Blasphemy is always everybody’s sore point. When you speak of your concept of God, you question my concept of God. That seems to be unavoidable, because your God and my God and somebody else’s God are never quite the same; they simply cannot be.
So let us massage this collective and individual sore point a little in the hope that some of the soreness disappears. Here goes:
For some of us, the word God evokes the image of a Abrahamic overlord, always ready with punishments for breaching the Commandments, including an injunction not to kill. The nation that more-or-less proclaims itself His chosen nation and makes this religion an electoral issue, kills many hundreds in Iraq and Afghanistan every year in the name of liberty and justice, and uh collateral damage.
For others, God is The One who sent forth one last messenger to put out one ultimate revised edition of a book that contained The Truth About Everything, and who proclaimed that no further revisions would be made. This book demands unquestioning submission and an unrelenting war on unbelievers for establishment of a single global government and a single global religion. (This by the way used to be the Abrahamic overlord's vision too, despite the fact that the saintly figure who started the religion professed non-violence.) The promised reward for participating in this holy war is a heaven full of carnal pleasures; all the stuff that is forbidden on earth is allowed in this version of heaven.
For some of us, God is a Serene Nothingness. When the head of the giant statue at Bamian was blown off some years ago by the zealous soldiers of The One, the followers of this Serene Nothingness in
Some see God as an essentially dhoti-clad Indian King, the upholder of ancient Traditions. He ruled from his birthplace for thousands of years and now rules invisibly over the hearts of millions; these millions are now a wonderful vote bank because of their nostalgia for the period of his rule. The motley amalgamation of priests, politicians and journalists who represent this rather gentle Lord inform those who love and worship him that their Lord is kind of hoping they will restore the palace of his birthplace to its pristine glory, by utterly demolishing a temple of another God that was built over it. They say the Lord would also be pleased if his followers protect a bridge that his army miraculously built across a stretch of sea from being altered to give some ships a shortcut from one South Indian port to another. These followers are repeatedly reminded that after all, their own cultural relics are at least as important as that of the followers of The One, is it not?
This brings us to a question raised by Cho Ramaswamy, a well-known political analyst: “Why do they attack only Hindu gods? Why is the Immaculate Conception never questioned?”
Why indeed. Could it be because writing world history was largely a church-sponsored exercise? The church introduced education in its current format to the colonies as a way of making the 'natives' or 'pagans' more useful to colonial society, and taught them their own history as the historians 'objectively' perceived it. It thus taught the natives to be critical of their own mythology.
Simultaneously however, the church was extremely protective of its own mythology. Even minor deviations or attempts at questioning could invite charges of blasphemy, witchcraft etc, punishable with a horrible and painful death. As state-sponsored historians and evangelical priests alike were encouraged to regard the mythology of all other faiths with the coldly analytical eye of rationalism, these myths fell apart and crumbled in the minds of those who received colonial-style education and cultivated a 'rational' outlook.
Most religions had myths that were easy to refute. For instance, around 730 AD, St Boniface converted the tribes in
Alas, the church offered no such easily refuted myth for debunking by rationalists! All its own myths were safely in the ancient past: the Immaculate Conception, the rising from the dead three days after being crucified etc. etc.
And so, until the science of archeology, biology and the Theory of Evolution came along, the church posed itself as being the repository of rationalism. However, after these disciplines cast roots in the monolithic modern society that the church had helped to build, the church has quietly retreated from the debate. Silence is thought as being a better form of defence against the onslaughts of rationalism than vocal arguments.
We English-speaking folks are a product of the sort of education that the church designed for distancing people from their own cultures. And so, naturally, we are more apt to question the existence of the Lord of Ayodhya than that of the crucified Lord who rose from the dead.
There is another answer to Cho's question: Fear of physical harm. One can safely question Hinduism’s most ’sacred’ assumptions (eg. Why did the gentle Lord, known for his love of limits, deem it necessary to banish his wife? Was he suspicious that her abductor, with his demonic might and powers of illusion, had crossed some limits with her? Did she in an affectionate and unguarded moment confide some inconvenient truth to her Lord, which he could not digest?) There is no equivalent of a mullah who can declare a fatwa with a cash prize on the blasphemer's head.
However, let me add here that one doesn't necessarily have to question myths about ancient gods. How about questioning the credentials of contemporary demigods, which is no less risky, and can provoke angry mobs to permanently alter your face and and gender? (For instance, how did Mumbai's saffron tiger – a meager-salaried newspaper cartoonist who took to politics – make his fortune subsequently?)
Postscript & disclaimer
These are just a casual statement of opinion of one insignificant individual, namely me. They represent nobody else and nothing else. There is no hidden agenda of any kind.
I hope I haven't given too much offence by pointing at the myths in their religions. In the event that I have, I humbly say, in the Jain tradition, 'Micchami dukkadam' (Please forgive me for any pain that I may have caused you, knowingly or unknowingly.)
I am proud to belong to a country where one is free to make Sardarji jokes without any fear of being imprisoned for offending against the Prime Minister's religion. This blog is just my way of expressing and celebrating this liberty. Because I have heard somewhere that if you do not regularly explore the extent of your liberties, they lapse from disuse, and you gradually lose some of them.
And oh yeah! Check out the cool video below. I don't like the way it is worded when it begins, but then it gets a lot better there onwards. It kind of answers Cho Ramaswamy's question, methinks.
<object height=350 width=425>
Posted in Blasphemy.
– September 27, 2007