Secularization and world views

To begin with the question raised in `The Heathen in his blindness: Asia, the West and the dynamic of religion’: Do all cultures, peoples, and individuals need a world view to navigate themselves in the world? The answer is in the negative because religion is not a cultural universal and the only examples we have of world views are religions.

Are the atheists, free thinkers, and people ignorant of religious doctrines of Christianity (in the West) also religious? This question has a positive answer because of the process of secularization of religion. In this sense, keeping in mind that the process of secularization is how a religion attempts to transcend its constraints, the atheists etc. in the west do have a Christian world view. This means the following: they accept the doctrines of a de-Christianized Christianity and, for these to be continually transmitted and make sense to those who accept them, this religion requires to be present in the background (and is subject to secularization movement). That is to say, we can identify elements of a Christian world view in the west, and we can do that only because that religion is present in the culture. We need to keep in mind that these beliefs are part of a world view only because such a world view is present in that culture.

However, when these elements from a Christian world view migrate to non-religious cultures, then such elements cease being parts of a world view (because such a world view is not present in the other culture). Instead they now belong to certain domain theories, each of which is a partial description of a slice of the world. However, they also lose their intelligibility in the process: their intelligibility arises because they are parts of a world view. The need for `secularism’, to take but one example, makes sense only in a culture where religion claims to be the truth about the world. In the absence of such claims, the `need for secularism’ loses its intelligibility, becomes a mantra and is incapable of further development and elaboration.

To continue with the same example. It is important to bear in mind that this claim is a part of normative political theory, even in the West. However, it is also more. (In the same way religion is also more than a world view.) This additional `something’ is the fact that this claim is part of a world view; this `something’ is needed for it to make sense and thus capable of theoretical (or disguised theological) development. That is to say: the need for secularism and toleration is a part of Christian theology and that is why it is capable of development and elaboration. This Christian theology has gone secular and that is why the claim is capable of relatively autonomous development in the form of a theory. However, what enables such a development at all is that it makes sense. It makes sense because such a claim is a part of some religion. (In other words, de-Christianized Christianity can take hold and spread if and only if Christianity is present in the culture.)

`Secular’ thinking people in the West (freethinkers, atheists, etc) believe that they have a world view. When pressed to say what it is, they come up with claims from several domain theories (like, say, the need for secularism and religious toleration). We can understand the situation now. Religion can also be described as a world view. These claims make some `deep’ sense because they are parts of the world view (only because of that do they make sense). However, these `secular’ people think that they are not religious. Therefore, they cannot identify their world view (religion under another description; they are not believers and thereforeā€¦). Thus, they come up with claims that appear to belong to domain theories (`all human beings are equal’). When you draw their attention to this fact, they are both convinced that such claims belong to their world views and yet they cannot refute the fact that such claims belong to partial descriptions of slices of the world. Hence the unease.

This gives us a complex description of the `secular’ people in the west. They are not `religious’ (i.e. they are not believers). They have a religious world view (that is, they are disguised believers). The beliefs they adhere to are secularized religious beliefs (de-Christianized Christianity). These beliefs make sense only because they are part of a Christian world view (Christianity under another description). Because these beliefs are part of a network of Christian theology, they are heuristically productive to the intellectuals in the West. (That is, they make `deep sense’.) Yet, the elaborations of these beliefs into theories make these theories into partial descriptions of slices of the world. (That is how they migrate to non-religious cultures.) However, within the west these `theories’ do not lose their bond with theology. (Hence the reason why whenever people in the west are asked to describe their `world views’, they come up with more or less the same set of claims.) And so on. We can make the situation richer and even more complex by adding the insights we gain through a study of the western culture.

In order to build a theory about world views, we first need to come to grips with the process of secularization of Christianity in the West. That is what we are working on. At the moment, we have a richer understanding of this process than I had when I wrote `The Heathen in his blindness: Asia, the West and the dynamic of religion’. We are now able identify, for instance, that religious violence is a necessary component of the process of secularization; we also know that religious conversion necessarily involves religious violence. We think that the Protestant reformation has its roots in the process of secularization of Catholic Christianity (and it merely took the form of a religious schism) and has less to do with the `disagreement’ at the level of religious beliefs. (Of course, this stance is going to rewrite the history of Protestantism and is at odds with the received wisdom of the last six hundred years.) And so on.

In other words, the tenth chapter merely outlines a hypothesis that allows us to study the history of the western culture without getting lost in the textured and rich details that any chronicle of the past is. At the same time, it also allows us to come to grips with the nature of the Indian intellectuals, the reasons for their barren reception of western theories and such like.