Saturday, March 16, 2013

Not a Religion: Inscrutable East Department

Once upon a time, a few mistakes ago ... (with apologies to Taylor Swift) I stumbled into an argument with Arun, some of his readers and a certain Guru. I say "stumbled into" because I never had any sense that I was contesting a point - rather I thought that I misunderstood something obvious, and merely was confused about a definition. The statement in question: "Hinduism is not a religion." My problem was that I thought that this failed the obvious "quacks like a duck" test.

Arun's latest post has clarified matters in my mind, though he likely won't agree with my interpretation. It seems that in India, as in the US, there is an income tax advantage for charitable contributions, but differently than here, this deduction does not apply to religious contributions. Thus, it is very interesting what a certain tax commission has ruled. Arun quotes from an article in the Economic Times of India:

Hinduism: Tax Tribunal says donations to Nagpur temple trust exempt from tax

MUMBAI: "...Lord Shiva, Hanumanji, Goddess Durga does (sic) not represent any particular religion, they are merely regarded to be the super power of the universe....Technically Hindu is neither a religion nor a community." ...

Understandably, the Devsttan Committee moved the tribunal. Its arguments were simple: the temple is open to everybody irrespective of caste or creed; even those who have no faith in the deities can visit the temple, and it does not belong to any particular religion. ...

Nowhere, the tribunal said, the object clause "talks of advancement, support or propagation of a particular religion, worshipping of Lord Shiva, Hanumanji, Goddess Durga and maintaining of temple, in our opinion, cannot be regarded for the advancement support or propagation of a particular religion".

They felt no evidence was placed by the tax department which may prove that these object relate to a particular religion and Lord Shiva, Hanumanji, Goddess Durga are regarded to be the super power of the universe and do not represent any particular religion.

So it's really just a tax dodge. Hinduism would like to be tax advantaged relative to Islam, Christianity, and so on, so it proclaims itself "not a religion" and its gods as not gods but "superpowers of the universe."

Viewed (by this cynic) through the lens of tax policy and consequences, the mysterious East starts to look a lot more scrutable. One can imagine similar arguments with respect to the Ten Commandments from some court in the US Bible Belt.

If you dwell in the ocean, the water is hardly noticeable.