Monday, June 05, 2006

The Davinci Code and the politics of religious identity

That Davinci code is banned in Hyderabad is already stale news and the reasons behind the ban are certainly not so opaque. The Government is doing the politically right thing, you know, showing sensitivity to the sentiments of the religious minorities, ensuring there are no law & order disruptions, etc ad nauseam. I am certainly not interested in flogging the dead horse, what I wish to examine, however is a more fundamental issue-which is the politics of a religious identity. From times immemorial, organized religion’s role has been ostensibly that of a conscience keeper, but in reality it has only been a perpetuator of a religious identity. What exactly is wrong with that, you might ask? Well, few organized religions seem to have adapted to the times, or made efforts to become contemporary and relevant. The world-view they preach is often restrictive and not inclusive enough and hence creates polarization around a lot of issues that are important. (Here, I would like to draw a clear distinction between organized religion and spirituality; and I define spirituality as a personal quest for meaning.) I would like to argue that the motivations behind sustaining the caste system in India and perpetuating a religious identity (a devout Hindu or a pious Catholic etc) are political in nature and broadly comparable.

And clearly the problems of a carrying an identity (somehow considered choice-less) that has not evolved with the times are manifold. We do see great evidence of schizophrenic behavior all around us, people who are perfectly rational and logical in their everyday lives, return to retrogression and primitivism in matters concerning religious behavior

The question to ask is whether organized religion should define boundaries for Art? Most of us are tempted to answer in a ‘conditional’ affirmative with a lame statement-‘in exceptional circumstances, yes’. Well, what’s wrong with that, you may ask? -Everything for starters. Art, remember, is an expression of a point of view. The idea that a handful of people acting supposedly in the larger interests, can suppress that right is clearly a ridiculous notion, but the more fundamental issue here is the aura of reverential untouchability we create around religious beliefs. ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’ said Socrates. Yatho Vaacho Nivartanthe Aprapya Manasa Saha (where both the speech and thought fail in describing the Truth: Taittiriya Upanishad) clearly cannot apply to the tenets of an organized religion.