Soul Sightings: Eradicating the disease of religious fanaticism

By Swami Yogatmananda, UMass Dartmouth Hindu Chaplain

The recent massacre of over 300 worshippers in a Sufi mosque in Egypt has again highlighted, in blood-red colors, the urgency to act against religious fanaticism, in all its forms, and its inevitable outcome of bloodshed.

The psychology of how this disease advances, gets combined with individual greed, and political and national extremism, leading ultimately to unstoppable hatred and vicarious carnage of the innocent religious prayer-goers is important to see, so that we can eradicate it at the root.

Everyone has a deep, though usually covered, sense that ‘I am better than you’. This, for more effectiveness and powerful expression gets converted into ‘We are superior to you’.The claims of Aryan superiority, white supremacy, manifest destiny are variants of this.

Then, it is a logical next step to presume, either explicitly or what is more commonly seen, implicitly that those ‘others’ are our enemies.    Often, many catchy and inspiring slogans are used to bolster the fanatic ideology. ‘We must stand up for OUR community’; ‘We do not like violence, but we have to take to guns for our protection and preempt the would be attackers’. ‘Let us be proud of our great culture, and war-heroes’.

With so much advancement, the actual steps of physical violence are not far. Organized armies or scattered smaller groups or ‘lone wolves’ begin killing spree to ‘protect their religion’.

This disease is strongly infectious. To stem it from becoming an epidemic is not easy.

After one massacre of innocents by a fanatic group, other group rises up for revenge. Another carnage of innocent people follows.

All religious communities have to stand up together against this, and we have to begin at the root.

That is to say, let us hold on to the core equality of all people and give up the notion of superiority.

Politics plus religion makes a deadly mix, as politics essentially depends on making one group stand against others.

Religion provides shrewd politicians an easy tool to excite divisive emotions, and then fan these to make a big fire, which then can bring them the power.

So, pulpits that get into politics or politicians, who use the pulpits, must be shunned.

Interfaith gatherings should be promoted, clergies of various faiths should actively engage in study of comparative religions, with a view of assimilation and integration.

At universities, schools and such other places, harmony of religions must be actively propagated. Religious Literacy Project is a good thing at all such educational institutions.

These will be an effective vaccination cum medication against this disease.

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