What are the roots of what is known as the European civilisation? Generally speaking, they are the ancient Greek and Roman, both pre-Christian, and civilisations in the true sense. Two characteristics can generally be attributed to the term “civilization”: one, a sense of following the cosmic or natural rhythm out of which tradition is shaped and fashioned among an entire people, and two, a sense of creativity, endurance and continuity out of which the notion of the classical arises. Both these characteristics have an innate ability to temper barbarism and fanaticism through the judicious and wise use of political and military power and a respect for these values among the citizenry. And when even one of these values loses their vigour, the civilisation begins to decline.
This trait is most markedly visible in the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Thus, when a half-crazed Emperor Constantine signed that deadly decree that sealed the Empire’s fate forever, he simultaneously tore that delicate curtain that had shielded Rome from the Darkness of Christianity and heralded a millennial night of Christian subjugation, superstition, slavery, sloth, and nescience. But Constantine had only done the last rites. The irreversible decline had begun nearly a century prior despite fervent efforts by Aurelian and Diocletian to rejuvenate the Empire’s past glory because by their time, every single institution that had kept Rome strong, sturdy and enduring had deeply corroded from within. This corruption was one of the major factors that enabled Christian missionaries to spread their toxic language of love and compassion, a wily guise for achieving a tyrannical religious imperialism. Rome’s prosperity became its own mortal foe. In the memorable words of Edward Gibbon,
“The public highways, which had been constructed for the use of the legions, opened an easy passage for the Christians missionaries from Damascus to Corinth, and from Italy to the extremity of Spain or Britain; nor did those spiritual conquerors encounter any of the obstacles which usually retard or prevent the introduction of a foreign religion into a distant country.”
The fall of the Roman Empire after Constantine died was swift and brutal. An Empire that was united politically, had a robust military, a flourishing economy, had achieved excellence in arts and literature, and provided shelter to and accommodated all modes of worship progressively became powerless against the repeated depredations and brutalities of a handful of “foul-smelling barbarians” who hacked it away one limb at a time at will. Between Constantine’s death in 337 CE to the pitiful descent into what is now known as the “rump states” in 476 CE, the complete and utter annihilation of the Roman Empire has few parallels in world history.
And what was this Empire replaced with? A Christian despotism headed by a Christian bigot accountable to none, answerable to none and therefore free to rule by whim. A whim that he interpreted as being derived from scriptural authority and on the premise that this was the Kingdom of Christ, the most compassionate, loving and merciful. In fact, there is something deeply disturbing that a supposedly-spiritual “God” and “Christ” even needs a political kingdom. Neither was this kingdom established by fair or familiar means, i.e. a direct military confrontation but by a strain of stealth that has absolutely no precedent. The slow and systematic infiltration of institutions, the poisoning of the minds of a population which till then had lived with a sense of harmony and kinship irrespective of their traditions and modes of worship.
The Christian takeover and destruction of the Roman Empire provided Christianity the template that has proven highly effective. Even to this day. Most importantly, most visibly, in Bharatavarsha. Even as we speak. Events in the last five years in India have shown the frightening institutional power that the Church wields with impunity: all manner of Bishops and Archbishops and Pastors—many of them rapists, pedophiles and criminals—giving public calls to convert Hindus and vote in favour of a Christian-friendly political party, and the entire political spectrum including mainstream Hindu organisations is too powerless or too timid to even voice a protest. Gibbon’s chilling words once again come to mind when he says that
According to the maxims of universal toleration, the Romans protected a superstition which they despised.
Replace “Romans” with “Hindus.” The rest of the scenario remains the same. And accurate. And real. Equally, the timeline of the sequence of events that led to the final downfall of the Roman Empire after Constantine’s death is also instructive.
Pope Damasus I
This has always been the outcome wherever Christianity has been allowed a foothold. From the ancient Roman Empire to East Timor to Rwanda, civil war has erupted in formerly peaceful and harmonious societies the moment Christianity acquired sizeable clout. Events in India over the last 70 years have revealed the same brutal reality—the North East, parts of Orissa, and Tamil Nadu to an extent. The excellent book, Breaking India documents these full horrors in great detail. The more dangerous aspect of this insidious form of Christian imperialism is that the efforts will never stop because their goals are civilisational and the motivation of the adherents is unshakeable because
it was much less dangerous for the disciples of Christ to neglect the observance of the moral duties, than to despise the censures and authority of their bishops. [Edward Gibbon: The Christians and the Fall of Rome]
In other words, the love of Christ is corrosive to the soul of a civilisation.
How should Hindus view this abject history of the destruction of the Roman civilization?
The short answer is this: wherever Christianity has been allowed to grow in numbers and power, it has exterminated the spirit of Kshatra or valour. Kshatra is the only safeguard against barbarism of any sort, more so barbarism fuelled by the cruel and confident self-righteousness of messianic desert cults. The same history of the downfall of the Roman civilisation shows that its military and defence institutions were first corrupted and enfeebled before the terminal hammer landed. And it is precisely Kshatra that kept Hindu civilisation alive and enabled it to reassert itself repeatedly as we shall see later.
The Renaissance in Europe was initially premised on a revolt against and later a total rejection of Christianity. But the all-round millennial barrenness that it had imposed on Europe meant that these rebels and post-Christians had to look for inspiration and insight elsewhere. Quite obviously, they found it in the pre-Christian Greek and Roman heritage. With extraordinary enthusiasm, they set about recovering, rediscovering, reinterpreting, and rejuvenating this truly classical inheritance. This effort was directly proportional to the loss and complete erosion of the prestige, power, and authority of untrammelled Papal imperialism. It was this genuine appreciation for classicism that also led scholars and thinkers of Europe to discover and study Indian Darshanas in a spirit of open and honest inquiry.
But something else also happened along the way.
Imperial Europe’s swift and stunning military successes across the globe quite naturally imbued in them a sense of unchallengeable superiority over the rest of mankind. To put this in Bharatiya terms, the interplay of the forces of Kama (desire) and Lobha (greed/avarice) eventually instilled an incurable Mada (haughtiness/arrogance) in them. It was a Mada that lasted more than two hundred years as we’ve seen in the previous essay. And so, by the 1930s, the selfsame classical learning and scholarship began to witness a permanent decline in Western academia, and racial superiority masqueraded as academic inquiry in the heady haughtiness of Empire. This duplicity acquired a particularly vile hue in India. Christian missionaries who were an effective organ of British imperialism told Indians that science, technology, machines, automation, and advances in medicine were all products of the greatness of the Christian religion.
Roughly around the same period, on the other side of the Atlantic, the largely Christian US was sowing the seeds of a colonialism of a different sort. In the interests of space, let’s just say that America is not a civilisation by any definition of the term; at best it is a highly successful, temporary and insecure experiment in excesses. It also stands as a contemporary and highly glamorous warning against the fatal danger of a society based primarily on the unbridled and extravagant glorification of Artha and Kama without the sobering fetters of Dharma. The less said about Moksha, the better.
In this light, the only country in the world that can be called a civilisation is Sanatana Bharata which at its core still retains the soft luminance that gave selfless light to the whole world for countless years. This luminance has been eclipsed but every eclipse is fleeting. Writing with extraordinary foresight as early as in 1954, these immortal words of Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri in his “Bharateeya Samskruti” have stood the test of time.
The limits of human knowledge and the pace of scientific progress creates a time difference. The hallmark of a superior culture is its ability to keep this difference in mind and achieve progress in a state of peace. From a spiritual and ethical perspective, if we are to establish culture in the exact, noble sense of the word in the present world, we need to newly create and instill a sense of dharma in human beings. [Emphasis added]
For the most part, the “progress” that was attained both by Europe and later by the US hasn’t come about exactly by peaceful means or achieved in a state of peace. And if this progress has been threatened by and frightened its populace by two random planes flying into a building and now, a historical Church that caught fire, one wonders the innate strength, value, sustainability, and resilience of this progress. Centuries of crass materialism culminating in rootlessness, and a near-total destruction of even the notion of spiritual yearning has sapped the West of its vital energy. And so the trajectory from the Christian takeover of Rome to a temporary Renaissance which was replaced by colonial arrogance and now to spiritual vacuum and an impending economic ruin, the curve of the proverbial circle seems approaching completion. The fragmented Roman Empire was powerless against the Huns, Goths, Visigoths, Germanic tribes and several bunches of assorted rowdies. In the present time, replace these groups with “Islamic immigrants.”
History never fails to guide and enlighten.
We can turn to Dr. Srikanta Sastri again, who delves into the fundamentals:
Other cultures and religions are premised on an assumption that Otherness is both absolute and unalterable through human efforts. This prohibits free philosophical and spiritual inquiry in these religions. These religions preach that the only solution to mankind’s problems lies in a total dependence on the political machinery, that because feelings of superiority and inferiority are eternal, social reform is both an illusion and impossible, that there can never exist economic equality, and therefore the only option is to live with the existing condition…
only the culture of India has unambiguously shown the whole world the nature of the relationship that must exist between the doer, the deed, and the cause of the deed. It is a culture, which confidently exhorts that “there is no other way than this” (naanyaH panthA vidyatEyanAyA)…
Indian culture, far from being incomplete like other cultures, has a wholesome beauty…
The spiritual outlook that lies at the heart of Indian culture is the reason it is still alive and flourishing in the world… [Emphases added]
Indian culture is thus like Atman, the Self: timeless and imperishable…
This provides a good foundation to further explore other facets of Sanatana civilisational and cultural resilience in the backdrop of the recent fire in the Notre-Dame Cathedral.
To be continued