Gods that are made of Glass

I’m not a Hindu, nor do I have any real admiration for the philosophies of Vedanta. There is one story, however, that I’m quite fond of.

Swami Vivekananda during his journey through Kashmir, described as the “Earthly paradise”, came across a number of temples burnt to the ground by invaders. Countless images of the gods and goddesses, and other sacred relics, forever lost. It was at the temple of the Divine Mother Kali, that he fell down on his knees, overwhelmed by anguish. Anguish over his inability to prevent such desecration, and confusion over how the Goddess had allowed this sacrilege.

The Divine Mother Herself appeared before him and whispered, “Why does it it worry you, Vivekananda, if the invaders break my images? Do you protect me or do I protect you?”

In recent years, this story has gained immense popularity due to its relevancy to the raging debate on how to deal with blasphemers. I do not expect practising Muslims to be easily swayed by Hindu philosophies, but I do hope they’d  meditate on the message it bears.

The more educated believers have come to realize that the God they worship is too mighty to be threatened by a random guy on the internet, or a poor Christian villager. Others insist on forming a cordon around whatever gods they worship, defending them from the onslaught of verbal criticism, and even simple scientific investigation.

Had I been in place of such gods, I’d likely be less offended by the blaspheming nobodies, than I would be infuriated by the foolish worshippers who find me incapable of defending my own honour.

Not to mention that many Muslims I meet online, tend to respond to even minor criticism of their faith with a flurry of curse words, frequently involving the critic’s mothers or sister. I inquire whether their religion sanctions the use of such foul language, to which they always fall silent. As I said, had I been in God’s place, I’d feel more embarrassed of my self-appointed advocates than I would be of the blaspheming party.

There is also the matter of how nobody has ever been able to properly define what counts as blasphemy. The lack of objectivity allows a wide room for political interference in judicial matters. The judges are often “assisted” in delivering their verdicts by crowds of angry mullahs gathered outside the court rooms chanting threatening slogans. In Indonesia, an atheist was charged with blasphemy simply for saying, “God doesn’t exist” on Facebook. In other words, just being an atheist makes you a blasphemer!

It’s worth noting, by the way, that it’s only blasphemy when it’s done against Muslims. The destruction of the Bamiyan buddhas in Afghanistan was no sacrilege at all, seemingly. Neither was the incident from the Prophet’s (SAW) life where he smashed all the idols inside Kaabah immediately following the conquest of Makkah – an incident used by the Taliban to justify the wanton destruction of another religious group’s sacred artifacts.

While it should encouraged, for the sake of decency, to refrain from unwarranted verbal attacks on religious personalities, it is imperative to understand that no ideology can be immunized completely from satire or criticism. It is unreasonable to ask a religious person to not be offended when his/her deeply cherished beliefs are rebuked or insulted, which is but a natural thing.  But it is absolutely contradictory to the norms of a civilized society to harass a person for not treating a certain ideology with the same reverence as you do.

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