When John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801 – 1851), Law Member of the Governor General’s Council, established Kolkata’s first school for girls ‘Hindu Female School’ in 1849, which later came to be known as Bethune College, with a motive to impart education to women and to eradication of social evils, he would not have even in his wildest of dreams imagined that this very same institution is going to pronounce a new religious option to its students by a women principle in the year 2019.
Bethune College has taken a noticeable step in its undergraduate admission process this year. In the form for admission, the option to enter your religion now prescribes an option called ‘Humanity’ as the first preference above all other religions. And suddenly all the liberal media houses went euphoric about this adventure of the Bethune College. It seems like they have found the solution of religion.
“We have realised that some students are reluctant to mentioning their religion in the admission form. We appreciate their views as we feel that ‘Humanity’ is the true religion of mankind. So we have deliberately kept this category in the religion section.” said Mamata Ray, principal of Bethune College.
The above statement is a clear reflection that to give students the option of ‘Humanity’ as a religion is completely of the Bethune college administration. Hence, the realization that the humanity is a better religion above all and a possible substitute to eliminate all the vices of other religion, is also of the Bethune college administration.
Now the question is if we consider Humanity as the religion will it be in true sense solve our entire societal problem posed by the other established religions? And whether this new religion will be free from all the vices of old religion? Let us examine.
Humanity as a Religion
This debate to consider Humanity as a religion is not new. Auguste Compte in mid of 19th century after expounding his five volumes of ‘positive philosophy’ concluded that the world could be redeemed only by a new religion. He said the function of this new religion should be to nourish and strengthen the feeble altruism of human nature by exalting ‘Humanity’ as the object of a ceremonial worship.
Compte spent his old age devising for this new ‘Religion of Humanity’ an intricate system of priesthood, sacraments, prayers and discipline; and proposed a new calendar in which the names of pagan deities and medieval saints should be replaced by the heroes of human progress. Summarizing his effort, the famous historian of philosophers Will Durant concludes that Compte offered the world all the Catholicism except Christianity.
Yuval Noah Harari, who has written his famous celebrated piece on the History of Mankind in the year 2011, argues that today religion is often considered a source of discrimination, disagreement and disunion. Yet, in fact, religion has been the third great unifier of humankind, alongside money and empires. Religions assert that our laws are not the result of human caprice, but are ordained by an absolute and supreme authority. And in turn it provides social stability to the fragile imagined social order and hierarchies.
He further defines religion as a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order. Slowly with the advent of science and preeminence of reasoning in all the walks of life often depicted as an age of growing secularism, theist religions have increasingly lost their importance. Then he further argues that all other secular ideologies such as liberalism, Communism, Capitalism, Nazism etc. have emerged as new natural law religions. He explained the root philosophy of such humanist religions as:
“Theist religions focus on the worship of gods. Humanist religions worship humanity, or more correctly Homo sapiens. Humanism is a belief that Homo sapiens has a unique and sacred nature, which is fundamentally different from the nature of all the other animals and all other phenomena. Humanists believe that the unique nature of Homo sapiens is the most important thing in the world, and it determines the meaning of everything that happens in the universe. The supreme good is the good of Homo sapiens. The rest of the world and all other beings exist solely for the benefit of this species.”
Isn’t it sounds familiar to the philosophy of Abrahamic traditions with only subtraction of supernatural God? Do we really need such self centric religion where all the other beautiful or beastly creatures of the universe will have no place? Do we want to declare human species as a ‘Collective God’ of the universe?
Harari went on further and even classified the Humanist Religions which worship Humanity in three broad categories as per their definition of Humanity. Liberal humanism, where ‘Humanity’ is individualistic, Socialist humanism, where ‘Humanity’ is collective and reside within the species and at last, Evolutionary humanism, where ‘Humanity’ means to encourage its evolution into superhumans (Nazism). So, the differences will still remain as per various interpretations of Humanity and hence the very purpose for which Humanity is being pushed as a religion is not going to be fulfilled rather it will create more confusion and conflict among the students and then within the society itself.
Decoding the Euphoria
There is an Italian ungracious proverb, ‘Tanto buon che val niente’ which means “So good that he is good for nothing.” An attempt to create a new religion of humanity is exactly an effort in the same direction and just an overreaction of an excessively reasoned and fearful mind. Kant was right in his conclusion that reasoning and faith both has to calibrate and balance each other. Both have their own drawbacks and benefits.
The writings of Spinoza (17th Century European Philosopher) on Ethics, Religion and the State caused a significant uproar in the then powerful lot of believers. Civil authorities prohibited its sale. People started writing letters and volumes refuting the doctrines of Spinoza, intended to reform him!
Spinoza in his epic reply to one of his critique, Albert Burgh, a converted catholic from Jews, had brilliantly used the same phraseology and ideas through which his critique had chosen to refute him. He replied:
“You who assume that you have at last found the best religion, or rather the best teachers, and fixed your credulity upon them, how do you know that they are the best among those who have taught religions, or now teach, or shall hereafter teach them? Have you examined all those religions, ancient and modern, which are taught here, and in India, and all the world over? And even supposing that you have duly examined them, how do you know that you have chosen the best?”
Spinoza analyzed motive and object behind the Religious Sacred writings as well, “All Scriptures was written primarily for an entire people, and secondarily for the whole human race; ….. Its object is not to convince the reason, but to attract and lay hold of the imagination…..”
Obviously, he was elucidating the purpose and motives of such writings while assessing the books which give rise to a religion. They all have been written at one particular time, for one particular set of human population and then it is being supposed to be universally applicable for the entire human race. However, my objection is not for the imposition of such universal religious commandments to the entire human race, though it should be, as this is the main reason behind intolerance & non-acceptance for others.
The chief fallacy of such book is Religions are mainly because of their human-centric approach of God and Religion. Such Scriptures which claim to beholden of all goods to be followed by the sermon of God cannot only concern about ‘Humans’. This universe is made up of myriads of living and non-living entities which are continuously interchanging their forms among them, which we may call as ‘Nature’ cumulatively. The God, who is master of all, must have care for all by his rules and order. A messenger of God cannot give sermons which is only human-centric and for the benefits of human civilization only.
Veer Savarkar in his famous essay “Conceptualising God” has brilliantly expounded this fallacy of The “God of Humans” v/s The “God of the universe”. He argues:
“..This ideology, this concept of “The God of humankind” creating the universe specially for the survival and prosperity of Humankind could indeed have proved truthful and correct – if and only if everything, every being and all conditions in this world would have been only helpful, pleasant, beneficial and useful to humankind…..”
As we all know the conceptual base of God & Religion of medieval Western world is entirely different from ancient Greek, Egyptian and Eastern belief system. For example in the practice of Bharatiya Darshan, ‘Dharma’ has predominance over sectarian belief system or dogmas and hence never relied on one book only. Most importantly Dharma, which has been confused with the Religion by the Orientalists, has been even found and existed for all the natural entities including non living creatures, which are also highly revered and regarded in the eastern philosophies and scriptures. Like, the Dharma of Agni, Dharma of River, Dharma of a beast, father, mother, son, thieves etc. It ponders upon the rules of the universe as a whole, for its subsistence and sustainable process and places importance to every creature almost equivalent to Humans.
The intellect of ancient civilizations, philosophers and eastern Religions were never limited to human centric approach as of our modern religions full of human greed and ego to satisfy their own purpose even while imagining God.
The Human-centric approach and excessive emphasis on the concept of Humanity is also faulted with the same. In effect, it is just a new evangelical tactics in the guise of Humanity to propagate the same medieval dogmas of human-centric approach and worldview. As it places human benefit and welfare above all the natural entities and the law governing our universe, hence we see predominance to such practices which is prejudicial to the interest of animals, plants, environment, and ecology and at the end against the stability and sustainability of the earth itself.
The excessive favoritism for the interest of human and hence humanity, if not balanced with the interest and right of all other entities existing in the universe, then it would eventually lead human civilization and earth towards the catastrophe.
The concept of humanity has only relevance while dealing between other fellow human beings. The Humanity doesn’t tell us how to behave with the natural resources and other creatures of the universe, how to achieve spiritual growth and most importantly the purpose of the human life itself. It simply expects us to behave with other humans as we expect for us. It has an inherent bias for the human species itself. The question is still the same. Whether a religion which has inherent bias and design to favor fellow human first qualifies to be called as religion of universe? Isn’t this doctrine and philosophy by adopting humanity as religion is considering humans as the God itself?
The concept of humanity has been devised by our society to end the discrimination among us; to end the exploitation of one tribe of human species by the others. A feeling or emotional connect that other person also belongs to my same species. That’s it. Giving it a form of Religion is just an indirect method of making available the medieval doctrine of Abrahamic religions, in our era of reasoning and scientific temper, in a new form excluding the character of messenger and God from its core commandments.
Now coming to the present day debate where a college is enlisting humanity as a religion, as Bethune college has done. If Bethune college is asserting its progressive outlook then one may ask a simple question; what purpose will it serve for the college collecting religious identity of its prospective students, why is it necessary at all to disclose religious identity in college application form? What is the definition of Humanity as a religion for the college? Isn’t religion is a personal choice and has no relevance while deciding the merit of the college admission form of a student?
The progressive outlook would be by removing the column of religion itself from the application form if the students were reluctant to disclose their religious identity. To add another brand of opium, as Bethune College has done, in the market of religion is certainly not a great idea. Though it may appear progressive but propagating Humanity as a religion has its own bias towards western religious doctrines of universalism and against the ethos of our pluralistic belief system. This craze for Humanity may be a better option for western societies as an alternative for their medieval Abrahamic religions but not for Indian pluralistic society. Humanity should be a social and political philosophy but giving it a color of religious philosophy would be an injustice for the concept of humanity as well as for the notion of religion itself.