I am well pelased that my letter to The Star was printed. I wrote it as a response as soon as I read the following article in May 15′s paper. Read it yourself, and see if you catch any internal inconsistencies or feel mildly/somewhat offended:
From The Star 15 May 2007:
There are urgent reasons to challenge these inherited suspicions and to find new visions to overcome these historic antipathies. We are aware, as no generation before us has been aware, of the fragile nature of life on this planet.
We face enormous challenges in safeguarding our future. These involve the way people believe, the way they live their lives, the way they see the very nature and purpose of human existence.
Religious extremism is on the rise all over the world, in every major tradition. It is a reaction of fear to modernity, to the rapid speed of change in modern societies. It is a nostalgic longing for simplicity, both intellectual and political, a deep impulse to stem the tide of change that is sweeping away social and cultural traditions across our globalised world.
Hardly anyone today underestimates the force or danger of extremism. There is scarcely a more toxic combination than religion and fear. There is no limit to its barbarity and intolerance. One of the characteristics of extremism is its endless capacity for rationalisation and self-justification in the name of sacred text or sacred tradition.
The power of extremism lies precisely in its ability to claim divine authorisation, the imprimatur of God, and its ability to manipulate the anxieties of people by dogmatic and unquestioning use of ancient and holy myths.
The belief that all religions are in essence one must become not merely an article of faith but almost an axiom of thought. Anyone who doubts its truth must be regarded as semi-illiterate. When one remembers the evils that have been inflicted upon this world by the strife of religious communities and the terrible sterility of the purely secular education, one must strive to teach the rising generation the virtues of plurality.
The world cannot just follow one way. It can’t be enrolled under one banner, to accept one dogma. That is not the way to unity but the way to sectarian strife. Religious imperialism is out of date; it is the survival of an earlier day, when every frog in its own little pond thought that that pond was the ocean.
I agree that there are contradictions between the religions. But they are only apparent. They come from the same truth adapting itself to the various circumstances of different natures.
One of my favourite parables expressing this attitude is the story of the blind man and the elephant. It is related that one of the kings of Benares gathered together a number of beggars blind from birth, placed an elephant in their midst and offered a prize to the one who would give the best account of the animal.
One blind beggar felt the elephant’s tail and said, “This is a rope.” Another felt its head and said, “This is a battering ram.” Another man felt the ear and said, “This is a large fan.” The next beggar felt one of the elephant’s tusks and said, “This is a beautiful marble arm-rest.” Still, another felt one of the legs and offered: “This is a tree trunk.”
Now, each of the five beggars had a genuine encounter with a large reality but the limitations of their experiences, due both to their blindness and because of the limits of what each touched, left them confused about what the reality was as a whole.
And that’s the way it is. No matter how spiritually astute we may be, we are limited, like the blind persons with the elephant, by who we are, by where we are standing and by what our perspectives are and can be. None of us has, or ever will have, the total picture. As the passage from the Hindu scriptures reminds us: “Truth is One, the wise call it by many names.” And I would seriously question the man who proclaims that in the land of the blind, he alone can see.
And my response…
From The Star 17 May 2007:
Of dogma and whitewash
IN the column Wash the world, not whitewash it (The Star May 15), the writer Umapagan Ampikaipakan warns us repeatedly against religious dogmatism and censoring of criticisms.
Yet the writer’s view that religious pluralism is the correct way forward is itself presented in a dogmatic, self-assured manner.
Throughout the article, he promotes a pluralistic worldview while attacking non-pluralistic worldviews.
He boldly announces: “The belief that all religions are in essence one must become not merely an article of faith but almost an axiom of thought. Anyone who doubts its truth must be regarded as semi-illiterate.”
With this statement, he declares that religious pluralism is the truth, and those who do not accept it as the truth are misguided.
If someone brings up criticisms against that line of thought, well then, that person must be semi-illiterate to even think of questioning such an “objective truth”!
The writer’s belief (pluralistic though it may be) is declared to be authoritatively right, and not to be disputed or even doubted. I ask the readers, is this not the very definition of dogmatism?
I am not attacking the writer’s beliefs per se. Peace and tolerance between different beliefs is a goal that we should all strive to achieve, individually and together. The alternative is perpetual conflict and strife.
However, I feel that the writer displays the very same attitude that his article intends to warn us against.
He espouses pluralism as the only way, yet criticises those who espouse their own contrary beliefs as religious imperialists.
This seems to me like nothing more than a different brand of whitewash … one that audaciously claims to be better than other brands, while hypocritically labelling itself as multicolour paint.
Therefore, I will quote the writer his own words: “I would seriously question the man who proclaims that in the land of the blind, he alone can see.”
SCOTT THONG YU YUEN,
The Star editors chose to keep ALL of my original letter, COMPLETELY VERBATIM. Quite incredible, from my experience with opinion letters to the papers.
They even kept the rather smug parts, like the comparison to hypocritical paint or the concluding paragraph. A sign, perhaps, that there are others in The Star who disagreed with Umapagan Ampikaipakan’s religious pluralism.
For the record, I disagree with the ideas of religious pluralism (that the different religions each have some of the truth) or religious relativism (that truth is relative – something can be truth for you, yet not truth for me).
I believe that there is a sole truth to be found in everything. It may not always be knowable, but we should therefore search for it and accept no substitutes or halfway measures. And when we find it, or when it finds us, we should accept it as fact and discard any falsehoods that we may have been clinging to.
For example: I currently do not believe that Darwinistic evolution is a proven, true fact. But if solid evidence that Darwinistic evolution exists were to be presented to me, I would humbly admit my error and change my stance. I would accept Darwinistic evolution as the truth.
How many of us can truly admit that? It takes a lot of anti-pride.
And for the record, I believe that Christianity has the truth. Its claims ARE the truth. And I believe so because I am convinced by the evidence, the arguments and the experience… Not because of any blind, unthinking faith or proud loyalty.
C. S. Lewis, Josh Mcdowell and Lee Strobel were all highly intelligent skeptics and critics of the Christian faith. But when each actually considered the evidence for Christianity instead of just spouting rhetoric, they could no longer the deny the validity of the Bible’s incredible claims.
For Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, they conducted massive amounts of in-depth research to disprove and ridicule the fallacies in the faith… Yet when they had reviewed the proof, long and hard, they were completely convinced. They could no longer deny the weight of evidence in favour of Christianity’s wild pronouncements.
So how about you? Have you considered all the options, weighed all the arguments for and against each, before deciding what is the truth? At the very least, question your own current beliefs (in a positive way)… If you never do, how then are you sure that you know your beliefs to be true?
I have questioned, and I always do. With every new criticism, every latest accusation, every book or film that contradicts the fundamental beliefs of Christianity… I weigh the evidence again. And the basis of my faith has not been found wanting.
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” - John 8:32, Jesus speaking about His teachings. Find them in a Holy Bible today!