Friday, March 20, 2009

Religion as Protest; Religion in Power

Chandra Muzaffar (TAM:
The Buddha's struggle (jihad) with Mara the tempter

It is important to begin with a clarification. The topic does not imply in any way that religion is only about protest and power. There is no denying that religion is far more complex and comprehensive than that....

In a sense, Gautama Siddartha’s, the Buddha’s, teachings constituted a protest against the prevailing Hindu caste system. “It is not your birth” he proclaimed, “but your deeds that determine whether you are noble or ignoble.” His denunciation of the greed that grows out of attachment was also a response to the materialism of the elites of his time.

When we move from Buddhism as protest to Buddhism in power, we realize that there were good and bad Buddhist kingdoms in the past. But the one that stands out is the rule of Asoka. He made loving-kindness one of the essential attributes of Buddhism, the basis of his just and enlightened governance. His generosity towards the poor and his myriad deeds of charity are legendary. Asoka also adopted an accommodative and tolerant attitude towards the different religious sects that comprised his kingdom. As is well known, he renounced violence and war and committed himself to peace as the primary goal of the state.

Original Christianity
Jesus was also deeply concerned about the exploitation and oppression that characterized his time and place. His action against the unscrupulous money-lenders in the Temple was emblematic of this concern. Other symbolic acts such as dividing in a fair and equitable manner fish and loaves of bread among the people also helped to convey the message that justice and compassion for the poor was of paramount importance. Indeed, Jesus’ mission of love was in itself a noble form of protest against the prevailing ethos of selfishness and avarice.

Early Christian communities around the Mediterranean reflected some of the values associated with Jesus’ mission. According to some sources, these communities were extraordinarily egalitarian and had neither slaves nor servants. However, after Christianity was absorbed by the Roman Empire and became its official religion in the time of the Emperor Constantine, it assumed the characteristics of empire --- of dominant power and control over peoples and cultures. Constantinian Christianity eventually became the ideological inspiration for the crusades and for the colonization of foreign territories....

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