“Oh Bachchoo, science is the single matter
Which our consciousness chooses to flatter
With illusions of exclusive truth
Amid the reality of cloud and clatter”.
From Khadi Boli to Hyper Boli, by Bachchoo
Religion has, throughout history, dominated the realms of politics and governance. The idiot papists persecuted Copernicus and Galileo and proved that religion was the enemy of truth.
The earth was a sphere, it did go round the sun. No theological formulation could or should oppose that reality.
Very many societies in our sad, and in dominant parts tyrannical, planet still allow religious doctrines, allegiances and, frankly, nonsensical untruths, to dictate the governance of millions, and yes billions in some countries, of contemporary human generations. In my humble estimation, for instance, China’s structures, capitalistic ideologies and dictatorial insistence on “Xi Jinping Thought” has nothing to do with Marxism, socialism or “Communism’. It’s a totalitarian regime that is determined to inculcate a single cultish idea of reality and politics. Is “Xi Jinping Thought” akin to a cult or a religion? (Discuss!)
The Chinese, of course, don’t think of their political cult of enforced conformity as a religion. Several states in the contemporary world call themselves “Islamic”. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, though opposed to each other on the Shia-Sunni allegiances, the religion is not a democratically unifying force, but is the basis of the law and the justification for the denial of democracy.
And though the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland declares itself as a secular monarchic democracy, the Northern Ireland nation within it is democratically divided on religious lines. Catholics vote for the Sinn Fein and Protestants for one or other Unionist party. A precarious peace, following the American-brokered Good Friday Agreement in the 1990s, just about still holds and is threatened today by Boris Johnson’s Northern Ireland Protocol which he signed in order to make his Brexit deal with the European Union.
Even in the United States, the “Bible belt” and politicians such as Mike Pence, however respectful of constitutional propriety, thump the Good Book to garner votes.
The most egregious TV news report I recently witnessed was a religious procession and ceremony in a western Russian town that was dedicated to “consecrating” the war and slaughter of civilians in the Ukraine. Christianity being called upon to do unto one’s neighbour as one would not have done unto oneself?
Religions were born to give order and meaning to human existence, an exaltation from the animal state. From Buddhism to the New Testament gospels, the message of religion has been to spread peace amongst humankind. Are Russians respectful of their Christianity? Are the Buddhists of Myanmar and Sri Lanka following the path of the Buddha?
Even in Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, having founded a country on the argument that India’s Muslim minorities would be dominated in a democracy by the majority population, declared himself a secularist. His famous first speech as Pakistan’s first Governor-General declared that people were entitled to their own faiths and would be protected by the State.
It was, however contrary it may seem, the doctrine of Mahatma Gandhi. Of course, it wasn’t respected. Pakistan soon declared itself an Islamic state, and though it holds elections and goes through the motions of democratic practice when not under military rule, its religious profession regularly manifests itself in violence.
If Islam is the religion of peace, “Islamists” (as declaredly different from Muslims) are not its apostles.
To commemorate India’s 75 years of Independence, Britain’s Channel 4 TV featured two documentaries on the negotiations that led to the events of August 1947. Apart from the commentary of contemporary academic historians, the docs consist of archival records of the events. Channel 4 took the artistic or editorial decision to transform the archival footage from black and white to colour. We see the navy blue with white spots of Mr Jinnah’s tie, the yellow and green parrot colours of Edwina Mountbatten’s fascinators (decorations for a lady’s hair).
The documentaries detail the progress of talks between the Mountbattens, Dickie’s Indian secretary V.P. Menon, Nehru and Jinnah.
Menon’s grandson appears as a commentator and tells us emphatically that it was his grandfather who proposed the initial plan of dividing the subcontinent into three. A map flashed on screen shows us the territories he proposed, with the whole of Bengal part of the two-state solution. He didn’t propose the precise boundaries -- that was left to the commission under Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had never set foot in India before being entrusted with the task.
For some reason, the Mahatma gets a few seconds of mention in the opening scene and then, like Trotsky, was expunged from this history. There doesn’t seem to be any malicious intent in such an erasure, but I felt it was curious. The documentaries don’t go far enough back to trace the birth or progress of the Independence movement and don’t record Jinnah’s break with the Congress voicing the view that the concepts of ahimsa and satyagraha were Sanskritic, and therefore Hindu religious precepts, which the Mahatma had weaponised as political strategies. That being said, there can be no doubt that Gandhi was dedicated to a secular Independence in which religion would play no part in the political future.
That was a determination which would facilitate India’s entry into contemporary democracy and indeed into the progressive future. Turning back from that ideal is embracing the doctrines of repression prevalent in self-declared religious states.