February 21, 2021 6:30:42 am
Throughout history humans have brought about civil unrest, genocide, bigotry, hate, misogyny and intolerance. Every time fascist regimes have persecuted the Other, they have done so with the visible or silent approval of the masses. Indeed, history puts the burden of guilt on the silent observers even more heavily than on the autocratic madmen that they failed to hold to account.
The medieval period showed us the lengths to which the Church was willing to go to conquer lands under Islamic rule and bring them into Christianity. Four hundred years of war and killing, loot and pillage, rape and plunder between the so-called descendants of Abraham, fighting for control. Muslims, in turn, waged their own religious wars against non-believers. In the 20th century, Hitler’s Third Reich systematically killed innocent Jews as well as gays and others. Christianity was declared “the unshakeable foundation of the ethics and morality of the Volk.” The latter isn’t so old that we should forget it. There are still survivors of that shameful period of history. There are children living today who were born in the Nazi concentration camps.
No religion is immune to mass hysteria and mob frenzy. Blood is the least you can expect when people are incitedby those in power. Look at what is happening to the Uyghurs of China and Rohingyas of Myanmar.
But religion is not the villain. The villains are the pastors, rabbis, priests, monks and pandits who push this hatred of the Other. The blame lies with the power in the temples. synagogues, mosques and monasteries. Those who think they are the contractors who want to control the narrative — they are the ones who take the religiosity out of religion. They pray and chant with nary a care for the plight of fellow men and women from other parts of the world, who follow different faiths. They won’t speak up against human depravity; they meditate in silence as their followers harm fellow humans. Their religion becomes a sham that others follow blindly because it is the trend or the societal norm.
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My grandmother chided us to be religious — not to gather in communal groups for social networking and evangelising, but to strive to abide by the golden rule of doing unto others as we would have others do to us. To be magnanimous in our thoughts, actions and prayers. I learnt at a young age that hands that serve and mouths that speak up against injustice are far more pious and sacred than lips that chant and pray.
These are facts and not fiction: Religious people — people of faith, good people, kind people, caring people, decent people, evolved people and public servants — don’t vote to take away the rights of another, don’t reject the legal protections of those in the LGBTQ+ community, don’t persecute minorities, don’t sit silent when others of their faith marginalise those of other faiths.
If religion doesn’t make us shout and scream when another is mistreated, then our religion is anything but religious. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians,” applies to adherents of all religions.
Far too many of us are busy chanting, praying and genuflecting in private and in groups for our own personal gain. We chant for the better health of a loved one and friend; we pray to get better grades and land a coveted job; we worship privately and publicly and to great ceremony to ensure our children get into good schools, get all the opportunities they can, and succeed. But when we see our political leaders, our neighbours and fellow countrymen disenfranchise and marginalise our fellow humans, bully and shame those we deem the Other, we sit silently, we turn our heads the other way.
If we chant for the speedy recovery of an ailing friend with fellow Buddhists and sit in silence as our elected leaders marginalise our Muslim or Jewish neighbours, we show our lack of true religion. We are opportunists and not religious. We aren’t pious but self-serving.
Instead of spending an hour chanting or praying, instead of going out on social trips with fellow Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews or Christians, chanting and praying for good outcomes for what is already done and is waiting to be revealed, why not use that time to speak up against bullying, misogyny, hate, bigotry, rape and religious persecution? Sadly, across all religions, believers use their faith as a smokescreen — one that fools them into believing and seeing what they want to see and allows them to happily ignore the crimes being committed around them.
Religion and faith-based practices are rightly called the opiate of the masses.
At a United Nations Alliance of Civilization gathering in Qatar many moons ago, I heard Rabbi Arthur Schneier speak on the importance of acceptance of the other, not mere tolerance. “The greatest crimes committed against religion are the crimes committed in the name of religion,” he said. He asked us to rise above blind faith and to speak out when religion was being used as a divisive tool by self-serving demagogues and power hungry leaders of faith.
We will only be good children of God, decent people, kind humans, and religious and civilised citizens of this world if we show those civil virtues that make us human and show us as better evolved than the animals that we consider lesser than us. When religions fail to exhort us to act better and think of the human collective as one, our shared humanity must make us rise above the divide constructed by such religions. That is truly God’s work and will keep that one God from having to cleanse our religion, its followers, and our human collective from many a bloodbaths.
(Suvir Saran is a chef, author, educator and world traveller)
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