Sunday, March 25, 2007

Religion and politics

I was out enjoying my evening walk just now. I had to take a different route than normal because, these days, the university campus is out of bounds after 6:00 pm to anyone other than students, or so it seems.

While I was in Aurangabad two weeks ago, one of our students committed suicide. It is difficult, if not impossible, for me to understand what would bring someone to such a point of utter despair, but it's not that unusual. Every day I read in the newspapers of people committing suicide because they've gotten themselves deep in debt, or, in the case of students, because they've cracked under the pressure of family expectations in the face of public examinations.

So sad. When one looks around one, there's a lot of sadness in this world of ours. Perhaps this has always been the case, and perhaps this is why a lot of people turn to religion to find solace and meaning in what might otherwise, according to their perceptions, be a pointless life.

All I know is that the specter of religion has reared its ugly head in the aftermath of this girl's untimely death. She apparently had converted from Hinduism to Christianity and there's a feeling around India, amongst Hindus, that some Christian groups go to excessive lengths to gather folks into their fold. I won’t repeat the stories I’ve heard, because they don’t ring true to me, but the fact is that the university has been in a semi lock-down mode for the past two weeks, with extra security on hand and a curfew of sorts.

Hindu concerns are sometimes well-founded. On a few occasions, I have had to resist some blatant Christian proselytizing myself. This very evening, indeed, towards the end of my walk, two men on a motorbike sidled up, announced that they were evangelicals or something, and invited me to their church service at 7:30 pm.

I told them I was Hindu and that I was up for Darshan at the nearest temple, if they cared to join me!

Why does religion, where everyone professes love and peace and brotherhood, so often result in hatred and violence and enmity between people? It’s very odd. I’ll never figure it out. No wonder some people are driven to despair despite their affiliation with some religion or other.

I was brought up Catholic, though I long ago eschewed Catholic practice. Any alignment I might have with Catholic thought is purely coincidental. I think what I think, and believe what I believe, because it makes sense to me, not because I’ve been told to by some priest or pope.

I recently read a beautiful quote from Mahatma Gandhi who said: “After long study and experience I have come to these conclusions, that: (1) all religions are true, (2) all religions have some error in them, (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism. My veneration for other faiths is the same as for my own faith. Consequently, the thought of conversion is impossible. … Our prayer for others ought never to be: “God give them the light thou hast given to me!” But: “Give them all the light and truth they need for their highest development!”

Now that makes complete sense to me. The world would be a whole lot better place if Gandhiji’s philosophy were understood and accepted by all.

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