By Maria Wirth
Acknowledging that we are animated by the same Life Force frees us of the Poison of Religious and Political superiority
World War II had ended only five years before I was born in western Germany. And already as a child I ‘knew’ who was good and who was bad; who was right and who wrong. The Russians were bad and the Americans were good. The Roman Catholics were right and the Protestants were wrong and all others very wrong. For long I never questioned those axioms. They seemed to be fundamentals. Everyone around shared them. I had never seen a Russian, but surely they could not be normal people like us Germans? They were terrifying. They had taken part of our country and could come for more. Whereas the Americans had sent us food and when their army convoys drove through our small town, the soldiers threw chewing gum and waved to us children. Undoubtedly, they were good.
When I grew up, this mindset weakened but lingered. I still remember my first meeting with Russians: I was sitting in the foreigners’ office in Trichy in 1984. It was still the Cold War era. On the same bench next to me two men were sitting. The officer said to them “She is German” and to me, “They are Russians”. We immediately bent forward and stared at each other. Then we laughed. The barrier was broken.
Luckily, I also managed to breach the other barrier that is more difficult to overcome because terrible punishment is threatened if one dares to ‘leave the true faith’ – the barrier that made Catholics, or at least Christians, right and others wrong. It was instilled very effectively from childhood. Whenever the Catholic Church was mentioned, and it was often mentioned, a long prefix went with it: “alleinseligmachende”. It meant that the Catholic Church alone is capable of saving one’s soul. And if one went astray, it held out the most horrific punishment that can be imagined: Burning eternally in hellfire. An adult who has not been taught about eternal hell in childhood in all likelihood will not believe it exists. How could God be so cruel as to let his children burn in hell for ever and ever? And that too on the basis of only one and possibly disadvantaged life? Even the most heartless parent would not wish such a fate for his disobedient offspring. Yet a child does not reason. He believes what he is told and eternal hell appears real and terribly frightening for young minds.
I still remember that at the age of nine I had skipped Sunday Mass. Skipping Sunday mass was at that time a cardinal sin with hell as punishment. How much I feared I would die before I had confessed my sin to the priest! I did not doubt that in that case I would go to hell.
Fortunately, some of our nuns in boarding school were exceptionally hypocritical. That made it easier to get out of the mindset that only Catholics go to heaven and others to hell. Further, the priest who was teaching religion was not convincing with his proof that ‘our’ God exists. I found, however, proof in physics: if this whole universe, we included, is basically one energy, then this all-pervading energy must be God. A God that is for everyone, not just for Christians.
I share these personal details to show how easily children are influenced and in many cases for life. I had heard of ‘brainwashing’ already in primary school. The Russians were doing it, we were told.
|How could God be so cruel to let his children burn in hell forever and ever? And that too on the basis of only one and possibly disadvantaged life?
I imagined then that brains were actually washed. Later, I realised that it was about repeating a falsehood until it is believed to be true. I condemned the Russians for their heinous act, little realising that we too were being brainwashed. We too were told falsehoods and made to believe them. Our whole society collaborated to impart certain views: Russians were bad. Heathens go to hell. God loves only Catholics. And we children believed them.
There is reassurance and a sense of strength in belonging to a big group of likeminded people. There is also great danger – the danger that ‘others’ who don’t belong to this group are segregated, victimised and even destroyed. It happened in Nazi Germany, it happened in communist countries; and it continues to happen in the name of religion.
Ironically, religion, which is meant to connect us with God and make us virtuous, is the major cause of conflict in our world. A major contributor is the claim by both the major monotheistic religions that they alone are the ‘only true religion’ and that their God is ‘the only true God’. Naturally, this is a recipe for conflict. Unless these supremacy claims are taken up and genuinely examined, unless it is generally acknowledged that there are many names given to the one ‘God’ or however one wants to call That from which all emanate, there is little chance for humanity to live in peace.
It is natural to think that one’s religion is the best and there is nothing wrong in this attitude. Or else, why would one follow it? But does anyone own the Truth? Does Truth not own us? Is Truth not upholding all of us?
UNICEF and those in education would have their task cut out for them if they were to take up the issue of children being brainwashed into hating the ‘other’. However, for them to be able to do it, they will have to do some self-examination. Are they free of their own brainwashing? Do they still divide humanity into those who are good and those who are bad? Into those who are right and those who are wrong? Into those who go to heaven and those who go to hell? Or can they see that we all belong to one big family whose members are different in many aspects and carry different labels, yet nevertheless we all are siblings, permeated and animated by the same life force?
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