Rationalism as a Way of Life


What is’way of life’? Till the emergence of organised religions, it seems there is no point in history where there has been a single ‘way of life’. In actuality, human in his/her struggle to survive, sustain and socialise, develops a way of life which is dominated by the reason, logic and commonsense. Imagined and incomprehensible elements play lesser role just as impractical but supposedly essential to satisfy the human inbuilt vulnerability and incredulousness. In other words, in the era of organised religions too there were two overlapping ways of life: practical/realistic rational and the imagined/impractical religious. While earlier was a real everyday life, the later eclipses the earlier with the intention of claiming authority/power over a large or small social unit/s by an individual or a small fraction from within the units. Despite being unorganised, primitive religions in the era of pre-organised religions were able to perform the same functions of the religions of the era that preceded it. The level of innocence of the people in the era of pre-organised religions allowed religions to dismiss the essentiality of the reality or people were not allowed to understand the reality. This blockade was much more powerful in the era or organised religions as the religion was increasingly becoming a tool of controlling masses by the political establishment. It became essential for the organised religions to completely eclipse the reason, logic and commonsense as tools of constructing a way of life. There is no doubt that basing religion or faith as a way of life is a conspiracy of the ruling and priestly class. Every organised religion which employed the faith as the mass controlling psychological, emotional and sentimental tool cannot deny the fact that the faith was invented for political purpose rather than cultural, social and religious purposes. For a naked eye, political domination in the ‘way of life’ may be invisible. But when we look that way the (daily) way of life is executed through religious rituals and festivals, social customs and traditions and cultural forms and patterns, we can argue with a certain degree of certainty that the power is consciously built in into the ‘way of life’ by the systematisation of means and methods which future rationalise the absurdities and abnormalities. Yet, what we cannot easily detect is that the way in which all these were used in camouflaging the political. No single ‘way of life’ (if we agree it as religion for the sake of argumentation) was born big or dominant. Religions of one single god, language and book have evolved in two ways. One, at regional level, a religion that had the supportive political patronage (which is reciprocal) grown either on the elimination or absorption of the smaller and the ‘ways of life’ emerged stronger at the regional level competed with their counterparts in the larger level (continental or intercontinental) and becomes larger and organised one. J.D. Bernal argues that most of the organised religions in their emergence as the single religions have eliminated the religious, cultural and social plurality in the medieval Europe and Persia. From this very act of elimination of the multiple ways of life, the dominant draws its power and emerges as the unchallengeable. However, though a territorial dominant way of life spread fast and becomes global, it faces challenges now and then from within to reform or new ones to counter. One may not find the politicality in the in ways of life in these two. Yet in course of time, they do acquire. For example, Protestantism against the Catholic Christianity or Buddhism against Vedic Brahmanism was to reform and counter respectively. These two did not remain apolitical for long if not at their initial stages. Even the Buddhism which did not came as a ‘way of life’ (i.e. as religion), adopted or invented suppressive structures from the dominant ways of life and has become a national. If we examine the way Buddhism, a natural rational philosophy, became way of life, we may have to locate in a context where the dominant way of life always brings the rest into a mode of competition which forces the non-political way of life to acquire polticality for sustenance and survival. Christainity, Islam, Budhism, Judaism and Hinduism as a ways of life have been more political than religious, cultural and social. It is this politicality which brings, Edward Said, concluded,  civilisations (ways of life) into clashes. From crusades in Europe to today’s clash of civilisations, tussles between ‘ways of life’ were at global and regional levels have been for political domination. Christains and Muslims, as larger denominations have been fighting for global domination. Hinduism, with its ambitious Akhanda Bharat is also has been entertaining ambitions of being a global way of life. Budhism, though could not be seen competing with any other way of life but spread as a way of life from India to Korean Peninsula and Sri Lanka has made it global way of life. Religion as a way of life is a clever social construct while the real way of life of the human is rational, logical and commonsensical.

The realistic human, whether we accepts or not, his/her life is being managed and governed by logic and reason which are inbuilt in each and every human as independent thinking entity. Consciously and unconsciously every individual employs logic and reason when faced with harsh realities of life. But domination of natural forces and limitations of mind in comprehending things beyond their comprehension put them at the disposal of those who seek to build social, cultural and political power structures on this very vulnerability of humans. Meta-physical, surreal, irrational ideas, systems and orders are fore-grounded on the limitations of the human comprehension and  desire of human to know the ultimate truths such as formation of life, universe, vagaries and wonders of nature, ‘mysterious’ happenings and human helplessness. But slowly, in the process of becoming civilised, the rational and historical human society begins to give up some of the absurd/abnormal inhuman traditions. Bertrand Russell argues that when human societies becoming civilised and historical, primitive traditions like human sacrifice were began to be given up. The Greeks were giving it up by seventh century BCE. J.D. Bernal argue that the development of secular society in the European towns from the 9th CE were distancing them from religion and throwing challenges to the Catholic Church. Bhagat Singh believed that merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two important traits of revolutionary. This is what makes Periyar and Ambedkar revolutionaries. They were merciless in questioning absurdities of the social and cultural norms sanctioned by Hinduism and not only expected communities they belonged to but also the citizens of the nation to be rational scrutinisers of these customs by developing ability of questioning. It is this rational scrutiny that would naturally releases the shudras, dalits and adivasis from the mental enslavement, from social, economic and political oppression by the upper castes. The knowledge these groups had before forced to be part of organised religion was primarily knowledge on human social, economic and cultural life and nature and natural forces.  This accumulated human knowledge on the reality and the presumed, imaged or conjured forces of natures in the forms of gods, devils, demons of the primitive human, if integrated together, and the human society should have been more rational than it is today. It is this distance between these two spheres which have been kept separately by conspiracy of organised religions that have been forcing human to believe in both simultaneously. This distance should have been automatically eliminated when science systematically understood the inner and outer universes.

Indian’s Engagement with Reason

Historians of science would always ask why India was backward in science and rationalism and why it is still deeply religious. What is its level of engagement with reason and logic? One of the major materialistic philosophies that posed serious threat was Brihaspatis’s and Ajita Kesakambali’s Charvaka philosophy that denied soul and transmigration of soul in Sannapala Sutta.  Romilla Thapar points to the existence of culture of protest and dissent in ancient India in the form of the opposition between the orthodox and heterodox religions.  Though it is not easy to answer why rationalism could not develop it could argued that it was rigidity of Vedic Brahmanism which held back India in ancient and medieval times. The Shramanic philosophies: Bhudhism and Jainism came to challenge which Ambedkar called as revolution. However, the Vedic Brahmanism started counter revolution which has resulted in the fast absorption of Jainism and the prosecution of the Budhism. While the earlier got accommodated easily, the later stuck to its foundational philosophy of natural rationalism and it fast became a new way of life for those excluded from Vedic Brahmanism.   We can divide people of India into three broad categories in terms of consumption of religion, performing duties and promotion of religion. First is the educated religious group. This group forms major chunk of the population. Though they go through the rational education, their behaviour, their religiosity and rituality is same as the illiterate. Second is the religious educated. These are from the very beginning decided to submit their lives to the lie i.e. the idea called God and plethora of lies built in and around God called religion. Ulamas of Islam, sisters, brothers, mothers, bishop and pope of Christianity, Jain thirthankaras, Budhist monks, swamis, sanyasis, sanyanis, Babas/ matas(human gods/goddesses), temple priests, jyothisya pundits, numerologists and astrologists in Hinduism are supposedly be acquiring knowledge both on theology as well as on human life, social norms, economy and to some extent on universe through scholastic system of education that is perfected by catholic church in the medieval times. I would not say all religions are following the same but they aim to train their preachers and promoters of religion on God, religion, universe and problems of humans. What they known and say are not true and what they do in support of what they say is rubbish. The last category is the illiterate and ignorant masses. When the above two categories are incapable of asking questions and intentionally incapacitate them to do so, can we expect any such questioning ability form the last category? No. The well organized religions have designed methods of keeping the innocent in a permanent submission to the idea of God through number of religious festivals, ceremonies at individual and family level, mass religious gatherings at village, regional state and national level. All the above three categories, in this country, have no interest in respecting the reason and logic.

Though the last category is not at mistake but other two categories are. They are educated but illogical, irrational, ‘unreasonable’, unscientific and hypocritical for their own political, social, cultural and economic reasons. They do posses the ability to reject illogicality but consciously subscribe to religion. Religion is opium of the masses said Marx. It is true. But when the large number of educated people acquire rational thinking through education, they naturally be working as anti-dote to the opium. If number of educated increases, the number of ignorant and innocent decreases which eventually pave the way for the birth of rational society. Why it did not work that way in India? Why we have more religious people than non-believers in this country? Have these educated failed in their duty or can we call all of them educated at all, in the real sense of the word? Educated people in India are called as educated, intelligent, knowledgeable, intellectual, progressive, forwarding thinking, thinkers, philosophers, secular and atheist. But more than 80% educated are not really educated in sense that they don’t believe that scientific temper and realism are essential. They are orthodox, staunch followers of rituals, religion and social customs and tradition as suggested by elders without asking a single question on the purpose and meaning of those rituals. Ironically, Students and professionals from science and engineering studies background are more religious and ritualistic than humanities and social sciences. This means, we have 80% educated religious. These are very easy to be religionised or they themselves become the soldiers for the promotion of religion. One should not be surprised to know that most of the foot soldiers of violence, be it Islamic or saffron terrorism that this country is facing, is caused by young educated. They even run religious organization.

Since the supposed to be rational citizens have become irrational, the next logical sequence is that superstitions, mantras, tantras cheating Swamis and hermits would flourish on the ignorance and innocence of the masses. It is this last category which is suppose to get help in finding practical solutions to the practical problems from the above two, instead it gets to be used as a laboratory of madness by brain washing with communal rhetoric and by getting injected with communal hatred. It is this last vulnerable category which is being used by the RSS, VHP, BJP, Bajarangadal and other extreme radical terrorist organizations to foment tensions. The murders, killers and violent mobs which we are seeing in the last four and half years are the half educated or illiterate unemployed caste Hindu youth. They are not upper caste. Most of them are helpless BC and OBC youth. These men, for unfortunate reasons, are at the disposal of the owner of factories of the communal poison.

So far, India did not worry about the growing religiosity, superstitions and ritualism. But it cannot be ignored anymore as they are become perfect tools for self destruction of the nation. It is high time, for the civil society to take note on the necessity of scientific rationalism as the only option to counter both the communal and to de-communalise the communalised. For my understanding, the onus of rationalising India would fall on the first category. Given the situation of the nation, they don’t have the liberty of being religious and ritualistic. Their minimum civic responsibility is that they stop being religious and ritualistic and start becoming the soldiers of reason and logic.

But it is should not be the case with scientist of any kind. They, through various systematic methods/means, are trained to comprehend which is incomprehensible to common illiterate and innocent humans. In the descending hierarchy scientist, engineer, educated are all capable of comprehending worldly things. This is what the European society from Renaissance has been doing. In that process, Norway and Sweden are having majority of atheist population. But India’s public life is deeply religious and ritualistic. Level of orthodoxy, religiosity and ritualism varies among the religious communities. Yet, all three dominant religions, in India, expect mentally submissive people. Unfortunately, India’s engagement with reason and logic is quite minimal. Against orthodox Vedic Brahamanism we had Charvakas/Lokayutha philosophy of materialism in 6 century BCE and the Charvakas were prosecuted by Vedic Brahmanism. We had Buddhism which focused on the worldly problems in 5 century BCE challenged Vedic Brahmanism. It was also successfully driven way from the country. Started in 6th and continued up to 16th century CE was the medieval Bhakti Movement which was a response to the inclusive Islam by hierarchical Hinduism. Broad range of philosophies and reforms proposed to reduce the rigidity of religious orthodoxy in Hinduism primarily. But it did not go beyond the principle of one God, one soul and everyone is equal in front of God. Application of logic and reason is quite minimal. But in Western Europe, we see that they were rejecting religion and focusing on the humanism and realism from 10th century CE onwards. Later in 19th century, with the advent of western modernity and liberalism, Indian Hinduism once again forced to subject itself for reform. Here too, focus was not on religion and but on the elimination of inhuman social customs and absurdities sanctioned by Hinduism. So, the19th century reform was nothing but the forced application of humanism of western renaissance in the fear of Hinduism getting rejected as inadequate, improper and unsuitable culture for the changed time and context. Then at individual level Nehru though took agnostic position but believed scientific temper could be promoted by the scientific community among Indians. Unfortunately, it remained class affair. Even the scientific community also terribly failed to be scientific in their supposedly rational life. Ironically, religion is more dominant among the Indian scientists than reason, realism and logic. Ambedkar revisited Buddhism as a non-religious and non-ritualistic democratic egalitarian natural philosophy for dalits suffering under Hinduism. Periyar proposed radical rationalism that rejected both God and religion and proposed rationalism and atheism as a new way of life. But all these efforts are successfully countered by the organised Hinduism in 20th century as well. India, at the time of independence itself, declared itself as incapable of rationalising itself. Or it believed that rationalism need not necessarily be an essential national philosophy. Instead, it chose secularism as an ideology that has the potential to keep people of two major religions (Hinduism and Islam) in social harmony. It is exactly what Nehru thought. Both Islam and Hinduism are orthodox to the core. Therefore, state sponsored rationalisation of the country, as Mustapha Kemal Pasha did in Turkey, would have led social chaos. But Periyar had no such concerns. More than nation, for Periyar it is suffering of the non-Brahmans under the Brahmanic cultural, ritual and spiritual domination which dominated his thought.

However, secularism, to a larger extent worked as a magical wand. But it could not, naturally eliminate the problems of innocent and ignorant masses who have suffering with orthodoxy of Hinduism and Islam. Neither the state nor the civil society consisted of educated, scientific and engineering communities believe that they have basic responsibility towards the suffering lot. Suffering of the masses was seen as a cultural choice of their own. In mean time, postmodernism without being mindful of millions of masses and their sufferings declares science and scientific rationalism which created supposedly democratic order/superstructures as oppressive and torturous. As a result, India dismisses scientific rationalism as unsuitable and painful before letting it to perform its natural and allocated functions. Its benefits were deprived to those who needed it the most.

Contemporary India

‘Way of life’ is the phrase that is making rounds in the last four years, in India,  as the majoritarian Hindu religious forces started allocating new political functions to religion in the 21st century India. In colonial India, way of life has been used as a political tool by the British, Indians have invoked its inherent politicality to development national identities to fight against the British and by the muslims and hindus to formulate their communal nationalism. From the last quarter of the 19th century, the both these communities have been seeing their way of life as the only means to achieve their goal. Therefore, in the colonial India, religion has been less cultural and social than it was political. During its transition from being colony to an independent nation, India was subjected to horrors of death by dominant ways of life. Enlightened modern societies obligated to be secular, democratic and rational as most of the modern societies across the continents were multi-religious and multi-cultural somehow kept the orthodox religious forces at bay. Nonetheless, societies known for being strong fortress of secularism, rationalism and democracy have been worst of victims of the religious orthodoxy of the majority which keep emerging and re-emerge in new forms according to the changing context and time. Moreover, unfortunately, not a single nation in this world consisted of demographically equal communities of different identities. Every nation has, at least, one/two racial, religious, ethnic majority and many minorities as well. While the majority, in the process of equating its religious/cultural/ethnic identity with the that of the nation invokes its religion/race/ethnicity as an ultimate and unchallenging tool for  seeking the submission of the minorities or the other, the other which is demographically weaker force would counter the majority by invoking its own religion/race/ethnicity to claim constitutionally endowed basic rights among which protecting and promoting its own religion, right to life and other interests both as a counter and as well as a survival strategy. It is obvious that the minority would be at the receiving end as the majority is at the commanding position. It is not a fight between two equal forces but conflicts. Since minority’s way of life faces natural rejection by the majority, in the democratic secular societies the earlier would get the support of the secular, rational, humanist and democratic communities drawn from these very majority/minority groups. But ironically, neither the majority nor minority would spare progressive minority (rationalists, humanists, secularists and atheists) who are drawn from these very groups. The progressive minority naturally opposes challenges and fights against the orthodoxy in the way of life that is that essential for politicality. Though it is in attacking the progressive minority, the custodians of the ways of life do not show any difference but minority, at times, under the threat of majority, could see the progressive minority as a natural ally. But it would not appreciate the radical critique of its religion/rituals and social systems. Now, in India, though minority is countering the majority, it lacks the luxury of considering the progressive minority as enemy as its needs the help of the progressive minority for seeking justice from atrocities committed and to survive, minority enters into a nation saving alliance. From this alliance the progressive minority would emerge as strong counter force to the majority. Moreover, time and context (i.e. 21st century and its cultural context) provides natural strength to progressive minority over its natural enemy. In other words, it is the scientific rationalism and humanism which are supposed to be essentials instead of religion and religiosity. Ironically, in a time and context where even its remotest connection with government is seen as unconstitutional, inappropriate and absurd, religion of the majority if not minority has been acquiring an unchallengeable audacity that would allow it to unleash its power on its imagined enemies (religious/progressive minorities). Earlier, there was or still is certain amount of relationship between heads of the government institutions who at personal capacity failed to be secular and rational. But most of it was limited to visiting temples, participating in religious rituals and festivals. There were unpopular Presidents, Governors, Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, Chief Justices of Supreme and High Courts, ministers of central and state cabinets and elite bureaucrats have, unfortunately, failed to maintain that distance between the government and religion. Other than this, the direct involvement of the government with religion is the religious endowments department which manage and maintain religious establishments and ensure religious freedom. it is not the responsibility of the government. Yet, in India, it is presented as a constitutional obligation. But these two functions are only obligations of the government. It did not amount to any sort of relationship of government with religion. Since independence, religious endowment departments under the state governments did play a spoil sport which worked against the very idea of secular state. Yet, they being with the government did not cause much concern. India despite being a religiously orthodox society, secularism, if not rationalism, from 1947 to 2014, except BJP with its governments in few states in western and central India at the centre from 2014, congress on its own and with coalition parties at centre and states and other regional parties in states have successfully maintained a required distance from religion. This does not mean that governments before 2014 have been responsible enough in neither promoting free thought (secular and rational thinking) or freedom of speech. Almost all governments, so far, have completely disregarded the Article 51 A (h) mandates that it is the duty of the every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform. Since it is placed in directive principles, no government felt obligated to promote it among citizens. Many a times, the later came into conflict with the religious orthodoxy of both majority and minority in India. Scientists, educationists, rationalists, secularists, humanists and atheists who have shouldered the responsibility of promoting scientific temper and humanism among citizens in the country were assassinated, threatened and tortured in India. Christians have forces Sanal Edumarakku to leave the nation to Finland for busting a catholic miracle in Mumbai. Hindus have eliminated Narendra Dhabolkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi and Gouri Lankesh for reforming and challenging absurdities in Hinduism. Muslims threatened Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi novelist for her novel Lajja when she was give shelter in India.

Anti-religious criticism which consists of pointing out the absurdity and obscurantism inbuilt in all religions purposefully or intentionally has been projected or interpreted as disrespecting the sentiments of the believers which led to the torture, killing and curtailing freedom of speech. There were many episodes of attacks on individuals and groups. But never was it a national problem before Gujarat riots in 2002. Ramjanmabhoomi Ratha Yatra by L.K. Advani, was the first step towards decimating the hopes of India becoming secular and rational society. It was an open declaration of intention of Hindus to define religiosity as a way of life reversing all the hard earned fruits of socio-religious reforms of Hinduism from 1829 to 1990s. Till then India looked like a promising country that is capable of travelling with times. Now it is travelling back in time. If not transformed into a rational society but could have remained secular or become more secular and tolerant. Gujarat pogrom, beyond any doubts has proved the impossibility of India being secular and rational. Right-wing has developed a strong network of foreign (NRI) and Indian capitalist Hindus backed communal organisations throughout the world. Their consistent efforts made the impossible possible that has brought the so called ‘new India’ into existence. The radical right becoming a government has not only has emboldened the majoritarian communal forces which were under control for long but allowed the later to establish a reciprocal relationship with the earlier as it is essential for both to growth together. While the government has used all its power and resources at its disposal to assist the communal majority to grow in strength, the later has made sure that it has put the power of the government and its resources into optimal usage to guarantee the continuity of require political capital to right-wing party.

Though, at the moment, constitution is still secular, government in India is not. Government as an implementer of the constitution would naturally impose its colour on the constitution. It is hard to see government and constitution as separate entities. When we try to understand the way Hinduism is being defined as a way of life at this particular juncture it becomes clear that the political Hindus wanted Hinduism to perform certain defined functions. If the religion is defined as way of life of the nation, it is believed, its natural opposition would be automatically eliminated and that would transform it into an accepted social culture which is to do with sentiments and emotions rather than beliefs. Religion as a way of life is much more powerful than the religion as set of rituals, customs and prayers. So, it as a way of life performs three defined functions.  One, it has the enormous potential in the cultivation of mass religious sentiments which are essential for the community that is visualising the establishment of homogenous race/religion/culture as foundational characters of the ‘new nation’. Two, it initiates the process of elimination of the other by highlighting the differences. Three, it assists in realising the ultimate goal. At the moment, India is witnessing a tussle between majority, minority and as well as rationalist ways of life. Lynching, rapes, murders, assassinations, physical attacks on places of worship of minority and deprivation of freedom of speech have all become common in the nation which were abnormal till the beginning of the 21st century.

Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao teachers history at Bharathidasan Univeristy, Tiruchirapalli, TN.

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