Hindus Rising: Meera Nanda and “The God Market”


We need to be ready to confront Hinduism. And here’s why: India is on track to become a significant world power within thirty years, and Hindu nationalism is on the rise there, not in decline. There are even well-funded efforts now to spread Hinduism into other countries. Hindu nationalism, Hindu supremacism, Hindu fundamentalism, Hindu terrorism, and Hindu evangelism are terms once thought to be oxymoronic but now are a reality. It’s not an urgent threat in America, to be sure (Hinduism’s numbers and influence are microscopic compared to the more pressing problems created by conservative and mainstream Christianity; and, among external threats, Islam), but the power and influence of India, economically and politically, is of growing significance, and its policies are increasingly influenced by Hinduism. We’d do well to keep our eye on it.

There is another reason to pay attention. The secularization thesis is in trouble lately. It turns out, the idea that modernization inevitably increases secularization (and a corresponding decline of religion) is false. It has been based on the rather exceptional examples of Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia (and now, only very recently, the U.S., which for the first time is showing the start of similar demographic trends). The rest of the world is going the other direction, with increasing (albeit changing) religiosity, hand-in-hand with increased modernization and industrialization. This is the danger of focusing only on the first world as if it were normative. When we look at India, for example, we see many very important parallels with the path of religion in the U.S. (up until now), but also many important differences. Any theory of secularization (how inevitable it is, or how to advance it) must be based on the evidence available from other religious and cultural contexts. India is an ideal example of that.

I would not have said or thought any of the above had I not been lucky enough to be asked to read and blurb the American edition of Meera Nanda’s book The God Market: How Globalization Is Making India More Hindu (2011, revised edition with a new introduction; originally published in India in 2009). Meera Nanda is a noted philosopher of science in India who (ironically, given that she’s an atheist) was a recipient of a John Templeton Foundation Fellowship to research and write on secularization in India (or more precisely, on the reception of scientific thinking in India, what Indians call “scientific temper,” set forth as a national goal in India’s constitution). Her main project (which will be published as Tryst with Destiny: Scientific Temper and Secularization in India) is near completion. But she realized she could not develop that without first publishing her preliminary findings on the state of secularism in India, as her findings were overturning the apple cart of traditional secularization theories, and as a patriotic Indian and champion of science and reason she is greatly concerned about this.

I provided the publisher with this official reaction to her book, which you will now find gracing its back cover:

Nanda reveals that rising secularization is not quite triumphant, but in fact matched by a rising tide of religiosity. India is one of the largest and most productive countries in the world, it’s high time we paid attention to the religious trends that are consuming it. [The God Market provides] an excellent tour of just what is going on, and how it resembles (and differs from) the American and European experience with religious nationalism and fundamentalism. She explains what this means for the contemporary secularization thesis, but also what it means for India and the world. Hinduism is on the rise. And we will have to confront it. And for that, we have to understand it. Nanda provides the ideal guide.

Among the things she discovers (and documents) is that Hinduism is on the rise (not decline) among the large and successful middle class in India, and among the rich, reversing the predictions of the standard secularization thesis that greater security removes the need for religion. Reduced existential anxiety (reduced fears of starvation, injury, disease, bankruptcy, loss of employment, terrorist attacks, industrial accidents, crime, poverty), produced by secular governments replacing religion in meeting these needs (from improved legal systems to public sanitation and safety and national security, and such things as unemployment and medical insurance) is supposed to reduce religiosity. But that isn’t always so. Nor is it ever the whole story.

Although it is true that (in many documented cases) decreased existential anxiety often reduces the proportion of religiosity in a society, religiosity is not thereby eliminated but remains rather abundant. For example, even 1 in 3 Norwegians believes in God, and depending on how one defines terms, the real number is closer to 2 in 3; only 1 in 6 Norwegians identifies as what we would call an atheist (only 17% “do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”), and we can dink this up to only 1 in 5 if you include agnostics (by adding in the 4% who “don’t know”). Moreover, even this modest reduction does not always occur in every society. Because religion itself can create existential anxieties that it then exploits. This is a notable feature of religion also explored by Hector Avalos in his new and intriguing book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, which challenges the claim that violence “actually” has other causes such as resource disparities, by showing that those disparities are often created by religion (in fact sometimes are the wholly fictional creations of religion).

An example of a fabricated existential anxiety is fear of one’s fate in the afterlife. But one can also gin up anxiety over the trivia of human life, too, from romantic success to job promotions to income security, which religion can then step in and offer solutions to, literally “marketing” its product using the same techniques employed by commercial industry to sell secular goods and services. Key to this tactic being successful is suppression of skeptical and scientific thinking (by, for example, controlling or watering down the education system). Religion can even be used for alleviating the worries of the successful by providing them a way to feel okay about the enormous income disparities in India, using religious narratives about how everyone is getting what they deserve.

Does that sound familiar to you? I had not thought of the connection before, but Christianity has indeed been retooled to serve this same opiate function on the successful in the U.S. (I do make a point of noting this in The End of Christianity, pp. 338-39), and this may be one of the factors sustaining high religiosity among the successful members of the middle and upper classes in America. It’s thus not all just about fear of death, or loss of meaning, or loss of control over society or one’s neighbors or children, or the need to justify one’s prejudices (all of which are obvious functions of American religion; we can all point to examples, no matter how much believers deny any of it). It’s also about resolving the cognitive dissonance over wanting to be selfish and pampered and privileged without feeling that oh-so-terrible guilt (which results whenever anyone realizes they have become the very villains they otherwise once despised). It seems implausible that a religion originally invented to emphasize that guilt and its alleviation through abandoning one’s wealth and privilege and sharing it with the disadvantaged, has become a religion emphasizing exactly the opposite. And yet, as implausible as it is, this has undeniably happened. Christians now worship the antichrist. And apparently their God “has sent upon them a powerful delusion” so that they don’t even realize it.

Nanda documents much the same is occurring in India. She also shows how Indian secularism in practice has not adopted our idea of a separation between church and state (or “temple and state” as Indians would call it) but instead only prohibits the state requiring adherence to any particular religion. This is essentially what the religious right in America wants for us; it’s how they “interpret” the establishment clause of the Constitution. So if you want to see what American government would look like if they got their way, you need to read this book. Because it’s happened in India. This is important, because I have encountered atheists who take a black-or-white view of this, that the religious right wants a “theocracy” here (some do, but most actually do not) and the only alternative is total separation between church and state. But in fact, what most American Christians want is what India has: massive state funding of religious schools and churches and faith-based organizations (without regard for denomination), religion-saturated government and businesses, and a privileged position for the majority religion without explicitly “outlawing” other faiths.

These aren’t the only points to be made. I found The God Market vital reading for a number of reasons (and that’s my favorite kind of book: one that has multiple uses and educates me on several subjects at once). You will get a quick primer on the history of Indian government and foreign and domestic policy from 1947 to the present (you certainly won’t have been taught any of that in high school). You will get an excellent summary of what “globalization” actually means in practice and how it is affecting and changing religion and ideology the world over, with India as a star example (take note of how the rise of “libertarian” style political theory there is paralleling its rise here, and how globalization is the driving force behind this). You will see how a rising nation with a radically different religion and culture than our own looks as it is transformed by modern science, technology, economics, and ideology (want to know what our country would look like if a woo religion took over?). You will see ominous examples of what could happen here if the wall of separation between state and church crumbles (it is thus a perfect test case to use in arguments, since this is not a hypothetical scenario but really happening). You will also have in this study an important “control group” for testing and evaluating different secularization theories, since this is not a Western or European society, yet is in every relevant respect a modern one.

The Indian God Hanuman (popular with the lower and middle class)But what I found most useful of all is the picture I saw throughout of what actual, contemporary Hinduism is and is like (and how it has changed, and is changing). This is not the distilled and “romanticized” Hinduism you read about or get taught even in college world religions courses. Imagine you were a foreigner who knew nothing about Christianity and so read up on it or took a class that covered it. You would get all the theological basics of what most Christians believe and some idea of the diversity among their theologies and dogmas. But you would probably learn little to none of what Christianity actually is in practice, what ordinary American Christians actually believe and do and think and practice. You would not know what Christians actually pray for and what they actually expect from prayer. You would not know what they really think about demons and angels and their role in the world order. You would not know about megachurches and their culture, or the rise of Christian churches using rock bands to lead prayer service, the teens and youth filling the pews standing and waving their hands in spiritual reverie. You wouldn’t know about the Armageddon Lobby or the particularly vehement hostility to homosexuality in black churches and how it is even beginning to eclipse their once-notable interest in issues of social justice (and how this is creating a rising rift between church leadership and churchgoers). You would not know about the renewed rise of prosperity gospel; or of “spiritual” Christianity, in which Christians (especially the young) abandon all association with churches and institutions and sects but remain “devoted to Christ,” often with more liberal moralities and a renewed emphasis on soteriological universalism, pacifism, and social justice. What book would you read to learn about all this?

Nanda’s book does that for Hinduism. It fills us in on all the realities of contemporary Hindu practice and thought, and thus instead of having some academic notion of what Hinduism is (which is largely outdated and, as with Christianity, was never really an accurate picture of the “religion on the ground” anyway), you will have a better idea of what most Hindus now actually think, believe, and do; how Hinduism actually impacts the lives of its adherents and how they make use of Hindu ideas and institutions in their daily lives. You will thus have a much better understanding of what Hinduism now actually is, and what sorts of beliefs and nonsense we may find ourselves confronting one day, and of course what we are already indirectly confronting, in the way we as a nation cooperate and trade with India (oblivious to the role Hinduism is actually playing in that).

I also found the book illuminating not just in showing how Indian society and religion and culture differs from ours, but even more importantly how certain stark parallels remain despite these differences, revealing something more universal at the heart of them. Most notable among these is the use the Hindu establishment has made of arguments to turn the poor against their own interests and rally them around conservative economic policies that benefit the rich and successful at the expense of the poor. That sounds familiar, too, right? But it is particularly interesting to see how universal this tactic is, and how it plays out using Hindu ideology, only without the antiquated (and largely now despised) Hindu concept of caste and destiny (something that is a notable change that won’t be expected by anyone who has only read up on Hinduism academically).

Another curious parallel is how privileged and widespread Hinduism happens to be in India, receiving almost exclusive public and government support, and yet Hindus are presently enthralled by a “war on Hinduism” narrative, a widespread belief in “reverse discrimination” against Hindus and of Hinduism being “in danger” and in need of urgent action to rescue it, even a perception that Hindus are an oppressed minority–all while state financing and privileging and facilitating of Hinduism is on a stark rise, and the vast majority of the population is staunchly Hindu. Does that sound familiar to you? Nanda likewise documents the same “compartmentalism” among the scientific elite in India as is often encountered in America, where we find skeptical scientists in the lab who remain gullible believers outside of it, not allowing scientific methods and reason to cross domains, and comfortably “living” the contradiction (even when it detrimentally affects public policy).

You may have to supplement reading her book with some quick google searches (though she defines terms and acronyms, it’s easy to lose track of them, and there is no glossary for American readers), but I had no difficulty doing this. And more typos have survived the editing process than Americans normally expect for a professionally published book, but I had no difficulty looking past that, either. The clarity, documentation, and value of the book far outweighed these problems for me. I recommend we all read this and make use of its information in our future thought and deliberation about religion and politics generally. If you want to read more about it first, there is a really good review (also addressing the book’s critics) by Ajita Kamal for the Indian secularist website Nirmukta that’s well worth reading.

Comments

  1. Enkidum says

    This sounds fascinating. I know a little more about India and Hinduism than most North Americans, but it’s largely the kind of limited academic knowledge that you talk about. This seems like a really important study, and I should get on it. Thanks!

    • robert priddy says

      This review is very helpful and the book proves to be very enlightening factually. It is a relief to see that Hinduism in its various forms is being challenged with such acumen. The recent suppression of an academic work ‘The Hindus – an alternative history’ by Wendy Doniger – which shows most definitively that there is no unitary religion ‘Hinduism’ – shows how the Hindu nationalists are trying to promote Hinduism per se in order to win the coming election.

      For a succinct critique of one of the key doctrines of modern Hindu thought – advaita – which may help expose the central delusion of most of these sects, mutts and cults, see ‘Advaita: failed theory of unity/non-dualism’ found at http://robertpriddy.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/advaita-failed-theory-of-unitynon-dualism/

    • says

      It has been discussed.

      The trick is finding someone who (1) is qualified (e.g. an actual ex-Hindu), (2) is an atheist, (3) will have no problem working with us rabid atheists at FtB, (4) blogs a lot, and (5) blogs well.

      But as difficult as it is, there is a committee of us who is searching names out. In fact if you know anyone who is an ex-Hindu who fits all five points, let me know (with URLs) and I’ll pass the recommendation along.

    • says

      (Note to my readers: Indeed, even apart from Sameer himself, I know there are many Hindu atheists and agnostics, who embrace Hindu philosophy but not its deities or sometimes even its supernaturalism. But I do not how numerous they are among Hindus generally.)

    • says

      All that article does is express annoyance that Indians call certain forms of Indian philosophy Hindu philosophy because it was developed by Hindus within traditions of Hindu thought and theology. But it’s hard to fathom the alternative. Not all Indian philosophy was developed by Hindus or within the Hindu intellectual tradition, so “Indian philosophy” would be too general. So it makes sense to distinguish Indian philosophy that is Hindu in character. Moreover, Hinduism is a culture (a set of mores and values) that would remain even with the supernatural removed, even with the rituals removed, just as has happened to Judaism. I don’t see the value of getting annoyed by this.

      I can appreciate that Christianity has not gone that route, but that’s mainly because Christianity has been so stalwartly against secularization that it has stomped on or disavowed every attempt to secularize the word “Christian.” Thus, philosophy done by Christians is generally not called Christian philosophy unless it defends the supernatural, and people who embrace Christian mores and customs but not the dogmas and rituals are often not called Christians. But that’s not always the case–many people identify as Christians who don’t believe in God or the supernatural, “Christian atheism” actually exists, and it used to be that “good Christian” could mean moral person, not necessarily a believer, and attempts were once made to make “Christian culture” a thing sans the supernatural. It’s just that Christians as a whole rebel against that usurpation of their faith and make it unpopular. Note that this has not happened in Judaism: we can talk about Jewish philosophy that isn’t theistic or supernaturalistic, and we can talk about cultural Jews who are avowed atheists, without difficulty. We can even talk about Jews being Jews by ancestry alone.

      Thus, Hindus are acting more like Jews than Christians. And this has a lot to do with the fact that Hinduism and Judaism aren’t so terrified of atheism or physicalism or secularism that they cannot countenance their name being associated with it. Christianity has so persistently defined itself as being against those things, as being what saves the world from them, that it makes much less sense to talk about Christian atheists (and yet they nevertheless exist). But this hostility does not exist in the Jewish or Hindu tradition, or at least not so strongly or pervasively. Thus, “Jewish atheist” and “Hindu atheist” are far more widely embraced and sensible concepts than “Christian atheist.”

      There is nothing illogical about that.

  2. says

    Interesting post. Thanks for the heads up.

    So what are some of expanded considerations to the “threat model” of religion? I was under the impression that the contrived threats of religion were ultimately piggy-backing on the real threats and when you moderated those, people (or perhaps the next generations of those people in steps) would gravitate towards working their ways out of the made up ones. Or is it that Big Religioning is sustained by a variety of persistent human prejudices once the cultural accident happens and can perpetuate indefinitely?

    Can we then conclude that our species just sucks as epistemology and value machines even in ideal circumstances that will always be pimping systemic non-reality schemes? Or is it that a comprehensive approach is necessary to truly create an ideal, safe, educated environment where religion and other not-so-trustworthy human fictions can go to die?

    • says

      So what are some of expanded considerations to the “threat model” of religion? I was under the impression that the contrived threats of religion were ultimately piggy-backing on the real threats and when you moderated those, people (or perhaps the next generations of those people in steps) would gravitate towards working their ways out of the made up ones. Or is it that Big Religioning is sustained by a variety of persistent human prejudices once the cultural accident happens and can perpetuate indefinitely?

      The latter.

      Nationalism, selfishness, and racism are among the factors Nanda identifies as driving Hinduism’s new rising popularity in India; the rest can then be piggybacked on those, e.g. marketing religious products, as if some sort of spiritual homeopathy, to solve personal problems of every variety (emotional and material). In other countries, arguably it’s the other way around, Hinduism competing literally with homeopathy et al. in the “spiritual solutions” market, and thus once getting its hooks in, adding the prejudice-support matrix on to reinforce the belief and make it stick. The latter is just my own hypothesis. Nanda doesn’t examine the marketing strategy of Hinduism in, say, the U.S., she just documents its gains there and the existence of well-funded efforts to expand them.

      But looking at Christianity, for example, as the model, the top two reasons Christians reveal as the reasons they cling to faith are “fear of death” and “fear of loss of control over society/neighbors/kids”. They themselves rarely admit this, but prove it by the first two questions they always ask every atheist, on how on earth they can be an atheist, which you can tell are questions actually directed at themselves but projected onto you since they can’t believe you actually somehow have answered them: (1) aren’t you worried about what’s going to happen to you when you die/isn’t it sad that you won’t live forever? (2) but what stops you from raping and killing and skeet shooting babies and kittens? The next top two reasons are fearing a “loss of identity” and a “loss of community” (in both an emotional and material sense). All the “how does your life have meaning?” and “aren’t you lonely?” and “atheists aren’t charitable/reliable/moral” nonsense is driven by and reflects those fears. The rest is then piggybacked on all of that (e.g. justifying prejudices and selfishness), which then reinforces the need of the belief and makes it harder to shake (and why shaking it is often a prelude to finally abandoning those prejudices, or vice versa).

      Or so I hypothesize. I think the cause of sustained religious belief is multivariate and the strength/importance of each variable differs for everyone. Some people need religion most of all to feel good about being a self-hating homophobic homosexual, to which everything else is just a bonus; others need religion most of all for a sense of identity and belonging, to which everything else is just a bonus, or a price–like having to adopt a homophobic worldview and convincing yourself it’s true, in order to feel like you belong in the group. And so on. There are many different scenarios in my experience.

      Can we then conclude that our species just sucks at epistemology, and value machines even in ideal circumstances that will always be pimping systemic non-reality schemes? Or is it that a comprehensive approach is necessary to truly create an ideal, safe, educated environment where religion and other not-so-trustworthy human fictions can go to die?

      Both. Indeed, the latter, because of the former.

      My two cents…

      Abstract reasoning is one of the most important skills to develop (as it allows you to better imagine alternative POVs, worldviews, explanations, solutions, and futures for yourself), then critical thinking (i.e. the passion for questioning everything, and pursuing the skill of perceiving more widely and effortlessly logical fallacies and cognitive and social biases), then knowledge (having as much understanding of other religions as you do your own, and indeed having much more knowledge about your own religion, when combined with each other and the previous two, IMO, are a strong cocktail for eventual apostasy, especially when a broad lay science knowledge is thrown in for good measure). Last (if it is needed, though even when it isn’t it is still always vital to have, for your own good) is a better skill and passion for self-reflection and self-criticism (as that is necessary to avoid, or escape, the hall-of-mirrors trap that very smart “apologists” lock themselves into, which is the only way I know to resist that tripartite apostasizing cocktail).

      Schools indirectly teach item 1, but could do a much better job of it; schools don’t teach item 2, and are largely forbidden to teach item 3 (or if allowed, would likely do it in exactly the worst way), and haven’t a clue how to teach item 4. Getting everyone to learn all four, and well, is our greatest challenge. And, IMO, the only way to be effectively rid of religion.

  3. Gabriel says

    “Another curious parallel is how privileged and widespread Hinduism happens to be in India, receiving almost exclusive public and government support, and yet Hindus are presently enthralled by a “war on Hinduism” narrative”

    It’s been a while since I studied this but my understanding is that India’s “secular” goverment takes money away from hindu temples and uses it to renovate churches and mosques and that voting districts are gerrymandered to favor muslim politicians. Does the author properly address these claims? Have such things simply changed in recent years? I had since come to the conclusion that “secular” is an utterly meaningless word whenever “India” appears in the same sentence or paragraph. And little things keep popping up that remind me. (for example, EMI canceled the release of some Slayer album in India because a christian group called the Catholic Secular Forum protested and even contacted the police…a ‘secular’ group called the police because of some religiously offensive album cover). Secularists in the west should be skeptical of indian “secularists”. In fact, I think Dinesh D’Souza actually belongs to an indian secularist group that’s active here in the States.

    There may be other factors in the rise of hindu militantism besides business, such as christian and islamic hostility and their aggressive antagonism and prosilytising. I know there are violent christian gangs in India, and searching “hindu islam” at youtube will fill your search list with islamic propaganda against hinduism. I also remember years ago hindu chatrooms would be filled with bots spamming the rooms with arabic text.

    I think we should be careful when comparing India with western countries. Christianity and islam are very much a part of indian culture, in ways that hinduism is not in our own. (Remember that India was ruled for hundreds of years by muslims, who originally tried to forcably convert hindus at sword point.) So hinduism might not be the only religion benefitting from India’s growing status.

    • says

      It’s been a while since I studied this but my understanding is that India’s “secular” goverment takes money away from hindu temples and uses it to renovate churches and mosques and that voting districts are gerrymandered to favor muslim politicians.

      According to Nanda, that’s a fiction. Part of the mythology supporting the narrative. She documents extensively that state support of the temples is vastly greater than anything enjoyed by any other religion in the country, and that in fact legal decisions tend to favor Hindus in disputes over sacred land rights and other matters between Hindus and minority religions. She doesn’t discuss districting, but one should note that one man’s “gerrymandering” is another man’s affirmative action. So I’d look into just how “gerrymandered” such districts really are. And then ask why Muslim communities shouldn’t have legislative representation, and whether ensuring that is actually honestly describable as a “war on Hinduism.”

      As to the Slayer album, no government action was involved. EMI pulled the album and apologized to Catholics to avoid enraging a market demographic.

      There are also real secularists and atheist movements and organizations in India, so don’t tar them all with the D’Souza brush. But it’s true, sometimes what “secular” means in India is not what it means here.

      Finally, yes, indeed, Hindu fundamentalism is likely a meme-spread from Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, and violence is ginned up there by all parties.

    • says

      Much of what you say can be seen as effects of Hindu privilege denial.

      Regarding gerrymandering, it has a lot more to do with this than what Hindu apologists would have us believe.

    • Gabe says

      “According to Nanda, that’s a fiction. Part of the mythology supporting the narrative. She documents extensively that state support of the temples is vastly greater than anything enjoyed by any other religion in the country, and that in fact legal decisions tend to favor Hindus in disputes over sacred land rights and other matters between Hindus and minority religions.”

      When I asked hindus for a source (government taking money from hindu temples and using them to renovate churches and mosques), they said it was in the constitution. I looked around but the closest I could find was the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1951, which hindus claim taxes their temples but doesn’t touch churches or mosques. I eventually found a non-hindu source of information and history about this act (The Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1951). It is apparently a state law, not a federal law, though similar acts have been made in other states. This nonhindu source says it’s a tax on all religious institutions, only five percent, and doesn’t say anything about churches or mosques being exempt, just that those with an income less than a certain amount are exempt. It does seem strange though that the word “Hindu” is in the name of this act. Equally strange are the controversies later on as to whether this act is applicable to Jain temples. Very strange.

      So there may be some truth to the myth, though it may have been blown out of proportion by hindu activists. So, if hindus have a problem with government getting involved in religion, and what Nanda says is true (that its mostly hindus who benefit from it), then it looks like the separation of church/temple and state is something that both hindus, secularist, and D’Souza-esque pseudo-secularists who can’t tell the difference between atheism and communism could get behind.

      “She doesn’t discuss districting, but one should note that one man’s “gerrymandering” is another man’s affirmative action. So I’d look into just how “gerrymandered” such districts really are. And then ask why Muslim communities shouldn’t have legislative representation”

      Or better yet, ask if muslims are being disproportionately represented, which is usually what’s implied when people discuss gerrymandering.

      “As to the Slayer album, no government action was involved. EMI pulled the album and apologized to Catholics to avoid enraging a market demographic.”

      I wasn’t implying that the government did step in, only noting the irony that a “secular” group notified the authorities because of an album that offended people who worship the god of Abraham and Isaac.

      “Finally, yes, indeed, Hindu fundamentalism is likely a meme-spread from Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, and violence is ginned up there by all parties.”

      It’s definitely part of the culture and history of India; muslims, hindus, parsis, christians, sikhs, rioting and hurting each other. It doesn’t look to me like India’s atheists are rising above those deep seeded prejudices and biases, but rather are taking sides. The book description over at Amazon for Nanda’s book gives the impression that hinduism alone is the cause for the struggles of secularism and that “muslims and others” are fellow victims and not part of the problem. Or maybe that’s not what she’s implying. If she is, I’ll accept it. I just need a reason to. There’s also the Periyar guy you mentioned who wants to smash hindu idols and ban sanskrit, which sounds more like the behavior of a fanatical christian or muslim, not an even handed atheist who uses logic and science mixed with some flying spaghetti monster humor. I hope he is not what you had in mind when you mentioned trying to find an atheist ex-hindu voice for this website.

      Atheism in India feels too connected to socialism. The latter isn’t innately bad, it’s just that when a political “ism” becomes a personal identity, it’s more likely to cut corners around our standards of logic. You’ve no doubt experienced such behavior when debating libertarians.

      Will we have to confront hinduism soon? If this radical form of hinduism is responsible for its propagation, then all we need to pull out from our arsenal is a lawn chair and a six pack, because massively popular racist and nationalist movements have a history of imploding in on themselves. When it happens to this fascist form of hinduism, all of hinduism will no doubt suffer. Though whether that benefits or disadvantages atheism depends on whether christians and mulsims move in to fill that void.

    • says

      Gabe:

      Nanda does note that there are problems with minority religions as well (she is an atheist and doesn’t sympathize with supernaturalist violence and deprivation of freedoms wherever it comes from) but that she is concerned with discussing Hinduism and so that remains her focus.

      Nanda would also describe herself as a socialist, but a new socialist: she is not a Marxist but supports free market capitalism combined with state regulation and socialist programs to offset or prevent the harms caused by unfettered capitalism…in other words, the ideology actually realized in the government of every first world nation, including the U.S.

      And we already have socialists at FtB (e.g. Maryam Namazie is a full-on communist). So if you were thinking to police that, too late.

      (For the record, I’m a centrist moderate: I find no merit in either unfettered socialism or unfettered capitalism, but see the need for some measure of both, how much depending on what actually works in practice and not based on any armchair ideology. Americans suck at grasping distinctions when terminology is used, so I find little use in the word “socialist” because no one has any idea of how that differs from “communist” or “Marxist,” and once we start talking about neosocialist capitalism we’ve just gone off the map of any semantic utility…the word “socialist” then carries no useful meaning, IMO, any more than “capitalist” would. At any rate, my views can be gleaned from my blog on government regulation and my past blog articles it links to.)

    • says

      Gabriel:

      It was I, not Mr Carrier, who mentioned Periyar. And as Periyar died in 1973, he is unlikely to join FreethoughtBlogs.

    • Rinku says

      “It’s been a while since I studied this but my understanding is that India’s “secular” goverment takes money away from hindu temples and uses it to renovate churches and mosques and that voting districts are gerrymandered to favor muslim politicians.”

      People may call it is a myth but the reality is different.

      1) Muslims are provided the support from government for hajj pilgrimage, and even that is not right from point of views of some Islamic scholars.
      2) Hinduism does not believe in spreading it religion on other people. So it should not be compared with other religions. It believes in that there are many ways to reach the same goal. A true Hindu respects founder of all religion whether he is Jesus or Buddha or anybody else.
      3) I am Hindu and never told by anyone that we must spread our religion.
      $ And what about Hindu terrorism? Except one or two cases I have never heard that a Hindu attacked on innocent people and killed them for a religious agenda.
      5) In fact all these things are false and just to sell their books. And I think the trouble is not from Hinduism but Hinduism is in trouble.

      And to know more about pseudo secularism of India just search Google for Assam riots ant try to understand its root cause.

      In India a person is not secular until and unless he/she in some or other way criticize Hinduism..

      How can a religion which believes in universal-ism can be threat to others.
      If you want to understand Hinduism then the better people are like Osho, Vivekananda to name a few but not the people who have classified them as atheists or someone else and just trying to fit in that definition.

      Thanks a lot for reading..

    • says

      There are a lot of Hindus keen on spreading Hinduism (Nanda documents them), and Hindu violence is widely documented (Nanda discusses many alarming instances, and any sincere google search will discover countless examples).

    • Sameer says

      The only culture of evangelism in Indian culture that I am aware of is “shastrarth” which is basically a sort of debate each testing the other’s philosophy/knowledge. the loser then converts to the winner’s view.

      The concept of conversion by sword/greed is not known in hinduism.

      There is a hindu nationalist pov which says that even if you are a muslim/christian/etc you should admit that you have hindu ancestry (which is true in over 95% of the cases as most of the immigration to india is from within the sub-continet) which makes you hindu irrespective of your beliefs.

      A person’s beliefs are not exactly connected to his identification as hindu.

      I myself am agnostic (don’t really care if god exists) but still hindu.

  4. openlyatheist says

    I’ve always found Goparaju Ramachandra Rao a fascinating figure. Just type “gora atheism” into Google for lots of info on this Indian atheist pioneer.

    • says

      “Gora” means “white person” in Hindi, so I imagine typing “gora atheism” might get you some interesting results!

      Despite Western perceptions of India as a universally religious place, there are lots of interesting Indian atheist figures, many of whom were active in the independence movement during the colonial period, and many of whom were strange, idiosyncratic, larger-than-life figures. For example, Periyar, who advocated the smashing of Hindu idols (wicked superstition), the banning of Sanskrit (incomprehensible nonsense), and the officiation of inter-caste marriages. Even today, the entire state of Kerala is ruled by a democratically (well, for a given value of democratic; this is India) elected Communist government. You could fill many, many books writing on this fascinating subject.

    • Sameer says

      Calling him a pioneer is a bit of a stretch. Athiesm has existed in India for a long time (before even the english came) (the atheist is called “Nastik”). The thing is an atheist may still identify as a hindu. the pioneer of “hindutva” Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was an atheist. Contradictory views are not really a problem with hinduism.

  5. dorfl says

    But what I found most useful of all is the picture I saw throughout of what actual, contemporary Hinduism is and is like (and how it has changed, and is changing). This is not the distilled and “romanticized” Hinduism you read about or get taught even in college world religions courses.

    Heh. My high school religion teacher even openly admitted that what she was teaching us as “Buddhism” would probably seem completely alien to most actual Buddhists.

    Do you have any recommendations of other books on the topics “what Buddhists/Sikhs/Catholics/etc actually believe”?

  6. parasharkrishnamachari says

    Well, I’m an ex-Hindu anti-theist blogger (AKA The Grumpy Anti-theist), all right, and I’ve done my bits on Hinduism in the past, but it’s a bit of a difficult thing to really pin down because Hinduism isn’t quite so cut and dry as the Judeo-Christian faiths. Being that I am originally of a Vaishnavite Brahmin caste, we tended to study religious literature pretty deeply, but the funny thing is that it was generally confined to the interpretations of other Vaishnavite Brahmins, and there was always a bitter disdain for Shaivite Brahmins, and anything that might apply to us isn’t necessarily universal.

    Sure, there are a few universal concepts to Hinduism like the idea of Karma and reincarnation and so on, but even what that actually means to an individual or community can cut a pretty wide swath. For instance, the idea from the Vedanta that people have a certain set station in life is really what birthed the social division of varna (people confuse caste with varna, when they’re really different levels of the hierarchy)… but another interpretation of it is the idea that people are apparently destined to be something in particular… yet another says that one need work hard at mastery of roles in society (meaning that if you’re a farmer, be a damn good farmer… if you’re a serial killer, you should be a damn good serial killer).

    At its most basic level, Hindu “scripture” basically says “here’s one of infinitely many paths you can take towards moksha. What you actually do is really up to you.” The definition of what religion should be and how someone wants to connect with their beliefs is an individual introspective question. There’s nothing like an absolute immutable component to it. It’s a disorganized religion, to put it simply. So anything I might have to say about it only applies to the Hinduism which overlaps with a few other schools of thought on Hinduism. There are schools of Hinduism that basically throw Jesus was actually the reincarnation of Zarathustra who himself was a partial manifestation of Vishnu who simultaneously manifested in whole as Buddha. Other communities count Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu saying that his great achievement was getting rid of “undesirable people” by drawing them to his fake belief system. Nonetheless, every single one of these, along with just about any other example you can bring up is not universal, and that means that if you really want to lambaste Hinduism, you’ve got a hell of a job on your hands. Anybody can basically say anything.

  7. dorfl says

    The book doesn’t seem to be available on amazon.uk yet, so one quick question that I’ve been wondering about for years:

    Do Hindus actually believe that all gods are different aspects of the one true god, or is this just something that Hindu theologians think Hindus ought to believe?

    • says

      My impression is that it’s the latter. From Nanda’s description, in popular Hindu belief the higher gods are aloof and arrogant and one can get more success by appeasing lower ranking gods that act as intermediaries. But as another commenter here said, Hinduism is a mass of different conflicting belief systems. There isn’t a one single “Hindu” theology. So the question would be what percentages believe in the “all are one” theology, and how do they break down demographically in comparison to those who don’t believe that. One might also have to tease out distinctions among different kinds of “all are one” theologies, since the reality on the ground might not be so rationally clear cut as that. Think about the trinity: technically just like an “all are one” Hindu belief, yet Christians insist they are different beings, yet are one and the same being, but are totally different, but the same, but not; one prays to Jesus to intervene with God the Father, even though Jesus is God the Father, and one doesn’t pray to the Holy Spirit even though Jesus is the Holy Spirit, and so on. It makes no rational sense. Yet there it is. I wouldn’t expect Hinduism to be any more logical about that sort of thing.

  8. ncp170 says

    I think the title of her book “God Market –” is entirely misleading in the Indian context because in Hinduism there is no concept of a single god. The essential feature of Hinduism is belief in an ‘unlimited’ number of gods and goddesses .I wonder how could she overlook the idea of goddesses if she is dealing with Hinduism.Naturally her knowledge about Hinduism is very limited.

    • says

      You evidently haven’t read the book. Nor do you seem to know that English convention is to capitalize all nouns in a book title. She means “God Market” as in marketing gods (e.g. “the banana market” does not imply people are buying and selling just one banana), and she discusses goddesses (indeed, the cover depicts the goddess Lakshmi). The only single word in English that means both god and goddess is god (just as we tend often to default to male pronouns when speaking universally of all people). Hence the title. By including a goddess on the cover, the gender universal implication of that word is clear. So try judging a book not by its title next time. You know, like, actually look at the cover, and then actually read it first.

  9. suyamariyathai says

    I think the striking thinking about Hindu nationalism is that how many people involved were atheists (Veer Sarvarkar, Vajpayee, Rajeev Srinivasan etc).

    The extent to which Hindu nationalism rejects caste varies (see for ex the Hindu Council Report that Gail Omvedt has written a riposte to). Caste as largely despised — I wish!

  10. leftwingfox says

    This sounds like it parallels the Great Awakening movement in the US and the rise of fundamentalism as a reaction to modernism.

    One likely narrative is that modernization’s costs are insufficiently addressed, resulting in a broad reactionary coalition between the privileged who risk losing their positions of power, and the poor, who are dealing with the direct costs of industrialization to their way of life.

    Secularization may only be possible once the revolutionary aspects of modernization have settled down, and the balance of power has shifted to allow the people to address the costs of modernization to quality of life, environment and access to the benefits of modernity.

    • says

      One key difference is that Hinduism is fully embracing modernism and adapting very quickly and very well to it. That’s precisely why it is booming. It is not a reaction to modernism. It’s an enthusiastic product of it.

  11. congaboy says

    There are a number of things that I find troubling about Hinduism. I have had some contact with the religion in that my brother and sister converted to Hinduism over three decades ago. My family is of Italian heritage and we considered ourselves Catholics, even though we really weren’t strict at all about following the doctrines. I am proud to say that I was kicked out of both Catholic schools my parents forced me to attend, so I escaped relatively unscathed. My older brother wasn’t so lucky. My sister just really likes woo.

    My older brother attended Catholic schools from first grade through college. He had practiced Chinese martial arts during his high school years and totally bought into the Chinese and martial arts woo. He was a sophomore in high school when The Exorcist was released. He and some of his friends went to see it and it scared the crap out of him (this was compounded by Jesuit priests and nuns telling him that all of the stuff in the movie was real). His martial arts teacher moved away right around the time he graduated from high school and it seemed to have left a void in his spiritual beliefs. A friend of his turned him on to meditation and introduced him to an Indian man who would later become his guru. He became vegetarian (and, being the oldest son of an Italian family, the rest of us were vegetarians by association, because my mother stopped cooking meat for him and thus, the rest of us).

    He believes in reincarnation and karma and these two concepts cause me great concern. The way my brother and sister have explained their perception of reincarnation, it entails living a series of lives designed to teach lessons and move one towards enlightenment and becoming one with the god-mind. I find reincarnation troubling, because it can distract people from the here and now. There can be a tendency to give up on this life in the hope that the next life will be better (I’m not sure whether that kind of mentality can affect karma, I’m sure it could, because this is all made up, so the so-called spiritual requirements change with the religion’s needs).

    Reincarnation does not make sense from an evolutionary point of view, i.e. when did we evolve the ability to reincarnate? This question, I believe, is similar to asking when the soul would have evolved, because the two are tied to each other. Hindus do not believe that DNA has a soul, so reincarnation and souls did not start with DNA. Hindus don’t believe that plants reincarnate, because plants don’t have souls. I don’t know the list of animals that Hindus believe reincarnate (and I’m sure there is a list, the Hindus have tried to categorize everything they could), but Hindus believe that humans can reincarnate as certain kinds of animals. My understanding is that Hindus believed that humans could reincarnate as any kind of animal, but the list seems to have become limited to only certain species. I have always found it fascinating how religions can change concepts retroactively (like the Catholics with Limbo and the Hindus with the caste system. Apparently, one does not need to be a Brahman to reach enlightenment any more). Also, why don’t we get to have any memories of our prior life? If we had evolved with reincarnation, we could have easily adapted to having memories of prior lives. Imagine what we would have been able to accomplish as a species if we could retain some or all of our memories from past lives. As it is now, it’s like telling a child, “Congratulations, you’ve completed first grade. You can go on to second grade . . . oh yeah, you won’t be able to remember anything you’ve learned in first grade, but good luck.”

    Karma and karmic burden is a really troubling concept (and this goes hand-in-hand with reincarnation). According to my brother’s perceptions, reincarnation can be affected and even determined by karmic burden. So, people who are currently living in poverty or are struggling with tremendous hardships or other forms of suffering are merely dealing with their karmic burdens. According to this point of view, any suffering is a direct result of what the sufferer did or did not do in previous lives. It’s a very easy way to not have to care about other human beings. I find this incredibly disturbing, because my brother is otherwise a very intelligent and generous person. Also, Karma is not necessarily relieved by doing good deeds or helping others, so there is very little incentive to help your fellow human. I have to say that religion in general is very disturbing.

    Thanks, for the great articles. Keep posting and I’ll keep reading.

  12. says

    Thank God (sorry I couldn’t help it) there is another atheist writing about the lunacy of Hinduism. I’ve posted a few pieces about the absurdities of that faith, and have had a few nasty interactions with Hindus on twitter.

  13. kanaadaa says

    Richard,

    I am surprised you have chosen to go entirely by Meera Nanda, who by her own admission decided to ignore the effect of Islam and Christianity on India’s policies. While there is a lot that can be said about Meera’s motivation, I will put it simply. The book and its thesis is hogwash. Meera has been shown up at least twice before as a factually challenged writer. Some years ago her talk alleging Nazi inspiration for India’s environmental movements was dissected by bare. More recently, last year she wrote an article on Yoga for an Indian magazine, that was refuted, being shown up to be factally challenged, ridden with shoddy inferences. Meera refused to take heed and wrote a counter rejoinder which was once again refuted, leaving her look silly.

    I do not expect you to change your mind when you so much in thrall of Meera, as you have uncritically reported her entirely flawed ramblings. I will give you one small example. While Meera states that Hindu establishments receive undue financial support from the government, the reality is otherwise. Almost in every state of India, Hindu temples are administered by the local government, which appoints administrators, oversees operations, and even decides what language should be used for conducting puja, archana and abhishekam and the many other samskara. In contrast Christian and Islamic institutions are free from government control and have exploited their considerable land holdings to develop commercial real estate operations. Take for instance, the Trinity Church in Bangalore. It is located on land that belongs to the Estates Department of the Indian Army, which leased it to the predecessor organization of the current Church of South India (one of the two main Protestant church group in India. The CSI in violation of the terms of the lease has built commercial office space on this land and has been running a profitable real estate business for several years now. All across India there are several commercial office spaces run by the local church in such a fashion – the CSI’s Mount Road offices in Chennai, the Eucharistic Congress Building on Colaba Causeway in Mumbai. The government has no say in how these operations are managed and does not audit the books of accounts of these churches. The case of Wakf Boards, the trusts that manage mosques and properties of Islamic institutions is even murkier. In terms of money, I suggest you get started on searching for information on the amount of money Saudi Arabia pumps into India for building madrassas, mosques and hostels for internal Muslim migrants.

    Why would Saudi Arabia fund hostels for Kashmiri Muslims in Kerala? And as for Christian organizations, I suggest you look up the term “Joshua Project”. Proselytizer organizations, are the largest recipients of foreign charitable contributions in India. There is no pretence even of “service” “Mother Theresa” style. It’s aggressive soul harvesting, unfettered. If you want to know how poerful some Christian organizations are in India, just look up the activities of Brother Paul Dhinakaran and Jesus Calls “Ministry”. Two regions in India post-independence have suffered internal strife entirely because of violence inspired by Abrahamic ideology. The Northeastern States – Mizoram (at one time) and Nagaland for several years now, have been riven by violent separatist movements based entirely on the demand for a Christian nation – inspired by Baptist beliefs. The Kashmir Valley of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has been racked by jihadi inspired violence for several decades now, where the Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) minority has been first driven out using soft coercive means from the 50s to the late 80s, and then from 1989 has been butchered and hacked into insignificance. The violence against Kashmiri Pandits is the most horrendous ethnic cleansing of our time, and one that has received almost no attention. The Pandits have had to leave their home and hearth for no reason but being Hindu.

    I could talk mush more about the mess that India’s craven rulers have perpetrated by their flawed formulation of secularism. But I will leave it to you to figure out. If you are really interested in a realistic picture of what is going on with respect to Hinduism in India and abroad, the last person you should be reading is Meera Nanda. I will leave it at that.

    • says

      Some years ago her talk alleging Nazi inspiration for India’s environmental movements was dissected by bare.

      Source?

      More recently, last year she wrote an article on Yoga for an Indian magazine, that was refuted, being shown up to be factally challenged, ridden with shoddy inferences. Meera refused to take heed and wrote a counter rejoinder which was once again refuted, leaving her look silly.

      Citations?

      (What magazine, what issues…presumably there are three, including the “response” to her “rejoinder” that “left her look silly”…let’s have the references so we can check your claims.)

      Almost in every state of India, Hindu temples are administered by the local government, which appoints administrators, oversees operations, and even decides what language should be used for conducting puja, archana and abhishekam and the many other samskara.

      A fact that Nanda herself documents in detail. As well as the tremendous benefit this has accrued to those temples. This is what a state church looks like. That’s her point.

      In contrast Christian and Islamic institutions are free from government control and have exploited their considerable land holdings to develop commercial real estate operations.

      Nanda extensively documents how Hindu temples have done exactly the same thing, and indeed with full government assistance and support.

      The notion that “Christian and Islamic institutions” are wholly free from government control is not quite true: Nanda documents cases of the state taking land away from them to give to Hindu operations. But yes, the state does not “run” minority churches, because their operations are too comparatively small and of no interest to a state that wants to promote Hinduism as a national religion under the guise of religious liberty. The latter guise is precisely why they don’t try to “stop” independent funding of minority religions or try to shut them down or anything fascistic like that. Nanda likewise discusses the religious violence perpetrated by all parties and the role of corruption across the board. In short, nothing you have said contradicts anything Nanda documents or argues.

      Yes, indeed, India’s concept of secularism is flawed. But not for the reasons you cite–but for the reasons she does. We here in America allow foreigners to spend massive funding establishing and running religious institutions, complete with commercial for-profit enterprises; that’s what liberty looks like. At best, we ought to tax them. But we haven’t even been able to get that to happen here.

    • says

      Right. Thanks, Lije! I love page 6 of Nanda’s paper: “I have no evidence at all that the neo-pagan groups that Hindutva is trying to bring into its own fold have any overt connections with Nazi or neo- Nazi groups.” Ooops! So much for Nanda having said what he claims. She in fact said exactly the opposite.

      She was instead concerned about Hundutva-based environmentalism inadvertently giving greater legitimization to Nazi movements in the West, and she used Neopagan-based Nazi environmentalism as an example of the ill-conceived assumption that religion-based environmentalism is always a good idea. She never said Hindutva environmentalism was influenced by Nazism.

  14. kanaadaa says

    “Well funded efforts to spread Hinduism”? Are you joking? The two global organizations of Hindu renunciates, the Saiva Siddhanta Church of Hawaii and the Ramakrishna Mission barely employ about 1000 teachers. That’s a fractions of the number of Catholic priests and nuns in India! Hindu evangelism? There is no “good news” to be offered by the Hindu. No salvation or reward in heaven! Seriously Richard you need some unlearning!

    [Sorry for the multiple posts. You may either club them all into one and blast a rejoinder to make me look like your posterboy “Hindu bigot” or simply chuckle as you hit ,delete> Cheers!)

    • says

      The phrase “the two global organizations of Hindu renunciates” is unintelligible English. Who renunciates them? The Indian government? I doubt it. And there is no other centralized Hindu authority, so I have no idea who else you could mean.

      Your facts are also wrong. There are Hindu temples in at least forty of our fifty states as well as countless massive institutes for gurus and yogis (I’ve personally walked the grounds of one in LA that is mind bogglingly massive and clearly superbly funded, as its grounds and buildings are vast and perfectly gardened). Nanda mentions several others. There are also numerous well-funded Hindu Educational Foundations in the U.S. that have engaged in significant legal action. Some operations are indeed small, like the Hindu University of America in Florida, but that’s still more than even atheists have managed (the closest thing we have is the CFI Institute, but even it does not have a full time campus and faculty for granting degrees), and there are in fact scores of other Hindu schools all over the country. And there are no less than nine gurus with tens of millions of dollars of annual funding each with considerable and growing movements in the U.S. (as documented in Gurus in America). And yes, they do offer a system of salvation (from bad karma and the troubles and anxieties and fates it produces), and a reward (both in this life and the next).

      Comparing any minority evangelization effort to the capital and funding levels of the Catholic Church is a ridiculous straw man. That’s the best funded religion in the world, claiming some twenty percent of the U.S. population. Obviously Hindu efforts here have not advanced to that level yet. That does not mean there aren’t hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to try.

  15. kanaadaa says

    But in fact, what most American Christians want is what India has: massive state funding of religious schools and churches and faith-based organizations (without regard for denomination), religion-saturated government and businesses, and a privileged position for the majority religion without explicitly “outlawing” other faiths.

    Aargh!

    Art.30 of the Indian constitution permits minorities to establish educational institutions exclusively for the members of their defined group, but forbids Hindus from doing so. It is true that minority in this case means not only a religious minority but also a linguistic minority. However, by far the definition has been strictly interpreted by the courts only in the case of religious minorities, because in a few cases where linguistic minorities in one state have attempted to set up schools for their language group, the state in question has intervened and successfully argued that the minority is essentially Hindu and no different from the majority. And such religious institutions do receive government funding. There is the Aligarh Muslim University which was founded by the government of India and entirely state supported which is now being surreptitiously converted into a minority institution. The case of Jamia Milia University in New Delhi is even more brazen. The recently passed Right to Education Act mandates all primary schools to reserve 25% of their seats for the poor, but applies this mandate only to non-minority schools!
    I am surprised that you buy Meera’s line so unthinkingly. And of all reviews did you have to cite Ajita Kamal’s. This is an uncritical and ill-informed review not once questioning her assertions.

    • says

      Article 30 does not prohibit Hindu schools (it doesn’t even mention Hinduism), and there are tons of Hindu schools in India. So obviously you are just making shit up now.

      The Jamia Milia is authorized by “minority status” to reserve half its seats for Muslims, and it is exempt from other affirmative action requirements. Note that in the U.S. a Muslum school would not be required to admit any non-Muslims and would not be subject to any affirmative action laws at all. Thus the only thing peculiar about the Jamia case is that in India (unlike in the U.S.) it received government subsidies. This is exactly what Christians want here: Christian schools, that have the right to turn anyone away they want to, receiving government money. And indeed they will be willing to allow Muslim schools to do the same and benefit the same, as long as their funding is population proportionate (this has been the case for every unconstitutional voucher law attempted or passed in the U.S.: Muslim schools can receive vouchers same as anyone, although each law varies as to how many rules the school must obey, such as who they must admit).

      So your complaint about the REA is misplaced. That requires private schools to fill 25% of their student body with the qualifying poor, in exchange for state compensation (this is similar to but not identical to American voucher programs). Exempt are “unaided private minority schools and boarding schools,” which thus exempts even Hindu boarding schools (schools where children reside at the school). So the only “reverse discrimination here” is that secular and Hindu schools (in Hindu majority areas) are forced to take voucher students up to 25% of their student body. Forced to take government money. Gosh. How awful.

      You have so far proven Nanda’s every point: there is a serious mythology of “us poor persecuted Hindus” in India, based on a Libertarian-style fantasy land of garbled or distorted facts ginned up into grave race crimes. You are her proof by example.

      Thanks!

  16. kanaadaa says

    Richard,

    If Meera does not focus on the extensive accommodation of Islamic family law in India she has set her sights wrong. The government has intervened to
    -deny alimony to a Muslim woman, after the courts ruled in her favor
    -accept Muslim religious leaders’ demands to exempt the community from recording births, deaths, marriages (and divorces) with the general register maintained by municipalities
    -to overrule contracts where one of the plaintiffs, as a Muslim, has cited religious reasons for failure to execute
    -overrule laws against child marriage, as in the case cited today
    -ignored the mixing of “shariah” finance laws with general banking laws i.e., exempt a debtor from interest on grounds of religious reasons

    Through laws such as the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, the state governments have used revenue from Hindu temples for funding the public exchequer and institutions of other faiths. And contrary to what Meera alleges there is not a single instance where the government has taken over the property of a Christian or Islamic institution to hand it over to a Hindu institution. Meera is wrong. She is confusing resolution of legal disputes with government intervention, mistakenly and with not a little mischief. If you would like to discuss a particular instance, you are welcome to air it here and I will tell you why Meera is wrong. Hindu temples are not free to develop commercial property. Meera is wrong again. And even in the cases where they have set up institutions these are used for the welfare of the pilgrims and not for any other purpose. Again I invite you discuss any one case cited by Meera. Further with the government having taken over the operation of large Hindu temples there is no distinction between private and public benefit whatsoever. Meera’s narration of the state of administration of religious institutions in India is so utterly out of tune with the facts that there is nothing to refute.

    But yes, the state does not “run” minority churches, because their operations are too comparatively small and of no interest to a state that wants to promote Hinduism as a national religion under the guise of religious liberty.

    This is your conclusion and it is wrong. Firstly Muslims are not a minority in India. They are as the great Maulana Abul Kalam Azad said, India’s “second majority”. Unfortunately the post-independence consensus has honed a policy of aggregating Muslim communities by giving a free reign to religious leaders and letting them dictate community norms. Where this policy has worked well, Muslims continue to be locked in the grip of mosques, and parochial institutions or in the grip of violent ideologues. West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and the Kashmir Valley are all places where the Muslim community suffers. In contrast in states like Gujarat and Maharashtra where Muslims continue to be in touch with their Hindu roots, and do not vote as a block, have adopted large scale reform, you can find some of the most prosperous Muslim communities. Sadly there are states like Kerala where a Communist government carved out a Muslim majority administrative district (Malappuram) in the 1950s with no intention other than to capture a permanent constituency. The case of Christianity in India is equally interesting. Contrary to all evidence, the community continues to claim (and school children continue to learn) that Christianity was brought to India in 52 CE by Thomas the Apostle! Due to a collapse of government in India from the late 18th century and an advancing military backed commercial enterprise, the churches of India acquired vast properties across the country. Today with its revenue base, and network of educational institutions, the church in India is a powerful entity and gets to dictate electoral terms. In a state like Tamil Nadu where the vote is narrowly balanced between two parties, Christian institutions (both Catholic and Protestant) can swing the vote towards the party of choice. In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the late YSR Reddy, as Chief Minister lorded over a corrupt enterprise looting mining resources to enrich his church. His son-in-law Anil Kumar (a Hindu turned Christian) is a widely popular shill who organizes a faith rally every week, fooling 1000s with false promises of eternal glory and what not. The Congress Party which has ruled independent India longer than any other political alliance supports wholesale interference in Hindu institutions in order to prevent any sort of Hindu consolidation, pitting caste against caste, while encouraging Islamic (mainly) and Christian (secondarily) institutions, in an effort to consolidate them, so that a large scale Hindu voting block does not materialise. Meera has it exactly backward, and intentionally.

    The Indian state does not “want to promote Hinduism as a state religion”. If anything the Indian state cares little for Hindu sentiment. It has not recalled its envoys from Malaysia, Pakistan or Bangladesh after local governments in these countries have failed to pursue perpetrators of violence against Hindus. Check out the case of Rinkle Kumari in Pakistan. And yes, the Indian government did withdraw its invitation to the PM of Denmark at the height of the Mohammad cartoon controversy. Some state legislatures passed motions of censure against Denmark. And BTW if you want to know about what Islamist violence is like in India ask your fellow Freethoughter Taslima Nasreen.

    Now for references. Check out Meera’s article on yoga in Open Magazine. And then for the refutation of her article on environmentalism by Koenraad Elst. I am amused that you would want to “check my claims”. Because as one who has written a blurb for Meera Nanda you must be very familiar with her. So familiar that mere fact will not sway your mind. I have no expectations.

    Should we meet some day, I will try to join issue, if you are interested. Or else, some day, I am sure you will come across better informed scholars on Hinduism and India. Being Hindu I believe that should all knowledge we have today is wiped out, sooner or later, give or a take a few million years, we will surely rediscover everything we have learned. So too the ability of the weakest among the wise far surpasses that of the most powerful among those who would mislead. Today, the world over, institutions supporting the Hindu tradition are outspent by orders of magnitude by Chrislamic ones. However we have found much support from Judaic institutions and scholars, who have been kind to us in India (for the Hindus being the only community to have never oppressed the Jews AND have helped them prosper and flourish) and have decided that regardless of what powerful people may say or assert, the only way ahead is through inquiry.

    This is your blog, and I post here at your pleasure. Thank you for taking the trouble to read and respond to my posts.

    • says

      Kanaadaa, I no longer trust anything you say. I have confirmed your errors and fallacies enough by now to know it’s not worth my trouble to answer or check anything more you claim.

      The fact of the matter is, half your claims are irrelevant (they do not contradict or undermine anything Nanda argues; some even support her), and the other half are inaccurate (see thread above).

      We’re done here, sir.

  17. kanaadaa says

    Dear Richard,

    Jamia Millia University is a”Central University” established by a few eminent Muslims that became a “Central University” or a government owned university following an act of Parliament in 1988. When the application of provisions of affirmative action requiring reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Tribes (and backward classes) became inevitable about a decade ago, a few alumni and staff associations moved a petition before the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions demanding that Jamia Millia be declared a minority institution, thereby exempting it from maintaining a reserved quota for designated communities. If you are still following this, imagine a government appointed religious education commission deciding on the admission policies of a government managed university that incidentally happens to have a religious sounding name. The commission expectedly upheld the demand of the associations concerned and declared Jamia minority institution, exempting it form reservation mandates. As a designated “minority institution” that is funded and owned by the government, Jamia Millia has no responsibility for following any educational mandates of the government. Simple?

    The Benares Hindu University is also a “central university” but it does not have the right to restrict its enrollment to Hindus. Simple. Now the point about “Hindu” educational institutions is not that they can’t be set up. Only that they have no say in framing their own admission policies or curriculum. The Right to Education Act has muddled matters further by interfering with the primary education sector. While a “Hindu” managed grade school or a non-parochial grade school has to follow enrollment mandates and employment mandates, minority run institutions are exempt. The latter are free to charge as they please and pay their teachers as they please. Which is why several “secular” schools are considering shutting down or even selling their operations to Christian organizations. The vouchers provided by the government do not cover the full cost of meeting admission mandates.

    Now for the business of defining minorities. Hindus are deemed a majority community everywhere in India, even in Punjab (Sikh majority), Jammu & Kashmir (Muslim majority) and the states of Northeastern India (Christian majority). There have been rumblings about this ridiculous state of affairs and courts have been hearing plaints about it. But considering how little physical mobility is possible for the poor in India and also considering India is such a densely populated country, some plaintiffs have asked to declare the district (like our county) rather than the state the smallest administrative unit in which minority status should be determined. Naturally there has been a great deal of resistance against this proposal in Kerala, where Christians and Muslims are in a majority in a few districts. In the case of West Bengal and Assam, unrestricted migration from Bangladesh, has over the years changed the demographic balance in entire districts.
    The issue of the government policy with respect to religion isn’t a matter of secularization. You can do better than rely upon a flawed and poorly informed tract by Meera Nanda. I am sure we will find the time some day. And no. We don’t need to get scatological about it.

    Contrary to what you think, the Hindu voice in the US is a little stronger than a sneeze in a tornado. Organizations like the Hindu American Foundation barely manage to get their letters published in the papers. If anything as groups that question and observe cultural traditions, Hindus in the US have about a fraction of the power of CFI. There is no way you will see billboards or tracts or guys on bicycles knocking on doors. After the Chrislamic friendly professors and chattering class in the US, it’s fun to know that we have to now contend with atheists as well. Life’s interesting indeed! I’ll see if we can come up with a critique of Meera’s latest work and a critique of your understanding. Although considering how poorly she writes, and ill read she is, there may be few if any interested in engaging with her shrill pamphlet. But try I will. Thanks once again. And I promise you I am not going to be reading this blog again for some time. Thanks again! Shubhamastu!

  18. kanaadaa says

    While this on pg.6

    All neo-pagans are not fascists. Not at all. Indeed, neo-paganism can stand by itself as a genuine religion, with no necessary connections with fascist, racist politics. And I have no evidence at all that the neo-pagan groups that Hindutva is trying to bring into its own fold have any overt connections with Nazi or neo-Nazi groups.

    earlier you will find this sinister association

    Second, Dharmic ecology of Hindutva right is emerging as the hub of a new neo-pagan International. Neo-paganism in Europe and America has deep and historic ties with Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups.

    Apart from the fact that the term “Dharmic Ecology” is something like the creationist “Darwinism”, this assertion is nonsense. Since her talk in 2004, that we still have no evidence of an Hind’ternational(e?) alone should be enough to ignore Meera.

    Richard, you should be more sparing with your endorsements. Especially when your author comes up with a howler like this one,

    “And this anti-Christian turn makes dharmic ecology very friendly to the anti-Christian, neo-pagan groups that are mushrooming in Europe, notably in mostly protestant countries such as England, Ireland, Germany, Iceland, Belgium, Lithuania, Norway and even in Russia. Western Neo-pagans are mostly disillusioned Christians. They reject the transcendent God of Abrahamic faiths, who created the natural order, but now stands outside nature. They are attracted to paganism which sees the sacred as manifested in nature more rationally and aesthetically convincing.”

    I use renunciate to mean “one who has renounced”. I hope you are not questioning if there can be a global Hindu organization without a central authority.

    Since you insist, entirely by reading Meera that the state’s stranglehold over Hindu institutions actually benefits Hinduism, let me give you an example of why this assertion is like a creature with its head screwed the wrong way. According to the Tamizh calendar (a solar one) the new year is celebrated around April 14th (a date that coincides with solar new years in northern and eastern India, in Sri Lanka and in SE Asia. For Hindus this is an occasion to be observed by – you guessed it right, with visit to the local kovil (temple) with much gaiety and an official holiday. Incidentally the New Year – yes the Julian New Year’s Day is also celebrated by Hindus, both the secular way and the “religious” way with a special New Year archanai and abhishekam at the local kovil. A few years back the ruling party in Tamizh Nadu (the DMK) decreed that the Tamizh New Year Day would henceforth be celebrated earlier in January for reasons best known to itself. Normally this would not have created a problem, because Hindus will tend to do their own thing at home regardless of what the government dictates – for good and for bad. But what saddened the masses was also the announcement that April 14th would no longer be a government holiday and no government managed temple in Tamizh Nadu would perform a Tamizh New Year puja for the presiding deity. This announcement came soon after the same administration decreed that puja at one of the most popular temples – in Chidambaram – would be conducted in Tamizh and not any longer in Sanskrit. Naturally quite a few questioned the authority of a government to dictate religious custom – that too one run by a supposedly “rationalist/atheist” DMK. Because not one government anywhere in India has ever questioned the muezzin’s call to prayer in Arabic – five times a day, across the land. When the Catholic churches in the neighboring state of Karnataka witnessed pitched battles between Tamizh and Kannada speaking congregants over the issue of the language of service, the government stayed out of the way. So then why would the government in one state meddle in Hindu matters? The simple fact that Hindu sentiment favors the abolition of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department alone is evidence enough that the government’s association with Hinduism in India is considered a nuisance if not a menace.

    Thanks once again for the opportunity to participate in this discussion.

  19. kanaadaa says

    Hi Richard,

    I’ve just finished a very long refutation of yet another – I hate to say this – tendentious screed by Meera. Considering it is eight years since her environmentalism article and this screed, a pattern is clear. She does one thing effortlessly – ascribe vast influence to certain Hindu entities, that is not simply disproportionate but mischaracterized. Second, probably because she knows about the deep revulsion for anything associated with the word Nazi, she quite carelessly drops this word around, unrealingly though, sure that no one is going to catch the false association,shocked by the mere possibility of such an association. I drew to your notice earlier today, how in one paper she almost contradicts herself. More than what this habit of hers says about Meera’s shoddy drafting and analysis, it says more about her unthinking fans. Thirdly, she is unlike any mainstream atheist/freethinker/humanist here in the US, in not having a single good thing to say about anything a Hindu or a Hindu institution can do. While others blame ideology Meera is unique in blaming Hinduism, its adherents and its institutions without exception. While Jerry Coyne and Larry Moran vigorously attack Ken Miller’s beliefs -with the latter calling him all but a creationist, they respect the man. Not that for Meera. There are atheists among you who surely sing carols, even decorate a tree, and dash it even attend a midnight service for the fun of it? But for Meera a Hindu can never be up to good. This is something I am familiar with because I have lived and worked in India for several years, where some practitioners of Christianity and Islam are extremely vigorous in both upholding their own faith and insisting that Hindus are sinful by their very existence as Hindus. We have atheists in India like the great Sanal Edamaruku who is an equal opportunity offender, scam buster, and decency personified. There was the late Gora, tireless atheist and political activist, and Gandhian. OTOH we have the Nirmukta gang that doesn’t publish dissenting comments on its blogs, and attacks only Hinduism, when in reality the independent resources of the Church are immense and the political reach of Islamists is vast. F’instance the Samajwadi Party has recently announced a grant of money exclusively to schoolgoing Muslim women. That this is not Meera’s focus is a poor excuse for Meera’s shoddy scholarship.

    I am an obscure blogger who struggles to make ends meet, staggering under the burden of college loans trying to put my children through college. I have a job and am thankful, having been through a v.rough patch during the Bush recession. I neither have the time not the money (I mean I can’t take leave w/o pay) to study Meera’s assertions at length. Whatever little I can come up with is based on an off-and-on engagement with Meera’s “work” and what my friends have written about it. I admire people like you who have the courage and the caliber to have made a career in the humanities and 1000s of others who speak up for atheism at the risk of losing their day job or inviting harassment at home or at work. And it is true that not every dissenter has a point, definitely not in the case of evolution – another great controversy I follow. If it were not so, Paul and Larry would never find peace. But the case of Hinduism is very different. We are talking of a generally accepted theory. We are talking of a very old tradition that its own followers have rarely bothered to defend, it making sense, but that leaves outsiders puzzled. Believe me, Meera is not an expert on Hinduism in any sense of the term or the politics of India, or its history. If you want to study how Hindus (and some other religious minorities)have found a home for their traditions in the US, study Dr.Khyati Joshi’s New Roots in America’s Sacred Ground. Or Dr.Vasudha Narayanan on how Hindus have found new associations with America’s geography. Or Dr.Hanna Kim about the fast growing BAPS, a Vaishnava community whose founder emerged ~200 years ago in Gujarat that now has some of the grandest temples in N.America. As for what philosophical ideas imply in Hinduism may I suggest Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Monima Chaddha and Arindom Chakraborty. If you would like to learn how a marginalized community that is ill-treated even by traditionally excluded communities, I suggest you the work of Dr.Ramdas Lamb. On the engagement of Hindu communities with other global religious communities, Dr. Anantanand Rambachan is a great resource. How have Jewish communities engaged with the evolving culture of India over centuries? That would be Dr.Nathan Katz, who would also help you understand why some Hindu organizations decided to pursue legal action in California.

    All the best and cheers!

    • MC says

      OTOH we have the Nirmukta gang that doesn’t publish dissenting comments on its blogs, and attacks only Hinduism,

      Nice comments from the rest of your post. But this particular comment is not entirely true. Whereas Nirmukta does publish many polemics on Hinduism, they don’t spare punches to Christianity and Islam whenever they have to. The differences, however, are true. Nirmukta is sneaky when it comes to publishing comments. For example, they recently defended the ‘Beef Festival’ in India and went on a rampage on one of their posts talking about how Hindus are ONLY against beef since they think cows are holy and no other animal. This is not true. Replies were posted and they were conveniently rejected (and they even admitted doing that!). And yes, they do hate Hindus and unlike in the States where Church and State are separate, Indian secularists and atheists want state regulation (perhaps even abolition) of religion a la Soviet Russia.

  20. MC says

    It is unconstitutional for the state to be involved in spreading religion since India is a secular democracy. However, the state does control Hindu temples (but not Churches or mosques) and when I mean control, I mean CONTROL. It is not 5% that goes to the state, it is more like 18%. The rest goes to fund social programs and education which is good. But then virtually nothing is left behind for the priests. In one study in 2006, all of the priests in one district of the state of Andhra Pradesh lived below the poverty line. As virtually government employees, this is a reprehensible human rights violation.

    As for Meera Nanda. She is known for her Hindu bashing. However, she is a charlatan of the highest degree. She is an atheist at heart, but conveniently gets her funding from the Protestant John Templeton Foundation. This is a nice way to denigrate and spread lies about a religion – just get funding from supporters of another religion! Anyway, her books have been duly critically analyzed here
    http://thetruthaboutliars.wordpress.com/chapter-1-background-2/section-1-01a-spotlight-on-prominent-foil-members-and-their-affiliates/meera-nanda/
    http://www.sandeepweb.com/2011/02/15/meera-nandas-ignorance-revisited/
    and here
    http://www.tattvaanveshanam.org/2011/02/27/meera-nanda-continues-with-her-ignorant-rants/#.T-t5Q_Vt1Os

    Let me clarify. The only reason the temples get costs for renovation and governments fund temples are not because they are promoting tourism, but because most temples are seen as heritage/archeological sites. This is a serious omission from Nanda’s book. Please take this with a pinch of salt. The reason why Hindu extremism is on the rise is because the throat of Hinduism is being choked. Constantly, upper-caste Hindus are wrongly targeted by lower-castes Hindus for supposed inflicted violence.

    It is because people like Nanda try to spread hate against one group of people that this sort of mentality exists. This is the drug that Nanda lives for.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Dalit_protests_in_Maharashtra
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kherlanji_massacre

    Be cautious. Don’t believe everything she says.

    • MC says

      Typo.

      The only reason the temples get costs for renovation and governments fund temples are not because they are promoting tourism

      I meant to say Hinduism, not tourism. Essentially, temples ARE a tourist attraction and that’s why they get funding. It has nothing to do with spreading Hinduism.

    • says

      “In one study in 2006, all of the priests in one district of the state of Andhra Pradesh lived below the poverty line.”

      Cite your source.

      The only reason the temples get costs for renovation and governments fund temples are not because they are promoting tourism, but because most temples are seen as heritage/archeological sites. This is a serious omission from Nanda’s book.

      She extensively documents the contrary. You, so far, have documented nothing.

      That’s where the grain of salt goes.

    • says

      Then in that case your point is moot. You can’t promote Hindu temples and teachers and priests for tourism and not be effectively promoting Hinduism (nationally and abroad). Imagine if we funded Catholic churches in the U.S. “for tourism.” To suggest that won’t benefit Catholic evangelism is naivety of the highest order. The only comparable exception is the highly secularized national religions in Europe, but those religions (e.g. C of E) are so watered down they are practically not even religions anymore. And yet they are still being kept alive by their government support. Without it, they’d shrink to a shriveled voldemort.

  21. MC says

    Article 30 does not prohibit Hindu schools (it doesn’t even mention Hinduism), and there are tons of Hindu schools in India. So obviously you are just making shit up now.

    Kanaadaa said minorities have the right to set up and maintain educational institutions. Hinduism is NOT a minority in India. Having said that Article 30 of Indian constitution does not prohibit Hindus from setting up educational institutions. Kanaadaa’s point is that Hindus can’t set-up educational institutions with the same privileges afforded to minorities. BHU for eg, is not a ‘Hindu’ educational institution and is very much under Government regulation. This is an important and key point Kanaadaa has made.

    • says

      And that’s a lame point. It’s like saying white people don’t benefit from welfare because they tend to be wealthier than black people, therefore welfare is biased.

  22. MC says

    Cite your source.
    Certainly. It’s not just one. These were posted 6 years ago on the plight of brahmins in India
    http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/may/23franc.htm
    http://in.rediff.com/news/2005/oct/18franc.htm
    http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-news/UttarPradesh/Are-Brahmins-today-s-Dalits-in-India/Article1-221926.aspx
    Just so you don’t think that this is in some remote pockets of society, here is an article from the Wall Street Journal that outlines how most upper castes (including Brahmins) live for under $100/month.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119889387595256961.html
    The fall in number of Brahmins earning less than $100/month from 2004 to 2007 was not that they magically became more affluent. This has to do with the foreign exchange rate of the USD to INR which fell sharply during this period thereby accounting for the drop in numbers.
    http://finance.yahoo.com/echarts?s=USDINR%3DX+Interactive#symbol=;range=20041115,20080718;compare=;indicator=volume;charttype=area;crosshair=on;ohlcvalues=0;logscale=off;source=undefined;
    Even people who do upper-caste bashing fail to see poverty levels of upper-castes in their own research.
    http://www.utoronto.ca/mcis/q2/papers/III_Kozel.pdf (Table 1)

    • says

      Those sources only speak of caste, not priesthood. The fact that the government is no longer defining priesthoods by caste is being complained about, but that’s not the same thing. And wealth is relative. That some “once rich” people are now poor is not the government’s fault. That lower castes are now rising to take a bigger bite of the economic pie, and higher castes can’t just rest on their laurels anymore and expect to maintain their status, is just the way non-rigged, non-autocratic economies work.

  23. MC says

    She extensively documents the contrary. You, so far, have documented nothing.
    I didn’t know extensively meant something different to you than what it usually means. In her book, Nanda hardly gives any citations except for her infinite wisdom. Funny how you asked me for sources, but blissfully accept every word coming from Nanda’s pen.

    Consider for example her own admission in her book (pg 136)
    “…public funds are being used in some states for directly paying the salary of Hindu priests.”
    and then goes on to give the figure of the glamorous salary “… a monthly salary of Rs 1200 to all priests…” Rs 1200 amounts to $24 dollars. Given that $1/day is the poverty threshold, this is tantamount to nothing. Of course, this move should be welcome considering that temples controlled by state government can pay less than that and provide a grand pension of Rs 750 a month ($15) to their retired priests
    http://www.tn.gov.in/citizen/hrce.pdf
    I am sure Nanda ‘extensively’ talks about the fact that all of the renovation costs that are done to temples come out from donations made TO THE TEMPLE. The government does NOT have a special fund for this in place from external income/tax. It uses the temples money (which should be controlled privately) to appropriate this amount.
    http://www.tn.gov.in/policynotes/archives/policy2010_11/pdf/HR_and_CE.pdf
    I bet Nanda also extensively talks about the charity programs done under the government control of temples and the numerous educational institutes that benefit from this.
    I bet she also ‘extensively’ documents the plight of temple priests

    • says

      In her book, Nanda hardly gives any citations except for her infinite wisdom.

      Then you haven’t read it. Her book has 34 pages of citations.

      Rs 1200 amounts to $24 dollars.

      That’s from the government. Not their whole income.

      Priests can also receive room, board, and utilities, and a share of donations and temple revenues in addition to those salaries. See what the DailyBhakar reports on this (the average priest takes in a total of a million rupees); likewise the Times of India. See also NewKarala. Varanasi’s own books show they pay 4 billion rupees in salaries to priests and tenders of the temple, not counting medical and other benefits. Even if they employ a thousand people that would average 4 million rupees each. (And that’s not counting officers and upper management, who receive a total of half a billion.) Corruption, however, can indeed screw priests over, even though officially the state has mandated their salaries; when the governing committees obey the law, priests make 50,000 to 150,000 rupees a year; in practice, they might only be paid 6,000 to 12,000 per year, sometimes 15,000 and above, in order to employ more priests (but this again does not include benefits or share of donations). Indeed, many priests in various districts are not well paid or looked after (while others are very well off indeed). But that isn’t relevant to Nanda’s point that the government shouldn’t be involved with this at all.

      Nothing else you say is relevant to Nanda’s argument, either–which is that the government is spending money on Hindu temples and making decisions for them (and thus there is no separation of church and state). Instead the state is keen on promoting Hinduism, not employee welfare.

    • says

      Richard,

      I admire your patience in answering MC who clearly hasn’t read the book, but has only read second hand accounts of the book; second hand because they too haven’t read the book, but reviewed the book anyway just going by its title and Ajita’s review of the book. He then quickly scanned through whatever is available on Google books to mine quotes that confirm his bias, without actually considering what Meera Nanda is saying and without making any effort to understand what social justice is (which Meera Nanda stresses a lot).

  24. MC says

    Then in that case your point is moot.
    I thought you were convinced by Meera’s argument that the government is trying to promote Hinduism and not tourism. Why consider that I might be right?
    You can’t promote Hindu temples and teachers and priests for tourism and not be effectively promoting Hinduism (nationally and abroad).
    I have been to the Colosseum in Rome and the Egyptian pyramids and I can assure you that I have no intention of becoming a gladiator or a pharaoh. That aside, maybe you should address your concern to the Archeological Society of India that controls some major temples in India and even charges fees for entrance (doesn’t sound like a place of worship to me), effectively making them tourist destinations.
    http://www.asithrissurcircle.in/Monuments_2.html
    http://www.asithrissurcircle.in/Monuments.html
    http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_konark.asp
    http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_mahabodhi.asp
    http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_mahabalipuram_monolithic.asp
    http://www.orissa-tourism.com/portal/TemplesMonuments/HinduTemples.aspx
    http://www.bharattemples.in/
    Perhaps it is this same Hinduism-promoting Archeological Society of India that denied the very existence of Ram, a popular Hindu deity.
    http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/sep/17sethu.htm
    http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/India/ramayana-no-basis-for-ram-setu-debate/Article1-247568.aspx

    Imagine if we funded Catholic churches in the U.S. “for tourism.” To suggest that won’t benefit Catholic evangelism is naivety of the highest order.
    Why don’t you ask Catholics how they would feel if their churches were turned into tourist attractions and people were charged entrance fees? I find it surprising you think this way, especially since your breed of atheist like Dan Dennett openly and publicly hope for turning religious sites into tourist attractions and cite that this will signal the end of religion.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QZNcZ21P4g
    Despite saying that tourism will promote a religion, I think you know otherwise.

    • says

      I have been to the Colosseum in Rome and the Egyptian pyramids and I can assure you that I have no intention of becoming a gladiator or a pharaoh.

      Those aren’t churches. They have no believers, no priests, no ideologies, no political lobby.

      Try being less lame. Please.

  25. MC says

    And that’s a lame point. It’s like saying white people don’t benefit from welfare because they tend to be wealthier than black people, therefore welfare is biased.
    That is comparing apples to oranges. Minorities can set up educational institutions and don’t have to follow the same government guidelines. However, government immediately takes action when non-minorities (including non-religious non-minorities) make a stand for separate educational institutions.
    http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-13/india/29539649_1_educational-institutions-higher-education-army-personnel

    Thank you for allowing me to give my voice. I still think there is a great deal to be said about Meera Nanda.
    Why is an atheist being funded by the Templeton Foundation
    That’s where the grain of salt goes.
    Why does she use her funding for Hindu bashing?
    That’s where the grain of salt goes.
    Why can’t she have ancient scientists like Aryabhatta (who got some things wrong) be mentioned in a museum, but is absolutely OK studying textbooks/articles from many contemporary scientists like Linus Pauling who ignorantly thought that Vitamin C cures cancer? Why is she OK when other scientists who got things wrong are mentioned in museums/history of science?
    That’s where the grain of salt goes.

    • says

      More lame.

      You didn’t get the analogy at all. And then repeat the very fallacy it rebuts.

      Then you ask why a religiously neutral foundation gives money to people of various faiths to explore the intersection of religion and science (the very thing Nanda was paid to do, and did–separately, this book was not funded by the foundation, her next one was).

      Then you ask why an atheist, who correctly deems religion to be harmful to society and documents all the ways that it is, would want to criticize a religion.

      Then you confuse dead scientists with living, politically powerful ideologies, as if they were comparable in any relevant way.

      Yeah. Because all that makes sense.

  26. MC says

    Those sources only speak of caste, not priesthood. The fact that the government is no longer defining priesthoods by caste is being complained about, but that’s not the same thing. And wealth is relative. That some “once rich” people are now poor is not the government’s fault. That lower castes are now rising to take a bigger bite of the economic pie, and higher castes can’t just rest on their laurels anymore and expect to maintain their status, is just the way non-rigged, non-autocratic economies work.

    Well done. You’ve shown your true colors now. Now you say that they are poor and then you later give me a long spiel on how rich they are. Try not to contradict yourself in the future. And try not to cherry-pick examples off of the internet of a handful of people. And then you have the nerve of being an Indian government apologist for the plight of the higher caste poor. Shows what a selective humanist you really are. But I expected as much. This is the typical secular ‘humanist’ revenge tactics. Now I hope you know why Hinduism is on the rise and hopefully will continue to be to shut up the great social avengers like yourself.

  27. MC says

    Then you haven’t read it. Her book has 34 pages of citations.

    Again – she gives no citations. A citation is supposed to be within the body of a text. She mentions no citations. She only gives a bibliography/references at the end.

    Then you mention ONE example of a temple paying their priests well. Good for you that you clarified later that majority of them get paid poorly. This is completely in line with Nanda’s arguments because she does constantly talk about government paying priest salaries numerous times.

    Instead the state is keen on promoting Hinduism, not employee welfare.
    Again. Meera Nanda’s assertion. She has no evidence for the same except for how the government funds temples from the temples own donations. Now THAT is lame.

    • says

      Again – she gives no citations. A citation is supposed to be within the body of a text. She mentions no citations. She only gives a bibliography/references at the end.

      False. Citations are often provided in endnotes, not footnotes. She does exactly that on page 223 (everything on page 136 is covered there). It is common to use endnotes in conjunction with a bibliography. She does.

      Then you mention ONE example of a temple paying their priests well.

      I did not give one example. I gave several. I also showed the difference between reality and what the law says and the government is trying to do. And indeed even the “poor priest” examples had them earning ten times what you claimed. I likewise pointed out that whether the government pays them well or poorly is irrelevant to Nanda’s argument. The government shouldn’t be paying them at all.

      Meera Nanda’s assertion. She has no evidence for the same except for how the government funds temples from the temples own donations. Now THAT is lame.

      She provides a shitload of documented evidence of how government and corporate alliances divert and control resources to promote Hinduism through its temples and colleges. Real government money is going to temples (not just temple revenues) and government decisions, personnel, laws, and policies are devoted to increasing temple revenues, with the open cooperation of moneyed corporations.

      That’s the fact. And it’s wrong. We certainly do not want this to happen in the U.S. And it will create problems for India in future. Not least in the destruction of its education system as the Hindu nationalists gain increasing control of curricula and drain state resources on religious rather than useful education and eliminate or water down critical thinking content; likewise in the entanglement of state-temple-corporations, the political power and influence of moneyed interests and Hindu nationalists only increases, manipulating policy, foreign and domestic. The people who lose are the poor and the reasonable. The people who gain are the rich and the fanatical.

      That’s Nanda’s thesis. And she more than proves it with well-documented facts.

  28. MC says

    I admire your patience in answering MC who clearly hasn’t read the book, but has only read second hand accounts of the book; second hand because they too haven’t read the book, but reviewed the book anyway just going by its title and Ajita’s review of the book.

    I have commented on what I have read. Problem with that is what exactly? If you are so willing as to seek a person who is an expert on the matter, why don’t you read Koenraad Elst’s rebuttals of Meera Nanda and address your thorough-read self to him and others like him who can see Meera for the con-artist she really is?

  29. MC says

    Then you ask why a religiously neutral foundation gives money to people of various faiths to explore the intersection of religion and science

    I didn’t think secularists would stoop so low as to justify the templeton foundation which I would think is doing just the opposite of what you would want being done. Enemy of my enemy is it?
    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/1997/06/gods_venture_capitalist.html
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-ehrenreich/the-rights-academic-unive_b_67744.html?#postComment

    Then you confuse dead scientists with living, politically powerful ideologies, as if they were comparable in any relevant way.
    You totally did not get what I was talking about and I have neither the time nor the will to explain it to you.

    I now know what a great bunch of ‘humanists’ you folks are. Well done. Like I said, Hinduism will grow. Hindus are smarter than you think and can see through people like you and your apathy and even concealed delight towards the miserable condition of a select few and self-centered sense of heroism over a cause that has no rhyme or reason.

    If you want to really make a difference, end drug wars, end poverty, solve the energy crisis like others are doing. No, you wouldn’t do that. That would take courage. Bullying some innocent believers and calling them lame, stupid and all. Now that is easy.

    • says

      I’m not defending the Templeton Foundation. I think they fund too much bullshit. They do have a theist agenda, but they are religiously neutral. They aren’t funding evangelism or Christian apologetics. They have funded several atheists and peoples of different faiths. They are funding research. Most of the research they fund is lame or feeble. But that’s a different criticism than you were making.

      The rest of your remarks are just weird. Why you think I’m not involved in other causes (like energy technology) is beyond me. You live in a strange black and white world in that little mind of yours.

    • says

      MC,

      Aww, poor you. Living in the US disconnected from Indian reality where people get killed for not being Hindu enough must be a an extremely tough life. You should surely arise, awake and stop not till you bravely type away on your keyboard and defend oppressed people like yourself from us frenzied humanists.

    • MC says

      Aww, poor you. Living in the US disconnected from Indian reality where people get killed for not being Hindu enough must be a an extremely tough life.
      And I condemn those sorts of acts, surprise surprise. Unfortunately, for every one of those heinous acts that you mention there are others like these
      http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/04/02/jonathan-kay-from-brampton-to-bangladesh-anti-hindu-hate-is-all-too-real/
      http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2006-11-30/india/27810014_1_rail-roko-protestors-violent-protests
      I have lived half my life in India, so I do know the dynamics in society there. The typical “you’re living abroad and hence don’t know the reality in India” spiel is pointless and getting rather boring.

    • says

      MC,

      When I said “poor you”, I was referring to your enormous persecution complex. Nobody has done anything to stop you from believing in your Sanatana Dogma and yet you are all angry, rearing to attend Lord Krishna’s call for preservation of dharma.

      Btw, I’m confident you know little about social dynamics in India other than the casteist bubble in which you grew up in. You probably went to a school, lived in a locality, and moved about in social circles where you didn’t have to interact with the unmerited free-loading Ambedkar types.

    • MC says

      @Lije
      Yeah, I’m the one with the persecution complex ‘since I don’t get killed for being Hindu’. I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with unmerited free-loading Ambedkar types. Like I said, your accusations are pointless.

  30. MC says

    And you have conveniently side stepped several of the issues I have posed. Hatemongers like you promote a mentality that justifies violence against upper castes. Silence from your end.
    Those aren’t churches. They have no believers, no priests, no ideologies, no political lobby.
    Try being less lame. Please.

    What a pathetic coward you are. You didn’t address the issues about relegating Hindu temples to the position of tourist attractions and instead engage in ad hominem attacks. Two can play at this.

    • says

      Nice try. I did not change the subject. I addressed all those issues. Trying to make it not so by claiming it’s not so is another lame tactic. It’s not going to work here.

  31. MC says

    Your own links showed the pitiable salaries priests make (in reality) and they are not ‘ten times’ the amount I had mentioned. I had given the link from the government that showed that retired priests are allotted a pension of Rs. 750/month IF they earned less than Rs 15000/year (implying that there were some who made less than that). In no place on the planet is that a decent amount. Fail.

    The government shouldn’t be paying them at all.
    Precisely. They should give total control to private organizations or families who traditionally owned the temples so that they pay their priests properly. This is not secularism. This does not mean that there is no transparency in the process. Online petitions reflect this.
    http://www.petitiononline.com/qa23124/petition.html

    She provides a shitload of documented evidence
    It is a load of shit, I do agree with that.

    That’s the fact. And it’s wrong.
    I agree with that also. I have no problem with governments letting go of temple control and regulating their funds.

    That’s Nanda’s thesis.
    That is only a part of Nanda’s thesis.

    • says

      You mentioned the government subsidy of 1200 rs as if that meant priests were living below the poverty line. They in fact earn on average ten times that or more (many a hundred or a thousand times that). That is what I was referring to.

      But the amounts are immaterial. That the government is subsidizing them is the point. That’s what’s unacceptable.

      Which you agree with. So you apparently just hate Nanda for no reason. You attack her as a liar, then defend her conclusions. Because that makes sense.

    • MC says

      I should mention that I am thankful that you post my comments. I will only address one point. I will be brief.
      So you apparently just hate Nanda for no reason.
      I agree with her that government control of temples should cease. I disagree about the effects that this has had vis-a-vis promoting Hinduism. Even if I do give any gravity to this claim, it seems not so much that Meera is opposed to the government is promoting hinduism, but rather that hinduism is being promoted by anyone at all. Her past literature also reflects this. The literature of several other Indian rationalists/atheists reflects this. Take BR Ambedkar for example. For him it was never enough that caste-system be banned. For him, that which he thought gave rise to the caste-system must be banned as well. Namely, the Vedic literature (shastra). He went on to argue that if the shastra is ridden of, then there will be no Hinduism, so what use is it to us? This is where freedom of religion will not be compromised.

    • MC says

      I guess I should clarify that freedom of religion will not be compromised unless it jeopardizes unanimously agreed upon human rights.

  32. AJ says

    I am familiar with Meera Nanda’s book, however disagree with her that India is becoming more ‘Hinduised’. The Hindu population country in 1947 was 85% and has been steadily declining since and today accounts for a little under 80%. This can be attributed primarily to the high fertility rate of the muslims, the aggressive proselytisation of Christians and the passive nature of the Hindus. Hinduism in technical terms is not a religion – it is a philosophy that teaches values and allows adherents to choose their own path. Indeed, perhaps one of the greatest Hindu scholars known to mankind, Swami Vivekananda was an atheist and so too were Amartya Sen (Nobel Laureate) and Veer Savarkar (Hindu Nationalist). Hinduism due to its tolerant and accepting nature has evolved over time and has freely accepted and learnt from other philosophies. This is in sharp contrast to Christianity and Islam which are still medieval in their thinking. This is perhaps why these religions are fading away in many of their traditional strongholds. The UK and the US have seen a sharp fall in the number of practicing Christians. From the equality of men to homosexuality, Christians have illustrated a lack of tolerance and educated societies like the UK will not accept such discriminatory views. Their only hope for growth are the lesser developed countries in Africa and Asia where people are poorer and more vulnerable and can be exploited to promote the Christian ideology. India has a strong history of tolerance. From the Zoroastrians to the Jews, all that have seeked protection have found it in India but that is only because of the Hindu majority. The day that changes the country will break into anarchy. That much is certain.

    • says

      I don’t think Nanda is talking about increasing Hinduization of the populace, but of the rising size and power of the Hindu nationalism movement and its growing occupation of the halls of power (political and corporate), and growing abuse of that power to further Hindu nationalist aims at the expense of everyone else (including the dumbing down of science education and the aim to diminish the “scientific temper” of the populace as a whole). In that respect it is like the U.S. in the eighties: other minority groups growing at the expense of the majority, but the majority still controlling almost all wealth and power and using it, far more than ever before, to its reactionary ends (especially because other minority groups are growing at the expense of the majority). Which led to our current situation of a sharply divided populace, with the shrinking majority no longer willing to even compromise with the remainder and thus blocking all legislative progress and using every dirty trick in the book to seize power and reverse the clock; and when it does gain power, it attacks science education and pursues a form of Christian nationalism at all levels (at home and abroad). Nanda sees the same thing happening in India.

    • MC says

      @AJ
      Indeed, perhaps one of the greatest Hindu scholars known to mankind, Swami Vivekananda was an atheist and so too were Amartya Sen (Nobel Laureate) and Veer Savarkar (Hindu Nationalist).
      Although Amartya Sen is and Veer Savarkar was an atheist, the same cannot be said about Swami Vivekananda. In terms of not believing in a personal, volitional, judgmental God – yes he rejected that kind of God as an Absolute reality. He however did not ever say that he was an atheist and in fact thought that the new definition of an atheist was one who (if I may paraphrase) did not believe in a universal bond of consciousness between people that transcended the macroscopic projections of the mind.

  33. Arjun says

    I am guessing you might be inspired by some chruch authority to writer this article.When chritians do it you got no problem when muslims do it in there country its there right.But when hindus do it in there own country man……….

    • says

      Sorry, your poor English and spelling make your remark hard to decipher. I think (?) you are asking if I am a Christian; in fact I am an atheist and prominent critic of Christianity. And you seem (?) to be saying I do not criticize Christians doing the same things as Hindu nationalists, which is strange, considering most of my life has been dedicated to criticizing Christians for doing exactly that, and I even refer to my opposition to such Christian efforts in the U.S. in the article itself.

  34. Sandeep says

    Hmm… There has been a great difference in the Hinduism and other religions. If i am correct i heard some one saying in the comments section that they need an atheist who know well about Hinduism. Well Every well educated Hindu is an atheist. Because Hinduism do not have any limits or a commanding book or a commanding person who/it tells what to do and what not to do. I call my self as a Hindu not because i am a Hindu because there is so much in Veda’s that could be well used by Humanity. By the way FYI the assignment of a word “Hinduism” hasn’t come from Hindu’s. Its the people that have come from else where used it to call those group of people who follow Veda and it happened during the two major attacks happened on India. Neither any Hindu declines evolution nor stops the growth of science. What i feel about Hinduism is ancient Indian’s much have found/discovered great knowledge through whatever the way they found they tried to deliver it to the next generation by embedding it int he daily activities that people do. By the way me being in India i can tell you that Hinduism as of now is not in the raise at-least not in India. India is being attacked by the other two major religions Islam and Christianity. I should also tell you that Hinduism never keep the fear in people to make them say/follow they are Hindu’s. But its the tradition of aforementioned two religions by giving fear on God/Hell/Heaven to make them bow to the idea of GOD. So its not the case with Hinduism. There are not hard and fast rules in Hinduism. Jainism (atheistic and Buddhism(started in 350BC and is–agnostic) are branches of Hinduism(i am just using this word because most of you are familiar with it-its just the DHARMA that are the basis of whole construction) and no one ever went on a war with them for being atheist or agnostic.
    PS: i am not advertising Hinduism but i am trying to tell you that its not even close to the comparison of other two religions and don’t stress out by thinking it in the same way.

    • says

      Dare to criticize Hinduism and you will find deeply offended and highly oppressed Internet Hindus using every trick in the book to defend their Sanatana Dogma. It could be defining Hinduism so broadly that such a definition is practically useless. Or it could be the appropriation of Indian philosophy to Hinduism and then making an argument that since such benign Indian philosophies are Hindu, Hinduism is also benign and no one in their right mind should criticize it. Or the puerile argument that since Islam and Christianity are so bad, Hinduism looks good in comparison and hence no one can point out the social ills in Hindu society. Or the google impaired Internet Hindus like Aaryadev who think their ignorance makes Hinduism the greatest thing ever to happen to humanity.

    • Sandeep says

      Yeah… You may see people telling other people about Hinduism but the goal is not to convert them or so. Its to avoid the misconception that other religions(i should say faith) are trying to impinge upon Hinduism. In India as the author of the book said there are many who are trying to educate fellow human beings because Christianity and Islam are trying to rewrite the Stories/History/Mythologies(however you call it) and teach it to the Indians in there own way. The goal they are trying to achieve is make Indians feel like what ever way they have been living from centuries is shameful and the only proud way of living is their own way(Islam/Christianity). This is where you see some resistance from Hinduism side trying to correct the false preaching’s.Even being an atheist one should resist an attempt to alter their own history(you may destroy a church/mosque/temple constructed most recently but not the one’s which has greater historical value) by any one. As i said in the earlier most Indians who know Hinduism would never disrespect or even comment on other religion. Even an atheistic perspective one wouldn’t want their history to be modified. You have every right to call Hinduism Dogmatic because of some practices. But i wouldn’t agree in you calling the entire practices dogmatic because the way Hinduism formed is by embedding the entire experience of ancestors in the way people live. There are many Dogmatic/genuine aspects latter added up and removed to the way Hindus live today. The reason why it is called sanatana dharma (ever expanding-not limited or restricted). Its a continuous evolutionary process of human intelligence. Hinduism never resists a bad cause being removed( never advocates in keeping it by showing a reference book). One might say the concept of Hinduism is broad/undefined/confusing. Because we all have the influence of binding to a book so we might find Hinduism that way. But if you compare the definition of Atheism its kind of reflects the same definition broad/undefined/confusing because every one has their right to express perform there will(with out the fear of god/hell) until it doesn’t cause any harm to the society(it comes from Human consciousness/intelligence).

      What i understood from atheist point of view is atheist has no problem with any belief unless it degrades or slows down the growth of human evolutionary process or affecting the fellow human beings(in the global perspective-Concurring world kind of thingy) or hindering the freedom of life. I also understand the atheist way to live in the society is to discuss what is good for the society and whats not good for the society and following the good(correct me if i am wrong).If yes then i should say that’s exactly what Hinduism is.But anyway as the article says heads up for Hinduism. But what i would suggest is know it at least half in the rational way(not for the purpose of criticizing) before you actually start criticizing it.
      The reason why i responded to your comment is not because i offended when you said “Sanatana Dharma as Sanatana dogma”. Its because its not good for an atheist to do the same thing a religious dogmatic person would do. You can say some practices are and that would be rational. Yeah you can also argue by saying when the basis is Dogmatic then what?? yes that would true for the religions which has a so called basis one book. But for Hindus no book that is the basis. The basis is society itself. Yeah you can also ask me saying that what about veda– Hindus treat Vedas as the knowledge repository but not as a book of hard and fast rules. In fact not more than 2% of Hindus know whats in the Veda’s. When Hindu’s say Dharma they are not referring to any book (in fact there is know particular book) or no set of rules or no set of laws(fear of god or fear of hell). Dharma reflects what is good for the society. The same with the Buddhism and same with the Sikhism and same with the Jainism.

      PS: I tried not to repeat the sentences that has same meaning but in the given i couldn’t do it. So excuse me for that :)

      Thank you

  35. dhoelscher says

    Fascinating and informative post Richard. I haven’t read the book, but have now added it to my must-read list. I wonder whether we really ought now, as you suggest, to see the secularization thesis (ST) as “false.” It occurs to me that the ST may hold for certain types of societies but not for others, in other words, as an accurate characterization of religiosity under certain conditions and in certain kinds of contexts. The specific differentiating factor I have in mind at the moment (there may be others worth considering) is the typical depth of religious feeling and belief within a society. I may see the situation differently after I learn a lot more about India, but it seems to me that in that country religion is internalized by people, that it has long been a much more felt central part of both their psyches and their social lives, than was ever the case with, say, Canadians and Australians and Americans and Christianity. While large numbers of Americans profess to being religious and in many cases even devout, there is, and I think long has been, a superficiality of belief and devotion in the U.S. that, if I’m reading the situation correctly, is not and never has been the case in India. In this respect the U.S. (my home country) seems very much like Sri Lanka, where I have lived for the past 13 months. The Sinhalese majority here make much of the Buddhist aspect of their culture, even to the point of waging a recent 30 year war in part in order to safeguard it, yet, on the ground, Buddhist beliefs and practice are about as important to most Sri Lankans as social justice is to Mitt Romney. And for a large swath of Christian America the situation is very similar, no? In this respect, India strikes me as fundamentally different from the U.S., Sri Lanka, and many other places.

  36. nalanz says

    Thanks for the review. Meera Nanda is on spot in identifying the silent dismantling of the secular space by the temple-corporate-state nexus. On the internet you will meet with resistance when Hinduism is criticized, as with any other religion. The lack of a scientific temperament is the bane of the average Indian who is born into a world of religion and one that touches every aspect of his/her life.
    There are several facts that the net savy Hindu is quite oblivious to. The first and foremost being that Hinduism is the only religion that glorifies inequality, and having built a social framework based on inequality, namely the caste system, it is a reality that tries to co-exist with the modern concepts of equality. There will be a vehement denial if you point this out saying caste is a thing of the past. But it very much is, do you need proof, visit any Indian matrimonial site, it will show you the reality that caste is the very much alive and ticking…Elsewhere in the comments it was mentioned that Hinduism is very tolerant and does not convert others to Hinduism. This is simply because of the fact that it cannot accept, it can only reject, that is the basis of caste, not a sign of tolerance as projected.
    Even though untouchability is

  37. nalanz says

    Even though untouchability is not legitimate anymore, it circumvents the ban by other social means. The Indian brand of vegetarianism is nothing but a form of untouchability, everything to do with caste. What one eats and what one does not eat communicates the caste indirectly. So you will see Indians saying I am a pure vegetarian, which implies that he is of the higher caste. The irony is that this deception finds takers with the lower castes, nowadays and dalits who adopt vegetarianism to pass off as upper caste.
    The pure in pure vegetarian is everything to do with purity, a brahmanical construct. He will not eat from a vessel which was used to cook meat previously, and you will find many Hindus proudly proclaiming this notion without realising the unabashed untouchability that has corrupted his mind.
    Another case is the eating of beef, which was the source of nutrition for the working class, lower caste outcasts..There are attempts to ban beef in the south Indian state of Karnataka..Earlier there was opposition to feeding eggs to poor children..
    http://www.tehelka.com/story_main26.asp?filename=Ne020307the_ande_ka.asp

    Such is the actual practice of caste in India, it would not be an exxageration to say that Hinduism refers to Brahmanism and the practice of caste

    • Sandeep says

      Thats not at all true.. Being an atheist you should not be spreading a wrong notion towards India… Vegetarianism is an excellent practice in India. Yeah you can say that most of the brahmins follow it. But it doesn’t mean its a brahminism. If it is so then the gods in the hindu scriptures must be brahmins but most of them are kshatriyas and yadavas. Even the authors of the scriptures(puranas) are not brahmins(veda vyas, valmiki, viswamitra and so on). Eating beef is not allowed because Indians have more sentimental relation ship with cows. Because most of Indians/World drinks cows milk in there child stage so cow has given mother place in India. Yeah if you are credible enough to say that they stopped poor children from eating egg yeah then i am also against it. But considering 1-5% of those people you cant conclude that way. I do not know how do you come up with a logic of not eating non-veg to untouchability. Untouchability is an issue that entered in Indian system 1000 years back or so. Its not in the core beliefs and i can confidently say that as of today its almost nullified and the rest of almost will be nullified. Some of these dogmatic beliefs come and go in India. Indians are open to reason and they have been open to reason thats how India has grown in terms having richer culture.

    • says

      Sandeep,

      India is the largest exporter of beef in 2012 (though that it is buffalo meat). Also there are a lot of beef eaters in India. For example, you can walk into most food joints in Kerala and get beef.

      So can you define what is this “India” that you speak of? Surely you are you aware of the fact that it isn’t populated entirely by people like you, but also by people from other castes and religions? Who are you to appoint yourself as a spokesperson for them?

      The fact is, people who come from an upper caste background, who grow up in segregated environment where they don’t have to interact with the lower caste scum, who got to control what gets said about India. So they promptly started their propaganda of how cows are universally venerated in India. They dictated what Indian culture and tradition are. When other Indians asserted the right to their tradition which is also quiet old, they weren’t welcomed with the supposed tolerance of Hinduism. They were told to just shut up and follow only the traditions that Brahmanism believes in.

      Now coming to untouchability. The caste system evolved in such a way that it is deeply integrated into every walk of life. And one of those deeply ingrained practices is the notion of uncleanliness. Eating meat is considered as being unclean. A person who eats meat has the ability to pollute “clean” spaces. This barbaric notion of uncleanliness is still followed in India, though Hindu casteists just hide it by mumbling “it’s our house, we can rent it whomever we want”.

      And teaching these notions of uncleanliness begin at a very early age. For example, many vegetarians can’t stand the smell of meat dishes. But smell in question reveals the extreme prejudice hammered into them right from their childhood. It’s not just the smell of the meat that repulses them. Smell of meat doesn’t travel far and they are always kept away from places which sell raw meat. Smell of onion, garlic and garam masala does travel far in comparison and they are taught to associate that smell with being filthy and disgusting and something to be avoided at all costs. So you can cook a vegetarian dish with onion, garlic and garam masala and watch the prejudice play out in the faces of the casteists.

    • Sandeep says

      Good. I have to agree to most of it. But it all narrow downs to how you see it. If you can understand Hinduism in this detail you must also know its not considered to be a religion until British showed up and tagged those group of people who has similar living habits. Now coming to the Non-veg,garlic,masala…There is more explanation to it than we could understand. Basically caste system was not at all there till the last 100(even less) years are so. Its only 4 verna’s. The verna system is for the people who carry out four aspects of power. None can exist with out the support of other. Now coming to brahmin verna these are the people who perform daily rituals to god. If we go back (I dont know how back-10000 or 15000 in fact no one knows) whoever the yogis lived that time they found out that food can effect our temper and thoughts(which is 100% true kudos to those yogi scientists) so it happened such a way that whoever do those rituals are not supposed eat meat,garlic,masala. If you observe even a normal persion who goes to a temple occasionally makes sure that he doesn’t eat non-veg that day even most of the festivals happen that way. But the brahmins(i mean who do daily rituals -any one can be) took it to the next level by doing what ever u said they do. But its not a part of Hindu culture if that’s how it was in the culture then all the kings,warriors would have been treated as untouchables because for the work they do they have eat non-veg. Now coming to beef yeah as i said in earlier post Indians who are into forming has more sentimental value to wards cow. Even today a former who is going to sell a cow(old) feel very bad for doing so, its like a part of family, you can see a picture of a two white beautiful cows in every former house( may not be today but when i was a child). some people find it difficult understand,but its like -people in India not only pray to an imaginary(or not) power/being/deity/god but also the one’s from which they see god like qualities from(may it be another human or animal or enemy too). I seriously admire this quality and its also the reason why there are many false babas popped up in the recent past.Anyway coming to cows selling most of them sell it because they have to afford a new cow with this money. If you observe in south India cows that are no longer being used for forming are just left on streets(because former do not want kill them for meat and they cannot afford there food). When i tagged India i tag tag every one in it. Yes i know that there are people who eat beef in India because they are not sentimentally related to cow. The caste system is seriously absurd and the politics is like a firewall to it. All the corrupted/non corrupted(also-if any) politicians in India are playing with caste system instead of trying to nullify it. When ambetkar set the caste system he said it should be removed in 50 years are so. He has set the caste system based on the financial status of different people that time. If you look at the true picture of India the so called upper caste you have been saying brahmins are supposed to be given a lower caste reservation because there financial condition has been worse from last couple of decades( they were not rich before too but atleast they had enough resources to survive). Yeah Indic beliefs are always subjected social reformation(equal women rights-> sati sahagamanam-> dowry-> animal sacrifice-> widow marriages->child marriages and so on). Indian faiths do not oppose change for a good cause because its not bounded by single founders will/single scripture its social formation. So i think we would be seeing another social reformation in terms of caste removal may be in one or two decades( i predict). It was meant happen long ago when vivekananda tried but politicians were more power full :).

    • says

      Btw, I agree that there are a lot of good arguments for vegetarianism. But Hindu vegetarianism is hypocritical at best. Kill a cow, and a mob will gather. Kill any other animal, no one gives a shit. Most vegetarian Hindus are happy as long as their bodies are not “polluted” by meat. They couldn’t care less about animal rights.

  38. MC says

    “But Hindu vegetarianism is hypocritical at best. Kill a cow, and a mob will gather. Kill any other animal, no one gives a shit. Most vegetarian Hindus are happy as long as their bodies are not “polluted” by meat. They couldn’t care less about animal”
    It is this type of statement that makes Hindus angry. All Hindus have equal contempt for meat eating. The very essence of Hindu philosophy is ahimsa or non-violence. We condemn all kind of meat eating but refrain from going too far because of constant complaints about preaching or not giving people their ‘right’ to eat meat. With cows no compromise is made because they are caring and loving animals yet they are tortured the most for their meat. This is where the line is drawn and animal rights and ethics is given more weight over peoples desire to gratify their taste buds and bellies. Our silence on the plight of other animals seems to be taken to mean that we dont care. I would like to see how people react once we make a case for turning all McDonald restaurants in india for example to serve veg food. It would be chaos and pleasure mongering atheists of the nirmukta creed would talk about how the whole country of india is going to be struck with famine. Never mind that we burn off a surplus of our food grains that dont go to the poor every year. Never mind that feeding cows actually takes more food than the nutrition that is supplied by them. And never mind that eating cows and sheep leave a huge carbon footprint on the planet for which we all have to pay dearly. It is in fact meat eaters who are hypocrites. They will not want to see animals gettibg killed but would be more than happy to stuff their face with them.

    • says

      MC,

      I love how you inconveniently quote mined my comment to make some irrelevant points. A majority of Hindu vegetarians don’t really give a shit no matter how hard you try to paint your views onto every Hindu. A telling sign is this statement – All Hindus have equal contempt for meat eating. In the real world there are plenty of meat eating Hindus, contrary to what Brahmanism[1] wants Hindus to live like.

      My points still stand. Vegetarian Hindus don’t care until it comes to their notice that cows have been killed, more so if it involves the filthy Ambedkar types and marauding Muslims. Until then cows, buffaloes, dogs, pigs, cats and donkeys are free to suffer and die on the streets of India. Vegetarian Hindus care more about not “polluting” their bodies than about animal rights. Will a vegetarian Hindu eat a fish that has died a natural death? Or allow that meat in their house? No. The reason is Brahmanical[1] notions of purity, impurity and cleanliness. The very same notions that justified untouchability over the years.

      So you are just being dishonest. Animal rights has a body of philosophy behind it. They have been arrived at by a process of reasoning. This is what I meant in my comment when I said “I agree that there are a lot of good arguments for vegetarianism.”. You on the other hand, just pick and chose whatever is convenient for you. Brahmanism[1] fails the test of reason and evidence when it comes to its notions of purity and impurity.

      Some people like to pretend to be forward thinking and holding positions that are intellectually sound. I’ve seen people cling onto indefensible notions of purity and impurity, but when pressed will do the good old fashioned switcheroo like you did. Now you may well not be practicing those indefensible notions of purity. It is quiet likely that I’m wrong about you. But I’m making a general point unlike you who assume to speak for all Hindus. I’ve always held that not all Hindus behave the same. But that doesn’t mean that no general observations can be made. The validity of the generality can be tested quite easily if one were to go to India, and ask random people if they care about the rights of buffaloes, dogs, pigs, rats, cats, monkeys and donkeys.

      [1]. Before you feign a heightened sense of persecution, get all angry and attend Lord Krishna’s call to preserve dharma, Brahmanism has a specific meaning. Look it up. It doesn’t mean “that which pertains to Brahmins”. It isn’t even necessary for one to be a Brahmin to practice Brahmanism.

    • MC says

      What is remarkable is that when Hindus themselves come out to defend animal rights, we are told by telepathic atheists what we (should in their minds) believe. I am assuming you have done the survey on Hindus about how s/he feels about animal rights and have come to this conclusion.

      I love how you inconveniently quote mined my comment …then… A telling sign is this statement – All Hindus have equal contempt for meat eating.
      Right. People in glass houses? And having contempt for meat-eating and not following are two different issues also. There are several Hindus who regulate their meat consumption also by eating only once per week or refraining for half the week and so on. Where is your body pollution delusion now?

      Now you may well not be practicing those indefensible notions of purity. It is quiet likely that I’m wrong about you.
      Perhaps the only thing you got right in your ramblings.

      Interesting to see how all of the other points concerning why beef consumption is harmful are not addressed. Here are a few more to swallow.
      http://www.globalissues.org/article/240/beef

      contrary to what Brahmanism[1] wants Hindus to live like.
      ah… the typical brahmanism (whatever that means) did this and that game.

      Will a vegetarian Hindu eat a fish that has died a natural death? Or allow that meat in their house? No. The reason is Brahmanical[1] notions of purity, impurity and cleanliness.
      So you would eat a dead fish that has been rotting for ages and has who-knows-what growing in it? Be my guest. Notions of purity are strongly linked to hygiene.

      But I’m making a general point unlike you who assume to speak for all Hindus.
      I am also making a ‘general point’. Keep trying though.

    • says

      MC,

      If you actually step out of your casteist bubble and get to know people from other castes, their customs and their attitudes towards eating meat, then you’d see why you are wrong. But that is a lot more work than sitting at your keyboard and typing away.

      Also, forget the dead fish. If you were given a piece of meat guaranteeing that no rights of animals were violated, I’m sure you wouldn’t eat it. Because it isn’t just about hygiene, but also about barbaric notions of purity.

  39. MC says

    And if you really want to know how hindus feel about vegetarianism, here is an internet community of hundreds of hindus that link vegetarianism with environmentalism and animals rights. This is one among many such sites.
    http://www.hindunet.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/category/23/Vegetarianism_Environmentalism.html
    Far from telling non-hindus what hindus supposedly believe in, now hindus are being told my anti hindus what we should beleieve in. This is a glowing example of anti hindu lies just for the sake of self satisfaction that you did something great. When will this end. Recently there was a despicable documentary that came out associating the devadasis to Hindu tradition! As far back as 1910 priests could not find any evidence from scripture for this practice. Just like the caste system has become falsely synonymous with hinduism, so also child prostitution will beequated with hinduism now. Anything to make oneself feel like they are fighting a just cause!

  40. MC says

    If you actually step out of your casteist bubble
    Haha. That’s funny.
    and get to know people from other castes, their customs and their attitudes towards eating meat, then you’d see why you are wrong.
    I actually do know people from other castes, veg and non-veg and they are very respectful to vegetarian sentiment, and I eat at the same table with them even if they have meat.
    If you were given a piece of meat guaranteeing that no rights of animals were violated, I’m sure you wouldn’t eat it.
    Why would anyone do that? If someone gave you a piece of dead dog, or horse or squid would you eat that even if animal rights were not violated? I just don’t want to eat meat, that’s all.
    barbaric notions of purity
    OK. keep believing that about us barbarians. Bye.

    • says

      MC, I think you forget that you said this:

      All Hindus have equal contempt for meat eating.

      That maybe the case in your little casteist bubble. But definitely not in other Hindu communities.

    • MC says

      Looks like you read the statement wrong. Let me be more emphatic, practicing Hindus dislike meat-eating, NOT meat-eaters. There is a difference. I hate prostitution, but not sex workers. I hate drunkenness, but not alcoholics. So there are extremists who take it too far, but those are exceptions, not the rule. Which Hindu community are you talking about that doesn’t share this value? The forum link that I gave to you, which you clearly didn’t even bother to look at… or the dozens of other Hindu websites that talk about vegetarianism. Granted there are Hindus that are not vegetarian, the point is that they realize that they are not following ahimsa completely, but the point even is not to become a vegetarian. The point is as minimal ahimsa as one can try for.

    • says

      MC,

      That is why I asked you to step outside of your castiest bubble. If you don’t believe in barbaric notions of purity, you should be able to acquaint yourself with some filthy Ambedkar types. Quiet a lot of them identify as practicing Hindus. You don’t get to decide how they should identify. You exemplify yet another Hindu hypocrisy – it’s vacuous preaching of being a way of life, and that it is a tolerant inclusive religion. All that gets tossed out when a practice goes against Brahmanism.

  41. MC says

    you should be able to acquaint yourself with some filthy Ambedkar types. Quiet a lot of them identify as practicing Hindus. You don’t get to decide how they should identify.
    Let me repeat myself. To be vegetarian is not the goal, everyone tries to do as minimal ahimsa as possible; so I don’t decide how anyone identifies nor does anyone else. Even with people who do identify themselves as Hindus, it is debatable exactly what it is to make one a Hindu. I know meat-eating Hindus of other castes, as I have mentioned before, and they call themselves Hindus. However, at least the concern for the animal and control of the senses from over-indulging should be there. What one calls oneself after that is of no consequence.

  42. mpep says

    We should be careful not to brush aside a genuine academic critique (see the books “Invading the Sacred” and “Breaking India”) under the umbrella of Hindu fundamentalism. Indeed you yourself have been brushed under the umbrella of “mythicist” and “atheist.” Moreover, you mentioned the caste system. According to Columbia dean Nicholas Dirks’ “Caste of Mind” (Princeton University Press) caste is a British construction.

  43. mpep says

    I don’t understand. Meera Nanda thinks hatha yoga is not elaborated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and is thus not Indian?

    But hatha yoga is based on the following texts, not the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

    http://www.khecari.com/styled/index.html

    (This is the website of a published western academic. )

  44. Krishna says

    Sri Richard,

    Atheism is one of the pillars of Hinduism. Please read Sankhya philosophy, and you would not be wasting so much time.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samkhya

    If your idea is to spread scientific temper and the commonality in all of creation, Hinduism can certainly come as your strongest support. On the other hand, if you are out to supplant it with the desert religions, good luck.

    • says

      Except that most Hindus believe in gods and supernatural phenomena and do not engage in sound evidence-based reasoning when developing moral codes and beliefs. So, no. When we strip away all that from Hinduism, what we have left is just generic philosophy and science.

    • MC says

      I am not so sure about the veracity of the claim ‘atheism is one of the pillars of Hinduism’. At best one can say that there is a tolerance for atheism and the promotion of contemplating and eventually experiencing a transpersonal God, not just a personal one.

    • Sameer says

      The mentioned article exaggerates too much.

      A) the caste system is a social construct, not religious.

      B) I am unmarried but I know most of the “myriad rituals of marriage” stem from Bollywood movies. And there are plenty of what are called “court marriages” which is basically registering yourself in a courtroom in the presence of witnesses.

      C) I (and quite a few of my freinds from various corners of India) was born in a family which as per the caste system belongs to brahmin caste. Never did any rituals that most other kids from the same caste have done (no I never had my head shaved). Our homes have nothing to do with Vaastu. I don’t even know what annaprashana is.

      D)As far as going to the temple is concerned I haven’t been to one since I was 12. Never felt any pressure to do it from anywhere. Although being an atheist doesn’t mean I will never go. I just won’t go for the same reason as most others.

      E)My parents are devout enough to do vratas (fasting). They or anyone I have ever known, never told me to do any such thing (and I have known a lot of people). Not even as an advice. When I was 16 one of my classmates even got baptised and his parents didn’t stop him (he was 16 as well which is not considered adult in India). (that was a decade ago)

      F)As far as death of a loved one is concerned I haven’t had to make that decision as yet so can’t say much there. But hospitals in India do recieve bodies for the purpose of academics/medical research.

      G)As someone has mentioned before hinduism encompasses atleast one philosophy, viz., samkhya, that espouses atheism.

    • MC says

      Different families are accepting in different ways. Satish, and I bet many others like him were probably pressured from their families. However, that was the extent of it. Note how Satish admits that being an atheist doesn’t make one a social outcast or receive severe opprobrium. Since we do not have enough of a sampling, it is difficult to know what the reverse situation would be like, meaning a devout believer growing up in the house of a non-believer. Suppose there was an atheist, secular family that was part of an atheist community (or even the new Atheist Church!). How would they react if their son refused to take part in their social gatherings and chose to pray at home instead? Or go to a church or temple? Even if the atheist parents were not part of a community, would they not at least question their children’s beliefs?

      I know that most atheists are free-thinkers, but I think we have to look at this from a case to case basis. Certainly, it is unfortunate the way Satish was questioned, but if we look at it objectively, parents want their kids to be part of family affairs and they will sulk if the kids don’t. And the marriage issue is also not a set-in-stone thing. Yes, in general parents don’t like their kids marrying out of caste. But it has happened to MANY people in my conservative family and extended family. So, the experience of one person can not be taken to be a general trend.

  45. darshan says

    Richard

    good work… depends on intention… if its like of Maxmuller… not appreciated.. if its of Swami Vivekananda… its that the world needs…to counter fake faith producers..

  46. Ajit Joshi says

    Dear Richrad,
    Looks like you are very much woried by th influence of Hinduism. I woulod appreciate if you guys will oppose it openly as Christians and not as Ethiests! You can not escape from the facts of life. The ultimate truth is not relative. Its Pure. How would you be able to erase that?

  47. ravi tripathi says

    I am hindu but I never see any hindu or hindu priest saying against any religion, and never tried to convert their faith, as well we hindus do like to go churches, and other religious places for worship , never criticize the way other follow their beliefs , but always I have been seeing , muslims , Christians , and other to demoralizing Hinduism , criticizing Hinduism and making efforts to convert them in to their own belief, why a hindu should not react. Not every people is well educated in religion and having ability to put their own reason of belief then it is very easy to make them fool as per their little knowledge about their religion and taking advantage of this muslims and Christians are always been targeting hindus to convert. If some hindus react on it ,then do you think they have no right to save their family member converting into other religion just because some one is making him fool or helping with money. Christian donot force people to convert but they offer financial help to the needy and make sure to convert while muslims where they are in minority they try to mind wash the normal people and where they are in majority they forcibly convert hindus or who ever is available , is this right, I think concept of God Or The existence of God is not easy to assimilate or understand by normal human being, so better to let people live peacefully, and enjoy the life without making some one in trouble for your own benefits.

    • darshandev says

      dear Tripathi ji

      I agree with you… but read Kuran chapter 9 sura 5… educate Hindus what others think of them.. Hindus of india are naïve and don’t understand the long run and the word strategy… its a war of religions… forget about niceties on paper.

  48. ajit says

    what happens if a blind man starts guiding other blinds, they both fall down in a well. don’t fall prey to this con lady and this guy whocn never understand hinduism, hinduism is a gateway to moksha(far superior to any heaven), and moreover is free for all, come and claim your rightful share. ‘ram naam ki loot hai loot sake to loot’

  49. ravi tripathi says

    it is awful to see how much people enjoying the criticism of hindu religion , even though I do not consider that a word ” religion ” can be appropriate word for the Hinduism , because all other religions like Christianity, islam, any other were not existed when the culture Hinduism was flourishing , and it was not just to converting people by misleading them, killing them hashing them like other main religion did. when Hinduism was teaching humanity how to live happily, how to make world better , science was progressed under Hinduism , mathematics was developed , and no hate was there as per the concept of GOD is concern. And now some authors are trying to say that billion of billion’s of people do not the the tradition, their accustoms, their grand , gand parents were not aware , but this generation new authors who might have spend 50 to 90 years of their life can explain the more than 5000 year old philosophy . how disgusting is this no scientific evidence regarding their words in the book but by their own prejudice thoughts he/she wants to make people fool .

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