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Amardeep Singh

Nanda's article is excellent -- I've yet to read her book, but I'm looking forward to it. I disagree with her suggestion that philosophical postmodernism is an *asset* to Hindutva, but it certainly is weak as a *defense* against religious fundamentalisms of all kinds.

I would also recommend Latha Menon's article on the anti-modern revision of India's history, also on Butterflies and Wheels.

The URL is:

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=48

Parag Garg

Dangers of Religious Enviromentalism in India

Cross posted from another yahoo group.

From: "Koenraad Elst"
Date: Sat Aug 7, 2004 1:26 am
Subject: "DANGERS OF RELIGIOUS ENVIRONMENTALISM IN INDIA"


What Is So Dangerous about Religious Secularism in India?

A preliminary reply by Dr. Koenraad Elst to Ms. Meera Nanda

A certain Meera Nanda has recently been positioning herself in
academic and
Marxist media as some kind of expert on Hindu nationalism and its
relation
to various "postmodern" ideologies. As the topic is not without
importance, I forthwith started to write a reply to her theses,
partly to
disagree but also partly to agree. Then again,
as such abstract and abstruse themes are not a matter of urgency, I
haven't
exactly hurried to finish my paper, but hopefully you'll get to see
it in a
month or
two. Meanwhile, my attention was drawn to several mentions of my own
name
in a
recent
installment of her continuing story. The claims she makes there are
factually wrong and are all too obviously based on what Prof.
Meenakshi Jain
(in her correction of Prof. J.S. Grewal's crass misrepresentation of
her
NCERT
textbook of medieval history) has aptly called "the Marxist bush
telegraph".

It is not contrived to describe Meera Nanda as a Marxist scholar. She
works
within a Marxist conceptual framework, relies on acknowledged and
unacknowledged Marxist sources, and speaks of leftist authors as
belonging
to a collective "us" as opposed to a hated right-wing "them" (e.g. "we
believe --
correctly -- that our red-green goals are morally superior to their
saffron
ones"). And more
simply: she starts her paper with a quote from the Communist
fortnightly
Frontline and ends with a call to "class-based collective action". No
secrecy there. It's always interesting to receive morality lessons
from
someone who has no compunctions about associating with the biggest
crime of
the
20th century.

Oh, and the second item in that final call is "secularism". In
principle,
Marxists are supposed to be atheists. In India, the earlier
generations of
Marxists were indeed atheists, though they followed the
Stalinist strategy of a "common front" in forming an alliance with
Christians and
Muslims against the principal enemy, Hinduism. Recently, the
international
political weakening of Marxism has been accompanied by an intellectual
softening, so that junior Marxists are forgetting that Islam and
Christianity are "opiums of the people" as much as Hinduism, and have
even
started lapping up some now-fashionable claims propagated by Muslim or
Christian apologists. This way, their secularism is being infiltrated
with
religious elements. It is becoming a "religious secularism". We shall
see
some instances below.

In her paper "Dharmic ecology and the neo-Pagan international: the
dangers
of religious environmentalism in India", presented at panel no. 15 at
the
18th
European Conference on Modern South Asian
Studies, 6-9 July 2004 in Lund, Sweden, Meera Nanda makes some
interesting
points. I hope to deal with them more in-depth later, but will
already make a few observations on them now, by way of background to
my
comments on her attacks on me.

Ecology and religion

Ecology can perfectly exist without religion. A case in point is Nazi
Germany, a secular state and the
pioneer of environmental policies. Its preservation of
rare species, its first anti-smoking campaigns, its first
environmental-effect reports in preparation of new industrial
initiatives,
its tree-planting campaigns and other ecological measures: all these
were
given a purely
secularist justification, mainly in terms of health and hygiene. The
hard-headed Nazis were sceptical of the
religious-environmentalist belief that "reverence towards nature
encourages
wise use of nature", as Meera Nanda summarizes it while equally
rejecting
it. The Nazi motive to "take action on behalf of the
trees, rivers and land" was "their interest in a better life
materially for
themselves and their children", the same motive which Meera Nanda
ascribes
to "the poor people" in India. Nazism's proto-Green agriculture
minister
Walter Darré, though having learned his "bio-dynamic agriculture"
from the
Christian (ex-Theosophist) esotericist Rudolf Steiner, adopted it not
for
romantic reasons but because he expected it to durably yield better
harvests
than the non-bio methods involving chemical pesticides etc. He was a
post-religious secularist and the stated
justification for his policy choices was "science", just like he
presented
his hard-line
racism, encapsulated in his slogan "blood and soil", as
"racial science". Which is why at the same time, the Nazis
also had this in common with India's poor that they were were "not
technology-averse", on the contrary. Distant camp-followers of the
Nazis might have infused the rumours about Nazi environmentalism with
more
poetic motifs, but the down-to-earth Nazis were mostly interested in
tangible results.

You could even say that this secularism is what made Nazi ecology
dangerous.
It was part of a reductionist worldview that reduced living beings
including
human beings
to their material, biological dimension. That is why it was of one
piece
with Nazi racism. In the pre-secular past, people had certain ideas
about
racial traits and they often believed that there were statistical
differences in character and aptitudes between, say, blacks and
whites.
Yet, these assumed differences were kept in a certain proportion
because
men were deemed to have a deeper identity than their biological
characteristics, loosely known as the soul. That is why the Catholic
Church
could intervene to mitigate the sufferings of the Amerindians under
Spanish
rule: whatever their alleged inferiority in aptitudes, they were
entitled to
a humane (though not, for that, an equal)
treatment because they were endowed with souls. In the bio-
materialist view
adopted by the Nazis, by contrast,
men's personalities entirely coincided with their genetic
determinants.

One way of conceiving the soul was as an entity which could embody
itself in
a human body, but could also exist outside the body and later return
to the
physical world by incarnating in yet another body. This belief in
reincarnation is central to Jainism and Buddhism, and it has also been
adopted in Hinduism. The Vedic hymns had no notion of reincarnation
yet,
but in the Upanishads we learn that the idea was borrowed from the
warrior
class, the class to which wandering ascetics like Mahavira Jina and
Gautama
the Buddha belonged. In the vast and variegated Hindu society, this
belief
in reincarnation coexists with other notions of soul and afterlife.
Personally, I don't know whether this widespread belief is true or
not, I am
inclined to reject it, but then I also hesitate to say that seers of
the
Buddha's stature were all wrong.

At any rate, Marxists never wonder whether a theory is true or not,
they
only care about what class interests a theory may serve. Lenin
despised a
concern for universally valid truth as "bourgeois objectivity"; in
this
respect, he was the forerunner of postmodern relativism. So, I am not
surprised to find Meera Nanda bypassing the truth question and merely
expressing her ideological
disgust at "the obnoxious theory of reincarnation and karma" (which
incidentally makes me wonder whether she would repeat this if her
subject-matter was Buddhist rather than Hindu, for in secularist
mythology,
Buddhism is always depicted as a "revolt against Hinduism" and
contrasted
with it as good against evil). Well, she overlooks an important
leftist use
of that obnoxious theory, viz. its profoundly anti-racist
implications. If
the body with all its biological characteristics is only a coat which
we put
on at conception and lay off at death, as described in the Bhagavad-
Gita,
then someone's race is only a very temporary and non-essential aspect
of
his personality. In this respect, the Hindu-Buddhist-Jain theory is
poles apart with the racist view, which sees in race the key to all of
history (thus Benjamin Disraeli), both collective and individual.
Agreed,
this is a bit of a detour to justify the rejection of the racist view
of
man, and one could reject racism without accepting reincarnation; but
fact
remains that the belief in reincarnation is deeply incompatible with
the
bio-materialistic presuppositions of racism.

Yet, the belief in reincarnation is also productive of its own type of
environmentalism: since souls can incarnate in non-human beings, we
had
better treat even plants and animals with at least a measure of the
respect
which we as humans would expect from others. That is why the Dalai
Lama and
other spokesmen of reincarnatory doctrines have a point when they
claim an
intrinsically ecological concern for their religions. Ms. Nanda has
described how environmentalism in India is often clothed in Hindu
language and symbolism. Thus, women trying to protect trees, tie
rakhi-s
(the
auspicious red threads which sisters tie around their brothers'
wrists on
the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan) around these
trees. As if the trees are their brothers, as if the Great Chain of
Being
is one family, our family. Oh, how abhorrent that the Indian
people have never learned to separate religion from life, the way
spoiled
children fish out and put aside the pieces of a disliked vegetable
from
their
meal.

And
then it gets really bad: "Indian government funded in part the work of
ISKCON (Hare Krishna)
in re-forestation of Vrindavan. Department of environment is
supporting
temples
to maintain sacred groves. Ecological aspects of Sanatana dharma have
been
included in the school text books of at least one state, UP." Let's
put
this in perspective. Most
relevant secularist school textbooks, not only in UP, contain
the highly disputable claim that Islam stands for "social equality"
(has Ms.
Nanda
ever protested against that?), but we are asked to feel scandalized
that a
similar
claim is made for Hinduism and ecology. Christian and Muslim
denominational
schools which receive state funding under Art. 30 of the Constitution
(unlike Hindu denominational schools, which are excluded from this
provision
for not being "minority institutions"), mix their educational task
with not
just the exercise but also the propagation of religion. Yet Meera
Nanda has
no objection to that massive nationwide intrusion of religion into
education
at vast taxpayers' expense, all while inflaming her audience against
the
participation of Hindu organizations in state-funded environmental
policies.

However terrible all this may have sounded, now it gets even
worse: "If you
think this is
bad,
wait, it gets worse."

The problem with monotheism

On the road to hell, one of the last horrors one may encounter, is
this: "In
the
hands of Hindutva's deep thinkers, notably Ram Swarup and Sita Ram
Goel,
dharmic ecology takes an explicitly anti-monotheistic turn, aimed
superficially at Christianity. Goel notably, but also many others
like N. S.
Rajaram and Koenrard Elst hold 'Semitic monotheism' responsible for
the
crisis of modernity: they take the left's critique of the scientific
revolution as disenchanting the world, but blame it on Christianity,
rather
than on science per se. All the ills of modernity that the left and
right
both agree upon are pinned on to the monotheistic conception of God
who
stands outside nature, creating this split between man and nature."

Here, Meera Nanda's argumentation takes a truly strange turn. Why
should
the alleged "explicitly anti-monotheistic turn" be so much "worse"?
Why
should a declared secularist show such indignation at a theological
quarrel
about monotheism, merely one among several varieties of the "opium of
the
people"? Don't forget Karl Marx's word that "all criticism starts with
criticism of religion". What is so bad
if some people challenge a hegemonic religious doctrine, viz.
monotheism?
What stake does Meera Nanda have in shielding the religious dogma of
monotheism from criticism? I cannot look inside her head, so I cannot
do
more than speculate (and say so in advance). My best guess is that
she has
lapped
up the Christian claim that some kind of moral superiority attaches to
monotheism. No big deal, at the time of Anglo-Christian imperialism,
even
Hindus were overawed by
this Christian propaganda and interiorized it, most notably the Arya
Samaj
(°1875), which tried to straitjacket Hinduism into the monotheist
mould.
Still, a secularist has no business propagating the religious
doctrine of
monotheism.

And how would the critique of monotheism be only "superficially aimed
at
Christianity"? What "deeper" aim is being taken, and how would Meera
Nanda
know? Telepathy? Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel were witnesses to the
untiring
aggression against Hinduism by Christian missionaries, they deemed
Christianity a serious problem, and so they took aim at Christianity.
Not
some mysterious force behind Christianity, but Christianity itself.
They
adopted the typically modern rejection of Christianity as exemplified
by
Bertrand Russell's book "Why I Am Not a Christian". Their criticism
focused
mainly on three points: (1) the irrational basis of Christian
theology; (2)
the largely fabricated basis of early Christianity's sacred history as
related in the New Testament; (3) the intolerant and inhumane record
of
Christianity in history. This has nothing whatsoever to do with
"postmodernism" but is purely and consistently the *modern* approach
to the
Christian belief system and Church, in the footstep of the criticisms
developed by Western secularists since the 18th century.

Incidentally, now that Meera Nanda uses the expression "deep
thinkers", I
would like to inform her that this was the sarcastic term which Goel
used
for all
those authors who never believe the evidence of their own eyes but
compulsively seek a reality "behind the appearances". In particular,
the
term applied to RSS softbrains who (in Mahatma Gandhi's footsteps)
never
believed a Muslim cleric when he
made a fanatical statement against the infidels and
therefore "corrected"
him that the "real
Islam" would
"never condone such fanaticism". Since Ms. Nanda herself claims to see
Goel's "true" intentions behind what is "superficially" a critique of
Christianity, she too would have been classified as a "deep thinker"
in his
books.

Rarely have so many errors been squeezed into a single paragraph.
Next case
in point: Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel wrote in defence of Hinduism,
never
of "Hindutva". The latter term was launched by the Hindu Mahasabha
and subsequently adopted by the RSS, organizations of which the said
independent
authors were never members nor camp-followers. Indeed, if Meera Nanda
had
taken the trouble of reading them, she would have known that there
has never
been a fiercer critic of the RSS than Sita Ram Goel, vide e.g. the
book he
edited: "Time for Stock-Taking", a collection of pro-Hindu anti-RSS
papers
(incidentally, I myself have also devoted a book, "BJP vs. Hindu
Resurgence", and a book chapter in "Decolonizing the Hindu Mind" to
criticism of the
RSS
Parivar). There is plenty of Hindu revivalism going on outside the
RSS, and
even before the RSS came into existence, but
"secularists" always try to reduce the former to a ploy of the
latter. This
in application of the Marxist penchant for conspiracy theories, very
handy
explanatory models which eliminate reality as a factor of human
perception
and agency. Thus, when Hindus complain of factual problems such as
missionary subversion or Muslim terrorism, it is always convenient to
portray this spontaneous
and truthful perception as an artefact of "RSS propaganda".

Ms. Nanda systematically misspells my Christian name as "Koenrard".
Clearly, all while criticizing me, she has never read any publication
of
mine. And it shows. She imputes to me, along with a few others,
certain
objections against "Semitic monotheism", an expression which she
herself
puts in quote marks. Well, she can't be quoting me there, for I never
use
that expression. On the contrary, I have repeatedly written out my
reasons
for rejecting the term "Semitic" as a religious category, effectively
synonymous with "prophetic-monotheistic". I refer to my
books "Decolonizing
the Hindu Mind" and "The Saffron Swastika" for this, though I leave
it to
her to find the page numbers; after all it is *her* job to read the
authors
whom she wants to criticize.

But since she seems to find it beneath her
dignity to actually read my publications, I will summarize the
reasons right
here. Firstly, to Western ears, but largely unknown to Hindus, the
term
"Semitic"
has connotations with
"anti-Semitism" and is rarely used in any other context, except by
linguists
when they refer to the language group chiefly comprising Akkadian,
Ugaritic,
Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic and Amharic. Secondly and more
importantly, there is nothing intrinsically monotheistic about the
Semitic-speaking
peoples, vide
the polytheism of the Babylonians or Phoenicians and even of the
Israelites
and Arabs before monotheism was violently imposed on them by Moses
c.q.
Mohammed, as per their own scriptures.

Three cheers for modern science

Neither Goel nor NS Rajaram nor myself hold monotheism responsible
for an
alleged "crisis of modernity". In fact, we're quite happy with
modernity.
It is in pre-modern societies that monotheist militancy has wrought
many a
crisis. For the late Goel, "postmodernism" came too late on the scene
to
even
register in his worldview, while Dr. Rajaram, a professional
mathematician,
has
mocked postmodernist fads
repeatedly on various internet discussion lists. Modernity, by
contrast,
has been a liberating development which, among other things, broke
the spell
of dogmatic religions and created new intellectual tools for
unmasking and
debunking them. It is sheer invention on Ms. Nanda's part that any of
us
has adopted "the left's critique of the scientific revolution as
disenchanting the world", let alone that we would "blame it on
Christianity". We have nothing against the scientific revolution and
we
don't find it blameworthy.

In her earlier papers, Ms. Nanda has lambasted the tendency among
Hindus to
trace scientific developments to ancient (truly existing or merely
purported) Vedic
insights. Well, however wrong those Hindu chauvinists may be to claim
the
merits of science for their ancestors, at least their rhetoric
presupposes a
respect for science as such. It is only logical that Goel and Rajaram
have
highlighted the contrast and struggle between science and
Christianity, and
that they have continued the Western secularists' critique of the
anti-scientific impact of Christianity, which upon taking power in
the Roman
Empire stopped the Greco-Roman development of science for a thousand
years.

To understand Meera Nanda's wholly erroneous presentation of the Hindu
critique of Christianity, it is necessary to know a few things about
recent
Christian apologetics. The role of apologetics, an auxiliary
discipline of
theology, is in principle, to show the harmony between reason and the
Christian faith; and in practice, to show the closeness between
present-day
intellectual fashions and the Christian faith. So, when science
irresistably became the dominant paradigm, Christian apologists
started
inventing reasons why science must somehow owe its birth or at least
its
development to Christianity. One of these was that Christianity, or
more
generally monotheism, had "disenchanted" the world, turning it into a
dead
object fit for scientific analysis. Apparently, Ms. Nanda has lapped
up
this claim, and at any rate she has projected it onto Hindu authors
like
Goel and Rajaram. But as I have shown in detail elsewhere ("The
Saffron
Swastika" and some other texts), this thesis of "disenchantment by
monotheism" is totally contradicted by the facts. Thus, there is
plenty of
evidence that a non-disenchanted universe is open enough to scientific
study, e.g.
the science of astronomy was developed by the polytheistic
Mesopotamians who
worshipped the stars and planets as gods. There is also plenty of
evidence
that monotheistic societies could live in a disenchanted world for
centuries
without producing any scientific insight whatsoever, e.g. most of the
vast
Muslim world between the 11th and 20th century.

As for "dharmic ecology", I cannot remember Ram Swarup or Sita Ram
Goel ever
using that term. Goel, at any rate, never wrote on ecology. Ram
Swarup,
though acknowledged by Goel as a more original thinker, did not have
Goel's
typical scepticism and sometimes went along with good-sounding ideas,
one
instance being the trend of identifying
non-monotheistic religions as more ecological and also more woman-
friendly.
But he too never mixed up Christianity with science in his diagnosis
of the
reasons behind the environmental crisis. One remarkable contribution
which
Ram Swarup did make, was to bring a typically Hindu insight to the
debate on
monotheism, viz. by transcending the doctrinal opposition between one
God
and many Gods. To him, the issue of one or many, raised by the
monotheists,
was altogether puerile and unbecoming of any mature conception of the
Divine. As he
pointed out, Hinduism can see God both as one and as many. Monotheism
is
not so much untrue, it is first of all silly. It is much ado about
nothing.

Finally, it is not true that "all the ills of modernity that the left
and
right
both agree upon are pinned on to the monotheistic conception of God"
by the
Hindu authors (and myself as a non-Hindu author) mentioned. To these
authors,
modernity is the enemy of obscurantist monotheism. Modernity may have
its
ills, but these
are not the same as the ills of Christianity or of other monotheistic
religions.

Anti-Paganism, the oldest hatred

"And this anti-Christian turn makes dharmic ecology very friendly to
the
anti-Christian, neo-pagan groups that are mushrooming in Europe,
notably in
mostly protestant countries such as England, Ireland, Germany,
Iceland,
Belgium, Lithuania, Norway and even in Russia. Western Neo-pagans are
mostly
disillusioned Christians. They reject the transcendent God of
Abrahamic
faiths, who created the natural order, but now stands outside nature.
They
are attracted to paganism which sees the sacred as manifested in
nature more
rationally and aesthetically convincing."

I will not make an issue of Ms. Nanda's mischaracterizing Belgium and
Ireland, which are historically frontline states of Catholicism,
as "mostly
Protestant". To come to the point: there are more dimensions to
Paganism
than its real or purported ecology-minded attitude, and hence also
rather
more motives for people to trade in Christianity for a revived
Paganism.
Thus, to some people it is a matter of principle to undo the damage
inflicted on the native traditions by an intrusive Christianity, even
if it
is impossible and after all the intervening centuries perhaps also
nonsensical to revive the ancient traditions, which would at any rate
have
changed considerably in case of a natural development unimpeded by
Christian
interference. To many more, some form of religiosity is necessary to
make
their lives meaningful or at least colourful, but Christianity cannot
fiulfil that task anymore because its defining beliefs have been
rejected by
philosophical reflection and scholarly discoveries, while Paganism
doesn't
tie itself down to dogmatic
beliefs and hence accomodates the freewheeling modern attitude much
better.
However, it is
true that most Pagan revivalist groups have embraced ecology as a
fashionable selling point.

Meera Nanda is right when she finds the ecological claims made for
Pagan
traditions overdone: "I will argue that sacredness of nature does not
protect nature. Just
because people venerate trees and rivers does not meant that they
will take
care of them." This is actually a point I myself have developed
elsewhere,
even before neo-Pagan audiences, partly just to pull their leg, partly
because it is indeed necessary to relativize this new orthodoxy that
claims
ecology as an explicit concern of the ancestral religions.
Whether men will mismanage
nature depends less on their attitudes and beliefs than on their
*understanding* of the
workings of nature. I don't doubt that the Native Americans, always
eagerly
depicted as the highpriests of proto-environmentalism, did kind of
respect
the mammoths they encountered when they entered America; but they
exterminated them nonetheless, simply by killing one here and then
another
there, because in their hazy grasp of the world they didn't realize
that the
mammoth population was finite. Here too, it is science that liberates
man
from his ignorance in properly dealing with nature. Then again,
ideological
choices also matter, e.g. Soviet Communism swore by science and yet
it was
extremely irresponsible and destructive in its dealings with the
environment.

However, Ms. Nanda is rather off the mark when she claims
that "religious
environmentalism has become the Trojan
horse for Hindutva. Dharmic ecology of the right wing is
indistinguishable
from the anti-Enlightenment left." It is not clear which Troy has been
penetrated by any "Trojan horse" of
Hindutva. The Hindutva movement has been uniquely unsuccessful in
making
friends anywhere outside its own natural constituency of born Hindus.
I may
have missed something, but I am not aware of any international
ecological
(or other) organization that has changed one iota in its policies due
to
lobbying by Hindutva-oriented delegates or members.

Also, Ms. Nanda seems to be implying that an "anti-Enlightenment"
position
is the common ground between the alleged Hindu right-wing and an
anti-Enlightenment section of the left. Though Hindutva and the SR
Goel
school of thought are two very different movements, the point I made
about
the latter's positive attitude to the Enlightenment applies, by and
large,
also to the former. At least I have never seen any pleas against
science or
the Enlightenment in the Organiser or other RSS publications.
Sometimes
they may
rail against Western consumerism or "materialism" (meaning
consumerism, and
distinct from the philosophical position of materialism, well-
represented
among the classical Hindu philosophies), but they never rail against
the
scientific worldview. On the contrary, they uphold the latter as
somehow
closer to the Hindu worldview than to Christianity and Islam. Rightly
or
wrongly so, but that is at any rate their position, and it does
presuppose a
positive
valuation of science and the Enlightenment.

Neo-Paganism and Nazism

But now Ms. Nanda gets really nasty: "Dharmic ecology of Hindutva
right is emerging as the hub of a new
neo-pagan International. Neo-paganism in Europe and America has deep
and
historic ties with Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups."

The claim about a non-monotheistic international may be embryonically
correct, though it partly stems from a
Marxist projection of its own working-style onto other movements.
Today
there is no such thing
as a neo-Pagan international, but the meeting of the "World Council
of the
Elders of the Ancient Traditions and Cultures" in
Mumbai in February 2003 (where most Hindu participants were just
Hindu, not
"Hindutva") might, just might, be the beginning of such an
international
network. If so, we should wish this effort at cultural decolonization
all
the best. Judging from the papers read and the resolutions passed, the
Elders' conference was a benign affair, and in case any neo-Nazi had
sneaked
his way in, the good vibrations would have influenced him towards more
openness, more pluralism, more gentleness and more brotherhood with
the rest
of mankind, for such were the themes raised at the meeting. Nothing
evil
has
been decided or planned at that meeting, unless Ms. Nanda wants us to
believe that the rejection of Christian proselytism (i.e. the planned
destruction of religious traditions through the conversions of their
practitioners) is somehow evil. She could of course take that
position, but
then that would reveal her to be a non-secularist agent of Christian
proselytism herself, for a secularist would never be so judgmental
about
people's desire to be left alone by preaching busibodies.

Incidentally,
such an Elders' network would be a Pagan rather than a neo-Pagan
international, for
the organizers' greatest achievement was to have brought together not
just a
few neo-Pagan hobbyists from Europe taking a holiday in India, but
revered
elders from numerous genuinely traditional and ancient religions from
around
the globe, from Aboriginal to Sioux. Those elders could have told Ms.
Nanda
a thing or two about the
destructive role of the Bible-toting and Doomsday-predicting and
Pagan-slandering missionaries in their respective societies.

But then she proceeds to associate neo-Paganism with Nazism, the
perennial
trump card in the rhetoric of leftists who have run out of positive
ideas.
If she wanted to link "dharmic ecology" with Nazism, she could have
spared
herself this trouble of bringing in the intermediary factor of
"neo-Paganism", for ecology itself is already intensely associated
with
Nazism. There is simply no denying that Nazi Germany was the first
state to
pursue environmentalist policies. Indeed, if spokesmen for polluting
industries or nuclear power plants find themselves in a tight corner
because
of ecologist criticism, they could always turn the tables by
denouncing the
Green activists as "Hitler's heirs" or so. There's just no rebuttal
to a
"Nazi" smear, as Ms. Nanda clearly knows.

It is true that a few of the thousands of neo-Pagan groups in Europe
and
the USA have white
racist (sloppily summarized as "neo-Nazi") ties;
in my book "The
Saffron Swastika", I have made a rather broader diagnosis of this
problem
than
Ms. Nanda has done here. Though very marginal in scope, the problem is
there, and I am on record as
warning neo-Pagans against taking it lightly. What I must emphatically
deny, however, is that
these ties are "deep and
historic".

As for "historic", let us not forget that in 1938, Hitler dissolved
all
unconventional religious groups including all neo-Pagan ones. In 1941,
after the strange flight of Rudolf Hess, a kind of New-Ager who
dabbled in Buddhism and veganism and had pacifist leanings which
possibly
motivated his "peace mission" to Britain, Hitler had the prominent
characters of all eccentric religious groups arrested and locked
up, along with assorted
astrologers and such. Hitler correctly saw that most neo-Pagans were
not
the human material he needed in his regimented national-socialist
state:
many were anarchists, pacifists, regional particularists, and at any
rate
undisciplined weirdoes with more imagination than military zeal. In
his
book "Mein Kampf", he had already derided the "wandering scholars" who
were living with their heads in the clouds of a dim Germanic past,
religious
archaeologists who were trying to faithfully reconstruct the culture
of
their forefathers as if even a perfect imitation could have taken on
life
again and gained relevance in the modern world. Hitler
himself, though formally a member of the Catholic Church till his
death
(just as Goebbels and Goering also remained members of their
respective
Christian Churches, and none of them was ever excommunicated), was a
down-to-earth nationalist who knew about the
catastrophic role
which religious divisions had played in German history and who
temperamentally disliked religious enthusiasts unless they submitted
to his
political project. He was a modern man who wanted to push back the
hold of religious beliefs on the minds of the masses. Hitler was a
secularist.

As for "deep", only very shallow minds can fail to notice the deep
divergence between the Pagan religions and Nazism. Mind you, unlike
neo-Pagan romantics, I am not into idealizing the ancient European
Pagans,
for I know that they practised sati (widows following deceased
husbands into
death), that they
didn't feel bound by the Declaration of Human Rights or the Geneva
Convention, that those dreamy wise Druids practised human sacrifice,
etc.
All
the same, the admitted faults of the Pagans were radically different
from
those of
the Nazis. This is even true of Odinism, the Germanic religion which
Ms.
Nanda identifies most strongly with Nazism. Far from being "deep", the
connection between Odinism and Nazism hardly extends beyond the mere
word
"Germanic". Consider three essential traits of Nazism: racism,
anti-Semitism and
authoritarianism.

Odinism had no concept of anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism,
a central and defining trait of Christianity (which claims to be
the "new
Israel" replacing the old one). It never interfered with other
people's
religions and didn't think twice about treating Judaism as simply one
of
the
many
existing ethnic religions. No Jew was ever killed in the name of
Odin, and
the recent wave of anti-Jewish violence in Europe is of course not
the doing
of neo-Odinists, but of
Muslims. If Hindu networking with neo-Pagans is so worrying to Ms.
Nanda,
would she have the consistency to denounce the RSS/BJP's emphatic
overtures to the Muslims as even more worrying? As for other Pagan
religions, we know that
individual Romans like Cicero have said unkind things about the Jews,
but
the Roman religion had no notion of anti-Semitism either, and the
Roman
state only cracked down on the Jewish people when they staged an armed
political
uprising, but otherwise left them in peace with the status of "religio
licita" and openly favoured them over the upstart new cult of
Christianity.
It is only after the Christianization of the Roman Empire that anti-
Jewish
policies were enacted.

Odinism was anything but authoritarian. Odinists were typically
individualistic or clannish and hence hostile to centralized
authority; they
practised sovereignty of their own clan or town. In higher political
councils, their delegates jealously defended their local autonomy and
put
checks on the central ruler's ambitions. The oldest still-existing
parliament in Europe
was
constituted in Odinic Iceland in the 10th century.
US founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote that his republican system
was
essentially but a revival of ancient Saxon Law, which dates back to
pre-Christian Odinic times. Next to the Roman heritage, it is the
Germanic
heritage which contained the germs of Europe's systems of
representative
democracy, rule of law and equitable judicial procedure. The third and
best-known source of democracy is of course the direct democracy of
the
Greek city-states, and they too were pre-Christian and Pagan. By
contrast,
Christianity opposed democracy in principle, and this well into the
20th
century. The christianization of the
Odinic lands was largely effected through a deal between power-hungry
noblemen and the Church: the latter promised the former the
legitimation of
their concentration of powers (kingship by Divine Right) in exchange
for the
imposition of Christianity on the population. If Christianity
later, in its Protestant form, adopted more democratic structures
(what
Protestants call "sovereignty in one's own circle", though
still sharply limited by elements of Bible-centred theocracy), it is
no
coincidence that this took place in the Germanic lands where some of
the
ancient checks and balances in the power structure were still in
force.

Odinism was certainly not racist. Germanic settlers in new lands,
such as
the Franks in France, the Longobards in Italy or
the Vikings in Normandy or Sicily, always intermarried with locals and
adopted the local language and religion within at most two
generations.
Preservation of their racial and cultural identity was the least of
their
concerns. Likewise in their mythology, the different categories of
their
gods (Aesir,
Vanir, Giants) intermarried, e.g. Odin himself was the offspring of a
mixed
Ase-Giant union. For obsessions with racial purity, few religions
would be
more unfit than Odinism.

Then how come that some Odinic revivalists in the 19th and 20th
century have
been racists? Well, for the same reason many Christians and atheists
of
that period adopted racist views: these were part of the intellectual
fashions of the day. In its early phases, the budding science of
evolutionary biology made much of the race concept, accepted the idea
of
racial inequality and valued racial
purity. It is from this secular post-Enlightenment source that people
belonging to all kinds of religious tendencies borrowed racist ideas,
which
some of them tried to integrate into their respective religions. But
there
is absolutely no intrinsic connection between Odinism and racism.
That is
why, now that biology has outgrown this racism, most Odinists (i.e.
minus a
handful of mentally impaired individuals), like most
others, have followed suit; and why many Odinist websites now carry
explicit disclaimers that they will reject or expel any members found
to mix
their religion with racism. Those Odinists have chosen the difficult
and
thankless road of purifying their chosen religion from its distortive
recent
accretions all
while having to function under an
unrelenting bombardment with slanderous amalgamations such as the one
relayed by
Meera Nanda.

Nazi religious policy

It is a myth that Odinism was promoted by the Nazi regime. Hitler's
followers, even those who were actively anti-Christian, didn't replace
Christian items with Pagan ones, but with secular ones. You could say
that
they were forging a quasi-religion centred around secular icons: the
Führer
and the National-Socialist State. At oath-swearing ceremonies, they
replaced the Bible not with the Edda, but with Mein Kampf. In greeting
people, they replaced the religious salute "Grüss Gott" not
with "Grüss
Odin" or "Grüss Wotan" or so, but with "Heil Hitler". To confirm a
neophyte
as a Nazi, he had to touch not some Odinic religious object, but an
object
from Nazi party history, viz. the "blood flag" (Blutfahne), a textile
witness to the martyrdom of some young Nazis during the failed coup in
Munich in 1923. In Nazi school programmes, the slot usually reserved
for
Christian religion was not filled with Odinic religion, but with
secular
courses of "racial science".

Some Hindutva polemicists have adopted the thesis that Pius XII was
"Hitler's Pope", but that is nonsense. The Catholic Church greatly
feared
the religion-related developments in Nazi
Germany, even more so than the brutal oppression of religion in the
Soviet
Union. What it feared in Germany was not the rise of the long-defunct
Odinic religion, an eccentrics' hobby which nobody took seriously at
that
point, but a successful secularization policy. While long experience
showed
that brutal oppression could provoke a
pro-Christian reaction ("the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the
faith"), the Nazi policy was to gradually wean the youth away from
Christianity. For example, the Nazis didn't persecute priests as
such, but
when priests were put on trial for child abuse, they gave the scandal
maximum publicity, just as secularist papers in the West still do
today,
because that is a better way of undermining the moral authority of the
Church.

In many ways, Nazi secularization policy ran parallel to that of other
militantly secular states, such as Mexico and the
French Third Republic. But the Nazi state was more thorough: it tried
to
anchor the Germans' new commitment to the modern
secular ideology of National-Socialism deeper into their minds by
channelling their subconscious religious instincts through quasi-
religious
ceremonies, most impressively the party reunions at Nuremberg. These
were a
more elaborate version of the secular substitute rituals in
other secular states, e.g. the replacement of morning prayer with
a salute to the flag. It is very superficial to describe this
quasi-religious imagery, such as the Nuremberg light shows, as a
return to
the pre-Christian religion; and simply false to call it Odinism.

In the SS research department Ahnenerbe (Ancestral Heritage), a few
individuals were employed to study ancient religions. They were either
overspecialized bookworms or emotionally unstable eccentrics (hence a
few
puzzling suicides), and they were far
removed from Nazi policy-making centres. When you study their record,
you
find once more that there was nothing "deep" about the Nazi relation
with
Pagan religions, on the contrary. Consider e.g. Christopher Hale's
recent
book about the rumoured Nazi infatuation with Tibet: "Himmler's
Crusade: The
True Story of the 1938 Nazi Expedition into Tibet". For some four
hundred
pages, the reader is given good surveys of Nazi history, Tibetan
history,
the English-Tibetan-Chinese diplomatic interaction, the day-to-day
progress
of the German travellers in Tibet and their meetings with Tibetan
citizens,
with a few sexual asides. But in spite of the book's initial
promises, he
is waiting and waiting in vain for the
first revelation about those mystical insights which the SS
researchers
sought or found in Tibet. What Tantric-Buddhist secret powers did they
acquire? There was simply no such thing. At the end of their trip,
they
were elated to have seen so many swastikas around them on Tibetan
walls, and
to have discovered a Nordic streak in the specimens of the Tibetan
aristocracy whose skulls they had measured. Just some racist old hat,
nothing profound, nothing even remotely esoteric.

This, incidentally, does not keep some contemporary Christian
preachers in
Germany, where Buddhism is making big inroads, from claiming that
the Buddha was one of the evil influences on Hitler. Nor does it keep
pro-Chinese
Communists from alleging that the Dalai Lama is a Nazi stooge.
Imagined or
inflated Nazi connections are the perfect stick with which to beat any
chosen hate object. Ms. Nanda's discourse follows a well-established
pattern.

Friends, foes, and the Aryan invasion debate

To be sure, in polemical practice, any refutation of the amalgamation
of
neo-Paganism with racism
or Nazism is beside the point. When smear artists (and I don't know
if Ms.
Nanda is one, she may just be mindlessly copying a line of rhetoric so
common in her circle that she doesn't even realize how damaging it is)
introduce Nazi
associations into their story, their point is not to convince anyone
by
rational argument, merely to create a subliminal association which
will
exclude the targeted person or group from society. Once the N-word has
fallen, all rationality goes out the door and hysteria takes over.
Which is
one of the reasons why self-respecting
academic forums such as the one in Lund where Ms. Nanda read her
paper,
should subject such allegations to the most stringent standards of
proof
before allowing them to be read out at all.

By dropping the N-word, you don't just stop the thinking processes in
most
of your audience; if you're not careful, you also stop your own mind
from
functioning. This is apparently what has happened to Ms. Nanda when
she
launched her diatribe against the cleverly constructed chain
Hinduism-Paganism-Nazism. First of all, that chain of links wouldn't
prove
a Hindu-Nazi connection purely in logical terms. Secondly, once she
had
posited this link, this terribly "worse" thing she had promised to
reveal to
her audience, she ought to have reflected on what this would mean in
practice. How should a connection between Hindus and "neo-Nazis" work
out?
Would Hindus now join the "dot-busters", white racist thugs in New
Jersey
who attack Hindus identifiable by the tilak ("dot") between their
eyebrows?
Would neo-Nazis now join the Hindutva brigade in denouncing the
political
ambitions of "white elephant" Sonia Maino-Gandhi, daughter of an
Italian
fascist
militant?

Unlike neo-Pagans, neo-Druids, neo-Witches, neo-Odinists and such
people,
the neo-Nazis aren't too interested in religion as such or in Hinduism
specifically. It is *race* that makes them tick. Now, Hindus are
brown-skinned, they make up part of the immigrant population in
Europe and
North America, and as such they are very much disliked by neo-Nazis.
There
is only one possible item that might endear Hindus to neo-Nazis: the
theory that the "Aryan race" migrated from Europe into India and set
up a
racial apartheid system there, the caste system. This theory was a
cornerstone of the racist worldview incorporated into the Nazi
ideology.

Unfortunately, it is this very theory which many Hindus including the
accursed Hindutva activists have been polemicizing *against* for the
last
decade or so. They insist that the caste system doesn't have a racial
basis, that "Arya" never meant a race, that it purely referred to
Vedic
culture, that Vedic culture is native to India, that there never was
an
Aryan invasion. I don't know if they are right, but that certainly is
their
position. Indeed, from Ms. Nanda's earlier papers, I gathered the
impression that she herself includes this Aryan non-invasion theory
among
the items of crank science put out by those hare-brained
Hindutvavadis.

After the Aryan invasion debate became a big issue in the mid-1990s,
the
next development was
an illustration of an old law of life: opinions are not accepted or
rejected
because of whether they are true or not, but because of the company
with
which they associate us, and the company from which they separate us.
In
the anti-Hindu common front led by the Marxists, very few people have
the
scholarly competence to judge the question of the Aryan invasion or
non-invasion; but since the non-invasion theory is popular among the
Hindu
bad guys, all the "secularists" have fiercely united around the
opposite
theory. So, if the neo-Nazis want to make friends in India, they
should
address the Marxists and the Mullahs and the Missionaries, for it is
they
who fiercely uphold the cherished theory of the Aryan intrusion from
Europe
into India.

Universalism

Ms. Nanda insinuates the Pagan-Nazi
connection repeatedly: "What worry me are three things.
The long history of the Nazi and neo-Nazi involvement with occult and
paganism. Most people don't realize that the Nazism was a revolt
against
universalistic and secular elements of Christianity which the Nazis
ascribed to the influence of the Jews."

It is true that crackpot authors have made good money by
propagating "the
occult roots of Nazism". The secret Nazi base in Antarctica, Nazi
UFOs,
Nazi instrumentalization of
the energy in the spear which wounded Christ on the cross, all that
and many
other wonders fill the pages of their bestsellers. And it is equally
true
that various ideological groups including the Christian mission have
deemed
it in their own interest to pick up this line of propaganda, though
in a
trimmed and streamlined form to make it palatable to more serious
audiences.
Through this medium, the myth of Nazi occultism is now finding a
place even
in academic papers such as Ms. Nanda's. But that doesn't make it any
more
factual.

In an attempt to say something serious on this questionable basis,
Ms. Nanda
claims that "Nazism was a revolt against
universalistic and secular elements of Christianity". This is another
case
of "deep thinking", for Nazism defined itself as something simpler
and more
straightforward, viz. as a way of reviving Germany after the
humiliation of
the Versailles Treaty and the financial crisis through a strong state,
nationalistic policies (at the
expense of non-German peoples), and
socialism. Orthodox Marxists would agree that Nazism was the result of
socio-economic forces, not of occult mumbo-jumbo nor of metaphysical
disputes. But let that pass and let's focus on Ms. Nanda's "revolt".

Now that associating Paganism with the Devil doesn't scare
people anymore, Hitler is employed as the new Devil and a lot is
invested in
connecting him with Paganism. In this case, Christianity is presented
as
universalistic (disregarding the deep cleavage between saved
Christians and
hell-bound unbelievers, a profounder and more consequential division
of
mankind than anything taught by those accursed Pagans), Hitler and
Paganism
as anti-universalistic.
Universalism, by which is meant in this context the unity of the
human race
and the assumption that equal norms and equal rights apply to all men,
predates Christianity, vide e.g. Stoic philosophy, and was revived in
its
non-Christian form by the Enlightenment. Contrary to appearances, it
was
also widely present in Pagan religions, which were ethnic in fact but
often
universalistic in principle, i.e. they assumed the oneness of the
human race
but their ritiuals and symbolism didn't extend beyond a national or
linguistic community for merely
practical reasons. Typically, they recognized their own gods in other
peoples' pantheons, vide e.g. the "interpretatio Romana" of the Greek
gods:
Zeus = Jupiter, Athena = Minerva etc. To the extent that Christianity
was
universalistic, as distinct from the ethnocentrism of its parent
religion
Judaism, it was due to the influence from the ambient cosmopolitan
Pagan-Hellenistic culture. So, universalism didn't need
Christianity and
was a broader presence than Christianity. If at all the Nazis revolted
against the
dominant assumption of universalism, it was universalism they revolted
against, not just its alleged
Christian instance.

So let's not get caught in this wily attempt to present
Christianity and Nazism as opposite poles, universalistic vs. ethnic,
one of
the new lines of Christian
apologetics, though propagated here
under the guise of "secularism". It
is, for that matter, unclear what is meant by "secular elements of
Christianity", for the Christian religion is by definition a non-
secular
doctrine. Ms. Nanda says that Hitler ascribed this "secular element in
Christianity" to the Jews, yet another "deep-thinking" attempt to
present
Nazism and Christianity as polar opposites: when
Hitler "superficially"
railed against his Jewish arch-enemy, what he "really" targeted was
Christianity with its "secular" elements.

But to do justice to Mrs. Nanda's efforts, we might as well make a
mental
effort of our own to imagine what "secular elements of Christianity"
she
might be meaning. Apparently, she is tapping into a new line of
Christian
apologetics, parallel to the one outlined above on the monotheistic
"disenchantment of nature" which supposedly generated science.
According to
this new doctrine, Nazism was anti-egalitarian while Christianity or
its
monotheism was the
source of modern egalitarianism (the same argument is used in India
for
Islam). This, again, is contradicted by the facts.
Saint Paul emphatically affirmed the inequality of man and woman;
this is of
course nothing typically Christian, but it shows that modern notions
of
equality were lost on him. When he said that slaves and freemen, Jews
and
Greeks were all one in Christ, he didn't deduce that this supernatural
oneness should translate into a merger of Greeks and Jews or a
freeing of
the slaves, on the contrary: the worldly differences lose their
importance
and can therefore be accepted all the better, so the slaves should
draw
consolation from this oneness in Christ all while obeying their
masters.
The Church Fathers never questioned the institution of slavery, and
Christians practised slavery for most of their history, as did the
fellow
monotheists of Judaism and Islam, along with most Pagan societies.
Slavery
and racial inequality were justified with reference to the Bible and
to
Church teachings well into the 19th (US South) and even the 20th
century
(South African Apartheid). At the dawn of the modern age, *some*
Christians switched over to egalitarianism and abolitionism, but that
was
clearly under other influences than Christianity itself, which had
been
comfortable with feudalism, slavery and other inequalities as long as
it
reigned supreme.

Religion and hubris

Ms.
Nanda promises to deliver us the answer to the question "why this
attraction for the occult
and paganism", an attraction which she imputes to Nazism. And the
answer
is: "Local
gods are more blood and soil gods. Nature religions
allow their adherents a great deal of hubris."

To start with the
"blood and soil gods": no god could ever be more "blood and soil"-
minded
than the Biblical Jahweh, who gave His chosen people the soil of other
people's land, which they then were told to appropriate by means of
the most
complete genocide (apologists now claim that this episode is
unhistorical,
but that would imply the Bible's untrustworthiness, and it only
removes the
"genocidal God" from history but not from Biblical theology). He also
prohibited
them from intermarrying and ordained
the repudiation of foreign spouses and mixed progeny, all in order to
keep
their "blood" pure. No Jupiter or Odin or
Shiva ever matched Jahweh in this regard. And no contemporary "blood
and
soil"-minded politician would dare to propose anything this radical.

And how do "nature religions
allow their adherents a great deal of hubris"? The term "hubris"
stems from
the Greek Pagan religion, where it was the cardinal sin, illustrated
in
several myths about people struck by hubris and then meeting their
doom.
Christianity likewise considers hubris the cardinal sin, in fact the
original sin committed by Eve when she accepted the Snake's tempting
offer
of "becoming equal to God"; so there we seem to find some common
ground
between Christianity and Paganism. However, Christianity and Islam
tell
their adherents that they are the keepers of the One True Exclusive
Revelation and that unlike everyone else, they are entitled to an
eternal
paradise in the afterlife. Islam moreover tells the Muslims that they
are
entitled to worldly rule in this life, relegating all unbelievers to a
submissive second-class status at best. How should nature religions
manage
to impart even more hubris than that?

Here's how: "They feel they are acting in
accord with nature itself and don't have to obey either the positive
law of
the land, or the traditional ethics, all of which they see as merely
man-made law."

In Islam, there certainly is a powerful tendency which rejects
all "man-made
law" in favour of the Shari'a, deemed to have been imparted by Allah
Himself
through His final prophet. But in "nature religions"? What on earth
is she
talking about?! From the Stoics to the Daoists, numerous Pagan
religions
have taught the art of "living in accordance with nature". Indeed, the
"laws of nature" (Chinese *Dao*, Vedic *Rta*, Sanskrit *Dharma*,
Avestan
*Arta*, etc.) are a central concept to the ethics of most Pagan
traditions,
where people are expected to live in conformity with them. Saint
Thomas
Aquinas adopted this concept of "natural law" into Christian theology,
though Bible purists reject is as an innovation of Pagan origin. But
it is
total news to me that the Confucians or the Zoroastrians or any
serious Pagans I can think of, lived in defiance of "the law of the
land"
and of "the traditional ethics". By Jove, it was they themselves who
upheld
the traditional ethics. Even among modern neo-Pagan eccentrics,
admittedly
a scene where anyone can set up his own shop and make any wild claim,
such
offensive anarchism must be the exception rather than the rule.

Pro domo

From wild claims about religions, Ms. Nanda moves effortlessly towards
making wild claims about individuals: "It is this pagan connection
that has
brought people like Koenrard Elst,
David Frawley and many others in close collaboration with Hindu
nationalists."

This is a plain lie. It may not be Meera Nanda's own lie, she may
well have
borrowed it from some hearsay source which she chose to trust on no
better
basis than ideological proximity. But since it is she herself who has
chosen to repeat this lie in an academic forum and then propagate it
worldwide through the internet, she certainly must take
responsibility for
it. She should now apologize, not just to Frawley and to myself, but
also
to the organizers and participants in the Lund conference, for she has
wasted their valuable time and damaged the academic standing of the
gathering by presenting a paper marred by slander, political ulterior
motives and a false claim of expertise.

David Frawley has explained his ideological itinerary in detail in
his book
"How I Became a Hindu", easily available, where Meera Nanda could
have read
for herself that "neo-Paganism" as defined by her played no role at
all in
Frawley's discovery of Hinduism and of the school of thought of Ram
Swarup
and Sita Ram Goel. In fact, Frawley followed the then-typical path
from
parental Christianity through leftist hippyism to Hinduism. He has
devoted
a paper to showing how the so-called Hindu Right actually takes many
positions which in the West are associated with the Left.

My own story is very similar in its essentials. It is also available
in
cold print, though not as neatly summarized in one book, but
dispersed over
various interviews, papers and introductory book chapters. It is of
course
not my job to provide Ms. Nanda with a bibliography here: if she
thinks she
has to criticize me, it is up to her to locate and read my relevant
sayings
and writings. But to spare her the trouble, I will briefly provide the
information here.

Like Frawley, and like Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel decades earlier,
I too
have gone through a leftist phase. This has its uses, for it leaves a
certain familiarity with the dominant discourse and a certain
immunity to
being
fooled by late-Marxist moralizers; I can see through all their
tricks. Then
I
moved on to the New Age scene,
which Christians might denounce as "Pagan" but which was
ideologically a
very different world
from what is usually called neo-Paganism: globalistic vs. ethnic,
futuristic
vs. archaeological.
It was formally apolitical but implicitly camp-follower leftist, e.g.
my
friends and I participated in the demonstrations against the
placement of
American missiles in Europe in 1981-84. By age 26, in 1985, I had had
enough of
the superficiality and
flakiness of that scene, particularly of the sloppy thinking behind
such
concepts as "the profound unity between quantum physics and Eastern
mysticism", which has provoked Meera Nanda's ire too, and
the "essential
unity of all religions". That is a large part of the reason why I
went back
to university (I had dropped out earlier) to explore the sources and
earn
degrees in
Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. So, it was not from any New Age
leanings, but in reaction *against* them, that I decided to study
more solid
traditions such as Hinduism.

A visit to India was the next logical
step, and when I arrived, the Indian papers were full of the
controversy
over the ban on Salman Rushdie's book *The Satanic Verses*. To my
surprise,
many so-called "secularists", such as Khushwant Singh and M.J. Akbar,
supported the ban, which had been declared by the "secularist"
Congress
government. The more I learned about this Indian "secularism", the
more it
became clear to me that it was often the very opposite of what we in
the
West in genuinely secular states call "secularism".

Indeed, over the years I have had many a good laugh at the pompous
moralism
and blatant dishonesty of India's so-called secularists. Thus, in the
run-up to the
Pope's visit to Delhi in 1999, the secularists fell over each other
trying
to be the loudest and shrillest in denying the "vicious Hindutva
propaganda"
that the Catholic Church has as its stated goal to convert the whole
of
India (and the world) to its own belief system. Having been brought
up in a
Catholic family and Catholic schools, with missionaries in my family
and
among my parents' friends, I of course *knew* that all the social and
educational work proudly shown off by the missionaries and praised by
their
secularist allies is intended to aid the process of conversion.
So, once in Delhi, the Pope himself
declared in so many words that the christianization of Asia was "an
absolute
priority" and that he wanted to "reap a rich harvest of faith"
in India. He confirmed every Hindu suspicion and badly let his
secularist
fans down. In Europe, the Pope is
the scapegoat par excellence of militant secularists and atheists,
but in
India he is counted among the "secular" alliance, for he is anti-
Hindu and
that's the only qualification you need to earn the
label "secularist". To
the RSS, the secularists are accomplices of the anti-national
forces, of Pakistan and the terrorists. That is not incorrect, but to
me,
they are first of all a bunch
of clowns.

Once I had seen through the secularists, it was only logical that I
would go and make my acquaintance with the people whom they always
denounced
with such holy indignation. To see for myself if those ugly Hindu
monsters
were
really all that ugly. After reading the book "History of
Hindu-Christian Encounters", I sought out its author, and that's how
I met
Sita Ram Goel. Come to mention him, I found that in moral stature
and depth of scholarship, he completely dwarfed the Stalinist "eminent
historians" and other icons of "secularism". Which is why I frown
when I
see ignorant upstarts like Meera Nanda berate a towering
personality like Goel.

In any case, by the time I discovered Hindu revivalism, in autumn
1989, I
had had no
contact with any form of neo-Paganism at all. It is only in the mid-
1990s
that I took an interest in European
neo-Paganism, partly on Ram Swarup's advice. It was clear to me from
day
one that I was never going to take the Pagan revivalist project very
seriously, at least less so than the continuous ancient traditions
still
flourishing in India and other Asian countries. To be sure, I accept
the
principle that religions which have been murdered deserve a second
chance;
it's only that the actual result didn't impress me very much. They are
still very young and only time will tell what their hoped-for
thinkers and
seers will
make of them, but for now at least, I found them lacking a dimension
of
systematic spiritual practice, as anyone will notice who can contrast
them
with Daoism, Buddhism or Hinduism. So I limited
my involvement to contributing articles to some neo-Pagan papers, for
writing happens to be
what I do.

This included pieces on pre-Islamic Arab Paganism, on attempts
by the Berbers to shake off the Arab-Islamic imposition, on
Zoroastrianism
(with which Arab travellers in Europe identified Germanic Paganism,
both
being "fire worship") and similar "orientalistic" themes which
sounded quite
exotic to the mostly Heimat-oriented neo-Pagans. It gave me the
opportunity to go against some of the cherished beliefs in that
scene, e.g.
to explain why seemingly "ethnic" religions were in fact only
organizationally ethnic but doctrinally universalistic, so that in
their
present second incarnation they should not be used as props for ethnic
movements. Or to relativize the purported environmentalism and
proto-feminism of the ancient religions. Or to shake my head in
disbelief
when an American Odinist group became a party in the lawsuit over the
"Kennewick man", a skeleton deemed to be proof that
Caucasians had
reached America before the Mongoloids who form the "Native American"
population (he was too early to be Germanic
or even Indo-European-speaking, and too far away). I think Ms.
Nanda would have agreed with me on many of the
points I made there; in better circumstances, we might have become
friends.

My writing provided me with a very good vantage point to see what
really
animates the neo-Pagan movement, for it elicited a lot of feedback
from
insiders, both supportive and hostile. The end of the story was that
my
preachy counterpoints got on the nerves of some neo-Pagan
practitioners, and
I gave up active involvement in the scene in 1998. I have also never
participated in any of the
meetings of the various embryonic attempts at creating a "Pagan
international", whether the Pagan Federation, the World Council of
Ethnic
Religions or the World Council of the Elders of the Ancient
Traditions and
Cultures. But I wish them all the best, for they consist mostly of
nice
people and I can easily see through the
attempts by so-called secularists to blacken them and to deny to
them the right to international networking which is deemed only
natural in
the case of Christians or Muslims.

Since Ms. Nanda makes one reference to the magazine "Hinduism Today",
she
might have noticed a lengthy article there by me (ca. 1999) about the
differences
between Hinduism and neo-Paganism. My point was to explain why Hindus
who
get to know the neo-Pagan scene might soon feel disappointed. The
article
contains some of the criticisms mentioned above, and some others, of
the
neo-Pagan scene in actual practice. If she had read at least that
article
and taken it into account in her own paper, she could have saved
herself the
embarrassment of the present reply.

At any rate, neo-Paganism has played no role whatsoever in my
discovery of
Hindu revivalism. The question remains why Meera Nanda chose to make
this
false claim. Was she relying on her telepathic powers again? In that
case,
she should realize now that telepathy is a very inexact method of
acquiring
knowledge about people's motives. She had done better to consult my
writings, or if necessary even to contact me directly. I don't mind
discussing this matter, for there is nothing shameful about the day
when I
saw through the usual hateful misrepresentation of "Hindu chauvinism",
meaning Hindu self-defence
against the aggression by so-called "secular" religions and
ideologies.
There is nothing shameful about my outgrowing silly beliefs such as
the
still-widespread belief in India's mock secularism. So I wouldn't have
minded telling Ms. Nanda all about it. But perhaps she was afraid
that my
first-hand account would spoil a good story?

Hate and how to outgrow it

There are many more points in Ms. Nanda's paper which I hope to
discuss in a
more formal manner soon, but for now I will conclude with an
observation on
what
seems to be her sincere declaration of interest. Among the points that
"worry" her, she mentions this as the final one: "The more prominence
Hinduism gets abroad, even for wrong reasons like the
new age and paganism, the more prestige it gains in India." Here, she
really lays her cards on the table. It is very good that, unlike many
other
"secularists", she does not try to be clever and claim to speak
for "true
Hinduism" against a "distorted Hinduism" of the Hindu revivalists.
Instead, she clearly targets Hinduism itself, deploring any
development
which might make Hinduism "gain prestige". She hates Hinduism, and her
academic work is written in the service of that hatred.

To me, that is not the end of the matter. As a Catholic, I was taught
never
to give up hope, one of the great
Christian virtues along with faith and charity. And under the
influence of
Socrates, I understand that deplorable attitudes are merely the
result of
ignorance. So, I don't despair and I look forward to the day when
Meera
Nanda will go out and acquaint herself in person with some of the
people she
has now been slandering. Once she comes to know more about her
subject-matter, she may reconsider her opinion.

(6 August 2004)

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