THOUGHTS IN SECULARISM


Unhappy, let alone angry, religious people provide more persuasive arguments for atheism and secularism than do all the arguments of atheists.                                   – Dennis Prager

Secularism literally refers to that which is of this physical world, in contrast to what is of the religious and transcendental world. The word was introduced in England in the middle of the nineteenth century by the freethinker George Jacob Holyoake who gave public lectures on ideas that ran contrary to the mainstream religious worldview of the times. He was accused of blaspheme, and thrown into prison for six months as if to symbolize what one might expect in countries whose laws prescribe penalty for holding and expressing anti-religious views.

In essence, and in its original form, secularism maintained that efforts to solve humanity’s moral and societal problems should  be based on reason and rationality just as its practical problems are handled by the use of science. Thus secularism downplays, even rejects, appeals to the Almighty for solving humanity’s terrestrial predicaments, whether it be drought or deluge, earthquake or epidemic.

Already in the nineteenth century secularism had its opponents. For example, James Buchanan proclaimed in a book that pantheism, materialism, secularism, development, and natural laws were all atheism in camouflage. He foresaw that secularism was sowing the seeds for the extinction of the Christian church: a prediction that has been been partially realized  among  many  people who have been enlightened, intoxicated, corrupted or indoctrinated (depending on one’s perspective) by the results and remarkable successes of science in explaining and manipulating the physical world, and who have been disillusioned by the hurtful behavior of some so-called religious people and groups. By the close of the twentieth century Billy Graham said: “It is no secret that in New York during the last 30 years there has been a tragic exodus from the churches into materialism, secularism, and humanism.”

In today’s world harsh criticisms of secularism come also  from the Non-Western world on the grounds that, since it is associated with the modern scientific outlook, it is a creation of an exploiting and colonizing West, and therefore needs to be rejected. Secularism is thus seen as an undesirable import from Western culture from where other imports of material value, creature comforts, medicinal cures, and economic modes are freely and avidly aped and assimilated.

With all that, we live in an age that is both secular and religious. It is secular where the power and prestige of science have overshadowed the other dimensions of human culture to the point of marginalizing the ontological claims and explanatory models of traditional religions. It is religious in that vast numbers of people in a great many nations have been stirred up as never before to reaffirm their religious traditions and worldviews which have been diluted or debilitated by the onward march of science and secularist values.

Secularism continues to be a grave threat to religion in the Western Christian world where science and Enlightenment have taken deep roots. It is not as yet as much a threat in nations where theocracy is strong and supreme, and secular calls are condemned and punished as in earlier centuries in the Western world..

What is not always realized is that when  secularism is stifled, the mind-liberating potencies of science and Enlightenment become beyond the reach of people who have been denigrating science as inadequate, epistemically hegemonic, and arrogant in its appraisal of non-scientific modes for interpreting the world.

It must be emphasized that at the political level secularism accords equal rights to all its citizens  in their religious choice, not unlike the Vedic vision in the Hindu framework which allows for polyodosism: multiple paths for spiritual fulfillment. Moreover, in the secular framework the laws of the land are scrupulously independent of scriptural injunctions some of which are anachronistic and unconscionable to awakened minds. In these matters secularism  is perhaps the most civilized principle of government in all of history. It is far more just in any nation that has a multiethnic and multireligious citizenry.  In nations where secularism is  derided, the mind-set of blaspheme still lingers, in which the religion of the wielders of political power alone is proclaimed to be true, disallowing and castigating the religious expressions of others.

Secularism in the political sphere today is not rejection of religion, nor denial of religious rights. It is rather a framework in which every citizen can exercise one’s chosen mode of spiritual fulfillment, traditional or modern, theistic, pantheistic, or atheistic; where  laws will not be dictated by rules set forth in any particular holy book. The opposite of secularism today is not sacredism as it was once declared to be, but theocracy: a form of government under which people suffer under religious laws that might be appropriate for the darkness of medieval mindsets, but that strikes  those basking in the sunshine of freedom as suffocating in a sectarian smog.

It is true that the theoretical successes and practical benefits of science sometimes so seduce a people that they totalize all human experiences under a science that offers no guidance in a moral dilemma, sets no bounds on instinctive self-serving behavior, nor provides comfort and solace in times of emotional crisis. And in the name of law  and of separation of church and state, some secular atheists protest when believers pray or express their faith in God in public places, in however harmless a manner. Ridiculing, condemning, or constraining public religious expressions in the name of secularism achieves little more than causing emotional hurt to believers, and driving the disgruntled to religious extremism.

We are facing many challenges: diminution of resources, growing population,   deteriorating environment, and more. Now the wisdom in religious traditions can be of much help. Periodic meditation with wholesome thoughts could help us curb our more hurtful instincts. But it is equally important to curb the religious zeal that  can cause pain and persecution as it has been doing since ancient times.

It may not be in our best interest to try to snuff all religious dimensions of society and culture, though it is neither intellectually possible nor socially appropriate to continue with many aspects of the religious practices of our ancestors.  In a secular world, religions need to formulate worldviews and visions that are informed by the results of science and strengthened by the values that are prompted by the sages of the traditions.  Religions have to attend to the needs of the poor and the sick, as preached and practiced by Christ. They must reinstate the spirit of  the ethical values conveyed by the Ten Commandments. They must foster the compassion of the Buddha, the principle of non-injury of Mahavira, the egalitarian principles implicit in Islam and Sikhism. As in Hinduism,  religions must teach reverence for all religious modes. Religions ought to guide people to meaningful spiritual experiences which will elevate their thoughts and inspire them to helpful and productive behavior.

It is for humanity’s good when religious leaders come together in inter-faith embrace and  proclaim with conviction that even while maintaining loyalty to one’s own religion, one must recognize that there is much that is good and worthy of respect in other systems as well. It is important to strive to  transform religious fervor and the inter-religious rancor that have grown over the centuries into sublime principles of love, assistance, and mutual respect. The committed collaboration of scientifically informed thinkers and spiritually enlightened leaders from all traditions can bring about an awakening in the hearts and minds of people that would free humanity from caste discrimination, zeal for faith-conversions, and religious xenophobia. This can  happen only in a secular framework.

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What is Enlightenment?


Like many important words in the language the word Enlightenment has acquires a variety of connotations.  Two important meanings of the term refer to states of awareness and actions based on that awareness in two entirely different contexts: in the spiritual-religious realm and in worldly practical  life. The first is important in one’s spiritual life; the second in one’s status as member of a society and of the world. Enlightenment of the first kind is of interest and significance for the individual. That of the second kind is of enormous import for societies, nations, and the world community at large. But both play central roles in the world today.
In the midst of the myriad problems facing the world today, some of which have the potential for catastrophic upheavals in the political, moral, and physical status of humanity, there are very few hopes that light up the pervasive gloom in the human condition. Different people and different groups entertain a variety of hopes, and many offer solutions to the problems we are facing. One of those hopes is that the vision of the Enlightenment will come within reach and inspire large numbers of people.
In order for this to happen people should have some idea as to what constitutes Enlightenment. That is what we shall try to do briefly in this in this chapter. The related questions of  of the history of the Enlightenment, how to achieve it,  how to propagate it, and how to establish it in the world at large will be taken up in other chapters.
But first it is important to distinguish between two important and quite unrelated meanings of the word. One refers to the new awakening in knowledge, worldviews, and methodologies that emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is the meaning in which we shall be using the world in this book. The term is used in the  second meaning in the context of certain spiritual disciplines in the Hindu-Buddhist framework. This is a powerful and widely adopted goal in life for many people, but we will not be concerned with it in this book. Given that we live in a  multicultural world, it should be of some interest for modern readers beyond the Indic cultural framework to have some idea of this other significance of the term. The Sanskrit word for Enlightenment is bodhi. From this is derived the word for one who is enlightened, or more exactly one who has attained true Enlightenment: namely Buddha. In other words, the founder of the religion was Buddha, the Enlightened One, and the goal of the religion is to enable its adherents to the enlightened state. Thus a Buddhist is one who has either already achieved Enlightenment or is striving for that goal.
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Response to a Comment


<God wishes to be known and loved. This is the motive behind creation and reconciliation. Being invisible and unapproachable. He has made an Image of Himself, and a Complement through Whom He can come into contact with His creation.>

I think this is a meaningful way of looking upon the creation of humans by God.From the scientific cosmological perspective it may seem strange that, if this were so, God waited for more than 13 billion years after He created the world he decided to create humans. However, it is inspiring to look upon the creation of humans as a means through which the Creator gains recognition and honor.

It could well be that God is also in contact with the many the non-human elements in Creation, from atoms to mountains, from planets to stars and galaxies, in ways that we do not know.

Truth to say, I have no idea  when or why, whether or how God made the world and Humans, but I am touched by our deep yearning for the Mystery and enriched by the many ways in which human minds have tried to resolve i

January 15, 2017

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Response to a Comment


<Whether or not one is religious, I think we all can agree that human beings are much more complicated and integrated beings than we may even admit to ourselves.>

1.Being religious, in my definition, is being aware of  and awed by the Grand Mystery of Existence, finding a little peace in the contemplation of that Mystery,acknowledging our our finiteness in the face of the unfathomable Infinity, being grateful for the human experience,  and being sensitive to the feelings and needs of fellow humans.  In this sense, most people are religious whether they describe themselves so or not.

2. Yes none but the most shallow and the most ignorant will fail to see that human beings are enormously complex and mysteriously integrated as apparently independent entities. 

13 January 2017

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Spiritual Enlightenment


In the Hindu-Buddhist framework there is more to religion than prayer and worship, ethical behavior and festivals. Religion involves leading a spiritual life. Spiritual life implies thoughts, attitudes,  and actions that are based on the idea that undergirding the physical world of matter and energy there is a spiritual Reality that is transcendent, all pervading and  eternal. One may give the crude analogy of a slate of a black board and the scribbles on them. Many things are written and drawn on them. They are but transient features. While many things are written and erased, the slate or the black board remains unaffected. It is the undergirding persistent Reality behind it all.  So it is with perceived reality which corresponds to the writings on the board.

Spiritual life refers to a mode of living in which one never forgets that underlying deeper Reality. What this means is that no matter what we think, say, or do we not only remember that larger canvas on which everything occurs, but also dedicate our thoughts, words, and deeds to that transcendent Reality. The dedication means adopting a posture of humility and reverence, gentleness and love towards all beings great and small.

One  learns to live such a life through regular and rigorous practice. The practice itself involves various yogas which involve meditation in a devotional frame of mind.

Often this practice lasts for many months, even years. After a sufficient stretch of time  one begins to realize in an intensely personal way the existence of that transcendental reality that mystics speak of. This recognition can occur in a slow manner, or suddenly with a eureka exclamation. When that occurs one is said to have a spiritual awakening. That awakening is referred a (spiritual) Enlightenment. It is actually the discovery of the link between one’s individual and cosmic consciousness. It is known by various in various Asian languages: bodhi or moksha in Sanskrit, satori in Japanese, pin-tin in Chinese, wú in Korean, and so on.

The Buddha is said to have reminded us that just as a candle cannot burn burn without fire, we cannot live without recognizing the spiritual dimension of the world.

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Enlightenment: Introduction


Like many important words in the language the word Enlightenment has acquires a variety of connotations.  Two important meanings of the term refer to states of awareness and actions based on that awareness in two entirely different contexts: in the spiritual-religious realm and in worldly practical  life. The first is important in one’s spiritual life; the second in one’s status as member of a society and of the world. Enlightenment of the first kind is of interest and significance for the individual. That of the second kind is of enormous import for societies, nations, and the world community at large. But both play central roles in the world today.
In the midst of the myriad problems facing the world today, some of which have the potential for catastrophic upheavals in the political, moral, and physical status of humanity, there are very few hopes that light up the pervasive gloom in the human condition. Different people and different groups entertain a variety of hopes, and many offer solutions to the problems we are facing. One of those hopes is that the vision of the Enlightenment will come within reach and inspire large numbers of people.
In order for this to happen people should have some idea as to what constitutes Enlightenment. That is what we shall try to do briefly in this in this chapter. The related questions of  of the history of the Enlightenment, how to achieve it,  how to propagate it, and how to establish it in the world at large will be taken up in other chapters.
But first it is important to distinguish between two important and quite unrelated meanings of the word. One refers to the new awakening in knowledge, worldviews, and methodologies that emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is the meaning in which we shall be using the world in this book. The term is used in the  second meaning in the context of certain spiritual disciplines in the Hindu-Buddhist framework. This is a powerful and widely adopted goal in life for many people, but we will not be concerned with it in this book. Given that we live in a  multicultural world, it should be of some interest for modern readers beyond the Indic cultural framework to have some idea of this other significance of the term. The Sanskrit word for Enlightenment is bodhi. From this is derived the word for one who is enlightened, or more exactly one who has attained true Enlightenment: namely Buddha. In other words, the founder of the religion was Buddha, the Enlightened One, and the goal of the religion is to enable its adherents to the enlightened state. Thus a Buddhist is one who has either already achieved Enlightenment or is striving for that goal.
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On the Scenes and Sounds of Democracy


For well over a year now the American public (as well as many thousands of foreigners who reside here and elsewhere) were subjected to countless de­bates and discussions, articles and editorials, speeches and commercials per­taining to the grand event that, like the International Olympics, occurs every four years in this country: the American Presidential elections.

      Many are the seekers of the highest elected and the most prestigious of­fice in the land. Early in the game, they make their desires public one way or another. Then we slowly come to know so much about all these ambitious, and often little known, public figures: their records and their remote past, their values and world views, their tax status and tragedies, and lots lots more. Through a process peculiar to the American system, two of them emerge as the leading contenders of the two leading parties by late July or early August.

      During this process, there are many ups and downs for the contenders, hopes and disappointments, and continual mutual aspersions also. There is no telling who will emerge as the final candidate, for the most unexpected event could spell the doom of a candidate. One year, for example, we saw a promising politician tumble down because he was discovered smooching with an attractive damsel while his wife stayed far away with their children. Another time a potential president promptly withdrew because he had quoted from the speech of a British politician without acknowledging the source. Yet another hopeful was once counted out by the public when he claimed direct conversations with God almighty. It’s okay to talk to God, but if you claim to have received a return call, it is serious.

      Anyway, finally the two major parties select their standard bearers, and these two in turn, by judgment, for regional strategy, or through just bad advice, an­nounce their running mates. Often a couple of inconspicuous marginal candidates also show up on the list. Their impact is invariably to wreck the chances for one of the principal candidates.

      Then begins the season of wooing the public. Now newscasters get even more eager, the candidates consult media magicians who, like medieval potion-peddlers, try to transform the dullest dunces into charismatic Caesars. Word-smiths concoct catchy phrases and speeches, handlers tell the candidates what to tell to whom and when, and the candidates themselves rehearse gestures and smiles for TV cameras.

      Some news organizations, impatient for the final results, periodically poll a handful of potential voters and proclaim, on the basis of basic (and ques­tionable) statistics, and naively replying on the honesty of the respondents, who is likely to win if the elections were held that week. What purpose such an imaginary news item serves is a mystery that few can fathom. But it has become part of the ritual.

      A small section of the public that reads the papers, listens to PBS, and watches Meet the Press and Face the nation, gets to know the issues and what the candidates stand for. The majority forms their impressions from TV commercials and newspaper headlines, and is generally swayed by those that say the sweetest things about themselves and the most horrible things about their opponents. A significant fraction of the population is more thrilled by foot­ball and video movies than by political ideologies.

      And so at last the momentous day arrives. This is a feast day for TV com­mentators, experts who play on a large touch screen to show which states are blue (Democratic) and which are red  (Republican). It used to be that competing networks based on their statistical programs announced at the earliest who, according to their calculations, has won even before the polling booths closed in California.

      Then the decisive moment arrives. The results are announced. One of the candidates concedes, in the presence of his tearful supporters, victory to the opponent. This is the price one pays for this democratic system: Every four years 50 +/- % of the people have to shed tears on this November day when the next Presi­dent of the United States is announced to the world at large.

All this is part of the sounds and scenes of democracy in action.  There is much one can criticize here, there is much to be improved in the unfolding of the spectacle. But we should not lose sight of the fact that one way or another, every willing citizen of the land is drawn into the process. Teachers and truck drivers, artists and scientists, doctors and plumbers, one and all are touched by the din and dance of the democratic drama.

The most moving and significant occur­rence in all of this is that climactic moment when one of the candidates con­gratulates the other. This is civilized government at its best: The reins of govern­ment go from hand to hand, not through bloody battles or conniving conspiracy, not by sabotage and subterfuge, or by taking the head of state prisoner, but in full view of the public and in accordance with what the ballot box dictates.

So it was that Donald Trump was declared President-Elect, i.e. the next President of the United States early this morning (November 9, 2016). At least some credit or blame for his success must be given to forces that created, rightly or wrongly, fear  and job-insecurity in the hearts of vast numbers of simple Americans.  While millions rejoice in his victory there are also millions in the country today who are saddened and dejected by the defeat of a patriotic, intelligent, and immensely qualified candidate who could have become the first woman president of the United States. That is a great disappointment indeed.

My own feeling is that the next four years may not turn out to be as terrible as some fear, nor perhaps as glorious as some others are hoping for. All we can do is to join the vast majority in praying for the well-being and well-fare of the country.

November 9, 2016

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