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Keep religious morals private

Ranjona BanerjiReligion continues to knock on the doors of insanity with its decision to drop God for a moral code. Rather than stick to its primary business, which is to get people involved in the divine experience, it wastes its time telling its followers what to wear, what to see, what to hear and what to do.

So people in Delhi cannot go to an exhibition of nude paintings according to one group which espouses the cause of one religion and people in Kashmir cannot listen to a rock band according to some high up in another religion. Why bother discussing which religion: when it comes to intolerance and irrationality, you will be hard-pressed to find a difference.

Praagaash
Kashmir’s first all-girl rock band was forced to disband after a senior cleric labelled them un-Islamic. They called themselves Pragaash, which means ‘from darkness to light’

What the average Indian does feel however is interference in just about every area of life, even with actions as innocuous as reading a book or watching a film. Both are apparently extremely dangerous habits which can ruin your moral base and turn your moral compass completely off North. This is because books, paintings, films, music are all occupations which presumably have nothing to do with god or God or gods or goddesses even. They are the work of the devil or even worse, the work of atheists.

Yet I cannot remember the last time an atheist organisation threatened anyone with death or dismemberment or even eternal damnation for reading a book or singing a song or watching a film. Nor has there been sufficient evidence that people who believe (or claim to believe) in a deity are any less likely to fudge their taxes or kill or maim than those who do not.

Rather than fill them with compassion towards their less fortunate brethren, many religionists feel the need to sit on judgment. They want to change everyone else into an image of themselves. Unfortunately, that image is very often of an intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded, ill-informed misery of a person. Instead of imposing their idea of what everyone else should do on everyone else, it might be time for many religious believers to rush to their individual and collective shrines and pray for some divine wisdom.

Meanwhile, it is time for India to regain its promise to itself as a nation: that we are free to do what we like as long as it is within the bounds of an accepted (and discussed) framework of law. Besides, as humans, we all have a conscience and an understanding of an ethical code (as an aside, threatening violence over disagreement does not usually fit into that code). If you do not like a song, do not listen to it. To bring myself into this argument, I find many Hindi film songs vulgar and derivative. So I never listen to them. But how is it any of my business what the rest of you get up to with Fevicol or beedis and whatever else?

I would advise everyone to read as many books as possible if nothing else they may delight you and engender some ideas of a larger world in you. But certainly, if like so many book-burning clubs all over the world, you find books offensive please do not read them. But how is it your business what I read Through human history, there is no one strain of thought or form of belief which has remained constant: absolutes have come and gone and we the human race have remained. Ideas once held sacred have been challenged. Some have been forgotten while others have adapted and moved on.

No one any more believes that brothers and sisters should get married and rule the world and then get buried with their followers in marvellous giant four-sided pointy structures. But that doesn’t mean that the ancient Egyptian civilisation was not a wonderful aspect of human history. At the end of the day, though, right now we have chosen in India to operate as a democracy. Let’s give a little thought to how absolutely exhilarating that is, while you keep your religious morality to yourself.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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