Thursday, July 24, 2008

Religion Blinds

Religion comes with theology; but most religious people do not indulge in it. Religion comes with spirituality; but very few devout people actually concentrate on it. Religion however comes with huge paraphernalia of rituals, customs, traditions seeped in blind belief and superstition. And most believers actually practice this kind of religion.

This ritualistic and superstitious facet of religion is the most prevalent form the believers practice. It blinds people. It blinds them from receiving new knowledge, stops them from becoming wiser, and curbs originality and creativity. It forbids them from thinking farther and beyond, and makes them more of a robot and less of a thinker.

Religion stems wisdom, stops people from making sense, rationalize, think and reason. It makes them unreasonable and dogmatic. These people refuse to change views in spite of counter evidence. It makes them hang on to blind belief, orthodoxy and superstition.

There are many ideologies and belief systems that make a person blind to reason. So why single out religion in my attack?

Many other ideologies qualify for the same problems posed by religion. However, there is no other potent force on earth that comes close to religion in terms of its extent, depth, longevity and effectiveness. Religion is altogether a different beast.

For example, people who subscribe to an ideology like communism tend to face the same problems cited above. They are blinded. They do not reason, they are dogmatic, and unreasonable. However, communism as an ideology started less than hundred years ago, gripped only certain portion of people, and is already dying. The newer generations coming from the shadow of communism tend to detest it with more vigor than others.

Religion is embraced by more people than any other ideology, and exists for much longer time and continues to increase in efficacy with time. It has killed more people, made more people act barbaric, act uncivilized, commit genocide, rape, and murder than any other ideology.

These are some attributes where religion beats all other ideologies.

Kill and Die

No other ideology produces people with the same level of commitment and fanaticism to kill and die. More religious fanatics are ready to kill and die to defend their belief system and impose their belief system onto others. Unlike adherents of capitalism, communism, or globalization, the adherents of religion are ready to kill and get killed much more enthusiastically. The only other ideology that comes close to this is patriotism (but it ranks lower than religion).


No other ideology gets inherited the way religion does. A child in Christian family is invariably a Christian. For ages, kids born into Christian families tend to be Christians. (In some cases, proselytizing and conversion tend to change the ratios, but the neo-converts tend to practice this inheritance with more vigor). People born into a religious family tend to be religious. That is not true to most other ideologies. A son of communist need not be a communist. A son of capitalist need not be capitalist.

Catch them young

No other ideology seems to target young children the way religion does. Unlike most other ideologies, religion is taught to young children. Indoctrination of religion starts very young and the concept of God and the concept of heaven and hell, sin and blind rules are introduced to kids who are just two or three years old. They are told, ‘God forbids this, God likes this. Do it this way, God will reward you! Don’t do this, God will punish you!’

Not many communists teach their young kids Communism. Nobody says to his three-year old kid, ‘Don’t do this! Lenin will not like it’ or ‘Do this! Lenin will praise you for it’

Curb creativity and original thought

No other ideology curbs creativity and original thought the way religion does. Though patriotism qualifies for the above three attributes, religion beats it on this. Also, it starts doing its job attacking people at a quite young age. By answering most mundane questions by saying ‘God said so, and hence it is so!’ and ‘God created this, and hence it is so!’ the original thought is curbed. By forbidding people from doing things calling it a sin, and imposing mundane habits as if they are unquestionable diktats of god, and introducing prejudices quite early on as if they are unchangeable rules, religion curbs creativity, makes people illogical, prejudiced and unreasonable.

Blind belief is a virtue in religion. Faith in extremely nonsensical things is hallmark of devoutness. Subscribing to most ridiculous practices is hallmark of piety. Many other ideologies seem to prescribe these attributes, but religion does this more effectively – affecting the state and its apparatus, the institutions, society, and the individual.

Abandon and reject rational thought

Other ideologies such as communism, patriotism, nationalism and even racism seem to have evolved and at some level they have incorporated rational thought and results of science, sometimes flawed. But not religion! Religion stands against all rational thought, suppresses debate, discourages empiricism, thwarts logical reasoning, and in most cases rejects the theories and results of science.


We have had problems with other ideologies, either it is nationalism, fascism, Nazism, or communism, but many of these ideologies have not been there forever. They had their own times when they reached the pinnacle and then they subsided. Not religion. People have been fighting over religions since the inception of religion itself. And it has not subsided and it has not let up. More and more people join in throngs and swell the ranks. It has more adherents than any other ideology and the enmities and persecutions continue for thousands of years. Casteism in India would have not have survived for two thousand years if it was not made a part of the religion itself. The same is with persecution of Jews.

Intelligent but lack in reason

It’s not that religious people are dumb. In fact, they can be very intelligent. Some of them could be more intelligent than the entire non-religious people combined. What the religious people lack is not intelligence. What they have given up along the way is their ability to reason when it comes to certain issues of life and society. In face of counter evidence, instead of looking at it and inspecting it, the religious people would like to dismiss the evidence as false. They would like to say, ‘Look! What you say seems to make sense, yet I would not like to get convinced by you’. Religion legitimizes foolishness like no other. It’s like saying, ‘what you are doing is actually foolish, but since it is prescribed by religion, I respect that!’

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Secularism Redefined II

This follows the first part: Secularism Redefined.

So, what is the big difference between original definition of Secularism as “No importance to any religion” and the Indian definition of “Equal importance to all religions”? Some people don’t see much difference.

Unfortunately, Religion does not just come with philosophy, rich literature, spirituality, great buildings, moral code, universal brotherhood, altruism, love of mankind and colorful festivals, which are all considered good.

It also comes with blind belief, superstition, orthodoxy, fundamentalism, irrationality, illogic, stupidity, idiocy, which are not necessarily the tools that you want to include in running the state and its machinery.

Since one cannot just filter out good things about Religion from the bad things, it is best avoided by the state in its daily functioning while allowing its people to celebrate the goodness and revel in its badness. That is called the separation of state and church.

It’s like saying: People, do what you want to do. If you want to believe Tuesday is a bad day for meetings and taking decisions, don’t take them up. If you believe water shouldn’t be drunk on a Saturday, don’t drink it. It’s up to you. But please don’t push those beliefs onto the state making it a universal rule where in everyone has to abide by it.

When we say the above, what we actually mean is: We understand that you are being foolish. We allow you to be foolish. But don’t expect everyone to be foolish. That’s a little too much to expect.

So, what a secular state wants is to separate foolishness from the state so that foolishness is confined to individuals as part of their freedoms. It’s like saying: You have the right to be foolish, but don’t expect us to create rules and laws based on your foolishness. Hence, the definition – ‘No importance to any religion’.

However, Indian definition of secularism – ‘Equal importance to all religions’ translates to ‘as a state, we promote foolishness, encourage it, and employ it in our courts, legislature, executive and daily working. In fact, we embrace all your foolish ideas with equal vigor and interest as long as you belong to a religion.’

While the actual version of secularism tries to keep the foolishness out of state machinery, the Indian version of secularism includes foolishness to celebrate it and institutionalize it.

That’s when our courts will give verdicts like, ‘You have dug a well in your backyard. You have raped Mother India. You are convicted of rape’. Or the government will take decisions like, ‘Lord Rama along with thousands of monkey friends constructed this dam across the sea nearly 2 million years ago, and henceforth, it shall be considered a man-made construction’.

Monday, July 21, 2008

MF Husain Nudes: Nude God

In one of the comments in MF Husain Nudes: Judgment, Rags said:

You guys are terribly mistaken if you think nude sculptures are not being done now. Go to Mahabalipuram or some other place, there are plenty of artists who do nude or semi nude sculptures of Gods and Goddesses to be installed in temples. In fact nude sculptures are more common in India than any other country because it has been officially sanctioned for centuries to be used in temples. Please travel and know more about your own country.

Yes, it’s true that there are many temples being built as we speak where there are nude gods and goddesses. Here I include a picture that I took recently when I visited my hometown in Telangana. Here’s a god standing in glory in one of the temples. This god is a recent addition.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

MF Husain Nudes: Judgment

Sanjay Kishan Kaul has a done a good job in penning down his reasons on why he has quashed some criminal cases pending against M F Husain for allegedly hurting sentiments of many Indian Hindus. His judgment has far reaching consequences for our constitutional democracy. This landmark judgment is historical and should be celebrated. 

The judge has used this opportunity to discuss many other things, about Art, about freedom of expression, about Indian History, definition of personal morality, etc.

This is what the judge had to say [All emphasis mine]. He began by quoting Pablo Picasso.

Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.”

Many people don’t understand Art really. There is no need for everyone to understand it either. Does every Tom Dick and Harry pick up Milton to read his poems or do common men go and see Picasso’s paintings in a museum? How many Indians have read the sordid and erotic stories of Shakuntala and Dushyanth? And how many of them have enthusiastically admired fornicating deities in Kajuraho?

The judge ventures into the history of India which was surfeit with erotic art.

With a 5000-year-old culture… Ancient Indian art has been never devoid of eroticism where sex worship and graphical representation of the union between man and woman has been a recurring feature.

The sculpture on the earliest temples of ‘Mithuna’ image or the erotic couple in Bhubeneshwar, Konarak and Puri in Orissa (150-1250 AD); Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh (900-1050 AD); Limbojimata temple at Delmel, Mehsana (10th Century AD); Kupgallu Hill, Bellary, Madras; and Nilkantha temple at Sunak near Baroda to name a few.

These and many other figures are taken as cult figures in which rituals related to Kanya and Kumari worship for progeny gained deep roots in early century A.D. Even the very concept of ‘Lingam’ of the God Shiva resting in the centre of the Yoni, is in a way representation of the act of creation, the union of Prakriti and Purusua. 

The judge then cites the link between erotic art and religion itself. Here, it is important to understand that eastern religions did not develop the way Abrahamic religions have developed. The modern Hindu accustomed to, or overwhelmed by the morality inherited from Abrahamic religions, tends to believe that Hinduism is somehow very similar in its moral teachings as that of Abrahamic religions and in an earnest attempt to compete with Abrahamic religions he wants Hinduism to impose more stringent rules and codes on personal morality.

The ultimate essence of a work of ancient Indian erotic art has been religious in character and can be enunciated as a state of heightened delight or ananda, the kind of bliss that can be experienced only by the spirit.

He asks: 

We have been called as the land of the Kama Sutra then why is it that in the land of the Kama Sutra, we shy away from its very name?... Indian art has always celebrated the female form. There is nothing salacious about it.

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and so does obscenity. It is our perception to objects, thoughts and situations, which rule the mind to perceive them in the way we do. 

He quashed the plea “that the said painting uploaded on a website could be accessed by any person sitting across the globe who in consequence whereto could get affected by viewing the same.”

There can be no exasperation caused by viewing such painting on the website for the reason that a person would firstly access such a website only if he has some interest in art and that too contemporary art and in case he does view such a website, he always would have the option to not to view or close the said web page.

It seems that the complainants are not the types who would go to art galleries or have an interest in contemporary art, because if they did, they would know that there are many other artists who embrace nudity as part of their contemporary art. 

To calm down those complainants who accused MF Husain of deliberately hurting their sentiments, the judge says:

there seems to be no deliberate intention on the part of the petitioner [MF Husain] to hurt feelings of Indians as already stated and as a matter of fact, the subject matter i.e Bharat Mata could be alleged to wound nationalist feelings of an individual and not any religious feelings.

This is interesting. He asks the pertinent question, ‘Why are Hindus considering Bharat Mata a religious icon?’ The claimants to hurt sentiments ask MF Husain the question, “Why do you paint ‘our’ icons nude and not ‘your’ icon nudes?” by which they conveniently put M F Husain and his identity (that of a Muslim) as an outsider which is the wont of most nationalist and Hindu Indians to naturally assume that Muslims are outsiders.

As I discussed in the earlier article, ‘does depiction of a symbol in nude same as depiction of a real mother in nude?’ The judge rightly addresses this question:

… the impugned painting cannot form the basis of any deliberate intention to wound the religious feelings of the complainants since the figure, on the basis of the identity alleged, represents an anthropomorphic depiction of a nation as also that to hold a person liable under the above said section, mere knowledge of the likelihood that the religious feelings of another person may be wounded would not be sufficient.

How could the claimants to ‘hurt sentiments’ own up Bharat Mata as their own excluding Muslims from it? Is it to do with the prevailing notion that Muslims are not patriotic enough? That India is Hindu which accommodates Muslims as guests?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

MF Husain Nudes: Talibanization of India Slowed Down

In a landmark judgment, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul of Delhi High Court has endorsed the right of an artist to paint nudes which include depicting Goddess Saraswati, Sita and Bharath Mata in nude, and overturned criminal proceedings against M F Husain for allegedly hurting public sentiments through his paintings.

The Judge noted [All emphasis mine]:

Our Greatest problem today is fundamentalism which is the triumph of the letter over the spirit. In a free democratic society tolerance is vital especially in large and complex societies comprising people with varied beliefs and interests.

An intolerant society does not brook dissent. An authoritarian regime cannot tolerate expression of ideas which challenge doctrines and ideologies in the form of writings, plays, music or paintings. Intolerance is utterly incompatible with democratic values. This attitude is totally antithetical to our Indian Psyche and tradition.

It must be realised that intolerance has a chilling, inhibiting effect on freedom of thought and discussion. The consequence is that dissent dries up. And when that happens democracy loses its essence.

The judge found the criminal proceedings baseless. He noted, “It is most unfortunate that India’s new ‘puritanism’ is being carried out in the name of cultural purity and a host of ignorant people are vandalizing art and pushing us towards a pre-renaissance era.”

He stressed on the important of tolerance:

A liberal tolerance of a different point of view causes no damage. It means only a greater self restraint. Diversity in expression of views whether in writings, paintings or visual media encourages debate. A debate should never the shut out. ‘I am right’ does not necessarily imply ‘You are wrong’.

Our culture breeds tolerance- both in thought and in actions. I have penned down this judgment with this favourent hope that it is a prologue to a broader thinking and greater tolerance for the creative field. 

He called upon India to welcome back MF Husain:

A painter at 90 deserves to be in his home — painting his canvass!

It comes as a reprieve to some of us Indians, who are free thinkers, and whose number is dwindling with each generation. The onslaught of the irrationality is dimming the light of rational thought in this country. But with this decision it is clear that reason has NOT left India completely; that there are still some sane minds who are ready to reason, who are not caught up in the mass hysteria of irrationality that is sweeping this country; that there are some people out there in the right places that are NOT high on opium of the masses called religion and the heroin of the masses called nationalism.

With this great decision, Sanjay Kishan Kaul has slowed down the talibanization of India. Kudos!