“Believe in what makes sense to you, but that doesn’t mean it will make sense for others too”. This is a simple and powerful statement made by Dr. Thomas Thangaraj, who spoke to the student journalists of NSoJ about religion and terrorism. If understood and applied properly, the statement provides a solution to many contemporary issues.
Dr. Thomas Thangaraj, professor emeritus, Emory University, Atlanta, United States said, “Religion is a system of beliefs, values and norms based on belief in superhuman order. It helps to get a broader view of the universe and also offers you an orientation and guidance to life.” Religion could happen in two ways; private and public. Private religion could not function as one part of religion is value of community. “Religion tells you how to be a good son, a good husband, a good human being but that doesn’t mean people who don’t follow any religion are not good”, he added.
Asked about religion and terrorism he said:” No religion allows extremism but lives with it. Terrorism happens for various reasons. Religion contributes to intensification of violence in terrorism. Because people believe they are doing what God wants them to do and that is dangerous.”
He said, “Every religion has a performance gap. Religion is not doing it. It’s the interpretation. When people behave the way they do they have to justify it. There may be some stories or imagery that they can support their actions with. Jihad, for instance, is not war. To translate it that way is wrong. It’s a struggle to be God’s child. Don’t make God your little thing. Don’t contain God. Don’t say God wants this because, God is Great or God is Nirguna.”
Being a scholar in religion he didn’t stress that everyone should follow a religion. He said people could choose to follow a particular religion and they could choose not to follow any. They could back out of religion and also opt to join another, he added
Talking of secularism, Dr. Thangaraj said, “Secularism in west is used as anti religion. In India it means moving our life away from religious centre to some other centre. ‘Secular’ in India means supra religion. The centre of this country is not in religion. And we are in a country where our religion is protected by the Constitution.”
Answering a question about what to believe in, he said:” Idea of God has to find some concrete support. There are different explanations of what you think is God and the power beyond. Believe in what makes sense to you but don’t think what makes sense to you will make sense to others too. If someone believes in a different idea of God, respect that. There must be something true about the religions that they have sustained people for millennia.
He was very optimistic person and believed that the life is full of possibilities. “We do have hope, and if the new generation believes in this simple logic then they can bring in a better world.”
– Khushboo Aneja
Dr. Thangaraj, who has had a longstanding and celebrated career in the field of academia completed his doctoral studies at Harvard University. He was visiting scholar at Oklahoma City University, and visiting professor at Harvard and Boston universities. He has been published extensively. An author of 12 books and numerous academic papers, his teaching interests have been ethics, religious diversity, and inter-faith engagement. Incidentally he is also dean of academic affairs at NSoJ.