Religious fundamentalists are on the rise and that is bad for our societies. Most people will agree on this. Yet few examine who religious fundamentalists are. Obviously, such persons would want to stick to the fundamentals of their religion. They want to live a life that is advocated in their holy books and would please their God. Now, since religious fundamentalists pose a problem, does it mean that the fundamentals of religions are bad for our societies? Let’s look at the three biggest religions:
Concerning Christianity, fundamentalists believe that God has revealed himself in the Bible and sent his only begotten son to earth to save all mankind. They believe in the first commandment: ‘You shall have no other gods before me’. Therefore, all humanity has to believe in the God of the Bible and his only son, Jesus Christ. Those who do not do so, will end up in hell for all eternity. “Go out into the world, preach to all peoples and baptise”, is a central tenet of the Christian faith (Matthew 28.19, Mark 16.15) and fundamentalists consider it as their duty to convert as many ‘heathens’ as possible to Christianity by whatever means.
Concerning Islam, fundamentalists believe that Islam is the only true religion and Allah the only true God who wants the whole world to submit to Him (Q 8.39). Those who do not become Muslims will go to hell for ever. It is a central tenet and keeps recurring in the Quran. Fundamentalists see it as their duty to ‘cleanse’ the world of unbelievers either by converting or by taking literally verses in the Quran which exhort believers to “smite their necks.” (8.12)
Concerning Hinduism, fundamentalists believe that Brahman (other names are allowed and in use) is the one true ‘God’. However, Brahman is not a personal God who saves those who believe in Him and damns all others. Rather, Brahman is the most subtle conscious essence that permeates everything and everyone, never mind, which religion he follows or whether he is an atheist. “Atman is Brahman” or “one’s own Self is the Divine”, the Vedas proclaim.
Now, all religions claim that there is only one Highest, one ‘true God’ in English or one ‘Allah’ in Arabic or one ‘Brahman’ in Sanskrit. And of course there is only one Divinity – the almighty, all knowing Presence that is responsible for the existence of the universe. How can it be otherwise? Hindus, however, often don’t understand that Christians as well as Muslims are really convinced that “their” one true God saves only the brothers and sisters of their own faith and sends all others as heathen or infidels into hell. This conviction is indeed difficult to understand for humans with a normal reasoning capacity. Yet if one grows up hearing repeatedly that only one’s own faith is true and other people are bad because they don’t accept this, it may actually make sense. It happened to me as a child – it made sense that only we Christians go to heaven, because we have been chosen by God…
So we have a situation in the world where Christianity and Islam, each one about two billion strong, rival with each other: “Our God alone is true! If you don’t believe it, you go to hell.” And the other group counters, “No. Our God alone is true! And if you don’t believe it you go to hell.”
One could laugh it off if it were not so serious. Fundamentalists stick to this belief – and unfortunately, the official clergy of both religions uphold it, as well. It is naturally a cause for great friction in the world.
Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma, as it used to be called) does not take part in this one-upmanship. It is ancient. It was there long before Christianity or Islam appeared on the scene. In Hinduism, Brahman is not a male entity who watches over us from somewhere. It is inside everyone, conscious, living and loving.
It will always give another chance until everyone realises his true being and merges in Brahman, which may take many lives. The Hindu scriptures proclaim, “Humanity is one family”. “Brahman permeates the smallest as well as the biggest.” “Thou art That.” “Brahman is not what the mind thinks but That whereby the mind thinks.” “See God in everyone.” “Respect nature.”
And they lead us in prayer: “May we be protected together, may we be nourished together, may we work together with great vigour, may our study be enlightening, may no obstacle arise between us.” “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides.” “May everyone be happy”, and so on.
Many Hindus, too, don’t know these fundamentals of their religion and believe it is all about rituals, worshipping their favourite aspect of God to get their wishes fulfilled and celebrating festivals. They don’t realise that Hinduism is the only religion that is all inclusive. It does not set one group of people against all the others. It is also not opposed to science and does not only allow using one’s intelligence but encourages to do so.
Maybe that is the reason why in the west, Hinduism is sometimes even missing when the world religions are listed, as for westerners, a religion is apparently not a religion if it is not based on unverifiable dogmas, especially the one that sets it apart from other religions and which is so harmful for a harmonious living together of all humanity. Is it not about time for us in the 21th century to scrap such unverifiable, harmful fundamentals that set up one group of people against another group?
The best option is to follow the Hindu fundamentals. So let’s be Hindu fundamentalists who see Divinity in everyone, also in animals and in nature. Our world would benefit.
by Maria Wirth