In the history of mankind, a period of about a thousand years is required to visualise a civilizational historical trend. In the case of God being born amongst us; whether it was Mohammad or Jesus or Krishna or Ram or Buddha; the unanswered question that often lurks at the back of my mind is why did God favour particular periods in history of mankind to come to us as man; all within a thousand years or so? Could it be that since mankind was taking its first steps to be civilized, our idolatry for those who gave us direction as a civilized society raised human beings to the level of God? (Read: ‘Whose God Is It Anyway?‘) After that, when such idolatry continued in history, it fortified the concept of God and those who didn’t agree with these visible manifestations of God, were regarded as heretics? How is it that God didn’t appear in His human manifestations again? Those who keep God as someone they have rightful claim on, explain that God chooses particular periods in history when human tyranny and immorality become so overwhelming that God then is born as a human being to eradicate such evil and holocaust. If that is the case, how is it that God wasn’t born amongst us even during the World Wars? Could it be that with civilization came rationalisation and now we look at all such manifestations such as Guru Nanak and Swamy Vivekananda as great but human only? Even though the Catholic church, for example, still wants proof of miracles performed by a man or woman before being ordained as a saint; the fact is that it is now becoming increasingly more difficult to convince people that miracles do occur.
Now, why should I write an article like this? Am I a heretic or an atheist? No, I believe in God and I believe in goodness. God has been with me always and I do believe that God will never forsake me. But, I do believe that time is now ripe when we should move away from human or iconic manifestation of God and see God in a different manner. What do we have to lose? Conversely, what are we losing in iconic representation of God. Well, this is what this article is all about.
First of all, lets acknowledge the fact that God gifted us Logic and Reasoning and the Power or Ability to Rationalise. He hasn’t gifted these powers to others in His Creation. It should have been inconceivable, therefore, that God would have placed himself/herself/itself beyond reasoning and logic. Therefore, unlike what guardians of God and Religion tell us, let us use reasoning and logic to understand God.
Logic and Reasoning tell us that human manifestation of God was required and was helpful in a certain period of history. Indeed, logically, one proof of the concept of God being dynamic is that when God was born as a human being in the shape of Jesus, Mohammad, Krishna, Ram or Buddha, He shattered the popularly held beliefs of those times. This, amongst other miracles He performed, proved that majority held prevalent view of that era might not have been right even though, later, majority might have started believing in the new belief that the human manifestation of God gave us.
We are now in a different period of history of mankind. We are no longer at the advent of civilized society; but, an era whence civilized society are not an exception. People may not follow these completely, but, there are no widespread differences of opinion about Good and Evil. Indeed, we have moved to a stage when learned people openly say like Reverend Emerson, “God, don’t let me try to prove by logic and reasoning that I know to be wrong.”
What are we losing in iconic representation of God? Lets take the example of the greatest religion on earth: Hinduism. More than three years back, I wrote an article titled ‘A Quieter Mumbai – Is It A Pipe-Dream?‘ I had brought out that when the Chinese pilgrims Fa-Hein and Huien-Tsang visited India in the 5th and 7th centuries AD (during the Gupta dynasty), they extensively visited India and found that idol worship was not prevalent in any part of the country except in Buddhist regions. I had also brought out that Shashi Tharoor, writing about Amartya Sen’s book ‘The Argumentative Indian’ in Newsweek of 24 Oct 05, brought out an interesting observation. “Sen”, he wrote, “is particularly critical of the Western overemphasis on India’s religiosity at the expense of any recognition of the country’s equally impressive rationalist, scientific, mathematical and secular heritage. According to Sen, “That scientific spirit of inquiry can also be seen in ancient India.” His book cites 3,500-year-old verses from the Vedas that speculate sceptically about creation, and details India’s contribution to the world of science, rationality and plural discourse – fields generally treated by Orientalists as ‘western spheres of success’.
Sri Bhagwad Gita, for example, is the world’s finest document on religious intellectualism. However, gradually, Hindus moved away from intellectualism and the Brahmins sought power for themselves by idol worshipping. Take the case of large-scale idol worshipping of Lord Ganesha in Maharashtra. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
“In 1893, Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual domestic festival into a large, well-organized public event.[ Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesha as “the god for everybody”, and popularized Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order “to bridge the gap between Brahmins and ‘non-Brahmins’ and find a context in which to build a new grassroots unity between them”, and generate nationalistic fervour among people in Maharashtra against the British colonial rule. Tilak was the first to install large public images of Ganesh in pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging in rivers, sea, or other pools of water all public images of the deity on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi.”
“Under Tilak’s encouragement, the festival facilitated community participation and involvement in the form of intellectual discourses, poetry recitals, performances of plays, musical concerts, and folk dances. It served as a meeting ground for people of all castes and communities in times when, in order to exercise control over the population, the British discouraged social and political gatherings.”
What have we done to this idea 120 years later? A programme (spoof called ‘The Week That Wasn’t) by Cyrus Broacha on CNN IBN, just before Ganesh Chaturthi this year, brought out that it is merely a means of commercialism these days. It has enormous scope for inconveniencing and even hassling people through traffic snarls due to processions and pandals on roads, cacophonic noise (Read ‘State Sponsored Noise’ and ‘Who Are The People Whose Sentiments Need To Be Respected?’) and even extracting money from people by coercion.
A time has reached in our religion, now when our belief in iconic or human manifestation of God is actually keeping us away from goodness, godliness, humanity and other desirable virtues. We are using God as an excuse to do what we want to do. Our modern-day politicians, unlike Bal Gangadhar Tilak, use God and religion to divide people. We, therefore, need to have a more private and personal concept of God rather than moving Him/Her/It to the streets and even to political arena. If we don’t learn this, in another few years (say a few centuries later) it would be forced on us. God is in everything and every being. It no longer has to demonstrate its presence by being born as human being. We learnt that lesson centuries ago and now we must move on to an idea being God rather than a human being; eg: God is goodness.
If idolatry of God comes in the way of Goodness, we should be prepared to shun it. Lets not make or elevate Asarams into Gods. Don’t let past be our only guide. I believe that God gave us reasoning and rationality to make use of. If we go beyond the idolatry of God, we would then realise that God cannot be limited to mandir, masjid or gurudwara. This would also help us to stop fighting in the “name” of God. What happens when God becomes an excuse to do wrong and evil things? For example, the exponents of Jehad feel that killing people in the name of God is alright.
As we move away from the human manifestation of God; or God as an idol or icon, we not only get over the prevalent myths and evils that are now concomitant with this, but, move towards the following individual and societal benefits:
- God and religion would be in ideals and virtues not in iconic or idolatry history.
- God and religion cannot be used to exploit, manipulate or divide people.
- God and religion cannot become excuses to do evil things including to kill in the name of God or religion.
- The amount of effort and money that we put in idol worshipping and in ensuring that our numbers grow can be used for poverty alleviation and towards ensuring that humanity prospers.
As Abba Eban (the late Foreign Affairs and Deputy PM of Israel) once said, “Men and nations behave wisely only after they have exhausted all other options.”
I think we have exhausted most other options in our Concept of God and Religion. Perhaps, it is time to start behaving wisely.
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