A silver lining in an age of religious extremism {Ethics}

Context

This article talks about different religion and their beliefs interpreted by various philosophers

Religious extremism

Fundamentalism, violence and terrorism can be found around the world in worrisome supply. Although it must be noted that the mass media over-report on extremism because the content sells well. The phrase religious extremism describes faith-based actions that are deliberate attempts to cause harm to other people. It includes violent religious movements, a routine asceticism that is extreme enough to cause medical concern, beliefs that cause harm through denial of medicine or mental harm through abusive family behaviors. Religious tolerance, multiculturalism, and equality are the particular targets of extremists. Their own religion provides guidance that trumps any secular law or any concept of human rights.

Although all mass movements breed the occasional extremist, the horrific spectres of oppression and violent coercion have resulted mostly from Abrahamic monotheistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity (mostly in the past) and Islam (particularly prone to it at present), and to a lesser extent from other traditional religions such as Hinduism, especially as a result of battles against multiculturalism. Even Buddhism has sometimes been the source of violent extremists acting in the name of their religion. Most justifications for religious extremism are fundamentalist in nature, based squarely on religious doctrine, strictly interpreted. The declining strength of religion in the face of secularisation means there are fewer middle-ground religionists to rein in extremists. Although many national governments are involved in “fighting” extremism, very few succeed in making direct progress. The best way to avoid “homegrown” extremists is to improve education, access to education, job security and family stability.

Causes of Extremism

  1. Personal Causes
    1. Religious Beliefs and Fundamentalism
    2. An Abhorrence of Sexuality and a Reaction to Gender Equality
    3. Broken Families
    4. Something Personal
  2. Social Causes
    1. Reactions to Multiculturalism
    2. Secularisation
    3. Disordered Civic Life, Poor Governance
    4. A Negative Reaction to a Dominant Culture and Modernism
    5. Sectarianism and Faith Schools.

Various stages

Though one cannot generalize, intelligent 20th-century attitudes to religion were dominated by dismissal or silence. This was partly in reaction to the religiosity of the previous centuries, which was cracked — but not broken — with the rise of ideas associated with Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and, indirectly, Sigmund Freud in the 19th century. Darwin was religious, but his theory of evolution has proved difficult for religions to digest.

Of the three, Marx is the one who was openly agnostic and he is remembered for the statement, “Religion is the opium of the people.” This is not entirely fair to Marx. If you read the rest of the paragraph from which that line is torn, you realise that Marx sees religion as an anodyne. He considers it a necessary painkiller, given the vast sufferings of ordinary people and the absence of real ‘medicines’ to relieve their dire condition — ‘medicines’ that revolutionary Socialism would provide in his view. Opium was not just a hallucinatory drug when Marx was writing; it was used as a painkiller.

A welcome intervention

Shashi Tharoor’s new book, Why I Am a Hindu, belongs to this informed category. It is a welcome intervention in a Bhakt-fed debate where the level of thought does not match the decibel level, given the fact that so many Hindutva supporters seem to be hell-bent on turning Hinduism into a version of Wahhabi Islam.

Tharoor does not make the connection between Bhakt arteriosclerosis and its gothic-twin similarity to rigid Wahhabism. But his book is motivated by a desire to celebrate exactly the kind of inclusive and philosophical Hinduism that many Bhakts either do not know or do not wish to know.

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