Religion, Fanaticism and Divine Truth

Adherents of virtually all religious traditions want to believe that their own religion is the one “true” religion, and all others are false, mistaken or imperfect. This belief reinforces their own faith and thus, enhances the satisfaction of the vital ego. In some cases, however, this belief goes far beyond an inner feeling and becomes an outer expression of fanatic belief that tries to enforce the position of the religion against that of everyone who is not a believer in that particular creed. This has bred tremendous suffering through societal pressure, forced conversion, and even outright warfare, where unbelievers were put to death if they did not accept the “one true religion”. It is said that religion has been the cause of more death and suffering and warfare than any other cause. Looking at history, one can well believe this to be the case.

Religious sects have engaged in missionary activity to control and convert other cultures. Entire societal ways of life have been attacked, condemned and suppressed in the name of the “true religion”.

All of this activity bespeaks a narrow point of view that distorts the truth, and at a certain point, even breeds skepticism about the religion. Any religion that relies on overt suppression and heavy-handed “conversion at the point of a sword”, or that requires adherence to a narrow doctrine that denies any truth to experiences or religious beliefs of others is clearly missing the truth of existence that embraces a vast and varied expression of life and understanding in line with the vast and varied differences between people, their stage of spiritual development and the cultural backgrounds that lead to their specific spiritual and religious practices and beliefs. It is one thing to immerse oneself in a specific belief system or set of practices, and gain the benefit of that focus and concentration; it is quite another to treat this as universal for all people, or to try to force one’s own beliefs upon others.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “The Divine Truth is greater than any religion or creed or scripture or idea or philosophy — so you must not tie yourself to any of these things.”

“… you say that you ask only for the Truth and yet you speak like a narrow and ignorant fanatic who refuses to believe in anything but the religion in which he was born. All fanaticism is false, because it is a contradiction of the very nature of God and of Truth. Truth cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda or Koran, or in a single religion. The Divine Being is eternal and universal and infinite and cannot be the sole property of the Mussulmans or of the Semitic religions only, — those that happened to be in a line from the Bible and to have Jewish or Arabian prophets for their founders. Hindus and Confucians and Taoists and all others have as much right to enter into relation with God and find the Truth in their own way. All religions have some truth in them, but none has the whole truth; all are created in time and finally decline and perish. Mahomed himself never pretended that the Koran was the last message of God and there would be no other. God and Truth outlast these religions and manifest themselves anew in whatever way or form the Divine Wisdom chooses. You cannot shut up God in the limitations of your own narrow brain or dictate to the Divine Power and Consciousness how or where or through whom it shall manifest; you cannot put up your puny barriers against the divine Omnipotence. These again are simple truths which are now being recognised all over the world; only the childish in mind or those who vegetate in some formula of the past deny them.”

“There is nothing noble besides in fanaticism — there is no nobility of motive, though there may be a fierce enthusiasm of motive. Religious fanaticism is something psychologically low-born and ignorant — and usually in its action fierce, cruel and base. Religious ardour like that of the martyr who sacrifices himself only is a different thing.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 12, Other Aspects of Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Religion, pp. 352-355

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