THE next seismic shift in human thinking capable of bringing all nations together is the formation of a coalition of world religions similar to the multicultural political alliances to unify ethnic diversity. We should hasten towards this big step in global innovation.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin launched the National Unity Action Plan (Blueprint) 2021-2030 comprising 12 strategies that include placing greater emphasis on the Rukun Negara.
The Rukun Negara’s first tenet – Belief in God – places all religions on the same side but the situation in Malaysia as of now is that you can’t line up all their symbols in the same row without drawing adverse reaction, as a welfare organisation in Puchong discovered last year.
Imagine having 11 football players in the same team, but they don’t want to stand in the same line for the game to start. And when the whistle blows, some players come to blows against one another.
If you’re the club owner you’ll sack them all. The reason that God’s team players often tackle one another instead of the opposing team is simply that there is no opposing team. God never created an opponent.
Also two weeks ago, a Hindu man created a furore in Malaysia by declaring on video that he had converted his Muslim wife to Hinduism in a neighbouring country.
Such publicity is rare here, but the world is continuing to see all types of conversion from religion A to B or C, religion B to A or C, and religion C to A or B. No one is happy because apostasy stirs tense emotions.
It is similar to the emotions stirred when MPs go frog-hopping from one party to another within the same coalition, the same Barisan or Pakatan or Perikatan as it creates suspicion.
Similarly, conversions destroy religious harmony and it’s time to abandon this practice except in mixed betrothals where there is a legal requirement for couples undergoing marriage to be of the same faith.
Beyond this exception, conversion implies renunciation of one’s previous faith.
No Muslim would tolerate apostasy within the ranks, but neither would a Hindu be joyful if his community lost members through conversion to other faiths.
Conversion is an activity that springs from bipolar thinking, a habit of mind that divides the world into “us” versus “them” which sets the tripwires for communal unrest.
Test yourself: if you’re sad that someone in your faith community has converted out but happy if someone from another religion has converted in, you’re a bipolar thinker.
There is a deep historical context that justifies the practice of conversion in scriptural times, but that context no longer exists as will soon be explained.
Why is context so important? We will use the controversial egg to illustrate the vital importance of context. Is the egg good or bad for health?
It depends. If the egg is boiled, it is healthier than fried. If you eat it with wholegrain bread, it is healthy. If you eat it with bacon, it is unhealthy.
Like eggs for breakfast, the practice of conversion must be seen within its context. Conversion in the sense of renouncing your faith to embrace another is just like having bacon and eggs.
It’s bad for the health of inter-communal relationships. But conversion in the sense of converting your feeling of hostility towards another religion into wholesome understanding is like serving eggs with wholegrain bread. Such conversion is good for all communities and the nation.
What is the historical context that you need to know? It is this: Religions served as the anchors for civilisation, unifying the people especially in defence of a civilisation in the face of enemies. Clashes of civilisations over territorial control frequently occurred in the region of West Asia-North Africa-Mediterranean Europe.
India too saw a clash of civilisations with foreign invaders bringing their religions.
As each side in war did what it could to destroy the other, leaving your religion would mean committing treason and hence the death penalty was imposed on apostates. Not at all surprising.
During the Pacific War, all Japanese in America despite holding American citizenship were detained in concentration camps on mere suspicion of disloyalty.
In scriptural times it was also a strategic move to give prisoners a choice: convert or be killed.
After renouncing their former religion, they were absorbed into the victorious civilisation and added to its manpower.
So before you get anybody to renounce his religion and convert to yours, do ask yourself whether you want to start a war.
Ah, but theologians will say the war is a battle of truth versus error.
Do realise that if you believe other religions teach error and not truth, someone else is holding the belief that your religion is preaching error.
All beliefs and practices must be seen in their contexts. If they serve to unite a population and sustain its peaceful advancement, then its system of beliefs and practices is good for that civilisation.
A classic example is the harvest festival such as Ponggal. Harvest festivals are commonly promoted by the religions of South Asia, East Asia, and the indigenous tribal faiths of Southeast Asia because these are societies based on crop farming.
You don’t find harvest festivals in the religions that originate from West Asia-Mediterranean Europe because these societies are pastoral and based on livestock herding. Instead, animal sacrifices and meat-eating ceremonies are more commonly promoted.
When you start practising holistic thinking, you get to understand all religions. Holistic thinking is the routine of seeing all beliefs and practices from multiple angles. The more perspectives you see, the more you grow in wisdom.
In marriages where there is a legal requirement to convert, happily do so. But it should not be termed as “conversion” as that implies total renunciation of your birth religion.
The correct way to describe it is that you are joining the religion of your spouse for greater togetherness.
It would be a great act of holism if the person joining is freely allowed the privilege of dual religiosity.
In fact, the yogis who are closest to God practise multi-religiosity. They are loyal to the religion of their birth and yet are equally at home with other religions.
These are the truly global citizens in our world, the real team players that God cherishes.
The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org