Some things never change; or, Why Milton still matters today.

“There are some irrational bigots who, by a perversion of justice, condemn anything they consider inconsistent with conventional beliefs & give it an invidious title – ‘heretic’ or ‘heresy’…To their way of thinking, by branding anyone out of hand with this hateful name, they silence him with one word & need take no further trouble.” – John Milton, de doctrina Christiana

Yesterday morning I opened my book and these were the first words that greeted my eyes. Only a few seconds ago had I finished reading the news, and looking at peoples’ tweets: people were abuzz about the same thing. Salman Rushdie wasn’t going to be attending the Jaipur Lit. Fest (happening now), and worse, he had been persuaded to not go by the fact that (allegedly) there would be assassination attempts on his life.

Given the sheer irritation that probably affects any (even semi-?) rational person when confronted with news like this, it was nice to open my book and find my irritation echoed by Milton, and to realise that things like this are nothing new; Milton wrote the above words in the 17th century. It’s possible – no, necessary – to question the linear idea of ‘progress’ that we are so self-congratulatory about every now and then. It’s equally necessary to question the labels societies apply to themselves and the ideals they allegedly defend: are so-called ‘secular societies’ really that? Is free speech really universally and indiscriminatingly allowed? (Easy answers, I guess, but at least let’s stop stuffing ourselves with false rhetoric when we want ego- & morale-boosts in the media or in conversations.)

I’m really enjoying my class on secularism this term, and have been thinking a lot about religion and the way its rhetoric creeps repeatedly into our daily lives and allegedly religion-free, secular politics (this is as true of India as of the United States, really, every time I look at someone running for the Republican candidacy…..). I’m coming increasingly to feel that it isn’t enough for countries to valorize their secular politics (or even take it for granted) when all it seemingly does is function as some sort of political shell, one still repeatedly susceptible to the demands of religious factions and ideologies. The divorce is really not that simple (or effective). But what do I know……these is jes’ thoughts.

*  *  *  *  *

On a happier note, I like libraries.

I discovered a beautiful website recently – http://bookshelfporn.com/ . It is full of the most awe-inspiring bookshelf photos, and inspired – I tried to emulate its pictures a bit myself. A website any bibliophile must visit!!

 

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