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Religion focuses on differences, and ignores the universal commons


Religion focuses on differences, and ignores the universal commons

"The TIME HAS COME to tell the truth. The truth is that peace is a blessing dreamt by religion and destroyed by the religious elite. Religion is born out of our thirst for peace: peace with God and, because of that, peace with the rest of creation. It is a thirst that can be assuaged only with the water of love: love especially for the enemy. For millennia, however, we have been made to drink the hemlock of hate in the name of the God of love. This was never the work of God, but of the self-appointed guardians and custodians of gods.

God's benediction on the human family is peace. Islam, for instance, is literally the religion of peace. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi is the emphatic Vedic blessing. Jesus greeted people with the gift of peace," Peace be with you."The absolute emphasis on compassion and ahimsa in Buddhism and Jainism is the quintessence of peace. Human beings receive this gift of peace and turn it into a cult of cruelty for each other. The manipulation of devotion has been the foremost strategy in this context. Some human beings are religiously conditioned to behave unthinkingly. It is a great danger to mistake the will of the religious establishment for the will of God. This spiritual illiteracy is packaged as devotion. This explains why most people express their religious devotion by hating and hurting people of other faiths, and not by loving them. God's will is that we love one another, because we cannot in honesty love God if we do not love each other.

ALL WARS AND CONFLICTS have been fomented and fermented through a misuse of devotion. The pseudo-religious elite propagates and prostitutes the unique human faculty of devotion. All forms of nationalism — the most potent secular religion — have exploited the faculty of devotion most abominably. Nation is to nationalism what God is to conventional religions. In times of war, the distinction between patriotism and nationalism vanishes. As the violence spreads, the boundary blurs between loving one's country and hating the neighbouring country. People pray to their gods for victory over their enemies, being convinced that their enemies must also be the enemies of their gods. At the same time, the scriptures say that all are God's children, equally. It must be difficult being God, because God does not practise partiality and yet has to heed and obey the partisan entreaties of both parties!

Religions have forfeited the right to preach peace by rejecting peace among themselves. This has happened as a result of losing the ability to live with differences. Religions differ from each other, especially in terms of customs and practices. It is in the nature of love to acknowledge and transcend differences. Religions preach love, but they have seldom practised this kind of love. Instead, they have conditioned their followers in the art of hating, even as they preached love. What drives the religious elite is not a culture of love, but one of organized vested interests. The first step towards peace is to call the bluff on this universal hypocrisy.

The conclusion is that religion as we practise it today is a catalyst of war, not of peace. This is because of the divorce between religion and spirituality. The core of spirituality is the discipline of loving God and loving our neighbours. Spiritually, the quintessential human right is the right to love. Depraved religion has robbed us of this basic human right.

IN HISTORY, SECULAR leaders have done more to define and defend human rights as well as religious freedom than the preachers and keepers of religions. More often than not, religions have served to legitimize various forms of injustice, as in the case of the abhorrent caste system. Religious leaders have had far less respect than secular leaders for religious freedom. The most authentic proof that we are committed to religious freedom is the willingness to respect and safeguard the religious freedom of those who do not belong to our own religious fold.

Although love is assumed to be the archetypal religious paradigm, in fact it is power that has driven the chariot of religions. This is most evident from the attitudes of the religious elite in every religion. Though religions differ from each other in their specifics, the religious elites share a common agenda. Though they insist on the incompatibility of religions, they have identical views and goals. It is because they are so similar to each other that their followers fight in order to perpetuate a spurious aura of difference. But the real enemy of religion is the consumerist-materialistic culture. Hardly any religion is engaged in combating it. Instead, religions themselves are becoming increasingly consumerist.

The key to the healing of religions, which is a prerequisite for peace, is that the people should refuse to accept the hypocrisy of the religious elite, who, very often, treat them badly. An example of this is the apathy of the religious establishment for the development of its community. In India this is most pronounced in the case of the Muslim community. The Muslim leaders should have to explain why so many of their followers are illiterate and underdeveloped today. Quality of life in this world should not have to be sacrificed for the sake of some hypothetical compensation in the world to come.

Wherever people have been empowered to attain quality of life they have preferred peace. As long as the worth of human life is compromised through crass poverty it has been possible to whip up mass frenzy for war and lead the poor into battle. Poverty and peacelessness go together: it is hypocritical to pray for peace without waging war on poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment. Poverty degrades individuals and robs them of dignity and worth. It is easy to drug people in such a state with the opium of spurious patriotism and make them offer their lives to the gory gods of war. The rich, who value their lives, are rarely persuaded to die for their country, though they are the loudest in recommending suicidal patriotism to the poor. The religious elite, too, romanticizes poverty while it wallows in luxury.

THE BASIC PEACE AGENDA has to be the reformation and spiritual revitalization of all religions. The first step to peace and human rights is the establishment of peace between religions. Religions need to be rescued from their present framework of conflictive relationship and relocated in a paradigm of mutual co-operation. The second step is the acknowledgement of the equal value of every human being, no matter what religions people profess. The third step is the restoration of the lost balance between faith and reason in religions, and a vigorous critique of the idea of religious devotion. The fourth step is an uncompromising commitment to social and ethical development. Such development holds the key to the appropriation of the full worth of every human being. The fifth step is the democratization of all religious establishments and the exposure of the hypocrisies that flourish within them. Religion must become a domain of truth and justice. Until this happens, religions will preach peace and wage war at the same time."

Religion focuses on differences, and ignores the universal commons

The Hindu, December 2001




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