The cliche, “Religion is opiate of people,” has been around for over two hundred years. No doubt, religion has given solace to billions of aching souls for several thousand years, and has led people safely through wars, pestilence, famine, natural disasters and other calamities. Religion inspired and nurtured literature, poetry, architecture, sculpture, morality, culture, rituals and civilizations.
In ancient societies, religion evolved to bring law and order, and promote civility and peace. It tamed unruly behavior of people by indoctrinating certain “thou shall not” and “thou shall.” Until recently, religion was the Constitution of many countries, and still is in some Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, where Sharia is the Constitution. In enlightened democracies such as the U.S.A., there is an uneasy truce between the Old Constitution and the New by the doctrine of Separation of Church and State. And yet, today even in the U.S.A., allegiance of many Muslims, Hindus and Christians is to the Old Constitution, and not to the secular Constitution of the U.S.A. Such conflicts between the Old and New Constitution is central to many serious societal problems in democracies of the world such as Britain, Germany, France, Israel and India. Excessive attachment to religion causes mental intoxication, like abuse of opium does, and invariably leads to loss of goodness and promotes actions destructive to one’s own self or others. Religious fundamentalists invariably impose their view on people whose behavior is not in accordance with what they believe to be the dictates of their own religion. Consequently, over the past 2,000 years more blood has been shed in the name of religion than any other issue.
In the Indian subcontinent, Muslims rulers killed Hindus and Christians, Hindus killed Buddhists, and Christians killed Muslims and Hindus, Sunni Muslims killed non-Sunni Muslims and Hindus. In the Middle East, Jews and Muslims killed each other, and in Northern Ireland, Protestants and Catholics killed each other. Religion-inspired bloodshed is still going on in many countries. Today we see in the world evil people perpetrating every kind of abomination in the name of religion.
All over the world today, there is resurgence of religious fundamentalism. Listening to the speeches of fundamentalists of any religion, one cannot escape sensing hatred in their hearts. Islamic fundamentalism is a prime example of religion gone rogue. Deluded by their religious leaders, young men and women have learned to hate every non-Islamic religion in the world, including sub-sects of Islam. In India, fascist Hindu fundamentalists, organizing themselves as a paramilitary force, are threatening Christians and Muslims with implicit blessing of the government run by Hindu fanatics. In the U.S., Christian fundamentalists are throwing around phrases such as ‘religious liberty’ and ‘religious conscience’ knowing full well their hidden intent, which is to ostracize and punish people whose behavior, according to their limited understanding of Christianity, is evil. In fact, many Republican presidential candidates have begun to introduce God and Christianity into their campaign speeches, fueling hatred for non-Christians. Claiming to exercise their “religious liberty,” Christian fundamentalists practice everything opposite of what the ‘good book’ preaches them: Love, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, kindness and the like.
Unfortunately, what these Christian fundamentalists do not realize are the unintended consequences that might ensue from exercising their so-called “religious liberty” and “religious conscience.” Very soon, deluded Muslims, Jews and Hindus in the U.S. might also begin to exercise their religious liberties. Muslim fundamentalists might demand that they be allowed to broadcast their prayers on loudspeakers in public places five times a day as dictated by their religion; and that Muslim men be allowed to marry four women, and their children be educated only in the Madrasas, which indoctrinate children to hate non-Muslims.
Hindu fundamentalists might want to picket outside restaurants serving beef, resulting in loss of business for the owners. Jewish businessmen might hang up a sign forbidding Muslims from entering their shops. There is literally no end to such religion-inspired stupidity.
Imagine this scenario: One dark snowy night an elderly Jewish man is driving on a treacherous highway. Suddenly his car breaks down. He calls for assistance. The tow-truck pulls his car to the only licensed garage in the area. The Muslim mechanic takes a good look at the old man and notices his skullcap. Shaking his head he says, “Sorry, my religious conscience forbids me from repairing cars of Jews.”
We cannot ban religion even though its abuse by ignorant people has become the cause of many horrible evils in the world. Everyone should have the right to practice the Old Constitution within the walls of one’s house, and conform one’s behavior according to one’s Faith. However, when one steps outside one’s house, one’s unswerving allegiance should be to the Constitution of the United States of America. Introducing religious liberty into politics, governance, business and public life merely serves to undermine the Constitution and imperils democracy.
Only by protecting the rights of others we disagree with could we truly protect our own rights. There is an ancient Indian saying, “The Constitution protects him who protects the Constitution.” If history teaches us anything, it is that goodness of heart, not religion, that is the true hope of humanity.