A “reverential study” of the religions of the world: why did Gandhi make this a key feature of his Nai Talim, or New Education system? For one obvious reason, because disrespect of one religion’s adherents for another is such a prolific source of conflict, and particularly violent conflict at that. But there’s more. Considering that Gandhi was a spiritual seeker, he also wanted religious instruction to be very robust. For example, Hindus should learn the scriptures in Sanskrit, Muslims in Arabic, not through someone’s interpretation and translation of them. This would, as he said, “if properly done give them a spiritual assurance and a better appreciation of their own religion.”
Were you among the very few in the world who were given such a study as a child, with equal respect and understanding of the basic principles of all religions, or were you led to believe, like most of us, that there is only one ‘right way’ to worship, pray, and express one’s spiritual life? This kind of study, to be clear, would emphasize where the religions came together, what they had in common. It reminds me of a comment made by nonviolence scholar Stellan Vinthagen, which I paraphrase, that whether or not we think God exists, the fact of the matter is that many people behave as though it were true, so we should take interest in understanding what God and spirituality mean to them, and appreciate what their religions are actually saying. Even if you profess no religion at all, the fact should point to the same core values at the heart of each religion revealing something about our human nature that makes nonviolence desirable and possible. True, one does not absolutely need religion for that; but religion is a path many will take to get there, and all deserve appreciation and respect. Reverence.
Imagine if young people could identify religious fundamentalism and its violence without fearing everyone who practices the religion in question. The mass media, for one, would be less able to manipulate people to fight against one another. I’m thinking of the rise of Islamophobia worldwide. The media would not have this power to manipulate where we collectively understood the fundamentals of Islam, it would not be able to fool us into believing that hatred and violence are at the root of that faith. Gandhi witnessed bloody massacres between so-called Hindus and so-called Muslims. He witnessed misguided attempts at converting Indians and others to so-called Christian values, and he wanted to open people’s eyes to the values and views of others. That would simply help them get along better, to have more empathy and respect for one another, and thus, among other things, become stronger allies for the nonviolent struggle.
Recall your impressions of other religions as a child. What kind of context were you given for understanding and living with people who had a different approach than you did?
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