23 November 2015
At the root of conflicts in the name of religion is the belief among numerous (though, mercifully, not all) religionists that the particular religion they claim to follow and the community based around it are the best of all and that all the other are decidedly inferior. This warped belief can easily conduce to religious absolutism and communal supremacism. As history as well as current events show, these can lead to deep-rooted aversion to other religions and their adherents, and even to brutal wars in the name of religion and God.
Socialisation into religious absolutism and communal supremacism often happens in childhood, through parents and significant others who had been similarly socialized by their parents when they were young. Children reared in this manner often grow up imagining their religion to be the sole repository of truth, the only way to communicate with or ‘please’ God, the one and only path to heaven. Many parents actively inculcate negative views about other religions and degrading stereotypes about other religious communities in the minds of their children, with long-lasting tragic results. This message is often reinforced by people who claim to be religious authorities. Consequently, such children grow up deeply prejudiced against other faiths and communities, with ominous consequences for religiously-plural societies, as almost all societies today are.
Hatred begins in the mind, and the only way negative images can replaced with positive ones is by changing our mindsets. If we allow ourselves to recognize at least one good thing in religions and communities other than the ones we may identify with, it could go a long way in promoting more accepting and positive images of others. And that is the only way to nurture interfaith harmony.
The other day, a friend of mine and I decided to play a game that we came up with all of a sudden. It was something that we concocted at the spur of the moment: an impromptu interfaith harmony game!
In the first stretch of the game, we sat silently and brought to our mind one or more good things we could identify in every major religion. When we shared the findings of this meditation, we were delighted! We were able to discern ample goodness in all the religions we could conceive of! Each religion, we discovered, had at least something beautiful in it!
Then, in the next part of the game, we went back to silence and this time tried to bring to our mind at least one person each from different religious backgrounds whom we knew personally who had deeply touched our lives, someone who had won our hearts with his or her very being.
Now, this was something that we hadn’t really consciously given much attention to before—you know how we often tend to take people for granted and loathe to recognize goodness in anyone but ourselves—but as we let our minds wander, we discovered that it was really easy going! In no time at all we came up with an impressive list of many such people—such as the kind-hearted head of a Hindu ashram, a friendly Muslim social worker, a soft-spoken Buddhist monk, a helpful Jesuit priest, an amiable Jain doctor, an amazing Jewish peace activist, and many more such amazing souls! Not all of them were religious in the conventional sense. Some of them were, but others had transcended traditional understandings of religion. While some identified with the religious community into which they had been born, others had gone beyond such ascriptive identities, espousing a universal spirituality that saw no differences of creed or community. At the same time, each of them had been wonderfully kind to us, in different ways. They had lovingly accepted us just as we were, despite our apparent religious or other differences. It was this, we realized, that had so endeared them to us.
Our little game lasted less than half an hour, but even this brief experiment was a momentous learning experience for me. It vividly reminded me of our common humaneness, of how, despite our apparent differences, as fellow human beings there is no difference between us at all in our essence. Goodness, we also discovered, knows no religious or communal boundaries! There’s ample goodness to be discovered in every religion, community and person if we care to look for it!
You could play this game, too—with your friends, colleagues or children. I’m sure you’d be amazed at your findings!