I.8. Religious Exclusivism, Racism and Colonialism
Religious Exclusivism, Racism and Colonialism
������ Recent centuries saw the European domination of the world through colonialism and imperialism. Colonial ideas were closely connected to racism and slavery, on one hand, and to religious missionary efforts on the other. These three ideas or beliefs were intimately related both in theory and in practice. Missionaries accompanied colonial armies that enslaved or turned native peoples into bonded laborers.
������ In the colonial era, many Europeans thought that the white race was superior to all other races that were savages, particularly dark-skinned people, whose very skin color indicated something evil. They similarly thought that Christianity, the religion of the white man, was superior to all the religions of other races, which were primitive, polytheistic and unholy. Dark skinned people and devil worship were even equated in the popular mind. The civilization of white Europe was considered to be true civilization while civilizations even of venerable ancient cultures like India and China were deemed barbaric, akin to the superstitions of tribal peoples.
������ Today in most of the world, we have discarded colonialism and recognized its errors at least as an overt policy (often it continues in subvert economic forms, however). We have even more severely criticized racism and tried to eliminate it (though it also continues in various forms). Countries like South Africa that continued racist policies into the post-war era met with global scorn until they changed. The idea of the supremacy of the white race that was commonly accepted in intellectual, cultural and political circles in the West in the last century is now looked upon as backward and bigoted. However, the third component of colonial expansion�religious exclusivism�still flourishes much as it did in the previous centuries, though sometimes with a tarnished image, and is in many places as aggressive and intolerant as ever.
While colonial armies no longer go overseas, the missionary groups that used to accompany them still follow the same old paths and with the same worn mentality. Missionaries are still trained to infiltrate and undermine foreign cultures and their different religions. They still have the same arrogance and sense of superiority over non-Christian beliefs, which they will not sympathetically examine at all. Evangelic preachers still preach hellfire and damnation, particularly to Hindus, who were seen by Christians as the most idolatrous of all religions in the colonial era and still are today. The missionaries are still living in previous centuries. While we honor the right of peoples to form their own governments, the missionaries do not honor the right of peoples to choose a non-Christian belief, which they deem as a sin against God!
Of course, the missionaries have made some adaptations to the times, particularly since they no longer have an army or colonial government to protect them. They speak of human rights and helping people achieve freedom and economic development. However, they are quite willing to destroy cultures and will not help a non-Christian culture to develop itself. They like to blame the non-Christian beliefs of other cultures for their social and economic problems, even though Christian countries in Latin and South America are among the most backward in the world. The missionaries are also quick to use the media, television and the Internet, but not to improve global communication and respect for different cultures, only to promote their global conversion agenda like a steamroller over all other points of view.
������ Let us be very clear about the dangers of religious exclusivism that has spawned every sort of crusade, holy war, genocide and hostility through the centuries. The idea that only one religion is true and all others are false is akin to the idea that only one race is noble and all other races are inferior. It is akin to the idea that only one culture is civilized and all other cultures, even those with great literatures of their own, are barbaric. This idea of religious exclusivism is another nineteenth century prejudice, like racism, that is out of date in the planetary age. It reflects bigotry and narrow mindedness. It promotes communal disharmony and breeds violence.
������ In fact, one could argue that religious exclusivism is worse than racism. Racism says that one race is overall better than the others, which are inferior or even subhuman. Religious exclusivism states that one religion alone takes us to God, heaven or paradise while the others take us to hell or eternal damnation. It makes certain groups unholy, if not evil.
Racism calls people of other races niggers or savages. Religious exclusivism calls people of other beliefs heathens, kafirs, or devil worshippers. Which is worse? For someone to call you a derogatory racial term like nigger, or to say that you are under the influence of the devil? Clearly, to be called subhuman is bad enough, but religious exclusivism can render the others to be non-human or even demonic, which is worse.
Therefore, it is time that the countries of the world to make a call to discard religious exclusivism just as we have made a similar call to reject racism and colonialism as morally and culturally wrong. This means that first of all we must expose and criticize the danger and the bias of religious exclusivism just as we have done that of racism and colonialism. As a culture we must also stop praising religious exclusivism in the media or our educational system, just as we no longer use these to promote racism. The triumphalism of the One true God, book, savior or prophet must be set aside just like the triumphalism of the ruling race, empire or dictator.
This means that we should strive to promote pluralism in religion as a primary cultural and societal value, as part of real human rights and a truly culturally sensitive educational system. We must recognize that spirituality cannot be owned by any belief, church, savior or creed. We must learn to welcome a diversity in spiritual practices, respecting many paths to God or truth. In this process we must honor the many non-Biblical paths that have been trampled upon as unholy, become receptive to their wisdom and help restore their place in the world. We must realize that each individual should be free to find God in his or her own way and that no institution or belief is required for this.
Naturally, religious groups that have benefited from exclusivism and promote it for missionary agendas will resist. They will try to hide the injustice of religious exclusivism under the guise religious freedom, projecting conversion to exclusive and authoritarian beliefs as a democratic right. Such diversionary tactics should be exposed. Religious exclusivism is inherently divisive and, therefore, violent. It is communal, separating humanity into the warring camps of the true believers and the non-believers. It is not the Will of God but the assertion of the individual or collective ego and a drive for domination. Let us allow the same diversity in religion that we allow in language or art or other cultural domains.
The human religious potential and experience is so many-sided and multi-layered that it transcends all names and forms, personalities and institutions. Our true nature is Divine. It is not something we can be converted to, but something that we can discover when we set all external forms of manipulation and control aside.