Religious conflict: Tracing the roots
by Virendra Parekh on 24 Feb 2009 4 Comments

If all religions preach love, amity and peace, why are there so much hatred, strife and violence in the name of religion? This question has often baffled not just atheists and agnostics, but also quite a few devout souls. The short answer is that every religion wants unity of mankind under its own banner - the operative word here is ‘banner’ and not ‘unity.’ What is worded as a call for brotherhood of mankind is very often a call for the conquest of the world by the faithful

When Hindus come face to face with the behaviour pattern patented by followers of Islam and Christianity, some of them are often puzzled. “We respect their religious traditions, sacred books, prophets, messiahs and holy places as much as our own. We do not convert anyone. But they hold our traditions in contempt, indulge in senseless violence, destroy our sacred places and convert our people with force, fraud and allurement. Why should it be so?”

Most people end up by concluding, mostly unconsciously, that people of other faiths are as a rule wicked, untrustworthy and prone to violence. This only deepens prejudices on either side. Since this is a sensitive matter, it is necessary to clear the ground by tracing the conflict to its roots.

To put the matter brusquely, there are two types of religious traditions. One may be called the Biblical or Abrahamic tradition and the other, Vedic or Indic tradition.

Biblical creeds

The Bible-derived creeds are founded on a central figure (Jehovah, God, Allah or History) who commands the exclusive and overriding allegiance of the believers. He is jealous, cruel and brooks no rival. To equate or identify Him (e.g. Allah) with gods worshipped by people of other faiths (e.g. Rama or God of the Bible) is to insult him by denying his supremacy. He (e.g. Allah) is the only true god. All other godheads are usurpers, pretenders and impostors, and their worship, being a denial of the only true God, deserves to be stopped. 

This only true god is not accessible to ordinary human beings. He deals with his people through an intermediary messenger, prophet or Sole Saviour. His teachings are contained in the Book. The Book is sole repository of Ultimate Truth.

Thus in these creeds, there is only one Truth; there is only one way to it; the God has given it to the chosen people, and them alone; it is contained in ‘our’ Book and in ‘our’ Book alone. Since the Book is authored by God Himself, every word in it is true, excellent, immutable, and binding. The Book, al-kitab, is beyond the comprehension of most of even the believers, and certainly the non-believers. They must therefore heed the Church, the Priest.

Faith in the Book is the overriding duty, as is the duty of making others ‘see the light.’ Since this is the absolute Truth, since it alone can lead to Heaven or permanent bliss, mankind must be awakened to it for its own good, at any cost, in whatever way. No sacrifice is too great for holding on to it; no means impermissible for converting others to it.

The exclusivist claims about the only true god, the prophet, the Saviour etc. are to be accepted on faith, on authority. A believer is not permitted to ask for proof or confirmation of the claims or contents of the book. Asking for proof which cannot be supplied is to show one’s lack of faith, a great disqualification.

Since their entire edifice rests on unquestioning acceptance of the dogma or belief system, the Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam as well as their secular variants like Nazism and Marxism - have always despised doubt, suspected reason and viewed science as a rival if not enemy. For them, testimony of the book is stronger than the proof of logic or testimony of experience.   

The very idea of an absolute monopoly of ultimate truth contains within itself seeds of intolerance, aggression, strife and authoritarianism. It is a charter of killing, destruction and subversion with a clean conscience. Within the Church or the Party, there will always be more than one claimant to this monopoly of truth. Outside, there are bound to be others who refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Church or the Party.

Vedic tradition

The Vedic tradition, on the other hand, is founded on very different premises. The starting point of this tradition is human consciousness, which can be explored, which can be purified progressively, and which can be transcended till it attains the loftiest heights of knowledge and creativity. At this summit, the Self becomes one with the Universe and sees all things, animate and inanimate, in Himself and Himself in everything. In this vast vision, sanctity attaches not only to human life, but to the whole of creation. This is the sumum bonum of spiritual humanism, which has always been India’s message to mankind.

The Indic tradition teaches us that Man is the child of Light, that he grows from within, responding to what he secretly is. The quest for spiritual truths is innately ingrained in Man, just like hunger or thirst. These truths are not contained in or confined to a Book. On the contrary, they lie secretly in every human heart and have always been accessible to those who seek them. These truths never need any Jihad or Crusade for their spread and propagation. On the contrary, these truths are self-propagating due to their own inner strength. All they need is the dedication they inspire spontaneously in all those who invoke them.

The Vedic tradition advises people to be busy with themselves, that is, their own moral and spiritual improvement. Several disciplines have been evolved for this purpose: tapas (austerity), yoga (meditation), jnana (reflection), bhakti (devotion), etc. A seeker can take to any path or discipline that suits his adhara (stage of moral-spiritual preparation). There is no uniform prescription for everybody, no coercion or allurement into a belief system, and no claim of merit for aggression against others.

No single individual, book or sect has a monopoly of a vision of or path to the Ultimate Reality. Several sages all over the world, in all ages, have attained it. They have put down approximate descriptions of that reality as well as hints of how to attain it in some books. These books are like travel guides. What matters is not the adherence to the travel guide, but to arrive at the Truth, to perceive and be one with the Reality. Buddha cautioned his followers that they should not mistake his finger (his teachings) pointing at the moon for the moon itself. 

The Message and the Means

The essential points are three: First, it is the individual who has to strive for himself; second, different ways will suit different persons; and third, the striving, the search is directed inwards.

The Biblical tradition, on the other hand, teaches people to be busy with others. One is supposed to have become a superior human being as soon as one confesses the ‘only true faith.’ Thenceforward one stands qualified to ‘save’ others. The only training one needs thereafter is how to man a mission or military expedition, how to convert others, and how to kill or ruin or blacken those who refuse to come around.

As the Message is the ‘Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth,’ as there is no truth beside it, those who do not accept the Message are cussed. Worse, they are thwarting the Will of God/Allah or the march of History (Marxism-Leninism). The believers, therefore, have a right as well as a duty to make them accept the Message, and if they refuse, to vanquish them altogether.

Abrahamic religions therefore, are closer to ideologies of power than pathways to spiritual truth. They use the language of theology, but their objectives are political. They aim at conquest of the world by decimating other traditions, capturing territories, and converting people.   

The Indic tradition has given to the world many schools of Sanatana Dharma, which have practiced peace among their own followers as well as towards the followers of other paths. On the other hand, the Biblical tradition has spawned intolerant, aggressive and violent cults such as Christianity, Islam, Communism and Nazism, which have always produced brutal conflicts with the rest of the mankind, with one another, and even within their own ranks.

The syrupy slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhava glosses over the basic differences between these two traditions. This has caused an enormous amount of confusion.   

The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top