Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A moral tale from Pakistan

Anita Joshua’s article in The Hindu, ‘A growing intolerance’ (Aug 21, 2012), shows how Pakistan has become a nation of haters.  The Pakistanis hate not only the Hindus (7 million Hindus live in that country – imagine the magnitude of the hatred!) and Christians (who are, according to the article, changing their names to “Shahbaz, Shazia, Nasreen, Tahira, and such like”), but also the Muslims of denominations other than Sunni.  Shias, says Joshua, “are pulled out of buses and summarily executed in broad daylight in various parts of the country.”  Sufi shrines are bombed.
“Hatred is the coward’s revenge for being intimidated,” says Undershaft, a Shavian character (Major Barbara).  How can there be so many cowards in a country who feel so intimidated as to hate such large numbers of people?
Joshua’s article quotes Harris Gazdar of the Karachi-based Collective for Social Science Research: “Some of these crimes might be committed by groups with religious motivation, but most such crimes are motivated by money.”
One wonders why Pakistan spread so much hatred in India recently, hatred which prompted thousands of people from the Northeast to leave their jobs in diverse states of India and rush back to their hometowns.  Does that have any economic basis? 
This post is about both: religion and money.
Undershaft, who is quoted above, like many other characters of Shaw, is of the opinion that people in general are quite thoughtless, complacent and sentimental.  The real villains in Shaw’s dramas are the audience.  It is their thoughtlessness and sentimentalism that Shaw sought to purge out. 
Religion is one of the most prominent sources of sentiments.  Most people attach too many sentiments to their gods and scriptures.  And, unfortunately, these sentiments are touch-me-nots.  Unlike touch-me-nots, however, these sentiments don’t droop when touched; they metamorphose into guns and bombs.
Undershaft’s family members are complacent, if not sentimental, in their religious and moral outlooks.  One of them, the protagonist Barbara, is ultra-religious.  She is a Major in the Salvation Army.  Her only goal is to save souls.  Undershaft undermines her religion altogether.  (One wonders whether the protagonist is Undershaft rather than Barbara.) In fact, he ‘converts’ his entire family away from their kind of religion, the complacent, holier-than-thou kind of religion. 
“Well,” says Undershaft who is an arms dealer to his soul-harvesting daughter, “you have made for yourself something that you call a morality or a religion or what not.  It doesn’t fit the facts.  Well, scrap it.  Scrap it and get one that does fit.  That is what is wrong with the world at present.  It scraps its obsolete steam engines and dynamos; but it won’t scrap its old prejudices and its old moralities and its old religions and its old political constitutions.  What’s the result?  In machinery it does very well; but in morals and religion and politics it is working at a loss that brings it nearer bankruptcy every year.  Don’t persist in that folly.  If your old religion broke down yesterday, get a newer and a better one for tomorrow.”
According to Undershaft’s religion, poverty is “the worst of crimes.”   Poverty poisons us morally and physically.  It kills the happiness of society.  Religions and moralities make a virtue of poverty.  And yet the religious people go around amassing wealth because they know too well that without money they won’t be able to harvest souls.  The Salvation Army in Major Barbara accepts donations from a liquor baron and Undershaft, the arms dealer!
It’s not only money that religionists accept from the arms dealer, they accept arms too.  They indulge in violence of the worst kind in the name of religious virtues.  When they feed a starving fellow creature, it is with the bread donated by some liquor baron.  When they tend the sick, it is in the hospitals built with the black money donated by the industrialists.  These are some of the lessons that Barbara learns from her father. 
There is no running away from the evils that life inevitably throws before us.  We’ve got to act, do what we can to resist the evil.  That is the duty of each one of us.  This is what Shaw’s plays suggest.  (How we will do it depends entirely on each one of us – it’s an individual affair.) Hundred years after they were written, today Shaw’s plays still remain relevant.  Because the human species hasn’t grown up a bit (except in producing better machinery, as Undershaft said above) from the time the Darwinian ape shed its tail and stood erect on two legs.  
Pakistan is merely an example.  Most of us will do much better if we “scrap” our religion and get one that “fits the facts.” 

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