Christianity and Islam are the two major religions in the world. Though the religions appeared late, they managed to spread fast. Just like any other religion, both the religions had their bad and good times.
One point to note about both Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox or Islam is that they have spiritual heads. For e.g. Roman Catholics have the Pope. Papacy is not a person, but an institution. Similarly, right after the death of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the institution of Khalifa (Caliph) was created which lasted till 1924. Same is the case for Greek Orthodox church. Lets take the case of Papacy and Caliph, analyze the roles they have played in the past and then discuss whether Hindus (and in what manner) should have such an institution.
Lets start with Papacy first. The Papacy had both harmed and helped the Christian Europe.
How it has harmed the Christians? During the middle ages (also called the dark ages) the Papacy had become corrupt. The Pope had political power and were rulers of vast swathes of land. They forced the people to believe in their own interpretation of Christianity which eulogized the Pope and clergy by making them the middle men between God and Man. Due to this, scientific innovations, trade, education was ruined during the dark ages. It was not until the renaissance that the influence of Pope was reduced and after Italian unification, the Pope’s realm was limited to Vatican and he lost most/all political power.
How Papacy has helped the Christians? After the advent of Islam, Europe as a whole was battered by an aggressive Islam. The matters became worse after the Ottoman empire started ruling the Islamic world. During this period, the Papacy used all its influence, finances to forge coalitions against the Islam. For e.g. all the four crusades were organized on the call of the pope which broke the back of the Islamic world. During the Ottoman rule, Ottomans were checked and pushed back due to defeats in 2 major battles i.e. battle of Lepanto (1571) and battle of Vienna (1683). Had these battles been lost we would have been seeing an Islamic Europe now. Both these battles (and many others) were financed by the pope. Not only that, during any disputes between big monarchs in the coalition, Pope used to arbitrate and maintain order. Hence, we can conclude that without the Papacy, Christianity would have vanished.
Lets move to Islam.
How Caliphate has helped and harmed the muslims?
It is more or less same as the case of Papacy. It acted as the unifying force behind all Muslims and made Muslims rally behind him. It is no surprise, that when strong Caliphs were in power (All Ottoman Sultans were Caliphs) Islam was in its golden ages. The Caliphate also harmed the Muslims by not letting them innovate, question the authority of clergy just as Europeans did. That’s why no renaissance occurred in middle east and finally Caliphate Sank.
Lets now come back to Hindus. Should Hindus have their own Authority like the above and how should it be structured?
- YES, Hindus should have their own spiritual authority. Like every society Hindus have divisions, the said authority will ensure that Hindus stand as one and rise up during times of difficulty.
- The other advantage would be: (s)he would be a body/authority or a person who would worry about the Hindus most, just like the Pope. When the European nobles were fighting one another, Pope’s appeals made them stop fighting and unite for a common cause of freeing the holy land captured by Muslims. Historians say, this laid to the birth of modern nationalism. Hence, having a same authority amongst the Hindus will ensure that there will be an unifying force to smoothen the ruffled feathers, if needed.
- But one point to note, the authority should have “NO” political power, it should be spiritual authority ONLY. Political power is envied and hence political power may be snatched. But no one would envy spiritual power. Plus if the authority has political power, it will become corrupt and stifle innovation, as we saw in the case of Islam or Christianity. The Caliph was also the Ottoman ruler and a strong political power, hence the Turks themselves removed and exiled him. The Europeans themselves reduced the political power of Pope and his rule is now limited just to Vatican.
Hence, during the times when Hinduism is going through a tough time, it is important that all Hindu groups become united and create such an authority. Creating such an authority will take time, if we start now it may take decades and centuries for the authority to become powerful and influential.
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