Ambedkar begins by establishing what he means by a philosophy of religion. This treatise evaluates Hinduism’s ability to create a fair and just society. Hinduism will either be vindicated or dismissed as a way of life.
A short synopsis of various terms and sub-categories used in comparative religion follows. The treatise defines religion as an ideal scheme of divine government that creates a social order in which men live in a moral order. The previous statement shows Ambedkar’s ability to think holistically as he describes religion as a large holon that encompasses the smaller holon of social order which includes the smaller holon of moral order. He then explains how these three holons were not always connected and over time life conditions facilitate these holons merging.
The work evaluates the idea of G-d as a supreme controller. Ambedkar admits that there is no way to know where the idea to G-d originated definitively. It is possible that it came from hero worship or as an explanation for the origin of the Universe. However, the concept of G-d is not necessary for evaluating morality and or explaining the source of the universe. Also, the idea of an omnipotent and benevolent creator is not in primitive religion.
The progression of religion is briefly explained. At one time religion encompassed all knowledge. An external revolution called the renaissance pruned religion from branching into areas of study it had no real authority. Internal revolutions forced a progression in how the relationship between man and G-d was viewed.
Religion should be both godly and earthly. Instead of evaluating Hinduism on these criteria Hindus take one of two stances. The first is religion is not important. The second is all religions are good. Both these statements are demonstrably false, as Ambedkar will later prove. Religion is a societal influencer for better or worse.
Hinduism’s claim to be a religion of equality was first dissected. The caste system as defined in the scripture Manusmriti creates a societal scheme that is hierarchical. An individual’s position determined at birth with no means to move up or down. Manusmriti dictates romantic relationships, the division of labor, and access to education between caste. When a lower caste is created that can be isolated socially and economically inequality will persist in society. A collective remedy for social and economic inequality is needed for further progress. Society intentionally created the division and must remove it.
The inequality in education leads to those in lower caste being more vulnerable to servitude. In Hinduism, only Brahmin can study scripture which leads to them being the literate class. Shudras, Dalit, and women were forbidden from studying Vedas. Those without an ability to understand the law or access written information of any kind will always be susceptible to manipulation. Also, if one believes Hinduism leads to union with G-d, precluding lower caste from scripture is especially sinister.
Hinduism all runs counter to the building of fraternity or fellow feeling needed for an equitable society. In addition to the four castes, there are thousands of sub-castes. It is difficult for a Hindu to find a suitable community outside his hometown. In addition to social isolation, the caste system has caused genocide. According to scripture, the priest caste annihilated the soldier class twenty-one times. Ambedkar frames these caste wars as a class war. They are endemic and permanent in Hindu society. All the castes and those outside Hinduism are suffering. Hindus can’t even share a meal with a member of a different caste.
He summarizes the problem with Hinduism and the caste system in four points.
- Caste divides labourers
- Caste dissociates work from interest
- Caste devitalises because it prevents men from pursuing their interest
- Caste prevents mobilization
Caste is not merely a division of labor; it is a division of laborers. By creating a system that assigns occupations at birth you divorce work from ability or interest. The separation of work and personal ability is a market inefficiency. Caste is also impractical in times of national emergency such as war. In war, everyone must be a soldier. To confine fighting to the soldier caste would prevent taking on any outside enemy. Also, Shudras are not allowed to accumulate wealth. Not being allowed to accumulate wealth removes them from any business pursuits.
He ends the treatise by comparing Hinduism to Nazism. The idea of supermen is the basis for both philosophies. Whether Brahman or Aryan, there is an idea that some are just born better, and others are not allowed to challenge the belief. The real difference was Nazism was out to create a super race, and Hinduism was created to maintain privilege asserted by a few at an earlier stage in history.
Ambedkar recognizes critics could say Manusmriti was not an essential text of Hinduism. He refutes this by recounting the history of how the smritis rose in prominence over time. Because smritis maintained social order, they became equal with the Vedas. It is true that Manusmritis states explicitly the rules of Vedas, but the concept is in the Vedas and Bhagwat Geeta.
Because the Hindu scriptures do not create a more just society or protect individual freedom, their study is unimportant. Ambedkar favors study of the greats in Western philosophy such as Plato and Rousseau. The Bible and other works of poetry are equally insignificant in comparison to rational philosophy. India must modernize while looking backward. However, he doesn’t completely disavow religion. Instead, he understands its value is proportional to its ability to fosters a love for humanity. If love for humanity and its advancement are not the center of religion, the religion should be abandoned.
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