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No barriers in nature

26 May 2020 / 19:45 H.

HUMANS are now at war against the “invisible enemy” that has launched an attack said to be worse than the Pearl Harbor bombing. “We must be victorious,” all governments are telling their nations. But some biologists regard SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 or Coronavirus Disease 2019 – as a non-living protein. How can we declare war on an enemy that may not even be alive?

Terrified by the virus, worldwide prayers are being said imploring God to intervene. From March to May, gigatonnes of prayers have been offered by devotees of all religions, but Covid-19 went on to kill more than 300,000 lives.

Why do we assume that God must take our side in this war? We kill the animals, and their viruses kill us. This is our war, not God’s war. Did we get approval from nature for destruction of wildlife habitats? Did we check whether the bats, snakes, cats, dogs, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, ducks and chickens are happy to give us their meat?

A lot of hype has gone viral claiming that the war against Covid-19 has created a new norm. The only new normal is social distancing, adding to our long-established spiritual distancing. The history of distancing is very old. Religious authorities have long maintained a huge spiritual distance between humans and nature, with their unproven claim that we have souls whereas animals don’t have.

But the naturalist Charles Darwin, who should have been made a saint, proved from scientific evidence that there is no barrier separating humans from animals. An unbroken link stretches from the simplest life form to you. In his book The Origin of Species he drew a tree of life, perhaps influenced by The Writings of Chuang Tzu extolling the intimate links between animals and humans. “Yes, in the age of perfect virtue, people lived in common with birds and beasts, and were on terms of equality with all creatures, as forming one family” (Bk9, Pt2, Sect2 v. 2).

There are no barriers in nature; only gradations. Barriers are set up by humans. While the pandemic was raging, one cabinet minister gave a press interview in which he touched on conversion. In his view, if you belong to the right religion you may convert a non-believer if it is done politely, respectfully, and without compulsion. As long as a convert does not get confrontational towards his parents and takes care of them, there will be harmony.

Conversion is one of the most fractious issues dividing humanity, and this practice is a ghastly old-school norm.

It was just two years ago when cases involving the conversion of children tied up the judiciary in knots. In the act of conversion you are often required to abandon your parents’ religion.

A seamless tapestry connects the religions of India and China – Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. These six religions belong to two civilisations that are linked by the infusion of Buddhism into China. This is why they don’t engage in conversion.

But the religions of West Asia – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – belong to three separate rival civilisations with a history of warfare. In discussing conversion, you must know the West Asia-Mediterranean context.

For Judaism, occupation of Canaan required washing away its native population through ethnic cleansing.

Christianity split into Roman versus Orthodox and Catholic versus Protestant zones that sparked off centuries of bloodshed in Europe.

In the case of Islam, feudalist Arab tribes waged battles against reformist Muslims. The Muslims won and all wars should have ended.

But with the Jews exiled to Europe, Christianity and Islam were left to slug it out for territorial control.

Conversion increased your numbers while helping to decimate the enemy’s ranks. In converting a follower of another religion, you undermine that community’s strength. A convert is an apostate to his or her previous religion.

Conversion doesn’t mean you are dropping error to embrace truth, as the conversion traffic is two-way. Two rival belief systems can each win converts from the other side, nullifying any claim that one side has the truth and the other side is in error.

We adopt a new normal only if converts are required to maintain loyalty to their previous faith in a dual-religiosity scheme, just as some countries grant dual nationality. And it would be a truly new norm if all children have to attend monthly interfaith class where they learn to identify shared values that make humanity one family.

But will our educators convert to this new normal? Not if they remain doggedly attached to their old habit of spiritual distancing.

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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