Many violent conflicts erupting around the world today are being billed by the news media as “religious wars.” Fighting between the Sikhs and Hindus in India, between Christians and Moslems in Beirut, between the Moslem sects of Iran and Iraq, and between the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland—all seem to have roots in religious conflict. But we should be careful about blaming religion for wars. In fact. wars involving religious sects should force us to consider what is truly religion and what is mere sectarian fanaticism. The scriptures and practices of Krsna consciousness enable us to make this distinction and to see how genuine spirituality can work for peace and liberation among humankind.
Certainly the propagandists of atheism would like to make the case that God consciousness is itself a delusion and a source of evil. “If you feel God is on your side,” states one commentator, “you can justify any atrocity.” But when faced with the charge that some of the worst crimes in history have been committed in the name of religion, U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield replied, “We have to distinguish between what man does to pervert the truth and what it says in the Old Testament. I don’t think we can blame the church as a whole. We have to recognize that it is made up of sinners.”
We would be throwing the baby out with the bath water to say that to obtain peace we must remove religion from human culture. Rather, it is the spiritual dimension which especially raises the human being above a bestial struggle for survival. The valuable force of spirituality is a quality distinct from the perversion of religion as it appears in sectarian violence. True religion, therefore, must be defended against the vicious attacks of atheism, which attempt to make religion a scapegoat.
Today’s so-called religious wars are in fact irreligious. If the leaders and groups involved were truly religious and acted according to the codes of God, they would not be fighting each other. The actual engines of war are nationalism, economic strife, class and racial struggles, and so on. The warring parties may profess religious sentiments, but sentiments are not enough when both parties are acting in disobedience to the eternal precepts of true religion. Former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat once explained this in a discussion with then President Carter: “If we resurrected Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed together, they would not be able to persuade Moslems and Christians to open the borders with Israel after twenty-nine years of hatred, four wars, rivers of blood, and massacres.”
Why would the spiritually-realized founders of the great religions not be able to convince their followers? Because such “followers” are not actually obeying or even aware of eternal religious principles. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, describes true eternal religious principles according to the nonsectarian, universal standard of Srimad-Bhagavatam:
The sum and substance of religious life is to execute the orders of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and one who does so is perfectly religious. In the Bhagavad-gita the Supreme Lord Krsna says, “Just think of Me always and become My devotee.” Furthermore, the Lord says, “Give up all kinds of material engagements and simply surrender unto Me.” Anyone who directly executes such an order from the Personality of Godhead is actually a religious person. Others are described as pretenders, for there are many activities going on throughout the world in the name of religion which are not actually religious.
From this definition we may conclude that nowadays pure religion in rare. But its importance is very great and it should not be blasphemed. For example, one news feature on the Ayatullah Khomeni’s reign of terror in Iran read, “A Holy Man Who Thrives on Hate.” If he thrives on hate, then why call him a holy man?
To comprehend the actual value of spiritual life requires transcendental understanding. Religion is not merely a social or psychological factor; it is the science of God and the soul, and it teaches us how to attain eternal life. When a person receives true spiritual knowledge from a genuine representative of God and from a genuine scripture, then that person becomes purified and renders devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, even during this lifetime. Such a self-realized person is always pleasing to the Supreme Lord, and he also leads a sane, peaceful, and productive life within the temporal realm.
The Krsna consciousness movement is based on the Vedic scriptures, which are untinged by sectarian concepts; therefore it can contribute to society by establishing the universal principles of religion. The Bhagavad-gita, for example, teaches that we should respect all living beings, regardless of their race or religion or social position. In fact, according to the Gita, we should respect even animals and plants, because within each body is the spirit soul, and all spirit souls are equal. As explained by Srila Prabhupada, this knowledge will free us from the mentality that leads to sectarian strife:
If one advocates the Hindu religion, Moslem religion, the Christian religion, that religion . . . there will be conflicts. History shows that the followers of religious systems without a clear conception of God have fought with one another. There are many instances of this in human history. But systems of religion that do not concentrate upon service to the Supreme are temporary and cannot last for long because they are full of envy. There are many activities directed against such religious systems and therefore one must give up the idea of my belief and your belief. Everyone should believe in God and surrender unto Him.
One attempt at solving the problem of warring religious factions is found in the secular state that permits religious freedom. Taking “secular” to mean that the government is not partial to any particular religious faith, then this is the view espoused in the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. But “secular” should not mean that the government is ignorant of the principles of religion or apathetic toward them. Austerity, cleanliness, truthfulness, mercy, and other such qualities are for all human beings, regardless of religion. And directing people toward these qualities and toward devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the responsibility of government leaders. This change would not only end sectarian fanaticism, but it would also relieve society of its present hedonism and immoral atheism, which lead to exploitative conflict and war. The devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness are dedicated to serving humanity by educating people about the universal principles of true religion. Broad-minded government leaders would do well to consider this great potential in the Hare Krsna movement.—SDG