As many of you know, I spent two years of my boyhood in India. My parents were not missionaries, however. Well, not in a religious sense. Rather, my father was part of a University of Illinois agriculture team in the 1950s as part of what later became known as the Green Revolution.
India is a land of immigrants, not unlike the U.S. in that regard. When, under British imperialism, the country finally was cobbled together from its many kingdoms and princedoms and whatnot, it was predominantly Hindu, with a sizable Muslim minority population, along with Sikhs, Jains, Christians and a few others. (The term Hindu is one the British came up with to describe the predominant religion of India. It seems to have stuck.)
When India became independent in 1947, the country was partitioned into mostly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan. My best friend in India, former Indian Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju, has argued for years that partition was a mistake and that Pakistan is a phony country that should be reabsorbed into India. He bristles at the idea that Hindus, Muslims and others couldn't have figured out how to live with one another in harmony.
Markandey, from a Kashmiri brahmin family (though he himself does not practice Hinduism or any other religion), also argues for a secular culture in India. As he wrote here a few weeks ago on his blog, ". . .secularism is the only policy which is suitable to our subcontinent."
And that is exactly the argument put forth in this interesting piece recently in the Times of India.
The T-of-I piece raises questions about the ways in which some members of India's minority Muslim population are causing a stir over matters they consider blasphemous.
As the author, Sadanand Dhune, said of demonstrations around this matter, "Such bloodcurdling displays of piety belong in a theocracy, not in a pluralistic democracy. Their scale, spread and intensity ought to concern anyone who cares about Indian pluralism. . .Bluntly put, the Indian model of secularism is floundering. It needs to be replaced by an approach that relies less on the well-worn pieties of the past and more on the reality of the world we live in today. The answer does not lie with Hindu extremists, who cannot distinguish between ordinary and radicalised Muslims. It lies in an updated secularism based on individual rights and equality before the law."
Theocracies might work in very tiny, uniform countries where there is consensus about how to think about God and how to respond in daily life -- countries of, say, 50 or 100 people, and not many more. But in lands with more population than that, theocracies inevitably cause problems.
It is quite possible, as U.S. history has shown, to have a nation in which there is religious pluralism and respect for all (however imperfectly manifested).
My hope for India is that it will recognize its need to commit to that model so all have religious freedom and all can respect the religious freedom of others.
Will that happen? Stay tuned.
* * *
OVERPAYING FOR A PAPAL CAR
A Fiat once used by Pope Francis in Philadelphia last fall -- valued at $20,000 -- has sold at auction for $82,000. The good news is that the money is going to Catholic Charities. The bad news is that this is one more piece of evidence that we live in a culture of celebrity and that this culture distorts the value of almost everything.
* * *
P.S.: Kansas City Lodge 184 of B'nai B'rith has announced details of the 2016 Margolis Memorial Essay Contest. The prize, $2,000, will go to a student who is graduating from a Kansas City area high school at the end of the spring semester of 2016 and who plans to start college in the fall. Essays are to focus on peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding among different groups. For details and all the rules, write to Mark D. Wasserstrom, chair of the contest, at email@example.com. There's a June 1 deadline for submitting essays.