Religion, a hurdle to the future
As the power of organising societies evolved from primitive groupings based on fear and incentives to complex networks powered by science and reason, the role of religion has for all practical purposes become irrelevant to public discourse. With sophisticated governance tools now available to societies, the brute dependence on religion has morphed into a reliance on laws in democracies. When equality of citizens becomes the starting point of Constitutions across the world, the role of religion in state and governance falls.
Yet, a large chunk of the old way clings on to the crusty and brittle infrastructure of religion. Some of them are harmless — rituals around how to dispose off bodies after death or a home purchase, a griha pravesh. Some are even fun — ceremonies around weddings or naming of a child. Festivals bring cheer, change and exchange that binds communities together.
While harmonious is the larger discourse around religion, the path to the future is paved with hurdles of the past. The new demands that politics becomes the platform on which citizens express themselves. Every man carries transformative ideas within him. But building public opinion needs more than just good ideas. It needs conviction, strength, ability to influence people. This skill is relatively rare — and hence my respect for many politicians, who walk in the sun more than I do, travel on roads where I don’t venture, listen to the voices of real people who I only read about.
But when religions employ tools of politics to move the faithful, faith begins to bleed — influencing and offering religious constituencies to politicians in return for economic or access benefits, for instance. Or when politics plays with communities to cater to the old constituency of believers — like creating insecurity, around minorities and majorities alike, that leads them to seek favours. I believe, this is a moral corruption in the deepest sense of the word.
Between the two public forums — religion and politics — it is religion that will have to give way. In its present form, religion has degenerated into a dogma that’s being decoded by a few for the many. This dogma is restrictive, repressive, repugnant. Awaiting the faithful is a much vaster, far deeper reservoir where faith can intersect with life: Spirituality — an individual quest that talks to the spirit.
Like it or not, politics is the future. It may not be the way we want it to be. The stench of its putrid past may put us off. But, finally, it is the more malleable, more ductile politics that will determine how we define our state — not religion. The quicker our leaders, religious as well as political, realise this, the better for them, their followers and societies.