HARRY RAGOO

I have changed my understanding of religion. In my early childhood I always asked myself many questions: why do different religions exist? Is there one God or many Gods? Why does each religion claim for an absolute truth? Though they exist in different traditions and forms, each one educates man on the divine attributes. I grew up to learn that we are all human beings but with different religions, out of fear and love for the divine. These religions often shape our relationship with others, the society and the way of life. But this diversity, often qualified as a rich heritage of pluralism or rainbow nation, also creates societal boundaries, conflicts and strategies for other interests, like classification and conquer. We could refer on other frontiers how the religion of the Zulus in Southern Africa was denied during colonialism. David Chidester provides in his book “Savage Systems”, the true history of the religions of the indigenous peoples. Elsewhere in Kerala, India, the Dalit Christians are still fighting for more dignity and equal rights.

I was born in a Hindu family with little inclination to religious practices, except for the observance of some popular celebrations like Diwali and ritual performances at weddings. My parents had no capacity to read, write or speak in Hindi. Probably, there was some influence from our neighbours who were all Christians. However, I was encouraged, or rather obliged to study the Hindi language during the years of my primary education. Even if the Hindi tunes from Indian movies had a great influence on my childhood and youth, I have not been able to master this language. Though I loved to hum these popular Indian lyrics up to winning school music contests, I could barely understand the words. On the other hand, I developed a greater inclination to Western music through my English and French literacy abilities. Arts and music help me to make friends easily from either Hindu, Christian or other religious denomination. Migrations, mobility of populations, urbanizations, industrialization, mutations and today social media occasion more and more mixed marriages or even common-law unions. In Nigeria, out of the persistent confrontations between Muslims and Christians, new religious movements like Chrislam attract believers since the 1970s. Combining practices of both Islam and Christianity, new rituals and traditions emerge defying the usual religious boundaries. The common cautioning phrase of our grandparents: “do not change your religion” seems to be threatened. A new civilization is emerging; does religious conversion still apply or is it a new understanding of religion?

I encountered with the Christian doctrines firstly during my secondary education at the Adventist College, the phase of emotional and physical transformations. The Bible Knowledge, as a subject matter, was mandatory. Going through the scriptures, with critical analysis, debates and examinations, gave me another exposure to religion. After five years of study, forging my character and religious behaviour, Bible Knowledge figured on my School Certificate. It has been like an added value to my identity. My second encounter with Christianity, while still in my adolescence, would be when my dear mother embraced the Pentecostal religious movement. According to her narratives which I retained, she adheres to this new faith out of a promise for salvation and immediate healing effect to some kind of illness. In this process, the little inclination she had for the Hindu tradition was cut-off, while continuing to wear her beautiful Indian sarees. This new status was not without conflict, even if my dear father was quite tolerant, he stayed away from the new faith. In the course of these educational and conflicting encounters, I developed knowledge on the teachings and prophecies of the Bible and even love for Christ. However the new religious configuration of my family raised many more questions as to the origin, the essence and the functions of religion. What understanding and relations have to be developed with the religion of the other?

During my youth, the subject of religion played a dominant role, but my questions remain unanswered. I offered daily prayers to God in my privacy, without any rituals or affiliation. As a seeker and in the event of favourable circumstances, I came across the book by William Sears, Thief in the night: the case of the missing millennium. Sears examined the prophecies of the Bible and introduces the reader to the concept of progressive revelation of the Baha’i faith, born in 1844. This concept claims that God has revealed Himself from the primitive to the modern civilization, through successive Manifestations according to the needs and capacity of understanding of the age. The revelations are said to have occurred in cycles of time and shall continue in the future. It places all religions in relation to each other and as emanating from a single source for the very purpose of advancing human civilization. They are to be seen as different lamps through which passes the same divine light. Beyond the absolute meanings of revealed religions, a deeper common understanding on religion is therefore primordial. Is there a common meaning to karma and salvation for example? Or between the metaphors of the alpha and the omega, what could be another meaning to the seal of the prophets? If we say there is one God, the word conversion used to qualify the move from one belief or tradition to another does not really apply. To me, building bridges makes more sense than creating barriers. A question or reflexion now arises; do I attach myself to the lamp or to the light?