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Saturday, 26 August 2017

Religion, Power and Money

Yesterday much of northern India - a vast area - was affected by riots, following the conviction of a guru of two rapes, which occurred several years ago. Along with the railways and Indian Army, the British Raj left behind for modern India a functioning system of courts: while slow and sometimes affected by corruption and political influence, the judicial system is broadly fair and follows the law. So there is a fair chance that the verdict will stand scrutiny.

That will not affect the actions of the people who want to believe that the man is a true prophet, and that he should be immune from civil penalties; and some among them will be incapable of accepting that he has behaved in ways that the civil law regards as criminal. He has been showered with praise and with a huge amount of money by the people who follow him. An unknown number of men have castrated themselves at his behest, as a way of assuring that they will lead pure lives [at least, in the sense of sexual abstinence]. This is evidence that the mesmeric power of suggestion that has emanated from him is quite exceptional. Rich and poor devotees have contributed to his fortune by making donations, by purchasing his goodwill and his guidance, and through buying his writings and watching the films of which he is the producer and the star.

I have seen no evidence that the guru has advocated that his cult should develop into a militant force such as has now become common in fragments of Islam. It is probable that the rioting arises from a sense of outrage and shock among his followers at his conviction, which implicitly challenges any concept of his perfection as an exemplary super-human.

Millions of people from all layers of Hindu society have paid a lot, relative to their income, to experience the mindfulness and inner contentment that they claim to receive from following his precepts. How far the rioting represents the resentment of shattered delusions, and how much anger at an apparent injustice, will become clearer as people settle down and contemplate their future in the acceptance this the conviction is a fact. Some people will quietly abandon his cult, some will proclaim their disillusion; and many others - perhaps millions - will assert that their faith is undimmed. His actions and utterances from now on will, of course, be hugely influential in determining whether the faithful hold firm and enable him to rebuild something like the position he has occupied in the recent past. It will be interesting to see how these matters pan out.

Meanwhile, this case provides an interesting contrast to what has happened in recent decades in Christianity and in Islam. The decline of Christianity in the developed West has continued, while it has continued to expand in competition with Islam in much of Africa. Throughout the world, the decline is most apparent in the sects and churches that are 'progressive'; while Christian denominations and sub-sets that adopt conservative positions have largely thrived. Similar trends are apparent in Islam. Most of the men in traditionally Islamic territories and communities continue to obey the Prophet's injunction to attend prayers in the mosque, while leading otherwise secular lives [though usually requiring their womenfolk to conform to conservative, largely tribal dress codes and patterns of behaviour].  Yet sub-sets of the community have been increasingly susceptible to backward-looking interpretations of the religion and of the Prophesies on which it was founded.

While many western Christians are less than lukewarm about the existence of Heaven and Hell, the attainment of unspeakable bliss in heaven after the travails, struggles and imperfections of life in the material world is the promised reward: to which jihadists are offered a short cut. The more conservative a sect's belief in Heaven and Hell may be, the stronger that belief  is as a motive for how earthly life is to be conducted.

The guru is in the great tradition of self-proclaimed prophets who offer a means to achieve inner peace in this imperfect world, followed by celestial rewards. The millions of poundsworth of wealth that has been showered on him shows the ongoing potency of such promises and practices. The Econocracy have no explanation of this phenomenon - common all over the world and throughout humanity - of people willing to surrender earthly wealth for the hope of spiritual contentment. It is obviously an important aspect of human character and aspiration, which will merit further consideration as the interesting incident in India develops.  

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