July 15, 2009
Rajan Zed, a well known Hindu leader, criticized the Pope for his rough handling of atheists and humanists in the Pope's recent encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth) issued in Rome.
In it, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "…ideological rejection of God and an atheism of indifference, oblivious to the Creator and at risk of becoming equally oblivious to human values, constitute some of the chief obstacles to development today. A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism."
More than two years in the making, this 144-page and more than 30,000-word encyclical letter of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI to "all people of good will" is considered the highest form of papal teaching.
Zed said that as Catholics and Hindus and others had freedom of their belief systems and were respected for their respective choices, so should atheists. Zed thinks that a religious leader of the Pope's stature should have been more inclusive.
"Although the Pope talked about 'right to religious freedom', 'cooperation of the human family', 'truly universal human community', etc., in this document, he apparently condemned the beliefs of a considerable chunk of world population called atheists, humanists, etc.", said Zed.
Zed, who is based in Reno, Nev., and is president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, asked "Who were we as human beings to judge publicly that other humans' beliefs different than us were 'inhuman'?"
While applauding Pope Benedict for his call for the "common good", which encompasses taking greater social responsibility through reform of financial bodies, sharing the earth's resources equitably and lessening the growing divide between poor and rich, among other things mentioned in "Caritas in Veritete", Zed feels that the leader of the Catholic Church "needs to learn to be more inclusive and large-hearted."
(Editor's Note: On July 12, 2009, Zed made history by becoming the first Hindu chaplain to offer the U.S. Senate's morning prayer. Unfortunately, three Christian extremists disrupted the proceedings by shouting "this is an abomination" among other insults , from the visitors' gallery before being led away by police. Police arrested them and later charged them with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. Zed chose not to comment on the incident when requested by HNN.)
Rajan Zed is the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, an Interfaith Leader Award recipient, and chairperson of the Indo-American Leadership Confederation. He is also a panelist on an online conversation , "On Religion," jointly produced by Newsweek magazine and washingtonpost.com.