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Hindus and Hindon'ts

Dec

06

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War on Christmas News — Heathen Edition!

We’re getting to that time of year again when the snow starts falling and we all come together in the spirit of harmony and goodwill to wage War On Christmas. But as we get into the serious anti-Christmas fighting over the next few week, we might take a moment or two to consider the less fortunate among us who might not have a Christmas to wage war against. And by that, I mean Hindu and Buddhist fundamentalists.

Not many of us here in the West get too worked up about these two religions. Liberals want to be ecumenical, inclusive, and multicultural, so they tend to withhold harsh criticism of minority (in America, at least) religious views. Conservatives believe Hinduism and Buddhism are just different forms of Islam, so they figure they’ve already got it covered. But what both groups miss is that these religions make claims which are just plain wrong. And those wrong beliefs can lead to some terrible actions.

A couple of recent news items raise this issue. For starters, in India a 14 year old boy was found strangled in a field. His name was Neeraj Kumar, and he was a member of the “untouchable” caste. Except it’s no longer PC to call him an untouchable — and you can touch him, apparently. Now they call them Dalits. It’s still OK (socially if not legally) to have caste system biases in some parts of India. Go figure.

“My uncle knew George Harrison!”

According to the BBC article, the boy’s family had been a-fussin’ and a-feudin’ with a higher caste family, one member of which shared a name with the murdered boy. And as we’ve all learned from The Big Lebowski, having the same name as a rich person leads to conflict. But in this case, most stoners won’t find much humor in it. The rich family had been pressuring the poor family to actually change the name of their children because they didn’t want to share a name with a Dalit, who they believe are somehow lower than them. The good news for the rich family is that they don’t have to worry about associating with someone lower than them because there is nobody lower than them, ridiculous bullshit about karma and reincarnation notwithstanding.

Anywho, the police say that this murder is the culmination of this absurd fight. With a billion people in India, you’d think even the most backwards of them would get used to some name overlap, but I guess not.

Representing Buddhism, we’ve got King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, but you can just call him Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatbophit. That’s his official title. Seriously. Some insecure guys get sports cars to compensate for their, um, shortcomings; others give themselves insanely long and silly titles.

“Hey Adulyadej! Is that some kind of goofy hat or did an elephant take a shit on your head?”

Like the caste system in India, the Thai monarchy is justified in religious terms. In the early days it was a mixture of a Hindu emphasis on military power and the teachings of Buddha. The current monarch is a staunch defender of Thereveda Buddhism. Back in the 1950s he became a monk for a couple weeks because one of his relatives died, which is apparently a thing Thereveda Buddhists like to do. He even wrote a book based on a traditional Buddhist story.

Buddhists try to reach what they call enlightenment, for some reason. Enlightenment means you monitor the private text messages of the citizens you rule over and throw them in prison for a couple decades if any of them insult you. That’s what happened to the 61 year old Ampon Tangnoppakul, whose lawyer says doesn’t even know how to send text messages and “loves His Majesty the King.”

Tangnoppakul has a reason to lie, though. This isn’t the first time King Adulyadej has gotten his panties in a bunch over someone saying mean things about him. Back in 2007 the Thai government banned YouTube after it refused to remove videos mocking the monarch. That same year a Swiss man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for dabbing some black paint on the king’s portrait while drunk. Others are currently serving long sentences in prison for such trivial “offenses” as posting pictures or forwarding Facebook messages critical of the thin-skinned dictator. Not standing during the royal anthem is also considered a crime in Thailand on the grounds that it insults the monarch.

The judge in Tangnoppakul’s case found him guilty and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Tangnoppakul wasn’t there to hear the verdict in person though because as the NY Times article cited above notes, the prison he was kept in was surrounded by floodwater at the time of his sentence. Personally I doubt the authorities had any intention of letting him leave the prison even without a guilty verdict from the judge.

That really says it all when it comes to the Eastern religions which even critics of religion often treat with kids’ gloves. How messed up are your priorities when the government would rather scour the internet for critics (or develop nuclear weapons, in India’s case) than do something about massive flooding to the extent where a prisoner can’t even leave his cell for his own trial? For some reason Hinduism and Buddhism get this reputation as ‘peaceful’ religions, but even a quick glance at the news over the past week or so shows that such a reputation is totally unjustified.

  • Mike C.
  • Harold

    Hey, Rick Perry’s into faith…lets send him to Thailand, or some other suitable theocracy.

  • Tostenson

    Not sure what Buddhism has to do with the Thai king’s thin skin.

    • http://www.buffalobeast.com/ Josh Bunting

      He’s thin-skinned because he’s in a position of power, and he’s in a position of power because of Buddhism. If it weren’t for Buddhism his having thin skin wouldn’t matter, even if it turned out to be somehow caused by something other than Buddhism.

      To get a concise explanation for how his core beliefs shape his personality, you’d probably need to get him to talk to a professional psychiatrist who specializes in cult deprogramming or religious delusions or something like that. But if you suggested he do that he’d probably try to find a way to throw you in one of his prisons.

  • Rajeev

    You’re absolutely mistaken about Hinduism and I urge you to actually read something about Hinduism, if not the actual books then atleast the Wiki entries. Check this out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India

    The caste system Hinduism talks about, as written in the Bhagvad Gita, the holiest text of us Hindus basically says that a person himself decides his own caste. But over time, certain powerful individuals changed it from a religious order to a social order whereby your birth determines caste. Nowhere, is it written in Hinduism that you’re born into a caste. It is a social order now and still it’s illegal to discriminate on its basis. Blaming Hinduism for caste is like blaming Christianity for American Segregation, Slavery and persecution of Blacks in the United States. Just like in America, it was powerful White Anglo Saxon Protestant men who perpetrated those crimes, in India it was upper caste, privileged, wealthy Indian males who enacted a horrendously cruel order.

    Many of Hinduism’s best saints and ascetics have been Dalits and they have been highly accepted by upper caste Hindus. It also has to do with regional realities. I come from a place in India where there is virtually no role of it, my mother is “low caste” and my father is “high caste” but it didn’t matter for their families.

    • http://www.buffalobeast.com/ Josh Bunting

      “Blaming Hinduism for caste is like blaming Christianity for American Segregation,”

      I wasn’t going to go there, but this is essentially right. It’d be a mistake to say that Hinduism doesn’t justify the caste system in the same way that it’d be wrong to say that Christianity doesn’t justify racism and slavery. So if you understand that parallel and admit that the whole thing is based on the Gita, then what exactly is your problem with what I said?

  • Brian M

    I think it’s a question of causality.

    Religion is a construct used to justify and entrench human society’s seeming need to construct elaborate social hierarchies. I don’t think it “causes” injustice and hierarchies per se. Religion exacerbates, justifies, and perpetuates systems of injustice. Of course, religion can also be used to challenge entrenched power and injustice, too.

    It is disingenuous to claim that “real” Hinduism (or Christianity…or Islam) has no role in the injustice of the modern caste system. That’s not what various sages and apologists for the Brahmin caste would agree (and to generalize and stereotype, I have never met more socially regressive people than high caste Brahmins. The rest of us are just dirt under their feet). That’s what defernders of religion always say, and they can certainly cherry pick religious history and doctrine to support their claims. But then, so can the fundamentalists and the defenders of elite power. Who is “right” as both groups quote holy text and history to justify their positions?

    • http://www.buffalobeast.com/ Josh Bunting

      As an atheist, I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “real” Hinduism, “real” Christianity, etc.. because in order for one form of it to be “right,” there would actually have to be some kind of divine intervention, and I don’t believe in that. There are just variations. None are really any more valid than the other unless they’re making empirical claims which we can test as either true or false. When people say things like this, what lies beneath it is that you don’t believe that people who do horrible things because of their religion are really doing it because of their religion – even though that’s what they’re explicitly telling you. They’re closet atheists and it’s all a coincidence that they all just happen to be able to use the same holy books to justify the bad shit they want to do. But unless you have some evidence, that just sounds like a battered wife making excuses for her abusive husband.

      When it comes to a guy like Peter Popoff, there’s actual evidence strongly suggesting that he doesn’t actually believe what he’s saying and that he’s a self-conscious fraud to some extent. But unless you have evidence like this, it’s pretty irresponsible to claim that all Hindu nationalists, Islamic and Christian fundamentalists, Buddhist dictators, etc… are all lying about their core beliefs just because they make you uncomfortable.

      EDIT: Actually, reconsidering this, I guess there would have to be a point at which someone’s literary interpretation of a text could be so far off that it’s just wrong. But that’d be like saying that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a pro-slavery book or that Slaughterhouse-Five was a pro-war book. And I don’t think anyone familiar with the source material could say that a guy like Pat Robertson is really that far off in his biblical interpretations.

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