By Atharva Pandit
Edited by Shamhavi Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
I remember the evenings spent along with the elders of my family after coming home from an exhausting game of football or cricket, squatting on the floor, palms folded in genuine prayer for hope, peace, happiness and prosperity- things we were taught to pray for as children. The prayers of an innocent mind; these were nothing but treatises into creating a devout out of a little child without any understanding of what the world is all about. I remember them all the same, and – I see how a number of these a lot of those innocent children have now evolved into God-hating, religion-mocking rejectionists of Faith and in denial of the existence of what is supposedly the Eternal.
I am not one of them, for I believe that God exists, but I also consequently believe that God doesn’t need a prayer, or one doesn’t need to call upon God by praying at religious shrines. Most of the times, such places are nothing more than full-fledged money-making businesses having a field day out of Faith. It is nothing but wide-scale looting, a rather mild version of robbery. The temples in India are chaotic, and have a system that lacks organization. There are exceptions, of course, and me stating this does not mean that I reject the divinity that temples and other religious places spark. Recent examples have highlighted that saints and Gurus who have been for years, decades even, enjoying a devoted following have deceived the very same followers in the name of religion and God. Case in point is the example of Sathya Sai Baba, where reports of him sexually abusing young children- and there are pages and pages devoted to revealing his other side– and ‘materializing’ gold watches when they were actually brought to him by devotees from across the globe. All these allegations seem to suggest that the man was no saint, but someone busy in creating a web of lies spun around religion, culture and philosophy.
The aforesaid case is just one of the many where religion has been used to empty the pockets of innocent devotees. Also, violence has been inter-linked with religion for a long time. The crux of related killings and genocides has been religion and the “preservation” or even “purification” of a certain culture and the “protection” of its traditions. It was about time someone spoke or wrote against it when Christopher Hitchens published his book, god is not Great (yes, the ‘g’, symbolically enough, is intentionally not left in capitals), in which he argued that religion and its metaphysical arguments have poisoned the world, led nations into wars with each other and people into riots. Indeed, he notes, Saddam Hussein’s supposedly secular Iraq had “Allahu Akbar” inscribed on its flags, and that he massacred thousands under the name of Operation Anfal. Anfal was a term borrowed from Sura Al-Anfal, the eighth chapter of Quran, roughly translated as “The Spoils of War.” Although the book delves into a lot of facts and revelations, and typically leads us into the discourse on how secularism doesn’t work in a world where religion does, god is not Great also presents historical origins of certain traditions and religious treatises. To a certain extent, Hitchens’ arguments about the role of religion in violence are justified, but one cannot deny, as Hitchens does, that even though religion poisons, it doesn’t poison everything.
Faith and its relation to culture are the basis of Indian living (normal, middle-class Indian living at least), where people in times of trouble and difficulty seek and indeed find solace within their faith in God and the theory that He will take care of everything. Whether He exists or not is brushed aside, for it doesn’t matter- all that matters is that their faith and their beliefs are what help them sail the boat. God and religion have proved to be escapes of comfort in humanity’s worst times, wherein they pave way towards acceptance and the act of forgiving and moving on. For example, General Butt-Naked of Liberia, whose interests included ripping out human heart and devouring it, found himself preaching the teachings of Jesus Christ after the end of the First Liberian Civil War and “surrendering” himself to the War Crimes Tribunal (although it’s another matter that he wasn’t tried and the whole Liberian conflict scenario orbited around the sole figure of Charles Taylor). It might be encouraging to know that the general did not take part during the Second Liberian Civil War that broke out soon after. Similar stories have been repeated in Central African Republic, Congo, Mali and other African nations embattled in conflict and considered among worst places on the Earth- worst places seeped in the belief in God and existence of virtues.
You neither have to be God-fearing teenagers with tilaks on your foreheads rushing to temples and other worship places on every religious occasion, nor should you be an individual who accuses the believers to be God – fanatic conservative bigots. If we consider the fanaticism that religion has evoked throughout the ages, isn’t it fair to consider its virtues as well?
Atharva Pandit is an FYBA student at Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai, and intends to major in Politics. He is a close observer of international politics and is an advocate of free speech, all the while following social evils plaguing the Indian society. Apart from his journalistic ventures, Pandit also reserves an interest in foreign languages, and has cleared two advance-level Spanish exams. He is interested in reading, and recently presented a paper titled “The Role of Literature in Latin American Resistance.”