Tolerance and religious principles
Monday, May 01, 2006
A good friend of mine recently pointed to me an article (thats the google cache; the original link wasnt working at the time of posting) which claims that polytheistic religions are more tolerant generally than monotheistic religions. The corollary is that a globalised world needs Hinduism, the most popular polytheist faith.
Obvioulsy, as the long history of rioting and caste-related violence in India proves, this isnt necessarily true. Let me put together a few thoughts:
1. People arent motivated by religious beliefs so much as they are motivated by local circumstances and their own self-interest. All politics is local, and religion is most commonly a tool for people wanting to grab power or show power. The recent intoonfada demonstrated this well, as Matt Mcintosh argues here. Playing the religion card has worked wonderfully well for the BJP in India, and it is arguable that Narendra Modi allowed the Gujarat pogrom only because he calculated that it would vastly increase his chances in the coming year's elections, and boy, did that move bail out his sinking ship.
2. Religious beliefs of most people are shallow, and most religions have wide enough doctrines that its adherents can choose whatever principle is most convenient for them at the moment. If they want to kill (for whatever other reasons), the would-be killers just point out that part of the scriptures that justify killing, etc.
3. Obscurity and ambiguity of Hindu morality. I bet Hindu rioters are not even aware of what their religion is actually trying to say. I wouldnt blame them; nobody knows whats really written in the Vedas; and the Gita is too dense and esoteric. Perhaps the only central doctrine of Hinduism is a social one -- that of the caste system. Lay Hindus derive their morality from the epics, but both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are ambiguous at best. In particular, violence is nowhere denounced; it is quite easy to justify violence by drawing naive parallels with the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.
I am not exactly sure how we can get to a peaceful and tolerant society. All I know is that religious principles are woefully inadequate to take us there.