Religion and Government

Religion and Government: Should They Mix? (Controversy!)
Religion and Government: Should They Mix? (Controversy!)

A book that looks into the separation and non separation of church and state in America and some of the issues surrounding the separation.


The interaction of religion and government

Even though Americans often view church and state as considered separate, religion influences political policies all over the world because religious beliefs shape what a person is willing to accept. A developing country that is a good example of this is India. In India the caste system comes directly from Hinduism which makes it easy for the government to keep the people following the same traditions without moving ahead. In China, Confucianism holds the people back because the philosophy is that rulers should be obeyed by the ruled.

There are three doctrines of Hinduism: varnas, ashramas, and purusarthus. Varnas is the doctrine of the four classes. Asharamas is the doctrine of the four life stages. Purusarthus is widely unstudied , but believed to be the doctrine of the four goals in life (Sharma, 1999). These four doctrines share the basic values.

In the doctrine of Varnas it is believed that there are four castes. These castes arose from the mouth, arms, thighs, and feet of the Primeval Being. Their divisions in society are Brahmin or priest, Kshatriya or warrior-cheif, Vaishya or merchant, and Sudra or menial. In the Varnas doctrine of Hinduism, all castes other than Sudra are considered twice born and worthy of wearing sacred thread. The Sudra are the people who have only been born into this life once and are, therefore, lowly servants. In the doctrine of Varnas, the four castes are treated differently with different behaviors, rituals, moral codes and punishments (Fox, 1969).

In the doctrine of Ashramas there are four ashrams. They are Brahmacharya, Grahasta, Vanaprastha, and Sanyasa. These four ashrams are considered shelters and the person takes up shelter in each of these life stages. Each stage is also designated a certain purpose and the person must complete one stage in order to move onto the next.

Brahmacharya is the learning stage of life. In this stage, the person is supposed to focus on themselves and learn their craft or trade. They are also supposed to remain celibate during this stage because sexual activity is thought to have a negative affect on the process of learning.

Grahasta is the family stage of life. The person is supposed to support their family with the skills they learned during their Brahmacharya stage. In this stage they are allowed sexual activity with their spouse and are expected to bring their family up the same way that they were brought up. They are also required to continue performing their religious duties.

Vanaprastha is the detachment stage. It is when the person or in many cases married couple leaves the raising of the house to the daughter in law and only act as religious mentors. The purpose of sexual activity has been fulfilled and therefore celibacy is reenacted. The people in this stage of in this world but no longer of this world. They are supposed to be leaving all attachments to people and possessions behind.

The final stage is Sanyasa or the reunification stage. It is during this stage that the person is supposed to reunite with God. They are expected to leave everything and go live the rest of their life in solitude, meditation and the contemplation of god. This final step has become fairly outdated and finds few people that actually do it today's society, but in the past was a common practice (Nevatia, 2006).

In the doctrine of purusarthus there are four life goals. They are Dharma or virtue, Artha or wealth, Kama or pleasure, and Moksha or liberation.

Dharma is the first goal in the doctrine of purusarthus. The goal of Dharma is to live as varnas or social status prescribes. This is done by living life in accordance with rules and obligations of one's varnas.

Artha is the second goal. It is the achievement of wealth. It is recognized in Hinduism that some wealth is necessary for the well being of a person. Wealth should not be sought for wealth's sake but for the upholding of Dharma and the ability to support one's family.

Kama or pleasure is another goal in purusarthus. Desire is something that all people live with and in Hinduism, giving up these desires is a form of sacrifice that comes with living in accordance with Dharma. At some point desires which lead to pleasure need to be fulfilled. Doing so at the proper time and place in one's life is the main goal of kama.

Moksha is the final goal of life and can begin at any time in a person's life. Usually undertaken during the age of retirement, moksha is the disillusionment. This is when a person puts all their attachments into the proper order and realized what is and is not important. This involves much meditation and contemplation. Once the person is free from all the things that hold them to this earth, liberated, they are free to move onto another life (Davis, 2004).

In all three doctrines of Hinduism it is generally accepted that a person's position in life is related to a past life and their achievements in that past life. If the person lives their life well, they will be in a better position in the next life. This is known as karma. The “law of karma” has rarely been challenged in India and is the belief of all Indians that believe in Hindu (Milner, 1993).

Other than the three doctrines of Hinduism, India had further separations that have also influenced the development of the government. There was much ethnic and regional diversity with at least three main areas: the foothills in the North, the Indo-Ganges Plain across northern-central India and the Peninsula of the south. The people of these areas were very different from each other (Roskin, 2009).

India was also captured a number of times and each time the culture of the capturing people influenced the Indian culture. Persia was first to conquer India in sixth century BC. Under Persian rule most of India was united (Roskin, 2009).

Following the Persian take over, Islam found its way into India as well, Arabs took the Sindh region of lower India which is now Pakistan. This was the first time Islam found its way to India. More Muslim people arrived from Afghanistan and set up sultinates. Akbar the Great expanded the Mughal Empire to include most of Northern India, and ordered religious tolerance (Roskin, 2009).

After the Monghals, the British arrived in India. The takeover was done through treaties and provinces. Much of India was still under the rule of maharajahs under varying degrees of British supervision. The British rule did much to modernize India by bringing a single language to the area that allowed educated Indians to speak to each other. It also brought the nation together with railroads and telegraphs. Once India was modernized, the people told Britain to leave (Roskin,2009).

They created the Indian National Congress which was run by intellects. The original purpose was to debate government reforms. They were not aiming at independence until Gandhi returned to India. Once India was independent, it remained fairly stable because it was old and the Indian National Congress was well formed and able to be a ruling political party (Roskin, 2009).

From the single ruling party of the Indian National Congress, three political parties emerged: The Congress of Gandhi, the Muslim movement, and the Hindu nationalist movement. The Muslim movement feared domination by the Hindus while the Hindu nationalist movement preached hatred of Muslims. These feelings had built up under British rule and needed to be released. Eventually the Muslims split from the Indian National Congress and demanded Pakistan for themselves (Roskin, 2009).

The Government in India is a parliamentary system. The constitution of India defines it as “socialist, secular, and democratic.” India has a weak president that is mostly ceremonial. The president serves five year terms and is elected by an electoral college of the two houses of parliament and the state legislatures. The Prime Minister in India holds most of the power. The power was needed when India was trying to gain independence. The power of the Prime minister has lasted into the present (Roskin, 2009).

The caste system in India most likely comes from Hinduism. The situation was made worse under British rule. The British put the flexible castes into rigid categories in order to divide the Indians and rule them more efficiently (Roskin, 2009).

It is easy to see that no matter which doctrine a believer in Hinduism follows, they are all compatible with how the British separated them in order to take advantage of the people. Each doctrine refers to a person's position in society and dictates that the person remain in that position and also keeps their family in that position. The doctrine of varnas has the most obvious reference to the castes in India, but the other two doctrines site the doctrine of varnas while giving further instruction on how to live one's life. The beliefs in Hinduism become universal to all Hindus.

People who believe their status is decided by gods are not likely to fight it. The followers of Hindu fit into this category very well. They believe they are doing their God's bidding and that in the next life they will be rewarded with a better life. They appreciate what they have even if it is little to nothing.

Even the outside castes in Indian society, Daltis, fall into the doctrines of Hindu. There are some ways around the system, such as the person moving to a new place and claiming that they belong in a higher caste. Others, such as the Aryan used the caste system as a means to conquer by saying that they were of the higher caste and should be obeyed. In such a system, it is easy to be taken advantage of (Roskin, 2009).

India is working on ridding itself of the caste system, a slow process but necessary. The problem with India is that the people are passive. The upper castes do no not want to have to fight for their positions so the lower castes are doing much of the work without a lot of results. The government in India is extremely corrupt. Funds set aside for projects such as public education dwindle to nothing before actually funding the project because of bribes and false fees for large companies. People in India tend to dream of having a government job so that they can accept large bribes even though getting the job requires bribery. Police brutality is prevalent in India especially toward the lower class (Roskin, 2009).

China faces similar corruption in their government which is also given the right to rule them through the use of the philosophy of Confucius. The scholar Confucius came up with the idea that stable government was formed by instilling good moral behavior in both the ruled and the rulers. People must understand their roles and be obedient to them (Dongfang, Lin, & Huang, 2006). This means that the ruled must obey the rulers. This form of thinking has shaped China's government and consequentially their economy as well.

China is still a one party state. The constitution specifies that everything is to be run “under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” The current leaders of the Chinese government are a group of graduate engineers. These leaders are unelected official leaders that govern by economic and financial skills. In China, these officials are good with microeconomics but not with macroeconomics. They expect quick answers and do not look ahead at the long term consequences of their decisions (Roskin, 2009).

The economic system in China is a blend of capitalism and communism. There are special economic zones that function more like a free market than like a planned economy. Most of China looks like a capitalist boom town, but all larger economic entities are at least partially owned by the state (Wong, 1987). For example, the state owns seventy percent of the Chinese National Overseas Oil Company and participates in banking affairs. The involvement of the government has caused some well run businesses to make poor banking and investment decisions. The government supports large buildings and labor is cheap so contractors are able to build things that are larger than what is actually needed. These buildings become a waste of money because of improper location or the expense of what is in them (Roskin, 2009).

China's Communist Party encourages Confucianism because it brings back Chinese nationalism and gives them more of a right to rule, but right now in China the real ruling factor seems to be money. This moving away from having a country united by a few religious or philosophical beliefs and toward a country where religion and government are separate things has paved the way for the start of a new government that may lead to a more stable economy than China currently has.

Currently in China, no one owns land other than the government. Farmers are allowed to farm their land the way they want and produce goods. A certain percent of these goods are to be sold at government price and the rest can be sold at free market price. The government price, of course, keeps down the free market price. The farmers are also responsible for buying their own seeds, fertilizer, and equipment, keeping the profit down as well (Roskin, 2009). The free market portion is a small step toward having a completely free market, but it is a step in the right direction just as the special economic zones are step in the right direction.

Another step toward a free China is happening in small communities on the outskirts of China. The people are able to elect officials into office. These officials are controlled by the Chinese Communist Party and have little to no actual power, but democracy is starting in the bottom portion of Chinese society (Roskin, 2009).

In order for democracy to take a true hold in either India or China, there needs to be a slow transition. China is further along with the transition than India is, but is facing the probability of an economic crash if it moves too fast along with the fear of a bloody take over. China needs to move slow and be sure that it can stay financially afloat without the rule of the Communist Party. Also, China needs to take the power that the Communist Party gives up as the Communist Party gives it up in order to avoid a war and have democracy set in easier than it has in other countries that tried to do it overnight. If they move too fast, the people will still be too accustomed to the corruption in the government and not be able to handle a system that is built on trust of not only the government, but also banks and other businesses.

India is still in the process of moving away from a government run by a religion and toward a government separate from Hinduism. Once Hinduism is out of the government policies, they will be better able to handle diversity in their country and move toward a government that all people accept as having control in India. This change would make it so that the Muslims and Hindus can live together more peacefully and continue their assent into the capitalist world.

Having the beliefs that they have, both the people in China and in India have accepted forms of government that may not be as beneficial to them as another form could be. Their beliefs have lead them to give the government legitimacy and ultimately control, not only over their political policies, but also their economic policies. In India, the caste system keeps the poor poor and in China the Communist Party keeps the people poor. Both governments are filled with corruption in order to keep the rich people rich. Only with a complete separation of government and religion can a country move toward a better governing system.


Davis, D. R., Jr. (2004, January). Being Hindu or Being Human: A Reappraisal of the Puruṣārthas . International Journal of Hindu Studies, 8 (1/3), 1-27.

Davis looks into the doctrine of purusarthus and debates weather the doctrine is mythical or real.

Dongfang, S., Lin, H., & Huang, D. (2006, September). Separation of Politics and Morality: A Commentary on “Analects of Confucius”. Frontiers of Philosophy in China, 1 (3), 401-417. doi:10.1007/s11466-006-0016-5

The difference between the primitive Confucian, who did not substitute ethics for politics, and the observers who tend to regard moralities as politics so that the politics have become the same as the ethics of Confucians.

Fox, R. G. (1969, January). Varna Schemes and Ideological Integration in Indian Society . Comparative Studies in Society and History, 11 (1), 27-45.

Fox does detailed look into the beliefs of Varnas. He then looks at the effects of Varnas on the society. The article is meant to spur further research into Varnas and Inian culture.

Milner, M., Jr. (1993, May). Hindu Eschatology and the Indian Caste System: An Example of Structural Reversal . Journal of Asian Studies, 52 (2), 298-319.

Milner looks at the Indian caste system and its relation to Hinduism.

Nevatia, H. (2006, November). The Four Ashrams or Life Stages. In Suite101 . Retrieved July 4, 2010, from

The author describes the four stages of life in accordance with Ashramas.

Roskin, M. (2009). Culture and Concepts: Politics, Geography, Culture (10th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

A look at the culture, politics, and geography of different countries.

Sharma, A. (1999, Summer). The Puruṣārthas: An Axiological Exploration of Hinduism . The Journal of Religious Ethics, 27 (2), 223-256. doi:10.1111/0384-9694.00016

Sharma explores the four doctrines identified in the context of Hindu civilization and what they mean for the civilization as well as how purusarthas should be further developed

Wong, K.-Y. (1887). China’s Special Economic Zone Experiment: An Appraisal . Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 69 (1), 27-40.

The author looks at the experimental free market zones in China and how well they are working, if they can be sustained, and what the outcome of the experiment will be.


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