A Governor, a Swami and a Welcome Address

Alabama Republican Governor Robert Bentley was recently in the news for saying that he does not consider Americans who do not accept Jesus Christ as their savior to be his brothers and sisters. The exact text of his comment is reproduced below [1]. Emphasis in bold added.

"There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit," Bentley said shortly after taking the oath of office, according to the Birmingham News. ”But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister."

”Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters," he continued. "So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

The religious bigotry espoused by Governor Bentley was rightly condemned by many groups and individuals (including Christians), and he apologized for his remarks [2]. Notwithstanding the apology, his supremacist religiosity however presents a delectable contrast to what a certain Hindu monk, swAmI vivekAnanda [3] [4] [5] said when he stood to address a myriad of denominations (many of those being Christian) during the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Sept 11, 1893, drawing a spontaneous standing ovation from a crowd of around seven thousand for over two minutes [6] [7] [8] [9].

Sisters and Brothers of America!

swAmI vivekAnanda’s wonderful address to his audience of diverse religious affiliations reflects the very inclusiveness and core universalist ethos of sanAtana dharma (or what is now known as Hinduism). Not surprisingly, the depth of his sincerity and the beauty of his address touched his audience who rose to their feet and according to reports, “went into inexplicable rapture with standing ovation and clapping that lasted for more than two minutes.” [10]

The edited audio of swAmI vivekAnanda’s welcome address [7] is embedded below.

Coming back to Governor Bentley, fundamentally, his ethos are no different from those of the Taliban (to name just one such entity) who also espouse the very same supremacist religiosity. It is this very same religious totalitarianism which has in the past fueled heinous crimes against humanity. The last couple millennia of human history is replete with outright barbaric wars and horrific massacres brought about by religious supremacy. Hence, at a time when all humans irrespective of religious (or non-religious) affiliation should eschew all sorts of bigotry and imbibe mutual respect for one and all, Governor Bentley’s remarks have rightly made many people feel offended and incredulous. As per the Wikipedia page of Governor Bentley, he seems to be well educated [11]. However as his bigoted comment reveals, many a time, education alone isn’t sufficient to imbibe in a person mutual respect for one and all. It takes more than just a formal education to imbibe in one the inclusiveness that swAmI vivekAnanda so succinctly yet mellifluously summed up in his welcome address. One can’t help express heartfelt pity towards Governor Bentley and hope that in time his eyes are opened to the futility of his exclusivist dogmatic ethos and the beauty of the inclusive universalism so wonderfully laid out by swAmI vivekAnanda and so rapturously acknowledged by his audience, in American soil back in 1893.


[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20028777-503544.html

[2] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20028983-503544.html

[3] http://www.ramakrishna.org/sv.htm

[4] http://www.ramakrishnavivekananda.info/vivekananda/complete_works.htm

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Vivekananda

[6] http://hinduism.about.com/od/vivekananda/a/vivekananda_speeches.htm

[7] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxUzKoIt5aM

[8] Minor, Robert Neil (1986), "Swami Vivekananda’s use of the Bhagavad Gita", Modern Indian Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita, SUNY Press, p. 133

[9] P. R. Bhuyan, Swami Vivekananda, p. 17

[10] http://www.swamij.com/swami-vivekananda-1893.htm

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_J._Bentley