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My Religion Is Better Than Yours

| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

...but I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven... Matthew 5:43-45

“Nahiverenaverani – sammanti'dhakudacancam
Averenacasammanti – esadhammosanantano”…..Dhammapada
Hatred never ceases through hatred in this world; through love alone it ceases. This is an
eternal law.

( January 24, Montreal, Ontario, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is seemingly time for religious bigotry, hatred and violence once again. Referring to this odious tendency in human behaviour, Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, Hindu Chaplain, Columbia University and New York University said recently in the Huffington Post: " I don't know about you, but I'm definitely tired of encountering this attitude. Most people who make such statements don't have deep knowledge or set of experiences within their own tradition, what to speak of other people's traditions. I am confident that if we made even a little bit of an endeavour to understand another's faith, it could make all the difference in the world".

Professor Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University calls this trend "religious exclusiveness" and goes on to say : "there are many different religions in the world, and they make contradictory claims. The Christian thinks Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God. The Jew denies this. The Buddhist thinks we will be reincarnated. The Christian denies this. And so on. They cannot all be true. Why therefore should we think any of them true? Is it not just a matter of chance what we believe, depending on the culture into which we are born?"

No matter which way one slices this issue, it is definitely not only related to one's philosophical freedom to profess and practice one's religion but is more importantly grounded on a globally entrenched political and social right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which any right thinking and reasonable society of civilized beings should follow, states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that they are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The Declaration goes on to say that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

But then, tell that to the louts and thugs who needlessly attack places of religious worship and prayer and the people within.

In the country in which I live, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has a separate chapter on fundamental freedoms which stipulates that everyone has the freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.

Canadians are therefore free to have their own beliefs and opinions, are free to practice religion or refrain, and are free to establish media organizations with or without religious content. The Supreme Court of Canada, in the 1955 case of Chaput v. Romain ruled in favor of the religious sect Jehovah's Witnesses, that all religions have equal rights, based upon tradition and the rule of law. There were no adopted laws in Canada at that time which contained this principle. Thirty years later, the Supreme Court in the case of Lord's Day Act, R v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd held per Chief Justice Brian Dickson that religious freedom in Canada includes freedom of religious speech, including "the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare religious beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest religious belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination."

I have already written in my earlier writings that inasmuch as there would be no peace if normalcy in daily human intercourse were not restored, it is incontrovertible that there will be no lasting peace if the attendant hatred that goes into human conflict is not eradicated and obviated. In this context, the classic meaning of the word “obviate” (which is to make unnecessary) is intended. Inherent in any process of racial, national or religious hatred is a certain intellectual abdication of the values instilled in a society, through a democratic process, encompassing legal, philosophical and epistemological principles. Also endemic to hatred from a religious perspective is the preeminent role played by hate speech. It is therefore imperative that a peaceful society brings to bear an irrevocable resurgence calculated to apprehend this social phenomenon both in its individual and collective incarnations. Above all, the issue must as of necessity be addressed with an openness to unforeseen questions which may divide nationalities, races and people of different religious persuasions and estrange them from their foundational bases.

The whole sordid mess of religious bigotry boils down to what is called "the religious superiority complex" where religious fanatics believe their religion to be superior to those of others and that the infidels should be punished. Religious bigots are those who are focused on themselves and make themselves the principle of judgment of reality and their experiences.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a direct response to the collective suffering of people through hatred among mankind. Therefore, any measures taken by a government toward achieving peace and obviating hatred among its peoples would be destitute of effect if it merely caters to the cessation of war. Surely there is more to it than that, such as educating our children on the viciousness of hatred and the need to recognize respect. Respect for others; respect for oneself; and responsibility for our actions should be the cornerstone of any respected and civilized society.

Human conduct and interaction should be based on the inherent worth of every person. People are worthy of respect, support, and caring simply because they are human. But this is not enough. A civilized nation must ensure that this principle is followed through a strong legislature, an impartial judiciary and above all a just and incorrupt police force that will brings miscreants to justice. One cannot ask for anything less.



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