Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Corruption of Ideals in our Time

Having just been in Delhi for a week, travelling around on business, I could not help noticing the enormous increase in the number, size and spendour of the temples there.

In my youth, Delhi had only one Hindu temple with any size and that was the Birla Mandir. Though architecturally impressive, it is not particularly splendid, and the Birla family achieved a nice balance (to my mind) between creating something attractive on the one hand, and something reasonably in keeping with the spirit of most Indians.

The recent penchant for temple-expansion and temple-glory reminds me of Europe in the 14th to 16th centuries when all the splendid Roman Catholic cathedrals were built.

Europe was then, as India is now, increasingly corrupt, with religion itself part of that corruption.

In conversation in India, you will find any number of people ready to regale you with tales of the corruption and the incredible wealth of Indian "religious leaders".

When religion itself becomes a corrupting influence then there is no hope for the masses.

And we are now witnessing the world-wide corruption not only of religion but also of idealism of all sorts.

There are now innumerable examples of people using "high and noble and apparently humanistic" objectives only to make money for themselves. The biggest secular temple in the world, the World Economic Forum in Davos, is (as far as I can make out) one such example. Various gurus (from different religious traditions!) are other examples. I am not saying that all gurus are charlatans or that WEF necessarily belong in this category till one has evidence one way or the other.

But we have sadly reached a situation worldwide that one has to be specially careful and suspicious when people invoke what is "high and noble and humanistic". Or, to put it differently, the more "high and noble and humanistic" the aims of the individual or organisation, the more careful and suspicious one needs to be....

Idealistic people can be gullible and that tendency has always been exploited by the hypocritical – think back to Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale in the 14th Century!

That is why there has always been a danger of "dharma" (principles, ideals, values, religion) becoming "dhanda" (business).

Of course idealisms and religions do not have to become corrupt and corrupting. Religion can also be a great cleansing and progressive force, as it was in Reformation Europe, when it struggled with a corrupt and corrupting Roman Catholicism and finally to a large extend cleaning up feudal society and transforming it into what we would today call a modern society.

Similarly, as I have pointed out elsewhere, religion was an enormous positive force in early nineteenth century England, where the Evangelical movement both saved the nation from revolution and cleaned it up, transforming one of the most corrupt countries (including a corrupt and corrupting religion) and making it one of the cleanest that history had known till then. I am not saying that Victorian England was perfect. I am saying merely that in terms of social and environmental concern, political freedom and public justice, no society till then had achieved what it did (and this involved, moreover, cleaning up as much as any colonial power had ever done in history in its colonies, by means of a relatively enlightened colonial policy). I am also saying that the achievement was entirely the fruit of the Evangelical movement.

The challenge for people of all idealistic, humanitarian and/ or religious motivations is how to match the achievements of the European Reformation and the Evangelical movement in nineteenth century England.

The sad thing is that, since the end of the Second World War, the systematic inculcation by the British and global elite of the Theory of Evolution, and the consequent rise of godlessness, has had the result that the achievements of the Reformation and Evangelicalism are understood, even in Christian circles, only "religiously" and not in terms of transformation in knowledge generation, intellectual power, economic progress, political justice and social and environmental concern.

Recovering and studying the real history of the European Reformation and of the Evangelical movement in eighteenth century England has important lessons for our struggle today to clean up idealisms, clean up religions, and focus energy on addressing the enormous challenges posed by the totalitarianism of the capitalist elite, whether in India or around the world.

That is great theory.

But how can you, in practice, tell whether someone (let us call this person Mr Krishna) is a charlatan or whether s/he is truly idealistic/religious/committed to human values?

I have 3 simple questions that I ask myself, and I commend these questions to you as a reasonable place to begin:

1. Considering other people who run charitable organisations of a size similar to that run by Mr Krishna in her/his country, does Mr Krishna have property, possessions and a lifestyle approximating the middle class among such people?

2. How sacrificially does Mr Krishna live?

3. How much of his personal income does Mr Krishna give away to people who are not related to him (by blood, marriage, caste, and so on)?

ENDS Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

_ivan said...

Judging by the number of advertisement-comments to your posts, may I recommend that you "activate word verification" in your settings?

I must admit that this suggestion is mostly an excuse for expressing that I enjoy reading your posts but do not, however, stumble upon thoughts of my own that I deem worthy of contributing. So this merely remains "un cadeau."