I have no doubt organised religion does some good things and there are some, nay, many wonderful people who are ‘religious’. However, there is also a very ugly face of religion, which is the exploitation of people’s vulnerabilities.
A prime example, from India, is 78-year-old Shree Purushottam Priyadasji Swamishree Maharaj, acharya of the Ahmedabad-based Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan, who was known for distributing prasād laced with his saliva. He died of the COVID-19 on 16 July 2020.
Health experts believe that he infected thousands before being admitted to the Care Institute of Medical Sciences (CIMS) Hospital on 28 June. Ten infected Swaminarayan priests were admitted to various city hospitals along with him. I suspect this case is but the tip of an iceberg!
How do I square this view with the fact that I follow the Sikh belief system? To begin with, I refuse to call Sikhism, or more accurately Sikhi, a religion. However, I do have to acknowledge that, despite the emphasis given by the Sikh Gurus on practical living, reason and humanity, today there are many ‘Sikhs’ who are also indulging in all kinds of ritualistic practices and worshiping fake Godmen.
So what is the solution? One might argue education will eventually put these people out of business and reason will prevail. To some extent, this is true, but the evidence would also suggest, across the developed and developing world, Godmen and cults appear to be alive and well and big business. Banning such practices and groups is another possible solution, but, even if one were able to neutralise the powerful political lobby behind these Godmen – and they are almost all universally men – I fear such a policy would cut across basic human rights of freedom of belief and expression. For this reason, I oppose banning as a solution.
Perhaps another solution is for religious people to be honest with themselves and reflect on the following questions. Do you really think miracles are possible? Do you really think great figures like Jesus, Mohammed, Nanak and others were magicians? Do you really think that the organised religions of today are true to the teachings of such great figures? If you do then do not be surprised when fake Godmen claim to have been blessed by the great faith leaders in history.
I have NO belief in magic or miracles other than the miracles of nature that I see and experience every day, 24/7. As a follower of Nanak my faith in his teachings is NOT sustained by turning him into a superman, but by seeing him as an extraordinary human being, who led by example, who practiced his philosophy of truthful, rational and reflective living, of service towards humanity and honest labour. Who taught us to see beyond labels and physical appearance. Who confronted caste and gender-based discrimination.
So I appeal to true followers of the great faith leaders to forsake false miracles and Godmen and embrace the miracle of human life and try to serve humanity and nature. That’s all that really matters.
[Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.email@example.com]
* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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