While addressing the nation on the 73rd Independence Day of India, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi touched many aspects of the nation’s life in his 90 minute speech. One of his often repeated topics is terrorism. “Today, the entire world faces the threat of terrorism. We must deal with it collectively. India will certainly do its bit to fight terrorism”, he declared during his speech. It seems that the Prime Minister is wilfully disregarding the growing religious fundamentalism in India, expressed through mob lynching in the name of cow and ostentatious religious practices promoted often by the state. Hatred and revenge is the root cause of terrorism and religious fundamentalism contains the seed of hatred towards other faiths. Religious fundamentalism has been a source of emergence of terrorism in many parts of the world. It makes people fanatic about their religious faith and see all others infidels who are to be brought to the “only true faith” even by using violence. The Islamic State (IS) is indulging in violence induced by religious fundamentalism and they are a threat to peace in different parts of the world.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines religious fundamentalism as 1) religious beliefs based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, regarded as fundamental to Christianity, 2) the 20th century movement among some American Protestants, based on these beliefs, and 3) a strict adherence to or interpretation of a doctrine, set of principles etc. as of a social, legal, political or religious group or system. Fundamentalists in general are conservatives or orthodox in their beliefs and practices and they do not want change anything in their religion. On the other hand they always insist on going back to the old practices and beliefs as if they are sacrosanct and immutable. Fundamentalist attitude can be seen not only in religion, but also in culture, language etc.
Thamas Pataki in his book, “Against Religion”, has mentioned ten characteristics of Religious Fundamentalism (https://vridar.org/2007/06/29/10-characteristics-of-fundamentalism/). A look at these ten characteristics can help us to understand in a better way what religious fundamentalism is and its negative impact on world peace and harmony.
1. Opposition to Modern Views and Ideas: The fundamentalists are counter-modernists. “Fundamentalism manifests itself as an attempt by “besieged believers” to find their refuge in arming themselves with an identity that is rooted in a past golden age”. And this identity is acted out in an attempt to restore that “golden past”. All religious fundamentalist believe that there existed a golden age in the past and hence there is a need for going back to that golden age. Therefore there is insistence on going back to the old customs and traditions. As a part of promoting Hindutva, old rituals are revived by the priestly class.
2. Fundamentalists are “generally assertive, clamorous, and often violent”. Examples are plenty. The Hindu fundamentalist destroyed the Babri mosque in 1992 and it was followed by widespread bloodshed in India. Mob lynching of the innocent Muslims by the cow vigilantes in India resulted in the death of more than 40 Muslims during the last five years. The Jews assert their right to Biblical land of the West bank and it has caused many wars and bloodshed. The militancy, threats, intimidation and sometimes violence on the part of America’s “Christian Right” is another example. The Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists, especially the IS, indulge in bombings in different parts of the world.
3. They are “the Chosen”, “the Elect”, “the Saved”. And as such, they are “privileged” or “burdened” with a special mission on behalf of their deity and for the benefit of the world. They believe that it is their bounden duty to go to different parts of the world and convert all people to their faith. The Catholic Church for a long time held the view that there is no salvation outside the Church. This has led to its collusion with the colonial forces in killing original inhabitants in the countries that were colonized by the European powers.
4. Public marks of distinction are needed to maintain their sense of superiority and distinctive identity. These marks are meant for the purpose of maintaining their distinctive identities. Examples are skullcaps, turbans, hijab, skin markings, circumcision, initiations, rituals, food taboos, holy times, etc.
After the second Vatican Council various reforms were initiated in the Church in India. Some misguided preachers have the audacity to say that Vatican II was an experiment that has proved to be a failure.
5. There is only one true religion and one correct way of life; and these must be defended against inroads from other religions and secularism. Religious pluralism is heresy for them. Since there is only one true way, it is under constant threat. The world is thus a place of persecution, a place where there is a black and white, a Manichaean struggle between absolutes, good and evil, truth and error, God and Satan. There is no middle ground. “You are with us or against us.”
The Hindu fundamentalists in India are bent upon taking away the secular character of the Indian constitution and imposing the Hindutva ideology on the whole of India. Beef ban and putting in place strict laws on religious conversion are two examples.
Because of the influence of fundamentalist preachers, a negative attitude is being created in the Catholic Church in India against other faiths. Sometimes, prejudice and hatred towards other religions are instilled in the hearts and minds of the faithful by these misguided preachers. After the Second Vatican Council inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism were promoted in India, a land of many faiths and cultures. Unfortunately, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue are disappearing from the theological and spiritual discourse in the Catholic Church in India.
6. There is an inerrant holy book, prophet or charismatic leader to whom literal obedience is mandatory . The fundamentalist insist on the literal understanding on their holy book. There is no room for interpretation taking into the socio-cultural and political context in which the book was written.
Some fundamentalist Christian preachers also misguide the faithful by giving too much importance to the Old Testament. Jesus had rejected the religiosity of the Jews and promoted spirituality based on the practice of core ethical and human values. Religious fundamentalism is creeping into the Church through the influence of the fundamentalist preachers and they are murdering critical thinking and choking creativity. As a result the Church is not able to withstand the onslaughts of the Hindutva.
7. Law and authority come from God . Even civic law must derive from the holy books. “God’s law always trumps human law.” Democracy is not a value of the fundamentalists.
In the context of India under the BJP government democracy is giving way to fascism. The emerging socio-political scenario in the country shows the “early signs of Fascism”, in the words of Trinamool Congress's first-time MP Mahua Moitra. While delivering her maiden speech in the Lok Sabha on 25th June, she said that "all the signs of early fascism" were visible in the country today. She briefly, but eloquently described the seven signs. 1) Nationalism searing into national fabric 2) Disdain for human rights in government 3) Subjugation and control of mass media 4) Obsession with national security 5) Religion and Government intertwined in the country 6) Disdain for intellectuals and the arts: "Everything we are doing is pushing India back to the dark ages. Secondary school textbooks are being manipulated and distorted in order to indoctrinate," 7) Erosion of independence in electoral system. Mahua Moitra through her powerful speech has presented before the people of India the dangerous shift from secular democracy towards fascism and Hindu Nationalism that is synonymous with Hindu fundamentalism.
8. Female sexuality must be controlled and clear impassable boundaries must be established between men and women. Sexuality is controlled within the structure of the patriarchal family. Women are subordinated in marriage, reproduction, abortion, access to or emphasis on education.
The RSS, the ideological mentor of the ruling party, BJP, was deadly opposed to the Indian constitution. It wanted to adopt a constitution in tune with the Manusmriti, the ancient Hindu law book. It contains many statements derogatory to women. For example, 5/151 of the Manusmriti says, “Girls are supposed to be in the custody of their father when they are children, women must be under the custody of their husband when married and under the custody of her son as widows. In no circumstances is she allowed to assert herself independently”. Almost all religions discriminate against women in one way or the other. The fundamentalists in the Church too are deadly against women empowerment, particularly the empowerment of women religious.
9. Sexual behaviour is a major concern of all fundamentalists: Christian, Jewish, Islamic without exception.
10. Fundamentalism and nationalism converge. The moral life according to the will of God can only be fully lived in a society of fellow-practitioners of the belief. Hence there is a need for bringing about a government that will prioritize the right morals and right culture for the nation.
Saving religions from the grip of the fundamentalists is an important task of all responsible citizens. Promoting spirituality by practising the core human and moral values of the religions is the antidote to the growing fundamentalism in religions. Developing scientific temper is another important step to prevent the intrusion of religious fundamentalism. Article 51A (h) of the Indian Constitution enjoins every citizen to develop scientific temper. “It shall be the duty of every citizen ... to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.” Today the citizens of India have to be alert against the penetration of fundamentalism into their respective religions, if the people of India have to live in peace and harmony.
(Published on 26th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 35)