Humility Leading to Empathy
By: Ayan Mandal
November 5, 2014
My interest in religion has everything to do with a search for harmony amongst my life’s competing influences. I come to religion from the Hindu perspective, but I attended an evangelical Christian middle and high school, an environment where I witnessed the beauty that is the Christian religion, but also the ignorance that perpetuates a mostly homogenous community. I would actually identify with my atheist friends at times with whom I shared a dissent of commonplace bigotry. We would critique our school’s biased portrayal of other faiths and its emphasis on perfect personal righteousness. However, I also found that my atheist friends carried an opinion that reason (particularly as exercised through science and philosophy) could not be reconciled with religious faith. They believed that one’s belief in a God indicated irrationality, for the suffering of the world is too obvious to think that an order lies beneath it. I did not support this opinion either.
So, my project lies in establishing a middle ground between these two poles. I seek to emphasize religion’s essence rather than its accident (or nonessential properties). By separating what we take to be objective religious truths (love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you) from its subjective cultural values, I think we can begin to understand that religion is not something to be used to condemn those who think differently, and nor is it irrational belief. It’s a paradoxical realization that you carry supreme dignity as a member of a Divine body, but yet you must sacrifice your ego in recognition of your insignificance relative to the grandness of this Divinity. Therefore, religion begins and ends with humility, and particularly an epistemic humility. Religion begins with renouncing the ego, so you can’t smugly pretend like you have all the answers.
I have just started my time at Georgetown, so I don’t know how I will actualize this project of mine, or even what exactly it will entail. All I know is that it will have to involve humility which is necessary to build empathy. Empathy is the only way we can combat cultural ignorance, which is what drives most religious disputes to begin with. And when a diverse community is formed, empathy is the long-term result. Pluralism is so often seen as problematic, but in fact it is the solution to a lack of understanding. Like a bitter medicine, people first engage it querulously, but how else would we build unity without those quarrels?
Ultimately, I am committed to the belief that religion is more than just superstitious dogma that is tearing the world apart. It’s too powerful of an idea to ever dissipate, so we must work to find a unity throughout these traditions to avoid anarchy. My project is to contribute to the pursuit of that unity.