Religion and Riots

The family trip to Agra was postponed this weekend because of the possibility of rioting throughout Uttar Pradesh, the state where the Taj Mahal is located. The short story is that a patch of land, which now contains a Muslim mosque, is also claimed by Hindus as the birthplace of the God Ram, and the Hindus want it back. The Supreme Court issued a ruling today, which many believed would result in rioting by the losing side.

It turns out that the Indian Supreme Court decided to split the property in three, giving one parcel to each religion that claimed a right to the property, and rioting has been avoided, largely because no one got what they wanted, but everyone got something.

Religious tensions are always close at hand here. The Hindus have a substantial majority, but the Muslims and Sikhs are populace enough to wield influence, and just enough Buddhists and Christians are thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. Someone is always mad at someone. In a state in Western India, there is fighting against Christian missionaries from the Hindi majority. In Kashmir, the Muslim majority in the state wants to join Pakistan or at least become an independent nation, but India seems unwilling to let them go. In class, we read Train to Pakistan, which depicts the bloody days leading up to the Partition between India and Pakistan, when Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and the occasional Communist all fight to protect their religion.

I do not want implicate India alone in this mess. The Troubles continue in Northern Ireland. The Middle East is, and sadly will remain, a powder keg of religious fervor, and whacknoodles in the US think that God wants them to burn holy books. But India is much more open about the problems, and I notice the tension a lot more.

It all just reminds me that organized religion of any stripe does not seem to work very well. I am no atheist, as I concede and kind of hope there is something more to the Universe. I am not an agnostic, because that implies I don’t care about matters of spirituality, and I care very, very much. But I also adhere to no religion, partly because no religion makes sense to me. Partially because I refuse to believe there is “one way” of reaching enlightenment and I refuse to take sides, and partly because what always seems to begin with bread and fishes devolves into hate and riots. There are many fine religious people, people I love and respect, but when I step back and look at the big picture, the system of religion is fundamentally flawed.

The birthplace of Ram leads to riots. Mohammad just happened to ascend to heaven on the exact spot of the Temple Mount. Jesus’ birthplace is in the middle of a battle zone. Peace may be the word, but it is most assuredly not the action.

Now, I have no alternative, no plan to correct this problems. I have no insight into how to obtain peace and understanding and tolerance, but I submit that the current system of religions fighting it out for our souls, in place for quite a long time now, is not up to the task.

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About the Author

I moved to India. I mean, why the hell not, right?