The advancements in science and technology have brought the peoples of the world closer to each other. With instantaneous access to information about world events, we are now able to learn about each other’s religions and cultures than we could in the past. Even limited exploring will show that, instead of differences, we have more in common with each other. All major religions advise us to show respect to each other’s way of life, however different the customs and traditions may be. In this sense, religions are uniting forces that try to bring people together. But when religious zealots, upset at critics who question the practices that continue to promote discrimination and social injustice use force and violence against their critics, it not only undermines their religion’s message but also worlds peace and solidarity.

We now live in an age of humanism where critical thinking is preferred over age-old dogma or cultural mythology. In this evolving world, where people are exposed to diverse religions and new thoughts, they would challenge their religion’s established practices when they consider them to be inequitable or conflicting with contemporary social norms. Religions should receive such criticisms with an open mind. If the skeptics have a valid argument, religions should be prepared to take remedial steps. Being receptive to new customs and practices, more so when it is in the collective interests of its people, should not be interpreted as questioning one’s faith. In the long run, constructive steps taken to correct past inequities can only benefit a religion.

Adapting to a changing world and making positive changes to our thinking also extends to religious followers. We have made significant progress in acquiring material wealth and comfort. Yet, they have not translated into contentment and happiness. We seem to be more disillusioned and fragile now than ever. Most religions state that contentment and true happiness arises only when we look inward and live a life of compassion, love, and wisdom. We must, therefore, try and change the axis of our lives and develop greater tolerance and respect for other people, religions and cultures, however different they may look to us. We can no longer afford to live in ignorance of each other. We should understand the common ideals and be prepared to reconcile the differences in a sympathetic spirit. To quote Toynbee, “We must learn to live as a single-family if we are not to destroy ourselves”.

Dr. Ram Sriram