If I do not want to go to heaven, whose business is it to decide otherwise for me? I have come across scores of people who insist on deciding what I should or should not do so that my soul is saved from perdition. They have taken much pain to attach too many strings all along my way and pull them in certain directions applying the torque of their calculation so that my soul is not lost for eternity. It always baffled me why my soul was so important to them when there were/are millions of other people who stand in genuine need of benevolence.
When I stumbled on Emile Durkheim recently I got some kind of an answer. God is a lever with which people are elevated to heaven using the fulcrum of religion. No, Durkheim didn’t say it in those words. I’m paraphrasing him.
But why does anyone take the trouble to do all that leveraging? Because every society seeks order, a social system. And God is the most effective tool for forging that system. All those properties of the conscience and morality that are assumed to be the properties of God are, really, the properties of society. For example, the dominant section of a particular society may decide that vegetarianism is superior to non-vegetarianism. It is almost impossible to prove such a claim. What cannot be proved should be enforced if it is to become a norm. Religion is an ideal tool for all enforcements. Anything can be enforced in the name of that omnipotent power sitting beyond all human understanding, promising the ultimate fulfilment of the infinite human longings.
But why would anyone want to enforce something as trivial as a culinary choice on people? The more restrictions you impose on people, the greater your power over them. It is all the more valid when you are dealing with people belonging to religions other than yours. For example, when you impose vegetarianism on a people who are used to a non-vegetarian staple diet you are killing two birds with one stone: you are depriving them of their food and thus weakening them, and you are demonstrating to them that you are much mightier than them. And God sits in the luridly diaphanous background smiling beatifically at the number of souls being added to His heaven, even if it means pilfering souls from some other God’s heaven.
Religion is about power. Durkheim thought it was about moral power. But a century has passed between him and us. Now religion is about political power. We live in a time when morality is being saved in high-security bank vaults in the form of non-vegetarian currency. We live in a time when strings and levers have gone digital and all-pervasive. God reigns supreme even in the virtually real world. And God continues to be immensely concerned with every soul, even mine no matter how insignificant I may consider myself.