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Thursday, September 2, 2010

RELIGION AND THE GENERATION - X

Religion today, is a very sensitive issue and not everybody is qualified to “talk” about it. If you do, you must be one of the following:


a) Politician
b) A Baba (god man), who have people with power, like politicians, as disciples
c)  Drunk

I say this because no person in their right mind would publicly talk about religion, unless you have some form of might behind you. Tempers flare with the slightest provocation in the name of religion and this has been exploited over and over again, for various reasons which are nothing short of disturbing.

This article isn’t on religion. There are many knowledgeable men, who are erudite in this field and have discussed at length about the whole concept. On the contrary, my take on religion could be classified as apathetic, if nothing else. What I am going to verbalize though is my generation or generation- X’s take on religion. It is a generalization, which is based on the people I interact with, primarily my friends and the people around me.  Without a doubt, this is a small group for such an important discussion, but nevertheless, does show a trend that warrants attention. This group, primarily includes people with age ranging from 13-26 (most of them around the 21-24 bracket), educated, financially sound and a majority residing in metros.      

I decided to take up the burdensome task of going through the personal info of my 597 friends and find out what their “religious views” columns hold. Did I eventually go through all these profiles? No, I didn’t have to. After stalking 20 of my friend’s profiles, I could discern a general trend. So I started checking random profiles of the remaining friends and I would guess what their “religious views” column might hold. I was pretty surprised with the accuracy of my guesses (many left the column empty so that does not count as a negative vote). I am not a Psychology student, but the advantage I have in this case is that these are my friends, some closer than the others, but in any case I know them all personally and that means I have some inkling on what their personality is like. Yes, I am not the “waana be do fraandship with me” type who randomly sends or accepts friend requests.

In India, according to the constitution, we have the right to practice the religion of our choice. In most cases, we practice the religion which we were born into and it remains so for the rest of our lives. The only conversions I hear of is by ingenuous village/tribal folk who are apparently fooled or bribed by evangelists into converting or when you want to marry a person from another religion, where one of them has to make the “sacrifice”.  Unlike the west, where celebrities change faith like they change boyfriends, India is still a bit more conservative when it comes to religion. However, the trend seems to be changing especially amongst the urban, educated folk.

I have a lot of friends from particularly religious families who do umpteen poojas and visit temples for recreation. As children, they followed these rituals blindly but as they grew older they started questioning these very practices. Their bewildered parents blamed it on their friends, the movies, television, and everything under the sun but after a while they accept it, sometimes accompanied with a self induced smack on their forehead with a standard cry of na karma (my fate).

Where and when does this change come? Education plays a major part. Education teaches us to question everything around us, and amongst the various things, religion and its practices. Though I am from a very liberal family when it comes to religion, we follow the practice of not eating non-vegetarian food on Tuesdays like most North Indian families. In college, on many occasions, only after eating my meal did I realize that I was not supposed to eat my tandoori chicken because that day was a Tuesday. Initially, I felt guilty and only with repeated mistakes (however delicious they were), did I realize how meaningless the whole concept was. Still, when at home, I follow it out of respect for my mother’s sentiments. I think a lot of you can relate to this in your own ways.

Coming back to what I observed from the social networking site. A lot of my friends left the “religious views” column empty but almost everybody seemed to have their “relationship status” and “looking for” column well updated. Interesting! Indifference towards religion? Maybe or they just didn’t take the process of filling up the profile too seriously. The standard ‘religious’, ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Jain’, etc responses were there as expected. I made a note of the people with such responses. What was intriguing about this set of people was that a lot of them were the conservative and reticent kinds who would think twice before making their view heard (there were some contrasting personalities too). However, the similarity in the behavioural characteristics of a major part of this group was conspicuous and could not be ignored. Another interesting observation wielded that many of them were also from relatively smaller cities and towns where the exposure levels aren’t that high and questioning religion is taboo. However, I am uncertain about how many of them read the Holy Scriptures, visit temples and attend religious functions because they want to and not because they have to.

A stark contrast to the last set of respondents, an unusually large number, stated their religious views as ‘agnostic’, ‘atheist’, ‘don’t care about religion’, ‘spiritual’ and so on. One interesting profile even had “sceptical” in response. Much the same as the last case, a majority of this group had a similar behavioural pattern too. A lot of them were the bold, rebellious kind, ones who don’t hesitate to question or voice their opinion and are a lot more “open”. As expected, most of them are from the metros.

With increasing urbanisation and changing trends does this mean that concept of religion is on the decline?
I don’t agree. Religion would prevail. Nevertheless, with women empowerment and increase in literacy rate, especially in the tier 2 cities and towns, its importance would decline. That is the reason some of the political parties, whose main strategy relies on religion politics, isn’t faring too well in states where education is high and poverty is low (in most cases). They are rethinking their game plan too.

What is the reason behind the decline of religious fervour amongst the educated youth?
The concept seems fruitless since it has been propagated in a very wrong way right from the childhood. It is not just about unintelligible rituals and traditions. A religion is a way of life, like a code of conduct in an organization. All religious scriptures like the Gita, Quoran, Gurugranth Saheb, etc all talk about tolerance, love, peace, etc. Religion in its true form is something very pure and chaste, which should be imbibed within yourself and should reflect by your actions and behaviour in your everyday life. The similarity in the line of thinking of the various religions is not a coincidence and it proves that it was formulated to improve the quality of life and ensure people co-existed in harmony but definitely not to separate them. Unfortunately, this noble idea went terribly wrong when people started exploiting it to invoke hatred and division, the very things that religion was expected to eradicate. Today, all we see is terrorism, violence, hate, divide and politics in the name of religion and nobody in their right sense would want to be a part of it. Using it as a tool for politics and diving nations might have worked in the past, but hopefully not anymore. Religion in its twisted and corrupt form should be allowed to die its natural death and people with vested interests should not use religion to instigate fellow beings and spread hostility through a tool that was made to propagate love.  

9 comments:

mohit said...

Quite right.. I being a Hindu realize that I'm a Hindu only while filling up the religion column in many of the forms I fill. Apart from that I never felt any different from people of other religion or community. Down here at the grass root level religion to people means a square of meal. This being well understood by many clergymen tend to take advantage of these poor people( and believe me these people are really poor, for instance many women cut their umbilical cord themselves). These people don't need education they need bread and one who gives them bread is their religion their God.

And as for us, so called well fed and well kept kids of these small towns religion means matching step by step to our urban counter part be it in clothing, food they eat, brand of their underwear etc.

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Mohit: Absolutely!!! Religion isn't that important to us as we feel absolutely no connect to it today. The poor would do anything just to fill their stomach. They would vote for a goon, convert to another religion and what not just to ensure that their family then can survive.

That is why I have pointed out that, as more people get educated and the standard of living improves, especially in such downtrodden places, only then will the exploitation in the name of religion stop.

suryam said...

Dear Ashish, Your Blog on religion did make interesting reading more so since it is from the young GenX. It is a fact that religion is being exploited by the politicians & extremists to influence the less educated and bring them dowm to their base levels.However slowly this is being realized even by the exploited and people are less likely to be suckered so easily. Finally, i feel that Religion is a frame of mind and thought. If it brings peace and tranquility to the individaul mind in this chaotic world, it serves no harm.

Richa said...

aaahaha you crack me up. "if you like what you read and want more of me..."
right.sorry for the digression.
i like what you've pointed out about the corruption of religion - that's very true. but i ask you, can you really associate religious apathy with education, and an urban society ? like you said, you doubt if the people who listed themselves as Hindus or Muslims would have ever read the Holy Scriptures for themselves. similarly, i do not think all the agnostics and atheists are so in the true sense of the words. i think it is more a matter of a far better vocabulary, and, a fancy to stand out. religion is not about refraining from having chicken on tuesdays really (and you'd agree) - atleast, i think it is no more than a simpler way to sort of belong to a set of beliefs. sure we feel stupid about it. but all of us do bow our heads down in prayer; whether it is to thank God, or if you don't believe in such a force, in reflection of your own actions. generation-x (weren't we "y"?) is driven by a passion to eradicate hatred and war in the world today. or maybe we're just too lazy to bother about anything except our small group of friends, good food and Apple gadgets. either way, good for the world! and yes, religion as is propagated today by politicians and extremists would die a natural death -- hopefully with the people who have taken it upon themselves to rid us of the "wrong faith". till then, we hope.

Ashish Kalsi said...

@ Suryam: Thank you and I’m glad to know that you liked it. I absolutely agree with what you say. People seem to be realizing that they are being exploited and hopefully learn from the mistakes of their past. As I have mentioned in the post, education and employment, would only expedite the process of realization and these people won’t be bullied into doing something they are against.
Religion, as you have pointed out is a beautiful thing and should be practised in the right spirit and not as a tool of division.

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Richa :

Thank you for all the sarcasm :)

I have made it pretty clear that my post is not on religion. However, it is about what is presented to us, generation-Y as you call it, in the name of religion. Education and an urban society encourage questioning practices which are archaic and are not relevant in the modern society.

You have pointed out a wonderful fact that people who call themselves atheists and agnostics, may not be true to their beliefs. I agree with you and also apologise if I have made it seem that I am for the atheists and against the religious folk. In fact, it was never my intention to compare the two. All I tried to show was that the young, educated folk are actually considering “practicing” what they believe in than rather than following what they are expected to follow. Also, they are less prone to buying the religious bullshit that the politicians try to sell.

Like you, I hope for an end to this religious hara-kiri.

Richa said...

aww there was hardly any Ashish :)

and no, don't apologize because you don't sound like you're for the atheists or making comparisons. i pretty much said what you did, albeit with a different echo. what i made out of your article was that educated kids are wondering, why do we do pooja? and that kids from poorer backgrounds simply don't. why ? because we do/do not have the free-thought brought along by urbanization. but i think it's not so. rituals are only so much part of a religion, and as far as the aim of a faith goes, we are not very alienated from it.

very, very neat writing :) good read!

Ashish Kalsi said...

Yes, of course I am not saying that every educated person is questioning religion. The only matter of concern is that the way religion is being propagated today might raise a few questions in their mind. Most definitely religion is not just the poojas and rituals, but how many of them really understand that? That’s my only concern. It’s good to know that there are people from our generation, like you, who understand the true meaning of religion. I just wish that religion evolves with the changing times and shakes off the arcane air it carries with it. Like for example, most of the hymns people recite (in any religion) aren’t even in the language people converse in or understand. I think small changes like these would help the cause of religion.

And thank you very much. Now that you like what I write, can I assume that you want more of me? :P

Ashish Kalsi said...

@Mohit: Absolutely!!! Religion isn't that important to us as we feel absolutely no connect to it today. The poor would do anything just to fill their stomach. They would vote for a goon, convert to another religion and what not just to ensure that their family then can survive.

That is why I have pointed out that, as more people get educated and the standard of living improves, especially in such downtrodden places, only then will the exploitation in the name of religion stop.