Sep 292012

Probably the last addition here for a while.

I have said elsewhere (well, everywhere) that I distrust and dislike the mixing of politics and religion, and have said that the less they overlap the better. This seems like a good time to spell this out in a slightly different way that also relates to Jinnah vs. Gandhi.

I become uneasy when politics becomes religious and vice versa. This happens very frequently, though it doesn’t have to. I think Jinnah and Gandhi are good exemplars of the way this works.

First, let me be clear on a general point. Religious sentiments are not a bad thing in most people, most of the time. They may or may not be natural. Positive emotions, like empathy, compassion, forgiveness, the ecstatic contemplation of one’s connection with the wider biosphere, loving other people etc. etc., may all exist in or outside conventional religious structures, and may or may not confer evolutionary benefits or advantages. What is certain is that these emotions, especially when collectivised, can easily be directed to non-spiritual purposes, and exclusive identities can be stamped on them by formal denominational relgious bodies. This is the crux.

Once collective identity, or internal hierarchy, or church property, or doctrinal orthodoxy come into play then every religion develops political interests. It begins to matter how well the faith is doing, how well individuals are doing within it, who is in its orbit and who isn’t, who is working for unity and who isn’t, who has got the message right and who hasn’t etc. All these things also apply to political parties.

Organised religion can easily become highly political, even before we enter into the question of what the social ambitions of the religion in question might be. The area of ambitions is usually where people look for the religious-political interface, and I think it the wrong place, or at least a secondary place.

This is where Gandhi and Jinnah came up with different strategies. Gandhi tried to empty religion of its political ambitions, by subscribing to the least structured form of faith he could conceive. Jinnah adopted an existing edifice while ignoring most of its infrastructure. He was not primarily interested in its theological content, even if he believed it to be true in eternal, cosmic terms. He took identity and social norms – equality and freedom – from Islam. He kept the shell that Gandhi threw away.

In sum; organised, denominational religion is a way into politics, not out of it. Spirituality is a way out of politics, though it is not a solution to anything much outside of one’s own consciousness. Spiritual people tend to recognise this boundary to what they are doing. Religious people, on the other hand, are often fiercely reluctant to accept any boundaries to their actions at all.




 Posted by at 3:52 am

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