Disclosure – As I continue, I may give a few example incidents from different religions. It is not to hurt anyones feeling, but to draw an example. It will be hard for me to give example from religions that are not prevalent anymore. It is made with the belief that readers are balanced, courageous and curious
Why should we learn other ideas if we feel adequate with our religious ideas?
Leadership researchers indicate that knowing not just one side of the story, but all sides of the story helps us make better choices. I assume an intelligent man seeks religion to know himself and better his life. So aren’t we better off learning more from other religions or teaching the good things from all religions to our children.
More importantly exposure encourages dialogue, once understanding/respect matures it can help us towards a more peaceful society – with less and less groups (including terrorists) for prejudice, domination or retribution, – where people are recognized as people rather than a stereotype of a religious group.
It becomes relevant today as several lives are lost for a supposed affront or a supposed invasion centuries earlier or minorities are driven out of their homes. All for religions which may or may not exist centuries from now, as transformation or newer prophets arrive.
A case in point is Zorashtrianism. The Persian empire at its peak encompassed many current countries across three continents-Asia, Europe and Africa. Under the persian kings, Zorashtrianism was the religion of the rulers reaching faraway lands before Christianity or Islam was born. But currently it is a struggling to survive religion, with a minuscule community in Iran and India.
Historians record that Saivism, Vaishnavism and Jainism were warring religions in India at one point of time. Today Hindusim or Christianity is not the same religion our grandfathers practiced. The lifetime of the our current religions today pale in comparison to the human existence timeline.
We can imagine how many religions must have born, died, merged in the last 200,000 years or in the next 2000 years. Of course my basic assumption is belief on the more scientifically proven evolution theory, and not the christian theory or cycles of 3+ million year old human existence based on Hindu “Yugas” theory (If you don’t agree to the current scientific hypothesis, we must respectfully disagree on my basic assumptions).
One thing that has happened in these years is the flow of information across religious groups, whether we like it or not. It must not have been possible for religions to be born or grow or change or die without this inter flow of information. In that sense, every one is derived from a convert from one philosophy to another. So why do we sense a fear or reluctance to learn from other religions and scriptures?
The obvious retort to seeking and learning from other religions is – “Has religious teaching and discussion been innocent, without an agenda always in the past?” Rightfully so. What happened to the native South American religions before the Spaniards entered to “civilize” them? or In our own house, what happened to the status of the original inhabitants of India, once Hinduism, Islam and Christianity spread in India. Haven’t we branded some as naxals and others as “tribes”.
No religious group has a clean hand in history, although degree of exploiting religion to gain strategic power might have varied. Also, hasn’t religious diversity led to religious riots riots or wars claiming lot of innocent lives. So yes, the fear is not unfounded. But coming to think about it, Is our(intelligent internet savvy reader) situation the same as those of the exploited.
If we believe we could be exploited by exposing ourselves to other religious ideas and text, the problem is with us to begin with. If we believe our religion nails existence and spirituality philosophies, shouldn’t we be more confident to understand other religions without feeling threatened. But I think the real threat in an heterogeneous country like India or UK is that unethical lobbying for power and money performed by the groups of each religion. We have the Christian lobby groups, Muslim groups and Hindu groups.
This persuasion and lobbying cant be avoided as that is the nature of social groups. But it can be somewhat prevented using laws. More importantly more understanding of other groups can lead to recognition of the common human thread between groups and form relations beyond religions.
A smart and skeptical historian might conclude that this fear/prejudice is not a new phenomenon. After all, Saivites persecuted Vaishnavite evangelists, Hindu kings have hanged Jain saints and Christian/ Muslim armies have killed native religious practitioners. So why not accept this phenomenon of prejudice/fear and accept the human cost as natural to human societies?
I wonder why should we? We have stopped cannibalism, ritual death, capital punishment and even wars in this age with help of dialogue, science and technological advances. If we can achieve all that why cant we facilitate dialogue and prevent strategic exploitation, at the same time ensuring a man’s right to his choice of religion.
A skeptic might say what I am suggesting is an utopia. But a mild investigation on the birth and spread of religion might prove how often this has happened in history. While internet, technology and human nature is facilitating the communication between religions, the guardians of the religion are setting up artificial barriers to spread of ideas. This might include innovative branding as an infidel or convert. Or preventing children to not be exposed to other ideas through controlled schooling. Or claiming you are gods favorite children while others aren’t. Or their book is God’s authentic text.
Religion based politician extend this by making a business out of these “wolf is coming” syndrome. Although I suspect the religious leaders are driven themselves by fear of change. But in the end, I am not concerned that they may succeed as the many dead religious leaders have tried that before new religion or reform is born.
And if we are a sensible, curious and educated man who cant be exploited, we can give up the fear and explore other religions sincerely. To get the best out of them and not to learn the worst out if them.