I live in the United States. Misguided religious people call it a Christian nation. They're wrong. Likewise, misguided religious people in India call it a Hindu nation. They're also wrong.
I got to thinking about religious nationalism after reading the first part of Arjun Sethi's testimony regarding Jammu, Kashmir, and minority rights in India. Maybe Sethi is exaggerating how bad things are getting in India, but even if what he says is only partly true, that's still really disturbing.
Here's an excerpt from what Sethi wrote.
In 1947, India created a constitutional republic based on the principles of secularism and pluralism. The founders hoped this framework would hold the nation’s rich diversity together and ensure that India would never inflict on others the brutality inflicted on them.
Yet today, Hindu nationalist mobs roam India, targeting Muslims, Dalits and Christians, sometimes forcing them to recite Hindu slogans. Security forces have forced Kashmiris to lick dirt off the road for refusing to utter national mottos.
Hindu nationalism isn’t new to India, but it is on the rise. It’s rooted in the belief that India is a Hindu nation, and that Hindus, who make up 80% of the population, should enjoy a privileged status and exercise majoritarian rule. This ideology is amplified by the RSS, a male only, volunteer, paramilitary organization. Its earliest leaders referred to Christians and Muslims as “internal threats” and compared India’s Muslims to “Jews in Germany.”
The BJP is the political wing of the RSS, and Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, its national leader. Modi trained with the RSS at the age of eight, and recently told a crowd of RSS supporters that he was proud to be a member. Amit Shah, Modi’s second in command, has called undocumented Muslim immigrants “termites” and vowed to “throw them in the Bay of Bengal.”
Modi is forging a new India, where non-Hindus are second class subjects with limited rights. India is often called the world’s largest democracy, but democracies only work if people can speak, associate, and protest freely. Democracies only thrive if they safeguard civil liberties and minority rights. Today, India more closely resembles an authoritarian regime than a pluralistic republic.
Nationalism itself is a very limited point of view. In a recent issue of New Scientist, there was an interview with British astronaut Helen Sharman. She said:
When you look down on the Earth, you can't see the political boundaries. Politics means absolutely nothing because you're seeing the natural world. When you're zipping around in low Earth orbit, in 92 minutes you've gone completely around the Earth.
So instead of it being this huge place that you can apparently do anything to that's really robust, it's actually a very tiny place where everything is affecting everything else.
We're all part of the Earth and the Earth is as much part of us as we are of it. I am angered by the fact that we are apparently destroying the very thing that's given us life, as opposed to what we could be doing, which is living symbiotically.
What's crazy is that I'm pretty sure people in every country on Earth consider that their small part of our tiny planet is the very best part. The same holds true for the 50 states in the United States. I've rarely, if ever, seen residents of one state saying "Where I live is horrible."
(I say this as a resident of Oregon -- which obviously is the very best state. Yet somehow people manage to live in North Dakota and like it there, which baffles me.)
Don't get me wrong. I love the United States.
But in no way do I consider it to be the greatest country on Earth, nor do I consider myself to be a nationalist in any sense. The United States has strengths, and it has weaknesses. This country has accomplished some marvelous things. It also has done some horrible things.
The same is true of every other country, including India.
So I don't understand the appeal of nationalism, since it defies logic, facts, and common sense. Nationalism is akin to the extreme fanaticism of fans who consider that their favorite sports team can do no wrong, so if it loses a game the referees must have made bad calls or the other team cheated.
That said, at least nationalists identify with an entire nation. When a modifier is put before "nationalists," as in "religious nationalists" or "white nationalists," something bad becomes even worse, since now one's loyalty isn't to their country, but to just a portion of it.
Recently I had a great conversation with someone who, like me, had come to doubt the religious faith that they'd embraced for many years.
Along with their marriage partner, they're raising their children in a religiously open-minded fashion, trusting that the children will be able to choose which religion, if any, makes sense to them -- as opposed to indoctrinating them into believing that a certain religion is the Only True Way.
I told this person that to me, forcing a child to believe in a certain religion is as bad as forcing a child to accept a certain form of politics.
Wouldn't it seem decidedly weird if a parent read bedtime stories to a seven-year-old about how being a member of a particular political party is the only way to participate in politics? And once a week, that child had to attend meetings where the views of that political party were discussed?
Yet all over the world, people brainwash children into believing that a particular religion is the Only True Way, which is even crazier than brainwashing children into believing that a particular political party is the Only True Way, since there obviously is solid evidence that political parties exist, while there is zero demonstrable evidence that God or anything else supernatural exists.
Hopefully India will evolve from its attraction to Hindu nationalism and realize that it makes no sense in a pluralistic society for a government, or a political party, to embrace a certain religion to the exclusion of others, including, of course, the religious non-belief of atheists.