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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Response to Post Secularism

Last week I attended a paper presentation by Nizzar in Casa Andree on “Life after Secularism.” There were serious and not so serious discussions on the topic in and outside the University among friends. Some tried to swap the words to form ‘secularism after life’. This put a startling question in my mind, whether in the life after death one will be secular or religious. But, keep that question as it is. Let me go to the content of the paper. The paper seemed to complexify ordinary notions just by changing them into unfamiliar terminology, like ‘life forms’ for religions and mind regimes for ethics. I did not find any purpose achieved by these new significations nor proposing anything worthwhile. But the discussion that ensued animated by Sunder Sarukhai and Arindham brought the issues at stake clearly. What follows is my response to the paper.
Ever since the Nation of Islam was discussed in the class sometime last year, the concept of Secularism was being churned in my mind. Religion played a major role in the formation of most countries in the world. In fact, I know very few countries that are not formed on the basis of religion. Think of its vestiges still haunting/following America, UK, India, Pakistan and not to speak of the Middle East.
The concept of secularism evolved in countries where only one religion was in practice, viz. Christianity. They conceived the idea that in the economic dealings religion should not be considered a barrier. (Judeo-Christian religion had placed strong censures on certain types of economic transactions.) The idea was transplanted to India where many religions existed side by side. It came to be that the meaning of secularism changed into ‘refraining from discrimination based on religion’. Now the two concepts have totally different connotations. The idea of secularism is discussed anew in west when it is threatened by the influx of Hindus, and Muslims. They are awakened to a new sense of identity and apparently slipping into religious fundamentalism. The west is finding it difficult to practice the secularism they once preached.
The speeches of Obama like a religious preacher symbolize that resurgent religiosity. The political parties that have created vote banks on religion in India speaks volumes on how fundamentalism has returned in a modified form to India. In the wake of such resurgent religiosity my question is how dare Nizzar think of ‘Life after Secularism’ when secularism itself has not come. I do not believe in secularism as a final goal to be achieved either. I believe that religious radicalism is the key to better understanding among people. What shape that religion takes at different periods will be decided by the pace of the psychological evolution human kind will achieve in each era.
Following secularism amounts to speaking against one’s own deepest self to some extent. How many people in our country can make a decision in life without having recourse to spiritual counsel? So to live secularism as a way of life is not a natural behaviour. You will come at odds with yourself when it comes to actually implementing it.
What then is the option? Religious radicalism is the option. All religions at their base, root (radix) believe in universal brotherhood and love. Aggression on another’s conscience on whatever ground one tries to justify, does not fall in line with any religious teaching. If any fundamentalism has arisen in any religion it comes out of a narrow interpretation of the rules and not a defect in the religious code itself. So keeping religions and their teaching will make people feel comfortable within themselves and with others. This is what I mean radicalism in religion.

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