On disagreements and fanaticism

Disagreement over issues is not as disruptive as disagreement over the importance of the disagreements

When we see disruptive disagreements among friends who share our faith, we feel distressed. Why? Because we practice our faith to experience peace, not strife. Indeed, the specter of religious conflicts drives fence-sitters towards agnosticism, atheism or even anti-theism.

Why do such disruptions occur? Not because of the disagreements themselves; we can live with disagreements, and we often do. Disagreements over various issues are inevitable because we form our stands based on not just our faith, but on our faith’s interpenetration with our life-experiences, cultures and natures. Amidst such differences, we often agree to disagree.

Why, then, do some disagreements become disruptive? Because fanatics often exaggerate the importance of the disagreements. Fanatics equate minor details of their faith with its central tenets and deem heretical anyone differing from them on those details. They may even quote scripture, but their knowledge is in the mode of ignorance – it doesn’t see the whole picture but makes one small thing into everything (Bhagavad-gita 18.22). Far from living with disagreements, fanatics live to demonize those who dare differ from them. When their attacks become personal, emotions go wild, conflicts escalate and polemical wars rip the faith apart.

How can we prevent differences from becoming disruptive? By understanding our faith holistically so as to discern the difference between principles and details. Principles are nonnegotiable, but details are adjustable. We all agree on the big issues such as the existence of God, the importance of nurturing our spiritual side, and the necessity of walking our faith, not just talking it. Why should we let these huge agreements be overshadowed by disagreements about details? After all, knowledge in goodness sees beyond surface diversity to essential unity (18.20).

By learning from mature spiritualists to discern principles and details, we can keep our perspective amidst differences.

Think it over:

  • Why do people who share the same faith differ on particular issues?
  • How does fanaticism rip the faith apart?
  • How can we prevent disagreements from becoming disruptive?

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