Wednesday, January 27, 2016

City Lights 4: Religions and the City

Which one came first, a city or the religious shrines? This is like the proverbial question pertaining to egg and chicken. While we cannot be so conclusive about this, in the case of cities we could say that the religious shrines came first and the cities came around it later. Religions of any shade, degree and strength are theoretical codifications extracted from the human beings’ ultimate quest to understand the meaning of his existence on this earth. This organization might have taken so many centuries before those dictums came to have gained larger acceptance. With the religions, there occurred two things; one, the origin of myths and two, the origin of human hierarchy. Human societies were not hierarchic as the way we see them today. They were loose structures with men and women alternatively holding prominence in the given life depending on the situations that included habitations and food gathering. When religions started forming, those people who happened to have become instrumental in codifying the social rules with a supra structure of divinities for adequate sanctions of the same became the automatic power holders in the society. They were expected to guide or lead the society based on the heard and remembered rules of divinity. And the rest of the people became the followers, perhaps willingly because it was good for all of them to lead a peaceful life in their transition from beast-nature to human nature and also from their nomadic existence to settled lives. That means, leadership is not the outcome of a person’s or a collective’s desire to become the leader but the society’s general need to create and posit someone to that position. The building of the cities thus became the responsibility of such elected or naturally selected leaders.

Whatever views we hold about politics and religion, the fact is that religion is the origin of politics; not the other way round. Religion established social order theoretically and to certain extent symbolically. But it was not enough to perpetuate the idea of order and supremacy amongst the large number of people who came to have shared the same language, gesture or the developing customs. The theoretical as well as the symbolical nature of the religions needed some sort of a practical expression so that the total hold of these could bind the rest of the society together without much conflict. But so long as human beings are different in thinking and outlook there are the possibilities of strife and differences. The religious leadership wanted such outbreak of dissents to be curbed and the dissenters be brought back to the fold. This needed persuasion of different types. The primary persuasion was through the religious and spiritual warnings by showing them the torturous after life for the dissenters. Most of the people confirmed with such ideas and remained in the fold accepting the dictums of the religious leadership. But still there were people who really did not give any damn to these social codes and the spiritual leadership. Such people were to be brought and kept within the fold. Coercion was one of the means and it had to be expressed through punitive measures. But how could one exercise the punitive right without someone holding that authority? Therefore there occurred a need for the religious leadership to carve out a civil leadership with divine and secular authorities and the right to punish the dissenting ones as sanctioned by the religious authorities. The origin of kingship or someone with political power became a reality by this.

Kings adopted two things; one the sword, the tool of punishment and two, the paraphernalia of religious symbolism. A king had to appear before the public with all these paraphernalia. He had to hold the severest of punishing machines as symbolized by a sword. And he had to wear befitting robes that resembled the robes of the religious authorities. Religions gave sanctions to these kings because partly they were representing and safeguarding the interests of the religions. Kings on the other hand had to develop severest of punishing methods not really to punish the enemies but to punish his own clan or tribe people. This established his authority over them. He became god and father rolled into one. He also at times replaced the religious authorities by holding both the secular and divine powers. He had to develop more and more different, exciting and frightening methods of punishment so that without exercising or using these tools he could keep the people under his control by simply evoking the fear amongst them. As people became his slaves and agreed more or less of his authority, it became imperative for the king to expand the scope of his power and also expand his jurisdiction. Territories were carved out and also territories were breached. In both cases religion stood with the kings to provoke, guide and even promote territorial aggressions.

When territorial aggressions became a reality kingdoms were formed and now the kings had to establish their power in terms of physical opulence. Mere symbolism would not have served the purpose. They had to loot, burn, pilfer, tax and snatch from the people in order to create kingdoms and also to underline the existence of the kingdoms, they had to build the cities that allowed people to live and do commerce and pay taxes to the king. Religions and religious leaders stood by the kings and before the establishment of cities, they established the places of worship. These places of worship were done under the name of gods or goddesses so that they automatically gained an unquestionable divine sanction. When kings came capturing the territories, they looted the religious centers first and then established a rapport with the religious establishment there via cooptation as the interests of the both parties were one and the same; exercising power over the people. Cities were built through the help of the religious funds and blessings of the religious leaders. Religious leadership made money in turn by instilling fear in the minds of the people. So both religion and politics helped each other in creating fear and also in establishing cities. People, despite all kinds of looting and burning, lived in the cities peacefully under the ‘benevolent’ watch of both the king and the reigning deity, because they thought that it was through the religious path that the cities came into existence.

This continued for a long time and in due course of all these centuries human history saw kings coming from foreign lands after a period of fighting and looting, making compromises with the already existing religious and political establishments and becoming the new kings. Political leadership in the modern world also does the same thing as they keep religion as a binding concept. So long as the religious authorities are in harmony with the political leadership, things would move more or less fine. The moment religious sentiments are hurt by the political leadership there will be problems. The modern world suffers from a new problem; that’s one religion claiming supremacy over the other religion. In fact the cities become the contesting platforms for these vying religions. The people and the political leadership that sway according to these religions forget the fact that whatever be the religion, their primary interest is to keep political power so that the petty interests of whatever nature could be protected. Here when we see the political establishments fighting with the religious dissenters what we see is not the real politics doing political governance but in a pathetic way protecting the primordial powers of the religion over political establishments and the people. Irrespective of the religious color or complexion, and irrespective of the kinds of terrorism that we face today what thrives is the commercial interests of the religious establishments who exercise their fatal power over people through political establishments. Even if people believe that one political establishment would save them from the other, nothing is going to happen because it is the vicious interests of the religion that is going to be protected.

Most of the people who live in the modern cities do not understand this. They in their own levels staunchly believe in one or the other religion and one or the other political parties. Interestingly, the political belief of a person is perversely connected with the religious belief that he carries. This was not the case for a long time. There were some kind of enlightened thinking and the application of scientific logic when it came to the socio-religious and political issues. So people could choose themselves to be secular even when believing in one or the other religion for their spiritual purposes. One’s religion could have been directly oppositional to his political belief. The religions were not really asking for steadfast adherence and blind faith from people. People could choose their political ideology and could discard their religions. People could become radicals and discarded both religion and politics. Yet the civil society could have thrived in harmony. But through some strange twists in history or perhaps the naked outlaying of the nexus between religion and politics, today people, even the level headed ones at times are forced to justify their religious extremism through a related political outfit or the political extremism through a related religious outfit. What suffers is the lives in the cities and lives of the cities because it is in the cities such antagonisms are played out. The recent history of the world proves that religion has become either a problem for the development of the human beings as the members of a society driven by logical thinking and goaded by the ideas of spiritual sublimation where religions do not play any role but the philosophies extracted from all the religions become directive principles.

The idea of saving the world from further crises perhaps should start from dismantling the cities that are created out of unholy nexus between religions and politics. But is it possible as we perceive it? One may think that it is impossible as things are intricately and inextricably connected, besides a majority of the people who live in the cities (in villages as well) has been brainwashed to believe that we cannot do without cities where religions and politics meet and make some nefarious pacts. One cannot say that we could disband the cities or as some people dream it that they could remove all the unholy relationships between religion and politics. It is not possible because if one is removed the other cannot exist in a vacuum. If religion is removed in an ideal situation then there will not be any need for politics because as we saw at the outset of this chapter, if there is no religious organization, none will feel the need to exercise and extraneous power over the people who by that time will be capable of controlling their own lives within the minimum alternative governance. If you remove politics from the human societies, then definitely there will be no role for the religion. If politics is played on economics and social welfare then where exactly one would find a reason for talking about religion. A person who needs health care is to be given health care; his religion will not be a hindrance at all in an ideal situation where religion has not relevance. If a person is to be given education, his religion should not be a problem at all. If governance is all about economics and human dignity, then who is really interested to outwit the other in terms of religion? One may strive for a better job based on merit and ability and the other may try to excel by bettering his possibilities by equal opportunity and competition. Who is going to stop anyone from prospering in whichever ways? If someone wants to prosper in spiritual matters why one should resort to a particular religion at all? If listening to certain spiritual discourse the way one listens to music or attends to kindness, then why the conversion and elevation of human mind needs the crutches of a religion? When religion becomes irrelevant, what will be the politicians basing their votes on? They will have to perform in a society that demands progress and dignity. If someone fails to give it, he fails as an administrator.

Such an ideal scenario would bring forth very interesting outcomes in our society. That ideal society will not ask anyone to stop eating anything that the other person does not like to eat. Eating will be based on healthy life styles. Nobody will think about killing someone for eating a particular food because the very idea of killing someone would make people laugh like anything. What a ridiculous idea will it be if someone asks someone else not to eat something? In that scenario, nobody will be offended by seeing a work of art because a work of art will be an expression of a human being which will involve divine creatures, spiritual beings, leaders and so many other things. Nobody’s sentiments would get hurt because nobody’s sentiments will be connected to such trivial things as religion and politics. People would look at those people in cars as the way they look at people who pass winds from their rear ends in polite societies or belch without apologies. Nobody will be offended to see someone wearing a particular cloth. Most importantly nobody will ask a woman to behave in a particular way only because she is a woman. If someone does that, they will look at him as if he is an alien and will be thrown away by the civil police without much ado. Nobody will feel like regulate the time of a kiss on or off screen. Nobody will speak of the color of a man’s skin. It will not be significant as the color of one’s eyes. The word censorship will ultimately become obsolete if religion goes out of our lives.

I am not saying that cities and countries would flourish if we do away with religions. I am saying that in the final analysis, in today world, to progress in this world and the world beyond, one does not need religion or politics. What one does need is an administrative system that gives equal opportunity and justice to all. What we need is a system that assures education and health to all. What we need is the distribution of wealth as per work. What we needs is a situation where consumption is based on discretion. We want a situation where food is a privilege to one and all. We have to develop a situation where one need not pay for air and water. We need cities where people could walk freely without fearing offending someone. We need cities were people could breathe their spirituality without blocked by religions. We demand a city where pedestrians could walk without the fear of being knocked down and the cyclists could reach home safely. We need a society where women are respected and we need a society where people will not punctuate their conversations with expletives. To facilitate that we need a society, which is not based on religion and politics. I am not saying that politics should go. It should be there as an assisting mechanism to people. When religion is not there to make rampant sectarianism politics will lose its ferocious nature.

I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one, as the bard singer says. I know that our cities are built by people and those people who believed and still believe in religion. As they believe in religion they cannot think differently from the conventional politics. Brick by brick the people have built the religious shrines and establishments. The sentiments attached to those structures created by the generations of people are so strong that they cannot be wished away. But as we progress, or as we take our society towards one that offers dignity to one and all, we need to shed those genetic codings that have made us very touchy people. In fact though our efforts are there in creating these cities based on religion and politics, nothing is better that leaving them behind when we understand for sure that these are the same organizations that we have given birth to today kill us indiscriminately, without even considering that we too belong to the same religion that is now striking the sword against our necks. Definitely the people are the makers of the cities. But unfortunately they are not the takers of the cities. They become slaves of the establishments that they helped in making. There is only one solution to it: forget religion and embrace spirituality. It is not an easy task. When one is spiritual there is no comparison. There is no white spirituality or saffron spirituality or green spirituality. Spirituality is like water. It does not have shape or color. It takes the shape of your and color of you. When everyone becomes spiritual, political establishments will wither away; even countries would, one day, why cities alone? 

No comments: