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Religion and Tolerance

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  • Sandeep Heble
    Joe D Souza is spot on in his column that features in today s Herald. Read on: The essence of all religions is tolerance and freedom of expression and belief,
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2009
      Joe D' Souza is spot on in his column that features in today's Herald.

      Read on:

      The essence of all religions is tolerance and freedom of expression
      and belief, says JOE D’SOUZA

      The late US President John F Kennedy once said, “Any fool can break
      the door, but it takes a good carpenter to carve a unique one.” These
      words should ring some sense into those with a narrow “mindset” who
      are out to destroy each and every work of art and culture which is not
      in tune with their line of thinking. “If you believe, it is ‘God’; if
      you don’t, it is just a piece of stone or clay. These words of wisdom
      have been passed down over generations to us by our forefathers. This
      is what I first learnt from my grandfather, for whom work was prayer.
      Being often out at sea, he had learnt to respect religions from around
      the world and preferred to treat atheists and atheism with equitable
      concern and understanding.

      We all have the right to believe and practice what we feel to be
      right. However, it does not behove us to impose our beliefs or faith
      on others. If I consider a piece of sculpture or a painting as God, I
      must be equally compassionate toward my fellow human being who
      considers that idol a piece of stone or printed gibberish. Today,
      there is a lot of assertion by a set of fanatics, fundamentalists and
      narrow-minded individuals, to impose and impress their views, beliefs
      and sentiments on others. If you ignore or disagree with their
      viewpoint, you are “hurting their religious sentiments” or committing
      a sacrilege. In the name of religion, religious sentiments and faith,
      we have developed a sense of intolerance, hatred and anger towards
      those who question our beliefs, faith or rituals. It is totally unjust
      and unfair that fanatics in religions round the world have considered
      it their right to denounce and harm those who question their line of

      A non-believer or an atheist cannot be forced to consider a sculpture
      to be a representation of ‘God’. But today religious fanaticism has
      transcended boundaries round the globe. Worse still, it has made
      inroads into the educated classes. The great prophets, saints and
      spiritual gurus, over thousands of years, have preached love,
      understanding, sacrifice and tolerance directed entirely towards
      making the world a better place to live. The fear in God is the fear
      of the unknown pain or harm, which we all understandably want to avoid
      or evade.

      However, one-upmanship amongst religions and religious beliefs has
      bred hatred, insecurity and a false sense of pride or values, all in
      the name of God. It is a tragedy that we equate God and godliness with
      fundamentalist behaviour. The concept of God is framed in our narrowed
      vision or confined perspectives. God is abstract, beyond the realms of
      human mind or understanding. But I, me, myself and mine overrides
      everything else, and hence, whatever I do in the name of God, religion
      and society is gospel truth and correct; thus, to hell with not only
      atheism, but all other religious beliefs, scriptures and books
      considered holy and sacred by other societies.

      Many see Jesus Christ as a tall, handsome, white man with long hair.
      If, by chance, a guy from Africa paints him as a coloured, short man
      with curly hair, the violence in us develops. For us, God is an old
      man with white beard. Jesus with a cross is acceptable, but not with a
      whip. I do not wish to take the readers into the insights of the work
      of art in our ancient temples and heritage buildings and declare
      proudly about the heights of our ancient civilisation and the
      broadmindedness of our forefathers. We have stereotyped God in our
      narrow minds and restricted our vision.

      It is said we have come to believe that we are more Christian than
      Christ, and more Hindu than Shiva, Ganesh, Vishnu, Krishna and Ram all
      put together. Whether it is M F Hussain, Subodh Kerkar, or any obscure
      painter, sculptor, artist or a writer, they seem bound by the dogmatic
      approach of the so-called protectors of God’s image or faith. They
      assume that God has given his power of attorney to these fanatics. Let
      us for a moment forget all those millions who refuse to believe that
      God even exists, and that too in human form. Atheists and rationalists
      who do not believe in miracles and challenge Godmen seem to be totally
      marginalised in our society. Anything they say or do would amount to
      ‘hurting religious sentiments’. Our view is that they have no right to
      call it a stone, because I say it is God.

      I was told a story a long time ago. A small boy was filling up a hole
      he had dug with water from the sea, using an empty coconut shell. A
      wise man by the name Augustine was passing by, deep in thought, trying
      to understand God and the concept of Trinity. Suddenly, his attention
      fell on the boy going back and forth to the deep sea, collecting water
      and hoping to empty the sea in his hole. When Augustine told the boy
      not to waste his time trying to empty out the sea in the hole, as he
      would never be able to empty it, the boy told Augustine to also not
      waste his time understanding God and Trinity, as it is much easier to
      empty the sea into a hole than understand God with our limited vision
      and intelligence.

      Although the earth is estimated to be over 6000 million year ago, the
      time of man is seen to be at best a few thousand years old. If we
      condense evolution into a book of 1000 pages, with each page having 25
      lines and each line 12 words, man appears only in the last 5 words on
      the last line of the last page. Although sub-microscopic particles
      bacteria, viruses and other living forms of life appeared on the
      surface of the earth millions of years before us, we pride ourselves
      in our ability to control other life forms. We believe in everything
      being created for man by God and, inadvertently, we create or restrict
      the image of God to suit our thinking. Religions round the world,
      which are primarily meant to unify humanity, have been misused by
      mankind down the ages to divide, rule, marginalise and subjugate
      mankind itself.

      One group sees a person as a terrorist, but others consider him a
      patriot, defender of faith or a martyr. Do Indians consider Bhagat
      Singh a terrorist, because the British colonial regime deemed him
      such? Such examples are many, spread across all regions, religions and
      societies. Books are banned, movies shunned and art is ostracised, all
      in the name of religion and hurting sentiments of the public. There is
      no tolerance. It is perfectly justifiable for a person not to read a
      book or see a movie or keep away from an exhibition of art if he feels
      it is against his religious beliefs. But is it right not to allow
      others who want to read that book, see a movie or appreciate a work of
      art, which he or she feels personally comfortable with, to do so?

      The world’s greatest preacher, my hero, sacrificed himself and died.
      He preferred to be killed to preserve his right to preach, teach and
      make the world a better place to live. But alas! Today, we harass,
      kill and destroy others to impose ourselves and our fanatical beliefs.
      We may at times disagree with one another. But we must agree to
      disagree with grace and mutual respect. Each one of us has his own
      point of view, but must we fall to such low levels as to feel hurt by
      the views of others, however opposed they may be to ours?

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