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Political Play
Ratan Sharda
Comparative religious studies and fundamental religious ideas 13 February, 2013
This short note is in continuation of my previous article, Fundamentals of Fundamentalism (Read here). I would have loved to present a proper essay, but shortage of time due to compulsions of making a living like any ordinary being and a two-week gap in next presentation, allows only this small note, as promised in my reply to a few posts from my good readers who took care to give feedback.

A few responses stem out of not reading the basic premises carefully. I had clearly stated that when I use term Hindu traditions or culture they envelope various religions and faith systems (like Jain, Buddha, Sikh etc.) born out of this culture and I have also mentioned various characteristics, which are common to all these faiths.

This umbrella  covers many more other faiths also. As Gautam Siddharth has noted  in his article in The Times of India, dated 11-2-2013 about Kumbh Mela, “If there is anything that the Mahakumbh signifies, it is the varieties of societal and religious beliefs and ways to self-realisation. No two paths need be alike. This is both the strength and weakness – in shape of ambiguity and silences – of Hinduism, as many of its adherents believe, and not incorrectly, that one is most a Hindu when one is least a Hindu. Hinduism’s propensity to absorb a multitude of thoughts including even atheism makes it, at times, inscrutable to its own followers.”

To make the comparison fair, I have clubbed together faiths born out of holy land of ancient Palestine that cover Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths. Here also, I have brought out characteristics that are common to all the three faiths. I had also noted that Christianity has changed a lot in recent times, and there are many elements that mark bigger areas of disagreement with Islam. I think, this will clear the basics of my submission clear, and highlight that there is no urge to show something in good or bad light.

Another reader has rightly pointed out that one is born in a particular faith by virtue of accident and lives by that faith basically as a tradition passed on by parents. There is no reason for anybody to look down upon or criticize any religion or tradition. However, it is important for any adherent of a faith system to understand it well so one is at peace with himself/herself and is able to utilize this faith system for inner peace and self improvement. It is not a must  for somebody to follow a faith. Even that person, to be a good human being, needs to follow certain ethics to be good to self and the society.

Alert readers would note that various religious scholars do compare different religions and faiths to get converts or strengthen the beliefs of their followers. It is fine if such comparisons are not used to demean another faith or get converts. Comparative religious studies is a well recognized humanities subject world over. There are scholars who have devoted their lives to such studies. It is not a new concept which I have tried to bring in.

Apart from  students of humanities, those who watch TV and have seen Mr. Zakir Naik or visit congregations like ‘Changai sabhas’ of evangelists, seen or read the call for ‘harvesting the souls’ by senior most leaders of different faiths are aware of such comparisons. I definitely, fail to understand why different religions cannot be compared if they are born in different eras or periods. In the present times, all of them are trying to add more adherents to their groups by showing how their religions are better than others, and claiming to provide solutions to present day problems. They themselves are arousing comparative religious debates. I am taking this argument further by providing the foundational principles of these faith systems.

While Muslims and Christians are much better conversant with their faith systems due to regular teaching and training in their homes and religious centres, something that I admire; followers of most of other religions and faiths born out of Hindu traditions have no such training. They generally say ‘all religions are same, ‘all religions must be respected’ only as a automated ‘proper’ response rather than with an understanding of either of the religions. This is the reason that most trenchant criticism to my article came from people who would consider themselves to be Hindus.

I believe, it would be much better society if we understand our respective belief systems and genuinely respect the followers of other religions (since most of them are ‘born’ into that religion and have not chosen it after studying it) and not just pay lip-service.  The essay was an effort to let people understand the basic philosophical fundamentals of main faith systems and not get into individual rituals and practices at micro level. For serious students of comparative religion, there is enough material on the Internet and I would welcome them to do their own studies and make their own views.

A reader has taken to rhetoric for no reason, bringing in Gujarat riots of the year 2002. I had categorically stated that I am not taking recourse to any recent historical examples. In this universal time line, a decade is but a blip. Thus, I could go back a few decades and cite examples of ‘inquisitions’, ‘direct actions’ and countless riots that have taken place in recent history, leave aside over millennia. This would bring a semblance of time line to such a debate. Even Gujarat riots didn’t sparked out of vacuum. There was grave provocative background to them, which doesn’t justify them, at the same time doesn’t allow people to keep using them to throw mud at Hindus.

Much bigger riots for weeks have taken place under benign eyes of other supposedly ‘secular’ parties in Gujarat itself, forget about places like Bihar, UP, Assam etc. We have all heard about ‘earth shaking when a big tree falls’. This is not the place to bring up such history. There is enough material to take one’s stand point on such grave violent past. It is better to face all such historical wrongs honestly and try to see that such things don’t happen again.

The present and earlier essay wishes to eschew the path of slanging match. I feel if followers of different faiths follow the highest principles of their faiths honestly, but are ready to give up the practice of competitive religious rhetoric, conversions, their urge to rule the world; and respect all faiths with deeper understanding and not just as a political statement, we shall have a better world, better India. Our ancient Indian culture talks of respect for all paths and not just tolerance. Secularism in Indian context means ‘sarva panth samabhav’ and not ‘irreligious society’.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
Ratan Sharda is a citizen journalist. He has authored books like 'Secrets of RSS'. A marketing consultant by profession, Mr. Sharda is a keen observer of the country's political scenario.
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