Conversation with a Fanatic

ReligionI have always considered myself to be a very tolerant person, tolerant towards everyone, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion or race. I spent my childhood in a Muslim dominated area, studied in a Bahai school, followed by a Christian high school. A Hindu by birth, deeply influenced by the philosophies of Buddha and Tao-Tse-Tung, I am open to all kinds of philosophical and religious beliefs. Yes, I thought that I could get along well with alm ost anyone and everyone on this planet, until that fateful Friday.

Whenever I sit on the steps outside the library, I meet new people, people like and unlike me, from all walks of life. I build up new acquaintances and continue with old friendships. But that was a strange Friday, I sat by myself under a tree ignoring the world, and hoping that the world would do the same to me. After some time of uneventful gazing, a stranger walked up to me. A tall well-built guy with sunglasses and a book in his hand. To me he looked like any other guy on campus, little did I know of the turmoil that I would go through in the next three hours. Politely he requested me for my opinion on some important questions. “Ah! One of those market surveys again!” I thought and gave an affirmative smile. “What do you think? When you die, will you go to heaven or hell?”

What followed was a three hour long monologue on how to redeem oneself of the sins committed throughout the lifetime. I must apologize if I am offending anyone but there were a lot of loopholes to his theory. On one hand he told me that we all as humans are born with sins, so we just cannot go to heaven. And on the other hand, he said that Jesus died on the cross to redeem us of all our sins. So what my interpretation is, that no matter what you do in your life, you will end up in hell. No matter how good a person you may be otherwise, if you do one evil you go to hell. No amount of good deeds can pull you through. A very pessimist thought – I think.

As long as he was bombarding me with his thoughts on his way of redeeming oneself of all evils, I kept quiet. I had no right to disapprove of something I knew so little of. “It’s your belief, you follow it. I have other beliefs which I will stick to”, that’s my philosophy in life. I believe it would have continued to be a pleasant conversation, had he not tried to belittle other religions. According to him, the words of Koran cannot be trusted since it was Prophet Mohammed who saw the angel of God in a cave without any other eyewitnesses. Moreover the Bible warns that the Satan often disguises himself as an angel to fool people. So, he was trying to convey that Islam is based on the instructions given by Satan to Mohammed. I was so horrified when I heard that. “You have absolutely no right to do that, to refute the entire basis of another religion” I thought. At that moment I wished I could put my thoughts into words as easily I could put them in writing.

Controlling my anger without being rude was proving to be harder than I thought. I wanted to give him a taste of his own pill. I said “you believe your Bible to be true and flawless. What is the proof that it is? Even that might have been written by some fraud, or someone who was trying to brainwash everyone.” I think he was mildly taken aback at my reaction, because to him I must have looked like an innocent, gullible little child, until that very moment. He went into a detailed explanation of how the bible was written by 40 different individuals living in different parts of the world, over many centuries. Apparently it is the most historically accurate book ever written. I didn’t challenge that, due to my limited knowledge on the subject. He went a step further to say that Jesus changed the entire world and the number of books written on him outnumbers anyone else. Now this wasn’t factual information but just his self-imposed opinion. I said “my religion existed 4000 years before Jesus was even born…and if you are really talking of numbers, let me give you an example: the highest number of English speakers live in India. Does that make India an English country? The only reason why Christ has the largest number of followers in the world has been due to colonialism, it had nothing to with whether or not Jesus was better than prophet. Nobody knew of Jesus in entire Asia and Africa until the colonialists landed there.” That must have been the first time in two hours that he had to keep quiet and agree with what I said.

Following this we had a hectic discussion on the theory of evolution. I lost that debate mainly because I was showing signs of strain (oh, come on! I can’t possible argue with someone for two hours at a stretch!). He believed in Adam and Eve while I stuck to my good old Darwin‘s theory of evolution (mutation being the reason behind it). I keep religion and science separate – don’t mix the two. Anyway he proved to be better at brainwashing and imposing opinions than I was. In the middle of his science-is –good-for-nothing monologues, one of my classmates came to rescue me. Here was one Christian brainwashing me, and here was another one pulling me out of this quagmire. After some awkward and maybe impolite interruption, I told him that I must leave for a lecture (an outright lie…Jesus would put me in hell for eternity!!!). Funny enough, he never made a simple remark such as “glad to speak to you” or “nice meeting you”. All he had to say was “oh! You sun burnt me her for three hours”.

Brandon, my guardian angel, sent by perhaps Jesus himself, to redeem me of this fanatic, smiled and asked, “Oh Neha, I saw him talking to you before I went to the double lecture. Has he been bothering you for the past three hours?”. “Well! Kind of…” I replied. “Did he try to convert you?” he asked with a grin. “He tried his best, but to no avail, I am a stubborn little Indian you see.” I joked. “You should have told him, come to my side, pray to Ganesha, and I am sure all your sins will be wiped away!!!” said Brandon jovially. I looked at my Christian friend, hardly believing a word of what he said. Laughing along, smiling on the inside I felt so grateful that God created Christians like Brandon too.

Winston Churchill described a fanatic as a person who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. I have often heard of religious fanatics but this was definitely my first encounter with one. I admire and respect religious people – Hindus, Muslims, and Christians alike. But I hate people who don’t respect other people for their beliefs. Nobody is born with the right to pass judgments on others’ religious beliefs and sentiments. I would just say that fanatics are everywhere, it is up to us to allow them to steer our lives or to keep them within their limits. It’s high time we stopped acting like puppets and started thinking for ourselves. I failed to prove my point to this fanatic but I, for sure, did send the message across that’s I didn’t believe every word of what he said. Maybe I will be better prepared for the next time, till then I will continue praying to my Ganesha. Undoubtedly, I won’t have to worry about going to heaven or hell, because I will just be re-incarnated as a cockroach!!

Neha Saxena