Hinduism, Environmentalism and the Nazi Bogey

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

(12 August 2004)

The present essay is a somewhat lengthy yet essentially off-the-cuff reply to a recent paper by Meera Nanda: "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. Ms. Nanda has recently been positioning herself in academic and Marxist media as an expert on Hindu nationalism's relation to various "postmodern" ideologies.  When I read some of her papers in late 2003 and found the topic not without importance, I forthwith started to write a reply, 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 it remains on my agenda. Meanwhile, my attention was drawn to several mentions of my own name in the Lund instalment of her continuing story.  The claims she makes there about my own position are factually wrong and seem to be 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". That is why I quickly wrote the following reaction, in expectation of the completion of my comment on her more general presentation of the Hindu-postmodernist interface.  In the process, I had to go into a few related themes by way of background to my comments on her references to me.

It is not contrived to describe Meera Nanda as a Marxist scholar.  She works within a Marxist conceptual framework, relies on 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.  As a writer on Hinduism who does not join the "secularist" hate wave against it, I have found that one gets used to hearing morality lessons from a school of thought that has no compunctions about associating with the biggest crime of the 20th century. But I'll concede that Ms. Nanda's general approach constitutes a very original contribution to the debate on Hinduism and secularism, distinctly more interesting than the usual Marxist fare.

The second item in her 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 how 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.

Ecology, religion and Nazi secularism

Ecology can perfectly exist without religion.  This is illustrated by the non-religious discourse of action groups like Greenpeace, but a more remarkable 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, nowadays often heard in Hindu and New Age circles, that "reverence towards nature encourages wise use of nature", as Meera Nanda summarizes it all while rejecting it.  The utilitarian 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 from his writings he appears as a typical example of those millions of ex-Christians who felt cheated when they remembered the fairy-tales told to them in catechism, and who were determined not to give any more quarter to religious mumbo-jumbo. Like the French Revolutionaries, he tried to remove religious references from the agricultural calendar and replace them with references to the seasonal cycle, apart of course from the political references, i.e. to the high points in German or Nazi history. Instead of gods and metaphysics, hard material realities should be the bedrock of national policy, most basically genetic ethnicity and national territory, or "blood and soil", a slogan which Darré is credited with launching.

The stated justification and ultimate reference for his agricultural schemes was "science", just like he presented his hard-line racism as "racial science".  Which is why at the same time, the Nazis also had this in common with India's poor, that they were "not technology-averse", on the contrary.  Bourgeois ecology romantics might dislike technological innovation, but the Nazis were enthusiastic modernists. From their armchairs, distant camp-followers of the Nazis could infuse 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, from the Pharaohs to Ibn Khaldun, from Herodotos to Shakespeare, people had certain ideas about racial traits and they often believed in 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.

 

Reincarnation, race and environmentalism


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, in spite of some Hindu attempts to read the notion back into the ancient most scriptures (not unlike similar attempts by New Agers to read reincarnation into early Christian doctrine). 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, not so much because of all the nonsensical and inhumane implications which believers in East and West have attached to it (e.g. the Dutch interbellum mystic Jozef Rulof's proposal that being born handicapped was a punishment for sexual perversions in a past life), for even the truth could have unwise followers; but because I find it logically unconvincing as well as unsupported by hard evidence. However, 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 hope I am not doing injustice to Ms. Nanda by reducing her position here to the standard Marxist approach, but I am not surprised to find a Marxist bypassing the truth question and merely expressing her ideological disgust at "the obnoxious theory of reincarnation and karma". (Incidentally, this makes me wonder whether she would repeat that if her reincarnationist subject-matter was Buddhist rather than Hindu. For classical Marxists this would have been no problem, but in the contemporary secular-Marxist mythology, Buddhism is always depicted as a "revolt against Hinduism" and contrasted with it as good against evil.)  It is only a cursory passage in a lengthy argumentation, so we should not complain of a lack of completeness. But as a suggestion for the day when she attempts a fuller treatment, we may observe that she has overlooked an important egalitarian or "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. Not that believers with racist inclinations wouldn't be able to contrive ways around this simple logic, but at least those who take the anti-egalitarian implications of the karma theory for granted ought to realize that a different interpretation is possible and actually more consistent.

Meanwhile, 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 reincarnation 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, in trying to protect trees, women tie rakhi-s, the auspicious red threads which sisters tie around their brothers' wrists on the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan, around these trees.  You can imagine the robust Nazis laughing at this instance of sentimental Indian superstition, so revealing of the child-like minds of "mud people". As if the trees are these Hindu women's 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", 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 the secularists never express any objection to this massive nationwide intrusion of religion into education at vast taxpayers' expense, not even when one of them is inflaming her audience against the participation of Hindu organizations in state-funded environmental policies.


The problem with monotheism

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

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.  Not that exceptional, for at the time of Anglo-Christian imperialism, the Sikhs and even many Hindu revivalists 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, I would think 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 soft-brains who (in Mahatma Gandhi's footsteps) never believed a Muslim cleric when he made a fanatical statement against the infidels and who therefore "corrected" him that the "real Islam" would "never condone such fanaticism". Or that Islam is "in reality" opposed to terrorism and Partition, that the Prophet was all for religious pluralism "at heart", and that the Quran "if read properly" prohibits temple destruction.  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.

The next one among the errors in this paragraph: Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel wrote in defence of Hinduism, never of "Hindutva".  The latter term was coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923, and though some contemporary RSS middle cadres try to push it as a synonym and replacement of "Hinduism", Savarkar himself had explicitly written that the two are not synonyms; in practical terms, "Hindutva" is a synonym of "Hindu nationalism", an ideology and behind that also a national sentiment, but not a religion in any usual sense of the word. "Hindutva" was the banner of the Hindu Mahasabha and was 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 vis-à-vis 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". This suggests that all while criticizing me, she has never read any publication of mine (just as a Harvard professor's faulty rendering of one of Shrikant Talageri's book titles correctly revealed that he had not even seen the book he was lambasting).  It is very common in secularist polemic to start from a general assumption about what they label the "Hindutva" movement, and then apply this assumption to each author whom they choose to include in that category, without bothering to check his own writings. I am rather used to this sloppy reasoning by secularists, attributing viewpoints to me which are not mine or which I have explicitly criticized, on no other grounds than that they are deemed to be "Hindutva" viewpoints. Given the secularists' unchallenged hegemony, it is unlikely that they will soon feel any need to correct this ugly habit.

Then again, maybe Ms. Nanda just remembered my exotic name wrongly, writing her paper months after reading my publications, who knows? Even so, she does impute positions to me which she cannot have found in my writings. Thus, 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" (used as often by secularists as by Hindu authors, for that matter).  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 and the location of other citations of mine that will follow. After all, it is her job to read the authors whom she wants to criticize.

But just to be practical, I will summarize the reasons right here.  Firstly, to Western ears, but largely unknown to Hindus, the term "Semitic" is bedevilled by 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 SR 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 simply not true 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 irresistibly 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, 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.  Though it was the motive for many a war against the infidels, in essence 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".  A far more important shortcoming of this brief explanation, presumably due to its very brevity, is what it omits, viz. the intellectual precondition for Christian-born people to look for alternatives outside Christianity. Even those who are dissatisfied with the Christian attitude to nature would not have turned away from their religion if they had not started doubting the truth of Christianity. Since the 18th century, Christian-born Westerners have dispersed in all directions, to hedonism or Marxism, to deism or pantheism, to atheism or Buddhism, or indeed to neo-Paganism. Some of them later denounced their former religion as too rightist (patriarchal, feudal, authoritarian, collaborating with dictators etc.) while others denounced it as too leftist (Nietzsche's notion of Christianity as an egalitarian "slave religion"), but all of them have one crucial experience in common: they lost their belief in the defining dogmas of Christianity. Once more, the truth question about Christianity necessarily precedes any Marxist question about what class interests or ideological positions, including ecology, are served by Christianity or by apostasy from it.

To come to the point of the specific motivation that sets neo-Pagans apart from the other ex-Christians: 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 or of national pride 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 fulfil 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 accommodates the freewheeling and exploratory modern attitude much better.

However, it is true that most Pagan revivalist groups have embraced environmentalism 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 high-priests 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 and immature 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 do also matter, e.g. Soviet Communism swore by science, at least rhetorically, and yet it was extremely irresponsible and destructive in its dealings with the environment.

Ms. Nanda is quite 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. When you want to mobilize an audience against your enemy, you have to depict him as not just evil but also powerful. That is why secularists systematically exaggerate the strength and effectiveness of the Hindutva movement.

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 positions, 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

At this point, Ms. Nanda switches to the heavy artillery: "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."

We see here a typical instance of false transitivity, a technique frequently employed in Marxist polemic in order to hit an opponent with "guilt by association". The reasoning goes thus: X knows Y, and we have identified Y as a culprit of thought crime C; therefore, X must also be treated as guilty of C. This guilt can be extended at will to Z who knows X, and so on. Or in the usual parody: I can fit into my coat, my coat can fit into my satchel, hence I can fit into my satchel. In this case: Hindus talk with neo-Pagans, we have decided that neo-Pagans are tainted with Nazism, hence Hindus are thereby also tainted with Nazism. This is bad logic, but it is excellent war psychology, for it can successfully scare away all the neutrals and many friends from the company of the enemies you denounce. After all, most every bourgeois or commoner who knows X immediately sees the danger of becoming the next Z, the next link in your chain of imputed guilt.

The claim about a non-monotheistic international may be embryonically correct, though it partly stems from a projection by Marxist circles of their 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 (which mercifully and wisely avoided to put the loaded terms "ethnic" and "Pagan" in its name) 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 there, 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 would be right with that if she could assure us that Christianity is the truth and the only road to salvation for all those benighted Pagans.

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 and North America 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. Note also that at the Elders' conference, most Hindu participants were just Hindu, not "Hindutva". Leadership roles in the anti-conversion movement have been taken by non-Sangh dignitaries such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Coimbatore.

It remains a scandal that men of such merit are smeared with insinuations of Nazi links. And it will not do to plead that the explicit slander sentence: "The Elders are Nazis", is missing. Take a poll among the participants of the Lund conference, and I'm sure you'll find that most of them have come away with the impression of a foul Nazi smell hanging over that Mumbai conference. Once you include the word "Nazi" in your presentation, even merely juxtaposing it to the information about the conference, it puts all the rest in the shadow and is bound to constitute the central memory that your audience will take home.

 

Neo-Paganism vs. neo-Nazism

Ms. Nanda 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, at least among those who have studied Nazi history somewhat.  There is simply no denying that Nazi Germany was the first state to pursue environmentalist policies systematically.  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 most Marxists know from pleasant experience.

It is true that a few of the thousands of  neo-Pagan groups in Europe and the USA have neo-Nazi ties.  Or let me correct that. Some have white racist connections, which sloppy journalists put down as "neo-Nazi", even though most white racists have moved on since 1945: they now favour the more successful system of democracy over the failed Leader principle, and according to an American Renaissance readers' survey from July 1997, they consider Hitler as the man who did the most harm to the white race ever. Real Hitler-worshipping neo-Nazis are quite distinct from neo-Pagans, and any honest observer can readily tell the one from the other if he knows what to look for. Conversely, any observer who confuses the two and claims to see no difference, is either incompetent or acting in bad faith.

Neo-Pagans, for all their shortcomings, are just seekers trying to make sense of it all, not too different from the rest of us, while neo-Nazis who dabble in religion and occultism are, as a rule, stark mad. Whereas neo-Pagans try to put down roots in their ancestral past, neo-Nazis have their roots in a fantasy world. Or let me correct that. Most neo-Nazis have their roots firmly in the ground of the recent past (ca. 1918-45) and of the present, viz. the misery of their worn-down multi-ethnic neighbourhood and their daily supply of alcohol; it is only the minority of neo-Nazis dabbling in "higher" matters who are disconnected from reality. They are hopelessly lost in theories of Atlantis, the polar origins of the Aryan race, the SS discovery of the Holy Grail (now kept in a secret sanctuary underneath Antarctica), the "hollow earth" doctrine and the Nazi escape in the first UFOs.

So, the chance of any connections between neo-Pagans and neo-Nazis can only be very marginal. All the same, neo-Nazis have a disproportionate nuisance value, and well-meaning Pagan revivalists must keep them very firmly at a distance. The problem is there, and I am on record as warning neo-Pagans (who naively think that their own innocence in the matter will protect them from damaging insinuations) against taking it lightly.

At the same time, the marginality of the neo-Nazis is also a reality that we must take into account: no matter how harmful their intentions, they are incapable of doing much effective harm because they are too weak, too divided, too infiltrated by various police services, and especially too incompetent. People who have their brains together may accede to more recent and more sophisticated forms of racism, but only people with impaired brains join the cult of an all-time loser like Hitler. When we come to those neo-Nazis who dabble in the occult (a minority within an already minuscule minority), people like Miguel Serrano with his "esoteric Hitlerism", we are faced with madmen pure and simple. There is really no danger of them overthrowing the democratic order and installing a new Nazi regime.

That is why we should not sidetrack a discussion of Pagan revivalism into a witch-hunt for alleged links with esoteric neo-Nazis, a species so rare that we may even question the motives of those who always compulsively return to that topic. Thus, now that Jews in Europe suffer frequent attacks from Muslims, harping endlessly on the alleged dangers of neo-Nazi anti-Semitism amounts to diverting attention from the real problem, shielding the real culprits and enabling them to continue their aggression. If half the length of the paragraph about a conference of traditional religious leaders in Mumbai is actually about "Nazi and neo-Nazi groups" (this even though most of the participants belonged to peoples who have suffered under the white racism championed by Hitler and hence were most unlikely to support neo-Nazism), it is likewise quite fair and appropriate to question the author's motives.

Odinism vs. Nazism

For the sake of argument, let us concede to Meera Nanda that there have been ties between neo-Paganism and Nazism. Even then, it is a myth that any such ties are "deep and historic".

As for "historic", let us not forget that in 1935, 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 religious eccentrics arrested and locked up, along with assorted astrologers and the like.  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 lived 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 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. As a battle-hardened old soldier, he temperamentally disliked religious enthusiasts with their flights of fancy.  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", and it was cultivated only by half-wits whose mental horizon could be filled up with that meagre common denominator.  As evidence, 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 is not known to have interfered with other people's religious beliefs and it didn't mind 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 was 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 no intrinsic connection between Odinism and racism.  That is why, now that biology has moved on from this racism, most Odinists, 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.

My thesis that contemporary racists are not driven by Odinism or other Pagan religions, but by a secular doctrine, viz. science or at least what they understand to be science, can be verified from the horse's mouth. In its July 1997 issue, the avowedly racist (or in its own terminology, "race-realist") monthly American Renaissance published a survey of its own readership, and one of the parameters inquired about was the racist readers' religion. Only 0.5% described themselves as "Odinist" and a further 1.5% espoused other non-mainstream religions including Buddhism, "nature worship" and "Swedenborgian mysticism". Of all those who practised a religion, over 90% were Christian and 1% Jewish. But the really remarkable finding that set this racist sample of the American population apart from the national average, is that only 42% practised a religion at all, and that only some 66% believed in God. All surveys of the general US population put both these figures much higher, with consistently more than 90% believers. Compared to the average American, the racist is far more likely to be an atheist. Racism is a secular doctrine.

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.  At most you could say that they were forging a quasi-religion centred around secular icons: the Führer and the National-Socialist State.  It was no longer Christianity, but it certainly wasn't Odinism either. 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".

Even in the alleged centre of Nazi Paganism, the SS castle Wewelsburg, the central symbol was not one borrowed from Odinism: the "black sun", a kind of twelve-armed swastika. This contradictory symbol would have looked blasphemous to any sun-worshipping Pagan, as would the black Nazi version of the solar swastika, which Hindus and Buddhists always paint in a bright sunny colour. The "black sun" seems to be inspired on a rare ornamental design found in a medieval habitation, though its post-war adepts clairvoyantly trace it to the prehistoric Arctic island of Thule. It could be interpreted as a shorthand depiction of the Zodiac or at any rate an invocation of the year's cyclical nature. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, for symbols don't kill, though the people who wield them sometimes may, but in that case almost any symbol will do. It is not known whether this design played any role at all in the fabled secret SS teachings, but post-war enthusiasts claim it refers to the centre of the universe where a Black Hole marks the location of the Big Bang,-- a notion unknown to ancient Pagans, for whom putting the bright sun in the centre was already a great leap forward from intuitive geocentrism.

Instead of Odinism, the Nazis promoted a quasi-religious but basically secular cult of the state, the race and the leader. 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". The self-description "socialist" in "National-Socialist German Workers' Party" also carried a secularist and even expressly atheist connotation, at least in the Catholic world, which included Hitler's own Austria and the party's native province of Bavaria.

One of the reasons for the popularity of rumours about "Nazi Paganism" and "Nazi occultism" (apart from vulgar titillation of the horror nerve) is that it lifts Nazism out of human history, locating it in an alternative reality that was at best insane and otherwise Satanic. But in fact, war and persecution and ethnic hatred and mass-murder are entirely part of human history, having manifested themselves in many places and times other than World War 2. The religious aspect of Nazi history is no exception: it is integrally part of the general developments in late-Christian and post-Christian Europe.

When the Enlightenment philosophers abandoned Christianity, they generally adopted one of two alternatives. One of these was atheism, accepted either as a deliberate rejection of any and every concept of a Higher Being, or simply as an unwillingness to spend any further thoughts on religious matters after the liberating walk-out from Christian dogma. The other was deism, the acceptance of some undefined kind of Higher Being who is not interested in any kind of worship or obedience offered to Him, and hence has also never bothered to reveal Himself or His Will through prophets or other media. So, instead of rejecting God along with His religion, the deist shrugs off religious practice but theoretically believes in the existence of God. Both these alternatives were represented among ex-Christian Nazis, with a sturdy atheism more common among the Nazi party's proletarian core (represented by the SA storm troopers) and deism favoured by the more ideological types.

An implicit and non-doctrinal deism is present in the continued use of God references in the daily language of most ex-believers.  A case in point is that when Adolf Hitler narrowly escaped death during the army officers' attempt on his life in July 1944, he thanked "God's providence" (not Odin's). Heinrich Himmler was a more explicit deist: he rejected Christianity, he never replaced it with a new system of God-worship in spite of his fondness for Masonic-type rituals, but he also refused to call himself an atheist. Like him, many ex-Christian Nazis, though mocking religious practice as so much superstitious mumbo-jumbo unworthy of the realistic German, felt they had to keep a distance from full atheism. As much as atheism, deism was perfectly suited to be the dominant ideology in a secular polity, because it didn't require any specific religious doctrine or practice to be promoted; but as a matter of principle, it had one advantage over atheism. At that time, atheism was firmly identified with "godless Communism", just as materialism was associated with the Jews, the two being joined in "Judeo-Bolshevism". To emphasize the contrast between themselves and their enemies, the Nazis had to affirm some kind of belief in some kind of Higher Being, but it was the kind you didn't have to wind up on Sundays. It was the convenient type of God Who left mankind to its own devices, the secular kind Who didn't interfere in politics and left the absolute authority over the state in the hands of the party.

Nazi secular policy

Some Indian readers might be shocked by my characterization of Nazi policy as "secularist". The reason is that they have been taught to idolize the term "secularism", to disregard its long-established meaning and to invest it with all possible virtues. This would include tolerance towards (not to say privileges for) the minorities, and Nazi policy vis-à-vis the Jewish minority was not exactly very tolerant. The problem is that "tolerant" is not part of the established meaning of "secular". No one can doubt Stalin's secularism, for he never allowed religion to interfere with matters of state; yet he was not tolerant, neither towards the majority nor towards the minorities.

If we go by the proper meaning of "secularism", we find that the Jewish policy of the Nazis was repulsive but not unsecular. It was motivated by secular considerations, e.g. the enactment of quota for Jews in certain professions was justified as a way to undo the "overrepresentation" of the Jews (a policy currently deemed progressive when enacted against white "overrepresentation" in some American universities and against Brahmin "overrepresentation" in some Indian institutes). Likewise, the deportation of the Jews during the war was justified by the fear of a replay of autumn 1918, when the German soldiers (who by 1940 made up the governing generation) felt stabbed in the back by anti-war agitators on the home front whom they identified as Jewish. I am of course not saying that that perception, let alone the resulting policy, was justified, merely that it was the stated motive of the Nazi regime, and that it did not emanate from a religious authority. There was no religion on the horizon, neither 20th-century Christianity nor Odinism nor any other, that ordained the mass elimination of the Jewish people; that policy was decided upon on non-religious grounds, viz. at least partly on Darwinian racial considerations. However morally reprehensible, however faulty its information basis, that policy was a secular policy.

But at least the factor religion creeps in when we remember that the Jews were a religious community? Not to the Nazis with their secular reductionism. They refused to see the Jews as a religious community. Instead, they defined them as a race. Whether a Jew was orthodox or liberal, whether he was loyal to Judaism or converted to Christianity, whether he was a religious believer or an atheist, all this was deemed irrelevant and none of it could save him from discrimination or deportation. The Jewish religion was, in typical reductionist fashion, dismissed as a mere epiphenomenon of the Jewish genetic make-up, as a strategy for furthering the Jewish race's self-interest in the conditions of the pre-modern age, a strategy which the race could replace with another (e.g. atheist "Judeo-Bolshevism") when changed circumstances required it. A race has permanent survival interests, not a permanent religion. According to Hitler, the Jews were merely fooling everyone by presenting themselves as a religious group, all in their own racial self-interest.

This Nazi doctrine concerning the Jews may be contrasted with its diametrical opposite: the Hindu doctrine concerning the Indian Muslims. Here, biology is not the issue at all, but religion is. The body with its genetic characteristics is not the issue, the soul is. Whereas the Jews who had assimilated into German society were pushed out again because their genes were deemed irremediably foreign, an Indian Muslim's greatest possible favour to the Hindu revivalists is to convert to Hinduism and reintegrate into the society from which his ancestors were separated by conversion. Genetically, the Indian Muslims are no different from their Hindu neighbours, and even if some of them show traits imported by Turco-Afghan invaders, no Hindu revivalist (first the Arya Samaj, later the Vishva Hindu Parishad and others) will reject them if they want to embrace India's native religion. In Nazi Germany, race was deemed to be the decisive difference between Jews and Germans, and the Nazis cherished and maximized this cleavage by pushing the Jews out. In Hindu India, religious belief is deemed to be the knife that severed from Hindu society those who are now Muslims, and the forward policy of the Hindu activists consists in undoing that cleavage by inviting the Muslims back in, by encouraging them to liberate themselves from their divisive as well as erroneous belief system.

Post-Christianity and Nazism

In Hitler's personal development, you can see the stages which most lapsed Christians go through. At first, they preserve many elements of Christian belief, esp. a special affection for the person of Jesus Christ, even if he can no longer be taken seriously as the "Son of God". Fashionable ideas are projected onto Jesus, e.g. revolutionary socialism in the 1960s and 70s ("Jesus was the first Communist"), or Aryan racism in the 1920s and 30s. Thus, we see Hitler flirting with the then-common notion that Jesus was not a Jew but an "Aryan", partly based on the Jewish belief that Jesus' father was a Roman soldier. In the same spirit, we see Hitler declaring that he himself had come to "complete the work of Jesus", i.e. defeating the Jews. Only in a more mature phase, at greater time distance from the beliefs of one's youth, are these residual Christian sentiments shaken off. In his final years, Hitler had given up on saving Jesus by redefining him as Aryan, and concluded that this entire morbid cult of a man nailed on the cross (oddly similar to the Odinist image of Odin hanged upside-down in order to gain wisdom) could only be harmful to his people, so that a victorious post-war Germany should intensify the gradual phasing-out of Christianity in favour of a modern, secular National-Socialism.

A few Hindutva polemicists have recently adopted the thesis that Pius XII was "Hitler's Pope", a wholly erroneous notion but very popular among the Europe's Church-hating left. In their position, anything that can taint Christianity with Nazism comes in handy, especially since the Church in India has jumped onto the Marxist bandwagon of amalgamating Hinduism or Hindu nationalism with Nazism. (Note how odd it is for a movement cultivating Nazi associations, as always alleged of Hindu nationalism by Indian Marxists, to blacken others by accusing them of Nazi associations. "Hitler" and "fascism" are frequently used as incriminating references in SR Goel's or NS Rajaram's studies of the record of Christianity and occasionally also of Islam. The RSS media regularly compare their enemies to Hitler and company, even where Stalin would be a more appropriate reference, simply because they have never doubted the status of Nazism as the ultimate in oppression and inhumanity. But don't expect to see this fact noticed in Marxist writings on Hindu activism: since their target audience isn't likely to read the Hindu originals, they can get away with any misrepresentation of the Hindu position.)

For those who try to establish a Christian-Nazi nexus, it is indeed easy to enumerate instances of complicity of the Churches with the Nazi regime and movement (as has been done in great detail by German Marxist Karl-Heinz Deschner), but that doesn't mean an identity of purpose between the two. Yes, it is true that anti-Semitism built upon an old Christian tradition of hatred for the Jews, but the modern "scientific" anti-Jewish racism was a different matter from the old theological anti-Judaism, and fact remains that Church actively concealed numerous Jewish refugees from the Nazis. Yes, it is true that the Nazis were democratically brought to power in a country where over 90% of the population was either Catholic or Protestant, that most ordinary party members were Christian, and that the original party manifesto espoused a "positive Christianity". All the same, the likely future of the Nazi movement in case of victory was determined by a handful of people in the high command, and some of them were sharply anti-Christian.

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 everyone associated with deerskin-clad Vikings and which nobody took seriously. A far greater threat, especially because it was merely the more thorough German application of a trend affecting most Christian countries, was 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.  For the enemies of religion, the danger with a simple abolition of religion is that people will start feeling that "God-shaped hole" in their existence and try to fill it up by returning to the religion they know; therefore, people have to be fed rapturous experiences similar to those they used to draw from religion. The Nazi rituals were in essence a more elaborate and more gripping version of the secular substitute rituals in other secular states, e.g. the replacement of morning prayer with a salute to the flag, or the Soviet Union's introduction of "socialist rituals" adding some colour and solemnity to special events such as weddings.  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.  These overspecialized bookworms and emotionally unstable eccentrics were far removed from Nazi policy-making centres.  Hitler, whose business was not the quest for the Holy Grail but winning the war, was angry with Himmler for wasting resources on risky expeditions by Ahnenerbe researchers. When you study their record, you find once more that there was nothing "deep" about the Nazi relation with Pagan religions, on the contrary. Some of it was pure 'crackpotry', e.g. the inevitable false etymologies, such as the derivation of Farsi ("Persian") from Frisian (a Northwest-German population) as proof of the Aryan migration from Northern Europe to South Asia. Some of it was based on real scholarly findings but was hopelessly marred by the intrusion of obvious ideological imperatives. Among other distortive factors, it was the constant intrusion of irrelevant references to the race question that disfigured even their most serious research into otherwise respectable topics of religious history. But one thing which you don't encounter there is an instance of a research finding about Paganism triggering a change in the Nazi regime's actual behaviour or policy.  

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 introductions to 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, including a few sexual asides. Yes, part of the group's task was to study the demographic and eugenic effects of polyandry, to report on homosexuality in the monasteries, and to verify whether Tibetan women did indeed carry magic stones in their vaginas.  But the reader 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 transfer of esoteric knowledge.  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.  The imagined Hindu-Pagan-Nazi chain of amalgamation follows a well-established pattern.


Friends, foes, and the Aryan invasion debate

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 relaying a line of rhetoric so common in her circle that she doesn't even realize how defamatory 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.  Most of these Nazi linkers conclude with their "revelation" that X has Nazi connections, and then expect the public to erupt in indignant outbursts of hate against X. What they usually fail to do, is to look at the practical implications of their conclusion, though (or because) these would provide a practical test of whether the reasoning was correct. In this case, once you have convinced others or at least yourself of the cleverly constructed Hindu-Pagan-Nazi nexus, what Hindu-Nazi interaction should we expect to encounter in real life?

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? Would Hindu nationalists jettison their alliance with Israel and embrace the Palestinian cause so warmly espoused by many neo-Nazis? Would they bring back British rule in accordance with Hitler's support to the British empire as a model of beneficial white rule over inferior "mud people"? Would they turn into admirers of Islam, that martial and natalist religion praised by Himmler and adopted by some neo-Nazis as the white race's best chance of survival? If those things start happening, then you know that the Hindutva-neo-Nazi link is real. If not, well, then not.

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.  That is, for example, why they don't share the fear of Islam now widespread in Europe and cultivated by more moderate right-wing parties with mass appeal. To the neo-Nazis, religion is but a fleeting and superficial epiphenomenon of race, and the lifestyle instilled by Islam may be more useful to the white race than the anti-natalist lifestyle of post-Christian hedonism. Now, in the racial equation, 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.  The cultural riches which Hindus may have to offer are insignificant compared to their racial foreignness and the threat of miscegenation which their presence in white society constitutes.

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 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.


Occultism vs. 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 spear that wounded Christ, Hitler selecting his generals on the basis of their horoscopes, Hitler denying winter clothing to his soldiers because he believed he could magically remove the cold, Nazi energy-tapping in Stonehenge, the Nazi discovery of the Holy Grail (or the Ark of the Covenant, Shambhala etc. etc.): 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.

Yes, there were a few occultists in the margins of the budding Nazi party. Every garden grows one, so they could be found all over Europe, from royal courts to Gypsy caravans and in the philosophers' corner of every beerhall. Once the Nazi party became respectable and powerful, these vain mystery-mongers started making tall claims about how they had taught the Nazi leaders and infused them with secret powers. Hitler himself didn't take kindly to this unsolicited association with them and had some of them arrested for it. But the international press loved it, and as the threat of war started looming larger, Allied propaganda saw the use of portraying the Nazis as a kind of Satanist cult.

The occultist who climbed highest in the Nazi establishment was Karl Maria Wiligut, who claimed to have a "racial memory" recollecting events from thousands of years ago, when the Aryan race was still young and roaming around in Northern Atlantis or thereabouts. He designed the death head motif on the ring worn by SS men and became Himmler's associate. At least until Himmler received complaints from a lady about Wiligut having told her that, on Himmler's orders and for the sake of race improvement, she was to have sex with him and carry his child. He was discharged, and his fall from grace neatly exemplified the true calibre of the "Nazi occultists": a handful of dirty-minded mythomaniacs. Maybe I am lacking in imagination, but I fail to find any instance of their occult fantasies making an actual difference to Nazi policies. Thus, in spite of Himmler's openness to occult theories about the Aryan race, his plans to weed out the handicapped and to promote the procreation of superior Aryan types can very simply be derived from eugenicist ideas which were fairly widespread in the medical community of not just Germany but also of Scandinavia, the USA and other countries.

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 must be 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 Christian polemicists invest a lot 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 rituals 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 Christian version.

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 among Indian sophisticates under the guise of "secularism".  It is, for that matter, unclear what is meant by "secular elements of Christianity", since the Christian religion is by definition a non-secular doctrine.  Ms. Nanda says that Hitler ascribed this "secular element in Christianity" to the Jews, which is yet another "deep-thinking" attempt to present Nazism and Christianity as polar opposites: as if, when Hitler "superficially" railed against his Jewish arch-enemy, what he "really" targeted was Christianity with its secular elements. This has got things backwards: Hitler did not hate the Jews as a consequence of his second thoughts about Christian belief, but among the things he held against Christianity was its partial Jewish origin because he saw the Jew as evil incarnate. The depth of Hitler's Jew-hatred was of an altogether different magnitude than his quarrel with Christianity, which he had dismissed as a juvenile folly but with which he still was on speaking terms.

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 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 keeps on imputing 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; that's fine with me, but it implies the Bible's untrustworthiness and removes all reason for treating it as divinely inspired and authoritative.)  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", which is a demanding discipline, not something one does automatically.  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, it is but a small step 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." That is a lie. Maybe it's not Meera Nanda's own lie, she may have copied it, but someone somewhere down the line did insert a lie into the information flow.

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.  To spare Ms. Nanda the trouble of looking it up, 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 know 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. To quite an extent, it implied a return to Christianity, for New Agers venerate Jesus as a "World Teacher" or so, they lap up stories about Jesus' training years in India, they synthesize doctrines into chimeras like: "The first Christians believed in reincarnation, but the power-hungry patriarchal Church Fathers suppressed this belief", or: "With Christ's resurrection, the law of karma has been suspended in all the spheres." The New Age scene as I've known 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 syrupy "holism" discourse and 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. 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 promulgated 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.  Their specialty is to justify double standards, e.g. why mentioning murdered Kashmiri Pandits is "communal hate-mongering" while the endless litany about murdered Gujarati Muslims is "secular consciousness-raising". Sometimes they merely stonewall inconvenient information, such as when they tried to deny and suppress the historical data about the forcible replacement of a Rama temple in Ayodhya by a mosque: given the strength of the evidence, all they could do was to drown out any serious debate with screams and swearwords. But often they do bring out their specific talents at sophistry, such as when they argue that a Common Civil Code, a defining element of all secular states, is a Hindu communalist notion, while the preservation of the divinely-revealed Shari'a for the Muslims is secular. That's when they are at their best.

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 (along with the most obscurantist Mullahs, self-described "secularists" whose like-minded Arab colleagues abhor secularism), 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.  Would those ugly Hindu monsters really be 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 cannot help frowning when I see Meera Nanda forget her limitations and 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. 

I found the neo-Pagan scene full of the "wandering scholars" so despised by Hitler, the avid readers of every new archaeological report about an ancient grave dug up here or a rune stone deciphered there. All very nice, somebody should do that job, but it's not exactly my cup of tea. A major problem, which almost makes you long back to the normative "teaching authority" of the Church, is the fact that anyone can define Paganism in his own way, so that the genuine thing is crowded out by all kinds of individual pet theories. Some of these have become quite popular but without thereby becoming any more authentic or authoritative, e.g. the feminist appropriation of Paganism, and likewise the environmentalist or nationalist or anarchist or folkloristic appropriations. Mostly good-natured people, but in terms of the big questions of life, they are still groping in the dark. No big deal, most of us are, but if you approach a religion expecting to find the answers, neo-Paganism may still be lacking in depth. Then again, perhaps they were just healthy people who felt no need for "answers" and merely wanted a religion as a thing to practise rather than to follow or to believe in.

At any rate, 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).  Or to explain why it was unlikely that the Runic script predates the Greek and Roman alphabets. I think Ms. Nanda would have agreed with me on many of the demythologising 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 of 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 (1999) about the differences between Hinduism and neo-Paganism.  My point was to explain why Hindus who get to know the neo-Pagan scene could well feel disappointed soon.  The article contains some of the criticisms mentioned above, and some others, of the neo-Pagan scene in actual practice. 

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 more points in Ms. Nanda's paper which are worthy of further discussion, 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".  Let us see if I can translate that correctly: wanting something or someone to suffer rather than to prosper is what we call "hate". She hates Hinduism, and her academic work is written in the service of that hate.

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 whose positions she has now been misrepresenting.  Or at least she may start reading the authors whom she criticizes. Once she comes to acquire more knowledge about her subject-matter, she may reconsider her opinion.

 

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