Sifting through the news nowadays, one gets a feeling that we are living in a doomsday scenario. There are countries that don’t want to let their neighbours in peace even after years of conflict, religious extremists seem to be multiplying exponentially and old viruses are attacking new susceptible populations with renewed vigour. It would seem as if the days gone by were way more conducive than the current age and surely the world is headed towards Armageddon.
But is it really?
If you open the chapters of history you would find that such natural as well as man-made calamities have always been a part of the human narrative. A majority of Europe was once wiped out by the plague that ushered in the Dark Ages; wars for the holy land have been fought right since the inception of the modern western religions; and the colonial ambitions of erstwhile superpowers have kept the world on the edge for a greater part of the previous century.
Even the so-called golden ages in various parts of the world were pockmarked by rebellions and atrocities. Case in point – hundreds of slaves perished while building the pyramids for Egyptian Pharaohs – not really a good way to die building someone else’s tomb eh? How about Alexander, the great, who brought the light of western civilization to the east – surely we wouldn’t let the massacre of tens of thousands of people in Persia, Afghanistan and modern Pakistan stand in the way of his greatness?
And then of course there were the Spanish conquistadors, who along with discovering Latin America also brought with them the small-pox, effectively decimating a majority of the native population that had never been exposed to the virus. Or if you prefer something closer to home, should we talk about the alleged limb-amputation of workers who built the Taj Mahal, the international symbol of our nation, or the caste system that turned thousands of hard-working Hindus into untouchables at the very moment of India’s golden age?
Some of you may have guessed by now the point I am trying to make – such strife and conflict has been a part of human diasporas since time immemorial but does that imply that it will always remain so? Is there a way we can change the situation? I don’t have a ready-made answer but I have something that I find is lacking in a majority of us today – Faith.
Faith in the inherent goodness of humanity and the infinite possibilities it possesses to rise above its animal instincts. For each despot who has shed the blood of innocents there has also been a healer to stitch the bleeding wounds. To counter the autocracy of Egyptians we got a Moses; to unify a nation drowning in internecine conflicts we got a Chanakya; to counter the tyranny of Mughals there was the birth of Khalsa; and to protest against the apartheid practiced by the colonials we did get a Gandhi and a Mandela.
Many people today argue that religion and nationalism has only led to strife and conflict but I beg to differ. It is the blind faith in the superiority of one’s own community/religion/race/colour/language or country that has led to these problems.
Faith, when kept away from hubris, has worked wonders all through the history of the world and you can clearly see its effect on all those who tried to clean up others’ mess. Faith has not only resulted in the development of humanity and civilization but also given it its most stupendous achievements. It is faith that gave us the soul-stirring poetry of Mirabai, Kabir and Rumi. Faith has given us music (Carnatic music/Shabads of Gurbani/church choirs), dance (Bharatnatyam/Indonesian ballet/Manipuri), calligraphy (Arabic/Tibetan/Japanese) and writing (epics of Gilgamesh/Mahabharat/Odyssey).
It is faith that has given us such masterpieces as the works of Michelangelo or the Chola’s Nataraja. It is faith that helped build structures like the Angkor Wat of Cambodia or the biggest monolithic rock-cut Kailash Cave of India. It is faith in the unity of life that makes people follow the strict vegetarianism of Jainism or open langars in the Gurudwaras. And of course it is only because of faith that thousands of people even today continue to serve unknown strangers whether it is through animal shelters, old age homes or orphanages.
What makes the saviours different from the tyrants? What inspires some people to do good even while facing peril to their own lives while others do not think twice before torturing people in gas chambers? What makes some of us think about the ‘good of all’ rather than the ‘good of self’?
I believe the answer lies in Faith – not the kind that fills your head with grandiose notions of superiority, but the kind that fills your heart with humility. Maybe the fault does not lie in faith, but our interpretation of it. Maybe if we try to open our hearts we may find the world around us changing as well.
Maybe faith is really all we need to make this world a better place.