The “Secular State”
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
This conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and India’s ambassador to Sweden took place in Stockholm, in the fall of 1973.
Srila Prabhupada: In America and India and so many countries all over the world, they have a “secular state.” The government leaders say they don’t want to favor any particular religion, but actually they are favoring irreligion.
Ambassador: Well, we have a problem, We have a multi-religious society, so we people in government have to be careful . We can’t take too strong a position on religion.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. The government must take a strong position. Of course, the government should be neutral to all forms of bona fide religion. But it also has a duty to see that the people are genuinely religious. Not that in the name of a “secular state,” the government should let the people go to hell.
Ambassador: Well, that’s true.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, if you are a Muslim, then it is the duty of the government to see that you are really acting as a Muslim. If you are a Hindu, it is the government’s duty to see that you are acting as a Hindu. If you are Christian, it is the government’s duty to see that you are acting as a Christian. The government cannot give up religion. Dharmena hina pashubhih saman: if people become irreligious, then they are simply animals. So it is the government’s duty to see that the citizens are not becoming animals. The people may profess different forms of religion. That doesn’t matter. But they must be religious. “Secular state” doesn’t mean that the government should be callous—“Let the people become cats and dogs, without religion.” If the government doesn’t care, then it isn’t a good government.
Ambassador: I think there’s a lot in what you say. But, you know, politics is the art of the possible.
Srila Prabhupada: No. Politics means seeing that the people become advanced, that the citizens become spiritually advanced. Not that they become degraded.
Ambassador: Yes, I agree. But I think the primary duty of the government is to provide the conditions in which gifted people, spiritual leaders like you, can function. If the government does any more than that, it might even corrupt the various religious groups. I think government should be like an umpire in a game—provide the conditions, provide the conditions for free speech.
Srila Prabhupada: No. Government must do more than that. For instance, you have a commerce department—the government sees that the trade and industrial enterprises are doing nicely, properly. The government issues licenses. They have supervisors and inspectors. Or, for instance, you have an educational department—educational inspectors who see that the students are being properly educated. Similarly, the government should have expert men who can check to see that the Hindus are really acting like Hindus, the Muslims are acting like Muslims, and the Christians are acting like Christians. The government should not be callous about religion. They may be neutral. “Whatever religion you profess, we have nothing to do with that.” But it is the government’s duty to see that you are doing nicely—that you are not bluffing.
Ambassador: Surely … as far as moral conduct is concerned. But more than that, how is it possible, you know?
Srila Prabhupada: The thing is, unless you are actually following religious principles, you cannot possibly have good moral conduct.
yasyasti bhaktir bhagavaty akincana
sarvair gunais tatra samasate surah
harav abhaktasya kuto mahad-guna
manorathenasati dhavato bahih
“One who has unflinching devotion to God consistently manifests all godly qualities. But one who has no such devotion always must be concocting schemes for exploiting the Lord’s material, external energy—and so he can have no good moral qualities whatsoever.” [Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.18.12]
As long as you have faith in God, devotion to God, everything is all right. After all, God is one. God is neither Hindu nor Christian nor Muslim. God is one. And that is why the Vedic literatures tell us,
sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhokshaje
“The supreme duty for all humanity is to achieve loving devotional service to the Supreme Lord. Only such devotional service—unmotivated and uninterrupted—can completely satisfy the self.” [Bhag. 1.2.6]So one must be religious. Without being religious, no one can be satisfied. Why is there so much confusion and dissatisfaction all over the world? Because people have become irreligious.
Ambassador: In Moscow, so many people are hostile to religion, completely against it.
Srila Prabhupada: Why do you say Moscow? Everywhere. At least in Moscow they are honest. They honestly say, “We don’t believe in God.”
Ambassador: That’s true. That’s true.
Srila Prabhupada: But in other places they say, “I am Hindu,” “I am Muslim,” “I am Christian … .. I believe in God.” And still they don’t know anything about religion. They don’t follow God’s laws.
Ambassador: I’m afraid most of us are like that. That’s true.
Srila Prabhupada: [Laughs.] I should say that in Moscow at least they are gentlemen. They cannot understand religion, so they say, “We don’t believe.” But these other rascals say, “Yes, we’re religious. In God we trust.” And yet they are committing the most irreligious acts. Many times I have asked Christians, “Your Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Why are you killing” They cannot give any satisfactory answer. It is clearly said, “Thou shalt not kill”—and they are maintaining slaughterhouses. What is this?