Religious leaders must fight corruption; not vie for the throne

Published 20 June 2011  |  
Baba Ramdev has strong convictions about Yoga and about his religion. He has deep faith in his medicines. And he has an intense love for everything Indian. It is often said that men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it with religious conviction.

Swami Vivekananda (1863- 1902), intensely Indian, lamented before American audiences, during his 1893 U S visit, about Indian poverty. He was emphatic that he did not need their religion. The masses in India are very poor, very ignorant and are divided into a diversity of sects, with forms of worship varying from downright idolatry to the broadest and most liberal form of divine conception based on the brotherhood of man and the oneness of God. His mission, he told them, is to get the means 'for the education of teachers who are to go among the common people and work a reform of existing evils, of which there are many.'

Baba Ramdev's yoga may relieve people of their stresses and Pandit Sri Sri Ravi Shanker's sudarshan kriya might even lift up the spirits of the elite youth who feel distressed while engaged in the rat race. But their remedies are not good enough to cure India of its corruption. Instead of going on a fast to bring the government to its knees for its failure to curb corruption the like of him must go on bended knees before the public imploring them to mend their waysâ€"that they may neither take a bribe nor give one to get things done.

Scene changed:
Since the time of Vivekananda, the masses here had come out of the grueling poverty he found them in. The country is in fact on the brink of becoming a super power. But the religious scene today continues to be as corruption – ridden as the Swami found it and set his own order: the Ramakrishna Mission.

Institutions like the Ramakrishna Mission and some Godmen like the late Sathia Sai Baba might have attempted to improve the social conditions of the people by providing them education, healthcare and basic necessities imitating the ways of the Christian missionaries. They have a large following. But it must be admitted that their efforts to change the attitudes and temperaments of the people to usher in a welfare society and a 'new age' of justice and equality have not borne much fruit.

Right from Mahatma Gandhi, every right thinking Indian had decried the role of the caste system in retarding progress and justice in the nation. They have condemned the concept of 'untouchability' as inhuman. But all the pious striving by the many had not altered the ground realities in any significant measure. And the loud cries from all corners of this country today against the evil of corruption is a clear indication that things are the same.

What marks the religious scene in our nation is the multiplicity of faiths and a spirit of competition. Mutual misunderstanding and suspicion vitiate the relations between religious faiths. When religious leaders are motivated by a desire to fight social evils of the day and come on a common platform in a spirit of unity and cooperation to be effective vehicles of transformation of society, wonders could happen.

Bad name:
But we in our country have succeeded in giving a bad name to religion. That is not without justification. In the aftermath of partition, innocent Muslims and Hindus were massacred in the fair name of religion! And the resulting hatred was fanned and spread throughout the nation using faith as an efficient vehicle. By now the bad name has stuck. In his characteristic humour, Mark Twain observed long ago :' Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religionâ€"several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight.'

There are many areas which calls for a joint fight by religious leaders: illiteracy, poverty, female foeticide, suppression and exploitation of all kinds, injustice, human rights violations and so on.

Christian missionaries worked among the poor and they started educational institutions and health facilities to deliver the masses from their misery. In tribal areas they attempted to unite the downtrodden to safeguard their interests so that they could be freed from the exploitation of the powerful.

While a large sections appreciated these measures, a narrow fringe found their motive 'suspicious.' They, along with vested interests, have been engaged in giving a bad name to all social work by missionaries effectively cutting off such aid to the poor and the downtrodden.

Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), no doubt, spoke emphatically of the need to remove poverty and degrading social conditions before administering doses of religion to the masses. The social reformer thundered against excessive idolatry, wily priest-craft, superstitions, and the apathy of the rich towards the poor.

He saw it was the priest - craft that distorted the truth and perpetuated ignorance; substituted its own crude and narrow interpretations for truth, which perverted the people and prevented their moral progression.

The Swami noted two most remarkable things in his host country. First, the superiority of its women, as regards influence in position and intellect. Second, in the charities and treatment of the poor. He even opined that the US had almost solved the problem of poverty. The hospitals and charitable institutions and the tremendous labor - saving machinery drew his attention.

'I am glad if you want to make christians in India by giving work and bread to the poor. God speed you to do that. There is one benefit that must be credited to the missionary movement. It makes education cheap, he had told his US audience.

'Bring Christ's life to us and let it permeate the very core of society. Let Him be preached in every village and corner of India. But don't have your missionaries choose their profession as a means of livelihood. Let them have the call of Christ. Let them feel within that they were born for that work.'

Very significantly he added a rider: 'If your missionary does not follow Christ what right has he to call himself a christian?'

The record:
The decades leading to the American Civil War saw a religious revival in that country.

The 'Great Awakening' was marked by many conversions and a mighty outpouring of faith. Central to the revival was an unswerving opposition to one of the greatest evils of the dayâ€"the institution of slavery. This opposition to slavery was seen as a fruit of conversions.

Historians report that a Christian religious revival movement known as 'the Second Great Awakening' in the 19th century in the United States drew millions of new adherents to the religious fold. This also led to formation of new denominations.

Many converts believed that the awakening heralded a new millennial age. The awakening stimulated the establishment of many reform movements designed to remedy the evils of society.

Again, the motive power for the civil rights movement and affirmative action in favour of the Blacks was provided by religion.

In South Africa, where the transfer of power from the long entrenched Whites to the Blacks could have triggered a conflagration claiming millions of lives, it was again the religious leaders there who had initiated and planned the 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission,' which helped establish peace.

The current campaign against corruption, which legitimately belongs to the realm of religion also, has become suspect because godmen with sullied reputations have taken up roles in the agitation. There is anxiety in many quarters that the hands of those crying hoarse over corruption are not clean. The whole issue has been politicized despite the good intentions of Anna Hazare and Kejriwal who launched the movement in the name of the civil society. It is now looked upon as a struggle by communal forces to regain power by dethroning the government.

The saffron robed saviours of India and the white robed preachers of the West, particularly the United States have one thing in common: they both emphasise that the spiritual is stronger than the material. If so they have a lot to do in their own area of spirituality.

Despite the gross materialism and chaos in the US and European countries, there is an underlying ethical foundation which helps the westerner in judging issues in the public space or reacting to events. The need to help and protect the poor and the weak, the desire to see the triumph of the principles of justice and equality on all issues affecting humanity were built into the mindset of the people by the constant preaching of the Christian faith Sunday after Sunday in the churches of all denominations.

That the truths of the Bible have the power of awakening an intense moral feeling in every human being; that they make bad men good, and send a pulse of healthful feeling through all the domestic, civil and social relations; that they teach men to love right, and hate wrong, and seek each other's welfare as children of a common parent (Heavenly Father) are matters that have found acceptance even among non-Christians.

Preachers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had effectively used the Biblical teachings to fight the social evils of the day. They had gone to the very roots of the evils in an attempt to control the baleful passions of the heart which gave rise to such. They believed that the movement against corruption should begin in the individual heart which is polluted by selfishness, pride, covetousness and the like.


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