Unitive Pluralism: An Answer to Religious Extremism

Unitive Pluralism: An Answer to Religious Extremism

Dr Vincent Kundukulam
Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

The greater danger in the religious world today is that the believers, in fear or pride, cling to their own religion and refuse to learn from the stranger. A world of strangers is a world of enemies. In a world of so many differing opinions some of the more unsecured take refuge in their own religions as the sole source of Truth and that leads them to hold extreme positions towards others. Religious extremism takes various shapes, mainly that of fundamentalism, fanaticism, and communalism, according to the different cultural political and economic contexts. This paper tries to analyse these phenomenon, to determine the role of religion in their formation, to expose anti-extremist potential inherent in religions, and to propose unitive pluralism as the efficient means to counter the religious extremisms.

1. Religious extremist ideologies

1.1 Religious fundamentalism

The origin of the term fundamentalism dates back to the last phase of the 19th century in USA. It was mainly a deliberate reaction to the liberal interpretation of the Bible made in with the new exegetical methods. The traditionalists perceived it as an attempt to water down the essentials of revelation. The term fundamentalist seems to have been used for the first time by Cutis Lee Laws, a Baptist from North America in the editorial of a New York weekly The Watchman Examiner (on 1st July 1920).  It designated those who were blindly attached to the great fundamentals of Christian faith and vehemently opposed to modern interpretations of the Bible[1]. It was characterized by the aggressive efforts to impose its creed upon the public and on denominational schools of the country. It insisted upon the obligatory prayer before classes, the reading of the Bible and divine service in colleges and universities. It removed from the churches and educational institutions those who did not share the conservative faith. It induced state legislatures to pass laws prohibiting the theory of evolution[2]

Fundamentalism has cut across Christian world and has become one of the most obvious characteristics of almost all the institutionalized religions of the world. The fundamentalists are always certain of what they say. Their value system is non-negotiable. To argue that there could be a plurality of ideas which could be equally valid is for them sacrilege. Another feature is the moral fervor with which they speak. They are convinced of having God’s authority to do what they will. They supply literalist interpretations of the Scriptures, which legitimate the exclusion of the other. They consider the progressive thinkers as creatures of devil and they don’t mind in using violence against them[3]

1.2 Religious fanaticism

Fanaticism is the anglicized form of a word, which in ancient times was used of priests supposed to be inspired by divinity. By the sixteenth century this original meaning expanded to include forms of noisy madness having no religious basis. In the seventeenth century immoderate adherents of the sects in England were called fanatics. Gradually this term denoted blind zeal in any cause whether religious social or political.

A thorough study of the various forms of fanaticism shows that it has three important components. The most obvious among them is extreme narrowness and rigidity of temper. It is impossible for the fanatics to learn anything that would dislodge their fixed idea. The end which they select as supreme and the path they follow to arrive at that end are never open to question. Another character of fanatics is their unyielding determination to make the fixed idea of triumph over others. They are men of fiction and fiery missionaries. A fanatic may intertwine himself with political parties and social forces in the destiny of the religious struggle. Another trait no less characteristic to fanaticism is callousness to pain. The fanatics become insensitive to human suffering to the point of cruelty. Its extreme narrowness of sin, inflexibility and brutal disregard of other values make fanaticism a deeply disruptive force in the society. Whether it arises out of religion, politics or class struggle, the fanatic regards himself as specially chosen for the purpose. According to analysts, neurological abnormality, unhappy environmental conditions and strong ambition contribute to the growth of fanatic culture in an individual[4].

1.3 Religious communalism

What is communalism? To commune means feel as one with somebody or some group. Communal in the positive sense is commitment for the well being of the community. It becomes communal in the negative sense when one discriminates others on account of immoderate attachment to one’s own community. As Rasheedhudin Khan has rightly observed, in India, religious communalism has taken the shape of narrow and blind devotion to one’s own religious community for acquiring political and economic benefits. In that sense communalism is opposed to secularism and nationalism.[5]

Though communalists play with religion, in fact, religion is not the fundamental cause of communal conflicts. As Louis Dumont remarks, religion becomes here a mere appearance. People are not really concerned about the substance of religion. Religious communalism is the affirmation of the religious community as a political group. What appears to be clash of religions is really clash of interests of a small group. It neither represents religion nor patriotism; it represents vested interests of the communal leaders.[6] There are various stages in the growth of religious communalism. First a feeling is promoted that the people of the same religion have not only common religious beliefs but also common economic political and cultural interests. In the second stage it emphasizes that the political, economic and social interests of one religious community are different from those of other religious communities. In the third stage people are made to believe that not only their differences are different but also antagonistic to those of other communities[7].

The above explanation shows that all forms of extremism contain some sort of exclusive attitude, which provokes violent attitude in the adepts towards their opponents. If for the fundamentalists the enemy is progressive thinkers of their own religion, believers of other religions are the targets of religious fanatics. The religious communalists are not, in fact, serious about the religion. Their interest is only economic and political. However, whatever be the form of religious extremism all of them manipulate directly or indirectly the sentiments of believers to achieve their vested interests. This leads us to ask a very prominent question regarding the nature of religion: is extremism innate to religion?

2. Are religions prone to extremist ideologies?

When we study the history of religions we come across several incidents where the religious leaders made pejorative remarks despising other religions as enemies. Crusades are best examples in the history of Christianity. When Islam conquered much of Christian territories and holy places in Europe, Popes instigated the Christians to fight against Muslims. Pope Urban II’s appeal for war is very famous: “I beseech and exhort you – and it is not I but God who beseeches and exhorts you as heralds of Christ – both poor and rich, to make haste to drive that vile breed from the regions inhabited by our brethren, and to bring timely aid to the worshippers of Christ. I speak to those here present, I will proclaim it to the absent, but it is Christ who commands …If those who go thither lose their lives on land or sea during the journey, or in battle against the pagans, their sins will at once be forgiven[8].”

The destruction of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on 6th December 1992 brought into light the fanatic potential of the Hindutva forces in India. The worldwide dismay and outrange caused by Taliban’s edict of 26th February 2001 ordering the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas raised a host of questions of fanatic nature. The supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was quoted as saying: ‘I ask Afghans and the worlds Muslims to use their sound wisdom… Do you prefer to be a breaker of idols or a seller of idols? Is it appropriate to be influenced by the propaganda of the infidels?’[9]. September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 reiterated the religious grounds of terrorism on universal level.

In the light of the above-mentioned inglorious stories allied to religions some opine that violence is native to religions. As evidence, they point out the martial metaphors in the Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible contains military exploits of great kings. The great epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata are tales of unending conflict and military intrigue. The ideas of Salvation Army in Christianity, Dal Khalsa in Sikhism, notion of Jihad in Islam, etc. denote images of warfare. According to them, religion is an order restoring institution and therefore it would allow struggle for the order to be restored.  Whenever the religious activists feel commissioned to protect the good from the satanic forces they may draw on violent means. In the Sri Lankan conflict the militant bhikkhus state that the people there live in dukkha, in an immoral world. The conflict is between dhamma and adhamma: order and disorder, religion and irreligion. That means, religions may give moral sanction to violence for the cause of bringing order in the world[10].

From childhood onwards we are taught that religions are effective instruments to establish peace and harmony among people. If this is true how can they employ violence even for a just cause? In this regard it is worth to mention the distinction made by the sociologists and anthropologists about religion. The social scientists make a difference between religion as faith and religion as an identity. Religion as faith has largely a spiritual function and religion as identity acquires political overtones[11]. As social institution religion is mot merely a set of revelations. It includes also dogmas and laws, which are the results of the interpretations made on the revealed texts in view of adapting them to the particular context of the believers. Consequently, due to the influence of believers having extremist tendencies, some scriptural interpretations may have extremist slant. In brief, religion as faith is not pro-violent whereas religion as identity, which includes the doctrines and the practices of the believers, is vulnerable to violence.

If religions, as social institutions, are exposed to the danger of extremism, building up a peaceful society will ever remain utopist unless creative measures are taken to curb the excessive interpretations of Scriptures. How to protect the revealed texts from disruptive interpretations? The best remedy is religions themselves. Religions as faith possess by nature anti-extremist elements. The inner dynamism of religions consists in generating universal and pluralistic values, which will create solidarity and equality in the society. This is possible because religions, by their origin, are liberative. All the major religions extol the value of self-sacrificing love, non-violence, solidarity of mankind, justice, reverence for life, truthfulness, etc. In order that religions become creative forces in building up the world their social engagements must be subdued to these ethical values. The social involvement of religions has to be modeled in accordance with the principle of unitive pluralism, the crux religions stands for.

To maintain religions as catalyst forces in nurturing diversity and justice in the human culture is not a over ambitious project because religions, as M. Juergensmeyer has rightly observed, provide images capable of conquering violence. In rituals, violence is symbolically transformed. Christ’s crucified image induces Christians to sabotage violence. In the Sikh tradition the two edged sword is an example of domestication of violence. Islamic mystics have come out to speak of the true jihad as the one to take place within each person[12]. The following reflections on unitive pluralism will show how extremism can be checked by the faith content in the religions.

3. Unitive Pluralism

Pluralism follows the logic that one is manifested in the many. The universe of meaning has no center. Truth is relative and mutable according to the different human experiences. Pluralism refers to a situation in which a variety of thought patterns, world-views or explanations of reality coexist with out any one of these having gained hegemony over others[13]. It invites us to believe that I do not exhaust the truth nor am I its center but only one of its poles. There are others. Reality is essentially pluriform. Without others we cannot exist and function in the world.

Religious pluralism is the view that different, or even contradictory, forms of religious beliefs and behavior could or even should co-exist[14]. Surprisingly we observe that our friends following a totally different path from our own, and sometimes apparently contradictory one, lead a happy and virtuous life. The fact of religious pluralism pushes us toward the profound insight that there is no one and only way to salvation. But does it mean that the diverse religions have to put off their specificities? Never. Religious pluralism is empowered with a potential for greater unity.

The world religions can move towards a more pervasive unity through better relationships with each other. They can become one precisely by remaining the many. This movement towards interconnectedness of religions is called unitive pluralism[15]. It does not aim at absolute or monistic oneness. It is not to be confused with the old rationalistic idea of “one world religion”. It is not also syncretism, which boils away all the historical differences; nor is it imperialism where one religion absorbs all others. Nor is it a lazy tolerance that let religions go in their own self-satisfied ways. Rather unitive pluralism is a unity in which each religion although loosing some of its individualism will intensify its personality. Each religion will retain its own distinctiveness but this will develop and take on new depths by relating to other religions in mutual dependence. To have a better grasp of unitive pluralism we will see its theoretical underpinnings, which are developed by Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923), Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975), and Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961).

4. Pioneers of unitive pluralism[16]

4.1 Ernst Troeltsch, professor of philosophy and theology at the Universities of Bonn, Heidelberg and Berlin, was among the first to recognize the reality of religious and historical pluralism. Troeltsch was dissatisfied with the concept of revelation according to which God had been swooping down from heaven and intervening into history at particular spots. Such a vision gave God the image of a father who dispenses more parental love to some children than to others. In place of such an intervening God Troeltsch argued for metaphysics of immanent transcendence. God is coterminous with history. History is the march of God through the world.

The human spirit gives imposing testimony to the immanence of God within our very being. The religions of the world are the concrete manifestations of the universal revelation at work within all humankind. Although the Absolute is manifest in all of history, no historical manifestation of the Absolute can be absolute. That would contradict the nature of the Absolute and nature of the historical. That means all religions, as bearers of the divine are relative and limited. There can be no absolute religion. No religion can claim to be the full and final realization of the Divine.

4.2 Arnold Toynbee began his analysis of the nature of religion by urging a distinction between the essential counsels and nonessential propositions. From the study of seven major religions he evinced the following common characteristics. a) The universe is ultimately mysterious. b) The meaning of the universe is to be found in an Absolute Reality, which is not to be identified with it. c) Humanity seeks to experience and be in harmony with this truth. d) The way to live this harmony is to get rid of innate self-centeredness.

According to Toynbee, Since God wills to draw all people to salvation, naturally God has to realize this project according to the different contexts, time and cultures and this accounts for differences among religions. Since the same God of love is behind all religions, deep down they are same. Differences are accidental, cultural and time-conditioned. They are different paths leading to the same goal. Behind these accidentals there is common essence. A religion has constantly to be on guard against identifying the nonessentials with the essentials. He compares it with peeling an onion. You might go on peeling an onion till you find that you had peeled away the heart as well as the skin. If however because of this risk you refrain from trying to peel your onion you will never have an onion to eat.

4.3 Carl Gustav Jung came to see the image of God as an ingredient necessary for psychological health. According to Jung we humans are animated by something more than what we are expressly aware of. Below and in vital connection with our consciousness there is what has come to be called the unconscious and subconscious. This unknown part contains our true selves. According to Jung the reality of the unconscious represents the mysterious, the supernatural element in us. One of the most reliable pathways into the supra-rational darkness of the unconscious is the archetype. The archetypes could be decoded by symbols and myths. The archetypes are common to all religions but symbols and myths will be different, dependent on the varying cultural historical contexts.

From the discoveries of the unconscious and the presence of God within it Jung drew conclusions concerning the nature of the established religions, their differences and similarities. For Jung revelation is an unveiling of the depths of the individual and collective unconscious. It is the experience of God speaking from within, essentially the same within for all human beings. The differing dogmas and doctrines are attempts to give symbolic expression to this essentially ineffable experience. For him it is altogether inconceivable that there could be any definite figure capable of expressing archetypal indefiniteness.

The above discussion on pluralism from historical, phenomenological and psychological angles leads us to the following conclusions: a) in all religions there is an experience of a reality that transcends human conception b) that reality is conceived in a plurality of ways both within and outside the religion c) due to our limitations and our need to commit ourselves to a particular experience of transcendence, our concrete experience will function as in an absolute way d) unless we penetrate ever further into our own particular experience of transcendence through self-critical dialogue we may fall into the danger of extremism.

5. Scriptural basis for the unitive pluralism

A careful analysis of the scriptures from the perspective of pluralism and universalism reveal to us the interconnectedness of religions, the thrust for unitive pluralism.

5.1 Hinduism: Hinduism, as understood through Brahmanic tradition and Upanishads, focuses on knowledge of the inner spirit and its realization. This inward search has brought Hindus to the belief that there is one divine reality and that it can manifest in different forms. In the Rig Veda there is evidence of conflict between many groups – Aryan, Dravidian and Aboriginal – but there is also a resolution that absorbs the good aspects of each. This resolution is “ekam Sat vipra bhahudha vadanti : The real is one, the learned call it by various names, Agni, Yama, Matarisvan. (Rig Veda 1, 164, 46) The Upanishads gave further development to the same view stating that Brahman is one and that the different deities are His manifestations. Consequently the Hindu sees the different sects within and outside Hinduism as manifestations of the same divine reality. Denominations like Vaishnavism and Saivism, and various darsanas including conceptions from atheistic to pantheistic, to deistic, to monistic, and to mystical are incorporated in it.

Hindu concept of God is like looking at a piece of sculpture from different angles. The whole form can be grasped only when the sculpture has been looked at from different perspectives: front, the back, and the sides. Although each of these views is different from the others and although some aspects of what is seen and described from different angles may seem incompatible, these reports can together give us a reliable overall view of the sculpture. More aspects of the divine we can perceive the more complete our understanding of God will be[17]. The expressions in Hindu prayers and hymns like Vasudaiva kudumbakam, Atmavat Sarva Bhoodhani, Sarve Bhavandu Sukina, Loka Samasta Sukino Bhavandhu, also point to the spirit of universalism inherent in Hindu religion.

5. 2 Islam: The Muslim attitude towards other religions is derived from Muhammad’s teachings, from the Quran, and from its approved commentaries. Though the Quran is the complete and full revelation of the one divine Book for Muslims, they recognize a foundational unity underlying all religions. The earlier part of Quran mentions different prophets speaking to different people. “Say: We believe in God and that which is revealed to us; in what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes; to Moses and Jesus and the other prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, and to God we have surrendered ourselves” (2, 136). The messages spoken to them come from a single source called as the “Mother of the Book” (43, 4; 13, 39) and the “Hidden Book” (56, 78). There is no nation wherein a messenger has not come (35, 24). Therefore a Muslim has to respect the sacred works of all religions.

The inclusive Islamic attitude towards others is seen in their concept of creation too. According to Koran all are God’s creatures and all are children of the same parents: “Men, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is he who is most righteous” (49,13). Islam is often criticized of making conversions by force. But the Koran teachings are against compelling people to embrace the faith. “Say: This is the truth from your Lord. Let him who will, believe in it, and him who will, deny it (18, 29). “Your duty is only to give warning: you are not their keeper” (88, 21-22). The Muhammad’s concept of Jihad has often been misunderstood. The primary definition of Jihad is struggling or striving. Islamic scholars identify four kinds of jihad a) jihad of heart: spiritual striving b) jihad of the hand: work c) jihad of the tongue: preaching d) jihad of the sword. The recourse to holy war developed as a response to idolatry[18].

It seems that Muhammad advocated the love of other religions not only in words but also in deeds. Once, a few Christians from Najran came to meet him in Medina. During the conversation there arrived the time for Christians to recite prayers. Then prophet arranged the space for the Christians to pray in the same mosque. The respect for other religions is also seen in the counsel of Babar to Humayun: ‘India is a land of different religions. You must be grateful for that. If Allah gives you power you should not show any favoritism. Don’t kill the cows, which may hurt the feelings of the Hindus. Don’t destroy the temples and places of worship’[19]

5. 3 Christianity: The Jewish self-consciousness of being the chosen people of God (Deut 7, 6) and Jesus’ statements about his relationship to God (Jn 17, 22) certainly seem to have influenced Christians to assert a unique status for the Christianity.  But the Bible contains elements that encourage an open attitude towards the other religions. The book of Genesis tells that God created man in His own image and likeness (Gen 1, 26-27). According to this vision, not only Jews Christians and Muslims but also the whole humanity possess God’s image. Whoever lives according to the voice of his conscience is doing the will of the Creator.

Jesus turned against the exclusive attitudes of Jews. He transgressed the purity laws with quite astonishing freedom. He broke the Sabbath (Mk 2, 23-28) touched lepers (Mk 1, 41) and dined with religious outcasts (Mk 2, 15-17). He said that nothing outside a man could defile him but the things, which come out of men, are what defile him (Mk 7, 15). Jesus not only fought against the exclusivism in Jewish religion but also he inculcated inclusive outlook among his disciples.  He invited men to love God by loving neighbors and even the enemies (Lk 6, 35-36). His experience of God as Abbha allowed him to see all human beings as brothers and sisters. Thus Jesus gave us common platform of love where all religions can meet and work together for the growth of God’s reign in this world.

Jesus expressed his openness towards other religions by respecting believers of other religions. Seeing the faith of the Roman centurion Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8, 10-11). Jesus praised the Canaanite woman’s faith (Mt 15, 28) and projected a Samaritan as model to practice the love of neighbor (Lk 10, 25-37). He did not hesitate to drink water from the Samarian woman, which was forbidden at that time (Jn 4, 7). He encouraged an exorcist who casts out demons in his name even though he did not join his company (Mk 9, 38-40). He said that all those who help the needy would be saved at the final day without enquiring into their religious affiliations (Mt, 25, 31-46)[20]

Our search into the pluralistic trends in great religious traditions has exposed the ant-extremist potential in religions. Now in the next and the concluding part of this paper we will propose certain measures to counteract the immoderate radicalism and to strengthen the culture of pluralism and unity among the believers.

6. Some concrete steps to strengthen the unitive pluralism

Learn about the noble values of all religions: Ignorance about other religions is a great hurdle in the path of communal harmony. The UNESCO Constitution begins by saying. “As wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defense for peace must be constructed.” If this remains true the culture of unity and diversity must be instilled in the people educating in them the noble values of all religions. Monolithic religious education becomes a divisive factor in the already divided world. We have to pursue a methodology of education, which helps the people so to understand their own religious traditions as to affirm and celebrate the significance of other religions. Religions, in and through all their academic and cultural institutions, can cultivate human and religious values in the minds of pupils. Initiation to inter-religious prayer gatherings and readings from different Scriptures is to be multiplied all over the country.

Promotion of Inter-religious fellowships: Some movements in India have taken up inter-religious friendship as their special task. The Dharma Bharati National Institute, began on 16th July 1993 at Indore, is such a NGO. The goal of Dharma Bharati is to educate the youth in values of love, fraternity, justice, peace, sharing, tolerance and respect against the ethnic quarrels and communal tensions. For the personal transformation of the individuals are given the five paths. a) Say a prayer a day for peace according to one’s own religious tradition b) Skip a meal a week to express solidarity with the hungry and contribute the savings to the needy c) Do a good deed a day without any selfish motive to develop loving concern for the nation d) Honour parents, teachers and all human beings 5) Respect earth and save its resources[21]. Collaborating with such organizations the believers could be trained to work at the grass-root level for the cause of unitive pluralism.

Readiness to relativize the possessed truth: Every religion has something unique to contribute for the welfare of the world. But at the same time we must accept with all humility that each religion has only a limited and partial understanding of the Truth. Those who believe that their religion possesses the full truth are like the blinds that went to see an elephant. Hereby we do not question the specificity of any religion. We simply acknowledge the historical contingence of revealed truths. Hence no religion can make exclusive claim over the grace of God. All are like beggars standing with their begging bowls in front of God.

Avoid the false universalism: The efforts to strengthen unitive pluralism run the risk of a false universalism, which would obliterate the identities of different faiths. Any contact begins in the appreciation of difference. Ignoring differences invariably leads to the domination of the weak by the stronger. It is not leveling out of differences that we will achieve the new wholeness. We need an existential encounter among different traditions and the mutual transformation that occurs as a result. Pluralistic spirituality presupposes the attitude of letting the opposites co-exist. Thus the particular experience of truth may be enlarged and deepened so as to open new experiences of religious truth. Therefore let us not keep silence over the disjunctions, disunities, distances and dissonances that pervade human society at the religio-socio-economic-political levels in the name of interfaith bonhomie.

Virtue of interdependence: The virtues of interdependence transcend the barrier of caste, creed, race, colour, language and nationality. It can be built up through mutual trust. An atmosphere of understanding one another, not in religious or caste terms but as human beings with same needs, aspirations and obligations is to be created. Ways of worship and objects of worship may be differed, style of life may be varied, language may be different, but these are only the outward manifestations, which need not erode the basic trust in one another as human beings. Peace which is result of trust among the people can prosper only when social interdependence becomes a way of life of the people.[22]

Counter-cultural and political formation: Compared to the activities of communal forces, the resistance put up by the religions is very less now. Today the religious and cultural leaders don’t come forward exposing the failure of police and the bureaucracy during communal violence. Using art forms – painting, music, street plays – have been a method successfully experimented in this sphere.  The cultural forums at the village levers can employ these methods to disaffiliate society from the logic of communalism. The counter cultural formation has to be done also through mass media. Disseminating teachings, stories, legends and myths from different religious traditions would instill in the people universal love and respect for the other. Mere cultural response will not be sufficient if not followed up with more substantive moves on the political front to check the wave of communalism.  Solution would be an extensive campaign sponsored by all those sections of civil society, who believe in non-communal politics.

Conclusion

Mankind is today in the midst of one of the greatest cries in history. Despite the fact that the great scientific inventions liberated us from servitude to nature, we seem to suffer from a type of religious neurosis. We need a moral and spiritual therapy, which would heal the human mind.

From the genes of our animal ancestors, we humans have inherited aggression toward outsiders and loyalties toward our own kin. This was essential for the survival and development of the most viable genotypes. Today however as biological evolution has given rise to cultural evolution and as cultural evolution has advanced from kinship to interdependence of nations, the conditions for survival have changed. Now cultures and nations will survive not by aggression and dominance but by cooperation. Therefore if we wish to survive as a human species on this planet the best way is to understand ourselves first as world citizens and then only in terms of our religious, ethnic and linguistic identities. Humanity desperately requires that the world religions work to realize this objective[23].

The best medicine that the religions can apply in this situation is to develop a spirituality of religions that are cured of provincialism and advocating values of unitive pluralism. The religious leaders must turn their energies to fashioning new ways of understanding their own religions. There should be cultural forums in every village to isolate those who mix religion with political and economic interests. Common defense of human rights, joint endeavors for development, sharing of spiritual exercises, etc., will increase mutual confidence and cooperation among the followers of various religions.

Let us conclude recalling a small anecdote. Once a group of pilgrims went to ascend the mountain. They could not see its summit because they were making their way up through clouds, but after a long time they climbed to heights above the clouds and stood on the upper reaches of their mountain under a clear sky. Then they could see to their surprise that there were other mountains and that there were pilgrims on them concealed beneath the clouds. Then the pilgrims tried to communicate saying halloo! halloo!


[1] P. Lathuiliere, Le fondamentalisme catholique, Cerf, Paris, 1995, pp. 15-19.

[2] H.R. Niebuhr, Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, vol. 6, p. 526.

[3] GPD, Economic Political Weekly, September 29, 2001, p. 3668.

[4] M. C. Otto, Fanaticism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 5, pp. 90-91.

[5] R. Khan, South Asian Portents, India Nation-State and Communalism, G. S. Balla (ed.), 1989, pp. 40-42.

[6] L. Dumont, Nationalism and Communalism, Contribution to Indian Sociology, VII, 1964, pp. 45-47.

[7] B. Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, New Delhi, Vani Educational Books, 1984, pp. 1-4.

[8] P. Regine, The Crusades, London, 1962, pp. 23-24.

[9] R. Hensman, Economic and Political Weekly, June 9 2001, p. 2031.

[10] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, Delhi, 1993, pp. 157-164.

[11] A. A. Engineer, Economic and Political Weekly, October 20, 2001.

[12] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, p. 159.

[13] H. W. Pluralism, Theological Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, Latourelle R and Fisichella R., New York: Cross Roads, 1994, p. 783.

[14] K. Koyama, A Theological Reflection on Religious Pluralism, The Ecumenical Review 51, 1999, p. 165.

[15] P. F. Knitter, No Other Name? New York: Orbis Books, 1995, p. 9.

[16]  P. F. Knitter, No Other Name?,  pp. 23-26; 37-40; 55-61.

[17] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, New York, Orbis Books, pp. 64-65.

[18] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, p. 46.

[19] T. V. Muhammadali, Bahumatha Sauhredam Islamil, Matyhavum Chintayum, vol. 82, no. 2, 2002, pp. 41-43.

[20] Soares-Prabhu, Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology Today, pp. 178-179.

[21] V. Alengaden (ed.), Education for the Third Millennium, 2000, pp. 210-213.

[22] S. K. Parmar, Inter-religious Co-operation for Peace and Value Education: Response to Consumerism and Communalism, Peace and Values Education, K. P. Joseph [ed.], 30-33.

[23] P. Gyger, The religions and the birth of a new humanity, Pluralism and the Religions, J. D’Arcy May (ed.), Cassell, 1988, pp. 90- 93.

Notes

[1] P. Lathuiliere, Le fondamentalisme catholique, Cerf, Paris, 1995, pp. 15-19.

[2] H.R. Niebuhr, Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, vol. 6, p. 526.

[3] GPD, Economic Political Weekly, September 29, 2001, p. 3668.

[4] M. C. Otto, Fanaticism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 5, pp. 90-91.

[5] R. Khan, South Asian Portents, India Nation-State and Communalism, G. S. Balla (ed.), 1989, pp. 40-42.

[6] L. Dumont, Nationalism and Communalism, Contribution to Indian Sociology, VII, 1964, pp. 45-47.

[7] B. Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, New Delhi, Vani Educational Books, 1984, pp. 1-4.

[8] P. Regine, The Crusades, London, 1962, pp. 23-24.

[9] R. Hensman, Economic and Political Weekly, June 9 2001, p. 2031.

[10] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, Delhi, 1993, pp. 157-164.

[11] A. A. Engineer, Economic and Political Weekly, October 20, 2001.

[12] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism Confronts the Secular State, p. 159.

[13] H. W. Pluralism, Theological Dictionary of Fundamental Theology, Latourelle R and Fisichella R., New York: Cross Roads, 1994, p. 783.

[14] K. Koyama, A Theological Reflection on Religious Pluralism, The Ecumenical Review 51, 1999, p. 165.

[15] P. F. Knitter, No Other Name? New York: Orbis Books, 1995, p. 9.

[16]  P. F. Knitter, No Other Name?,  pp. 23-26; 37-40; 55-61.

[17] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, New York, Orbis Books, pp. 64-65.

[18] H. Coward, Pluralism: Challenge to World Religions, p. 46.

[19] T. V. Muhammadali, Bahumatha Sauhredam Islamil, Matyhavum Chintayum, vol. 82, no. 2, 2002, pp. 41-43.

[20] Soares-Prabhu, Biblical Themes for a Contextual Theology Today, pp. 178-179.

[21] V. Alengaden (ed.), Education for the Third Millennium, 2000, pp. 210-213.

[22] S. K. Parmar, Inter-religious Co-operation for Peace and Value Education: Response to Consumerism and Communalism, Peace and Values Education, K. P. Joseph [ed.], 30-33.

[23] P. Gyger, The religions and the birth of a new humanity, Pluralism and the Religions, J. D’Arcy May (ed.), Cassell, 1988, pp. 90- 93.

Interpreting and Responding to Religious Extremism

Interpreting and Responding to Religious Extremism

Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

Introduction

A new world order is emerging as globalization grows fast across the continents. Parochial identities based on ethnic and religious allegiances get strengthened in the nations. The indigenous religions claim more role in the process of nation building. This paves the way for unhealthy combinations of politics and religion. Jama-a-at Islami, Hindutva and Sects are some examples of such fallout in Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.  It is surprising that most of these groups define themselves against secularism and they strive to put up theocracies in the nations.

What is the nature of these religious groups having political ambitions? Why do they distance themselves from secularism? Has Christianity the potential to triumph over the mayhem created by fanatic organizations? Will the religious crusade usher in a new moral order? These are some complex questions that brood over us coming to this concluding paper. To deal with them all in this article will be a very ambitious project. However we shall make an attempt to understand why the religious activists attack secularism and what forms of disrupted ideologies the above mentioned groups belong to. A Christian response to the phenomenon of religious terrorism and practical measures to resist extremism will be also in order. As a pre-requisite, we begin with explaining the concepts of fundamentalism, fanaticism and communalism, the ideologies which manipulate religious sentiments of people for political ends.

1. Types of Religious Extremism

1.1 Religious fundamentalism

The origin of the term fundamentalism dates back to the last phase of the 19th century in USA. It is Cutis Lee Laws, a Baptist from North America, who seems to have used it for the first time. In the editorial of The Watchman Examiner, a New York weekly, on 1st July 1920 he coined this word to designate those who were blindly attached to the great fundamentals of Christian faith and vehemently opposed to modern interpretations of the Bible[1]. In the following period, the fundamentalists were distinguished by the aggressive efforts to impose their creed upon the public and on denominational schools in USA. They insisted upon the obligatory prayer before classes, the reading of the Bible and divine service in colleges and universities. Those who did not share the conservative faith were removed from the churches and educational institutions and state legislatures were under pressure to pass laws prohibiting teaching the theory of evolution.[2]

Fundamentalism has cut across Christian world and has become one of the most obvious characteristics of almost all the institutionalized religions of the world. The fundamentalists are always certain of what they say. Their value system is non-negotiable. To argue that there could be a plurality of ideas which could be equally valid is for them sacrilege. Another feature is the moral fervor with which they speak. They are convinced of having God’s authority to do what they will. They supply literalist interpretations of the Scriptures, which legitimate the exclusion of the other. They consider the progressive thinkers as creatures of devil and they don’t mind in using violence against them[3]. In short, fundamentalists advocate extreme loyalty to the basic tenets and activities as they were laid down by the founding ‘fathers’ or Scriptures of religions and they want to go back to what they regard as the purer standards of bygone days.

1.2 Religious fanaticism

Fanaticism is the anglicized form of a word, which in ancient times was used of priests supposed to be inspired by divinity. By the sixteenth century this original meaning expanded to include forms of noisy madness having no religious basis. In the seventeenth century immoderate adherents of the sects in England were called fanatics. Gradually this term denoted blind zeal in any cause whether religious social or political.

A thorough study of the various forms of fanaticism shows that it has three important components. The most obvious among them is extreme narrowness and rigidity of temper. It is impossible for the fanatics to learn anything that would dislodge their fixed idea. The end which they select as supreme and the path they follow to arrive at that end are never open to question. Another character of fanatics is their unyielding determination to make the fixed idea of triumph over men. They are men of fiction and fiery missionaries. A fanatic may intertwine himself with political parties and social forces in the destiny of the religious struggle. Another trait no less characteristic to fanaticism is callousness to pain. The fanatics become insensitive to human suffering to the point of cruelty.

Its extreme narrowness of sin, inflexibility and brutal disregard of other values make fanaticism a deeply disruptive force in the society. Whether it arises out of religion, politics or class struggle, the fanatic regards himself as specially chosen for the purpose. According to analysts, neurological abnormality, unhappy environmental conditions and strong ambition contribute to the growth of fanatic culture in an individual[4].

1.3 Religious communalism

In the original sense, to commune means feel as one with somebody or some group. Communal in the positive sense is commitment for the well being of the community. It becomes communal in the negative sense when one discriminates others on account of effusive attachment to one’s own community. As Rasheedhudin Khan has rightly observed, in India, religious communalism has taken the shape of narrow and blind devotion to one’s own religious community for acquiring political and economic benefits. Thus communalism is understood as an ideology that is opposed to secularism in India.[5]

Though communalists play with religion, in fact, religion is not the fundamental cause of communal conflicts. As Louis Dumont remarks, religion becomes here a mere appearance. People are not really concerned about the substance of religion. Religious communalism is the affirmation of the religious community as a political group. What appears to be clash of religions is really clash of interests of a small group. It neither represents religion nor patriotism; it represents vested interests of the communal leaders.[6]

There are various stages in the growth of religious communalism. First a feeling is promoted that the people of the same religion have not only common religious beliefs but also common economic political and cultural interests. In the second stage it emphasizes that the political, economic and social interests of one religious community are different from those of other religious communities. In the third stage people are made to believe that not only their beliefs and interests are different but also antagonistic to those of other communities[7].

Macro level and micro level factors contribute to the growth of communalism, says Asghar Ali Engineer. By macro level factor he means the communalist ideology itself which grows due to the economic inequality. When one individual or one section of the society makes economic development the rest of the same class of people will be succumbed to certain type of insecurity and inferiority feelings against the rich. The elites of the weaker sections, in their effort to compete with the rich, collect the support of the majority community against them by infusing religious sentiments to the rest of the society. The micro level factors are the local conflicts which are emerged out of vicious propaganda created by the communalists. For example, in the religiously sensitive areas a rumour regarding the slaughter of a cow before the mosque will be plenty to bring about inter-religious riot[8].

1.4 Ethnocentric Nationalism

It was only from the end of the eighteenth century that nationalism received the sense in which it is in use today. Hans Kohn defines nationalism as a state of mind, in which the supreme loyalty of the individual is felt to be due the nation-state. Every nation possesses certain objective factors distinguishing them from other nationalities like common descent, language, territory, political entity, customs and traditions, or religion. Though the blend of these objective elements may vary from nation to nation, Kohn opines that the most essential and common element of nationalism is the living and active corporate will of the people[9]. .

Antony D. Smith, who wrote Theories of Nationalism, divides nationalism into two kinds: ethnocentric and polycentric.  The polycentric nationalism recognizes different cultural and power centers which in an attitude of mutual dialogue and enrichment share their power and ideals for the common good of the nation. Smith considers only this broader type of nationalism as worth to be called nationalism. The ethnocentric nationalism gives emphasis on the cultural and religious heritage of one ethnic group to the extent of imposing it on all those who live in the surroundings. This is a narrower kind of nationalism because it assumes an emotional character which easily becomes aggressive and thrives on the negation of other ethnic groups. It rises to the extreme forms of passionate hostility to all alien manifestations[10].

The above study shows that all forms of extremism contain some sort of exclusive attitude, which provokes in the adepts violent attitude towards their opponents. If for the religious fundamentalists the enemy is progressive thinkers within their own religion, adepts of other religions are the targets of religious fanatics. The religious communalists are not, in fact, serious about the religion. Their interest is mainly economic and political. The concern of ethnocentric nationalists is primarily religious-cultural. However, all forms of religious extremists manipulate the religious sentiments of people for their vested interests. When everything is in a flux and nothing seems to be stable and permanent, people feel nostalgia for the customary and routine-bound past. They make a resolute and stubborn return to a way of life in the past based on religion though for our time it may be outworn and irrelevant. The illiterate hope that attachment to the fundamentalist interpretation of sacred texts and exclusion of the ‘other’ will resolve their contemporary problems. But their aspirations will ever remain unfulfilled.

2. Interpreting the forms of extremism

The above attempt to explain the political ideologies was to help us understand the different religious extremist movements that were studied in the previous papers. In those articles the authors were referring to concepts like fundamentalism, fanaticism, religious nationalism, communalism, fascism, chauvinism, etc. to explain the character of those movements. To define exactly the nature of Jama-at Islami, Hindutva and Christian Sects is above the scope of this small paper. Therefore we will make an attempt to state their affinity with the extremist ideologies we studied in the first section of this article.

2.1 Jama-at-Islami (JAI) [11] The Jama-at-Islami seems to be a representative of the movements that are originated in the third world countries against colonialism and secularism. This hypothesis can be verified if we study the context in which it is born and the manner in which it grows at present. Syed Maulana Abu Ala Maududi founded this movement in Pakistan in the year 1941 to capture freedom from the British.  Even after obtaining independence in 1947 it continues to oppose the secular culture which is identified as the culture of colonialists.

The JAI has also got some similarity with fundamentalism as it holds on unchangeably the conservative doctrines of Islam. It demands from the Muslims a total surrender to the Din, never trying to alter any element of it. According to JAI Islam alone is the solution to the problems that not only the Muslims but also the whole world encounters.  The thinking that only Islam is right and whatever else is menial points also to the fanatic potential inherent in JAI.

The fanatic leaning of JAI can grow into theocratic forms had it captures political power. The final goal of JAI is the establishment of the Caliphates, the states governed by the Sharia. JAI believes that Hizbullah – the party of God – can only meet the political economic and religious aspirations of humans. ‘There is only one path and that path is Caliph’s rule based on Sharia’ is the slogan of JAI.

2.2 Christian Sects[12]: The new sects that are emerging among the Christians in India are in their structure and nature very similar to fundamentalist movements.  Similar to its awakening in USA at the end of 19th century, the sects of the contemporary era –  ‘Spirit in Jesus’  and ‘Church of Eternity’ – assert themselves in opposition to the scientific and contextual interpretations of Bible. The advocates these sects believe in the inadequacy of modern biblical hermeneutics in dealing with the spiritual needs of laity and makes irrational claims regarding life after death. The funny side of it is that they criticise vehemently the Catholic hierarchy in the guise of safeguarding Christian revelation, but they themselves are highly defensive in style and demand unquestionable submission and obedience from the part of their followers.

2.3 Hindutva:[13] To determine the nature of the Hindutva movements is a Herculean task because, being an umbrella organization, each of its wings has its own sensibilities. The RSS, the founding father of Sangh Parivar associations, pretends to involve more in cultural activities, the BJP in politics, the VHP in religious field, and so on. However we can find out certain unity among them since they all imbibe energy from the same Hindutva ideology.

A careful analysis of the activities of the Parivar movements indicates that Hindutva is more linked with communalism or ethnocentric nationalism than with any other political system. Like communalism Hindutva is founded on the false identity that there is only one culture in India that is Hindu.  This monolithic identity is an invented one because any unbiased social scientist will concede to the fact that India is conglomeration of races, castes, jatis and languages, each having its own cultural identity.  The Sangh Parivar constructs this fake identity in order that the upper caste Hindus can, with the support of majority of the backward classes and the tribals, maintain their political and economic hegemony in the country. Hindutva cannot in any way be identified with the genuine nationalism, as its proponents claim, because from its origin onwards, its main interest is in imposing the religious and cultural hegemony of the upper caste Hindus over the Muslims, Christians, tribals and Dalits of the country.  Thus Hindutva is very much akin to ethnocentric nationalism or to the religious communalism.

3. Secularism and religion, mutually antagonistic?

Our investigation into the Islamic, Hindu and Christian varieties of extremism have shown us that most of them are in conflict with the secularism. Why does it happen so? Mark Juergensmeyer has thoroughly examined the matter and he gives the following reasons.

The main reason for the rivalry between secularism and religion seems to be the structural similarity. Both include doctrine, myth, ethics, ritual, experience and social organization. Both function to provide an overreaching framework of moral order. Religions try to maintain order in the daily life in accordance with the unchanging divine order. Secularism also attempts to work as ideology of the order. During French revolution, the ideologists built up a science of ideas based on the theories of Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Rene Descartes. In doing so they were formulating a code of conduct, which can replace religion. Thus secularism and religions are parallel in fulfilling their tasks and hence they become potentially rivals.

Another reason for the rejection of secular nationalism by the religious nationalists is that the latter considers the secularists accountable for the moral decline of the people. The secularists consider reason alone as sufficient for finding the truth. Religious nationalists despise this notion. For them, secular nationalism, as it condemns religion and faith, is fundamentally bereft of spiritual values. Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka mention that the people there are indulged in gambling, slaughtering animals for meat and drinking alcohol due to the influence of Western secularism.

Religious extremists oppose secularism also for its colonial background. Secularism was grown in the West as a reaction to the monopoly of Church over the social and political spheres. But it slowly borrowed the salient features of Christianity in an attempt to become competitive to religious values. Thus it has specifically a Christian basis. As a result, the secularism is interpreted as a part of a plot to perpetuate colonialism in indigenous countries.

We can not hope that the religious activists and secularists will come to an accord in the immediate future. They are mutually afraid of being marginalized by the other. There may ultimately have no true convergence between religious and secular political ideologies. On the ideological plane the cold war may persist. But we can envisage a situation in which both secular and religious aspirations of the people are respected. Religion has a role to play in defining the value system of the state. The same way secularists can curb religion from extremist temptations. Even in the West where religion was shunted to the periphery the States assimilated some aspects of religion into the national consensus. Hence we have to sort out the aspects of religious nationalism, which we must oppose and those aspects we can co-exist with.

Among the values, which we cannot live with religious extremism include dictatorship, tendency to satanize secularism, potential to become intolerant and violent. Aspects of religious nationalism, which we can live with, are appreciation of tradition, insistence on morality, etc. There is a third category of factors, which we cannot live with easily but we have to learn to co-exist with. One is the religious nationalist’s insistence on divine justification for human laws. If divine justification motivates people to obey just laws we may agree that they are good. Another element that is to be negotiated is the exaltation of communitarian values over the individual one. Religious nationalists cherish group loyalties over individual rights and personal achievements[14].

4. Christian approach to extremism

The two factors that constitute extremism, as we have seen earlier, are exclusive attitude and recourse to violence. Consequently Christian approach towards extremism can be inferred from Jesus’ attitude towards the gentiles, the people who aggressively reacted to him and those who advocated violence. The Church teachings on non-Christians and violence will reveal to us the actual standpoint of the Church on extremism.

4.1 Jesus’ attitude towards pagans: The God whom Jesus preached is a God who offers his love to all without any restriction. Even though Jesus was born as a member of Jewish community he honored other believers in a special way. Seeing the faith of the centurion Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 8, 10-11) Jesus praised the Canaanite woman’s faith “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish” (Mt 15, 28). He projected a Samaritan as model to practice the love of neighbor (Lk 10, 25-37). He drank water from the Samarian woman (Jn 4, 7).

4.2 Jesus’ approach to enemies: At the time of Jesus Jews believed that the expected Messiah would take revenge on the pagans for not joining them and adoring Yahweh. But Jesus in his inaugural speech removed the idea of vengeance from the eschatological expectation. When he read the passage from Isaiah in the Synagogue of Nazareth he left out the words like “the day of vengeance of our God” (Is 61, 2) i.e. punishing the Gentiles and the lawless for the wrong done to the law-abiding Jews. When disciples asked Jesus to destroy Samaritans who did not receive them on the way to Jerusalem Jesus rebuked them (Lk 9, 51-56).

Contrary to the practice of his epoch, Jesus enforces the disciples to love the enemies. The antithesis on non retaliation that we have in Mt 5, 38-48 and parallels urges the followers to opt out of the process of revenge through violence. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus not only prohibits violence but also demand that brutality and force be met with abounding goodness. He uses the example of God’s care for all creatures to challenge us to avoid restricting love only to those who can benefit us or already love us[15]. During the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane when one of the disciples takes his sword and strike the slave of the high priest Jesus rebukes him. Luke adds then that Jesus heals the slave by touching. By refusing to call upon his Father’s twelve legions of angels Jesus avoids doing what a magician might promise. Jesus behaves here not like a brigand. He is exemplifying the attitude of forgiveness and compassion towards those who hate him and thus proves himself faithful to the will of his Father[16].

4.3 Cleansing of the Temple: Jesus’ act of cleansing the temple (Mk 11, 15-19) is often quoted by the extremists to legitimize violent way of reacting to the opponents. But the exegetical study does not authorize us to make such an interpretation. Jesus went to the Jerusalem temple for the celebration of the Passover. According to John’s gospel, Jesus drove out with a whip of cords those selling in animals, scattered the coins and overturned the tables of the money changers. Jesus got angry because for him temple is not merely a building where people gather but it is the house of his Father[17].

A few scholars like Schnackenburg opine that this act is to be understood in a messianic sense. John narrates this event to show how the prophecies about the Messiah are fulfilled in Jesus. ‘And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day’ (Zech 14, 21b). ‘Zeal for your house has consumed me’ (Ps 68 (69), 10). By referring to the purification of the temple John shows that the Messianic prophecies are accomplished in Christ[18].

Another set of exegetes view this act as symbolic. This act which expresses the zeal of Jesus for the house of God cost him his life. In fact, by cleansing the temple, he is pointing to how he will purify his own body and make it the abode of his Father. As says R. E. Brown, the cleansing of the temple is a prelude to the reconstruction of the sanctuary i.e. Jesus’ own body.  Jews will destroy Jesus but he will shortly afterwards rise up anew[19]. In short, according to Johannine Christology cleansing of the temple is a symbol of Jesus’ own death and resurrection and institution of His body as the real sanctuary where the Father is present to the humanity.

4. 4 Jesus’ lack of enthusiasm to serve the Gentiles: One who objectively examines Jesus’ attitude towards pagans can not ignore his unwillingness to work among the gentiles. Jesus preached exclusively to the Jews. He limited his ministry mainly to the hill-country of Galilee and to the northern coast of the Lake of Gennesaret, regions populated by the Israelites. He seems to have avoided deliberately cities populated by Hellenists like Galillee, Sephoris and Tiberias. The only gentiles territories seem to have been visited by Jesus are Tyre and Sidon (Mk 7, 24-31) and Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8, 27). Even in those journeys his interest might have been the descendants of northern Israelites who had settled there[20]. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Mt 15, 24). In the same manner Jesus limited the ministry of his apostles also to the Jews. Before sending the apostles on their mission Christ warned them against going into the ways of the gentiles and into the city of Samaritans (Mt 10, 5-6).

To understand this, we have to look into the theology behind Matthew’s gospel. In post-70 Judaism (after the destruction of Jerusalem), under the leadership of Johannan ben Zakkai, the Pharisees at Jamnia became hostile to the Christians. Anyone who confessed Jesus as messiah was excluded from Synagogue (Jn 9, 22). Christianity was declared an atheistic heresy and Jews were prohibited from associating with the Christians. Jewish Christians found themselves as an isolated group. It caused confusion, tension and conflict in the community. Gentile mission would have never succeeded until they learned to manage these issues. There were enough problems already within Jewish Christians and so they did not like to cause further issues going beyond its boundaries for a period of time. Some opine that His counsel not to go to the Samaritans was to make easy the mission among Jews who considered it below their dignity to be taught by men who mixed with the gentiles and Samaritans.

Another explanation for Jesus’ reluctance to carry mission among non-Jews is that he was sharing the common Jewish belief according to which Gentiles would be brought to God through the witness of Israel once the kingdom of God was established in Israel. Salvation of the Gentiles was believed to take place at the eschatological time. The eschatological time would begin definitively only at his resurrection. Missionary work among them had to wait till the post-resurrection period. The blood of the true Passover Lamp must be shed for many (Mk 14, 24). Therefore, even while keeping an open attitude towards the Gentiles throughout the ministry, he was patiently awaiting the conversion of the Jewish people in order that through them the conversion of other races might be achieved. The service of Jesus to the Jews was a service in view of the Gentiles[21]. In short, Biblical experts do not see Jesus’ reservation to carry pastoral activity among the Jews as an example for exclusivism. Jesus’ particular actions are to be interpreted in terms of his general attitude towards the gentiles. Gospels witness clearly the universalistic attitude of Jesus.

4.5 Attitude of the Church: The fact that the Catholicism condemns extremism is evident from Church’s positive approach to the non-Christian religions of the world. The Second Vatican Council devotes a special declaration Nostra Aetate, to speak about her affinity with Judaism, Islam and other South Asian religions. Besides, Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et spes and Ad Gentes furnish elements for a positive approach to pluralism. The Instruction, Libertatis Conscientia, has expressed precisely on Church’s attitude towards violence.

Nostra Aetate understands humanity as one family and advises Christians to deal with all humans as brothers and sisters: All men form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock which God created to people the entire earth and also because all share in a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all men. (1 Tim 2, 4. NA 1). ‘The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrine which, although differing in many ways from her teaching, nevertheless, often reflect a ray of truth, which enlightens all men. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture’. (NA 2) ‘Sacred Council begs Christian faithful to conduct themselves well among the Gentiles and if possible, depends on them, to be at peace with them and thus be true sons of the Father who is in heaven’ (NA 5)

Lumen Gentium gives a broad concept of people of God so as to comprehend in it all good minded people: ‘The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Moslems… Nor is God remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breadth and all things (Acts 17, 25-28), and since the Savior wills all men be saved (I Tim 2,4). Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation’ (LG 16). To include in the people of God all those who do good to the world is an incentive for the Catholics to establish positive relationship with all people irrespective of caste and creed.

The Instruction Libertatis Conscientia which was published in 1986 admits armed struggle only as a last resort to put an end to the tyranny, which is gravely damaging the fundamental right of the individuals. Otherwise Church holds the following standpoint: ‘Systematic recourse to violence put forward as the necessary path to liberation has to be condemned as a destructive illusion and one that opens the way to new forms of servitude … One can never approve, whether perpetrated by established power or insurgents, crimes such as reprisals against the general population, torture, or methods of terrorism and deliberate provocation aimed at causing deaths during popular demonstration’[22]. Thus, neither the attitude of Jesus nor the attitude of Church promotes extremist tendencies to safeguard faith.

5. Means to resist religious extremism

5.1 Teach the noble values of all religions: Ignorance about other religions is a great hurdle in the path of communal harmony. Wars begin in the minds of men and therefore it is in the minds of men that defense for peace must be constructed. All religions nurture values like truth, love, non-violence, compassion, peace, service, practice of equality, fraternity, justice, etc. People are to be formed in these ideals.

The value education in and through the academic and extra-curricular activities is an efficient way to instil universal religious values in the minds of pupils. Across the country several NGOs function in this field. The Universal Solidarity Movement, one of the offshoots of Dharma Bharati (began at Indore on 16th July 1993), organizes training programmes for cabinet members (body of students formed in view of influencing fellow students), teachers, principals and parents in schools and colleges. See below some of the action plans that are adopted by the participants of such a training programme which was held in April-June at the Indore National Office. a) We shall practise the Five Paths (skip a meal a week, say a prayer a day, do a good deed a day, honour parents and respect earth) for personal transformation through out life; b) We shall plant at least five trees every year and take care of them; c) We will greet our friends, of other communities or faith, on their festivals; d) We shall never waste food items either at home or outside; e) We shall read at least five books a year; and f) We will not use intoxicants[23]. Similar grass-root level action plans are executed by various peace-making organizations all over the country and they render valuable service in defying the communal agenda of fanatic groups.

Among the adults the inter-religious amity can be fostered through exchanges at various levels. Through common prayers, meditations, discussions and celebrations we can know about the noble values akin to each religion. Every person can contribute to building unity by small gestures of daily life. Visiting the hospitals, sharing meals with neighbors on festivals, would cause decline on communal feelings.

5.2 Virtue of interdependence: Every religion has something unique to contribute for the welfare of the world. For example, Islamic life is known for prayerfulness and fellowship, Hindu-Bahai mind for universal vision, Sikh-Buddhist-Jain heart for Courage Compassion and Non-Violence, Parsi intellect for initiative and creativity, Jewish will for strict adherence to law, and Christian spirit for forgiveness and self-sacrifice. But at the same time we know that religions have influenced each other, helped each other and enriched each other in developing their specific virtues. For example, Christianity received from Babylonia the idea of God as the maker of heaven and earth, from Persia the dualism of Satan and God, from Egypt last judgment, from Phrygia the worship of the Great Mother, from Greece and Rome the idea of universal law.[24] If so, it is naïve to harp on exclusiveness and assert one’s superiority either in belief, or in tradition or in culture. Humans can enhance the unity of mankind while remaining in many religions.

The virtue of interdependence is the little way to transcend the barrier of caste, creed, race, and language. An atmosphere of understanding one another as human beings with same needs, aspirations and obligations is to be created. Ways of worship and style of life may be varied, but these outward manifestations need not erode the basic trust in one another as human beings. Peace which is result of trust among the people can prosper only when social interdependence becomes a way of life of the people.[25]

5.3 Development: Formation of religious values alone will not keep the young generation away from extremist tendencies. Studies show that the sectarian groups find sympathizers by a large amount among the unemployed youth. The young people who migrate from remote areas to the towns are culturally alienated. Those who fail to meet with the challenges of highly mechanized world are sidelined. Such frustrated youth often find refuge in small sects where they get emotional warmth. Therefore to curtail the growth of fundamentalism one has to definitely work for employment and development.

Taking care of them is witnessing Christ’s love in a world of selfishness. In the scene of last judgment (Mt 25, 31-46) and in the parable of rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16, 19-31) Jesus refers to the compassionate concern for the dalim as the necessary condition to enter into his Kingdom. That is why Church today perceives development as a means for establishing peace: ‘Excessive economic, social and cultural inequalities danger to peace … Peace is something that is built up day after day, in the pursuit of an order intended by God, which implies a more perfect form of justice among people’[26]

5.4 Counter cultural and political formation: During the last two decades secular minded individuals used to expose the hidden agenda and strategies of communal forces and create public opinion against them. But the resistance put up by the secular forces is very less at present. Unless sustained efforts are not undertaken for the counter culture formation, our world will not be a livable planet for tomorrow. Using art forms – painting, music, street plays – is an efficient means to oppose the communal forces. The counter cultural formation has to be done also through mass media by disseminating teachings, stories, legends and myths from different religious traditions. Mere cultural response will not be sufficient if not followed up with more substantive moves on the political front to check the wave of communalism.  Solution would be an extensive campaign sponsored by all those who believe in secularism.

Today man suffers from a type of religious neurosis. The best medicine to heal the poisoned psyche of humanity is the spirituality of religions advocating values of pluralism, universality, compassion and love. We are born and trained in certain traditions of religion. But we are not supposed to transfer the absoluteness, which belongs to the Divine Reality, to its historical formulations. We must be able to hold our particular formulation as valid without denying the other forms. This is the only one attitude consistent with faith in a Universal God.


[1] P. Lathuiliere, Le fondamentalisme catholique, Cerf, Paris, 1995, pp. 15-19.

[2] H.R. Niebuhr, Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, vol. 6, p. 526.

[3] GPD, Economic Political Weekly, September 29, 2001, p. 3668.

[4] M. C. Otto, Fanaticism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 5, pp. 90-91.

[5] R. Khan, South Asian Portents, India Nation-State and Communalism, G.S. Balla [ed.], 1989, 40-42.

[6] L. Dumont, Nationalism and Communalism, Contribution to Indian Sociology, VII, 1964, 45-47.

[7] B. Chandra, Communalism in Modern India, New Delhi, Vani Educational Books, 1984, pp. 1-4.

[8] A.A. Engineer, A Theory of Communal Riots, Seminar, November 1983, pp. 14-17.

[9] H. Kohn, Nationalism: Its Meaning and History, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1982, pp. 9-10.

[10] A.D. Smith, Theories of Nationalism, London: Gerald Duckworth & Company Limited, 1971, pp. 158-1163; 170-171. E.R.A. Seligman & A. Johnson, Nationalism, Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 11, London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd., p. 231.

[11] See the article written by Anto  Cheranthuruthy on Jama-at-Islami in the same issue.

[12] Read Joseph Pamplany’s article on Christian Sects in same number of Encounter.

[13] For details see the article of Devis Kavungal on the topic in this copy of Encounter

[14] M. Juergensmeyer, Religious Nationalism confronts the Secular State, Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 15-34.

[15] D.J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mathew, Sacra Pagina, D.J. Harrington (ed.), vol. 1, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville Minnesota, 1991, p. 92.

[16] Ibid., pp. 375-377.

[17] F.J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina, D.J. Harrington (ed.), The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1998, pp. 75-80.

[18] R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to John, vol. 1, New York: The Seabury Press, 1980, pp. 343-357.

[19] R.E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, New York: Doubleday, 1997, pp. 340-341.

[20] L. Legrand, Mission in the Bible, Pune: Ishvani Publications, 1992, pp. 48-50.

[21] J. Kuttianimattathil, Jesus-Christ, Unique and Universal, Bangalore: KJ Publications, 1990, pp. 66-67.

[22] Congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Instruction Libertatis Conscientia, 22 March 1986, AAS 79 (1987) no: 76.79.

[23] Charter of Action Plan by the Student Leaders, Renaissance, vol. 16, no:3, May-June 2008, Indore, p. 2.

[24] S. Radhakrishnan, The Present Crisis of Faith, 51-58.

[25] S.K. Parmar, Inter-religious Co-operation for Peace and Value Education: Response to Consumerism and Communalism, Peace and Values Education, K.P. Joseph [ed.], 30-33.

[26] Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, AAS 59 (1967), no: 50.