Issue Date: 4/18/2005
Bal Ram Singh
In modern times, religion has become an instrument of utility, available to people of different interests and agenda to appropriate and exploit. Far from its actual meaning and intent, human beings are being denigrated, subjugated, and manipulated all in the name of religion. Religion originates from Re + legion, meaning re-association with the Supreme or God. That meaning establishes a spiritual journey as the purpose of religion. However, most religions, especially organized religions are nothing more than management of people. No wonder politicians and other power structures have been taxing religions to their purpose for the past two thousand years.After crusade, inquisition, and forced conversion by marching armies, proselytization through inducement, bluff, and exploitation of circumstances such as tsunami has come to the fore in recent years, especially in the Third World.
During my recent trip to my village in Uttar Pradesh in India, I learned of conversion of eight Harijan families in a nearby village after orchestrated diagnosis and cure of 'cancer' with the prayer of Ishu (Jesus). This incident reminded me of my own encounter with an evangelist in my university who used to deliver goods from receivables. Francis was always hanging around with international graduate students trying to give them a Bible or entice them to a Church visit. One day I walked into the laboratory even as Francis was talking to students. As I entered the lab, a student told Francis jokingly "why don't you convert Dr. Singh and we will all follow?" "So Dr. Singh, what do you think of Jesus Christ?" asked Francis turning towards me. "Jesus Christ was a great man, I am his ardent follower," I replied. "So you are a Christian?" Francis uttered hesitatingly. I said, "Sure, following Jesus Christ does make me a Christian, as much as following Newton makes me Newtonian." Not convinced of my assertion, Francis continued with his inquiries further. "What church do you go to?" asked Francis. "What church did Jesus Christ go to?" I shot back, and Francis looked quite puzzled at this but continued his query by saying, "O, so you read Bible on your own." "What Bible did Jesus Christ read?" I asked Francis. He was completely at a loss. "How can you be a Christian without going to Church or reading a Bible?" he muttered shaking his head in exasperation. "Francis, I am not a Churchian or Biblian, I am a Christian." By then Francis seemed to be in a daze, simply gazing at me.
Acting professorial and assuring him of my genuine intentions I began. "Look, Jesus Christ was concerned about others passionately. He stood up for his principles against all odds. He was willing to die for his principle of serving others. He did not hate even those who killed him, and wished them well." Francis nodded at each of my statements about Jesus Christ. "I think those principles are worth following for anybody," I added. "Why do I need a Church or Bible to follow them?" By then Francis seemed accepting, albeit reluctantly. Similarly, I am asked many times about religions in India, my own religion, and my opinion of Islam, especially after 9/11.
At the Center for Indic Studies, we have much emphasis on Indic traditions, some ancient, some modern, and occasionally discussions about other traditions within India. About six months ago, after a bit of contentious panel discussion at our campus, I had to formulate my thoughts of my understanding of and relationship with Islam within the Indic tradition.I told a Muslim student on my campus that I am really trying to be a Musalmaan, the word commonly used for Muslims in India. He was quite puzzled, but curious to know my view further. "See, Musalmaan word is made of two words - Musallum + Imaan," I continued. "Musallum means total and Imaan means honest. So I really see the fundamental point of being a Musalmaan is to be totally honest, and I find that concept to be very attractive." "However, the problem is that there is no true Musalmaan in the whole world," I continued. The student asked me, "What about Hindus? What are they supposed to be and do?" "Oh, yes. I am a Hindu by birth. But it is equally hard to find a Hindu." He seemed quite perplexed, and ready to hear my views on Hinduism. "You see, Hindus are supposed to see Ishvara or God in everyone and everything, and thus love them all equally and infinitely. Unfortunately, I have not met even one Hindu in my life.
"Religious tension and tyranny seen now throughout the world, and in fact throughout history, have almost nothing to do with true meanings of religion. The discrimination, destruction, oppression, and atrocities in the name different religions originate in ignorance, greed, and ego. There is much to be learned by following Jesus Christ, trying to be a Musalmaan, and in being a Hindu, and these are not mutually exclusive concepts. This idea must be asserted in the world by young and old alike, and that is a challenge for the 21st century.
Bal Ram Singh, director of the Center for Indic Studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org