The world is gripped in the pandemic of Corona Virus. Global efforts are on to combat this threat to human society. Such a threat to our society was neither seen for a long time nor was it predicted by the great Astrologers. In usual times the families spend some time in places of worship, in addition to medical aid, to be rid of the diseases. Currently, all the places of worship are locked, be it Vatican or Mecca or an assortment of Holy temples like Balaji, Shirdi or Vaishno Devi. The clergy, who generally facilitates the prayers for fulfilling one’s wishes is well quarantined with best precautions while their devotees are following the advice of their Governments, guided by the scientific-medical establishments.
The social media which has acquired a sort of notoriety has currently seen two interesting messages one is “Science on Duty-Religion on Holiday” and second is ‘God is not powerful’. Some forthright writers, particularly atheists have pointed out that Gods have run away when human society is in crisis. Many Holy people are advising their devotees to pray from distance, from the environs of their homes. Azaans are being relayed not for calling devotees to the mosques but to offer Namaz from their homes. Ditto in case of Sunday mass or the Pujas in different types of temples and Holy shrines. To cap it all even some gods have been adorned with masks to protect them from the deadly virus.
The old debates of the existence of God, who is the creator and protector of the World, have found new grounds of debates from both sides. The clergy stands on the margins in this grave human crisis while some Gurus are repeating the science based advises in the language of their spirituality. If God is almighty why is it not saving the world from this suffering? How come only the doors of science are open to make all the efforts.
History has seen a long struggle of science to establish its principles of reason. The most organized clergy, the Roman Catholic stood to oppose the discoveries of science. The emergence of scientific inquiry had to face the opposition of Church; right from Copernicus to Bruno to Galileo, all had to face the wrath of the Church. In other countries, the clergy was not so well organized. In Islam, the clergy has no official place but at the social level, the clergy did emerge. Most of the clergy stood with those in power and were for status quo of social relations of class, caste and gender hierarchy. King-Landlords were repositories of divine power and so the poor were to keep putting out their labour to serve the landlords and kings. Clergy also was supposed to have a monopoly over knowledge and the divine books are supposed to be having all the knowledge.
The foundation of Industrial society on the basis of scientific production process changed the matters to some extent; clergy also changed its social role. This role has been prominent enough. This is prominent to the extent that when one is taking of Religion, it is the authority of Clergy, which stands out prominently being a religion. The clergy has focussed more on rituals, places of worship and social norms.
What are being ignored in the analysis of many critics are the other components of religion. We see that most of the prophets were rebels of their times and posited humane values of love. From among religions we also saw the traditions of saints, like Bhakti and Sufi, who in their unique way opposed the exploitative social system and promoted love in the society. Another aspect of religion, which has been the support system of many, is the faith which some require for bearing the burdens of this heartless World. Faith in God has given a type of spiritual and emotional support system to large sections of societies.
The concept of supernatural has not been static. Starting from the animism of Adivasis to polytheism to monotheism and to formless God; human society has seen a long journey in the concept of God. Today some virtues have adorned the place of God like Knowledge for Dayanand Sarswati, and truth and non-violence for Gandhi.
Religion has also acted as a cover for the expansionist goal of the kings. Dharmyudh, Crusade and Jihad were primarily launched by kings for expansion of their Kingdoms. Today globally religion is being used as a cover for two diverse phenomenons. The American lust for oil, led to propping up of Al Qaeda, which today has mutated in to Islamic state and is like a Frankenstein’s monster. America had invested 8000 million dollars and supplied 7000 tons of armaments, to support the Al Qaeda. Now it is making all the efforts to wash its hands off from its original creation.
In the face of Industrialization and social changes of equality, the declining sections of societies (landlords-Kings), particularly in post colonial states, have resurfaced to oppose the democratic values, the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity under the banner of politics which takes cover under religion. Be it Islamic Fundamentalism, Christian Fundamentalism, Buddhist Fundamentalism or Hindu Fundamentalism (Communalism), they are not for moral values of religion, they stand to revert to the pre Industrial social values of caste and Gender Hierarchy.
To add to the confusion we in India are seeing that politics in the garb of Hinduism, Hindutva, Hindu nationalism is now claiming all the scientific discoveries to have been part of our ancient wisdom, which we have forgotten. So plastic surgery, genetic engineering, aviation science, TV and internet and even Newton’s theory of gravitation is supposed to be part of our ancient knowledge!
One hope that the efforts of Indian Government and the global governments will win over the threat which Corona has posed to human society. Hope it will also make us more rational in our approach to matters of scientific policy and social affairs.