If you are religious, then before reading any further, please read this.
What is Religion?
Religion is a fundamentalist belief in a particular faith: that your faith is the true faith and that it trumps all other faiths. One makes a [fundamentalist] religion out of a faith, the moment one particular prophet/founder declares himself (or his followers declare) to be the exclusively appointed prophet/word of God.
The inherently fundamentalist nature of religion, i.e. “my way or the highway” ideology, harbors the danger that it can easily go from being fundamentalist, to radical, to fanatical, to “weaponized”. The result being never-ending conflict and “clash of civilizations” (like Christianity vs Islam) as neither will be willing to compromise their fundamentalist belief that theirs is better than the other. It’s winner-take-all, and has been cause for centuries of violence in the name of religion. At best, they pretentiously get along by tolerating each other, at worst they kill each other.
Thus the use of the term “fundamentalist” religion is redundant, as by nature the very concept of religion implies a minimal level of fundamentalism (like Christianity, Islam). Likewise, the term non-fundamentalist “religion” is an oxymoron when referring to open, pluralistic, inclusivist cultures (like Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc).
A Western Artifact
Religion is an artifact of the West (including the Middle-East from which all three Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Islam, Judaism originated), now being exported to the world, especially to Asia (i.e. Asian cultures, like Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism; being cultures and not religions will explain why they never went to war with each other, nor missionaries, nor crusades in the name of “religion”).
There are thousands of faiths and spiritual traditions in India (each with their own distinctly different image/perspective of god, practices, customs, literature, gurus, etc), which have lived together for thousands of years, in a highly pluralistic and heterogeneous society (where each could care less about what the other persons faith was). It will be interesting for the Westerner to note, that even within a Hindu household it is not at all uncommon to find that each person worships a God in the image of his preference, has his own spiritual path, guru, rituals, and spiritual books. One cannot beat that for pluralism.
It is about time people stood up and turned the tables around, by challenging the very idea of religion. The people who are most well positioned to do that are pluralists (Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, etc), all together they make up at least 2 billion of the worlds population.
The general philosophy of Hindus is: it is ok to have faith in some belief system or follow a spiritual tradition, but don’t make a religion out of it. This allows for all the belief systems to be pluralistic and encourages syncretism, allowing one to be open to reading from spiritual material across different traditions, and acknowledging the contribution of that tradition. To restrict yourself to just a Bible or Koran (by identifying yourself to a religion) would be greatly self-limiting, like restricting yourself to one or two physics books.
The level of fundamentalism inherent within a religion can be judged by the level of atrocities in the name of their religion for the most part of its history (or even a running average over the last century). Such religions for the most part of their history, have viewed anything different from themselves as heathen, heretical, inferior, vile, and to be despised — often to justify proselytizing — which often meant a violent excision of the native culture’s spiritual traditions. This includes persecution of one group of people by another: Crusades, Inquisitions, Jewish Holocaust, Balkan Wars, Iraq-Iran Wars, Slavery, Black Slavery (the Biblical justification of Africans as belonging to the inferior lineage of Noah’s outcast son Ham and destined to be slaves as punishment; see “The Curse of Ham”), pogroms and cultural genocide by violent missionaries (including invention of numerous torture techniques) in Africa, Asia, South America, witch burning, thwarting the progress of science and persecution of scientists, treatment of women as inferior, justification of colonization, apartheid, etc.
Religion is a Western anomaly, a pathology now being exported into Asia, by intentionally clubbing those cultures as “religion”.
About 30 years ago, major dictionaries (like the American Heritage Dictionary, Webster Dictionary) had those two key words, “fundamentalist belief”, in their definition for “religion”.
Today, in the same tradition of Christian apologetics and in the continued tradition of exerting superiority, the definition of religion has been cleverly changed in order to accommodate cultures that are non-fundamentalist (pluralistic and very open) in their philosophy (like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc), and then applying the new definition of religion to that culture, so that they can be dubbed as religion (thereby covering up their pluralism and openness). Thereby also making Christianity seem more tame and less fundamentalist as opposed to being inferior when put along side of pluralistic Eastern cultures (who inherently don’t believe in religion).
Article continued under “Hindu Culture vs Religion“.