Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We belong together in a state known the world over as God’s own country. We came to be so known, only because someone—a smart bureaucrat—had a brainwave that such a label, borrowed from the US, would boost Kerala tourism. God has served, since then, as spice to tourism promotion.
God is God because of his patient endurance. S/he can be used, and abused, in any way you please. Even in the best of times, it was not easy to be God. We are now turning it into a veritable nightmare. We have ‘human’ rights, at least in principle, and enjoy some protection in respect of our integrity and dignity. God is so defenseless! Anyone can attribute any bias, allergy and superstition to God. God has to swallow it. Surely, we won’t like to be treated so, would we? Then, how come we consider it acceptable, and are even willing to shed blood to defend this insult to the divine?
Kerala, friends, is a politics-ruined state. I remember fleeing from this lovely state half a century ago just to be able to study. I had lost a year in Kerala because educational institutions were often more closed than open and working. I wonder what would have happened to our state if Malayalees were not enterprising enough to disperse to the various havens of the world seeking employment, just as I migrated to Delhi for education. If you want to see the net development of Kerala for what it is, all you have to do is to subtract the ‘money-order’ part of our economy from the total. It’ll shock you! We have been ruined right royally by politicians. They did so in brutal pursuit of vested interests. We knew this all along, but pretended we did not understand.
Now it seems it’s the turn of religion. What has survived the cussedness and cupidity of politicians could be vandalised by the parasites of religions. People in other parts of India think of us as rational and progressive.
Religious reform movements have had a far better track record in Kerala than in any other part of India and, indeed, of the world. Religious reform is a dangerous thing to undertake. Jesus was a religious reformer. He was killed. Sree Narayana Guru was Jesus’ counter-part in Kerala. We did not kill him. We honoured him.
Consider, friends: if Narayana Guru were living today, would he have survived, given his radical mission to reform religion with its attendant breaking of rituals and rites? So, have we progressed or regressed since his days? Today he would be denounced and damned for saying: “Never mind which religion; it will do if your religion makes you a better human being.” In theory, maybe, some would endorse him; but in practice even SNDP stalwarts could disown him. How has it come about that we think the
only function of religion is to make us spite and fight each other?
I often turn to sociology, not to theology, for answers. Max Weber, in The Sociology of Religion (1920)—he has a book titled The Religion of India as well—offers, perhaps, the best possible insight. He identifies the emergence of the ‘priestly class’ as the perilous phase in the degradation of religion. Priests in all religions, argues Weber, function only in furtherance of their class interests, for which they take complete control of the three pillars of religion—scriptures, rituals (or aacharam) and dogmas. They erect the obscurantist canard that only priests can understand scriptures aright—even if they are not, often, the best educated in a society—and practise rituals in their purity. The purpose in monopolising dogmas is to condition so-called ‘believers’ (viswasikal) in accepting whatever is prescribed by priests, habitually and unthinkingly.
Even a cursory glance at the history of Christianity, especially when it was mixed up with state power, will convince you that its priestly class was a perverse hindrance to personal liberty, social harmony and human progress. Christianity—envisaged by Jesus as an agenda for human liberation—was degraded by priestly oligarchs as an ideology for legitimising laughable superstitions, irrational privileges and oppressive systems and practices. This monstrous structure of inequity was maintained precisely in the name of aacharangal (rites) as a wall, dividing hearts, corrupting souls, crippling societies. Unthinkable crimes and unspeakable cruelties were perpetrated with militant religious fervour. Millions fought and perished in priests-induced bigotry, for doctrines and excuses that mocked Jesus Christ. They were called martyrs. Today we know them to be piteous victims of priest-craft.
If religion and politics are separately as harmful as they have been in history, isn’t it scary to have a perverse combination of both? It is not a case of A + B. It is a case of (AB)2. You don’t need to be persuaded elaborately that this forebodes extreme ill for the state. Priests and politicians gloat over our susceptibility. It is good news for them; but it is extreme bad news not only for us, but also for the generations after us.
This is the time for courage, clarity and common sense. Also, for a bold dose of sanctified selfishness. Please be selfish, uncompromisingly selfish. Look to your own interests, especially long-term. You have Homeopathy on your side—the principle of ‘like’ curing the ‘like’. You are imperilled by the malevolent selfishness of a few. Why shouldn’t you be selfish, if only save your sanity?
Please be sharply and spiritedly selfish! (By the way, I have decided to renounce my priesthood by way of doing the least I can for the good of Kerala.)
Former principal of St Stephen’s College, New Delhi