29 November, 2010

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaks on President Obama 's religion dilemma

The president's religion dilemma
The Washington Post, 15th November, 2010

President Obama's 10-day Asia trip includes visits to India and Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country.

The president chose not to visit the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar during his time in India because it required a head covering that his advisers feared would fuel speculation about his faith. A Pew study showed that nearly 20% of Americans believe falsely that the president is a Muslim.


The more Obama reaches out to Muslims, the more his critics are likely to slander him, implying that he is not a Christian.


An example is his April 2009 speech in Turkey, in which he said, "We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation, we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values." The president's critics have seized on that statement, insisting that he rejects the Christian foundations of America.


Is Obama stuck between a rock and a hard place? If you were the president, how would you handle this dilemma?


Sri Sri: President Barack Obama's tour of Asia seems to have brought up questions about his religious affiliations, his identification with one faith or another and his own belief system. During his tour, President Obama has visited the world's largest democracy - Hindu majority India, and the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia.

During his last trip to Turkey, President Obama had said, "We do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation, we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values." While the head of state of any country cannot afford to identify with any one religion, so as not to alienate people of other religions, he/she must be all-inclusive and accommodating. One way to do this is to deny one's identity and the other way is to include the identity of others as well. Perhaps, Obama's approach could have been: "I am Christian and I believe in Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist thoughts as well." Could that have silenced his critics to some extent?

One could take a cue from an inspirational figure such as Mahatma Gandhi who said that he was a devout Hindu who believed in Hindu philosophy, yet he also learnt from the teachings of Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. It is important that we bear in mind that there will always be some people who criticize anything one does or says - especially those toeing the line of fanaticism. One can never please everybody.

In some ways because of his background, President Obama seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. It may be wise to state that America is a country that belongs to people of every religion and they all have equal opportunity to practice and profess their religion, while not negating America's roots. Anytime one negates a religion or one's religious identity/roots, it stokes the passions of people, whereas inclusivity is a binding factor. Instead of saying, "not Christian or Muslim", we are better and wiser placed to state, "also Christian, Hindu, Buddhist." Perhaps if he had taken this kind of a positive approach, it would have been a very different story. In such a scenario, nobody would feel offended as no one can claim to hold an exclusive right to Heaven or the Earth.

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