Tolerance and truth

The lessons for countries of Asia like India are clear: the Church must be treated strictly as a business empire and/or a political entity interested in the growth of its secular power in the name of God. It has created markets, looted countries and financed wars in the name of Christ. It will do all these again if given the chance, for the Church's method can be summarized by the simple adage of 'the end justifies the means'. It has never backed away from a profitable venture on moral grounds. Its theology, based on the Doctrine of the Faith, frees its followers from all accountability. It has not hesitated to murder its own leaders including Popes when its secular interests were threatened. It will stop at nothing in its struggle for survival. It would be a very great mistake to continue to regard it as a religious institution. Westerners have by and large seen through the mask; it is time that others did too.

India, along with other parts of the world, made this mistake with Islam before. A thousand years ago, when Islam was knocking on the doors of India in the name of God, Indian thinkers failed to subject its exclusivist doctrine to an intellectual analysis and see it as an imperialist ideology in the guise of religion. They accepted its claim as a true religion and paid a heavy price. But thanks to the heroism and sacrifices of countless men and women, the pluralistic Hindu civilization survived -though greatly reduced in scope; the great Persian civilization and the HinduBuddhist Afghanistan and much of Central Asia were not so fortunate. This was to be repeated five hundred years later in the Americas at the hands of post-Reformation Christianity. It is time now to recognize that the increasingly desperate Church may well try to use economic globalization the same way it used the Spanish and the Portuguese empires - to extend its reach.

Pluralistic civilizations like those of India and ancient Greece are vulnerable to the forces of theocracy - or aggressive political ideologies marching in the name of God. Theocracy is nothing but the pursuit of secular goals in the name of God - with appeals to God serving to free the aggressor from any accountability. This has been the history of both Christianity and Islam. Such an approach lies outside the pale of pluralistic thought and experience; it requires a special intellectual effort on the part of a pluralist to comprehend exclusivism and its offshoot of theocracy. And this is exactly where theocracy has the advantage: it catches its prey off guard.95

But ultimately, the Church's foundation, its vaunted Doctrine of the Faith must be seen and exposed as an exclusivist, and therefore an intolerant political ideology masquerading as religious belief. The issue is not one of personal belief: no one has the right to object to another's belief in this or any other doctrine; but its use as an instrument of political and economic expansion cannot be accepted as an expression of the will of God to be undertaken by His self-appointed agents. This was the mistake that Medieval India made with regard to Islam: it mistook an imperialist ideology for a new religious movement like Buddhism. For this monumental intellectual failure, not only India but much of Asia are still paying the price. For this reason, Indian intellectuals have a special responsibility to take the lead in safeguarding pluralism in Asia. They have the necessary intellectual tools and the historical experience.

A basic problem appears to be that Western educated Hindus have a great weakness for flattery: they like to be known as tolerant people. Whether this is really sincere or merely a cathartic response growing out of a thousand-year long struggle for survival against forces of theocracy is a different issue that need not concern us here. One suspects it is the latter, for most of them do not know the difference between their own pluralistic heritage and the exclusivism inherent in Islam and Christianity. For this reason, they attribute intolerance to individuals rather than the exclusivist ideologies that underlie these creeds.

Both the Christian missionary and the Muslim mullah see Hindu tolerance not as a virtue to be emulated, but as a weakness to be taken advantage of. Each tells the Hindu to be tolerant, while not feeling any obligation to reciprocate in kind. They berate the Hindu for not being true to the tolerance of his religion when an incident like the Ayodhya demolition takes place, but say not a word when temples are destroyed en masse in Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The next time a mullah or a bishop lectures to a Hindu on tolerance, the Hindu would not be amiss to tell him to stop lecturing and show by example. At the very least, they should be asked to give the same lecture to their own people - a somewhat risky proposition for Muslims at least. There is no need to preach tolerance to the tolerant.

This is not to suggest that the world should become intolerant: the point is only that those who themselves use intolerance as the centrepiece of their theology and politics - Pat Robertson is a prime example, with the present Pope not far behind -have no right to appeal to the tolerance of others. Pluralism entails mutual tolerance

- not freedom to practice intolerance at the expense of others. Christianity and Islam

- both exclusivist - have never shown any tolerance towards others when they were not forced to, i.e., when they could get away with intolerance.

There is an episode in the Indian epic Mahabharata in which Duryodhana, having failed to defeat his cousins the Pandavas by every means fair and foul, appeals to their chief Yudhisthira in the name of fair play - or dharma. Yudhisthira tells him:

Everyone wants to examine the rules of dharma when they find themselves in difficulty.

95 It may be recalled that imposition of theocracy is greatly facilitated by monotheism as Ram Swamp has observed. (See Chapter II) Theocracy cannot take root in a pantheon of multiple gods which is a natural consequence of pluralism.

The pluralistic United Slates seems to be making the same mistake today as India a thousand years ago, of trying to rationalise Islamic Fundamentalism - that it can somehow be contained by setting up puppet regimes. It failed in Iran, but it seems to have brought it no better understanding. It is probably only a matter of time before the Black Muslim movement in the US, under the likes of Louis Farrakhan, is subverted by the likes of Qaddafi who has already expressed interest in it. Subversives from impoverished countries like Pakistan (another US client state) are unlikely to miss the opportunity.

As Yudhisthira saw, Duryodhana's appeal was sheer opportunism, buying some time until a better opportunity presented itself when the whole mischief could begin again. This is how one should view appeals to 'Hindu tolerance' by Islamic and Christian leaders.

Then there is also the question of allowing a creed like Christianity with its awesome record of falsehood and fabrication to impose its irrational belief on others. Koenraad Elst has this advice for Hindus:96

What Hindus who have been trapped in a sentimental glorification of Jesus and other prophets will have to learn, is that the essence of Hindu Dharma is not "tolerance", or "equal respect for all religions", but Satya, truth. The problem with Christianity and Islam is superficially their intolerance and fanaticism. But this intolerance is a consequence of these religions' untruthfulness: if your belief system is based on delusions [sic: and/or fabrications], you have to pre-empt rational inquiry into it and shield it from contact with more sustainable thought systems.

A remarkable insight indeed, and sound advice not just for Hindus but for everyone interested in preserving freedom and pluralism in the world - especially the United States which seems to think it can 'finesse' the fundamentalist threat by setting up puppet regimes. And this is vindicated by the dilemma of Christianity in the wake of the revelations of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Protecting falsehood is precisely what Christianity and Islam have both done - through blasphemy laws, the Inquisition and a host of others meant to suppress freedom of thought and enforce uniformity of belief. Let us recall what Thomas Jefferson had to say about exclusivism, though expressed in the specific context of Christianity:

Millions of innocent men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned - yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools the other half hypocrites.

Exponents of these - no matter if it is done in the name of a high-sounding doctrine - are the last people on earth who should be lecturing to others on tolerance and salvation. Tolerance does not mean tolerance of intolerance and untruth, but only of freedom of thought and conscience. Anything that seeks to crush the freedom of others deserves no tolerance. Freedom of thought is the antidote to fanaticism, and this is the great fear of the guardians of every irrational belief system.

And this, ultimately, is the fear of Christianity today - and also its Achilles Heel. The Dead Sea Scrolls are only a sign in the sky - at most a warning, a bolt from the blue perhaps, but still only a warning - telling the Church to focus its attention, more on the problems of the spirit and less on secular enrichment. Unfortunately, spirituality lies outside its tradition and heritage. Its methods and means have always been secular: use of power and money to defeat its adversaries. Since the Church can no longer suppress freedom of thought, it has sought to suppress the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now this too has run its course. Its search for new pastures has

96 Koenraad Elst, op. cit., pp. 134-35. Elst, like the present author, regards prophetic claims as irrational and false, but goes much further in his analysis of the state of mind that leads to prophetic behavior. People and the governments in the West, especially the United States would do well to heed Elst's advice also as applied to the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

taken the Church to Asia where the population is large, and a ready-to-use bandwagon exists in the form of multinationals in search of new markets. This is where India and her thinkers have a special responsibility to defend pluralism. It is the only society that has withstood the assault of exclusivist forces marching in the name of God, and lived to tell the story. It is a propitious time now to put this knowledge and experience to work.

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