Monopolizing Divinity

     In dealing with an obscure subject based exclusively on belief and subjective experience, such as the concept of an ultimate source that is a god, human beings have been exceptionally creative and resourceful when that experience is transferred and structured as organized religions. If an interested individual takes the trouble to research and analyze the formation of religions, their progression, growth, and multiplication into different ideological segments, they are bound to come up with fascinating findings. It will become incredibly apparent that behind the various theories and teachings propagated by all the religious establishments, exists a very fundamental intent, the advancement of the human mind and behavior.

     The genesis of different religions from different parts of the world resembles that of the nations in general. Formation of entities, philosophy of faiths and their spread beyond geographic and ethnic boundaries vary, but essentially the principle of expansion and their acceptance are based on certain common interests and reasoning. Paying attention to recorded history, religious expansions follow parallel paths similar to the formation of empires. If nations acquired boundaries because of geographic, ethnic and linguistic similarities, religious groups originated and expanded following certain common belief about god and their methods of approaching the divine principles. Centuries of control by regional dictators like kings and emperors and their dynastic descendants over regions of earth gradually evolved into nations as we see them today. Following similar progression, it is quite conceivable and almost a certainty that we can visualize a totally different map of the world in the next millennium or even sooner. As the geophysical changes happening through millions of years have gradually altered the historical delineation of the world similar alteration took place along the boundaries of nations as well. Such changes have happened within periods of hundreds of years and often, even within much less of time span. If we extend such a concept and apply it to the evolution of religions, a few thousand years of human history can provide us the essential nature of our present religions, their spread, and character.
     On the premise of our understanding that all religions originate from the notion of an ultimate entity that is god and if we can patiently imagine the plight of humans of the past, way prior to the design of modern religions, we should be able to arrive at some probable concepts. The formation of all the presently practiced religions can be traced to a few thousand years, with the exception of a very few without any definite origin. What our ancestors before that time accepted and practiced as their religion, if they ever did, is up to anybody’s imagination. Perhaps by the same token, if we stretch our imagination into the future, say another million years if humans existed that far, we may envisage a totally different scenario if we are comfortable to visualize.
     And if we are honest and humble about such a line of thought, we should be able to entertain some possible scenarios affecting the way religions may be practiced in that distant future. If we contemplate on the insignificance of human life span in the context of history, it should not be difficult to conclude about its fragility and frugality. When I mention about religions, it is absolutely not about the god principle, but only the structured, regimented institutions that propagate and thrive on the divine industry.
     Most of us who believe in the god concept, who practice within certain guidelines dictated by our chosen faith, cultivate unquestioned allegiance to the dictations of our particular religion. Such practice is absolutely splendid as long as it is focused on our quest to attain the realm of divinity. Our adherence to faith and our attempt to practice it should be to make us better human beings with respect and reverence to the entity we believe that is in charge of it all. As long as we respect the freedom and the right of every individual to choose and practice a certain method to attain the ultimate, we remain within the universally accepted norms of human decency. As we step outside that boundary and as we start criticizing the freedom of others to choose, we deviate from the god principle, precisely what we attempt to accomplish.
     Perhaps many open-minded, curious, even concerned people may have questioned the reason a million times, as to why there has never been a broader, concerted effort to create a global movement to bring in mutual respect and camaraderie between the various religious groups. It is disappointing to realize that the various, presumably spiritually oriented organizations have not felt enough graciousness to understand and communicate with religions of a different philosophy, which have apparently similar claims towards divinity. As strange as it may sound if the institutions promoting dealings with God are not able to accept all humans as same, irrespective of their faiths, it has to be an apparent blemish in their basic understanding of godliness. There have to be many reasons beyond the obvious, behind such hostility and refusal to accept others.
     Ignorance about other faiths may be one of the fundamental reasons that promote the wrong attitude and hence apprehension in accommodating others as they are. Obtaining wrong information from authorities and even refusing to learn about others lead to distorted understanding and even detestation of any faith other than one’s own. Instead of limiting the religious teaching to singing the glory of God through their prescribed avenues, the pulpits may be preaching wrong information about other faiths, not totally out of ignorance, but orchestrated from vested motivations. Warnings and scare tactics admonishing followers who may be inquisitive and open-minded to understand about others are not uncommon practices in many sections. Those who are blind believers of such establishments cannot be blamed for cultivating and propagating wrong information and unfriendly attitude towards beliefs other than their own.
     Ignorance also is from total lack of or distorted understanding of the concept of god. If our perception about the god principle is other than one of totality which applies to everything that we see and perceive, it is very easy to be misguided into a limited, even conceited viewpoint. If our vision of a higher power is not grand enough to contain everything and if one tends to believe that such energy can be controlled or manipulated by a group of people or limited philosophy, then it can lead to the disturbance that we witness around the world. Sadly, the powerful and knowledgeable religious organizations that are capable of creating generous minds through a global approach to god-concept are often doing much of the damage by diverting that opportunity for certain other purposes, only known to them. Such exposure and training are what limits the followers to a constricted understanding of divinity and the misconception of its monopoly. More damaging is the inculcation of a conviction that any other modality of approach other than their own, any other philosophy to reach out to the absolute consciousness other than what they sermonize is totally futile and even blasphemous. The fear of such a thought in an irreverent, sacrilegious direction is what scares many from attempting to expand their knowledge and secludes them within the comfort of a false sense of monopoly of divinity.
     Out of such ignorance often arises uncertainty and uncertainty give rise to skepticism. Easiest escape out of skepticism is avoidance, and the route taken to avoid is through generating an aversion. Aversion is often accompanied by a sense of fear, rather intimidation of the unknown. The chain reaction eventually surfaces as detestation and even abhorrence, which is countered again with a false sense of superiority and a claim of monopoly. An incident which happened at one of the Junior high Schools in Texas abundantly illustrates the dismal attitude of ignorance, fear and even hatred of the community towards other religions than their own. The Principal of a predominantly Anglo Christian school arranged for a presentation, described as ‘Islam 101’, by an Islamic group, which he thought would be a good way for the students to learn about other cultures. Over eight hundred seventh and eighth grade students of the school attended a presentation given by two women with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Houston, according to the school district. The principal organized such a meeting consequent to a complaint from a Muslim father who said his son was physically attacked at the school because he was Muslim. After the presentation, there was a flood of complaints from concerned parents that their children were subjected to a presentation, without their consent. As we try to analyze the situation, it becomes obvious that the anguish came from fear of allowing young minds to be exposed to information from a different group of believers, which the parents felt would be dangerous to their children. The superintendent of the school seemed to agree with the parents and apologized to them while the principal was asked to resign and later was reassigned to another administrative position. While the presenters said that they simply discussed facts about Islam and not any religious sermons, the concern of the parents need to be understood from their own perspective and attitude towards an alien faith. While this is an example of outrage by lessons in tolerance and diversity and not by religious persecution, the premise from which the controversy arose is the concern they were trying to establish. This is just one example of the shallow nature of understanding between two religious groups, but such conflicts and concerns prevail throughout the entire world because of a lack of respect and refusal to accommodate each other. After the acute phase was over and more parents found out and analyzed the issue, many of them realized it would have been an opportunity for the Christian students to get to know about another faith.
     When we believe in a particular faith and follow its guidelines and practices, we do it because of certain convictions that appeal to us and because its doctrines attract us as a mode to take us to the ultimate concepts. It is imperative that we cultivate loyalty to that faith and devote our absolute commitment to it just as we would dedicate to any worthy cause that we subscribe to. Using the same yardstick of respect that we would expect from another person towards our faith, we should entertain the common courtesy in return to another individual’s choice of devotion. Especially when one is dealing with a concept beyond any distinct definition, when the enormity of such transcends restricting boundaries, simple civility should guide us to offer a respectful acceptance to that alien belief. We should consider the alternate how such a declaration would offend and alienate us if others were to claim the monopoly of divinity and proclaim that their particular path is the sole means to attain the ultimate.
     At this context, it may be worthwhile to analyze historical accounts as well as present-day movements like ‘Crusades’ and ‘Jihad’ aimed at conversions or destruction of masses of ‘non-believers’. These examples of misguided devotion perhaps even endorsed by their respective leaders and undertaken passionately by loyal followers in the name of God is in reality, the curse of humanity. The Crusades of the medieval times by the western Christendom was reportedly organized to fight against religious persecution of Christians and reclaim the holy land of Jerusalem. Many such crusades were fought between the eleventh through the fifteenth centuries which pitched Christians against Muslims and others who opposed them, like the Pagans, the Jews, the Mongols and various political enemies of the Pope. The atrocities done in the name of and claims of god had farreaching economic, political and social ramifications apart from the religious intentions such movements originated from. The fear of the crusades was recently revisited when President Bush made the reference to use such tactics against the terrorists, reminding the world that such philosophy may be entertained even by the modern politicians. It is perhaps quite appropriate for us to be anxious about the reality of a contemporary clash of civilizations, global warfare between Christians and Muslims, re-enacting the barbaric scenes of medieval times. Definitely more frightening and perhaps much more threatening is the realistic possibility of the present world facing the ‘holy war’ or ‘Jihad’, which is aimed against the infidels and the infidel countries. Some hard-core Muslims are incensed against the tyranny and oppression they face from non-Muslims with military and economic powers. ‘Jihad’ is the movement they fervently subscribe into, with an agenda to expand the territories ruled by Muslims, convert others to follow their faith and achieve Muslim domination over the entire globe. The present-day terrorist activities around the world can mostly be traced to the violent agendas orchestrated by such groups. Those who die fighting the infidels become martyrs and are guaranteed a place in heaven with special privileges. Unfortunately, the moderate, peace-loving majority of Muslims are not effective in rescuing the glory of their religion from such extremists, outwardly and basically giving an impression that they condone the philosophy of the ‘Jihad’. One would be tempted to think that sensible, modern day human beings would make an honest attempt to salvage the good name of their god from preaching and prompting their followers to destroy human beings belonging to other faiths.
     Perhaps not as organized and maybe not as effective, are there factions of believers from almost every religious group who subscribe to the attitude that their particular faith and its methods and philosophy are superior to others to attain the ultimate goal of reaching the Almighty. Many of such people also firmly believe that those who do not follow their path to glory are doomed to be lost and may end up in the horrors of hell. For someone who has approached the essence of divinity 259 in its enormous form, understanding it beyond the restrictions of human imagination and felt His glory in everything around us, such a notion will remain absurd, making absolutely very little sense.

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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