An age of disbelief: Con men thrive under the garb of religion

Swami Agnivesh & Valson Thampu

If I had a guru, and I am looking for one, I should surrender myself body and soul to him. But in this age of unbelief a true guru is hard to find. A substitute will be worse than useless, often positively harmful. I must therefore warn all against accepting imperfect ones as gurus…Has a man ever learnt swimming by tying a stone to his neck? – M K Gandhi.

Godmen are in the news increasingly for the wrong reasons. Events reported shock us for a while. Public memory being proverbially short, in a few days we leave behind the scandal and get back to business as usual. Till the next scandal breaks out, Then the next. And the next…So the tamasha of gurudom continues.

This need not surprise us. What should surprise us instead is the eager readiness of individuals, even highly educated ones, to surrender themselves to the conmen of religion. Con men thrive under the garb of religion when people abandon God. The godmen syndrome is a symptom of godlessness, not of religiosity. Godmen have as much to do with God as rock gardens have to do with flowers.

Why do people flee from God to godmen? Why do they stick even to those con men who are fleeing from the arms of law? Why doesn’t the grotesque pathos of it move the rest of us to tears? Where have we misplaced our capacity for righteous indignation?

The answer may well be found in Gandhiji’s warning cited above. This could well be the punishment that an ‘age of unbelief’ invites upon itself. The necessary outcome of ‘unbelief’ is not atheism. It is cultism. It is not no-faith, but false-faith. The choice is not between trusting and not trusting God. The choice is between trusting God and surrendering oneself to godmen. It is an epochal imperative therefore that cultic con men and bogus godmen mushroom and commandeer hysterically zealous following in such an age. This does not prove the greatness of individual con men or the worth of teachings they mouth. It proves the sickness of the age in which we live.

Gandhiji warned us a long time ago against ‘accepting imperfect ones as gurus’. A guru, by definition, is vastly superior to his disciples. Else the guru cannot command abject obedience and blind trust from those who cast themselves at his feet. By trusting these imperfect specimens of humanity, we degrade and consign ourselves to a level below that of their imperfection. Unwittingly, we invite irrationality, existential insecurity and a life driven and riven by falsehood, hypocrisy and moral anarchy. How else can the so-called followers of a godman now posture themselves aggressively against the arm of law?

At the popular level God is likely to lose out to godmen, given the spirit of this age of unbelief. God is a growth-imperative. Spirituality is all about our growth towards the fullness of our scope as human beings. God is the light in this pilgrimage of personal development and empowerment. Growth of this kind is a demanding, even daunting, prospect. Godmen provide the cheap, alluring alternative. You don’t have to grow and assume responsibility for your destiny. All you have to do is abandon your life and destiny to the keeping of these men and women of clay. No godman or godwoman will ever ask you to outgrow your superstition or stupidity. As a matter of fact, human growth towards existential empowerment is bad news for godmen and godwomen. Growth eradicates the need to depend. It abolishes blind faith. Growth is the secret of freedom. God the Creator is also God the Liberator. In God alone, as all religions teach, are we truly free.

Courtesy: Times of India, Sep 5, 2013