Christ, Truth, and Politics

Published in the Souvenir of Central India Theological Seminary of October 2005.

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? (John 18:38)

It is interesting to note that the only instance where Christ ever met Pilate in recounted history was at His trial. The ensuing dialogue between both of them is intriguing. It heavily concentrates on the urgency of Truth in a world mismanaged by humans.

The trial of Christ at Jerusalem reminds us of the trial of Socrates at Athens. Tertullian might have been too quick to retort “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” The unjust sentence of Socrates explicitly points out the fact that the greatest problem with humanity is not that it has not known the truth but that, to the contrary, having understood the ramifications of truth it has suppressed it and chosen to put an end to any voice that speaks on behalf of it. Weren’t there at least 80, of the earlier 220 who voted Socrates as innocent, who also later voted for his death penalty? Truth had less significance in the democratic Athens, whose laws Socrates himself highly respected. In Jerusalem as well, though Christ’s sentence was not decided through a Jury based on votes, yet it was the voice of the mob that prevailed against the truth.The obvious truth was that Pilate had found nothing worth condemning in Jesus. Yet, however, he talked of the Passover custom of releasing a prisoner and had Christ whipped despite the evidence that Christ was not a criminal.

The contrast between Socrates and Jesus is high at the point where Jesus begins to speak of a kingdom beyond this world and of His coming to bear witness to the truth. While for Socrates, truth had to be discovered through rational analysis, Christ claimed to know the truth and be a witness to the truth. While Socrates didn’t find any meaning in a world beyond Athens, Christ talked of a kingdom that transcends all spatial-temporal existence.

Pilate’s question to Jesus as to what was truth insinuates several meanings. He might have meant “Does truth mean anything at all?” or “What is truth in this situation?” or “Is truth absolute or relative?” or “Do politics and truth go together?” or “Even if there is something called Truth, is there any significance to it?” or “What truth are you talking about?” Whatever the import of the question was, the fact remains that Pilate found nothing appealing in any understanding of truth in a world that relativized everything to suit its selfish purposes.

Pilate had already become infamous for his hard ways of dealing with mobs. Josephus tells us of Pilate’s aversion of Jewish religious interference in his political moves. For instance, when he brought Roman banners with Caesar’s image on them, the Jews protested. He tried to put them down by deploying his troops only to find out that these people were committed to their religion more than they were committed to Caesar. In another instance, he sent his soldiers dressed in tunics to infiltrate the crowd and beat the offenders with clubs. They had protested against his secular employment of temple treasure. And so, now, when the Jews come to him with Jesus, he straight away dismisses them with the words “Take ye him, and judge him according to your law.” When they insist that he was a political malefactor, he takes him aside and asks him some questions only to find out that the Jews who once protested against the images of Caesar were now using the name of Caesar to get rid of Jesus. Later, Pilate finds himself accused of enmity against Caesar on grounds that he wished the release of Jesus. Understanding the breadth of experience Pilate had in politics, it is not amazing that his famous question “What is truth?” comes in response to Jesus’ statement that He was a King and had come into the world to bear witness to the truth. How could one be a King and also bear witness to the truth at the same time. Was the Roman Empire ready for such news?

Several centuries later, an Italian political philosopher by the name of Machiavelli was to write that a ruler is not bound by traditional ethical norms and is free to use whatever means available for his political purposes. His principles of power politics came to be known as Machiavellianism. Machiavelli proposed that it was better that a ruler be both loved and feared; but, since a combination of both was too difficult, it was desirable that a ruler be feared though not loved. His formulation of such principles was allegedly drawn from studies in Roman political history and the politics of his age. Unquestionably, tyranny and despotism are perfect possibilities in a political system that doesn’t recognize the sovereignty of God. Assuredly, every Nebuchadnezzar still needs a Daniel.

When questioned about His Kingship, Jesus promptly replied: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” This clearly recognized that force was indispensable to kingdom. Puzzling, however, is the way Jesus uses the concept of kingdom. He distinguishes between two kinds of kingdom: one, of this world; another, not of this world. He claimed to be the King of the latter with an additional comment that His servants didn’t help Him now because His kingdom was not from here. The word used for ‘world’ here is kosmos (world, order), not aion (age, course). It denotes this very physical world order that we live in. Important is also the phrase not from here, which is to mean that Christ’s kingdom didn’t have its origin or basis in this world. It is from above even as Christ is from above (the second man). And the King of this other-worldly kingdom is a witness of truth. His passion for truth led Him to come to this world confused by raging falsehood and deception. He said that everyone that belonged to the truth heard His voice. He was the King of the Kingdom of Truth. A few chapters earlier, He claimed to be the personification of Truth itself so that anyone who believes in Him and follows Him is delivered from the falsehood of this-worldly glory (which truly is darkness) and transferred to His kingdom of light. Knowing Him is far more urgent than knowing several diverse truths. He is the Truth that connects together all truths of past, present, and future and fills them with transcendent and eternal meaning. Pilate could not hear Christ’s voice. Dazed by Christ’s statements, he retorted “What is truth?” and left without waiting for an answer.

Immediately, he goes out and declares to the Jews: “I find in him no fault.” That was the truth. However, he added: But ye have a custom that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?” That was the falsehood. Why talk of releasing Christ as a criminal when no fault indicting Him had been found in Him? The ethical relativism of this-worldly politics thickens still further when the crowd demands the release of a notorious robber (they could endure physical robbery as long as their spiritual status was left untouched and their religiosity approved of). Pilate scourges Jesus and lets his soldiers humiliate Him thinking, perhaps, that this would soften the violent temper of the crowd. He still tries to stick closer to justice and truth though the current is tearing him away from it.

Jesus had told him earlier that His kingdom was not of this world. Pilate still seems to be out of touch with the import of His word. He asks Him: “Where are you from?” Jesus gave no reply. Pilate says: “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to crucify you, and I have authority to release you?” To which Jesus replies: “You could have no authority against Me unless it were given to you from above. Therefore he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” The relating of political authority to a transcendent Rulership above is significant. Hegel in his Reason in History writes regarding the role of the Divine in politics:

Religion is the sphere where a people gives itself the definition of what it regards as the True. Such a definition contains everything which belongs to the essence of the object, reducing its nature to a simple fundamental characteristic as focus for all other characteristics – the universal soul of all particulars. The idea of God thus is the general fundament of a people.

…secular existence is temporal and moves within private interest. Hence it is relative and unjustified. Its justification can only be derived from the absolute justification of its universal soul, its principle. And this is justified only as determination and existence of the essence of God. For this reason the State is based on religion.

Of course, Hegel writes of God, Religion, and Truth within the framework of his Phenomenology of the Spirit. But his insight into the necessity of truth and God as the unifying fundament of a people is great. Biblically speaking, God is the creator of man, and is the giver of not only political authority but also vision and direction to a nation. A nation which loses sight of God, will soon lose sight of practical value in truth and honesty. Private interest and engrossment with the present would reign high and become the ground for the release of despotism and tyranny. Jesus, by reminding Pilate that his authority was from above, was telling him that he was not autonomous in his field of politics. He was accountable to God. However, it is the one who handovers Jesus to Pilate that has the greater sin. Pilate has an opportunity to be just. He tries to release Jesus but is backfired by the crowd with the words: “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” Threatened by such accusation, Pilate gives in to the demand of the crowd and handovers Jesus to be crucified, at the same time referring to Jesus as the King of the Jews, to the chagrin of the priests who, themselves having succumbed to the relative situation, ironically exclaim that they have no king but Caesar. Pilate, however, doesn’t stop here. He inscribes on the title on Jesus’ cross the words JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS and refuses to change it despite the chief priests’ protest. Somehow, Pilate seems to be attempting to stick close to the truth despite his obvious distance from it. He had already fallen prey to the public appeasement of secular politics. Truth had fallen in the earthly city.

But Christ, the Truth of God, did not die forever. He rose again on the third day. By His physical death on the cross, He put an end to the falsehood of this world order and rose again as the Firstfruits of a new world order founded on the very fulfillment of truth (His life and teaching), righteousness (His obedience), and justice (His sacrifice). If He didn’t arise humanity would have been left without any hope of justice and a life eternal that transcended this world. But He rose again. And one day, He will come back to judge the world according to Truth (Romans 2:2). He will return in the glory of His kingdom (Mt. 16:28; 2 Tim. 4:1) to inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Pt. 3:13).



Anti-Conversion Laws In India

From Marbaniang, Domenic. Secularism In India: A Historical Analysis (2009).

THERE WERE bills and acts in relation to religious conversion even before the independence. Instances are the Raigarh State Conversion Act of 1936 and the Udaipur State Conversion Act of 1946. These laws aimed at eliminating the rural and tribal rights of freedom to conscience and religion.[1] After independence, there have been at least five states (Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat) that have enacted laws to either curtail or cease conversions. The following section is an account of the Freedom of Religion Acts enacted by States of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat to check the tide of religious conversions and problems arising from it. The Gujarat Law and parliamentary affairs minister Ashok Bhatt, recently, has referred to these laws as anti-conversion laws.[2]

  1. The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 1968

This anti-conversion law was enacted in face of allegations that the Christian Missionaries were using lure and force for religious conversions. In 1954, the Niyogi Committee set up by the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh accused Christian missionaries of creating ‘a state within a state’ and observed that the ‘philanthropic activities of Christian missionaries are a mask for proselytization.’[3] The Sangh Parivar also alleged that the missionaries were promoting political dissent in the State.[4]

The Madhya Pradesh Assembly rejected the Freedom of Religion Bills of 1958 and 1963. However, this bill was passed in 1968 as ‘The Freedom of Religion Act.’[5]

The Madhya Pradesh ‘Freedom of Religion Act’ requires that a convert produce a legal affidavit that s/he was not under any pressure, force, or allurement to convert but was converting by own will and desire after evaluating the religion properly.[6] Also according to this law, anyone who writes or speaks or sings of ‘divine displeasure’ (with an intention to induce forced conversion by means of threat) can be imprisoned for a period of up to two years and fined up to five thousand rupees.[7]

Evidently, this law is an open violation of the right to freedom of religion that includes the freedom to propagate one’s religion. What is ‘divine displeasure’ in one religion may not be ‘divine displeasure’ in another religion. However, without propagation of religion, this cannot be known to a person belonging to another religion. Moreover, if there is no propagation of such fundamentals of religion, which distinguish one religion from the other, then there can be no conversions. Therefore, a law prohibiting the preaching of a fundamental tenet such as ‘divine displeasure’ is an attempt to prevent the citizen from a proper exercise of his/her right to freedom of religion.

  1. The Orissa Freedom of Religions Act of 1968

 The state of Orissa enacted the Orissa Freedom of Religions Act in 1968. It stated that “no person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.”[8] Contravention of this law was punishable with imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to Rs 5,000. In the case of a minor, a woman, or a person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Tribe, the punishment was up to two years of imprisonment and the limit of the fine raised to Rs. 10,000.[9]

The Orissa High Court, however, struck down the Act as ultra vires of the Constitution[10] on the ground that the state legislature did not have the right to legislate matters of religion.[11] The same year, the state of Madhya Pradesh also enacted the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act as seen above. However, the Madhya Pradesh High Court, in contrary to the Orissa High Court, negated the challenge of some Christians that the Act violated their fundamental right as provided under Article 25 of the Constitution. The decisions of both the Courts were challenged before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Madhya Pradesh High Court and reversed the decision of the Orissa High Court.[12] The Supreme Court ruling by a full bench said:

We find no justification for the view that Article 25 granted a fundamental right to convert persons to one’s own religion. It has to be appreciated that the freedom of religion enshrined in the Article is not guaranteed of one religion only, but covers all religions alike and it can be properly enjoyed by a person if he exercises his right in a manner commensurate with the like freedom of persons following other religions.

What is freedom for one is freedom for others, in equal measure; and there can be no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one’s own religion.[13]

Ruma Pal notes that this decision of the Supreme Court has been justifiably criticized for its failure in distinguishing between conversion by force and conversion by persuasion.[14] Even advertisements make use of the art of persuasion. The right of freedom to choose one’s own religion has no meaning if the very means of choice were removed. Choice between religions is unthinkable in the absence of an intellectually persuasive propagation of religion. Thus, the Supreme Court’s ruling that disregards the fundamental right to freedom of propagating one’s own religion is unjustifiable. As H.M. Seervai notes:

Art. 25(1) confers freedom of religion—a freedom not limited to the religion in which a person is born. Freedom of conscience harmonizes with this, for its presence in Art. 25(1) shows that our Constitution has adopted a “system which allows free choice of religion.” The right to propagate religion gives a meaning to freedom of choice, for choice involves not only knowledge but an act of will. A person cannot choose if he does not know what choices are open to him. To propagate religion is not to impart knowledge and to spread it more widely, but to produce intellectual and moral conviction leading to action, namely, the adoption of that religion.[15]

Thus, the Orissa Freedom of Religions Act of 1968 cannot at all be considered a Freedom of Religions Act since it takes away the very means of freedom to choose and practice one’s own religion.

  1. The Arunachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 1978

This Act was enacted to prevent the tribals of Arunachal Pradesh from converting to other religions. It reads:

3) Prohibition of forcible conversion.

No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise any person from indigenous faith by use of force or by inducement or any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.

4) Punishment of Contravention of the Provision of Section.

Any person contravening the provisions contained in Section 2, shall without prejudice to any civil liability, be punishable with imprisonment to the extent of two (2) years and fine up to ten thousand (10, 000) rupees. (i) whoever converts any person from his indigenous faith to any other faith or religion either by himself performing the ceremony for such conversion as a religious priest or by taking part directly in such ceremony shall, within such period after the ceremony as may be prescribed, send an intimation to the Deputy Commissioner of the District to which the person converted belongs, of the fact of such conversion in such forms as may be prescribed.[16]

Evidently, the meanings given to the word ‘inducement,’ namely ‘the offer of any gift, or gratification, either cash or in kind and also include grant of any benefit, either pecuniary or otherwise,’ in the law can dangerously affect social work by religious groups, even though their intentions are charity-oriented. Such ambiguity within the law is a clear indication of the State’s intention to restrain individuals from using their right to freedom of religion.

  1. The Tamil Nadu Anti-Conversion Act of 2002.

The Tamil Nadu Anti-conversion Act of 2002 stated that ‘No person shall convert or attempt to convert directly or otherwise any person from one religion to another either by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means.’[17] The immediate provocation for this Act, supposedly, ‘was the threat of hundreds of Dalits of Koothirambakkam village, near Kancheepuram, to change religion because their decades-old demand that their right to enter and worship at the common village temple be protected by the government had not been conceded.’[18]

There had been great protest against this ordinance from various corners. Police arrested 10 people who were planning a mass conversion on December 6, 2002 in protest to the new anti-conversion law. About 3,000 Dalits were to be converted to Christianity and Buddhism, without applying to the local magistrate to approve their conversion in accordance to the new law, on this day according to this plan.[19] Apparently, the Dalits saw this law as violating their fundamental rights and also ridding them of the opportunity to rise. However, President of the Maharashtra branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Ashok Chowgule, congratulated the Tamil Nadu government on the ordinance. He said conversions cause social tensions.[20] The State Council of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association also opposed the bill as being unjustified and opposed to the rights of minorities and Dalits ensured in the Constitution.[21]

On May 7 2004, the Prohibition of Conversion Act Protest Committee appealed to the electorate to vote for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led Democratic Progressive Alliance (DPA). The DMK was said to have in its manifesto a promise to repeal the Anti-conversion law.[22] However, soon after the defeat of the BJP led coalition in the 2004 elections, the Tamil Nadu Government led by Jayalalitha repealed the law in June to the chagrin of many Hindu Fundamentalists and Nationalists.[23]

  1. The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act.

Gujarati DanceSoon after its victory in Gujarat the Narendra Modi government decided to accord “top priority” to the commitment given in the BJP poll manifesto and enact a law against religious conversions in the state.[24] Accordingly, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Freedom of Religion Act in March 2003.[25] It was called the Dharam Swatantrata Vidheya[26] (Freedom of Religion Act). Narendra Modi called the Act as one of the main ‘achievements’ of his government’s one year in office.[27] Evidently, anti-conversion law is a significant part of BJP agenda. The law prohibited conversion by force or inducement.[28]
All the above anti-conversion laws violate the Constitutional provision of fundamental rights to the citizens of India. Thus, it has been seen that the various anti-conversion laws are a direct contravention of the provisions given in the Constitution.

Also, the opposition of conversion is, evidently, an attempt to destroy the citizen’s right to freedom of religion and desecularize Indian society. Though it is known that this attempt is futile in this globally connected world of information explosion, yet many of the Sangh activists are actively busy in trying to stop conversions, reconvert non-Hindus to Hinduism, and make India a Hindu nation. Back in 2002, L.K. Advani, the then Deputy Prime Minister of India, told the parliament that ‘India can never be turned into a Hindu nation.’[29]

True to Advani’s statement, India can never be turned into a Hindu nation because of the educational, economical, social, and political foundation that the British and the early leaders of Independent India laid.


[1] Ebe Sunder Raj, The Confusion Called Conversion, p. 140.
[2] ‘Anti-conversion Laws Yet To be Framed,’ The Times of India, Nov. 7, 2004, Ahmedabad.
[3] Subhash Agarwal, ‘Law, Order, & Religious Conversions’, The Financial Express, Sept. 25, 2003.
[4] Hansel D’Souza, ‘Christians Awake! The Secular Citizen’, June 1995,
[5] Ebe Sunder Raj, The Confusion Called Conversion, p. 140.
[6] Ibid, p. 146 & R. Domenic Savio, ‘A Descriptive Study of Prarthana Bhavan, Sanjay Koyala Nagar’, (unpublished M.A. Thesis, Acts Academy of Higher Education, 2004), p. 81.
[7] Ebe Sunder Raj, The Confusion Called Conversion, p. 142.
[8] Section 3 of the Orissa Freedom of Religions Act, 1968. As cited by Ruma Pal, ‘Religious Minorities and the Law’, Religion and Personal Law in Secular India (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001),
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ebe Sunder Raj, The Confusion Called Conversion, p. 140.
[11] Ruma Pal, ‘Religious Minorities and the Law’, op. cit.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ebe Sunder Raj, The Confusion Called Conversion, p. 140.
[14] Ruma Pal, ‘Religious Minorities and the Law’, op. cit.
[15] As cited by Ruma Pal, op. cit.
[16] Ebe Sunder Raj, The Confusion Called Conversion, pp. 141-2.
[17] ‘Anti-conversion Ordinance Decried’, The Times of India, Nov. 6. 2004,
[18] Frontline, Dec.3, 2004, p.10.
[19] ‘Crackdown Over India Mass Baptism’, BBC News, South Asia, Friday, 6 December, 2002, 04:56 GMT .
[20] ‘Anti-conversion Ordinance Decried’, The Times of India, Nov. 6. 2004.
[21] ‘Anti-conversion Bill unjustified: AIDWA’, The Hindu, Nov. 12, 2002.
[26] BBC News, Tuesday, 25 February, 2003, 17:25 GMT,
[29] BBC News, 5 December, 2002, 19:08 GMT,

The Opposition in Democracy

“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” (Prov.18:17)

The Opposition is a vital part of modern democracy. It ensures that the government elected by the people is working on behalf of the people and fulfilling the goals it set before them. It also ensures that the ruling party practices transparency and accountability. The Opposition has the right to question the actions of the government and demand an account or rationale for its actions. It may be wrong in its assumptions, but it has the right to voice its questions, without which democracy will be annihilated. To try to silence the voice of the Opposition by any means whatsoever is to kill the soul of the nation which is liberty, unity, fraternity, and justice; for where the right to freedom is exterminated, democracy is dead. A government that labels the Opposition as traitor for questioning its actions is against the people. The Opposition provides an opportunity for the people, who are the real judges in a democracy ruled by the law and not a mob, to see the other part of the story instead of falling for the rhetoric of the first. A good government will answer the questions raised by the Opposition because they are questions raised on behalf of the people. Ultimately, it is the people who will decide whether the government was right in its decisions or not. But, there is a Moral Law that is higher and foundational to all manmade laws; and, one cannot kick against the pricks and not be hurt.

The Moral Basis of Indian Law

Now, while the debate exists in the philosophy of law about the relationship between political laws and the moral law, attempts to base the laws on anything other than the moral law sooner face problems of justifiability. While it may be the case that reductionism of politics to ethics is not totally feasible, resort to anti reductionism is only self-defeating. And, then authority arguments that try to derive validity of laws from higher laws, which in return try to derive their validity from a much higher one (e.g. Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law), will have to strike ceiling at some point ( See Marmor, A. Philosophy of Law, Princeton, 2011). For instance, the judges under Hitler’s regime could not be absolved upon the relativist presumption that they were only conforming to some law of a sovereign nation. The question of validity and justice could not be anchored in such “sovereign” authority alone.

However, this doesn’t mean that authority doesn’t count. In fact, authority does often prescribe laws in many cases, but the laws are only instrumental towards a much larger cause. Thus, we have law-givers such as Solon, Moses, and Manu. However, the validity of the prescriptions are based on a deeper intent. The intent or the spirit of the law is what matters. It also means that where laws fail to serve the intent, they must fade away and give place to the new.
Plato’s elaborative study of justice as an ethical virtue in the analogically larger Republic is based on the same understanding that ethics and politics are inseparable. Similarly, his disciple Aristotle didn’t see any reason to separate the both. In the Biblical tradition, the entire Mosaic Law was based on the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments, which were the essence of the Law. Jesus pointed out that they all hung on the two Great Commandments: To love God absolutely and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Of course, Paul, later submitted that the Law was only a revealer and a restricter. It revealed human sinfulness and it was meant to restrict the lawless (it was given for the lawless). Jesus pointed out that certain laws (for instance, the law of divorce) were only permissive because of the hardness of human hearts, but didn’t reflect the original intent of human creation.
Looking, now, into the Indian Constitution, one asks what is Indian Law based upon ultimately. The Preamble makes the democratic nature of the Republic clear. And, so it is the people’s government for sure. But, the moral philosophy is indicated in words like “humanism” and “scientific temper”, featured later on under Fundamental Duties. While the temper is scientific, the philosophical ground is humanism and its philosophy of man is condensed in the section called Fundamental Rights. The Law exists to ensure the protection of these fundamental rights of every Indian citizen. Consequently, any law that is inconsistent with these rights is automatically annulled.
The Fundamental Rights are not prescriptions to the people but declarations of humanism. These declarations are prescriptive only to the laws, since the laws are expected to conform to them. Thus, they not only inform but also serve as reference points, as absolute foundation, for the laws. As such, we may refer to them, with regard to humanism, as the intent, or spirit of the laws; perhaps even as the Law of the laws since they serve as the measure of all laws.
But, how do we know that these declarations are true? Perhaps, it is similar to asking about the laws of logic, “How does one know whether they are true?” The answer is: by using them or trying not to use them. One cannot deny them, but then one cannot deny anything without using them. Similarly, one cannot deny the Fundamental Rights without himself losing the rights.

Do Race and Religion Define Nationality? Semantic Analyses

To define nationality in terms of race and religion will immediately lead to confusion.

For instance, if we define the term “Indian” (a nationality identifier) as “a person who belongs to the ancient races of the mainland of Hindustan and follows one of the ancient religions of the land, e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, etc”, then we immediately land into the following problems:

1. A Japanese Buddhist will not be considered an “Indian” because though he follows an ancient religion of the land, Buddhism, he doesn’t belong to one of the ancient races of India.
2. Suppose, the same definition is accepted by the Japanese, i.e. they define “Japanese” as “a person who belongs to the ancient races of the mainland of Japan and follows one of the ancient religions of the land, e.g. Shintoism”, then because he doesn’t follow the religion of Shintoism but follows Buddhism, he will be no longer considered “Japanese” anymore.
3. However, if he is neither Japanese nor Indian, then what is he?

But, let’s define “Indian” as “a person who is a citizen of India”, then the confusion disappears.

Yet, it doesn’t mean that “Indian” loses its meaning as an ethnic identifier. For instance, in the term “Indian American“, the ethnic identity (Indian) is retained within the national identity (American)1. Similarly so with “African-American” and “Chinese American”.

As such, it is important to distinguish between political nationality and ethnic identity. They both can go together, but must not be confused with each other. However, a political nation that serves the interests of a particular ethnic group will soon fall to unrest and tyranny. Similarly, a political nation that serves the interests of a particular religious group will also fall to unrest and tyranny.

The ethnic distinguisher should only be functional. For instance, though we may speak of, say, “Indian Americans” in the form of Ethnic-Identity+Political-Nationality, we don’t speak of “Indian Indians” and “American Americans” in the same form. However, we can still speak of “Indian Tamils” (or “Tamil Indians”) or “Sri Lankan Tamils” or “Pakistani Punjabis” or “Indian Punjabis”. Of course, terminology identifying Americans who accept Indian citizenship or Germans who accept Indian citizenship hasn’t developed much. It is not yet popular to speak of “German Indians”, for instance, as Germans who have accepted Indian citizenship. The phenomena may not be large enough to warrant the development of such a terminology, perhaps.

But, with regard to religious identity, given either the political identity or the ethnic identity, it is not impossible to talk of say “Indian Christians” or “Thai Hindus” or “Tibetan Buddhists”, and similarly of “Indian Christians in America” and “Gujarati Jains in Dubai”. However, where race and religion are made defining components of nationhood, no meaningful talk can become possible. The result is chaos and unrest. Consistency demands that these identifiers be kept separate and not made definitive of something altogether different from any of them.


1American Indian” refers to the native Americans.


Ernst Renan (1823-92), What is a Nation?

Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even of those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial.

Yet the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common; and also that they have forgotten many things. No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgundian, an Alan, a Taifale, or a Visigoth, yet every French citizen has to have forgotten the massacre of Saint Bartholomew,’ or the massacres that took place in the Midi in the thirteenth century. There are not ten families in France that can supply proof of their Frankish origin, and any such proof would anyway be essentially flawed, as a consequence of countless unknown alliances which are liable to disrupt any genealogical system.

But what is a nation? Why is Holland a nation, when Hanover, or the Grand Duchy of Parma, are not? How is it that France continues to be a nation, when the principle which created it has disappeared? How is it that Switzerland, which has three languages, two religions, and three or four races, is a nation, when Tuscany, which is so homogeneous, is not one? Why is Austria a state and not a nation? In what ways does the principle of nationality differ from that of races?

Ethnographic considerations have therefore played no part in the constitution of modern nations. France is [at once] Celtic, Iberic, and Germanic. Germany is Germanic, Celtic and Slav. Italy is the country where the ethnographic argument is most confounded. Gauls, Etruscans, Pelasgians, and Greeks, not to mention many other elements, intersect in an indecipherable mixture. The British isles, considered as a whole, present a mixture of Celtic and Germanic blood, the proportions of which are singularly difficult to define.

The truth is that there is no pure race and that to make politics depend upon ethnographic analysis is to surrender it to a chimera. The noblest countries, England, France, and Italy, are those where the blood is the most mixed. Is Germany an exception in this respect? Is it a purely Germanic country? This is a complete illusion.

What we have just said of race applies to language too. Language invites people to unite, but it does not force them to do so. The United States and England, Latin America and Spain, speak the same languages yet do not form single nations. Conversely, Switzerland, so well made, since site was made with the consent of her different parts, numbers three or four languages. There is something in man which is superior to language, namely, the will. The will of Switzerland to be united, in spite of the diversity of her dialects, is a fact of far greater importance than a similitude often obtained by various vexatious measures.

Religion cannot supply an adequate basis for the constitution of a modern nationality either. Originally, religion had to do with the very existence of the social group, which was itself an extension of the family. Religion and the rites were family rites. The religion of Athens was the cult of Athens itself, of its mythical founders, of its laws and its customs; it implied no theological dogma. This religion was, in the strongest sense of the term, a state religion. One was not an Athenian if one refused to practise it. This religion was, fundamentally, the cult of the Acropolis personified. To swear on the altar of Aglauros” was to swear that one would die for the patrie. This religion was the equivalent of what the act of drawing lots [for military service], or the cult of the flag, is for us. Refusing to take part in such a cult would be the equivalent, in our modern societies, of refusing military service. It would be like declaring that one was not Athenian. From another angle, it is clear that such a cult had do meaning for someone who was not from Athens; there was also no attempt made to proselytize foreigners and to force them to accept it; the slaves of Athens did not practise it. Things were much the same in a number of small medieval republics. One was not considered a good Venetian if one did not swear by Saint Mark; nor a good Amalfitan if one did not set Saint Andrew higher than all the other saints in paradise.

A nation is a spiritual principle, the outcome of the profound complications of history; it is a spiritual family not a group determined by the shape of the earth. We have now seen what things are not adequate for the creation of such a spiritual principle, namely, race, language, material interest, religious affinities, geography, and military necessity. What more then is required? …..
A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form. Man, Gentlemen, does not improvise. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion. Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate, for the ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past, great men, glory (by which I understand genuine glory), this is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea. To have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more – these are the essential conditions for being a people. One loves in proportion to the sacrifices to which one has consented, and in proportion to the ills that one has suffered. One loves the house that one has built and that one has handed down. The Spartan song -‘We are what you were; we, will be what you are” – is, in its simplicity, the abridged hymn of every patrie.

A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. That, I know full well, is less metaphysical than divine right and less brutal than so-called historical right.