It is the human mind that is frail and petty. In more ways than one. And the instance where this trait comes through in the most blatant fashion is in the realm of religion. A book I am reading these days has brought out several truths. Reading the book has not just informed me about the religion, but rather has gone on to show how words of God or words inspired by God have been distorted, misinterpreted and generally manipulated to suit human political and societal needs of the time.
For example, before the Hijrah, the calendar system for Muslims was grossly manipulated, given the fact that one could build a calendar based on the lunar cycle or the solar cycle. As a result, the leaders of the time would set the holy months of no fighting and violence, to coincide exactly with their political needs. Another example, is that the very basis of jihadi literature, arises from a terrible misinterpretation and ‘taking out of context’ of a certain verse in the Qur’an, again for human gain! The gist of the verse, which again is specific mainly to the nomadic tribal times of the first revelations of the Qur’an says that it allows a Muslim to retaliate, if need be violently to incursions by followers of other religions, who hurt them just because they are Muslim. This, in turn is being twisted to mean that all current acts of terror are retaliations for some acts against Muslims, somewhere, again conveniently directed to and associated with religion!
I was talking to a friend the other day, and the topic veered towards, Hinduism. I remarked how the history of Hinduism has been tolerant and peaceful in comparison to Islam and Christianity, both of which have had rather violent periods in history – be it the fights between Shias, Sunnis, and before that, the violent opposition of Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’anic revelations, or the Crusades in Christianity, or even the very Crucifixion of Christ! My friend then remarked that Hinduism also had its faults – and brought up the caste system, and how the scriptures mandated the 4 Varnas and the subsequent discrimination in society.
Yes, the scriptures – Vedas, do mention the 4 Varnas – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudras as 4 classes based on type – or role of livelihood in society. They mention it in periphery, not talking about a mainstay as such. They say that a class is decided based on a person’s skill set, and not by birth! They also say that it is possible for one to be able to move from class to class based on his skill sets, again. There is a line in the Rg Veda that says, “I am a bard, my father is a physician and my mother’s job is to grind corn”. Malleability of castes, inter-caste families, and so on are all interpretations that emanate from this one line! Not the crooked way in which the caste system exists today – as a political weapon, an upgrade voucher to First Class for people who perhaps already have the ability to travel First Class, a terrible tool that undermines meritocracy in Indian society.
The instances are plenty! Religion was a means to unify people along one cause – to find a higher purpose, and to prevent fighting and strife amongst humanity, as a whole. One God communicated to people of various regions in the language and a manner that suited them best, all the while, keeping the gist of the message the same. But unfortunately, the real truth has been obscured somewhere over the years – making even God an object of abject manipulation!