Faith in the almighty Lord of Universe, representing the benevolent forces of nature beyond human control has been an object of devotion, leading to formation of religious philosophies that serve to bring humility, discipline, compassion and peace. On the contrary, when it is hijacked by vested interests that have something else on their agenda, religion gets converted into communalism and is often abused as a tool for conflict, violence and destruction.
Almost every human society, beginning with the most ancient of civilizations, has benefitted from the positive impact of religious philosophies. Though some of them may not exactly be in the nature of what is understood as a religion in the modern context, they all shared the one most important defining characteristic, of recognizing the almighty Lord of universe as a supreme force, along with full and unflinching faith in his benevolence.
This devotion to God has been a part and parcel of all so called religions or religious philosophies and has served a great deal in bringing certain degrees of discipline and harmony among the people. On one hand, it has helped in nurturing compassion towards fellow human beings, and on the other it has restrained attributes such as selfishness, arrogance and violence, thereby bringing greater harmony in the society and helping it to attain its potential by advancements in finer human endeavors like arts and science.
However, it is also an irony that the same religion that has facilitated the development of these humane qualities, can also serve to be their greatest destroyer, when used as a tool in the hands of those who, blinded by their own vested interests, make it a quest of ‘us’ over ‘them’.
It is a sad irony of human life that whatever is cherished and valued most can also become a common cause of its suffering. This is what happened with many of their scientific discoveries, like gunpowder and nuclear energy, and happens even more commonly with emotional attachment. It is not uncommon to find that the one you loved most has become a reason for your suffering. This is also true of religion, in spite of the fact that it has benefitted the human society by being a source of belonging, peace and self-awareness.
The same religion, in the hands of vested interests, often tend to lose its original purpose of devotion and faith to God and compassion and harmony for fellow beings, and instead takes the form of a divisive ideology that pits humans against humans and instead of spreading love and compassion, becomes a source of hatred, conflict and violence.
Human history is replete with instances of such religious hatred, persecution, violence and even genocides. In spite of all advances of modernity and scientific knowledge, these threats arising from religious communalism never seem to end! Ironically, this is in spite of the fact that all religions treat all human beings as the creation of the same almighty Lord of universe, effectively making the whole humanity a brotherhood.
Most of us would have wondered, sometime or the other as to why the children of that same Lord of Universe are fighting among each other. All religions acknowledge that we are all a creation of that superpower, and this includes even those who may not have faith in his existence or his overarching benevolent power. There can also be no doubt in the mind of the faithful that the omnipotent and omnipresent Lord knows everything and has powers far beyond the comprehension of mankind.
Yet, we find human beings fighting in his name, as if to protect him (God) from the others (human beings)!
One of strangest words in such inter-faith conflicts is the use of the word “holy” that is often associated with such conflicts and violence. It seems that one group of humans take upon themselves the responsibility to save the almighty Lord from other human beings, while the other group also feels the same way.
The whole stupidity of such an act is appalling. Can anyone possibly explain as to how mankind, who is taught by every religion to seek blessings and protection from the omnipotent Lord for its vulnerable existence in this world, and which has unflinching faith in his omnipotent powers, can even think that the Lord could be endangered by the other group and would need protection from human beings! It is difficult to come across a more fallacious and distorted argument. Considering the Lord as weaker than human beings or vulnerable would itself amount to blasphemy in many religions, and yet it seems to be the underlying logic for all inter-religious conflicts in the name of God. There is surely something severely wrong and illogical in this kind of thinking. Clearly, there is some great fallacy of reason and we need to find it, if we want to stop such conflicts.
The answer to this seemingly obnoxious perversity of logic lies in differentiating between 'religion' and 'community'. Contrary to the general perception, they are two completely different things, having very little in common, and their mix-up is one of the most commons causes of inter-religious conflict and resultant human misery.
Religion is an individual person's own private affair, a matter of her faith and belief's. It is an extremely personal and private relationship of her spirituality with her perception of the almighty Lord, the creator of this universe, and an unwritten, unstated subordination to that great creator and master of universe, whom we tend to address in our own way and language. This personal and private affair would have never led to the creation of communal conflicts, if it was not for political aspirations of a few.
Community, on the other hand is the result of inherent nature of human beings to connect socially with other human beings. A community by itself is a positive development as it allows individuals to share and grow together. This tendency to form social groups allows each member a certain amount of safety and insurance against calamities like natural disasters, accidents, attack by others - humans or non humans, and also provide them with a sense of identity, belonging and self esteem. Such community formation is in many ways an inherent strength of human nature.
However, this inherent strength turns into inherent weakness the moment there is struggle for power and dominance between the groups. As soon as such conflicts arise, communalization tends to divide the society instead of binding it. The reasons that underlie such struggle and its resultant conflicts are invariably political in nature. It usually begins with one group believing its superiority in terms of power, ideology or some other factor and wanting to use it to dominate other groups. In most cases, it is a plain and simple struggle for dominance, associated with potential material gains likely from such dominance over others.
It is interesting to note that religion is not the only basis for communalization of society. Communities can come into existence on the basis of any one or more of several factors other than religion, which include race, language, ethnicity, genetic relations, political ideology or socio-economic status. However, among them, religion has been one of the strongest forces of communalization in human history and has led to some of the worst human conflicts. Perhaps, the history of Middle East provides the best illustrations of this phenomenon, though most other regions of the world have also experienced it in some form or the other.
Religious communalization is nothing but just another form of communal politics. It becomes worse when it is also associated with nationalism, which in itself can be as great a source of human misery as religious conflicts. Together, the two can create havoc for the people leading to genocides and ethnic cleansing. However, unlike nationalism, religious conflicts can often lead to violence even without formal wars, and its scope can keep varying from a limited strife to a full blown human tragedy. It can create violence in a small neighborhood or spread across political boundaries to engulf vast populations.
It is important to dissect the human behavior and mass psychology that gives rise to these religious conflicts. There are two apparent fallacies that lie at its origin. First, a belief that it is the duty enshrined by one's religion to fight against other religions; and second the foolhardiness and lack of accountability of those who somehow, time and again, gain control of these religious communities. The second reason is often more important in communities where questioning anything said by these self proclaimed religious masters is considered blasphemous, allowing them to literally get away with murder, sometimes, of their very own kin!
Communalism is not religion and religion is not communalism. However, for those who wish to build their political struggle for dominance and one-upmanship on the basis of religion, it is a political maneuver to project these two completely distinct things as one and the same. It is when they are able to project religion and communalism as one and the same thing that they can seek unflinching and unquestionable obedience of the masses in their community. If you look at it closely, it might become clearer that it is not just a quest of a community to dominate others that causes religious communalization and conflicts. Very often, it is primarily the quest of some self proclaimed saviors and leaders to dominate their own community that gives rise to such religious communalization.
If we wish to enjoy the benevolent outcomes of religion without getting adversely impacted by the poison of religious communalization, we need to differentiate the two clearly in our mind and thoughts. The faith and devotion in the Lord of this universe should makes us all compassionate to all his children, i.e. all human beings, irrespective of their faiths, and without any fear that those who have a different view can endanger the Lord. If the Lord is omnipotent and all powerful, if they are also his creation, and if nothing ever happens without his permission, then surely, we can leave those that do not abide by our philosophy, to the destiny written by the Lord for them. Doing anything else would only amount to an illogical arrogance and disrespect for the Lord and cannot be part of any religion, logic or reason.
We must also understand the source of all communal conflicts. We need to target communalization as a potential source of trouble. We need to make the communal leaders somehow accountable, and for this it is essential that we never overlook their weaknesses or limitations. We also need to ensure that those with vested interests, such as a quest for dominating their own communities, or grabbing political power in one form or the other, are not able to do so in the name of religion. Such power hungry mavericks, with human blood on their hands cannot possibly represent the Lord.
Differentiating religion from communalization is therefore essential to rid this world of the illogical and ridiculous religious conflicts that have brought so much misery to the humanity. Doing this would be the greatest service, both to the religions and the humanity as a whole.
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