I had marshaled scientific evidence to show that it is not based on a scientific understanding of how religious ideas take root in society. It does not recognize the need to safeguard the rights of children who are abused by their Christian parents. It is myopic in nature since it privileges the rights of the uninformed living adult (i.e., Christian) over the rights of informed adults, children, and future generations. I had also argued that the libertarian idea of the separation of the state and religion is harmful to society and argued for the need for the state to restrain harmful religions. Gargi Dixit wrote a rebuttal of my article Irrational Quibbling at CRI and the Issue of State Atheism. This is my response to her arguments.[2]

1. Dixit characterizes me as follows: “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.” She also accuses me of plagiarizing Lenin’s advocacy of state atheism and repression of all religions.

Anyone that is familiar with my writings over the years would know that I have written very little on atheism but a lot defending theistic Hinduism. Two such examples of my defense of theistic Hinduism would be the essay Paul Courtright’s ‘Ganesa, Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings’: An Independent Review I co-authored with Vishal Agarwal as part of the anthology Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America (pp. 190-248, Rupa & Co.) and my paper The Christian ‘Right’ To Proselytize (American Atheists Quarterly, 1st Quarter, 2011). Her characterization of me as an angry person and her attempt to scare the readers that my advocacies will result in mass murders is the usual childish tactic leftists use against their critics. It seems that libertarians are not far behind the leftists on this. However, I have not recommended state atheism anywhere in my article. If anything, in footnote #10, I hint that I am recommending an adaptation of the ancient Indo-European system and specifically reject all variants of socialism. Most importantly, I do not advocate restraining all religions and clearly declare that those teachings that are beneficial should be allowed and those that are harmful should be restrained. Evidently, in her eagerness to launch an ad hominem attack, Dixit abandoned the truth. My personal conviction as an atheist neither makes me an angry person nor an anti-theist and it is dishonest to indulge in such mischaracterizations.

2. She alleges that I have called for the “state to suppress Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism)” and that I assert that “Hinduism is a great religion of peace.” Both statements are false and nothing but figments of Dixit’s imagination. I have not called for a suppression of Judaism either in the stated article or elsewhere and I have certainly not asserted that Hinduism is a great religion of peace in this article. I have merely called for the state to restrain Christianity (and Islam).

3. Her assertion that “Ashoka was a secular Indian emperor” is quite baffling. A secular state will neither promote nor suppress any religion. Aśöka actively used the state machinery to promote Buddhism by sending emissaries to other kingdoms. In his edicts, he explicitly appeals to his citizens to respect the bhikṣus, śramaṇas, and brāhmaṇas, and also expounds on the teachings of dharma. He founds the Bauddha saṅgha and as evident from the Seventh Pillar Edict, he created a governmental agency of dharma mahāmātra, who were instructed to enforce dharma, and tasked with monitoring the functioning of the saṅgha as well the functioning of other sects. The Buddhist hagiographic corpus, Divyāvadhāna informs us that Aśöka once heard that a nirgrantha (a Jaina – sometimes an Ǡjῑvika) had defiled an image of the Buddha, and in retaliation, ordered the beheading of 18,000 innocent nirgrantha. Just as the predatory political and judicial system founded on libertarian principles by America’s founding fathers monetarily rewarded white Christians for killing innocent Native Americans, Aśöka too monetarily rewarded anyone with a dῑnāra for bringing in the head of a nirgrantha. See the discussions of Koenraad Elst, K A N Sastri, R C Majumdar, and surprisingly even A L Basham on this topic for details.

It seems my libertarian critic’s definition of secularism is quite amorphous. Her statement is reflective of the servile libertarian tendency to interpret Hindu history in western terms, and to repeat white man’s propaganda uncritically without evaluating the facts.

4. Dixit alleges that I am “unable to make any rational argument against individual freedom.” I must conclude then that she did not read the following sections of my article: ‘Why Do People Believe?’, ‘Should Every Individual Decide For Oneself?’, and ‘One Believes, Others Suffer’. In these sections, I present two key arguments. The first is that when it comes to faith-based religions most people do not make a choice but merely conform to propagate the memetic virus. The second is that when an individual embraces such religions as Christianity, it results in the violation of the rights and freedom of his own unsuspecting children, non-believers, and future generations. Based on these, I conclude that nobody should have the right to violate another’s freedom by embracing harmful religious beliefs. So, Dixit’s allegation is pretentious and false.

5. She entirely avoids the evidence I present in the section Can The State Restrain Christianity? to demonstrate that those afflicted by the Christian meme are impervious to reason and hence free speech is not a sufficient safeguard for the Hindus to defend themselves against the Christian virus.

6. Dixit declares, “A libertarian is least interested in saving an individual against his own actions.” However, I take up this argument in two sections, ‘One Believes, Others Suffer’ and ‘Religious Freedom: A Right Or A Privilege?’ and demonstrate that an individual’s choice actually affects others. I show that Christian beliefs have not only been harmful for the Christians but also for the Buddhists, Gypsies, Jews, and Native Americans who were exterminated as a result of Christians embracing a harmful belief. It is plain silly to repeat the libertarian slogan when it is precisely what I have falsified. I am eagerly waiting for Dixit to explain why it is alright for one to embrace beliefs that endanger the very rights of others to exist.

7. The libertarian wonders, “If an individual isn’t able decides for oneself, how can a few individuals who claim to be the government be able to decide for the whole population?”

None of the schizophrenics is able to decide for oneself. However a small team of psychiatrists is able to decide what treatment is good for the schizophrenics. In my article, I am not recommending any populist government as a substitute for individual decision-making. I clearly state that individuals who are aware and wise should constitute such a government. I also hint in footnote #10 what kind of government that could be. I am also requiring every child to be protected against abuse (through baptism etc.) at the hands of Christian parents and to be provided mandatory rational education as a defense against the Christian meme. I am not restricting an individual with awareness from making beneficial choices.

8. Dixit asserts, “History is evident of the fact that governmental bans, restrictions, and other coercive means have always failed to provide good results” and “governmental actions against irrational religious practices have also failed abysmally.”

Oh, really? Polygamy is illegal in the USA and one could go to jail for being polygamous. Does Dixit think that this law has not provided good results? Contrast this with Saudi Arabia where polygamy is allowed and the Saudi men indeed add imported women to their harem.

Francis Bacon inspired the founding of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge with a grant and a Royal Charter from King Charles II. It has been instrumental in ushering in scientific thinking and to partially restrain the harmful Christian beliefs. Does Dixit want to deny that ever since witch-burning and Inquisitions were made illegal through government decrees fewer witches and heathens have been burnt at the stake? This proves that if a reasonable law is enacted and effectively enforced it produces desired results.

9. She agrees with memetics but takes exception to my statement that most people do not make choices when it comes to religious belief and argues that during “the times of Vedic theistic religious beliefs in India, Samkhya, Mimamsa, Jainism, Buddhism, and various other atheistic religious philosophies developed with ease.”

The examples of Sāṅkhya, Mῑmāmsa, Buddhism, or Jainism hardly invalidate my argument, which is specifically directed at faith-based religions. These Indian systems are not dogmatic, faith-based doctrinal systems unlike faith-based religions such as Christianity or Islam. Faith-based religions memetically seek and achieve conformity and the fact that only one in twelve children abandons his parents’ faith corroborates it. On the other hand, rational systems such as the Indian examples presented are not dogmatic and use various pramāṇa as the means to prove the validity. Even where the Indian systems are not rigorous, hateful teachings are neither foundational nor inalienable to these religions as is the case with Christianity. I have specifically argued that a religion that is beneficial to an individual and society earns the privilege of freedom whereas a religion that is harmful does not. So, this grants the various Indian systems she has listed complete freedom and even state patronage since they are beneficial whereas Christianity and Islam are to be restrained since they are harmful.

10. Dixit cites the example of the Protestant Reformation to argue that even in Christendom individuals could make the choice of changing beliefs. However, the Protestant movement was neither a movement of individualism nor of a rejection of harmful beliefs. Martin Luther openly colluded with the monarchy, cited scriptural authority (Romans 13:1-7) to sanctify the divine rights of the king, and wrote a tract, Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, where he expressed solidarity with the king by urging the king to crush the peasant rebellion. He also wrote a tract On Secular Authority: How Far Does the Obedience Owed to It Extend? to argue for the compatibility of Christianity and secularism.  He argued that there are two kinds of authority on earth namely the heavenly variety governed by God’s principles and the earthly variety governed by secular principles. In Luther’s worldview, which evolved from earlier Christian worldviews, the secular principles serve only one purpose which is to keep the supposedly knave non-Christians in check so that the religious pursuit of the Christians is unhindered. In a political quid pro quo, Luther extended his support to the king against the Vatican and in turn sought the ruler’s support for the unhindered growth of Protestantism, which he received because the monarchy realized it was helpful to regain their own control and to diminish the powers of the Vatican. The fact that specific regions of Europe are either Protestant or Catholic confirms that these were mass movements (memeplexes) and not an example of individual choice.

Protestantism retains all the harmful foundational beliefs of Catholicism and it would be a folly to characterize it as an exercise of individual choice to evaluate and reject harmful Christian memes. In the USA too, Christians traded one form of rabid fanaticism (Quakers, Mennonites, etc.) for another (Catholics, Episcopal, etc.) thereby confirming that a harmful memeplex mutates but does not abandon its virulent tendency.

11. She argues that only a minority of Christians practice glossolalia and cites the example of Americans practicing yöga to argue that even Christian memes can be assailed by reason. I am afraid her understanding is naïve. Newberg points out that a belief in a wrathful and authoritarian God (which surely the God of Abraham is) results in the harmful rumination which has the opposite effect of meditation. So, not only glossolalia but every form of Christian prayer is harmful. However, many Christians usurp Hindu or Buddhist meditation and repackage it as a Christian practice.

In Being Different – An Indian Challenge To Western Universalism, Rajiv Malhotra systematically establishes that westerners absorb yöga into Christianity after divesting it of its Hindu characteristics and not as an alternative to Christianity. This is precisely how Christianity has ingested features from Hellenism or Buddhism as Zacharias Thundy (Buddha and Christ – Nativity Stories and Indian Traditions), Roy Amore (Two Masters, One Message – The Lives and Teaching of Gautama and Jesus), and Burnett Hillman Streeter (The Four Gospels – A Study of Origins, Treating of the Manuscript Tradition, Sources, Authorship, & Dates) demonstrate. This form of ingestion is intended to destroy the other religion. This is precisely why Americans either resist incorporating dhyāna into their yöga regimen or simply repackage it as pilates.

Importantly, this form of ingestion is nothing to rejoice about because it keeps the core Christian beliefs intact. As a result, the ingested practices remain marginal and ineffective whereas the Christian memes continue to dominate society.

12. Dixit argues that state atheism did not limit the impact of the Russian Orthodox church in the former USSR and some 83% of Russians are Christians whereas despite secularism only 76% of Americans are Christians (79% per Wikipedia). This is a fallacious argument because in the UK, Christianity is the state religion, yet only 71% of the population is Christian. Would Dixit then argue that state sponsorship actually results in the decline of Christianity? Only 29% of the Czech people are Christians and it may be worthwhile to objectively study whether this is the result of the decades-long Czech policy of compulsorily teaching their children “scientific atheism” and severely curbing the role of the church in public affairs.[3]

Apart from repeating that I have not advocated state atheism, I may also add that though Lenin cracked down on the church, Communism itself is an offshoot of Christianity and the Christian meme continued on in its newly invented political form.[4] Josef Stalin, who had earlier trained as a Christian priest, extended state support to the Russian Orthodox Church, funded it, and helped it to thrive. Khrushchev sometimes restrained the church mainly for political reasons but after his time the church once more formed a coalition with the government to flourish again. Most importantly, one form of virulent meme such as Communism is not a cure for another virulent meme like Christianity. I advocate not just the restraining of Christianity but also imparting compulsory scientific education (the meme of reason) to all children specifically demonstrating that Christian beliefs are false and harmful. There is some evidence that this would succeed.

13. Dixit falsely alleges that I advocate “confiscating all property of religious individuals and groups.” I have not at all advocated taking away anything from individuals. I have only advocated confiscating the property of Christian organizations since they facilitate the spread of the virulent Christian meme. Perhaps, my libertarian critique takes liberties with facts and commissions whatever she imagines if it helps attack an opponent.

14. Libertarians deny that they are worshiping America’s founding fathers and claim that they derive their idea from ancient Hinduism as Dixit does. Can they point out a single word from ancient times equivalent of libertarian in any Indian language? Perhaps they want us to believe that this unscientific ideology thrived in ancient India but none bothered to notice or record it even though Indians labeled every other ideology they formulated.

I am awaiting a libertarian critique of every substantive argument I have provided against libertarian beliefs in my article and in this response. I hope my critics can be truthful and scholarly, and avoid ad hominem attacks. You are more likely to convince impartial readers by being factual and objective than by attempting smear tactics on your opponent. Dharma teaches satyam vada (utter the truth) and you owe it to yourself to truthfully examine your beliefs instead of becoming an apologist for a cherished but falsified belief.

Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer and an atheistic, practicing Hindu.



[1] I am hoping that libertarians will attempt a serious critique of my article. So, I have treated this as part 1 of my response. Libertarians owe it to themselves to ensure that there are subsequent parts.

[2] I assume that Gargi Dixit is a female. If not, I will correct myself.

[3] Note that I am not recommending any Eastern Bloc-style totalitarianism but merely highlighting the possibility that a laws enacted to curb Christianity results in its decline. Further, “scientific atheism” had two components: one was a systematic debunking of religion, especially Christianity, and the other being Communist propaganda. The latter is as harmful as Christianity; however, the implementation of the former for over four decades seems to have the desired effect of destroying the virulent Christian meme.

[4] See the expositions of Jan Lochman in Thrower, James and Rodinson, Maxime: Marxist-Leninist Scientific Atheism and the Study of Religion and Atheism in the USSR.

The following two tabs change content below.

Kalavai Venkat

Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer, an atheist, a practicing orthodox Hindu, and author of the forthcoming book What Every Hindu Should Know About Christianity.

Latest posts by Kalavai Venkat (see all)