Dr Rowan Williams has presided over the last decade in his position as the Archbishop of the main established religion of the nation when the Church saw much positive interaction with the minority religions. For Hindus it has been a very fruitful experience as generally the Anglicans have, in my opinion, moved towards a more pluralistic respect.
Indeed Dr Williams recent book, ‘Faith in the Public Square’ shows in his own words, almost as his own journey, towards a more pluralistic approach to Faith. I thought what could be more appropriate than reviewing his book as a tribute to his years in high office.
“Faith In The Public Square runs a central theme of ‘Religious Pluralism‘ which, as a Hindu, I find very refreshing. Religious Pluralism is of course a central tenet of all the religions emanating from India and the Author, the Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams captures how it is entwined with India’s history, both ancient and modern. On Independence in 1947, India chose to define its democracy by what Dr Williams refers to as ‘Procedural Secularism‘ as opposed to the ‘Pragmatic Secularism‘ of say France. Pragmatic Secularism is failing since ‘public reason and private prejudice‘ is no way of exploring our real differences where reason gets actually suppressed. On the other hand Procedural Secularism works as it gives space to all ideologies without allowing one to dominate the other. Indeed such a position has its roots in religion itself, the Kingdom that Jesus referred to.
The dominant view of the majority vote, Dr Williams argues, may not be a state of Truth, although it may be legal, at a given point in time and here we need to address the moral questions that go beyond the majority vote. Democracy is not just about representing the demographics and the State’s institutions but it must also allow space for intellectual thought however marginal it otherwise may be.
The book goes onto defend religious tradition as a base for the more modern idea of spirituality â€“ ‘I am spiritual not religious‘ – and compares it to ‘Post Religious Consciousness‘. This spiritual intelligence perceives the inter-connectedness of things, the entire Cosmos, where we simply ought to act responsibly with each other but Dr Williams argues that there is something missing of something sacred, which must be beyond this inter-connectedness Cosmos, beyond our minds. If I may be allowed to add that the law of Karma works exactly like that through this same interconnectedness but one that has a ‘moral’ underpinning, of a sacred design, a divine system, created by the transcendental Brahman, except for a small difference where moral judgements are meted out momentarily not at some point in the future, albeit their effects may fructify at some time in future.
Multiculturalism is not a static phenomenon of each culture leading to its own comfort zone, rather it is an evolving hybrid as one affects the other, through inter-cultural debate, it is argued. If in the short term one culture does recede into a pocket of its own making then the State has to act to bring forth greater integration. Likewise religious pluralism, however much it may be self-regulating, there will be times when the State would need to provide a direction towards a religious pluralism that becomes ‘inter-active’, or what we now refer to as ‘inter-faith’.
I remember almost a decade ago when Dr Williams gave a faith lecture at No.10 Downing Street he was rather uncomfortable about the idea of relativism in Christianity, which I later confessed to him was quite intrinsic in our Hindu religious pluralism. It seems to me that Dr Williams has had a very fruitful journey over the last decade as he now states in this book, ‘Religious Pluralism might be understood in a fresh way that will not simply leave us with relativism‘. Religious Pluralism requires that no religion can claim a full and final truth but that all have some common ground to work from. Indeed if I may add for a Hindu the Absolute Truth can only be ‘experienced’ as otherwise the ‘truth claim’ remains a faith conviction only among many others.
Pandit Nehru’s procedural secularism of unifying ‘inter-connected differences‘ in a diverse but pluralistic India, Dr Williams suggests a similar model for adoption across India’s borders and beyond, I am sure even for the new Arab democracies.”
However as a footnote, what with the current turmoil in India with its rape cases abound I dare say Nehru’s procedural secularism has gone far beyond what it was set out to be by Mahatma Gandhi who wanted it to include all religions on a more pluralistic backdrop. India’s current secularism has even surpassed France’s pragmatic secularism where Dharmic tenets in all Indian institutions have been replaced in my view by fear. Hopefully India’s traditions will come to its rescue sooner or later.
We wish the best to Dr Rowan Williams in his future endeavours.
Anil Bhanot OBE
Hindu Council UK 31 December 2012.