Recently while listening to a debate on whether a particular protest was intentionally denigrating Hindu symbols and fueling communalism, one was surprised when a prominent and knowledgeable Hindu activist opined that Hitler and the Nazis had appropriated the Swastik symbol of Sanatan Dharma.
For those who don’t know, Hitler used the black straight-armed hakenkreuz (hooked cross) on the white circle and red background of the Nazi flag. He himself never referred to it as the Swastik but called it the hakenkreuz.
Some say that the roots and description of the Nazi symbol were distorted to prevent the world from tracing the roots of the Nazi ideology.
Whether right or wrong, this contention made one recall the crusades fought between followers of two prominent Abrahamic religions.
Though the general public thinks that the crusades were organised by Christian powers mainly to retake Jerusalem and the holy land, according to historians, religious concern was only one of the various reasons which led to and fuelled the crusades.
It is said that the Byzantine emperor wanted to regain lost territory and defeat a threatening rival state, the pope wanted to strengthen the papacy in Italy, merchants wanted to monopolise important trading centres under Muslim control at that time and earn money shipping crusaders to the Middle East while the knights wanted to defend their religion, follow the principles of chivalry and gain wealth in this life in addition to special favour in the next one.
It would seem that religion has been used for various other purposes apart from the positive effects and ultimate spiritual aim that one would consider it to be for.
Movements, battles and worse were projected to be guided by religious considerations whereas political, territorial, commercial and even petty egos guided such actions under the pretext or religious principles. Some state that religion is the cause of most problems and disturbances facing society.
However, one disagrees with this contention. It is not religion that causes problems as much as its misinterpretation and distortion for ulterior motives does. Our neighbour Pakistan could be considered an example of this condition because while it claims to be concerned about minorities in India, it not only persecutes minorities within its own borders but also turns a blind eye to what its ally China has been doing to the Uyghur Muslims.
There are various examples of how religious beliefs are actually exploited for purposes which the gods worshipped by followers of those religions would not really like. The god who is all merciful would not encourage mindless hatred and slaughter. The son of god who is full of compassion and love would not approve of duping and converting those following other faiths. The god who is bliss and consciousness would not encourage exploitation of religion for dubious gains.
So, should those who follow any religion actually try and understand what religion is really about? Swami Vivekananda had said that religion is the idea which is raising the brute into man, and man into god.
Reading a good commentary on the Bhagvad Geeta by a seer will dispel many doubts and provide explanations even for aspects generally not associated with ‘religion’.
Instead of rejecting religion as the cause of problems, it would be more sensible to actually know what it contains and teaches. It encourages ethics, empathy, emotional intelligence and all that is good apart from the main aim of religion- salvation.
This doesn’t mean that one has to be religious to be good, even an atheist can attain the highest aim as has been stated by seers too.
One feels that if more people actually knew what their religion is really about, many of the disagreements and problems would be easier to resolve.
There may be some controversial texts in some books but then any sensible person will know to observe what is good. If we were actually religious, many of the environmental, social, economical and other problems we face would not be as bad as they are.
However, the longer we remain ignorant to the good that religions contain, the more will people be exploited by those who have for long being exploiting religion for aims which are far from holy.