Preoccupation with “Major Religions” – First CNBC & Now Washington Post

Last week, James Cramer of CNBC said “there are 3 major religions” in an afternoon segment. To our simple mind, if there are 3 major religions, as a Corollary all other religions are non-major, if not actually minor. So in our opinion, Mr. Cramer’s comment could be reasonably construed as disparaging to and perhaps contemptuous of all the other religions in the world. For some reason known only to himself and perhaps to CNBC & GE Management, Mr. Cramer made this statement in a segment devoted to investment merits of Apple and Gold.

We wonder whether Mr. Cramer realizes that Buddhism is the 4th largest religion in the world behind Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and that Sikhism is the 5th largest organized religion in the world. We wonder whether he cares about such facts at all given the flippant and dismissive nature of his comment. See the clip and decide for yourself whether you agree with our characterization of the comment.

Then this week we read the statement “all major religions here (in India) – Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism – … “ in an article by Emily Wax in the Washington Post. We were just as upset by this statement of Ms. Wax as we were by Mr. Cramer’s statement.

But unlike the comment by Mr. Cramer, the statement by Ms. Wax seemed relevant to its context. The entire statement reads “India has a long tradition of giving, and all major religions here – Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism – see charity as a cornerstone of a noble, happy life.” We felt disturbed to see such a comment in an otherwise good article about the boost in charitable giving by India’s wealthy.

The statement by Ms. Wax made no sense to us. Jainism and Sikhism are two of India’s major religions. Besides being the 5th largest organized religion in the world (per wikipedia), Sikhism is deeply respected and Sikhs have been extraordinarily successful in all walks of life. Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world. The 24th and last “Tirthankar” of Jainism was Mahavir. The teachings of Mahavir influenced Buddhism to a large extent. The Dalai Lama, perhaps the most respected Buddhist leader in the world, publicly acknowledged this influence in a recent visit to honor Mahavir. The Jains are among India’s richest and most successful people.

So we think Ms. Emily Wax was hasty, wrong and disparaging towards many religions including Sikhism and Jainism in her statement in her Washington Post article. It is interesting that both Ms. Wax and Mr. Cramer used “3” as the number of “major” religions. Is this a sheer coincidence? Or is there an axiom in European-American media that only “3” religions can be called “major”?

But the real question is what sort of a mind calls one religion as “major” and another religion as “non-major”? Is this a bigoted  relic from an earlier era in American Journalism? We ask this because we doubt either Mr. Cramer or Ms. Wax would characterize any “3” races as major and, by corollary, other races as “minor”.

Phrases that belittle any race are strictly taboo in American Journalism today. Unfortunately, this broad-mindedness has not reached the subject of religion as the statements of Mr. Cramer and Ms. Wax demonstrate. This is a big deal to us and it should be to every human being in the world who abhors bias or prejudice.

History has shown that characterization of any community or group as “minor” or “non-major” because of color, race or religion has led to discrimination, violence and often banishment of such “non-major” groups. For example, we read a media report this week that Sunni Muslims in Pakistan are refusing to allow Ahmadiya Muslims to bury their loved ones in Muslim burial grounds. Perhaps, banishment of groups considered “impure” is to be expected when a regime calls itself  “Land of the Pure”.  In the 1930’s, there was a regime in Europe that considered many races and religions as “non-major”, to put it mildly. We all know what happened in Mittel Europe in the 1930s.

This is why we feel utter, unadulterated disgust at any phrase or statement that diminishes any color, national origin, race or religion in any way. There is simply no excuse for such bias whether unintended or not and whether meant as a “joke” or not. Note that our disgust is towards the comments, statements, utterances and not towards the people who uttered the words. We hope that articles such as ours will persuade people who make such statements to look within their souls and eliminate such behavior from their public & private lives. Our hope springs from our core belief in Redemption.

Getting back to religion, we find it instructive to learn how some religions spread by force of arms and by governmental persuasion or decree. Religions that did not spread in this manner remained smaller in size and are now described as non-major.

An interesting example is of Buddhism and Jainism, two similar religions that preach and practice non-violence. The Jains are and have been extraordinary in their achievements. Like Buddhists, the Jains have built temples that are architectural wonders. The Jain libraries are among the oldest in India and the Jains are one of the richest communities in India. The Buddhists share many of the same belief systems as Jains and are just as known for their commitment to non-violence and success.

But Buddhism spread far and wide. It has a large followership in Asia while Jainism remains less widespread. Why this difference in the spread of two similar religions with similar belief systems?

To those who do not know, the answer is the Great Ashok, one of the greatest emperors in world history. It was Ashok who converted to Buddhism and sent missionaries far & wide to spread the message of his new religion. This is why Ashok is often considered to be the second most important personality of Buddhism. The maps below explain our point.

   
      (Spread of Buddhism under Ashok – src wikipedia)          (Prevalence of Buddhism globally – src wikipedia)

To our way of thinking, the mere spread of a religion by royal/governmental persuasion or by force of arms of its believers does not make a religion “major”. It simply makes it more widespread. This is why we urge Emily Wax to regard both Buddhism and Jainism as “major” religions.

We believe that most religions at their core remain sound, moral ways to reach God. This is why we simply cannot bring ourselves to ever consider any religion as major, non-major or minor just as we cannot conceive of thinking about any race or color as major, non-major or minor.

This is why we urge Managements of CNBC, GE and the Washington Post to send a clear message to their “talent” that words of diminution towards color, race and religion would not be tolerated.


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