First of all, why is it known as Year 2000? It is an arbitrary date. There has been intelligent human life on Earth for millions of years, not just for 2000, so why is the figure ‘2000’ so important? Answer: It’s not important, by Nature; it is not recognized in any way as special by Nature; it has been made significant by people, following the Christian calendar, which makes the birth of Jesus its focal point. Though it is very significant to Christians, and has been adopted worldwide as a matter of convenience, we should realize that other religions have their own dating systems, equally as valid as the Christian one. The Buddhist calendar dates from the death of the Buddha, over 2500 years ago, so Buddhists passed their Year 2000 long ago; Muslims reckon their dates from the time Mohammed fled Mecca to Medina to announce his message over 1400 years ago; Jews, Hindus, and people of other religions all have their own calendars, just as valid, we might say, as that of the Christians, and just as partial too, because they do not apply to, nor are accepted by, everyone.
So, why has the Christian dating system come to be adopted and used as the standard all over the world? Is it really because Christianity is the most superior religion in the world—the only true religion—as many Christians still think and say? (An American missionary once told Mahatma Gandhi that the Christian way of life was best for all, and Gandhi replied: "You assume knowledge for all, which you could do only if you were God. I want to tell you that you are laboring under a double fallacy: that what you think is best for you is really so; and that what you think is best for you is also best for the world. This is an assumption of omniscience and infallibility. I plead for a little humility".) Or isn’t it because the Christians, zealous to spread their religion, had more guns than others—the rifle, machine gun, tank, submarine, and later, nuclear weapons, were all Western inventions—and were prepared to use any means they could devise to conquer and convert others to their particular point of view? For an example, take the Philippines, the only Catholic country in Asia: what the religion of the Filipinos was before the Spanish arrived 400 years ago, I don’t know; there were some Muslims, but most of the people probably followed nature cults, as some of the hill tribes of South East Asia still do. However, most Filipinos now call themselves Catholics, but I’m sure that, if you asked people in the street why they are Catholics, you wouldn’t get very satisfactory answers (though, to be fair, the same could be said about the adherents of any religion); many would admit they have not really thought about it, but are merely following their parents and grandparents, which would mean that they had not really chosen Catholicism, but had inherited it. Philippines is known as a ‘Catholic’ country today because the Spanish forcibly conquered it, with a sword in one hand and a Bible in the other, taking over in the name of their king and religion, and forcing the people to become Catholics. The Spanish—and other colonists—were notorious for this, as it helped them control and administer the vanquished people beneath them; and they did it so ruthlessly and thoroughly in the Philippines that I can think of no building or monument that predates Spanish times; they destroyed everything in their fanaticism to subjugate and convert the natives.
The whole world has therefore been brought under the influence, if not the control, of Christianity, and this is why we use the Christian dating system; it makes communication easier, but does not, thereby, prove the superiority of Christianity. Countless Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, etc., would hotly dispute the claim that Christianity is superior to other religions, and they would stand supported in their contention by the history of Christianity itself. If Christians would only accept the fact that their religion is only one among many, and accord other religions the right to exist on equal terms as their own, it would be a much better world. As it is, Christianity has been deeply guilty of something that it regards as a ‘cardinal sin’: spiritual pride and arrogance. Intolerance and fanaticism are curses that cause so much trouble.
When I first wrote this, we were seeing live, on TV, the war in the Persian Gulf; it was brought into our homes, and the danger of this is that such conflicts will be reduced to something trivial and common place, brought down to the level of the advertisements or the old movies that are shown. Before the advent of TV, radio, or telegraph, it would take weeks or even months for news from distant parts to reach us. Our world has shrunk so much that it can fit into a small box! We should be infinitely better informed than we ever were before; there is little excuse for ignorance about the world today. And yet, a survey held in the U.S. in 1989 showed that as many as 75% of Americans—and especially young ones—were geographically ignorant about the world they live in, not knowing, for example, where trouble spots such as the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, South Africa and Nicaragua were.
Ask the Western man-on-the-street about the period called The Dark Ages, and you will probably find that he thinks it was something worldwide, but it wasn’t. While Europe was undergoing her ‘Dark Ages’ after the collapse of the Roman Empire in Europe in the 5th century until the brightening of the sky with the Renaissance in the 15th century, the rest of the world was not similarly affected, and great civilizations flourished in many parts; indeed, the Arabs and the Jews kept European science and medicine alive while Christian Europe languished in spiritual darkness! Europe wasn’t the whole world, although it later managed to impose its culture on almost the whole world, and this had a deep and insidious effect, both positively and negatively.
Everyone knows of the Roman Empire—how it extended over most of Western Europe, Asia Minor, and parts of North Africa. The Romans were an orderly people who were largely influenced by the culture of the Greeks, from whom they adopted many things like art, architecture, and education. But as Rome became rich, lazy and corrupt, it fell into decline and eventually collapsed under the onslaught of tribes of marauding barbarians; the system of law-and-order and education throughout the Empire also collapsed, and Europe entered ‘The Dark Ages’, a period of ignorance, illiteracy and widespread lack of culture that prevailed for a thousand years, until the spark of inquiry, the desire to know, began to glow and smolder, and eventually to blaze up in a flame, resulting in the great flowering of art and the beginnings of Science that we now call the Renaissance (‘Rebirth’). This seems to have begun, for some reason, in Italy, and spread across Europe from there, though not without opposition from the established powers of the time; it was only slowly, and through great difficulties, that Science developed. Indeed, with the persecution of Galileo, its development was dealt such a severe blow and suffered such a setback, that it was virtually driven out of Italy and went north, to countries like Holland, Germany and England, where it found more tolerant climes.
Religion has long been used to divide instead of unite, causing a weakening of all religions in general. Ignorance, egoism, personal ambition, pride and desire to convert others and gain new members, have reduced religion to a market place activity, and in spite of all the opulent churches and temples, few people are truly religious. Many people now consider religion to be archaic superstition, and cannot really be blamed for thinking so, for how many wars has religion been responsible for, how much bigotry, how much hatred, ignorance and gross stupidity!
There are still people of every religion, however, who are sincere and see religion as a way of living and being rather than just a name or a way of feeling secure among others of the same name, who feel that religion should be a force for good in the world—not Buddhist good or Christian good, but just plain good—people who are not content to shunt problems aside and say things like: "It’s the will of God; He’ll take care of it", or "It’s Karma; what can we do about it?", but who really wish to do something to improve things. Why let belief and speculation about such things as how life began, what happens after death, the Ultimate Reality, etc., continue to divide us? It is a waste of time, and time is not money, as some people mindlessly say, but Life! Why not see the importance of living Now, which is the only time we have, and what we can do with it? Are we alive NOW, or not?