The more I think about it, the more I believe that like economy, seasons and tides, even religions and communities go through cycles.
Probably a little more than thousand years back Hindus believed their religion and gods are invincible. Hindus were prosperous, powerful, rich and well known. They believed that would last forever. They believed they are special. They believed that their gods are in charge of the reality and universe.
The wheels of time kept turning. The prosperity, power, fame, left India one by one. The culture and community had hard time adjusting to this new reality. They still believed in their gods to bring all good things back. Part of the community resorted to extreme devotion to the religion believing that not-enough-devotion was the cause of distress. Remaining part of community resorted to hypocrisy, ashamed to admit their greed or fears, yet not strong enough to overcome it.
One by one empire lost. One by one temple kept falling. Nature was not being friendly either. Famines, draughts, epidemics were frequent visitors.
Last half of the twentieth century finally brought some calm and quiet period to India. Freed from all the burden of faith, Hindus started to look at this world with new eyes and again India is starting to see some good days.
Christianity went through dark periods briefly when the Catholic church blessed crusades and jailed Galileo. But the honest dedication of missionaries in all the corners of the world pulled Christianity from the first phase of dark periods rather quickly.
The youngest religion, Islam, at the moment seems to be headed for the dark period. The earlier the moderate Muslims free Islam from the ghosts of the past glory and prepare it to embrace the future, the shorter will be the dark phase.
To me, rise and fall of any religion (or any nation or empire or society for that matter) depends more on strategic resources and alignment with economic interest at that time and less on personal choices the followers of that religion make. Islam and Christianity preached a level of equality, which provided a flat social structure. People were allowed to change their professions at will and new converts to their religions were welcome. This flexibility came in handy in the time of frequent natural calamities, epidemics, and rapid natural changes, which was rather frequent in last 2000 years.
Hinduism has rather strict ordered and hierarchical structure of society. This hierarchy is signature of a well established civilization whose economy prospered by creating specialists of the trade. These professional specializations were certainly flexible at the beginning and the ancient texts contain examples of people changing their castes. Both the celebrated sages Valmiki and Vyas come from actually lower castes, Valmiki born a tribal hunter and Vyas born a son of fisher woman. This flexibility was lost in the time and the caste began to be decided at birth.
Islam went on to be little stricter regarding things like stealing, because Islam flourished in desert and in desert everything is scarce and somebody stealing a can of water can make a difference between life and death for somebody else. Christianity turned to be a rather mellow, forgiving, missionary religion because Europe had lot more natural resources and more important was help people get through bitter harsh cold weather and epidemics.
Both Islam and Christianity demand absolute faith in their own version of God, but welcome anybody who accepts their doctrine. Hindus are much more tolerant about what you should believe, but conversion to Hinduism is more difficult than that to Islam/Christianity. In polytheist Hindu system, if you want to bring in your god, then it is just one more idol in the already crowded temple of Gods.
Islam/Christianity offer one simplified set of morals and values contained in single book. Hinduism offers a rich variety of texts and encourages debate, which is better for a securely established culture that can devote time to the pursuit of knowledge.
Both Islam/Christianity regard human beings as far superior species on the planet and believe that God made the rest of the world for human consumption. Hinduism and other Eastern religions believe humans are part of environment and put stress on respecting all creatures. So if the humanity today is headed to man-made crisis caused by plundering the environment, the Eastern belief systems are better positioned to serve humanity and might see glorious days again.
No religion or holy book transcends reality. No prophet owns reality. Reality plays with people and their beliefs, caresses them for a while and tosses them in a bin to send them in oblivion for centuries. The earlier people realize this, the better it is for their religion.
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