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“Tolerance makes our present meaningful”

Staff Reporter
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Graham Staines endowment lecture at Lady Doak College

Forgiving and forgetting:Jonathan N. Gnanadason, former secretary, International Christian Federation for the prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, Geneva, delivering the Graham Staines ninth endowment lecture at Lady Doak College in the city on Monday.- Photo: S. James
Forgiving and forgetting:Jonathan N. Gnanadason, former secretary, International Christian Federation for the prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, Geneva, delivering the Graham Staines ninth endowment lecture at Lady Doak College in the city on Monday.- Photo: S. James

Tolerance can flourish only in an atmosphere of democracy, freedom, secularism and rule of law. It rests on forgiving mistakes of the past and we need to know our past and see it as clearly as possible in order to make our present meaningful so as to move into future but should not indulge in selective memory which benefits only us, said Jonathan N. Gnanadason.

Dr. Gnanadason, former secretary, International Christian Federation for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, Geneva, was delivering the Graham Staines ninth endowment lecture titled ‘Fundamentalism versus Tolerance' organised jointly by Centre for Religion and Interfaith Relations, Lady Doak College, and Society for Community Organisation (SOCO) Trust at Lady Doak College on Monday.

Touching upon the historical trajectories of the concept of fundamentalism, Dr. Gnanadason stated that the Graham Staines family's tolerance to forgive the offenders of the heinous crime lifts them to the level of a universal family who need to be remembered, honoured and deeply etched into our memory.

Likening the Graham Staines incident, Dr. Jonathan remembered the Kilvenmani incident as a college student in 1968 on the day of Christmas how a group of 42 Dalits mostly women and children were burnt to death, though it is not often associated with fundamentalism but it is a sort of fundamentalism embedded in the hierarchical social system prevailing in India, he said.

However, at the time when the Graham Staines incident took place the term “fundamentalism” had a more definite and new meaning within the Indian context. Even today it has different meanings depending on the various perspectives.

“It is a very sensitive and potent term which is used to victimise people as well as to justify cruel actions against certain groups of people. Remembrance of collective sin is cardinal for the redemption of our society,” he expressed.

Talking about the historical origins of fundamentalism which started as a movement against rationalism and theory of evolution in the southern parts of the United States where the Christian fundamentalists believed that these new scientific discoveries threatened the faith systems.

During the time of World War I, fascism and Nazism became popular as ideologies that drew heavily on the basic tenets of historic fundamentalism.

In fact they emerged as ideologies to counter Communism and Socialism which was spreading rapidly around challenging the exclusive nationalism and economic injustice.

However, in the present context fundamentalism is largely perceived in terms of Islamic fundamentalism and Zionism, Hindutva and Christian fundamentalism are underplayed.

Fundamentalism is associated with so many myths related to religious scriptures in terms of superior race, God's chosen people etc. He opined that, even science has been abused by concepts of fundamentalism, eugenics, supremacy of white race to have a moral authority over the inferior “Other,” mostly natives and aboriginals.

Fundamentalism has various manifestations and it takes the form of caste differences, gender, class and culture. The first fallacy that we need to acknowledge is that fundamentalism cannot accommodate tolerance into its equation.

Explaining the difference between tolerance and toleration, Dr. Jonathan said that toleration is the acceptance of an existential situation without showing too much irritation and tolerance on the other hand is respecting the opinion, practice and way of life of the others even though it may not be in agreement with our way of life or belief systems and it also means that my rights do not infringe on the rights of others.

He stated that tolerance provides the space and scope for meaningful and honourable negotiations and it is unfortunate to witness the death of tolerance in electronic media.

Tolerance does not believe in sensationalism, rumour mongering, spreading of misinformation or the renegotiation of history to suit one's own end.

Only when history is justly interpreted can there be lasting peace. Tolerance is in humility believing that, “We cannot build our glories on the ruins of others.”

Delivering the presidential address Jayamathy Frank, vice principal, said that fundamentalism is borderless and has become a common enemy in the contemporary times, though startling advances are made on one side there is socio-economic retrogression on the other side. It is important that we need to build mechanisms, movements and institutions to combat fundamentalism.

S. Selva Gomathi, deputy director, Society and Community Trust made the introductory remarks, M. Valliammal and K. Deivanai, convenors, Centre for Religion and Interfaith Relations, LDC, delivered the welcome address and proposed the vote of thanks respectively. Synthia Mary Mathew, Chaplain, LDC and Mahaboob Batcha, Director, SOCO Trust was present.

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