Nehru’s ‘religion’ was scientific, rational humanism

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religion Many views the agnosticism/atheism of Nehru as a serious shortcoming of his persona. They feel that “the greatest lack in him was his inability to believe in God.” Nehru remained a hardcore rationalist throughout his life. Nehru found the concept of God itself unintelligible and incomprehensible. In The Discovery of India, he said, “I find myself incapable of thinking of a deity or of any unknown supreme power in anthropomorphic terms, and the fact that many people think so is a source of surprise to me. Any idea of a personal god seems very odd to me.”

However, he always wondered about the way that the concept of God had on the inner craving of humankind, which “brought peace and comfort to innumerable tortured souls”.

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Countering the argument of those who upheld the necessity of God, Nehru maintained that, “even if God exists, it may be desirable not to look up to Him or to rely upon Him.” He argued that “too much dependence on supernatural factors may lead, and has often led, to a loss of self-reliance in man.” It would, according to him, ultimately result in “blunting of his (man’s) capacity and creative ability”.

Though Nehru rejected the traditional notion of God, he argued, that, “some reliance on moral, spiritual and idealistic conceptions is necessary,” for without such a belief “we have no anchorage, no objectives or purpose in life.”

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Nehru had immense faith in the human spirit that overcomes nature and brings about great human convulsions. He advocated ‘scientific humanism’ – the synthesis of humanism and scientific spirit. Scientific humanism advocated by Nehru “is practical and pragmatic, ethical and social, altruistic and humanitarian. It is governed by a practical idealism for social betterment”.

Scientific humanism treats humanity as its god and social service as its religion. It recognizes the fact that “every culture has certain values attached to it, limited and conditioned by that culture.” It also recognizes that human nature is such that “every generation and every people suffer from the illusion that their way of looking at things is the only right way” to knowing and realizing the truth to which they accord permanent validity.

Scientific humanism upholds a radically opposite view, namely, that “the values of our present-day culture may not be permanent and final; nevertheless, they have essential importance for us, for they represent the thought and spirit of the age we live in.”

He had almost the ‘devotion of a faith’ in human virtues and his unlimited capacity to struggle and emerge victorious in any kind of adverse situation. The virtues of man which impressed Nehru most, were man’s indomitable and undaunted spirit which seeks to mount higher and higher, his “gallant fight against the elements, his courage that overcomes nature itself, his limitless endurance, his high endeavour and loyalty to comrades and forgetfulness of self, and his good humour in the face of every conceivable misfortune”.

Like Sartre, Nehru, too, upholds the view that man continually accepts the challenges faced by him in achieving the targets and goals chosen by him. “Life,” according to him “is a principle of growth, not of standing still, a continuous becoming, which does not permit static conditions.” For man, life is a long adventure and an opportunity to test his will and worth. He does not rest until goals are reached. From every disappointment and defeat, the spirit of man “emerges with new strength and wider vision”.