Actually, God never died
A German philosopher of the late 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche, announced the death of God in 1882 in the wake of the emergence of the modern, scientific world. Nietzsche thought that religion and modernity were at odds, and hence would never be able to co-exist.
It was the time when the ‘Secularisation theory’ argued that modernisation of society would lead to diminishing influence of religious institutions.
However, the concept soon seemed arguable. It was in the second decade of the 20th century, when the word ‘fundamentalism’ took birth in the United States. Leading evangelical churchmen authored a series of pamphlets titled ‘The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth’, got them published between 1910 and 1915, and distributed them for free. These pamphlets were in the wake of modernism and liberal theology, and aimed at reaffirming the fundamental truths of Christianity.
Not just in Christianity, fundamentalism has rooted itself in almost every faith - whether Jewish, Christian, Hindu or Muslim - since the 1970s. In fact, the period saw re-appearance of religion in the public square. Many events across the world, such as the toppling of the Shah of Iran by an Ayatollah, destruction of Babri Masjid by India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and emergence of religious Zionism in Israel, shook the tenets of secularism and underlined the existence of religion and that too ‘politicised’.
How can one forget the present day ‘non-state actors’, who are murdering people across the world for the sake of ‘Allah’?
Lord Rama’s Hindu nationalists ruled India from 1999 to 2004, and during their tenure, Gujarat witnessed the worst riots between Hindus and Muslims post-Godhra massacre. In the past, Nazis killed Jews in Europe in the name of God. And when al Qaeda attacked the US in the name of Allah in September 2001, the then president George W Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq as a ‘born-again Christian’.
The above-mentioned are few of the many events that reminded us that God actually never died. He was very much alive, although subsided, in the name of modernity.
The incidents underline that the religious communities across the world used the tools of modernity to their benefit. In fact, they used technology to dissipate their messages and speeches.
“Religion is proving perfectly compatible with modernity in all its forms, high and low,” concluded John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, the magazine’s Washington bureau chief.
There is a common hysteria apropos of religion plus politics. The emergence of secularism in government was actually intended at stopping some rulers from using religion ignorantly and committing atrocities such as the Crusades. No doubt, secularism has been a success in the West, but not in the countries where huge chunks of population are still deeply attached to religion. In the case of the Middle East, only when the so-called ‘secular’ governments tried to adopt aggressive approaches, did religious establishments emerge on the political scene.
Keeping in mind the case of Iran and Egypt, it can be said that moderate religion can play a positive as well as useful role in politics.
I remember showing the pictures of Gujarat riots to one of my Taiwanese friend. After staying mum for few seconds, she said: “Oh, thankfully I have no religion.” Ironically, religion, which is supposed to relieve human beings, has become the reason for the killings only.
In fact, those who professed non-religious ideologies, such as Josef Stalin, also killed a number of people in a bid to continue their political authority. Stalin, who followed Karl Marx in saying ‘Religion is the Opium of the Masses’, killed around 14 million Russians.
Post-9/11, the international community saw terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and Taliban killing scores in the name of God. Well, does that make religion violent? No. Violence, not religion, breeds violence. It is the perception of human beings about the religion that pushes them to violence and they can target many because of the modern technology.
No matter if a war is ‘religious’, it always begins as a political one. In the contemporary history, the shift of Hamas from a leftist-secular to Islamic nationalism is an example. In fact, American scholar Robert Pape concluded after a study of suicide attacks between 1980 and 2004 that 95 percent of them were aimed at pushing modern democracies out from their territory.
Many atheists have criticised religious belief as a vice, saying religion divides the societies and creates bridges with the help of its ‘irrational and unscientific’ principles. However, no matter one likes it or hates it, God is here to stay.