What is the appeal of organized religion that captivates the human soul to such an unrivaled degree? Is it the strength in numbers theory that makes us gravitate toward a denomination or is it is our fear of the supernatural that compels us to pick our Lord Saviour as insurance against the might of the universe or is it the innate human proclivity for tribalism that seeks out a divine chieftain or is it just the fact that we humans dig a good show which the peddlers of organized religion are adept at dishing out to plug our voids and shoo away our deepest insecurities?
Or it is perhaps all of the above!
So the argument I’m trying to make above is that organized religion must provide its followers with either succor or a sense of strength or hope and therefore humans need it in one form or another (I’ll buy that argument for now until I pen one dissecting organized religion). Therefore, I’m at a loss to understand what the pimps of religion provide that organized religion and it’s well-developed and well-entrenched network of establishments can’t.
In the aftermath of the conviction of Gurmeet Singh and amidst the growing clamor for action against Asaram I want to explore the fundamental reasons driving our need as a society for subscribing to the ‘spiritual leaders’ as one friend of mine refers to these godmen/women as despite the preponderance of options available in mainstream organized religion. Let’s start with a recap of organized religion as I see it.
What are the building blocks of organized religion? (The following are my personal observations and not sweeping generalizations. I’ll stand corrected should my readership point out fatal flaws backed up with cogent evidence to support their assertions).
- A mythical figure(s) who is portrayed to be the supreme power (creator, nurturer and cleanser) of this universe and the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient creator of all life forms as we know it today. Monotheist religions like Islam have one and Polytheists like Hindus have multiple superstars. It is asserted that most of these Gods did manifest themselves in human form and did walk the earth at some stage of human history.
- A holy text or a collection of texts which chronicle the mythical life and times of the fecund founder(s) as well as the doctrine/dogma/rituals as prescribed by them and their lineage (added later). Bible, Quran, Gita et.al.
- A collection of carefully fabricated stories and anecdotes targeting the the not so erudite to convey the glory and powers of God (again the version of curators of religion). Parables, Puranas and Hadith.
- Men of the cloth to preach to the faithful and evangelize to the ‘faithless’ (Hinduism to my knowledge did not actively seek to proselytize if you discard the fact that the whole of Dravidian India took to Hinduism, an export of the Aryans 😉 but in modern times the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ charade just might have changed that paradigm; reverse proselytization if you will). Priest, Imam, Pandit, Rabbi.
- A formal place of worship where the faithful congregate and where the men of the cloth (male bastion remember) sermonize and celebrate God to reinforce the glory of God amongst their ‘flock’ and also to catch ’em while they are young. Church, Temple, Mosque and Synagogue.
Pretty elaborate structure right? You would think this would be adequate to cater to all the needs of the faithful. So why isn’t this structure measuring up to the expectations of many ? Why are folks looking increasingly elsewhere and subscribing to cults and becoming beholden to the charlatans that lead these phony cults of personality or ‘Charismatic Authority’ as coined by the German sociologist Max Weber?
Well for one, it is charisma (as the phrase above suggests) of these self-styled Messengers of God that attracts the gullible. But that charisma works better when the disillusioned and frustrated lot are already on the lookout for alternatives outside of mainstream religion and its merely a matter of the ‘closer’ to come out and ‘seal the deal’. So we will revisit charisma in closing but for now let’s dwell on some of the root causes behind this exodus away from the confines of mainstream religion and the gravitation to these nefarious creeds.
I shall use Hinduism in this endeavor as the point of reference since I’m most familiar with it (albeit my grasp over religion is tenuous) amongst all major religions as well as for the fact that the crop of Hinduism has been blighted of late by this virus. The following are my personal observations and not a sweeping generalization.
- Hinduism discriminates against its own. What I mean by that is the fact that Hinduism has kept the Dalits and the other ‘lower castes’ out of its fold as much as possible for centuries now. The proctors of Hinduism want Dalits to identify themselves as Hindu and yet do not want a Dalit anywhere near a temple! They side with the ‘higher caste’ to ensure that Dalits stay on fringes of society (both literally and figuratively) as well as in many instances foment sanction against the Dalits for overstepping the lines drawn by them (could range from something as innocuous like drawing water from the well to forging a relationship with an upper caste member of the opposite sex which invites rape and honor killing in many instances). Simply put they want these folks to make up numbers for their religion but conveniently deprive them of ‘full membership’ and dignity of existence.The agents of God on the contrary do not discriminate and welcome all with open arms regardless of caste, creed, economic status and even across religious lines. This instantly strikes a chord with those Hindus who have been shunned by Hinduism and they begin to make a beeline for the ashrams or deras. It is human psychology 101 that humans crave acceptance and will sever a relationship in which they feel unwanted and establish a new one where they feel accepted, wanted, valued and loved. The agents of God have grasped this fundamental human trait and have used it to maximum benefit.
- Hinduism does not provide a structure and system like Christianity or Islam do where a person can seek redress for their issues by approaching the clergy for counseling for familial/social matters or moral and spiritual guidance. Majority of Hindu priests are half-baked snake oil salesmen who don’t chose that profession because they have a burning desire to serve God and his (remember God is male!) children (do God’s work) but quite simply take to it by virtue of it being a family professional tradition (father and fore-fathers have been priests) to earn a living (no different from how a barber, barista or barrister treats theirs). Additionally, Hinduism does not provide a system (preparatory) that readies the to-be clergy to enable them to deal with counseling for matters of family and faith. Most are inaccessible for anything else beyond the perfunctory and quite frankly hollow puja/yagna ceremonies and are clueless about the concept of counseling let alone what it entails. Most just know how to perform a ‘Puja’ by lighting a fire, arranging a few artifacts to create an ambience, chanting ‘mantras’ which is pure gibberish without context and translation and finally the sham of passing on the blessing of ‘God himself’ by acting as the conduit between God and human. The agents of God on the other hand are ready to not only entertain and provide audience to even the most trivial of issues but also proffer instant counsel and ‘comprehensive solutions’ with zeal and fervor for those issues. This counsel and the solutions obviously come at an immeasurable cost to the devotees but these spurned outcastes are desperate to sell their souls for even a scrap of empathy.
- Hinduism’s scriptures are delivered to its followers invariably in Sanskrit, a language, not understood by in my humble estimation 99% of practicing Hindus! So what good is it to preach when the folks you are trying to address/impress do not comprehend even a single word of what you verbalized. The still sadder part of this dynamic is that rarely any attempt is made to translate the scripture into Hindi or other regional languages for the benefit of the intended audience. I think the continued use of Sanskrit today is by design partly to keep it inscrutable and by extension maintain the monopoly of those who claim to belong to the god ordained lineage of ‘keepers’ of Hinduism and partly as a mask for the half-baked snake oil selling imposters to conceal their duplicitous faces. The agents of God though speak to their potential followers in a plain uncomplicated manner (often translating the religious stories and anecdotes into the lingua franca) sprinkled liberally with colloquiums and humor which appeals to and resonates with the lowest common denominators of society (a la Trump). So in short the Hindu religious mafia (the priests) can be summed up by the combination of two phrases; one coined by the American comedian W.C Fields ‘If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit’ and the other by the great Albert Einstein ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’.
- Hinduism has been by and large apathetic to the plight of the working poor as well as devoid of any rationality when it comes to its glut of rituals and the complexity and costs involved thereof. How can a person who has to break their back to earn a daily living wage have time either for any of the elaborate rituals or bear the cost of performing one? It is mind numbing that the Pujas still require all that paraphernalia what with the ghee for the lamp, the incense sticks, the fruits and sweets as ‘offering to God’ and the list is endless. Contrast this with the ashrams who offer free dinner in exchange only for your attendance for their late evening sermons. You tell me which one would appeal to the daily wage laborer and family? No-brainer, right!
- Lastly the irony of the self-appointed custodians of Hinduism who fulminate at the drop of the ‘Odhni’ from a woman’s head citing it to be anti-Hindu culture have been totally silent when it comes to decrying these imposters and their unholy sects who have been found to systematically outrage the modesty of women devotees in their lairs. These custodians have tacitly allowed these scammers to ply their trade without rap or restriction as long as they transact within the boundaries of Hinduism. This is an arrangement of convenience where they still get to maintain their numbers within the fold of Hinduism (thereby meeting their target for the KPI of attrition) and yet do not have to accord them 1st grade citizen status! A win-win for everyone!
Hinduism has been tone deaf at so many different levels. It has stubbornly refused to reform itself and adapt to the needs of its new age follower. The accessibility to the religion, the method, manner and lingo of outreach, the complexity, cost and impracticality of the rituals as well as the parochial mindset of its self-appointed custodians can all be attributed to the growth of this insidious phenomenon of agents of God.
We all know con-artists since time immemorial have used both their cunning and charisma to entrap their intended target. This holds true for all the Baba’s, Maa’s, Guru’s and Maharaj’s who used their powers of persusaion to woo those who were really at the threshold ready to jump ship at the slightest nudge. These hapless souls who initially perhaps voluntarily relinquish what little they have in terms of money overcome by the euphoria of finally being embraced by someone are later coerced into submitting physically and sexually themselves and their families (modern day slavery). Furthermore, they are brainwashed by a toxic diet of ‘Us Vs the Establishment’ doctrine which leads them down a path of violence and self-annihilation. It is a pity then that this Frankenstein that is of our own making is being allowed to violate the souls of so many of our most vulnerable brother and sisters and yet we as a society continue to look the other way.
In closing, a few things that I think are worthy of mention.
- Religion should be simple and not arcane, flexible and not dogmatic, spiritual and not material
- Religion and politics is an unholy nexus and should be mutually exclusive. Politics vitiates religion and religion poisons politics
- Religion should never be a ticket for exclusion rather it should be a pass for inclusion
- Religion is about a higher power which constantly inspires us to bring the best out of us and not an excuse to justify the worst in us
I’m sure the aforesaid applies to all other major religions of the world but my focus here is Hinduism. These are my personal views and you are welcome to debate it civilly. Remember this, the biggest oxymoron in the English language is ‘holy war’!