Secularized Christian theme: Hacker’s inclusivism and exclusivm

1. When we consider  Paul Hacker’s story on ‘inclusivism as a typically Indian thought form’, all we can conclude is that he has used a typically Christian  thought form to understand an aspect of the Indian cultural traditions, which he is unable to understand because it is completely different from what he knows. Hacker’s inclusivism is merely an attempt to strip the following Christian account from its recognizably Christian characteristics: “When God created man he inscribed him with a sense of divinity, and when it is not corrupted this sense is the true religion. Throughout human history the devil and his minions corrupted this sense of divinity into false religion or worship of the devil among all human peoples. Until the good Lord brought mankind back to the true religion by revealing himself in Jesus Christ. Thus, Christianity is the one true religion. It is the message of self-disclosure in which God reveals his Will for the universe to the humankind. Of course, all other traditions contain traces of divine revelation, but these are nothing but the preparation of the Gospel. Once the true religion was revealed again, all non-Christian traditions could be nothing but pale and erring variants of Christianity.” Now Hacker has merely taken this Christian conceptual scheme to make sense of the attitude the Indian traditions take towards other traditions. Although it happens unconsciously most of the time, this is the basic method of Indology: one looks at the Indian traditions, and the only way to make sense of them is to make them fit into a conceptual framework of secularized Christian theology.

2. The previous Christian account shows how far Christianity can go in allowing truth to other cultural traditions. They contain traces of divine revelation, but these are hidden in a corrupted and convoluted pattern of idolatry. Christianity cannot go any further, precisely because it is a religion. As a religion, it claims to be the revelation of God’s will. As God’s will governs the universe, there can only be one God with one will. And as there can be only one doctrine that fully conveys God’s will to humankind, there can only be one true religion. All other traditions have to be either heresy (false worship of the true God) or idolatry (worship of the false god). Now, it is only within such a theological framework, which Christianity shares with Islam and Judaism, that the question about the truth of religions becomes of supreme importance.

3. When we compare this to the non-religious or non-semitic pagan traditions, it is obvious that they take a completely different attitude towards other traditions. They do not think one traditions is the one true revelation of the one true God. Rather, they see all of these as essentially human traditions which are part of a search for truth (or knowledge or enlightenment). From the Roman Religio to Tibetan Buddhism to Kashmiri Shaivism, these traditions consider themselves and other traditions as a set of ancestral practices which makes a certain community into a community. They are considered to be different paths toward the same goal (as Gandhi put it), or different practical systems in a search for truth (as Q.A. Symmachus put it). Here, the question of true and false religion does not arise, since truth and falsity cannot be ascribed to different sets of ancestral practices. It would be a category mistake to do so. That is, the question ‘Is Tibetan Buddhism or Roman Religio or Kashmiri Shaivism true?’ does make as much sense as the question ‘Do green ideas sleep furiously’?

4. The problem is that we are today living in an intellectual world that is colonized by the theoretical framework of secularized Christian theology, as Indologists like Prof. Hacker show. We have learned to look at the Indian traditions as though they are religions which can be true or false. In fact, we have learned to think of these traditions as pale and erring variants of the Christian religion. Unfortunately, this ‘we’ includes the Indian intellectuals. They also conceptualize their traditions as religions or doctrinal systems, while they are really practical systems. As different people on this thread point out, the resulting confusion surfaces in the writings of thinkers like Gandhi and Vivekananda. On the one hand, these thinkers repeat the typically pagan stories about other traditions: ‘All traditions are paths to the same goal.’ On the other hand, they have learned to think and talk in the Christian terminology, and they say that ‘all religions are true’.

5. Some more complexity is added, because it is very difficult if not impossible for pagans to understand the Christian claim to be the true religion. How can these Christians think that their account about Jesus Christ being God’s revelation is the true doctrine or religion? How can they expect all other human traditions to adopt this doctrine? Of course, these pagan traditions admit, the story about Jesus Christ is impressive and he must certainly have been a good man, but why should we dispose of all our stories and practices and accept the Christian account, just because they think they are right and we are wrong. This attitude toward the truth claims of Christianity also explains why thinkers like Gandhi and Vivekanandan often expressed their displeasure with the Christian religion and its missionary zeal. They thought Christianity was inferior precisely because it could not allow other traditions as valid paths toward enlightenment.

6. Here we can come to Akbar’s din-i-ilahi. As he emerged from the Islamic tradition but was imbibed with the attitudes of the Indian traditions, a strange mixture came into being in Akbar’s thought (not that strange: similar attitudes can be found in contemporary Indian Islam and Indian Christianity). On the one hand, he thought that all human traditions were religions – including the ancestral practices of the pagan traditions. Therefore, he must also to some extent have thought that Islam was the true religion, i.e., the one full revelation of the one true God. On the other hand, however, he had adopted the Indian attitude that sees different traditions as different paths toward the same goal. Therefore, he wanted to include all of these paths in the true religion. The result is his project to create a universal religion that included all traditions as the revelation of Allah. Thus, din-i-ilahi was born.