Sunday, February 05, 2006

WHY ALL RELIGIONS ARE NOT THE SAME? :: Dr. Babu Suseelan

Recently, I had a discussion with a respected Hindu Swamiji with thousands of followers. When asked about coercive religious conversion of Hindus, Swamiji scornfully replied “Why worry, all religions are essentially the same and there is no significant differences from one religion to another”. My immediate response, of course was to ask why he might not want to distinguish between Islam, Christianity and Hinduism. Swamiji insisted, “The goal of all religions is the same. All religious paths lead to the same destination. We are talking about the same God, only the name is different”. He encouraged me to dismiss coercive religious conversion with out worry.

Where do we get this idea? Although religion is one of the universals of human culture, in a historical view, we are confronted not by spirituality but by a multiplicity of religions. Unlike our all inclusive, tolerant, spiritual Dharma, religions of the book differ in fundamentals. Every religion is different, with its own beliefs, rituals, organization, and belief in afterlife, practices, and theory of birth, death, atonement, art, dress and festivals. The paths prescribed for salvation or self-realization is also different.

Hinduism is one of the oldest of all religions and we believe that our life on earth is part of an eternal cycle of births, deaths, and rebirths. We have no single belief system single sacred text, or priestly hierarchy. There are certain shared beliefs and sacred paths prescribed for every Hindu for God realization. Our Vedas, Upanishads, Darsanas and Puranas have given us clear and definite guidelines for overcoming Samsara and paths to reach Godhead. There are various paths to Moksha and prescription for a transcendent life. We can believe in a personal God or impersonal idea, higher or unseen. Hinduism serves a rational purpose, responding to cognitive as well as emotional and spiritual needs. Hindu Dharma is eternal, it can be studied and practiced and spiritual life can be experienced.

Islam and Christianity are religions of the book with a specific God, messenger, strict rules, prescription to follow, organizational hierarchy and dogmatic belief system. These are closed, dogmatic and fundamentalist and closed belief systems, which divide people between believers and non-believers. Followers are provided restricted guidelines for right belief and practices. Belief in other Gods and interpretation of their scripture is not allowed. Islam is more rigid, dogmatic and imperialistic. For centuries Islam and Christianity destroyed civilization of non-believers, forcefully converted non-believers, fought war in the name of their religion. Christian and Islamic dogmatism led to violent religious conflict, on a scale unknown to followers of other religions. For centuries, Christians and Muslims have persecuted non-believers. Even today, these fundamentalist dogmas have been creatiing tension and conflict around the world. Christianity and Islam do not believe that there is truth in other religions and spirituality, and that the teachings of many different religious leaders are inspired by evil.

The Roman Catholic Church explains in a Vatican declaration Doninus Lesus “Religions other than Christianity are considered to be gravely deficient. Their rituals can constitute an obstacle to salvation for their followers. A very lengthy stay in hell awaits the unsaved. The adverse consequences of individual following another religion other than Catholic religion are severe-perhaps, eternity in hell”. Pope Ratzinger stated, “Only the canonical books of old and new Testaments are inspired by the Holy Spirit and are without error”. The Baptist teaches “ that all things are held together in Christ, Christ only, that all creation will find its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. Jesus shall reign for ever and ever”.

The idea “all religions are the same” involves a radical misinterpretation of all religions. Such thinking is barren, diseased, and sterile. Hindus are making a huge mistake by lumping all religions together without critical evaluation or rational analysis. Lack of precision in distinguishing between religions is the natural enemy of clear thought. There is nothing boring, nothing more dreary, than the statement “all religions are the same”. The more passionately and emotionally one is committed to such catch all statement, the cloudier and fuzzier one’s thinking tends to be.

When a person believe in mindless universalism, he becomes a determinist, all events, all motives including Jihadi terrorism are seen through the astigmatic vision of such false ideology. Through these clouded eyes even coercive religious conversion, discrimination of Hindus by Muslims, religious intolerance, and denial of religious rights for Hindus are transmuted into fairy gold of religious purity.

It is typical, characteristic, of such people to think unclearly. The tricks of fallacious argument are endemic among them. The concept “all religions are the same’ is a false plurality. Even though it is not in the best interests of Hindus to do so, the faulty analogy is used as a proof of tolerance. This is an old shabby trick to avoid reality. Those who disagree with this distorted ideology are dumped as intolerant and communal. More importantly, this false ideology becomes unarticulated premise and unchallengeable. More than that, for them, there is no need to think. Such faulty, repugnant idea is dishonest and deplorable. Such habitual jargon never allows us to see other religions more clearly and protect our interests. We need to make a distinction between right and wrong, good and bad. We need to ponder what to do to protect our eternal Dharma and why to do it.

The proposition that “all religions are the same’ is a bizarre self-negating and self-devouring logic. In such logic, there is no choice, no self-determination. It destabilizes religious discourse and forces us to the acceptance of irrational, totalitarian dogmas couched in scholastic terminology as religions. Christianity and Islam are rigid, dogmatic ideologies, tools and closed systems. To treat them as spirituality is immaturity and false consciousness.

Hindus need to counter the growing trend among pseudo secularists and phony liberals to promote the false ideology “all religions are the same”. What we need is an informed mind to rationally conclude that religions of the books and Hindu Dharma are not complementary. Rather than forcing our fellow Hindus to become servants and slaves of any one dogma, we need to protect our freedom to practice our eternal Hindu Dharma.

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