“Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.” ~ David Hume
In a rapidly modernizing world it is argued that cultural differences worldwide need to be ironed for a strife-free and rational global society. Religion – being the “opium of masses” has been a fertile ground for sowing hatred and is responsible for consequent bloodshed. Realizing that religion will not simply vanish from the face of earth overnight, the myth of all sameness of all religions has been purposefully built so that people understand that “In essence, all religions teach the same” or “All religions are equally bad”.
Though an oversimplification, this is more or less true of the two important religions of the world – Christianity and Islam. Both have their own history of brutality and going overboard and committing excesses in their zeal to convert others to their faith.
Yet, euphemism shouldn’t constrain us from exploring what might be politically incorrect but true nonetheless. Let us begin by examining the categories that constitute a religion.
What constitutes Religion?
A religion consists of two broad categories – spiritual and societal.
The spiritual category contains the core philosophy of religion, ethics, moral instructions, and truisms and so on. They are best experienced mostly by insiders though others might still appreciate it.
The societal aspect contains two sub-categories: internal society and external society. Internal society is the advice/instructions given by the scriptures that are to be followed by the adherents of the religion.
But what constitutes the most defining aspect of any religion is its take on “external society”. All the so-called similarities are confined to spiritual domain. Few similarities might exist in internal society injunctions. But the differences are most stark and the myth of similarity stands debunked when the “external society” aspect is analyzed. Ironically, this is the most important factor in any religion as this defines its philosophical maturity and its tolerance of “others”.
When compared with Hinduism, it is clear that there is something different in the theology of Christians/Muslims that drive them in pursuit of conversions. There is something amiss in the self-containment and composure of a Hindu mind compared with the missionary zeal that embodies passionate Christians/Muslims.
For example, though Judaism is the first Semitic religion which inspired Christianity and Islam, their God did not ask its followers to wage a war against the infidels (non-believers). Jews and Christians share common ancestry and similar philosophy (agreed that there are sharp and irreconcilable differences too and there is a history of Jewish prosecution but they operate in similar framework when compared to Indic religions/pagans). Yet, what essentially differentiates them is the “external societal” aspect. Christians are scripturally inspired to evangelize and help others see their truth. Likewise, Muslims are duty-bound to use any means on “others” and forcefully convert them. Jews – whatever their personal beliefs which are actually quite comparable to Christianity & Islam– are not interested in converting others.
Much hue and cry is made to contrast inbuilt socialism of Islam viz. Universal Brotherhood with ingrained fascism of Hinduism viz. caste system. But what we are not informed is that the brotherhood of Islam is for Muslims alone and does not include infidels/non-believers. When Muslims quote “Killing even one innocent is equal to killing humanity” it explicitly excludes non-Muslims from its definition of “innocent” and “humanity”. Their demarcation of world between Land-of-Islam and Lands-to-be-Islamized is very real and clear. Their transnational loyalty towards their brotherhood, insisting on their non-allegiance to the nation they are residing is at the core of Islamophobia today.
Hindus have no scriptural injunctions to convert others. Just like the thirsty comes to a pond, the inquirer of truth will come to it and realize it his way. Which is why, there were no religious wars in pre-Islamic India. The wars were political in nature and the conqueror had no interest to break temples and forcefully convert the defeated kingdom.
The Myth Of Sameness
As discussed earlier, the sameness of all religions is confined to the spiritual domain which is personal but the differences are alive and assume monstrous proportions where “external societal” aspects are concerned.
Hence, it is a logical fallacy to say that all religions have been equally bad/evil as the facts do not support this assumption. Also this myth is often being sold at the cost of Hinduism. While Hindus are urged to see similarities with Christianity and Islam, the latter group is not subjected to reverse inflow of Hindu ideas.
When Hindus persist on their cultural distinctness, they’re often labeled fundamentalist. Yet, the categories of Western civilization and Christian ethos are not being dissolved – they are in fact growing stronger. Naïve Indians often argue that Christianity is in decline in West while overlooking that the pillars which support Western Civilization are still Christian. While the role of Church is decidedly in decline, more and more people are engaged in home based prayer groups that do not necessarily have any formal membership to any church. So Christianity as a whole is not losing its members though it is to be admitted that they do not accept miracles/irrational claims. Few people go even to the extent of being agnostic of Jesus’ historicity and still accept Christianity.
Imagine how absurd it would look if Americans say “In Lord Vishnu, we believe” – substituting God with an Indian equivalent. How absurd will a jihadi look when he terrorizes in the name of Buddha? And if all religions are the same how can Church justify its role in continued conversions?
The Ideal Destination
Lastly, today we can be sure that there is no neutral or God’s voice. In any field including humanities there is nothing like “ideal” culture, religion, beliefs or values. They merely are the undercurrent of the prevailing culture which is universalized to all cultures. Therefore the assumption that prevailing western culture is the ideal destination of all cultures is highly questionable. The Western Culture as seen today is a product of its experience in the trajectory of history which is quite specific and unique. It fails to understand that such categories do not fit a culture which predates it for well above two millenniums.
We need not commit the mistake of mixing Westernization with Modernization – China has shown us how to modernize using its own cultural ethos and mindset without westernizing i.e. blindly imitating western culture and transplanting their setup to ours. This artificial transplantation has resulted in inheriting the western ills alongside our own – thereby accumulating more problems and confusion.
We must observe that this myth of sameness is sold to Hindus specifically to weaken their resistance while at the same time strengthening the Christians/Muslims who insist on their exclusivist claims.
So, these differences are to be noted and appreciated. Merely parroting some utopian concepts do not offer relief from the problems that arise precisely because of the categories that differentiate us.
These categories need not be dissolved. They are to be respected. In this connection, India has shown the path ahead – Unity in Diversity.