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Introspection, The Key
To Understanding

By Mirza A. Beg

29 March, 2006
Countercurrents.org

When societies feel besieged they find it comforting to cast a longing backward glance where all sins are washed off in the pool of selective memory and pretentious reading of history with rose colored glasses. It may work as a survival mechanism for individuals, but when communities indulge in it as a salve for the wounds purportedly by the hands of others, while the worst ones being self inflicted, it is a recipe for continued downward spiral.

As individuals, most of us would help any one in need, but as a part of a group we tend to think in terms of us versus them and some times indulge in what we would condemn in others. The cultural imprint over the religion is often a source of contention and intolerance.

Religion affects us at three intertwined levels that can not be completely separated. They are- personal, social and political.

On the personal level, religion answers to our most in-expressible sublime yearnings. It gives us hope in the most hopeless circumstances; it gives us moorings and a strong sense of morality.

On the social level, it usually is a force for the good of the community, but starts becoming sectarian when it adopts exclusivity.

Religion as a political tool has brought untold suffering throughout the history. Early 20th Century saw the rise of irreligious and eventually anti religious communism. It brought even more suffering to the people it ruled that religions could have. Most emerging societies thought that socialism would raise them to modernity, without the infrastructure of democracy, it deteriorated to draconian dictatorship. After the disillusionment and suppression by the dictatorships masked as socialism, the religions have come back to dominate the world political debate. It is also becoming clearer that even more so than the past, religion is invariably misused in the service of the State. With greater sophistication in propaganda, politics becomes sectarian in the service of religion and religion in debased in the service of power hungry politicians.

One of the great challenges of modern times for all societies is how to balance personal freedom and restrictive societal obligations.

It pits the demands of religion as one interprets it, against the freedom of others to interpret it slightly or drastically differently. For a civil society to function effectively, we accept restrictive rules and regulations for the common good. Yet, with time, many seemingly good laws designed to benefit the status quo prove to be bad and restrictive, even retrogressive and draconian. Often good laws degenerate into a bad caricature of the intended purpose. A pluralistic, democratic system regularly reevaluates and better interprets such laws, not because of external pressures but because of its experiences as a corrective mechanism.

It is time to learn and adapt. All new or foreign ideas are not necessarily good or bad. It is important to consider them thoughtfully; avoiding the pit falls of colonialist 19th and 20th centuries. Adoption or rejection without thoughtful evaluation, simply because they are from outside, Eastern or Western, is indicative of a closed mind. The baser Western mores have already infiltrated most societies; what is being resisted is the individual freedom and free flow of knowledge to our detriment.

Achieving a great civilization is always much more difficult than descending into chaos. Circling the wagons and pining for a past viewed through rose-colored glasses is not an option, if the society aspires to greatness. What was considered acceptable in the past needs reexamination in light of the present needs and knowledge. A healthy civil dialogue ushers a gradual acceptance of the desirable.

Humans are wired for and feel comfortable in “group think”. Let us assume that all of us belong to the same race, religion and creed, and in a political speech I say that, “We are the most compassionate, caring and just society. We are the brightest and the most blessed. Our religion is the light to the world, and it is our calling to bring the world to sanity and grace to lead the world to a better tomorrow. I suspect the audience would clap heartily in unison and my poll numbers would go up. However if I change the pronoun ‘WE’ to ‘I’, my poll numbers would tank and would be accused of being an insufferable megalomaniac.

An overwhelming majority of us were born in our religions and culture, and have made no effort to even know the basics of another religion let alone try to understand them. We tend to either evangelize or avoid talking of religions altogether. When we consider and compare cultures and religions, it is our unconscious effort to show the superiority of our beliefs. Often we tend to be self delusional, and compare the best from our religion to the worst of the other.

Religious texts do not lend themselves to easy piece meal interpretations. We quote part of the religious text that suites our purpose. One can find thousands of such examples without much effort.

It is important to remember, if we indulge in lies for our religion or against other religions in order to enhance our religion, obviously we are not fooling God. We are simply injuring the thing we purport to love, our religion and our character.

9/11 has changed the perception of methods of war. Up to the 20th century the instruments of mass destruction were in the arsenal of the states. The biggest purveyors of terrorism to gain advantage were also the states. Now with the proliferation of information and retailing of weapons of mass destruction, individuals have joined the fray on a world scale.

It is the duty of truly religious people to raise their voices against the individual terrorism, but even more so the state terrorism, because it is done in our name. Because of the hold of religion on average populace, it becomes imperative to not let our faith be enlisted by the state to harm others. When the upholders of religion refuse to be a part of the solution, they become a part of the problem by design or default.

The best we can do with our limited knowledge and intellectual resources is to be honest with ourselves. That is what our religion asks us to do. What do we believe and why? Introspection – examining our own belief with an open mind and to be a little more critical of ourselves before criticizing others is the best way to build bridges It opens up the mind, not only we understand others better and with more empathy, but we discover a more beautiful and fulfilling dimension of our own religions that is uplifting, liberating and peace loving.


Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at mab64@yahoo.com

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