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Religion Unites Us, Fundamentalism Divides Us

03/11/2015 8:23 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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old dehli pigeons flying in front of jamal majid mosque , old delhi , India

On 1 January, 1915, the Norfolk Chronicle published a letter written during the First World War by a young British soldier of the Essex Regiment.

"Our trenches are only 30-40 yards away from the Germans. This led to an exciting incident the other day. Our fellows have been in the habit of shouting across to the enemy and we used to get answers from them. This is what happened:-

From our trenches: "Good morning Fritz." (No answer).

"Good morning Fritz." (Still no answer).

"GOOD MORNING FRITZ."

From German trenches: "Good morning."

From our trench: "How are you?"

"Alright."

"Come over here, Fritz."

"No. If I come I get shot."

"No you won't. Come and get some fags, Fritz."

"No. You come halfway and I meet you."

"All right."

One of our fellows thereupon stuffed his pocket with fags and got over the trench. The German got over his trench, and they met halfway and shook hands, Fritz taking the fags and giving cheese in exchange."

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"The German got over his trench, and they met halfway and shook hands, Fritz taking the fags and giving cheese in exchange." (Source: The Daily Sheeple)

It was an extraordinary gesture. Two sides thirsty of each other's blood stepped out of their trenches putting their mutual hatred aside and embraced their mortal enemy. What made this extraordinary event in history possible? How did it come about? We shall return to these questions a little later but we shall first state the purpose of this article.

This article is provoked by a cult which subscribes to "militant atheism". It believes that religion is inherently a negative and divisive force and that world would have been a better place without it. One of its tallest proponents is the celebrated evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who outlines this ideology clearly in this statement:

"Only the wilfully blind could fail to implicate the divisive force of religion in most, if not all, of the violent enmities in the world today. Without doubt it is the prime aggravator of the Middle East. Those of us who have for years politely concealed our contempt for the dangerous collective delusion of religion need to stand up and speak out."

Dawkins, like his fellow "militant atheists" is misled. Only a superficial argument can put the blame of "violent enmities" squarely on religion. A deeper investigation shall reveal that it is fundamentalism of any kind that breeds animosity, divisions and violence. Hatred, division and violence of the worst kind in history were seen through the latter half of the 20th century. It was the cold war. Ideological bigotry had pushed fear and hatred to an extent that annihilation of the globe was just a nuclear-trigger away. It was fanaticism, fundamentalism and ideological bigotry at their height.

There's nothing inherently divisive in religion but fundamentalism of any shade or colour is fundamentally wrong.

At its birth, India dreamt of secularism and religious harmony but reality turned out to be less glorious. Ayodhya, Godhra and millions of other religious clashes strewn through our postcolonial history have kept the dream distanced from truth. Is religion to blame? No. Among all the clashes and acts of violence, a miraculous thing has happened -- we still stand united as democratic nation despite all contradictions. The thing that unites us into an Indian identity, among others, is our shared element of deep-seated religiousness whatever be its outward colour or form. Indians are religious people. Religiousness is in the Indian air. Religiousness as a part of our national consciousness provides, inter alia the unity of commonality underlying the supernatant diversity.

That which divides is fanaticism of different varieties. Rushdie wrote in Midnight's Children, "We've survived and made our way. Our lives, inspite of everything, are acts of love." Our shared faith in other-worldly justice, divine morality, scriptures, fear of god, and deeply embedded elements of religiousness provide the basic ground for these "acts of love".

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Two sides thirsty of each other's blood stepped out of their trenches putting their mutual hatred aside and embraced their mortal enemy... (Source: firstworldwar.com)

The day on which the two soldiers crawled out of their trenches to embrace each other was the Christmas of 1914. The day has gone down in history as the "Christmas Truce", when thousands of enemy soldiers spontaneously crossed their sides, hugged each other, exchanged gifts and bottles of whisky. These were the men who were eager to thrust bullets in each other's hearts the previous day. These were the men divided by nationalities; divided by patriotism; divided by lines of duty. These were the men united by religion.

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These were the men divided by nationalities; divided by patriotism; divided by lines of duty. These were the men united by religion. (Source: The Daily Mirror)

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