This article has been written by Janvee Goonawat, a student at
Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law.
Political philosophers have always been keen on studying new concepts which are essential for an effective and good functioning state, hence every political philosopher has presented his secularism according to the society he lives in and according to him what type of society he wishes to transform the existing one into, it should be noted that the view of political thinkers on a particular subject matter leads to a new idea in the minds of people.
Holyoake is considered the creator of word secularism and came to be known in 1846, he is the last person to be jailed for not believing in the existence and power of god he describes secularism as “a form of opinion which concerns itself only with questions, the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life”. He once states: “If I could have my way, I would place the deity on half-pay as the Government of this country did its subaltern officers[i].”
He was a well-renowned socialist who always promoted well being of people and emphasized on the betterment of working-class and the poor, he campaigned with the presence of an organization called National Secular Society for secular society law establishment. He enumerated that secularism does not welcome authority from religion but nature, and operate from scientific and logical reasoning which is developed from the common sense of human beings. he always motivated people to trust the theory which the reason has established and not to trust anything that is not established by reason.
He defies the divinity of the church and its authority on the simple basis that is based only on assumptions and cannot be proved through any reasoning or logic and therefore disowns such authority as the end assessment of the ultimate truth. Secularism has its principle enumerated from science and has moralistic values to it.
Hence, here are some political thinkers whose model of secularism is used in today's society
Aristotle is one of the greatest figures of history who has made a remarkable contribution to politics and state art, he was not the only ancient political philosopher to suspect this overly intimate relationship between law and religion many other philosophers like Seneca, Plato, Lucretius have also outlined similar problems, Aristotle goes much further in his thirst for knowledge that despite the scientific discoveries and inventions the humankind has made, he can still be looked upon as a mentor.
Aristotle dismissed the sacred theory of mythology, he believed in science and the cosmic, he asserted that all the happenings in nature have a scientific explanation and rejected the divine law of God, he was influenced another greek philosopher Protagoras who was exiled from Athens for not believing in the divine power of the god and ruler, his work was burned and he was given the title of a sinner and an atheist who disrespected god. It is been said that people who are insecure about their religion need to make efforts to defend it if an individual is comfortable with the religion they follow they do not need to keep others remind of the importance of religion. humans are curios beings and always strive to seek answers to their questions, they not only live by the previous experience but also by judgment and understandings, Aristotle challenged the divine right of the king and the God, he criticized blind belief and asserted that it is the right of an individual to know (this is the base of today's right to know the law. This innate quality of man to think and to question stood against the stagnant religious and divine cults.
He held a divert view regarding diety preaching and believed it was illogical and absurd; he challenged the very existence of god and always promoted reasoning and science. He regarded religion as a tool which the ruler or the king uses to keep his supremacy.
Aquinas is one of the greatest philosophers of the medieval times, he had a very different outlook regarding the state and the church relationship. He believed that both the state and society were a creation of God as a disciplinary and remedial institution.
He believed that man originally lived in the state of nature, where they were innocent and clean-hearted. And sins were not in domination, but due to evolvement of human mind things like hunger for money, power and status dominated the society and the will of the god was defied., therefore god for showing some mercy, created the state so that those individuals can deviate their path from sins to divine revelation and also provided with a person who will rule and keep them in check[ii]
According to him, the church was equivalent to go i.e the church represented the presence of divine god on the earth, the state which Augustine presents is a religious state. there is the domination of Christianity therefore even the ruler had no authority or power to disobey the order or suggestion of the church.
In Augustine’s state if and one commits a sin the ruler who is also the protector sent by god can punish that person and be accountable only to the divine power. This presents that the state which Aquinas wanted to be a religious state where there was no separation of church and state, the church dominates so much that according to him there was no existence of state outside the church.
The model presented by Augustine is not truly secular he was biased towards one religion, the idea which he presented was basically of a ‘civil theology”[iii] which means the priest pr the religious leader has an obligation to provide us with a path towards revelation and tell us which goods are to be worshipped and what ceremonies and rites to be performed and it was the church who served true justice. He was of the view that only with churches light a state can prosper and happy.
Augustine’s secular state is an amalgamation of the church and the state where both can not b separated and the church being in supreme order dominated the state its functions.
Gandhi, born at a time when was going through a lot of social as well as political distress. He was a product of Hindu revivalist cult and the “defensive” and extremist school of Vivekananda which helped him to understand this existing conflict between the two existing concepts of human life. He identified himself as a human before a Hindu and always preached the idea of humanism before Hinduism which helped him connect to people of every stratum.
India is a very diverse country with many communities existing in harmony with each other and for this peaceful existence we need to respect each other and their beliefs, if there is a, continues conflict between these various religious groups it would shake the foundation of our nation and weaken it, and the diversity it is proud of will become its greatest weakness, since 2300 years from the period of king Ashoka, we have been preaching this harmony and co-existence.
Secularism has both negative as well as positive aspects to itself. Every individual since birth inherits nationality, citizenship, a language, and religion mainly the one which his/her parents follow. This what an individual inherits without his will, one learns the activities of the group he/she groups up into, it is the external influence of schooling system and peer groups which help them segregate between religious fanaticism and true belief in religion, In India secularism had to pass through a rigorous test of religious traditions and sacraments. the system that existed in India for several years gave supremacy to religion and superstitions and still deeply rooted in the minds of Indian people.
Many rulers invaded India and through this India saw constant transitions of religions India from being a Hindu majority state went on to become Muslim majority state to Christian majority state and finally to democracy, these transitions affected India deeply and all of these religions left their essence in our culture and traditions that even today after so many centuries we still follow them, these religious differences created walls between people but the freedom struggle brought all the communities together again. After Independence during the framing of the constitution, Gandhi clarified that “India shall mandatorily be a secular state” in 1922 he wrote an article “young India” where he specifies that: “Nationalism is greater than sectarianism and in that sense, we are Indians first and Hindu, Muslims, Parsi or Christians after.
He also says that I do not expect the India of my dreams to develop one religion, that is wholly Hindu, or wholly Christian or wholly Musalman, but I want it to be wholly tolerant with its numerous sects working side by side with one another like cultured human beings[iv].
South Africa made a huge influence on his life, it is from there he thought about the concept of freedom and self-government. He influenced the people of South Africa to fight for equality and self-government, this made him realize that similar concept could be applied to the Indian scenario and will yield great results. Gandhi, the communal harmony and nation unification issue was much greater than swaraj, he was adamant n his decision of a unified India where all the communities will live together without any conflict he decided to sacrifice his life in this direction and make his dream a reality.
To make his dream of communal harmony and secular state a reality, he made all the efforts to understand the Hindu Muslim feud created by Britishers using the “divide and rule policy” and decided to resolve this issue or the conflict because according to him if this conflict is solved India will be free from the communal boundaries and will transform into a secular state. Gandhi propounded the theory of truism and trust i.e all the communities should trust each other have faith in each other, he wanted both Hindus and Muslims to be cooperative towards each other and emphasized both should not hinder on each other's activities just like a Hindu cannot stop a Muslim from killing cows and a Muslim cannot stop a Hindu from playing ‘arti’ in the morning o at any hour. Both religions should transform their ethics in such a way that it does not hurt the ethics and morals of other religions Gandhi’s understanding of communalism was not deep or whole he believed that the reason of communal riots was irreligion since he described religion as an ultimate truth, he believed that these communities did not understand the concept of ultimate religion that reveals the absolute truth correctly, therefore, they fight against each other in the name of fake religion and adopt the method of satyagraha and ahimsa. And took a flexible approach towards religious leaders which caused resistance in the path of communal unity and harmony.
Nehru is considered as the builder of the Secularism that India has today[v]. His philosophies of neutralising the concept of religion and having a state which does not have any religion or treats every religion equally are embedded deep inside the constitution of our country, He once stated that:
We call our state a secular one. The word ‘secular’ is not a very happy one. And yet for want of a better word, we have used it. What exactly does it mean? It does not mean a state where religion is discouraged. It means freedom of religion and conscience including freedom for those who have no religion, subject only to their not interfering with each other or with the basic conceptions of our state…..The word secular, however, conveys something much more to me, although that might not be its dictionary meaning. It conveys the idea of social and political equality. Thus, a caste-ridden society is not properly secular. I have no desire to interfere with any persons’ belief but when those beliefs become petrified in caste divisions, undoubtedly they affect the social structure of the state. They, prevent us from realising the idea of equality which we claim to place before ourselves[vi]
Nehru was a visionary and always thought about future aspect of everything to him science and technology were of paramount importance than the religion of the religious superstitions always created a rift between people and always ignited hatred among the communities, so he wanted to avoid the clashes overall, in his opinion, this discussion is majorly important due to superstitions and dangers religion bring with itself how people blindly start to follow the religion.
Secularism is an amalgamation of state and religion and like another statesman, Nehru was always in the favour of a secular state. A secular state exists to provide its citizens with a safe environment for the citizens; a secular state gives rights of various kinds such as the right to religion, profession, speech and expression all subject to some restricts in the public interest. Similarly a secular state makes positive discrimination i.e it reserves certain rights specifically for the economically and socially backward strata of the country so that the development is not an imbalance, and the society develops as whole.
People who preach religion try to impose the concept of heaven and hell thereby creating an illusion that there exist two worlds but the secular belief is that there exists only one world which is this world in which we live and it is our duty to protect it and the ones living in it, in this regard Nehru enumerates certain characteristics of a secular state:
1. Equality of rights: every individual shall be vested with some rights to protect themselves and their property. These rights are not absolute but under certain restriction so that no individual or government can exploit them.
2. The state shall not favour religious education: which means that the state shall not give teachings of religion since he wanted to avoid a situation which existed in Nazi Germany. In a letter to Mr Ghanshyam Singh Gupta in October 1945, Nehru clarified his point of view, “1 am convinced that future Government of free India must be secular, in the sense that Government will not associate itself directly with any religiousfaith[vii].
3. The welfare of citizens: the betterment of society and welfare of people was the paramount concern of Nehru, he wanted to cultivate a society which believed in its government and had a sense of independence and did not live under any fear.
4. Tolerance towards all the faiths: Nehru was in favour of a society which did favour any religion and wanted equality to be the centre of every human beings mind. He once said that “I find it difficult to appreciate why political or economic rights should depend on the membership of a religious group or community. It can fully understand the right to freedom in religion”
5. Discouragement to Bigotry: this was one of the main concern of Nehru that every individual should respect every other individual irrespective of the different thinking and way of living. He once stated that “I am not wedded to any dogma or religion, but I do believe, whether one calls it religion or not, in the innate spirituality of human beings. I do believe in the innate dignity of the individuals[viii]”.
Nehru’s patriotism and wish for an equal and progressive society made him divert his path from the ideas of religion towards secularism. For him, secularism was not just a political doctrine but also a revolutionary social concept which would allow all the religions to exist in harmony and love. His idea of a state was of the one which does not have any hierarchical orders or religious groups rather a society which follows humanity.
A semi-secular ideology prevalent in India for about half a century after independence, but throughout these years there have been amendments made in favour of specific religions. In the offset of 20th century the major ideology i.e Hindutva prevailed which lead to the formation of “cultural nationalism”, so now there were two different ideologies in a country opposite to each other where one was supporting the principles of equality and secularism whereas the other thought believed in establishing a theocratic state, which gave birth to a liberal ideology which incorporated both religious views as well as the principles of secularism.
In a leading case, the supreme court[ix] of India stated that:
Secularism is “more than a passive attitude of religious tolerance; it is a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions,” asserting at the same time that “when the State allows citizens to profess and practice religion it does not either explicitly or impliedly allow them to introduce religion into non-religious and secular activities of the State[x].
Secularism as a concept can be given various definitions according to the need of the society but the essence remains the same i.e that of a society free of religious prejudice in the matters of the state where people enjoy equality, freedom and various rights.
[i] --, ‘George Holyke’ Humanists UK, available at https://humanism.org.uk/humanism/the-humanist-tradition/19th-century-freethinkers/holyoake/ (last accesed on 1 july, 2020) [ii] Monalisa M, ‘Relationship between state and church’ (2017) Political Science notes, available at https://www.politicalsciencenotes.com/political-ideas/relationship-between-state-and-church-during-medieval-period/1075 (last accessed on 4 July, 2020) [iii] Pater Profundus, ‘Augustine on the relationship between the church and the state in De Civitate Dei’ (2012) Booksie, Available at https://www.booksie.com/posting/pater-profundus/augustine-on-the-relationship-between-the-church-and-the-state-in-de-civitate-dei-312928 (last accessed on 3 July,2020) [iv] Gandhi M.K, “weighed and found wanting”, Young India, vol 4, no12, Dec 1927, pp169-172. [v] B.R Nanda, Jawaharlal Nehru: Rebel and stateman, Oxford University Press, xford, 1998 [vi] Availabl at, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=134406 (last accessed on 5 july, 2020) [vii] Jawahar lala Nehru, Bright J.S (Ed.) selected writings of Jawahar lal Nehru, Indian Printing work, new Delhi, 1969, p 252 [viii] A.M. Rajashekhariah, Indian Journal of Pol. Science, Vol48, no.2, 1987, p 216 [ix] SR Bommai v. Union Of India, AIR(1994) 3 scc1 [x] Tahir Mahmood, “religion and the secular state: Indian Perspective” India- International Centre for law and religious studies, 2011.