Recently, I happened to talk in depth about Catholics and Protestants with a few friends. I also discussed with them the issues of conversion and so on. I have lived my life in a Shillong, where the majority is of Christian faith. What is wonderful about Shillong that inspite of being a majority, they are very warm and very tolerant people. Moreover, nowhere, will you see them distrubuting pamphlets in your home asking you to read the bible.
There is, I must say a really cheap phenomenon undergoing in South India. Outside churches, you'll find , allow me to use the word, advertisements of Jesus printed in bold letters, as if Jesus Christ needed any advertisements. Also, in the south of the country, you find a lot of people hooked on to religious television where they say things like, "You are having difficulty passing in your examinations. Come to Christ. He will help you pass." Ridiculous!!! No. Blasphemous. Christians should actually crucify these people because they are presenting such a bad picture of the Christian faith. Cheap gimmicks.
I was under the impression that the Catholics were more of an orthodox lot, and they resisted change, resisted female advancement, resisted contraceptives and so on and so forth. However, I was shocked when my friends told me that these religious channels, those called miracle performing evangelists, and other cults are mostly products of Protestantism. Its not that the Catholics don't try to convert people to Christianity, but they do it in a more subtle way, in a way no one point the finger towards them, in a way in which I don't see anything wrong; their way is that of the missionary, that of service, service to mankind and service to God. Their work is comparable to those of the Ramakrishna Mission.
Coming to Islam, or Hinduism, I feel that people belonging to both these faiths are becoming more and more fanatical; they seem to feel more and more insecure, I don't know why. I would normally think that in the twenty-first century, a person's faith should matter the least, because, in this age of consumerism, the fast pace of every aspect of life, one shouldn't have much time for religion, even lesser to show antipathy to other religions. However, I was flawed in thinking in this manner. While the consumerism and the fast pace of life has taken away the time to be with God, and the God-fearingness of the common Hindu and Muslim, it has only increased his fanatism, his antipathy for others, his craving for extremist ways. In addition to that, he employs modern technology in his vendetta - the twin towers of the WTC were a victim of this phenomenon.
The modern fanatic is no longer god fearing. He no longer follows the basic principles his religion teaches him. However, he manages to extract the vicious vices from his religious text, twist them and turn them in order to justify his violence.
This discussion will be quite incomplete if a mention of Iran is not made in this context. I was reading the interviews of the Iranian premier, and he seemed to be a very logical person to me, at least on a lot of occasions, inspite of his being an overly religious person. He seemed to endorse free will and free speech. However, in the past, we have known that all Fatwas originate in Iran. I don't actually think that issuing a fatwa for speaking ill about a religion is an over-reaction, I'm sure any other country would do the same, certain factions from any other religion would do the same. A few days ago, when the Tamil Nadu chief ministers made some comments about Ram, a bus was burnt and two people were killed. At least Iran is clear about who made a slandering statement and who should pay; Hindus are not even certain about that, someone makes the statement, someone else pays.
Satanic Verses work in two ways. In one way, such books are essential, because without such books, important issues will never come to the foreground, obsolete and oppressive customs will never be done away with, and face it, no religion is perfect, and without such books, the imperfectness out of religions will never be purged out. On the other hand, these books themselves add to the insecurity among religious community, which in turn add to the fanatism in those communities.
Think about it again, Islamic fanatism was born out of British and American policies in the Middle East. The Arabs, although warring amongst each others, never hated foreigners including those of a different faith; in fact they were known for their hospitality. However, today, we know that the Middle East is behind most Islamic terrorism.