BBC Wales - Weekend Word
12th November 2001
Good morning. This week Hindus celebrate Diwali – the Festival of Lights. For me, one of the joys of this time of year is discussing the story behind the festival - how Rama’s wife, Sita, was kidnapped by the evil tyrant, Ravana, and how Rama defeated Ravana at the great battle of Lanka.
Contained in this epic are wonderful messages about fidelity, duty and devotion to God. But, this year, as I reflect upon the Diwali story, I feel uncomfortable, because, when a religious story appears to be a simple good versus evil tale, it’s so easy for people to draw out all sorts of questionable conclusions to suit their political motivations. Considering world events at the moment, I think it must be hard to hear a story from any faith without seeing the danger of it being misinterpreted for malevolent purposes.
Individuals, groups and nations can portray themselves as victims of wrong-doing and claim that they are the good guys on God’s side fighting the tyranny of the baddies. They can then find scriptural justification for the use of force, violence or even terrorism to combat the perceived evil.
Unfortunately, their adversaries may also be doing the same thing by drawing on their own scriptures. But, the real truth is never so clear cut.
No wonder some folk feel that religion is the cause of too many wars. Even without religion, people will find something to fight about; but religion does add spiritual authority to the rightness of a cause. It then seems to allow a mandate for the use of almost any means to achieve so-called God’s purpose. That’s a dangerous mixture.
As my spiritual teacher told me: “Religion without philosophy is at best sentimental; at worst, it is fanatical”. There is, therefore, a real onus on the leaders and teachers of all religions to promote responsible spiritual attitudes in the followers of their faith. And perhaps, we could apply the old Sanskrit proverb:- “phalena paritiyate” – which means that the value of an idea can be gauged by its fruits.
I believe we should prove how our religion or ideology makes the world a better place - here and now – and not just for us! Does it help people outside our own community feel more secure, more understood and more cared for? If so, we may be on to something.
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Weekend Word” on BBC Radio Wales.