Religious harmony, a friend of mine once quipped, was proof of concept. He was referring to my country of birth, Singapore, as an illustrious example of a melting pot done right – religions could co-exist with little fuss. He had forgotten though, that our past was colourfully blotted with numerous incidences of racial and religious tensions. And often, racial conflicts are usually rooted in religion. Different races often believed in different gods, and religion presented more reasons for unnecessary inflammation.
Yet, could religious harmony be possible? Looking at how Saudi Arabia’s top islamic council issued an unrepentant fatwa (holy order) on the banning of Pokemon GO because it indirectly promoted the theory of evolution; or the recent declaration by a Muslim leader that many emojis were unislamic; or a Christian faith healer declaring that modern medicine is forbidden since it goes against God’s design of deciding who lives and dies, I find it more likely we will find a way to live on the sun than to achieve religious harmony. Religion, as evidenced above, seeks to interfere in the lives of believers and non-believers alike.
Still, Singapore, among several countries, does seem to have made religious harmony a possibility. But that’s only because no-one (at least not publicly) truly follows the holy scriptures to the letter, nor does the government invoke them as a moral compass for its citizens or policies. Doing what’s right doesn’t require a certain verse from the Bible or a quotation from the Hadith – our default moral positions come from secular values. Given the amount of bigotry, unbridled violence and misogyny in these holy texts, it’s hard to ever justify using religion as a lighthouse for ethical behaviour.
For such peaceful coexistence of faiths in my country, the religious have to pay lip service to their holy books when they are in fact, acting upon secular values while conveniently ignoring the countless paragraphs used to justify the horrific tortures of the inquisitions or the ‘god given’ mission statements of ISIS. So, and this is an important point: the less religious one becomes, the more likely some form of human harmony becomes an attainable concept. And the converse, by extension, is true. As religious fundamentalism increases, peace becomes a distant mirage.
However, I suppose one might add that people of different faith do help each other, even in times of heated religious conflicts or ongoing war. And there are indeed examples of such selflessness and heroism. But that is an appeal and an argument for humanism: a rational outlook that focuses on human importance rather than supernatural matters. At that moment, these people acted on secular values, not religious tropes. They saw their victims as human beings in need of help, and they offered the corresponding response. Anyone, religious or not, would have done the same.
Even with the prevalence of a main religious ideology, one would think that surely some kind of unity has at last been met. But that’s not true. Even within the same faith, there are minor variations in beliefs. And these variations are often enough to start brutal rampages of murdering each other’s children and skewering different body parts in euphoric delight. Shia and Sunni Muslims still continue to zealously slaughter each other, and the Protestants and Catholics can doubtlessly be counted on to set each other’s homes on fire. How then, does religion even unify people? Those within a common faith cannot even amicably agree on how to interpret their holy texts.
I am reminded of a very competent (and well-loved) Science teacher who advised another colleague to stay away from Photoshop and all other forms of drawing. Only God has the right to create and change humans, he said unabashedly, and our hands were meant for worship not emulation. His intentions were not malicious, but clearly, his common sense had run afoul of him – a sad consequence of surrendering your mind to religion. Ordinarily I have never cared about what a person does with his life, but it’s mortifying that children are often the target of such deranged beliefs.
Wherever you go, religion is a terrible multiplier for bad thinking, tribal behaviour and inherent prejudices, with each group claiming theocratic right. I have met many sane and nice people across a variety of professions, and yet, when pressed further, it’s all too easy for their prejudices to bubble up. Every believer speaks of the opposing faiths in the subdued undertones of the bigot.
Depending on which group you take up residence with, one of the following is true: the Christians eat defiled pork and worship the wrong redeemer; the Muslims wipe their buttocks with the wrong hands and have an irrational hatred for all things porcine; Jews have filthy beards and drink the blood of children; Buddhists are all about intentions and going nowhere; doing Yoga is a blasphemous worship to the cow-loving Hindu pea-brains; homosexuals are a moral blight on this world. The list is endless.
How, if I may so kindly ask, can religious harmony be possible?
So have you thought (HYTA) about religious harmony?