Published on 12th July, 2015, in Mid-Day.
While Indians are very proud of their diversity, diversity in Hinduism makes many Hindu leaders, especially those with a political agenda, uncomfortable because it blocks the creation of a united front. But diversity is not division. It is just different expressions of the same idea. And we find it in every religion, even those with a strong tendency to unify things.
Take Islam for example. Its tendency to unify is the strongest. One God. One way of praying. One holy month. One pilgrim spot. And yet there are many types of Islam. Division followed disagreement after the Prophet passed away. There was disagreement as to who should be the successor. The major split was between his father-in-law, Abu Bakr, and the son-in-law, Ali. This led to the Sunni and Shia split, the Arabs favouring Sunnis and the Persians favouring Shias. Arabs were desert tribes who, until the recent discovery of oil, had nothing to their credit except being the founders of Islam. By contrast, Persia was the land of ancient river civilisations, from before the time of Alexander the Great. It was the home of Zoroastrianism, which influenced Judaism and Christianity, and probably introduced the world to the idea of the concept of battle between good and evil. This was the land of great architecture and music and painting. The practice of having holy men whose tombs (dargah) are worshipped even after death, comes from Persia. Arabs frown upon it. Persians have always been more dynastic than Arabs, though now things are changing. The Muslim rulers of India were inspired by their Persian counterparts. Thus, their monuments and tombs had Persian influences that made them almost godlike. Today, thanks to oil, Arab Islam has gained more prominence and seen as purer, much favoured by televangelists. Hence, people prefer to use the Arab word ‘Ramadan’ instead of the Persian word ‘Ramzan’. Increasingly, the Persian word ‘khuda’ is being replaced by the Arab word ‘Allah’.
Internet trolls often miss the fact that there is no such thing as a singular Christian way.
In the Roman Catholic faith, led by the Pope, Mother Mary is worshipped, while the Protestant faith, across the world, prays to Jesus. American televangelists usually belong to the latter category. They are charismatic and brilliant at marketing. As in case of Islam, politics has played a key role in the diversity of Christianity. There is the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Russian Orthodox Church, that rose following the rise of the Eastern half of the Holy Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic way was favoured by the Western half of the Holy Roman Empire. So, the Vatican has many practices that can be traced to Ancient Rome. Then there is the Anglican Church of England, which is linked to Roman Catholicism but not quite; its leader is the monarch of England, not the Pope; its leaders marry and they are more open to the idea of a female priesthood which is not accepted by the Pope.
Even secularism, which functions like a religion without God or clergy, is diverse. secularism by exclusion is followed in Europe and America. Secularism by inclusion is followed in India. Then there is anti-religion secularism of the Left Wing and the pro-religion secularism of the Right Wing.
Every successful religion has a force that creates unity and a counterforce that creates diversity. This creates a dynamic churn of ideas. Purists may say that there should be only one way. But nature will never ever allow it. Diversity ensures survival of human ideas.