Dec 15, 2008

Lifestyle - Fighting for faith

Mini Krishnan

God —

Save this country

From those who preach with both their tongues.


Balagangadhara Tilak,

translated from Telugu by

Velcheru Naryana Rao

At the beginning of the 20th century, could anyone have predicted that a 100 years later the power of religion would have been used as a fragmenting force in this country? There is a persistent and fervent hope that most Indians who are actively committed to their faiths belong to the moderate mainstream and what is often referred to as the silent majority. This article asks the “silent majority” in all religions, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Baha’is and Jews, to ensure that in a seriously challenged India, no one “ism” dominates. What place a highly intimate thing like one’s religiosity (or spirituality) should occupy in one’s life should be obvious, but with every street-contest for faith, it is becoming less and less clear. We are a people fascinated by science, yet its influence on us appears to be feeble compared to the fantasies of fear and mistrust constructed by some leaders who claim to be motivated by religion. Are we one family or are we not? Science says we are. The core of every religious faith says we are. But the chasms of irrational divides created by the false interpretations of these faiths say we are not.

Over the past decade or so we have seen the rise of the leviathan of intolerance and extremism in different faith groups. Religious extremism is a rush towards a phantom of security located in the past, a loyalty to the outdated; an angry, bitter refusal to study modern social truths or to accommodate any point of view that does not mirror one’s own. It takes pride in its lonely and — what seems to its supporters— lofty position of possessing values that are held to be vastly superior to that of any other group. Its followers entirely forget that to demean another’s faith is to dishonour their own. Since at the heart of every religion lies a perfect understanding of the human situation , surely it is intellectual weakness on the part of any particular religious group to refuse to recognise the truth in another and equally valid spiritual perspective of life? Marked by anger and a lack of compassion and charity, the warmongers of religion are not difficult to identify no matter how cunningly wrought their masks.

Immediate answer

We cannot be sure of how the future will shape. But surely the immediate counter to religious extremism of any kind should come not from secularism but from modern thinkers from within each faith. Let us not look for a virtuous secular circle — perhaps none exists and it is only a wordy dream; let us not call for a show of hands of those who have taken the time and trouble to study religions other than theirs; perhaps this category exists only in numbers that have never counted or been counted. But since we tend to measure our current national selves in relation to the memory of an imagined past identity, let us — just for a second — look at our favourite national daydream that we are a non-violent people. Are we really? The educated middle-class has always anaesthetised itself into believing that there is stability in their way of life and that all said and done, India is a peaceful place. Nothing could be more flimsy than this piece of imagination. Ours is today an unfeeling society in which some classes of persons have no court of appeal at all and where most forms of violence go unseen. And now, in battling for our faiths, sadly, we are proving Jonathan Swift right. He said, “We have just enough religion in us to make us hate and not enough to make us love one another.” How can any God be pleased with carefully laid plans that aim to destroy as many innocent people as possible and how can it be part of anyone’s worship?

The single great truth in the frightening chaos we are muddling through is that India is home and host to all religions. So this is a plea to readers not to surrender their judgement to faceless and self-serving forces. We need to understand that the importance of religion as a code of ethics is being exploited by frustrated and ambitious people because to appear to be defenders of their faith gives them a certain prestige, it gives them a dangerous freedom of speech, of communal acceptance — perhaps immunity too — not to mention a sense of power, glamour and ultimately personal profit. These malcontents and political actors are skilfully trying to equate a sordid struggle for power on Earth to a cosmic struggle between good and evil — a clever lie.

The way out

The only counter is for all believers to actively resist the hijacking of their religions by armies of mercenaries parading as “protectors” of religions. These cynical manipulators rejoice not in the love of Creation or the brotherhood of people, but in instigating murder in the name of religion in different parts of the country. Innumerable such orchestrations hang over our country like toxic clouds. No code that sets aside love of mankind and holds life cheap can lead its followers to freedom, either earthly or spiritual.

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