Freedom of Religions

Freedom of Conscience in Religion

” THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 25 Freedom of Conscience in Religion A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE (Professor L. W. Hurtado) (We produce a collection of the abstracts of various papers read at the Inter-Faith Symposium organised by the Winnipeg Branch of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam Canada on September 28th, 1986) The idea that people should be free individually to hold to their own religious beliefs and practices has not always been the order of the day, and its popularity is of somewhat recent vintage. As is the case in the history of some other major religions, the history of Christinaity shows that the principle of full freedom of individual conscience on religious matters was often not observed. This was the case in periods and places where one or another particular form of Christianity was endorsed by the political powers and operated as an extension of the state. Nevertheless, I wish to argue that certain ideas in the Bible justify and indeed require the freedom of individual conscience in religious matters. Thus, the current widespread endorsement of freedom of conscience among Christians is not only in keeping with the spirit of the modem Western world, but is also fully in keeping with the foundational scriptures of Christianity. The fact that early Christianity emphasized the importance of deliberate conversion to the Christian faith, and made such conversion depend totally upon willing assent to the Christian message, mean that any coercion of allegiance to the Christian faith or any other religion would have to be seen as incompatible with the foundational principles of the Christian movement. That is, the evangelistic character of early (and traditional) Christianity logically requires a certain freedom for the individual to consider religious claims and act upon them as he or she sees fit. Assent to this or that religious faith (or to no faith at all!) should rest solely upon the persuasiveness of the religious position to which one adheres. Christians consistent with the nature of their faith (and with their historical origins as a misunderstood and often persecuted sect in Graeco-Roman antiquity) must endorse the notion that people must be free to obey their own conscience in matters religious, and must also not be penalized socially, 26 FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE politically or economically by any of the powers of the state as a result of exercising the right of conscience. Both the attempt to dictate religious belief and attempts to prevent people from considering and embracing new or different religious beliefs and associations must be rejected as counter to the early Christian emphasis that religious faith is a matter of decision. Religious polemics, debates and refutations, doctrinal arguments, all these are a normal and expected aspect of religion, especially in a “pluralistic” society such as North America. We should not try to prevent dissent or the attempts of religious groups to convert. Rather, we must work to establish and maintain societies where the advocacy and exchange of various beliefs and ideas, political, religious and others, are allowed and encouraged. (Department of Religion, University of Manitoba, Fletcher Argue BuildingWinnipeg, Canada R3T 2N2) Hinduism and Human Rights (Sr. Atish Maniar) In order to understand the concept of human rights in Hinduism, some basic philosophy and history of Hinduism is mentioned below: The word Hindu was coined by invaders who entered India from the North in early days before the entry of Europeans. The settlement and civilization surrounding the river Indus (real name is river “sindhu~’) was known as “Indus Valley Civilization”. The word sindhu became hindu and the religion practised by these people became known as Hinduism. Hindus belong to the Aryan race. The religion and rituals practiced by early Hindus (Aryans) is known as “sanatan dharma” in the ancient languange Sanskrit. Actually dharma has two meanings: 1. Religion and 2.’ Duty. For a Hindu, the religion is a way of life where an individual performs one’s daily duty towards God as well as towards society Hindus believe in one “God” but worship different aspects of God. For example, “God is the Creator” then for a Hindu, father and mother symbolize God (not a supreme God) and a Hindu will treat parents with reverenc as his or her creators. “God is a teacher” then for a Hindu, a teacher and preacher symbolizes God (Guru), etc. Hindus also believe in re-incarnation. Hence they consider Rama, Krishna, Mohammad, Jesus, Budha, Mahaveer, Gru Nanak, to name few are all reincarnation of God. THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 27 Hindus have tremendous veneration for life of any kind. In the modern concept, Hindus fit well as environmentalists. They have sympathy not only for life but also for nature. Basic philosophy of Hinduism is love, non-violence and peace, so much so that a Hindu feels that Jesus Christ was a true Hindu as he revived the old maxim of love and peace. These ingrained features of love, non-violence and peace bring true awareness of justice and human rights towards mankind. Hindus believe that the cow is sacred. Cows have played an important role in the socio-economis development of society. Cows gave life-giving milk to dying infants whose mothers died after delivery. Cows not only gave manure for newly acquired agricultural skills but were beasts of burden to cultivate fields. Cows also gave hide for foot-wear, belts, bags for fetching water and clothing. Cows also gave their flesh for eating. Why then do Hindus not eat beef? Hindus. at that time. rightly realized that by slaughtering cows. they would create scarcity of milk for babies and shortage of bullocks for ploughing fields. Even the ruling king felt that there would not be a sufficient number of youths available to recruit into his army if the babies did not have enough milk to survive. Orphans had to rely upon cow’s milk (the death rate of mothers after deliveries of babies was very high) as wet-nurses were in acute short supply. The few orphans who were fed by wet-nurses considered them as their mothers. Similarly the cow represented a symbol of personified mother (a symbol of gratitude for nourishing a large majority of orphans). This is another example of the human right for babies to survive by prohibiting cow-slaughter. Hindus pray for peace on earth. Actually the word peace (shanti) is repeated several times in Hindu prayers. Hindus consider that all religions are equal and they respect the rights of an individual to practise his or her faith. They respect and accept religious beliefs of other religions. Some Hindu customs guarantee the human rights of women, children infants and the sick. For example. a husband cannot perform certain religious ceremonies without the presence of his wife. There is an episode described where a husband had to put an effigy of his wife to perform a religious ceremony because his wife was not available. Hindus strongly believe in the rights of others. In order to assert this fundamental human right of others. Hindus will not support any violence. terrorism. holy-wars or spreading of hatred. For a person who believes in love. non-violence and peace. hurting and killing others for any cause is prohibited. Om Shanti! Shanti! Shanti! Peace! Peace! Peace! 28 FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE (Dr. Maniar is the past National President of the Canadian Citizenship Federation, past President of the Citizenship Council of Manitoba and currently its board member, past President of the Hindu Society of Manitoba and the current chairman of the V.N. Associations, Human Rights Committee in Winnipeg.) Freedom of Conscience in Religion: A Sikh Perspective (Lajinder Singh Lamba) Sikhism right from its inception has advocated the idea of freedom of conscience in religious matters. The Sikh Gurus have repeatedly stressed at individual efforts in the direction of self-discovery. ” Know thyself “, for in the knowledge of the self lies the attainment of the Almighty” has been one of the cardinal teaching of the Sikh religion. A conscientious individual who freely follows the inner voice of his own conscience after it has acquired sublimation through the teaching of the great saints and saviours, or through the process of actual living can be a great human being. One only has to go within to understand the without. It is the individual who has been exalted to the level of the Supreme. In Sikhism an individual is allowed absolute freedom of conscience. Yes, one can convert to the faith to join the ranks of the Sikhs if one chooses. However, one may remain a true believer of the faith he is born in and can still attain salvation. No individual in the history of the Sikhs has been forced to convert to the faith against his will. Religious persecutions perpetrated for the purposes of forcible conversion to the religion are alien to the Sikhs. The Sikhs have consistently abhorred and challenged such practices. Parochial religious fanticism serves no end except to bring out the inhumanity of religious fanatics. Religious narrow-mindedness and intolerance breed misery, pain, revolt and strife. Sikhism emphatically advocates the philosophy of Karmas. No individual can be a good human being unless his Karmas are truthful, ethical, noble good and are guided by a free clear and humane conscience. To be born a Hindu is no guarantee that one would attain salvation. In order to attain it one has to make conscious efforts to become a conscientious Hindu. To be born a Muslim or a Christian is not sufficient reason to attain Allah’s or God’s presence. Instead the pre-requisites to be with one’s Lord are once more the same: to be a conscientious Muslim or a conscientious Christian. Nothing matters except for a conscientious conscience. For what purpos~ do humans inhabit the earth? Sikhism accepts life as an THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 29 opportunity allowed to an individual to lose his identity with the identity of the universe through noble actions and meditation. One must at the same time have freedom of conscience to wander in any spiritual direction one likes to choose for himself. Sikhism admits various options. The Sikh Gurus concede that they do not have the exclusive right to the Gates of Heaven. One has to open Heaven’s Gates for oneself with the help of one’s own conscience. In religion one must enjoy absolute freedom of conscience. 43 O’Brien Crescent, Winnipeg, Canada R3R IM5 Human Rights and Islam (Naseem Mahdi) God has been appointing Prophets and Reformers at different times throughout the world. These God-sent personages swam against the current and tried to reform society and bring peace and harmony among human beings. They advocated equality among men and made efforts to stop cruelty by the strong over the weak. History is replete with instances where these reformers and their followers were persecuted for what they advocated. Civilization has seen that their . human rights were violated by those who were socially, economically and politically strong. After two world wars in which millions of human beings were obliterated, nations of the world planned a charter for mankind which was a serious and impressive effort to grant basic human rights to the citizens of the member states. Among many privileges, it granted freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of speech, among a few of them. A much more comprehensive charter of human rights was prescribed by the Holy Prophet of Islam more than 14 centuries ago. He once defined a Muslim as one from whose hands and tongue his fellow beings are safe and secure. Our Holy Book, the Quran, stresses that the equality of mankind derived from the Unity of om’ common Creator who created man of one species and to whom aB men owe allegiance and obedience. Islam concedes no privileges on account of birth or nationality. True nobility proceeds from righteousness alone. According to Islam it is not the 30 FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE wealthy, politically strong or socially elevated who are necessarily honourable in the sight of God. The V.N. Charter merely gave rights and freedoms set forth in that document. but the Charter of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) has sanctified all aspects of various rights and liberties. In his farewell address to humanity he said, “Your properties and your honours are declared sacred”. He further emphasized, “they are sacred like the sanctity attached to this day of pilgrimage, this month of Haj and this spot, that is, this House of God.” Again he highlighted it and said, “let them not be violated.” The Holy Prophet of Islam:.further explained his charter. He said, “Allah has made you brethren one to one another, therefore, do not divide yourselves. An Arab is not superior to a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab to an Arab nor is a white one to be privileged over the dark one, nor a dark one over the white one.” This is the eternal message of Islam (or all mankind on the subject of equality and human rights. It has no political and ideological boundaries whatsoever. If the Islamic Charter is adopted today, human beings would cease to be victims of discrimination of all kinds, and will discard intolerance and cruelties of all sorts. Islam is the contemporary response to the problems which exist in the arena of freedom of thought and conscience. It guarantees . full freedom of human rights in all endeavours of life, physical, intellectual and spiritual. Missionary in-charge, Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, 10610 Jane Street, Maple, Ontario, LOJ I EO. Centenary Issue of the Review of Religions Readers will be glad to know of the proposal to publish a special Centenary Edition of The Review of Religions in March 1989. To make it worthy of the august occasion we invite suggestions concerning its size, contents and other relevant points. Literary contributions are also solicited for consideration which, along with proposals, should reach us before 30th July 1988.