New Year 2020: A Prayer for Peace and Religious Harmony

TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 6 Jan 2020

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

1 Jan 2020 – As I am thinking about the New Year, I am thinking about peace, about how to make the world a peaceful place to live and thrive.

The passing year was not that peaceful. There were violent incidents all over the world. There were violent incidents within states, there was also violence based on the exclusionary approach to particular people.

As I work in the area of conflict resolution and international peace, what concerns me most in the New Year is the possible rise of religious violence. Religion was created as a social institution where people can get together with a common purpose, with a common goal to realize collective peace and collective good for mankind. But that goal as we see the world over seems to be belied, and our developed science and technology, and our increasing connectedness, have not helped to address this degeneration of religion.

All religions are possible – Gandhi famously said and believed. He believed in this principle and practiced this in his life. He wrote, if a Christian comes to me and says he is not happy with his religion, he (Gandhi) would advise him to be a good Christian. If all the people, who practice religion, Gandhi believed, are truly faithful to their religion and follow it honestly, we do not have conflict.

But in the modern age, it appears religions have become more exclusivist. Religions have developed a club-mentality. You are part of my religion, and hence you are welcome. You are not part of my religion, hence you are not welcome. This moral exclusion has acquired dangerous proportions. Those who believe and practice this exclusion do not hesitate to take devilish actions against people practicing religions other than theirs. This is not a good development for our human society and the world.

Why cannot religions coexist? Why cannot there be peace among religions? Must religions fight? Some thinkers believed that religions would clash, and religion-driven cultures would fight and this fight would engulf nations. This fighting would create fault lines among nations, pushing them to the one or the other side. Is it necessary? I ask.

Why should followers of one religion believe their religion is the best, and other religions are worst? Why should they believe their religion is pure, and other religions are impure, and hence followers of other religions must be part of their religions or be vanquished from the face of the earth? This is dangerous thinking. And it seems the adherents of this thinking are increasing, rather than decreasing. And these adherents use modern technology to spread this exclusionary vision worldwide.

It is not that there are not progressive people who are aware of this dangerous trend. There are people, and their size is undoubtedly bigger than the fundamentalists on the other side of the religious aisle. But I believe this larger section of people is more silent than active. Many of them are busy in daily activities of life, and many of them think that they have no responsibility to stop the spread of this exclusionary vision.

And their lies the problem. One philosopher termed those people who do not take positions, moral eunuchs. When the larger sections of people do not take a position on religion or silently vouch one or another variety of exclusionary vision the problem starts. As social beings living in society, living among people, every individual must take a position on the state of things in the society she or he lives in.

Once this passive majority become the active majority and work for religious peace, I think the problem will be resolved. I am not saying that all the people must come to streets and protest against religious fundamentalism or terrorism, even if they believe in this idea of religious harmony and peace, and do their bit in their daily lives that will be enough to stop this dangerous juggernaut. Whenever one thinks about religion, one should think in an inclusive way. Instead of saying his religion is the best, he has to say all religions are social institutions, and it is for every individual to follow a religion of his choice if he or she feels peace and fulfilment in that religion.

The most deplorable thing is that when religious fundamentalists not only spew venom and try to rupture social harmony but kill innocent people. This happens everywhere. The killing of civilians, including children, women and old, by the religious fundamentalists, happen in all parts of the world. This is something which I call a blot on human conscience, a darkness on the very human nature. They do not mind to bring their devilish anger to schools, hospitals, and busy market places.

So, the time has come for all the progressive individuals of the world, who believe that the world is a beautiful place in which multiple religions can thrive, to come forward and join hands in whatever capabilities they can to denounce this exclusivist ideology. This is my prayer for the New Year. The prayer that all people from all over the world come together and take a position on religion, and contribute in their way to make the world a peaceful place, a place in which not ‘my’ religion or ‘your’ religion thrives, but all ‘our’ religions thrives. ‘Mine’ and ‘thine’ are the terms from the primal, animalistic, world, in which lack of education and also lack scarce resources led to vicious fights and killings. In the twenty-first century world, religious conflicts look anachronistic. They also somehow confirm that there is still the primal, animalistic, world somewhere within us, which needs transformation.

Some beautiful minds wish and sing, imagine there is no religion. I think that is too high thinking, and I respect that. But I think religions will be there so far there are human beings, and so far there is need of a social institution in which the individual can get moral guidance and some solace from the hazards life present before him. So, in that sense, religion may be necessary. Another thinker took an extreme position and termed religion opium of the masses. This is again an extreme position.

I believe that religion is a matter of private practice. I also believe no individual professing a particular religion has no moral right to impose his or her views on others. All the religions emerged in particular periods of human history, and all of them came with a message for its followers. But when the followers take that religion as absolute at the cost of all other social values and institutions, the problem starts.

My prayer for the New Year is this – may the New Year be more peaceful than the passing year. May there be no religious violence across the world. May individuals come forward to renounce religious fundamentalism. May we all think, speak and act peace.

May peace prevail in the world! Happy New Year!

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Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Florida. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Non-Violence, Human Rights and World Peace at Hindu University of America in Florida, and a fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an Indian commentator and his areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. His edited book, Conflict and Peace in Eurasia, was published by Routledge in 2013; Conflict Management in Kashmir: State-People Relations and Peace, was published by the Cambridge University Press in 2018. His forthcoming coedited book is Gandhi and the World.


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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Jan 2020.

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