OUR HISPANIC RELIGIOUS FUTURE
My religion writer friend Eric Gorski has done an intriguing piece about a new study that gives us a glimpse into the future shape of religious trends in the U.S. as Hispanics become a larger part of our culture. Are you seeing these trends in your own faith community?
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SOME RELIGIOUS LESSONS FROM COLONIALISM
I've been slowly reading Vincent A. Smith's classic, The Oxford History of India, which has been added to by Percival Spear.
I'd have been a much smarter kid had I read more about religion in India before I lived there for two years of my boyhood, but it's too late to worry about that now. (The map here today, by the way, shows India in its current form, not the way it was divided under the British.)
At any rate, in a section Spear wrote, I ran across a really intriguing notion having to do with religion in India and the reason the British were able to conquer the land and colonialize it in ways other nations, especially Portugal, had failed to do. It has to do with the way the Brits treated religion in India:
"A final factor in the British success was the nature of their objectives. There was no head-on collision between British imperialism and Indian society. . . Indian society, whether in its Hindu or Muslim forms, was centered round religio-social systems which showed little trace of political nationalism in its modern sense. The affections of the peopel were fastened upon social and religious ideals rather than upon political freedom.
"Freedom for the Hindu was a matter of inner release, for the Muslim of freedom to worship the true God in the right way. No doubt both Hindu and Muslim preferred their own rulers to others but what both would die for was their religious ideals and social patterns.
"The Mughul empire was accepted by Hindus as long as it was both tolerant and strong. The Portuguese made no headway in India because they attacked both parties where they felt most deeply, in the religious sphere. The British came for trade and went into politics to preserve their trade. They eschewed religion.
"So to the Hindu they were preferable to the Muslims and to the Muslim more acceptable than the Hindu. And this was the case in spite of general dislike of most British customs and many British individuals. The British attack was a glancing blow which left the vital centers of Indian life untouched. Religious toleration and social non-interference were more powerful weapons than the rupees of the (East India) Company or the guns of its troops."
I'm sort of divided about all of that. First, colonialism was a disaster almost everywhere, perhaps less so in India than in many countries, but even there. Britain and other colonial-era powers did the world no favors by ruling (misruling, really) the lands they conquered. And yet the British left behind some useful political systems and ideals that still play a part of Indian life today.
At the same time, what does it say about a people who "eschewed religion," in Spear's words? Was money more important to them than God? And, thus, did the Indians have their priorities straighter than the English? And yet can a modern nation survive on a shrunken globe if it does not also develop geopolitical skills while at the same time preserving its people's central focus on religious and social institutions?
And what is there about this history that might apply today to the U.S. and its international misadventures?
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