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Spice of life: Is religion a balm or bane for society?

In the cult, dystopian novel, ‘1984’ by George Orwell, published in the middle of the 20th century, Big Brother, the all-pervading spy upon citizenry is everywhere, even in the conscience and mind, ready to arrest and punish by immediate death any one harboring recalcitrant, dangerous ideas about opposing the government.

punjab Updated: Mar 03, 2018 13:48 IST
When fanatics and hardliners abuse it for personal benefit, the basic tenet of religion is destroyed.
When fanatics and hardliners abuse it for personal benefit, the basic tenet of religion is destroyed.(Shutterstock)

Today, religion and belief are words not to be tossed about carelessly. I’m surprised and also alarmed at myself when I lightly utter some personal opinion and then look guiltily around in case I have been overheard, because intolerance to just about anything is lurking in every corner, snapping at our heels, ready to pounce upon a wayward individual who may have, in complete innocence, spoken his mind and given an opinion not conforming to what the hardliners want to hear.

In the cult, dystopian novel, ‘1984’ by George Orwell, published in the middle of the 20th century, Big Brother, the all-pervading spy upon citizenry is everywhere, even in the conscience and mind, ready to arrest and punish by immediate death any one harboring recalcitrant, dangerous ideas about opposing the government.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves and wise men are full of doubts.”

Nowadays, it is as if there is a veritable army of xenophobic, indignant people, who have taken upon their righteous, tight little souls the dogged task of making every ‘heathen’ toe their line. If it wasn’t an extremely serious situation, I could make light of its ridiculousness and attempt to pass it off as nonsensical prejudice but the narrow-mindedness and bigotry of our populace, quick to take offence and the mindless cruelty of the zealots is no longer a matter to be brushed off as a one odd case.

Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” In today’s time, I actually think no other phrase describes so succinctly what religion has done and can do, positively and negatively, as a balm or bane to society.

Since time immemorial, it has been used as a prop to rally groups of people together under a common umbrella to empower them, instill values and morals, thwart temptation to sin and evil, so Man can proudly declare himself to be the most superior animal on Earth. It is an important crutch for the elderly and infirm as a means of giving them direction in life. I see my mother-in-law and realise that since becoming a widow she has been leaning towards prayer and recitation of the Gurbani more regularly. She divides her day into various slots. The first quarter for ablutions and prayers after which she may choose to fulfil a social obligation or watch TV. The evening again is devoted to reading Guru Granth Sahib. She frets if she does not manage to complete the prayer schedule, which along with bringing her closer to God, gives solace and a sense of purpose to her day. It may not be erroneous to say that for her, religion is an opiate, because immersed in it she is peaceful, happy and doesn’t get time to wallow in self-pity or feel lonely.

Conversely, when religion becomes a foil for politics and power, and divides people, it transforms into a drug that dulls our sense of right and wrong and gives us a false sense of righteousness.

When fear and retribution is instilled in the name of religion, it becomes a dangerous instrument. When it is used as a tool for annihilation and intimidation, it loses its purity.

When fanatics and hardliners abuse it for personal benefit, the basic tenet of religion is destroyed. When largesse is distributed or withheld in the name of religion, its motives become questionable.

When we are favoured and identified by our religious beliefs, a toxic society is the byproduct.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves and wise men are full of doubts. I think British writer Bertrand Russell would never have known how true his words ring today.

pallavisingh358@gmail.com

(The writer is a Jalandhar-based homemaker and freelance contributor)