Calm down and leave the poster alone

15 02 2012

A little poster in my university asking students to go on a Crusade. (Click to enlarge)

I was working out at the gym today (for the first time in a long while) when I bumped into an old friend. We chatted while waiting for the cute girl to be done with the machine so we could use it. The topic drifted to the above poster he saw nearby and how it was offensive. I laughed and told him I’ll check it out.

I read through it and also checked out the organisation’s website. Among it’s list of projects, there was one about Bihar. It went “take this chance to help pioneer campus movements at Bihar, which have been previously attempted yet failed for 3 times.” I laughed again. Good luck with Bihar (my Indian brethren will understand the joke).

Honestly, I am not surprised at all, nor shocked nor offended.

Firstly, I grew up in a secular country, with certain (yes, limited you would say) freedoms of speech and I was exposed to a lot of religious practices and ideas while I was schooling. Among the diversity of thought, I found one common idea that each group claimed it had a monopoly on the truth. This is expressed with varying degrees of confidence and different groups are explicit about it to differing extents.  The whole reason why someone would want to actively spread their own religious ideas was if they thought they were better than some other religious ideas. Furthermore, in a secular country, I believe they have the right to do so and I will defend their freedom of religion. Many feel that this should be restricted to the extent that they do not directly offend the sentiments of another group, but honestly, if you compare two religions and find ideas which contradict each other, these by themselves possibly serve as indirect offense. “How could you disagree with the Word of God? That’s just evil!”, someone might insist. There is also variation within religions to the extent that Sect A would find Sect B’s convictions offensive. You cannot please everyone.

I would draw a line somewhere else. Spread your religion as much as you like just don’t kill or hurt anyone or or exploit people or participate in regimes which do any of this. Offend as much as you like. The corollary of this is that, people are free to oppose your religious ideas, whether it is through serious intellectual debate or through parody and satire or through competition.

The other reason I am not offended is this. While exploring my own stand on religion as a non-believer I was exposed to a lot of inter and intra religious debate (and even atheists debating religious scholars). In these, the debaters did not mince their words and I got the general feel that these representatives of religion where absolutely not offended when someone contradicted or challenged their beliefs. The two possible explanations could be, they were mature and knew how to handle criticism in a civillised manner or they were so established in their faith that it didn’t matter. Or both.

So getting back to the topic, I don’t think those, “oh how could they?” or as my friend said on facebook, “Why the f*ck do these b*stards wanna disturb such a peaceful and spiritual way of life like Buddhism?” sentiments are valid. You underestimate the Buddha’s skepticism who reminded people to “believe nothing … even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” Plus Buddhism awareness week is coming soon so I think those folks got some thought provocation even before their event started.

I think they should keep the poster there. In the meanwhile, I hope to respectfully divert your attention to this parody.

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