Dharma and the new pope – Rajiv Malhotra

Rajiv Malhotra: Being different!“The theological basis for the dramatic change I seek would lie in directly addressing the problem to which my work repeatedly calls attention: the “history centrism” which leads the Abrahamic religions to claim that we can resolve the human condition only by following the lineage of prophets arising from the Middle East. … By contrast, the dharmic traditions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism—do not rely on history in the same absolutist and exclusive way. This dharmic flexibility has made a fundamental pluralism possible which cannot occur within the constraints of history centrism, at least as understood so far.” – Rajiv Malhotra 

Pope dollGiven the power of the Vatican, the choice of a new pope will impact people of all faiths, not just Catholics. Whenever there is a change of national leadership in the USA, China, Russia or other large country, it gets discussed and debated by people of all countries because it impacts everyone. Unfortunately, the discussions surrounding the change of the pope have been largely limited to the internal issues within the Catholic Church. I’d like to argue that this transition into a new papacy presents a historic opportunity to change the world in a significant way for the better. All of us, including non-Christians, are stakeholders in this conversation.

Specifically, it would be a watershed event if the new pope would reorient the Church’s policy towards other faiths, and implement this change in the structure and practice of the Church.

Thus far, the most generous official posture of the Vatican towards non-Christians has been laid down in the Lumen Gentium, a doctrinal statement emerging from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). This document, now part of the official teaching of the Church, makes a rather grudging and highly qualified concession to other faiths. It says that God is the Savior who wills that all men be saved, and then it makes the following patronizing statement: “Those also can attain to salvation who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”

This statement has not improved interfaith relations on the ground, for three reasons. Firstly, Lumen Gentium does not recognize non-Abrahamic faiths such as Hinduism to be worthy of respect as equals; it merely recognizes that all men as individuals do have conscience. Also, it presupposes the Christian view that the human condition requires “salvation.”

Secondly, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council suffered a big setback when Cardinal Ratzinger (who later became Pope Benedict) issued an updated doctrine called Dominus Jesus. This edict clarified that the “truth of other religions” was limited compared to Catholicism, and no others could be considered on par with it. This rejection of genuine pluralism implies that other faiths can help prepare a person up to a point only, while the Church alone can fully implement religious truth, its doctrines taking precedence over all others wherever there is discrepancy. This posture allows many churchmen to speak from both sides of their mouths. It means that other faiths’ legitimacy depends on the extent to which they can be mapped onto Catholic dogma about the nature of the human problem (“sin”) and the nature of the solution (“salvation through Jesus”). (See my earlier blog, “Tolerance isn’t good enough.”)

Sistine Chapel where the papal election is held.Thirdly, there is no Church mandate or structure in place that would allow for such a significant change of attitude. Such a shift would have to entail, among other things, the denunciation of aggressive and manipulative missionizing of the sort that tells people they are “going to hell” if they are not Christians. (According to many Catholic views, some of them still held, all one billion Hindus and Buddhists — yes, even Gandhi and the Buddha and all the dharma saints and sadhus, parents, ancestors and children — have followed a “false” faith, the consequence of which is eternal damnation in hell’s inferno.) The new pope should reject the right and competence of any religious body to pass such sweeping judgement on other faiths.

The theological basis for the dramatic change I seek would lie in directly addressing the problem to which my work repeatedly calls attention: the “history centrism” which leads the Abrahamic religions to claim that we can resolve the human condition only by following the lineage of prophets arising from the Middle East. All other teachings and practices are required to get reconciled with this special and peculiar history. By contrast, the dharmic traditions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism — do not rely on history in the same absolutist and exclusive way. This dharmic flexibility has made a fundamental pluralism possible which cannot occur within the constraints of history centrism, at least as understood so far. (See my book, Being Different, for a detailed explanation and comparison of Abrahamic history centrism and dharmic approaches.)

While I recognize that the centrality of revelation through history is a core value in the Abrahamic faiths, I would point out that not only does it cause problems for non-Abrahamic faiths, but among the Abrahamic traditions as well. Their respective rival claims cannot be reconciled as long as they cling to a literal account of the Middle Eastern past, an insistence that this past is absolutely determinative of religious truth.

This is a very serious and complex conversation that needs to start in order to bring a new level of interfaith collaboration, one that moves beyond rivalry and platitudes. The new pope could champion such a conversation. What I would like to see is that the Catholic Church advance its ideas towards what may be considered as Vatican III, rather than regress backwards and retreat from the beginning that was made in Vatican II and slide into the doctrine of Dominus Jesus.

The next pope will need to have not only the skills of a corporate turnaround executive who can implement deep administrative reform, but also those of a “big thinker” — someone with theological vision, in-depth appreciation of other faiths, and the courage to re-examine long held attitudes in his Church.

Ballot used in the conclave to elect a new pope.In my view, such a person will not be identified on the basis of the identity politics and ethnicity issues that the media is currently promoting. As an Indian, I am by convention a “person of colour ” yet it matters not whether the new pope is black, brown, white, red or yellow of skin. What does matter is that he should undertake house cleaning on such issues as punishing sex abusers and corrupt churchmen, and bringing diversity of theological perspective more than diversity of ethnic identity.

Of course, I support the recent galvanization of victims’ groups, concerned citizens and the legal community to demand accountability for the notoriously opaque Church governance. It is good that individuals with purportedly divinely ordained authority are finally being taken to task by ordinary humans seeking dignity and reason. But I am disappointed that the demands have focused on internal and administrative changes only.

If the Vatican would drop claims of exclusivity over religious truth, and re-examine dogmas such as the Nicene Creed, it would pressure other denominations of Christianity to follow suit. The Vatican, after all, is the single largest corporate institution of any religion in the world. The moral pressure on others would be huge if the Pope were to champion a new world order among all faiths in earnest, and not as a gimmick to increase his own flock. Once Christendom becomes genuinely pluralistic, Islam and other exclusivist religions would be under pressure to follow suit. The leader of the Catholic Church can thus change the world.

Being realistic, however, I do not expect to see a Gorbachev-like new pope who would challenge the Vatican as radically as Gorbachev challenged the Soviet empire. But let this historic opportunity not get lost. The conversation must begin.

If anyone questions the propriety of my raising this issue on the grounds that I am an outsider to the Catholic Church, let me simply say that as a world citizen I am a stakeholder in the outcome of this process. I do not think the Vatican can continue to operate with respect and legitimacy if it fails to attend to voices such as mine. – HuffPost, 24 February 2013


Swami VivekanandaSwami Vivekananda on history centrism–called paurusheya in Hindu terminology

“The sublimity of the law propounded by Ramayana or Bharata does not depend upon the truth of any personality like Rama or Krishna, and one can even hold that such personages never lived, and at the same time take those writings as high authorities in respect of the grand ideas which they place before mankind. Our philosophy does not depend upon any personality for its truth. Thus Krishna did not teach anything new or original to the world, nor does Ramayana profess anything which is not contained in the Scriptures. It is to be noted that Christianity cannot stand without Christ, Mohammedanism without Mohammed, and Buddhism without Buddha [This is not true of Buddhism – RM], but Hinduism stands independent of any man, and for the purpose of estimating the philosophical truth contained in any Purana, we need not consider the question whether the personages treated of therein were really material men or were fictitious characters. The object of the Puranas was the education of mankind, and the sages who constructed them contrived to find some historical personages and to superimpose upon them all the best or worst qualities just as they wanted to, and laid down the rules of morals for the conduct of mankind. Is it necessary that a demon with ten heads (Dashamukha) should have actually lived as stated in the Ramayana? It is the representation of some truth which deserves to be studied, apart from the question whether Dashamukha was a real or fictitious character. You can now depict Krishna in a still more attractive manner, and the description depends upon the sublimity of your ideal, but there stands the grand philosophy contained in the Puranas.” — Swami Vivekananda, Collected Works, Vol. 5, Pp 204-208

Dr. N. S. RajaramN.S. Rajaram comments

That is why Sanatana Dharma is apaurusheya — not of any purusha. The same should be true of good science. Newton’s Law of Gravitation does not stand on the authority of Newton just as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity would be true even if Einstein had nothing to do with it.

They just saw these eternal laws. In Vedic language they were drishtaras.

Jesus (real or fictitious) is the purusha of Christianity just as Muhammad is the purusha of Islam. I have discussed it in some detail in the first section of my book A Hindu View of the World.

Rama and Krishna were expounding eternal truths (like scientific laws) and hence apaurusheya. – Google Group भारतीयविद्वत्परिषत्, 3 August 2012

5 Responses

  1. The Shankaracharyas (or other Hindu pontiffs) and the Hindu priesthood cannot be compared to archbishops and other Church officials who are bureaucrats and Church appointees [made by the pope primarily to administer Church properties and financial investments.- IS] They represent no spiritual tradition but exercise Church authority only.

    There is no Hindu equivalent of the State of Vatican or the Church of England. At the same time Christianity has no true spiritual leaders like Amritanandamayi Maa, Satya Sai Baba and the like who neither sought nor exercised any political authority.

    Christianity is power or it is nothing. You take away the authority given by the Church to the archbishop, he is nothing. He has no following as a spiritual leader.

    What distinguishes the Vatican and the Pope today is they run the greatest paedophile network the world has ever known. Dealing with that will be the next Pope’s dharma as well as karma [indeed if he has the courage to deal with it, unlike Benedict! – IS]

    This is nothing new. More than 700 years ago, Petrarch (1304 – 74) wrote of the Vatican of his time:

    “… the shame of mankind, a sin of vice, a sewer where is gathered all the filth in the world. There the God is held in contempt, money alone is worshipped and the laws of God and man are trampled under foot. Everything there breathes a lie.”

    The Vatican today is no different. We really should not be wasting time having a dialogue with them on elevated matters treating this sin-soaked criminal organization as a legitimate partner in debate.

    • “We really should not be wasting time having a dialogue with them on elevated matters treating this sin-soaked criminal organization as a legitimate partner in debate.”

      Well said, Dr, Rajaram! Christian representatives whoever they may be, are not a legitimate partner in debate. Engaging with them is not only a waste of time, afterwards it will require us to do penance and have a Ganga bath too!

      By the way, the first record of organised Christian depravity concerned the 2nd century Egyptian Christian leader Carpocrates. His followers were also paedophiles and engaged in all other forms of licentiousness, justifying their activities with the rationalisation that Jesus and Lazarus, believed by them to be lovers, engaged in the same activities to “save” themselves.

      So the culture of paedophilia (which Benedict himself has justified as a normal relationship between adults and children) is as old as the Jesus cult itself.

  2. I believe this is an old posting that has been revived against the background of Ratzinger’s (Pope Benedict’s) recent resignation.

    I appreciate the concern and sincerity of Rajiv Malhotra’s appeal but the Vatican and the next Pope have more mundane concerns — how to clean the Augean stables fouled by decades of criminality and vice. Improving communication and understanding of dharmic traditions calls for elevated thinking for which he will have neither the inclination nor the time.

    Our asking him to do more than housecleaning, which is what Catholics expect of him, is like asking the scavenger to study Vedanta. Semitic theology is the product of sick minds led by impostors as Emperor Frederick II said 800 years ago. “The world has produced three great impostors — Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.”

    Can any educated person believe that all that was worth knowing was revealed over a thousand years ago to these intolerant tyrants who created and invoked a ‘jealous and wrathful god’? Maharshi Dayananda was right when he said of these: “I cannot tell the difference between their God and their Devil.” I can, God is far worse.

    But these impostors have served a few people well — the Pope foremost of them. So why change? Instead, let us fight our battles at home. Even if the next Pope becomes a philosopher instead of fire-fighter, our enemies at home will not change. We will still have to fight and defeat them.

    This is a purely secular battle, not a spiritual struggle. We must fight and defeat our enemies at home. Trying to elevate the thinking of popes and potentates from their morass of vice is not our job, but only a distraction from our fight for freedom — the necessary Second Freedom Struggle predicted by Sri Aurobindo in 1947.

    Let the Vatican sink in its own slime. That is their problem.

    • I agree with the essence of what Dr Rajaram is saying. The issues are not theological or spiritual. The issues of the secular ones, and, as Dr Rajaram has said, in this case the mere survival.

      Like all their monotheistic systems, which are also aggressive proselytisers, their objectives are purely political – to try and dominate the secular world. It is also a sort of power game for those in the position of leadership within the organisations. We need to respond to them at that plane, instead of talking about theology or spiritualism.

      A small example. The Hindus have always been said to be idol worshippers. The intention is not any theological inquiry, but to imply that this makes them inferior to the monotheistic systems. Over the last two centuries, our sants and scholars have been saying that the Hindus worship a higher authority, and the idol is only a means to focus. Yet, the issue comes up for discussion again and again.

      An internet friend gave an appropriate response. He said: “Yes, Hindus do worship idols. But what have done wrong? Do we then go about saying that I must convert everyone else to worship that idol only? Do we say that if they do not worship that idol, the person should be killed?”

      A political issue needs to be responded at the political level.

  3. Mr. Malhotra, aren’t you asking for pie in the sky?

    Christianity is a very successful personality cult totally dependent of its fabricated history for existence–without Jesus there is no Christianity.

    Christianity has theology but no metaphysic. It is also a very old and successful business enterprise. It is not going to give up its history centrism because an Indian Pagan has challenged it to adopt universal principles instead of idolising a personality (real or imagined).

    Still, you have put the challenge on record and made the point that Hinduism is predicated on universal principles and not personalities. That will benefit some thinking seekers of truth even if it doesn’t change the mind of the Church.

    Interfaith dialogue does not and has never benefited the Hindu Samaj. That is a fact. Swami Vivekananda could not persuade Christians to give up their concept of heathen and distructive missionary activity in India and Mahatma Gandhi could not persuade Muslims to give up their concept of kafir and wanton violence against Hindus. What makes you think that you can do better than they did and change the Christian-Muslim mind?

    It is not only the problem that the Hindu idiots who engage in interfaith dialogue usually don’t know what they are talking about or who they are talking to — and therefore always end up conceding the Hindu position to the other side — but the plain fact that in all these interfaith encounters the Christian and Muslim interlocutors will not budge from their dogmatic positions which are as you say history centric (however polite they may be in their obstinacy, without openly showing their contempt for the principled pluralistic Hindu view). We will always remain heathens and kafirs to the one-godists. What then is the use in engaging with them at all?

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