Archive for » February, 2013 «

RELIGIONISM

A recent mail from a colleague raised worries about a rise in religious intolerance in our country. Whether the increase of intolerance he sees is based on a real shift in public mood or not, the concern openly expressed by a member of a different faith made me look more carefully at events.

At the same time as he notes rising discord, I hear loud appeals for cooler responses. These appeals call for rational examination of the fundamental similarities of all religions. They say that we should all learn to respect other religions and their freedom to prosper unimpeded. Proponents of religious amity claim that being aggressive about other faiths is contrary to the true spiritual core of all religions. Hostility to the other religion is presented as violating the spirit of compassion, respect and tolerance. Some religious dignitaries now preach from common platforms the gospel of coexistence and respect for all religions.

What the assorted clergy are now jointly announcing, unwittingly I think, is that all religions are equally legitimate. I find this strange. How on earth can genuine belief that one’s religion is the only real repository of truth be matched with these statements? People holding a given unshakeable and insistent belief should naturally find it troubling to meet someone who makes equally insistent claims that a different faith is true. A genuine belief surely demands visible confrontation with unbelievers and false believers – especially when reinforced by the underlying conviction that, left in peace to practice their misguided faith, they’d surely suffer serious harm in the after-life. Do these dignitaries feel that allowing unbelievers fleeting comfort here on earth supersedes the sacred duty to save these misdirected souls from unimaginable disaster?

I’d guess that the true believer cannot look at a contrary view with detached amusement and simply allow the non believer (or different believer) to rot in it. To look respectfully at opposed beliefs is to accept that absolute truth does not reside in one’s avowed faith. Or it implies that the person is ready, cruelly, to consign these heretics to interminable suffering. True belief and compassion  must surely call for unceasing effort to save the soul (or whatever outlives the material being) of those non-believers. To leave apostates undisturbed and thereby condemn them to horrific consequences, so that I may selfishly get on with my business, must surely count as the worst form of sin? Are all these dignitaries calling for equal respect for other religions not betraying a lack of real faith in their own religion – and equating it to various sacrilegious beliefs?

My conclusion is that the assorted religious dignitaries calling for equal respect for other religions are all heretics.

I am keen to hear how my logic may be faulty.

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Post script (17th Feb):

I am grateful for the critical comments and suggestions sent to me about this post.  (By the way, samara-singhe@hotmail.com works better than responses directly posted via this site, as the latter get drowned among hundreds of spam messages!)

Most of those who disagreed with me said that only some religions advocate single minded belief. They claim that dignitaries of other, more ‘tolerant’, religions should therefore be able to call for respect for other religions without fatally compromising their faith. These commentators – all identifying as Buddhists – say that my claim is not true for Buddhists, at least.  Buddhism, according to them, does not arrogantly assert that it is the sole source of truth or the only route to salvation. It instead asks us to examine all beliefs critically and accept things that are useful or make sense. My own superficial research in the last few days indicates that Hinduism too is not rigorous in damning all non-believers. Nor does Judaism – surprisingly for a monotheistic religion – hold that only Jews are eligible for everlasting joy in the heavenly kingdom. (Hinduism and Judaism, it seems to me, believe that their God or Gods are not at all like humans – and are able to judge good from bad actions independently of whether the person committing them poses as a member of one’s club or not.)

I accept that, from the standpoint of doctrine, the arguments of those who (kindly) disagreed with me are correct. I am guilty of applying to all, a conclusion that was not valid for at least three major religions. I should therefore correct what I said, and state instead that any Christian or Muslim dignitary who asks that equal respect and legitimacy be given to other religions is probably expressing a heretical belief and will likely end up in hell.

In my defence I’d say that I should be pardoned for making this error. For the overt conduct of most devout Buddhists too, in these recent debates, reveal that the nature of their belief is in no way more refined than that of Muslims, or of Christians.  (Nor for that matter do I see real-life Hindus and Jews as more tolerant than anyone else – oh no.) Grand ideas of doctrinal or philosophical superiority of a religion cannot be entertained by adherents who apply its underpinning core element selectively – to be brought to life in one mood and suppressed in the other.