1 – Conflict Between Religions: Tracing the roots – Virendra Parekh

Abrahamic Religions

Virendra ParekhThe 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. – Virendra Parekh

If all religions preach love, amity, and peace, why do we see 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 humankind 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 sacred books, prophets, messiahs, religious traditions 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. But 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 simply and briefly, there are two types of religious traditions. One of them may be called the Biblical or Abrahamic traditions and the other, Vedic / Indic / Pagan traditions.

The Bible-derived creeds are founded on a central figure (Jehovah, God, Allah) 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) is to insult him by denying his supremacy. He (e.g., Allah) is the only true God, with a capital “G”. All other Gods 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 the sole saviour. His teachings are contained in the Book. The Book is the sole repository of Ultimate Truth.

Thus, in these creeds, there is only one Truth; there is only one way to it; God has given it to us, the chosen people, and us 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, even the believers, and certainly the non-believers. We must therefore heed the Church, the priest. The 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 are denied 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 the belief system, the Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam as well as their secular versions like Nazism and Marxism—have always despised doubt, suspected reason, and viewed science as a rival if not an 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, Ummah, 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, Ummah, or the Party.

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 Itself, and Itself in everything. In this vast vision, sanctity attaches not only to human life but to the whole of creation. This is the summum bonum of spiritual humanism, which has always been India’s message to humanity.

The Indic tradition teaches us that we human beings are the children of Light, that he grows from within, responding to what he secretly is. The quest of spiritual truths is innately ingrained in all of us, 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 adhikara (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 Reality and be one with it. Buddha cautioned his followers that they should not mistake his finger (his teachings) pointing at the moon for the moon itself.

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

This is the rational basis of that tolerance in matters of faith and belief that Hinduism is justly praised for, even by its bitterest critics. Hinduism insists not on outward religious conformity but on an ethical and spiritual outlook on life and the world. It allows absolute liberty in the realm of thought even as it enjoins a strict code of conduct, especially for those who are strong in spirit. Hinduism is not a closed creed outside which there is no salvation, but a fraternity, a fellowship of all those who respect the claims of the moral law and earnestly seek for the truth. Na hi kalayanakrut kashchit durgatim tat gachchhati (Gita 6-40) “the performer of the good—and not the believer in this or that view—never falls into an evil state”.

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 professes the “only true faith”. Thenceforward one stands qualified to “save” others. The only training one needs thereafter is how to lead a mission or a military expedition, how to convert others, and how to kill or ruin or blacken those who refuse to change or 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 cursed. Worse, they are thwarting the Will of Allah, or the march of History in 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 schools of Sanatana Dharma that preach the peaceful pursuit of the transcendent truth 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 humankind, with one another, and even within their own ranks.

So, we should beware of the slogan sarva-dharma-samabhava because it glosses over the fundamental differences between these two traditions. This has caused an enormous amount of confusion. – India Facts, 20 September 2021

Virendra Parekh is a senior journalist of 45 years’ standing. He writes in English and Gujarati on economics and politics as also on issues related to Indian civilization, history and cultural nationalism. Currently, he is Executive Editor of Vyapar, a 72-year-old Mumbai-based Gujarati bi-weekly economy, business and investment.

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