Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Religion is a very personal matter that warrants sincere respect, as does the absence of it, but respect free of hypocrisy, public grandstanding, or intentional distortion as a means of propagating, or indoctrinating. Indeed religion is probably the most sensitive area of debate and one reason that even scientists regardless of their personal positions tend to be very circumspect.

This precedent was set during the 17th century when Galileo, the father of modern physics, was charged with heresy by the Catholic Church's Holy Inquisition because of his position on heliocentrism. While there is no Holy Inquisition to stop anyone from making any claim about God and the universe, the 'hold' of public opinion by the religious and political establishment is so powerful that empirical or theoretical scientific discovery is invariably marginalized if it conflicts with prevailing doctrines.

The suggestion that religions have not been co-opted and used by elites to their benefit is contrary any rudimentary study of the history of major institutionalized religions throughout history from ancient times to the present. This is evident in theocratic societies of the Orient as well as hierocracies of the West, a point that Ludwig Feuerbach, Max Weber argues among others have made.

In theocratic societies of the ancient or Medieval times, the will of the ruler and religious dogma were one and people as subjects of the state make the connection between the the ruler they must obey and God. In the hierocracy model of the West there was the dialectic between church and state and the symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit for the religious and political as well as social elites.

In Asia or Europe, theocracy or hierocracy model, religion as a catalyst to co-optation was equally significant and the connection between ruler and the divine was deliberately inculcated into the consciousness of the subjects. The second point I would like to make concerns rulers and adherence to religious dogma of pacifism as an ideal, regardless of policies they may be pursuing that are belligerent.

I may be wrong, but as far as my study of world history has carried me, I discovered only one major ruler – Ashoka of the Maurya dynasty who ruled India in the 3rd century BCE – in the history of the world embraced religion and abandoned his blood-thirsty craving for war and destruction. In 1947 amid India's struggle for Independence, Mahatma Gandhi followed the path of non-violence, stating that: "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

In my teaching days, I occasionally used Ashoka as an example of “the exception to the rule” as far as major rulers are concerned. I know of no Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Confucian ruler who has based his/her reign on religious ethics rooted in pacifism and acted on such a body of ethics as Ashoka, who embraced Buddhism and dedicated his life to spreading its influence. The Han Dynasty may be pointed to as an exceptionally enlightened, but it lived and declined by the sword as the Roman Empire.

As successor to the Roman West, Charlemagne Christianized the Barbarians, but with sword in hand and he put to death tens of thousands in the name of his God! He did so much to strengthen Christendom (an extension of his rule), but with the sword, no matter his proclaimed love of St. Augustine’s writings.
The Muslims combined their remarkable conquests with the spreading of Islam East and West, but always with sword at hand.

From the rise of Islam and Charlemagne to modern-day religious politicians East and West, all invariably embrace religious ethics and dogma to justify unjust and exploitative policies that have no relationship to pacifism, justice or religious egalitarianism. Would the self-appointed defenders of institutionalized religion and secular leaders who pay lip service to Christianity to win popular approval tolerate a Jesus today with the exact same messages as the young radical rabbi delivered 2000 years ago?

While Hinduism like all religions revere all life,this does not mean that the followers and especially the leaders who espouse religious doctrines and a body of ethics rooted in pacifism follow such a path. On the the contrary, religion is invariably used to justify mass violence. A power-rooted if not crusader mentality takes precedence in those who rule because the ethics of pacifism entails weakness, if not manipulation or some type of subjugation by the strong.

The innate elitism and thirst for power in those who govern is in direct conflict with the ethical principle of pacifism. In addition, insecurity and fear are so dominant in human beings and sovereign rulers that they opt for and justify a belligerent path whether it is against their own citizens or others outside the national borders. The survival instinct is so powerful that fear as a defensive mechanism takes precedence and around it religion is built. Governments use fear, especially fear rooted in religion, along with the institutionalized religion, to engender conformity in society and make it easier to rule. There is no cheaper and more effective and efficient way to government other than having a society immersed in religious observance that translates, with exceptions of course, into political submission.

Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian, although written more than 80 years ago, is still applicable today. In brief, he argues that religion is based on fear and “Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand.” Despite Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and many others, Marxists and non-Marxists alike, who argue that human beings must be free of the imaginary support and stand on their own, the two fundamental questions remain whether the majority of people will ever be ready to stand on their own, and be free of the psychological (perhaps bio-psychological) support that religion offers. And how likely is it that rulers and elites of the modern era will embrace enlightenment like Ashoka and rule in kingdoms of virtue instead of injustice and exploitation in varying forms?

No comments: