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April 25, 2001
Religion is like soap-powder
Part I: And what exactly is wrong with idol-worship?
The second possibility is interesting: the possibility that the ban on idol-worship is marketing differentiation. I have long argued that religion is like soap-powder. In essence all soap-powders are the same, but through clever marketing pitches, we consumers begin to feel that our particular soap-powder is somehow superior to that used by others.
The genius of the soap-powder vendor lies in creating the branding and the brand loyalty: just consider how often you switch your soap-powder brand. Similarly, I may swear by my religion and be very loath to change it, and may even sincerely wish to convert others to it: because I have bought into the brand. Branding is thus a very powerful force -- we all want to belong.
Similarly, any new religion that is invented needs to differentiate itself from its predecessors in some dramatic way. Hence, for instance, the Christian demonization of the serpent: because the serpent was an important deity in the Egyptian religion they were trying to supplant. Furthermore, since the pre-Christian people had idols, Christians declared that idols ipso facto were bad. A well-known marketing tactic of "truth by repeated assertion".
When Islam came on the scene, there had to be another marketing differentiator. Lo and behold, the prohibition on all images, of whatever kind. This certainly differentiates Islam from its main competitor, Christianity, because the latter does allow for images. Thus the Islamic prohibition on all images can be seen as a sensible marketing tactic.
If a new religion comes along now, for example, its adherents may try to differentiate themselves from both Christianity and Islam by adopting some new dogma and some new method of anointing themselves as the Chosen Ones.
This is precisely what Marxists did: they rejected God, which of course differentiates them rather dramatically. They didn't proscribe images, and they also copied everything else that Christianity has. Their church, their schism, their protestants, their pope, their holy book, their prophets, their martyrs, their satan, their missionaries -- namely, the Soviet Communist Party, the Russo-Chinese split, the Chinese Communist Party, Mao, Das Capital, Marx and Engels, Che Guevara, America, the CPI-M. The comparisons are striking. Of course, this is also the prime reason that the Vatican collaborated vigorously with the CIA to destroy the USSR: it was literally a new Crusade for the glory of Christ's empire on earth.
The particular clothing and other marks associated with religions can be explained thus too: for instance, the Sikh insistence on the visible signs of their religion was intended to ensure that Sikhs are differentiated, immediately, from both Hindus and Muslims. Similarly, the Muslim insistence on beards, on distinctive clothing, etc are at least partly determined by the need to create an in-group/out-group dichotomy.
So it is entirely possible that the prohibition against idol-worship in the semitic religions is really a secular marketing idea that has in course of time been transformed into an article of faith.
These are the only two things I can figure out about idol-worship. I am then left with a question: if nobody can satisfactorily explain why idol-worship is bad, and even those who allegedly abhor idol-worship seem to do it albeit unconsciously, then why should I hang my head in shame? Idol-worshipper and proud of it, that's me.
Some readers asked for specific references for a previous column Children of a Lesser God. Here they are, for several of the personalities referred to:
1. M. Teresa: Christopher Hitchens, The Ghoul of Calcutta and the The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice
There was also an interesting statement signed by a large number of Christian organizations, which said, hilariously, that not only should T John be re-instated into the Karnataka government, but one more Christian should also be inducted therein! The statement acknowledged that T John was wrong in what he said, but he should be given his job back anyway! Divine right, I suppose. These guys have some chutzpah, indeed.
On another note, Lakireddy Balireddy pleaded guilty in the infamous case in Berkeley, California. I have consistently maintained that any man, whatever his crime, has the right to due process, and that nobody should condemn him in a kangaroo court (as a lot of Indians in the Bay Area did to Lakireddy) without his being able to defend himself. Lakireddy now has has due process, has defended himself, and has been forced to admit his guilt; therefore I too will accept his guilt. The rule of law must be respected.
Finally, here is a news item from The Indian Express of April 10. Of course, it goes without saying that this got no visibility in the secular progressive Indian media. The ethnic-cleansing of the wicked idol-worshippers continues apace, I suppose. Hallelujahs and hosannas are in order.
Ultras burn Buddhist temple in Tripura
A group of ATTF insurgents raided Taichakma village on Sunday night and ransacked and set ablaze a thatched Buddhist temple, police said quoting delayed reports.
Villagers who tried to extinguish the flames were severely beaten up by the ultras who then set ablaze 13 huts belonging to five Chakma families, police said.
Earlier, insurgents of the National Liberation Front of Tripura, which had served a notice in the hill areas last year warning of stern action against villagers who practise any other religion except Christianity, had on December 5 ransacked a Buddhist temple and took away scriptures and the idol in the Almara village of south Tripura district. (PTI)
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