Sunday, July 21, 2024

Religion – A Search for Deeper Meaning

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Religion has come to dominate the mental imagination of people across the world; Therefore, it is necessary to understand religion, religion-politics relationship and policy prescriptions on how to deal with religion

Of all social forces and phenomenon which have come to shape human societies globally over the years, religion is one of the most powerful and influential. Religion, for different societies, for different people hold different definitions and ideas. On an anecdotal note, religion can be defined as a set of beliefs, ideas and convictions as a part of any socio-cultural system which manifests itself in the deification of deities, prophets, and other important socio-religious personalities which have played a pivotal role in shaping the contours of religion over the years.

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Positive and negative meanings

Positively, religion is a strong social force. It plays a crucial role in not only promoting social solidarity but helps in building community wide awareness about the need to be altruistic, to put others before self, to encourage dissent and cultivate toleration to the views of others who may not necessarily subscribe to one’s views and even to non-believers. While this constitutes the bedrock of every religion, yet this view is more prominent in Hinduism.

Negatively, religion has been the source of persecution and bloodbaths over the centuries. The idea of a believer & non-believer has been responsible for the wiping out of several empires and thousands of people over the years.

This is evident from the wiping out of the Sassanian Empire of Persia by the expansive Rashidun caliphate or the Arab Islamic empire which saw the mass exodus of Zoroastrians to several parts of the world, including in India. A point made by Henry Kissinger in his book ‘The World Order’.

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Inter-religious conflict manifested itself in the form of the crusades which were a series of religious wars that was sanctioned by the Catholic Church of Rome under the leadership of the Pope in the early 13th century to reclaim the Christian ‘holy lands’ from the hands of Muslim rulers. It led to large scale deaths.

Religion and politics

Politics and religion are intermeshed into a complex relationship. The objective of politics in the western and non-western sense of the term in idealistic sense is the search for a good life through the cultivation of citizens who possess moral ‘virtu’, this is similar to the religious notion of doing good for humankind by morally, institutionally developing an ideal individual who can come to the aid of humanity. Notwithstanding the philosophical notion of religion and politics relationship, the essential driving force in their relationship is power.

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Power in the sense of exercising supreme political power while according religious or ecclesiastical legitimacy to exercise of such power. This is, perhaps, the most important part of politics-religion relationship and has a long and controversial history spanning across religions.

This is most prominent in Islam- the world’s fastest growing and second most populous major religion in the world.

The caliph was looked upon not only as the religious head of the Islamic Ummah globally but was to give the clarion call for spreading the faith. Therefore, concentration of political power in the hands of the subsequent caliphs belonging to the Ummayad and Abbasid caliphates were quite prominent.

Policy prescriptions

Scriptural literalism approach must be discarded. Religion must be moulded in accordance with the present 21st century circumstances for it to remain relevant. Religious scriptures must be read with a critical scientific lens. This is because, Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now-The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress argues that rationality and reasoning which were the lynchpins of the Enlightenment era must be the sin qua none of any religion. Any scriptural portion of any religion if it goes against reason must be discarded or if need be, should be reconciled to modern day morality and ethics

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