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Religion Religion
by Dr Elsa Lycias Joel
2023-05-05 06:41:43
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We witness, hear and read about religious incompatibilities, tension and violence. Indians fear the outbreak of riots given the way hate speech and insinuations make their way into every nook and corner. India has an enviable religious diversity, which is also the reason for religious conflicts and thousands of deaths. According to a report released by the US think-tank Pew Research Center, India had the highest rate of social tensions along religious lines globally in 2020. If we are to analyze the reasons behind social hostilities and blame people who make sure about religiously inspired nationalist movements gaining prominence, then we will realize we have a prime duty as a parent or teacher. Whatever is our faith or religion, training a kid to seek the truth or God with the tenets of one’s own holy book is most necessary in a multi religious country like ours. All religions profess peace and universal brotherhood which unfortunately is the most ignored when any political resurgence happens on the premise that Indian culture is coterminous with Hindu culture. This is totally fine as long as people belonging to other faiths are not intimidated and assaulted. A political party’s inclination towards one particular religion can be ignored if it isn’t desperate to make laws that are fundamentally discriminatory in nature.

Places of worship and pilgrimage are aplenty here. We need more schools, colleges, factories and hospitals. These places of worship encroaching public lands keep officials busy in demolition operations. So, knocking down and building places of worship seem to take too much of our time and resources. In this world’s most populous country where every other person is a devout, why are we finding it impossible to give lasting peace a chance? When we boast of religious freedom why do we suffer religious violence? The answer must come from individuals like you and me, not from politicians or religious leaders. Peace and harmony are shaped by the forces of individual desire. Our desire for creating sane minds should never wane.

Children become adherents of a religion through a process of upbringing and education. Hence, it’s upon the parents to teach them the tenets of universal love which are gratitude, hope, compassion, empathy, repentance and forgiveness. Everything becomes easy when we believe God is love. More important is to help children know that places of religious worship are man made whereas God resides in our hearts. Is it impossible for believers to believe that their bodies are temples of God?  Attaching so much importance to rituals considered as essential, concrete structures and ceremonies are harmless until they do not cause mob violence or hostilities. There cannot be a perversion of core teachings if we are to ensure that the religion our children practice espouses peace, love and harmony with people who believe differently. I grew up in a typical Christian family and remember spending more time in the church, not just on Sundays. Being part of all church activities was encouraged in our house. None in the household refused to learn or follow all that was part of an orthodox Christian inheritance in their day-to-day life. These did not in any way prevent us from embracing all around us, the different traditions, cultures and festivals. We have had friends belonging to other faiths who knelt in unison as we prayed for a loved one. The intensity of our faith and love for one another transformed any place into a holy place. Same way, we never felt we were condemned to everlasting damnation when we attended ceremonies and celebrated festivals with friends belonging to other religions. The onus is on the parents to help kids learn the art of preserving spirituality with love, good insight than violence or intolerance. Importantly, the assurance that our relationship with God or supreme power is to be upheld sacrosanct with no interference from a third party ought to be drilled into kids’ heads.

Let’s begin afresh. We can tell our kids about injustice meted out, how hatred was spread to destroy humanity and why certain people aim to promote communalism, just so they know mere mortals fail. Regardless of past failures, hope must remain in the intellect groomed well by morals. Religious lessons imparted in the right manner/spirit mould young minds to seek God and truth by abhorring hostility and violence. As they grow up to make laws and policies they will know there is so much to do today to think about the past or the future. Humans can live lives guided only by the sacred ancient texts. We can be old believers and still be inclusive because demands for harmony are performatively integrated into religious practices. A small amendment here or there to unify minds will not bring curse upon us. Protecting one’s own traditional values can happen in a civilized manner keeping in mind that we have to be sensitive to what we say and do.

Above all, let us teach our children to pray in silence, in private for Jesus taught, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men … but when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen.” Flaunting religious practices is unnecessary and so is the use of a loudspeaker in religious places since no religion is a common denominator in India.

 Children would never forget their parents' example and teachings.
"It is in the smile of the poor, we see God”

Why spend lakhs and crores to go on a pilgrimage to a place far away, across the seas and mountains and thus seek new meanings about thyself when you can find the purpose of life just where you are? Small acts of grace and caring will change this world. We honour God by serving others who are just around us.  Sponsoring a kid who you don’t see is fine but be sensitive to your surroundings too. To know charity is reflecting God to the world is godly wisdom indeed. Fill up hundis or alms boxes if that is your idea of charity. Remember, everyday works of mercy along life’s way make a big difference. Rig Veda emphasizes charity can take the form of food, knowledge and protection. So, the ignorant can be enlightened about their opportunities, fundamental rights, duties, privileges and the duties of a government. Protecting people from being exploited is an urgent need.

‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto ME.'”

Therefore, showing them the right path towards salvation, encouraging them to read and understand religious texts, pray on their own and helping them believe that they need nobody to pray on their behalf is the bounden duty of every parent and all elders. We complain about fake spiritual gurus who are in charge of everything that’s ungodly. Many of us fret about flaky evangelists and preachers who live life like earth is heaven on the offerings of their blind followers. If only one parent of a blind follower had taught them that the way to God or salvation is through faithfulness, justice, righteousness and love, religious institutions might just exist and stop with what’s expected of them. Not looking down on maharishis or spiritual guides, evangelists and gurus, but aren’t we pathetic enough to let these gurus hold a sway over Indian politics and channelize all potential impacts of political climate to their personal growth in terms of fame and fortune.  Perhaps, people may argue that they need regular guidance. The role of any spiritual guide in any capacity is to stop with just letting his/her fellow humans to understand scriptures/holy texts in its real spirit so that any religion/faith promotes oneness and peace. When guidance slowly turns into a cult and spiritual dependence that converts the guides to leaders of a sort, new kinds of business that involve too many resources mushroom all over. How many spiritual leaders have played a proactive role during religious riots or communal violence other than issuing a statement? How does a country benefit from patronising these people? They establish universities which are ranked by NIRF, own companies that boast of thousands of crores in net worth, go about expanding their ashrams, business empires  and what not! Kudos to them! Well, it’s the duty of the government to establish world class universities and hospitals.    Sadhgurus, babas, swamis and the like should neither be patronized nor promoted by governments. IITs, IIMs, TNAUs, NLUs, AIIMS and so on were not envisaged by spiritual gurus. So, Nehruvian model of development and a peaceful welfare state is possible with visionary leaders.

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