On Religion, Tolerance and Harmony – Devi Rajab

Myopia is a dangerous condition of mental burrowing. At some point or the other the mole in us is forced to resurface and for a short while we have a wider view of things around us.  If we as South Africans dare to look beyond the seas we will discover that religious fanaticism is the new 21st century scourge and that we may become the new battleground on which this war will be waged in the African continent.

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On a daily basis we South Africans are so consumed by our own national issues of poor governance, crime and corruption that little else matters. Yet John Donne warned us that no man is an island and that we are all inextricably bound together for mutual survival. Recently however it would appear that a non inclusive mentality is fast developing to incorporate a mental contagion driven by religious fundamentalism that divides rather than unites people across cultural boundaries. As Isis, makes inroads into SA spreading its tentacles of darkness to claim its ‘victims’ among our nationals, we are inadvertently becoming ensnared in its mire.
How farfetched are these suppositions? In reading the account of a  recentSA recruit who described his desire to revert to a life strictly governed by Islamic values, I recall the instance of a young medical doctor who engaged me in a discussion of the formation of caliphates a good few years ago.  He described in great depth how he viewed the entire world as a formation of geographical entities where the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad would govern every aspect of its functioning. He displayed no regard for the diversity of other religions. His mother, a progressive Muslim woman, was of the opinion that her son was quite mad. His logic was weak but his passion was strong. Excessive passion is a dangerous by-product of fundamentalism.



There is a growing religious fervour among youth of most faiths today. Religion may be regarded as the new opium of the young as they struggle to deal with an increasingly unsettling world.  In a recent India Today Survey of 16-30yr old it was found that religion was very much in vogue. 94% of the people surveyed said that they believed in God. A substantial majority (86%) categorized themselves as very religious. The majority of the   people surveyed felt that religion had become an essential part of their lives.



On all university campuses worldwide there is a resurgence of religion among the youth. On South African campuses the dramatic return to faith may be discernible through an increase in the number of student religious clubs and societies – a distinct departure from the past when political parties were the order of the day and Marxism and existentialism reigned supreme. Today the scene is strange for us who were the youth of the 60s when humanitarian          values informeda political consciousness that transcended religion and unified likeminded people from all disparate groupings. So Christian, Muslims, Hindus all came together to fight an unjust ideology. At this given point in time young people are faced with the challenge to survive a cruel world of child abuse and domestic violence and it is perhaps this need that gives rise to a Godhead.com. But while this may be understandable it invariably also constitutes a problem of ethnic fragmentation and may lead to divisions among the youth if they choose to politicize religion and create walls instead of bridges.
Our world today is being torn asunder by mainly young men and women, who claim that God is on their side, and who perpetrate acts of violent destruction in the name of religion. Such individuals are driven by the certainty that they are privy to sacred truths and are therefore morally obliged to act upon their beliefs.  Against this frame of reference there is a tendency to demonize those who oppose them. Religious fanatics are not easily identified as being wild-eyed or deranged; on the contrary, they can present themselves as thoughtful, educated, well mannered, quiet, controlled and responsible people inspired by the loftiest of ideals. Nevertheless, their absolute confidence in themselves and their cause, their willingness to bring about death and destruction for a supposed higher cause indicates a mental imbalance of a serious nature.  The dynamics that underlie religious fanaticism have been recognized by many psychological thinkers. For example, C. G. Jung (1966) wrote of “positive inflation,” Gary Rosenthal (1987) utilized the phrase “inflated by the spirit,” and Greg Bogart (1995) warned against “the shadow of vocation.” More recently Robert Jay Lifton (2000) has described this type of personality structure in his concept of “functional megalomania” that fuels what he calls “the new global terrorism”.



The question arises as to how people who claim that they worship Oneness in God can wantonly destroy the lives of others in search and praise of the very same God. It is theorized that fanaticism and addiction grow by crowding out a person’s other values, and so, a person who is firmly committed to a broad range of personal values is better able to resist fanaticism. Kofi Annan former United Nations secretary general arguedthat “true faith elicits respect for others and also demands respect for what is sacred to others”.  In this regard SA hashitherto had a proud record of religious balance worthy of emulation and preservation. The question arises: Will it remain steadfast to principle in the face of religious fanaticism?