A Call from Charlottesville

Way back in 1893, the great Swami Vivekananda, an unknown monk from India, traveled to Chicago to participate in the Parliament of the World’s Religions, part of the Great Chicago World’s Fair, or “Colombian Exposition.”

After days of boring speeches in academic style, the Swami’s first five words led the entire audience to stand and give an ovation. What were those words?

“Sisters and Brothers of America!”

Instead of focusing on differences, the Swami greeted all who could hear him with words showing our ultimate connections. In fact, the Christian organizers of this event had pretty well been thinking that after all the “heathen” participants had been able to present their talks, the entire world was going to “see the light” and convert to Christianity. Instead, the Swami’s talk is practically the only one that is remembered today. And instead, the Swami ended up spending a lot of time in America, teaching the “wonderful doctrines” (a phrase from his speech) of Hinduism to eager Americans.

Of most interest and relevance today, are three sentences toward the end of the talk.

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often in human blood, destroyed civilizations, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.

Swamiji closed his talk with the following, equally uplifting words:

“I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

Please see the following link for the entire text of his speech.

http://www.ramakrishna.org/chcgfull.htm

Perhaps equally important to us today, is the end of the Swami’s closing talk.

If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

I ask, when are the religious leaders of the world going to step up to the plate and do their part to make Swami Vivekananda’s hope a reality?

When are we going to demand that all of our leaders, religious and secular, renounce bigotry at all levels?

When are our leaders going to fan the warming flames of tolerance, if not universal acceptance, with the same fervor that some currently use to oxygenate antagonism to the point of mutual destruction?

When, at the very least is the United States of America going to stop giving tax exempt status to organizations that teach their pre-logical children that their fellow citizens are going to hell for calling the Divine by the wrong name?

When?

 

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Shona

Engineering consultant by day, science fiction writer in off hours.

3 thoughts on “A Call from Charlottesville”

  1. Very interesting beginning to his speech and telling. Well worth reading….

    What would you say about this? http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2017/08/19/demonstration-white-supremacy-christopher-columbus/583189001/

    This bothers me because 1) the statue is from the Italians to Detroit 2) the statue was a gift 3) I have the problem of growing up and hearing for decades about Columbus’s accomplishments and now people want to pull his statue down. (So part of the problem may be in my own mind.)

  2. Another worthwhile reference from history on the topic at hand:
    Abraham Lincoln – The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions:
    Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois
    January 27, 1838

    (An excerpt)

    When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made.–I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed. So also in unprovided cases. If such arise, let proper legal provisions be made for them with the least possible delay; but, till then, let them, if not too intolerable, be borne with.

    There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.

    But, it may be asked, why suppose danger to our political institutions? Have we not preserved them for more than fifty years? And why may we not for fifty times as long?

    We hope there is no sufficient reason. We hope all dangers may be overcome; but to conclude that no danger may ever arise, would itself be extremely dangerous. There are now, and will hereafter be, many causes, dangerous in their tendency, which have not existed heretofore; and which are not too insignificant to merit attention. That our government should have been maintained in its original form from its establishment until now, is not much to be wondered at. It had many props to support it through that period, which now are decayed, and crumbled away. Through that period, it was felt by all, to be an undecided experiment; now, it is understood to be a successful one.–Then, all that sought celebrity and fame, and distinction, expected to find them in the success of that experiment. Their all was staked upon it:– their destiny was inseparably linked with it. Their ambition aspired to display before an admiring world, a practical demonstration of the truth of a proposition, which had hitherto been considered, at best no better, than problematical; namely, the capability of a people to govern themselves. If they succeeded, they were to be immortalized; their names were to be transferred to counties and cities, and rivers and mountains; and to be revered and sung, and toasted through all time. If they failed, they were to be called knaves and fools, and fanatics for a fleeting hour; then to sink and be forgotten. They succeeded. The experiment is successful; and thousands have won their deathless names in making it so. But the game is caught; and I believe it is true, that with the catching, end the pleasures of the chase. This field of glory is harvested, and the crop is already appropriated. But new reapers will arise, and they, too, will seek a field. It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?–Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.–It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

    Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

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