This quote from Nicolás Gómez Dávila came as a surprise to me:
To democratize Christianity they have to falsify the texts, reading ‘equal’ where they say ‘brother.’ My brothers? Yes. My equals? No. Because there are older and younger brothers.
It was attached as part of a response from @synthronon, mocking this tweet by Pope Francis:
It appears to me that there is today a lot of confusion among both Christians and Hindus as to what their traditions are all about and in defending them what they are supposed to stand up for. Needless to say both are complex and diverse traditions which means that there are likely to be contradictory voices found in both but at the same time there are certain essentials that are worth preserving not because it is a critical part of identity but therein lies the real genius of these traditions.
For the Hindus, this consists of their ability to work with kinship communities (what they call jātis) which are natural groupings of human beings based on affinities arising from birth and marriage. For the Christians, this consists of their innovation of brotherhood, an artificial organisation which challenges kinship structure fundamentally by positing ideology as the glue which binds human beings.
This does not mean that kinship communities do not matter in Christianity or that ideology-based social formations have no role to play among the Hindus but that these are not what they are really about. There are advantages and disadvantages in both structures and there is a temptation on the part of each side to doubt their own intellectual heritage and emulate the other. I thought only Hindus suffered from this problem since they were caught on the back foot due to their burden of assimilating in the West-dominated global order, but it is evident that the Christians have fared no better. The vocabulary of the latter is no less confused today as of the former.
Francis’ tweet, for example, contains a self-contradiction. ‘God wants us all to see one another as brothers and to live as such’ is a Christian idea. But ‘forming a great human family that is harmonious in its diversity’ does not follow therefrom and, in fact, contravenes the prior commitment. It is a kinship sentiment associated more with Hindu thought. Brother, Family, Harmony, Diversity – terms used indiscriminately here, need to be properly understood.
The concept of family (of which the kinship community is an extension) is antithetical to the idea of a brotherhood. As a concept, the family consists primarily of the hierarchy between a father and a son. It is the model for social inequality. The dharma of the father is to protect and nurture the son; the dharma of the son is to obey and defer to the father. Extended to various human groups, the stronger party assumes the role of the father, the weaker of the son. There is no attempt to force an equality between them. Diversity refers precisely to the hierarchy i.e. the difference of strengths between different human groups. Harmony is what results when these groups enter into relations based on the father-son model and follow the dharma associated with their particular station.
Brothers, on the other hand, symbolise equality. Yes, as Davila points out (see the image above), there are older and younger brothers but that is an abuse of the metaphor. It is basically a reformulation of the father-son model where the older brother plays the role of the father, the younger brother of the son. If one seeks to work with social inequality, then it is better to use the father-son terminology and not muddy it through association with the brotherhood terminology.
To say that we are brothers but there is a hierarchy between us, is putting the cart before the horse. The right way to say is: there is hierarchy between us but we are brothers. The implication is that in spite of the diversity (disparity is a better word here) between us, we should treat each other as equals. Yes, there can be older and younger brothers but unlike in case of a father and son, the hierarchy between them is not ideal. It is an aberration in need of a correction. Father/son is the reality of relations between men. Brotherhood is a rejection of that hierarchy and a quest for equality. When father and son become equal that is when they become brothers. Is that not what Jesus, son of God, said – I and my father are one?
This path cannot lead us to harmony in diversity but to an annihilation of diversity: the diversity will remain of superficial value only, the essence will be equality. This was Martin Luther King’s dream: ‘Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.’ Harmony becomes redundant in this case for the strong will be disempowered, the weak will be empowered and everything will become equal.
The history of any movement does not follow a straight line but over a period of time bends before it rises again. Undoubtedly, while Christianity brought these ideas into the world, there would be those who would have resisted and, in order to cope with the exigencies of their time, attempted to modify what was imposed upon them to the traditional ways of going about the world, of making the Christian vocabulary of brotherhood fit within a discourse of kinship community. The above quotes of Francis and Davila are attempting something similar. But whatever is the svabhāva (essential nature) of the movement that will never go away and will continue to reassert itself against all such compromises – through reformation, liberalism, marxism and so on.
Yet, if Christians have genuinely come around to the realisation that human diversity cannot be annihilated, that harmony between unequals rather than the vain hope of egalitarianism, is the future then they need to abandon the language of brotherhood first of all and rediscover the father-son model in their European roots. Christianity arose as a challenge to the father-son model and only the annihilation of Christianity itself can permit kinship communities to flourish again in the West.
But the Hindus have been no less guilty over the last two centuries of appropriating Christian vocabulary and reinterpreting their own traditions in light of this influence. Swami Vivekananda, perhaps the most influential Hindu scholar of our times, is a case in point. He famously began his 1893 address at the Parliament of World’s Religions, with his ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’. Indians are still proud of the ovation he received for his address and in my younger days, a friend explained to me that the reason for this response was that unlike the cold-hearted Westerners who refer to each other by the impersonal greeting ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ , in India speeches begin with ‘bandhu-bhagini’ (brothers and sisters). The Americans, apparently, were completely floored by this warm and affectionate greeting, which they had never heard before.
However, in Sanskrit texts, the term ‘bandhu’ is used most commonly with a clansman ‘jāti-bāndhava’ or a close friend who is by the side through thick and thin. It is never a form of address to complete strangers gathered for a discourse. Why should it be? What transforms complete strangers into brothers? A common ideology – and the Hindus have always been lacking in one.
Christianity, on the other hand, brought an ideology-based social formation into the world when it united a group of people on the basis of a common faith in Jesus Christ. The father-son model constituted by the fidelity of sons towards their respective fathers was fundamentally challenged by positing a common father before whom all men were brothers. It would, of course, take centuries for the feudal system marked by relations between the lord-father and peasant-son to break down and a liberalism marked by autonomous individuals to emerge but the conceptual seed was laid in the formation of a Christian brotherhood.
When Swami Vivekananda addressed his audience as ‘Sisters and Brothers’, he could not have borrowed that greeting from any Hindu tradition, which he had been invited to represent on the world stage, but from the New Testament epistles of St. Paul in which he addressed the Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, and others, who were to him, complete strangers in a foreign land, bonded by nothing but a common faith in Jesus Christ, as ‘Brothers and Sisters’. No wonder then that Vivekananda’s American audience should have burst into applause for what more could affirm the triumph of Christianity in the world, than a Hindu monk beginning a discourse on his own religion with a profoundly Christian greeting. And how utterly the Christian roots of this concept should have been forgotten that nobody batted an eyelid at that phrase entering the secular pledge of India itself: ‘India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters.’
What is tragic in this history is not the transformation itself but the utter mindlessness in which the Hindus went about it such that there was no self-conscious reflection on what decision was being taken, with what consequences and what would be involved in making it successful. You cannot simply transform a people going about their world for centuries in kinship groups into a brotherhood. Kinship groups are natural formations; brotherhood is an overtly political act which involves constituting a people into a political community. The Hindu reticence to political formation or to commitment to any political ideology, their seeking refuge in some esoteric notion of dharma that miraculously absolves them from the dilemma of political choices and to make claims, on the other hand, of winglessness or flying on both wings, and so on: these are vestiges of a kinship-oriented thinking that has not yet learnt to address issues politically.
Perhaps, this is understandable given that the Hindu intellectual expertise lay in making kinship-based societies function effectively. And perhaps, what the Hindu thinkers are implicitly suggesting through their strange rhetoric is that a society divided into kinship groups rather than political formations is the proper way of living for humankind. This is also what Francis and Davila appear to be suggesting through their equally strange use of kinship language and attempts to read brotherhood in terms of a father-son paradigm. There is much that Hindu thought can contribute to this discourse for after all acknowledging the hierarchy between Older and Younger, and mitigating its oppressiveness by seeking Harmony in Diversity, lies at the very core of its genius. But there is nothing it can do – neither demonstrate the working of a kinship-based society nor contribute to a strong political formation – if it takes the path of self-deception, denies its own reality and attempts to project itself instead as a superior form of Christianity.