The Idea of Secularism and ‘Dharma’

In the West, the  idea of ‘secularism’ emanated from the idea of anti-clericalism. The Renaissance and the  Reformation Movement  led to the emergence of the powerful waves of  atheism and agnosticism.   Francis Fukuyama, the author of The End of History and the Last Man   has said that we are  living through a period that is  analogous to the Reformation which made, in the West,  ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ go apart.” In the 20th century and the years which have followed, the quest at ‘political liberation’  has led to libertinism and narcissism, and all the nonsense that goes under the rubric ‘post-midernism’. These have conspired to bring about corporate culture  produced and conditioned by  the soulless corporations.     Peter Watson has aptly said that the shift in the ideas occurred in the 19th century itself:  Owen Chadwick  has portrayed the change in attitudes in his  Secularisation of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century (1975). This  shift in the Western intellectual history was on account of several factors including the factors and vectors which emanated from the challenges posed by the ‘social’ and ‘intellectual’ problems: these included Karl Marx’s materialism, industrialization, and anticlericalism, and the impact of science on the ways the humans think and work.. It is interesting to note that  Earnest William Barnes  wrote  his Scientific Theory of Religion (1933) in which he recognising the existence of “a Universal Mind which inhabits all matter in the universe, and that the purpose  of the universe  is to evolve consciousness and conscience in order to produce goodness and, above all, beauty”[1],    Peter Watson has made a very insightful comment when he said: ” Chadwick’s more original point is that  as the nineteenth century wore on, the very idea of secularisation itself changed.”  Besides, ‘Christianity’ itself is developing its ‘secularist’ dimensions, It would be clear from what an expert has said about the developments in ‘Christianity’:

“The movement towards secularism has been in progress during the entire course of modern history and has often been viewed as being anti-Christian and antireligious. in the latter half of the 20th century, however, some theologians began advocating secular Christianity. They suggested that Christianity should not be concerned only with the sacred and the otherworldly, but that people should find in the world the opportunity to promote Christian values. These theologians maintain that the real meaning of the massage of Jesus can be discovered and fulfilled in the everyday affairs of secular urban living.”[2]

The study of the Chapter  24 (‘Our Worldview & the Trends of our Times’) would help you realise that it is unwise to confuse ‘Dharma‘ with ‘religion’.’Religion’ is a set of doctrinal assumptions which a particular society cultivates, and pursues to achieve its ends. History has shown that the sets of combative assumptions acquire respectability.  Reject all doctrines, banish all gods, forget all scriptures, yet Dharma would be there to  sustain nature.  We never allowed ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ to become collaborators, so we never thought to set them apart.

The concept of ‘Secularism’  in the Preamble to the Constitution of India  must be understood in the context of our culture. It means ‘sambhava‘, the capacity to see the ‘One’ in all.  The Bhagavad-Gita tells to become samdarshinah  [ The Bhagavad-Gita ( V.18)  ]. Its import is to be understood  in the light of the mission of our Constitution, and the fundamental cultural assumptions shared by the people of India.. 


[1] Peter Watson, A Terrible Beauty p.  290

[2] The Encyclopaedia Britannica Vol. 10, p. 594

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