By Syed Ehtisham
umanity carries an historical baggage. Religion is arguably the most important component of the burden.
Defined as a set of beliefs in the super natural causation of natural phenomenon, it most likely arose when humans acquired the faculty of coherent thought and communication skills. Prior to that, at the point of divergence from their closest cousins the chimpanzees, and like them they would live in trees, subsist on berries, fruits, tubers and vegetables. They were probably mono androus, possibly mono-gamous too as indicated by the near universal acceptance of the legend of Adam and Eve .They would congregate into small groups, moving from region to region with changing weather, but not getting too far from a source of water, a natural spring ,lake or a river .An accidental fire, destruction of local trees and vegetation would force them to eat the flesh of animals roasted in the fire and the roasted grain and greens too, leading to their first cooked meal. They probably didn’t relish the taste first, but gradually came to prefer it to raw meat as in the cooked state it would last longer.
Animal meat opened a vast resource of nutrition. Mankind shed vegetarianism and gradually evolved to hunter-gatherer stage. Men would leave women and children in caves and other natural shelters, leaving a few males behind for protection and heavy work and be away foraging for food for days and weeks. Some would fall victim to predators, accidents and elements and not return. Women controlled the household, would have conjugal relations with the ones left behind and look after the returning providers as well. It was polyandrous, matriarchal society.
There was, as yet, no particular need of a religion, there were no marriage bonds to sanctify, no property to be inherited by legitimate issue. If the area became too inhospitable they just picked up and left.
Accidental observation of seed germinating, growing into grain, vegetables or fruit plants would lead to agriculture and long term settlement in a fertile region. Stable habitat was needed for shelter against elements. People now built houses of mud reinforced with straw, laid claim to fields to sow. Concept of property is in incipient stage now. It can be inherited, men would want to pass on the product of their seed, formal marriage became a necessity, boys stronger physically, though less in stamina than the girls, came to be preferred and got the lions share of assets, girls essential for perpetuation of race came to be valued as wonderfully endowed property. Spirit men were needed for blessing the wedding ceremony, also to ward off evils, propitiate gods for a good crop, rain as needed and to keep wild fires, hurricanes, lightening, earthquake, blizzard, hailstorm or drought in check.
Socially beneficial deeds, helping others, honesty, hard work, truth, loyalty , kindness to women, children, elders, the sick and handicapped, respect for property were deemed pious, damage to property, stealing, robbery, murder, abduction of women were branded sins to be punished by misfortune, deprivation, injury and death. Religion is coming to its own as a disciplinary force. Spirit men are getting organized into primitive priestly order to mediate with gods and grant absolution on their behalf.
With a growing body of human knowledge of natural phenomenon, perhaps failure of the priests to tackle adversities, need for supernatural, mystically inspired faiths arose. Priests rise to the occasion, develop dogma, cultist traditions, myths, fantasies and group adherence which survive to the present day. First religions are composite of conclusions drawn from observation of natural phenomenon and supernatural mediated by a creator or a group of them with subsidiary divinities specializing in facilities as Health, wealth, fertility, education etc.
Hinduism is the best example of a composite religion. There is a supreme deity presiding over a cabinet as it were, of lesser gods and manifesting in different forms and shapes as required. Faith, loyalty, courage, honesty, motherhood, respect for elders, piety, observance of rites is emphasized. Rigid economic/social classes are developed with Brahmin for religion, scholarship and teaching and advice to Kastriyas, the warriors, kings and protectors of the system,. Vaisha, the business class, adept at book keeping, market management and trade and the physical workers for agriculture, crafts, carpentry and smithy (Iron, Copper, Bronze) work. Natives are relegated to unclean work and eventually to untouchability.
Society has a structure and religion is needed to preserve the frame work. Bhudism and Jainsism, from anthropological perspective are but sublimation of Hinduism.
Pharaohs also practiced a composite religion based on a stable mix of primitive science and equally primitive mythology. They had the son god and moon god, but pharaohs could compete with them on equal terms. Genetic makeup was revered, the ruler marrying his sister and only the progeny of the union acceptable as successor to the throne.
Jews had been ostracized and rendered ineffective. A young rabbi castigated his brothers in faith for exclusiveness, degeneration, injustice, moral failings, gluttony, debauchery and exploitation particularly of the poor and exhorted them to mend their ways. I venture to say, he was the first socialist, though as a sop he granted kingdom of heaven to the poor. The established Judaic order, sought the aid of the forsworn enemy, the Roman governor and had Jesus crucified. His followers went underground, his teaching collected some sixty years after his death, comforting themselves with the concept that he had atoned for their sins and would redeem them at the end of time. With missionary zeal and secret service, unrivalled since, they vigorously pushed conversions. A firm conviction in after life, eternal and embellished with all one desired, gave them the fortitude to withstand all persecution and torture, the most dramatic being fed to lions.
Their luck turned. Constantine saw light, snatched victory form jaws of defeat and proclaimed it the state religion.( Jews, perhaps gave up too quickly. Maybe they would found their own Constantine). Their day had come. With state machinery at the back, they went forth saving souls, with the bible in one hand and a sword in the other, exceeding in ferocity, what had been done to them before empowerment, never mind the dictum “do into other what you would like to be done to you”. They continued this martial proslytisation till nineteenth forties.
Once they became part of establishment, they supported status quo, feudal system had to be supported, king had divine rights (as long as he was a Christian and paid homage to the Pope) part of which he delegated to his family and the aristocracy. King Henry the 8th thwarted in his desire to marry pretty women and often, created his own Pope( the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury who with his hierarchy remains ardent supporter of the establishment to this day).
Poor were fobbed off with heavenly favor Islam is the next innovation. Born in a desert, out of the mind of a commercial traveler of impeccable antecedents, unimpeachable integrity and unmatched intellect, it too emphasized sanctity of private property , and also honesty, truth, brotherhood and unity of Ummah ( roughly nation of Islam ).It prescribed humane treatment of slaves but did not abolish the practice, and what apologists of Islam try to push under the rug, permitted carnal relations with female slaves, with out formalities of religious vows .It proscribed live burial of female infants, and Muslims make much of this prohibition, though it was a rare occurrence by all accounts, proclaimed paradise under the feet of the mother, but allowed multiple wives, the Prophet is believed to have said that if Sajda ( the act of prostration ) was allowed before a Non-Allah ( other than God ) it would be to the husband for the wife, allowed half as much the inheritance to a girl as to her brother and half a vote as a witness, deeming her emotionally unstable .Women could seek divorce but not give it, taking away the facility permissible under tribal customs.
They didn’t trust the women. On the day of judgment, people will be called by their mother’s name ( daughter/son of Ms so and so and not Mr. so and so.)
Non Arab converts to Islam were not given parity with Arabs, for centuries they had to have an Arab patron, this practice persists to this day, all South-Asian workers require a Mavali ( Sponsor, in Mumbai the term is used for hooligans ) This is reminiscent of Indians converts to Christianity who were not quite Sahib Log.
Various doctrines, rules and laws attempted to discipline the unruly Arabs given to blood feuds, a much more profitable alternative- expeditions under written by the state, the holy wars- Jihads was provided.
So far we have seen that religion, primitive and advanced, served the purpose of upholding the established order, pre existing or ordained by it. It legitimized law and order agencies and administration of the state. There was no other means of protecting life and property .
With renaissance, freedom of thought and expression, social and economic theories, idea of human rights, harnessing of the power of steam, industrial revolution, advent of printing press, accessibility of knowledge to the common man, relative economic emancipation and empowerment of the poor and the dispossesed and later communist, socialist and democratic dispensations, loosening of the stranglehold of religion, tremendous increase in productivity, trade union movement, decline of feudal power, enhancement of capital at the expense of the former, making it redundant except in a few archaic societies,( Capitalism, in the first instance had been opposed by organized religion), all made religion redundant as a social force ,.Capitalism co opted the existing coercive apparatus of state, the police, army and the politicians. Religion in order to survive became the hand maiden of capitalism .Capital had the added advantage that it owned all the main stream media, so could brain wash the public .The most glaring success of the perception management being that US citizens, with 45 million among them with no health insurance, are convinced that their health system is better than the National Health care in Europe and Canada.
Majority of people in the developed world, with wide spread literacy, and enhancement of social consciousness are aware of the economic basis of crime ,conflict and war , do not believe in divine infallibility and want to keep faith and state separate.
It is not their fault that the majority of people in the under developed world need the crutch of religion. They have been deliberately kept ignorant, fed with unholy doctrines by agents of corporate capital and neo imperialist powers, which encourage non representative repressive regimes, prevent emergence of popular governments and if they do mange to come up, sabotage their survival. These tools of neo imperialism fritter away national resources by buying weapons of war for use against equally destitute neighbors. Today’s ( 12/9/04 ) report on BBC told us that a Billion children are dying of disease ,poverty, and hunger because their governments do not use their resources in nation building.
Religion had become redundant for as a tool for preservation of social order .By all counts, former soviet union was more egalitarian , provided basic needs to all, food, shelter and vodka, there was little street crime, no mafia, hoarding, black market or starvation , than the current capitalist caricature. China with a smooth transition to a composite capitalist/socialist economic system and booming economy ,India with all its historic social and cultural baggage, has a vibrant economy and world class academies. None of the above needed religion.
Pakistan created in the name of a religion is wallowing in the mire of lawlessness, obscurantism and sectarian and feudal sponsored ethnic cleansing. USA, with resurgence of messianic visions re-elected George Bush with catastrophe impending in Iraq, with soldiers scrounging for armored vehicles and a puppet installed in Afghanistan, whose writ and that of his patron the US extending only to the confines of the capital, Kabul, jobs lost by million at home ,dollar sliding in international markets and economy crawling
Religion has long out lived its utility, except perhaps as a consolation in times of acute personal grief and misfortune, as Morphine is required .for extreme pain, and a sage, it was Karl Marx did compare it to the drug. Advocates of regular, habitual drug use are prosecuted in all societies.
Author has published two books: ”A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents,” and ,”God, Government and Globalization”, and am working on the third one