Whenever I hear the word culture I reach for my gun. That’s Goebbels, of course. I don’t know why he said that, but it seems that nowadays the word religion is charged with so much negative particles as to arouse the same sinister reaction among many otherwise well-meaning citizens of the world.
And then one is surely to interpret the words uttered by some wit in the wrong way, namely that religion is too serious a subject to be left to the church alone. One therefore might say, why not acquaint it with politics and put it to work for mass hysteria. Again another might say, why not recycle it, reinvent it and make it to silence other people’s values and belief systems for good?
In this case, if the first suggestion makes it a political religion, the second turns it into a fundamentalist movement. The one tries to rally the masses for political maneuverings. The other is simply cultural colonialism at best and cultural destabilization at worst.
Religion has been politicized from its early appearance on this planet. The Byzantines are known for their manipulation of religion for political ends. Byzantine court and church intrigues knew no bounds, and have left an indelible legacy for the perpetrators of political turmoil in our world at present.
Although political Islam is on the rise in our time, no religion has been free of similar tampering and manipulations by politicians and leaders in the past. The Crusaders with all the zeal they showed to look spiritual when they invaded Palestine could not have been free from political manipulations.
Fundamentalism is a disease that has and is still afflicting religions and ideologies the world over. The dictionary defines it as a strict maintenance of the ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology. It is against progress and social development. It kills dynamism and strangles independent search after truth. It shackles the mind and cages the spirit. It turns back the clock of progress and leads to obscurantism and ignorance which in their turn breed arrogance and intolerance. In such a situation, the mind groans to be free and envies the atheists who have made it to the shores of sanity. Voltaire has already said it: “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you to commit atrocities.”
It is faith, they say, faith of our fathers. Well, then leave others to follow the faith of their own forefathers. Diane Forlov says: I always admired the atheist; I think it takes a lot of faith. Indeed, it takes a lot of faith in oneself to become an atheist. And again, it takes a lot more faith in universal goodness to abandon a religion that borders on obscurantism and breeds division and strife.
When certain religious fundamentalists accused Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion of being ‘fundamentalist’ himself because he was passionate about his atheistic beliefs, he replied by saying that the atheist’s position is not a fundamentalism that is unable to change its mind. He went on to clarify that the true scientist, however passionately he may “believe” in evolution, for example, knows exactly what would change his mind: evidence! The fundamentalist knows that nothing will.
Sometimes I wonder why the West, especially America, reviles the Taliban for being too fundamentalist and obscurantist. Have they ever stopped to look at their own people among whom live those who still abhor modern gadgets, like the Amish; those millions who practice polygamy referring back to the Old Testament, and again those millions who refuse to believe in the theory of evolution and the transfusion of blood, and the use of proper medicine, etc? At least the Taliban may be excused for their lack of proper education, but accommodating obscurantism and advanced scientific theories in one mental compartment is an ignoble act that even the common Taliban considers below his dignity.
What is the purpose of religion in this world if not to get people to live in unity, in peace and harmony, led by the law of love and tolerance?
In most dictionaries religion is defined as either reverence for the sacred, or unity and interconnection between believers. If religion is from some higher being up there, then its purpose is to lift mankind from its animal nature and towards something more noble and eternal. If religion is, however, to spread war and terror, then it would be better that man lived without it, for if a medicine taken to cure an illness makes the condition worse than before, it is only too logical to abandon it. Some nations are better off without religion than with it.
The proof that religion, devoid of fanaticism and self-interest, can bring peace and unity into the world had been eloquently presented by Islam. Ignorant, warring and bloodthirsty Arab tribes were transformed ‘overnight’ into a people with noble virtues, proverbial sense of tolerance, peaceful disposition and astonishing social and scientific advancement. That’s what religion can do if practiced with a pure heart and sincere motive. That’s what religion can do if it is free from man’s manipulations and selfish speculations.
Alas, ever since religion appeared in this world, it has all the time been at the mercy of political and ecclesiastical leaders who molded and modified it to suit their sordid aims. No nation can claim to have been free of this sin, and no religion has been spared from an eventual disfiguration and defacement by its so-called ‘staunch’ upholders and ‘sincere’ followers.
When religion is used for goals other than unity and harmony, then it is no longer religion in the real sense of the word. It is probably a mutant version of the original, a spent ordnance, a nuclear waste, a denatured spiritual alcohol.
The problem with religion in general is that it appeals mostly to the emotion leaving the intellect inactive or maybe dormant. Hence, it can easily be sold to the masses who are prone to take the short cut of emotional knowledge to ‘understand’ things and situations. Thank God, if it were not for the pure of heart, all the known religions of God would have died in their inception.
Being thus an easy tool and bending itself as much and as often as possible to the wishes and dreams of the masses, and lending itself to infinite interpretations, religion can be used for any purpose by the crafty and the malicious.
At present some people are bringing the issue of religion on the table in political gatherings. Can’t the application of universal human rights solve problems related to religion and its free and unhampered practice by it adherents? Why do people want to politicize religion? When we die and some of us go to heaven, if there is anything absent there, it is politics. In a place where justice reigns supreme, politics has no place.
And why do people want to obscurantise or fundamentalise religion? Shouldn’t it be used to foster the principles of human rights and bring the peace and unity that it is expected to provide?
As to fundamentalism which is thriving in some parts of our globe, it is to be seen with suspicion. You see a scientifically and technologically advanced people giving ample time and a lot of money and energy towards something that smacks of obscurantism, and you start to wonder as to the motive behind it.
On the other hand, politicizing religion and forgetting its basic teaching of love and unity should be rejected in all its aspects.
If religion is used to foster love, peace and unity, it is welcome; but if it is used to spread misunderstanding, encourage division and stands as hindrance to free investigation of truth, it is better and even safer that humanity live without it.