By Vatsal Khandelwal

“God did not create man in his own image. Evidently, it was quite the other way about, which is the painless explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and among faiths, that we see all about us and that has so retarded the development of civilization.” – Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything)

We live in a dualistic society dangling between the ideals of rationality and stupidity. One of the fanciest festivals of the country shadowed the city of Mumbai lately, and being a witness to the entire process was not a pleasant experience for several people and their ear drums. Submerging the city in alcohol and boisterous music, this festival proved that increasing religious practices and the growing fetish for hooliganism are qualitatively correlated; we have created god in our own image and we have retarded the development of our civilization. Scores of eighteen feet tall idols shadow a city where more than one eighty thousand people starve and suffer. Chunks of delicacies are offered to inanimate idols that stare puzzlingly at the irony of human thought. Loud Bollywood songs overpower the voices of thousands who are left unheard – sleeping on the streets, living a quiet elegy of their own.

We are a society of plaster saints: a throng of hypocrites who practice religion but go against its very ideals, who use God as an excuse to exercise our fetishes and who are so narrow minded in nature that we rejoice in our own irrationalities. We have created God in our own image, for if real God did exist, he would surely not be a narcissist or have any kind of ontological impairment. We are not worshipping the divine; we are just divinizing our fetishes- that too, at the very cost of everything divinity and religion seeks to stand for. Marx would not object if his popular “religion-opium maxim” is reversed- as of the twenty first century; religion is the opium of the masses.

With respect to various Ganesha Mandals and the fund crunch they had to face this year, Shirish Mohite, president of Seva Mitra Mandal said that, “The sum was even higher for mandals on Laxmi Road or Peth areas. With a 60% reduction in funding, many mandals have stayed away from setting up elaborate tableaux or live shows this year,” After the reduction, the funds came ‘down’ to Rs 1.5 Lakh per mandal, and given the multitudinous God worshipping enterprises in the city, it is not required to highlight the magnitude of funds finally used. A compromise on funds used for ‘elaborate tableaux’ and ‘live shows’ for adoring and admiring God’s grace is an issue in a society where animate beings who are very much the product of God’s grace are left unnoticed and impoverished.

In a society that is consumed by irrationality and an ironical nexus with a supernatural being, a cent percent reduction in human lives would also not matter, but certainly, a 60% reduction in God-servicing would. If the amount of money spent by households on buying idols (and later submerging them) is added to the massive expenditure of mandals, and further we add the amount of funds used in providing music on the streets, carrying out processions and other expressions of our remix-religion- we’d obtain an amount that could be used to grant a basic medium-income job to all the destitute in Mumbai.

The cost of practicing our religion today, generally (as in this case) is almost (if not more) the sum needed to economically uplift the supposed creations of God (we might like to object to that, since for most of us, anything below the middle class doesn’t exist, and what doesn’t exist cannot be a creation of God). While a lot many of us might assume this to be a highly leftist argument, (we like labeling opinions) there are two basic fallacies that can be quoted against this idea-

  1. The entire idea of donating the money for ensuring basic livelihood to many can be labeled as an act of charity, and can also amount to an infringement on personal-religious rights of many.
  2. This argument does not take into consideration that religious fetishes and festivities also create backward-forward linkages that ultimately help a major part of the ‘non-existent’ economy. For example, if processions/idols/other mediums of expressing religious fervor sum up to a huge cost, they also create livelihoods. Thus, economic irrationality on the part of religion, is actually leading to positive externalities.

All the Adam Smith-Ayn Rand followers who would argue saying that every individual is entitled to his self interest (more than anything else) and taking their money and giving it for ‘charity’ (though I despise to use this particular word) is an encroachment on this entitlement. We should perhaps know that both the well-informed intellectuals also related self interest with reason, and any interest based on irrationality does not fall under the purview of their theories in any manner. The above mentioned fallacies do point out the basic flaws in the argument mentioned previously, but the society as a whole (and not as selfish economic agents) needs to ponder and prioritize whether balancing religious-non religious expenditure portfolios would be more important an ideal for them (in totality), than economic alleviation of the majority. Further, if at all kindness was ever an economic variable that could be measured and quantified, and ethics was ever even allowed to enter the economic domain, such a dilemma would not arise at all. But till the time we work for ourselves, our families and our kids, we choose to buy an idol and submerge it rather than feed someone on the street- we need to give religion more importance than kindness and such a statement itself, is a contradiction of the highest degree. Man’s religious rights cannot be denied at the expense of bringing equality. There are two questions that need to be asked- which type of man are we talking about here? The one who celebrates his festival and worships his insecurities? Or the one, who celebrates his misery and lives amidst his insecurities? There is no God who would give the latter type of man a basic livelihood, so then whose rights are we talking about? Or maybe this high version good is not available to the poor. The ludicrousness of religion makes God unaffordable for him as well.

The linkages argument on the other hand is quite justified. But we need to know the difference between the price paid to the maker and the market price. The idol maker (allegorically referring to the laborer, the peasant, the artisan- generally from the lower section of economic society) often receives far less than what he deserves. In such a case, linkage effects arising as a result of festivals are not equitable in nature. In fact, a festival would then be half the society exercising their fetishes and worshipping the insecurities with the fund which is nothing but ‘capitalist surplus’, obtained by ruining many individual livelihoods. A lot needs to be unwrapped, and the negative social effects of religion need to be understood; if religion is an individual right, then we need to dissociate the entire concept of ‘individuality’ and set a decision criteria. You earn below a particular income, you are not an individual, you don’t have any religious right and while the city shall shine in the lights of irrationality, you can starve and die and go to heaven. Or maybe, you don’t have enough funds to book your stay there as well.

This argument is not a case against religion per say, but the interpretation of religion that we all seek to bear in our minds today. For clarification’s sake, no original religious text awards greater value to God than brotherhood, equality and peace. Religion, per say, is not irrational in its truest and original form, but its twenty first century-remix is. We need to transform ourselves from a legion of plaster saints mixing religion with irrationality and hypocrisy to a body of rational, practical and more importantly, socially concerned individuals who practice religion, worship God in its original form and do not make religion more important than human life under any context. The article does not intend to demean religious fervor and present a case for charity, in any way. It is just an attempt to make us think and realize that religion is the means to achieve the end called social happiness. (Social happiness, being the summation of happiness of every human being, from every section of the society) It is not the end, and the more we make it resemble the end, the more irrational we become, and move towards intellectual and societal doom.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind