Thursday, 22 March 2012

One Man's Religion is Another Man's Opium

Another news item that creates a weird feeling in me - A Russian court rejects an appeal to ban a translation of ISKCON guru Srila Padmapada's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Indians (mainly Hindus) have welcomed the decision, having earlier been affronted by what they considered an insult to their holy book.

Here's what I feel about the matter:

1. This is not an attack by Russians against Hindus, which is the way things are being portrayed. This is a lawsuit brought by the Russian Orthodox church against a publication by ISKCON (the Hare Krishna guys). In other words, this is a turf war between two organised religions or sects. ISKCON has invaded the Russian church's turf in the Siberian city of Tomsk, and the church is defending that turf.

2. Organised religions are like corporations. They fight marketing wars and sue each other in the courts. This is really no different from Apple suing Samsung. Ordinary people need not get personally involved. We should stand back and watch the fun.

3. ISKCON doesn't have a great image within India itself. It's seen as an aggressive cult with a distinctly un-Hindu penchant for in-your-face proselytisation, and notable for the near-absence of Indians and domination by Westerners. (That probably figures.) They're also infamous for their modus operandi of offering "free" books, then turning around and asking for a "donation" once the "free" gift is accepted. As for the church, they're the perennial villain in the story of human progress, constantly standing against science and enlightenment, as Galileo or Darwin could tell us, and making themselves ridiculous in their opposition to something as necessary and as harmless as contraception. In the bout between the church and ISKCON, I'm tempted to cheer no matter which side lands a blow.

4. Was it necessary for the Indian and Russian governments to get involved, one to protest and the other to mollify? This sort of thing gives more space to fundamentalists of every hue. The correct response for governments is to ignore such nonsense.

5. The Russian ambassador Alexander Kadakin went so far as to say, "No holy scripture, whether it is the Bible, Quran or Gita can be brought before a court". Oh, really? Is religious scripture above investigation or enquiry? One is tempted to quote Richard Dawkins here, "What are these ultimate questions in whose presence religion is an honoured guest and science must respectfully slink away?" Why can't a court judge a "holy" book? I can just see the headline, "Judge throws book at religion" :-).

Once again, humanity hasn't exactly covered itself with glory. The Russian connection of this news item reminds me of Karl Marx. Russia may have forgotten Marx now, but the man was right. Religion really is the opium of the masses.