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On The Necessity of Renewed Religious Scholarly Tradition


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source: http://www.sikhe.com/modules.php?op=modloa...article&sid=384

Great read :D

On The Necessity of Renewed Religious Scholarly Tradition

By Bahadar Singh Nirmala

Thursday, May 29, 2003 - 07:55 AM EST

I find it really interesting, and very revealing, that discussions on sikhe.com often slip into 19th century Christian debates about monotheism vs. monism, tradition vs. modernity, religion vs. science. There is an apologetic attempt to show at all cost that Sikhi is modern, scientific, monist, etc. It would be much more interesting to get rid of those old oriental debates.

In one of the recent debates, Christian and Sikh perception of creation were mentioned. The concept of the origin of the world is different in Christianity and Sikhi. Applying the word "Creation" for both is illogical. If you want to make a comparison, then you need to look back at the words used in the original texts in their original languages, that is, ancient Greek for the Gospels - actually a very nice form of koine - and the language of the Guru Granth Sahib, which draws most of its common vocabulary from Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian. Only then is a comparison possible.

It is also very unfortunate to find people defining Christianity in a few lines without referring to authoritative texts like the New Testament, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, Catholic and Orthodox theologians.

I know some people will say that Sikhi and Protestantism are very similar but sorry to disappoint you; this idea is the result of the British education given to the Sikh Singh Sabha leaders. I find it very difficult to compare Luther and Guru Nanak when I know that Luther was an anti-Semite and that he supported the nobles against the revolting farmers during the Bauernkrieg (War of the Farmers). He based everything on faith; our Gurus believed in knowledge. What most people do ignore about Catholicism is that before and after Luther the Church underwent huge transformations with the activities of, for example, Ignacio de Loyola, Theresa de Avila, Juan de la Cruz and the working priests, who actually changed the Church.

According to Max Weber, social Catholicism has been one of the driving forces for social reforms in Europe whereas Protestantism encouraged Capitalism. I would definitely encourage people who compare Sikhi and Christianity to break the Anglo-Saxon Protestant mould and take a look at more ancient, and maybe more authentic, forms of Christianity like Oriental Orthodoxy.

It surprises me that no one ever mentions Eastern Orthodoxy. Its mysticism, for one, is very similar to the Gurus' concept of naam simran, relation between body mind and soul. Saint Georgios Palamas' works are worth mentioning as well as the Philokalia, the Encyclopedia of True Light.

On the other hand, I am not too sure about the whole A Do It Yourself Faith attitude, which betrays unconscious yet obvious Protestant influences. Actually, I.J. Singh's article is full of easy anti-Catholic Protestant propaganda. Protestantism, especially in its Neo-Protestant form, does not believe in religious scholarship or a clergy. It is true that a clergy can bring stagnation in a religious institution but, on the other hand, the Do It Yourself Faith attitude opens the door to all kinds of ignorant charlatans who will split the Panth. Scholarship is certainly not needed for salvation but it is needed in understanding, comparing and debating religious issues.

Our Gurus did create orders of scholars like the Nirmalas, Sevapanthis and Udasis. Some members of these orders may have been corrupted for some time, or still are, but the fact remains that they were and are not elitists as they provide free education for everyone. The difference between Brahmanism and them is that the selection process for becoming educated in the Sikh orders is not birth but effort.

In fact, comparing Catholicism or Shi'ism to Brahmanism shows a total lack of knowledge of both traditions. The word katholikos in Greek means universal. The criteria for becoming part of the Catholic clergy, as well as a Shi'a ulema, is not birth but hard effort - at least in principle. In Neo-Protestantism as well as in SGPC (Protestantised) Sikhism, any uneducated idiot can improvise as a granthi, raagi or preacher with the results that we know in both cases - corruption, ignorance, blind faith, proliferation of cults and such like.

The fact remains that the great thinkers in Islam and Christianity are either Shi'a or Catholic/Orthodox because there is already a tradition that renews itself constantly after periods of stagnation. Sayed Hossein Nasr, Taillard De Chardin, Michel de Certeau, Raimundo Panikkar, Vladimir Soloviev - and his beautiful concept of sobornost, unity in diversity - Ali Shariati, Ayatollah Shirazi, Ayatollah Tabatai, Leonardo Boff and Patriarch Bartholomeos, are among the many examples of ground breaking scholars who have come out of a religious scholarly tradition and have helped in renewing these same traditions by carefully digesting and integrating new influences.

It would be nice if, in the future, we Sikhs became aware of the huge influence Protestantism has had on our religion. We started building our gurudwaras like Protestant churches, we play the harmonium brought by Protestant missionaries, we have adopted Puritan sexual ethics - that's why many people have a problem with the Charitropakhyan - we have neglected arts and religious scholarship in the name of the Do It Yourself Faith attitude. Most of our Sikh "intellectuals" are totally inarticulate and just follow 19th century ideologies blindly. And we wonder why it is so easy for Protestant missionaries to convert Sikhs by the thousands in Punjab!

The Sikh sampradayas, or orders - there are four: Udasi, Nirmala (including Giani sampradaya), Sevapanthi and Nihang - do need a reform but our Gurus gave them for the Panth so that Sikhi could flourish in all spheres. Saying that they are not needed or that the Gurus did not found them is foolish revisionism.

Traditional knowledge is not enough. Traditional establishments need to incorporate psychology, sociology, continental philosophy, etc., whilst keeping the traditional Indian knowledge. That's how a religious tradition combines modernity with tradition, science and faith. Only then will we be able to nurture the heritage of our Gurus and debate on equal terms with members of other religious traditions.

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