Sunday 23 June 2024

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India needs a Martin Luther to fight superstition


Religion is nothing but superstition, in formal dress. While Europe suffered from the flat earth syndrome, India suffered and continues to suffer, from the holy cow syndrome.

Thirty first of October Fifteen Hundred and Seventeen is an epochal date, in the history of mankind. On this day, Martin Luther an Augustinian monk challenged the Roman Catholic Church, by posting his ninety five theses, on the doors of the All Saints Church, at Wittenberg.  That incident was a catalyst, for the second split in the European Church, after the unified church had split into the Orthodox and the Catholic Church in 1054 AD.

The Catholic Church until then, had a stranglehold on the minds of the people and anyone who differed, even on purely secular matters could be severely punished. The earth in the eyes of the church, was flat. The universe was geocentric. Anyone who dared to hold otherwise suffered the same fate as Galileo Galilei.

The second split ushered in the protestant revolt, the precursor to reformation, which in turn gave birth the industrial and the scientific revolutions. At last, substantial section of European countries broke away from the papacy and formed their own independent churches, under the guidance of such leaders, as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. The protestant revolution liberated Europeans, from the clutches of religion and superstitions and propelled western civilisation into world dominance, like none other before.

Incredibly, the Catholic Church continued to hold, that the earth was flat, even though it is Catholic sailors, like Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama and others, had conclusively established, the spherical shape of the earth. Ironically, a majority of the world’s Catholics live in the new world, which would never be the case, had the earth been flat, as Columbus and Magellan would have just fallen off the edge and never discovered the Americas! European history clearly indicates, that it is the protestant countries that progressed, while the fundamentalist Catholic countries stagnated.

Religion is nothing but superstition, in formal dress. While Europe suffered from the flat earth syndrome, India suffered and continues to suffer, from the holy cow syndrome. While the Catholics propagated a geocentric universe, Hindutva propagates an India centric universe, under which all Gods and all things holy have to be necessarily Indian. Anything non Indian is polluting.

Martin Luther was the catalyst, to rational thought and scientific advancement, in Europe. We are yet to have our own Martin Luther. The one man who did seem to challenge Hindutva, as Luther challenged Catholicism was Narendra Dhabolkar. He has just been shot dead.

The purported ordinance, issued by the Maharashtra Government against superstitions, is unlikely to work. Laws are meaningless, unless those charged with enforcement are imbibed with the spirit of the law. The law is most likely to be misused against “Faith healers” and “Pirs”, while the “Godmen” and “Babas” will go scot free, as their main supporters will be in charge of enforcement.

People in a country like ours, look upon their heroes and imitate their lifestyles. The biggest heroes in the country, are the film stars. And there is none bigger, than Amitabh Bachhan. Consider, what happened when his son Abhishek fell in love with Aishwaraya, an equally popular heroine of the screen. As she was said to be a ‘mangalik’, all sorts of rituals were performed, to overcome the ill effects. She was first married to a tree before her marriage was solemnised with Abhishek. It is said that whoever marries a ‘mangalik’, suffers premature death. The tree thus became her first husband, and all the ill effects got transferred to it, and Abhishek has been assured safety!  And all this was done, in public gaze, giving strength to such baseless superstitions.

Another superstition, so strongly followed, is regarding childbirth and eclipse. It is deeply ingrained in the Indian mind, that during an eclipse, a pregnant woman should confine herself to the house and bed. The implication is that, otherwise the child will be born defective. I have over the years witnessed judicial officers in Goa, take leave to confine themselves to the house, lest some ill effects befall their yet to be born child. How do you expect such judicial officers to act against superstitions? My own observations into people’s behaviour, all over the world during times of eclipse, show that even in Asian countries like Korea, Japan, China and all over the western world, eclipse related superstitions died years ago. Yet, no ill effects are seen in children born following an eclipse in those countries. Does eclipse have ill effects, only on Indians?

I have watched Government formations, over the last quarter century. Each time the swearing was fixed, after checking auspicious time (muhurat). Such governments ought to have completed full terms, but it seldom happened. Marriages are also fixed on similar basis. Nevertheless, failure and success rate of marriages, among those who follow or do not follow auspicious timings, is no different.

The trend in our country, is to codify superstitions and make them respectable instead of suppressing them. Today, almost everybody seems to embrace ‘Vaastu’. I have come across highly qualified and apparently rational people, who try to explain Vaastu in terms of modern scientific laws.  The implication is that, our ancestors knew the scientific laws, much before, they were discovered by the modern world !                                                                                                                              

If India has to ever progress, we need our own Martin Luther. And he has to come from within the folds of Hindutva.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

What Luther fought for, could not more disastrous. In 460 years since Luther, we have come a long way. We have so far exceeded Luther's promise to make every man his own priest as to make everyone his own god. And now we all project ourselves as gods. We have invented new sacred texts of which the most authoritative is "Everyone has a right to his own opinion". This means not just that any fool can think what he likes, but that all opinions are equally "valid" - and the purgatory reserved for those who would deny this new doctrine is the charge of elitism.

We have so far extended Luther's doctrine about the fundamental connection between the individual and reality as to allow the individual to create his own reality. And if you hold on for a couple of years you might own a virtual reality machine with which to construct your personal milieu ex nihilo. Now that will be purgatory.

No doubt Luther's cry against a corrupt collectivism was justified, but it begins to appear that we now inhabit an equal and opposite tyranny: a multiplicity of omniscient egos who are all in competition. We have been here before as well, only last time round it was called Babel.

Worst of all, the Reformation brought in its wake nearly two centuries of war, bloodshed and hatred. Further reading:

JOhn |

Dear Oscar,

I appreciate your response but I do not agree with the three reasons cited by you.

Point No.1:

The thrust of my article is not against God but against superstitions. I have merely pointed out that Martin Luther’s actions resulted in the split in the Church and liberated the minds of Europeans from the stranglehold of the Church and the clutches of religion, particularly in matters secular. I have further said that the protestant revolt resulted in the reformation which in turn gave birth to industrial and scientific revolutions. Martin Luther certainly did not argue against God and if he were to do so, he would not be the leader of the Protestant Church (Lutheran Church is named after him). These are undisputed facts of history.

Point No.2 :

I have not anywhere defended superstitions by Catholics or Muslims for that matter. And I have certainly not picked on the Hindus. I am quite conscious that any non Hindu who adversely comments on Hinduism is immediately branded anti national or communal. The article is directed towards Hindutva (which is the word I have used) and not against the Hindus or Hinduism. It would be appropriate to point out what exactly is Hindutva (as extracted from Wikipedia) in the context of my article.

Hindutva (Devanagari: हिन्दुत्व, "Hinduness", a word coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1923 pamphlet entitled Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? ) is the set of movements advocating Hindu nationalism. Members of the movement are called Hindutvavadis.[1] According to a 1995 Supreme Court of India judgement the word Hindutva could be used to mean "the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos".

In India, an umbrella organization called the Sangh Parivar champions the concept of Hindutva. The sangh comprises organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bajrang Dal, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

According to Veer Savarkar, Hindutva is an inclusive term of everything Indic. He makes it clear by saying:

...Hindutva is not a word but a history. Not only the spiritual or religious history of our people as at times it is mistaken to be...., but a history in full....Hindutva embraces all the departments of thought and activity of the whole Being of our Hindu race. ~ Essentials of Hindutva

In a judgment delivered in 1995, the Supreme Court of India ruled that "Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism... it is a fallacy and an error of law to proceed on the assumption... that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practising any religion other than the Hindu religion... It may well be that these words are used in a speech to promote secularism or to emphasise the way of life of the Indian people and the Indian culture or ethos, or to criticise the policy of any political party as discriminatory or intolerant.

RSS, one of the main votaries of Hindutva has stated that it believes in a cultural connotation of the term Hindu. "The term Hindu in the conviction as well as in the constitution of the RSS is a cultural and civilizational concept and not a political or religious dogma. The term as a cultural concept will include and did always include all including Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains. The cultural nationality of India, in the conviction of the RSS, is Hindu and it was inclusive of all who are born and who have adopted Bharat as their Motherland, including Muslims, Christians and Parsis. The answering association submit that it is not just a matter of RSS conviction, but a fact borne out by history that the Muslims, Christians and Parsis too are Hindus by culture although as religions they are not so."

As a matter fact, the proponents of Hindutva themselves repeatedly make it clear that Hindutva does not mean Hinduism.

I have specifically pointed out the ‘mangalik’ episode of Amitabh Bachhan simply because it was so well publicised and he is an icon to many. If the ‘mangalik’ episode had related to Mahesh Bhupati and Lara Dutta (who are Christians), I would have equally well quoted it.

You may also note that as regards the superstition relating to eclipse, I have ended the para with “does eclipse have ill effects only on Indians?” I could as well have said “Hindus” instead of “Indians” if that was my intention. I know of Catholics who also follow the same superstitions. I have also in my reference to judicial officers not said that they belong to a particular faith.

Point No.3:

I have absolutely no problem with people and the religions that they follow. My article does not question any religious beliefs. It requires a much deeper mind than mine to delve into religious beliefs and debunk them. But what I have questioned is attempt to rationalise superstitions in the guise of religion.

I trust I have cleared your doubts.

Radharao F.Gracias |

dear radha interesting argument but a trifle flawed for 3 reasons in my not so humble opinion

1. martin luther never argued against god ( or christ) which by the thrust of your article is unscientific.In his classic address in the Diet of Worms( a princely state in germany) he never went Anti god.He rightfully challenged the corruption in the Catholic Church which our new hero pope Francis tries to do now.SO the reformation was about corruption and NOT about scientific belief

2. Pray how many catholics,new fangled evangelicals and muSlims not resort to blind faith and superstition even today?. how do chaddhars offered to dargahs cure you of illness and how does "holy water from Fatima get you a better job? Is this scientific? so why pick only on the hindus?

3.As a doctor i understand this: In a complex,uncaring unforgiving and dog eats dog world the greatest solace man { or woman} finds is in religion with all its warts and flaws.of course they get conned or cheated once in a while when they seek the peace they so desire but it is for every individual to discover and correct this .We must trust their intelligence. Just as we the "intelligent" agnostics/atheists resent Religion interfering in our lives so too we have no business in poking our noses into religious beliefs however unscientific they may appear to us

FInally of course all of us, the religious and the agnostics must crack down firmly and uncompromisingly on every crazed religious fundamentalist who preaches and practices violence.There can be no negotiation on this


oscar rebelo |

Reform should be a continuous process for all religions. The question all reformers across all religions face is that if superstitions are not harmful and not immoral, do we have moral right to suppress them? The reformers from Hindu fold- Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Dayanand Saraswati succeeded until they started attacking the seemingly harmless practices, which they believed to be superstitious. The other two reformers, Buddha and Guru Nanak had to get out of the orthodox fold to succeed. This is where the other reformers, Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi got popularity, as they believed in education not in suppression. They also believed in giving new meaning to some of the practices, which may not be rational, but are within the blood of the practitioners.

I know of a famous lawsuit in North America where aborted bodies of children were found and Church organized mass prayers. Atheist filed law suits on the grounds of superstition and breach of secularism. Question here also is the same, never mind the law and religion, is it not that the Church here is more moral than the atheists? What harm would the prayers do?

Come every Christmas, I get pamphlets in my mailbox, here in Canada, questioning the rationality behind Santa Claus. My answer to them is if Santa’s presence and the gift from Santa bring smile and cheer to my daughter, why should I bother questioning the rationality, science and reality of Santa when it harms no one?

Most importantly, how do you analyze faith in God, and nearly all practices in all religions, which for most atheists will be irrational and unscientific, but are fundamental to every religion? Atheist websites question the core foundations of all religions indicating that no religion or cult is free from rational thinking process and reform. Rationality and Logical thinking is necessary but suppression is not.

Chetan Prabhu Desai |

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Radharao Gracias

Radharao F.Gracias is a senior Trial Court lawyer and ex President of the South Goa Advocates Association. He is also former independent MLA of Goa. He has been an activist on issues related to Goa for more than three decades.


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