A Prayer that Agitates

 

By Ubahunlang Dkhar Tmar

 

Representative with a Prayer:

When Adelbert Nongrum, MLA, prayed in the Meghalaya State Assembly; the sanctum sanctorum of Democracy, some said he brought Religion to the House; some saw a person with deep faith or a believer; still some said it was a political ploy, others are still thinking where they stand on this issue. But there are those who were abhorred by his actions, for they understand that this is a House that must keep religion at bay; while others are still  contemplating, for to denounce it affects their religious convictions. Only the MLA knows what his motive was. He is answerable to God, not to us. If he genuinely did it with a clean heart, God will bless him.

My first reaction when I saw the news online was confusion. I disagreed with what he did, but after giving much thought, my understanding evolved in a different direction. In this article, I am not trying to support any individuals or institutions; insinuating blame or attributing wrong judgements to any entity. My aim here is to illuminate further the issue according to my limited understanding, which is open to any corrections or constructive criticisms.

To paraphrase, when the MLA associated Covid-19 as a punishment from God, no one could prove or disprove whether God is responsible for it. So logically, we cannot proceed to ridicule or refute the MLA, for uttering such statements, because first we have to establish the existence or the absence of God.  Science too, cannot deal with the existence or the absence of God since science is not a methodology that deals with the ontology (study of being, becoming, and existence) of God. That is the realm of philosophy and theology but these too can only propose postulations (assumptions, reasoning) and counter-postulations. The existence or absence of God is a personal experience, a mental or para-psychological affiliation or a spiritual one. So when any one says, ‘God is responsible or is not responsible, we cannot do or say anything about that as we have no tools (didactic or dialectic) to deal with the statement. Even Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who presided over the trial of Jesus Christ and ordered his crucifixion, could not sense (prove or disprove) that the ‘son of man’ was in front of him, when he said, ‘…. I came to the world to testify the truth’ (John 18:37).

Again, on the existence or absence of God, if my memory serves me well, a friend once told me the story of a seasoned drunkard, who walked near a mosque.  He was shouting, swearing, singing etc. People nearby told him to go somewhere and not to shout there, for it is a Godly place; a holy site. The drunkard replied, “Fine! I will go away from here, but show me a place where there is no God, so that I can go there.” None of them were able to reply.

Who knows, what is the motive of the MLA? None of us can attribute any motive(s) but only assumptions. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he did it following his heart’s devotion; a prayer is not an ill will or an immoral gesture. He is the only MLA from a party afflicted by party politics. He was also known for his emotional lability (outburst), if we remember his past political interactions, opinions and deliberations. I am not here to certify his deeds, but if I am not mistaken, most of his constituents voted for him because they considered him a straightforward personality a genuine grassroots politician, a worker. Watching the quality and the nature of deliberations in the assembly recently, there are instances that make us concerned and which are serious in nature. To cite a few examples, the Health Minister’s incorrect information on incinerators; use of offensive language by a certain member, Agriculture Minister mixing up data etc.  If the legislative assembly is a temple of democracy and sacred space for policy and law making, then everyone must respect and honour its sanctity. A legislative assembly is not a place for obfuscation of facts or truth.We are not allowed to obscure the truth. If that is entertained or accepted, then what is the harm of a verbal prayer?

The prayer by the MLA was an emotional response towards the present crisis but not a rational response in relation to rules and conduct of the House. In this pandemic environment where chaos is the order, not the disorder, certain individuals are likely to act on the basis of their bounded rationality or environment of influence. As a matter of fact, we have already set precedence and created an atmosphere since the beginning of this crisis where religion or religious paraphernalia has been part of the administrative instrument, (from plate banging, candle lighting, Meghalaya prays etc.,) to tackle this crisis and bring people together, because we felt that we are dealing with an unpredictable virus that even science cannot curtail nor terminate. We should also remember that in 2018 when this Government was formed, before starting the work the CM arranged a prayer for his cabinet, in the presence of a church elder (The Statesman 6th March 2018). If religion is a private affair, it must be a private affair, right from day one.

Politics and Religion:

In the Bible New Testament Jesus said “Give to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, To God the things that are God’s” (Mathew 22:21). As followers of Christianity, we understand that we must not mix religion and politics. We have seen so many historical and recent negative repercussions because of that mix. Even the socio-political scenario in our country and polity, is hard to delineate between religion and politics. Religion has fused with politics, and religion too is politics. When elections come certain religious denominations from their pulpit explicitly and implicitly canvass for certain candidates or parties. In India, politics is religion; it blends very well, adding spice to political discourse and electioneering.

If politics is also the art of captivating an audience to common cause and objectives, religion too can be considered as a form of politics. Since the Protestant Reformation 16th century Europe, that sought the separation between the church and the state and henceforth many Christian denominations too have reinterpreted (even if the texts remain the same) the gospels to fit their needs and understanding of the gospels, at the same time seeking followers to their abode. Religion is an evolving entity it adapts to changes in society. Not only politics is mixed with religion but economics too. For example, alignment of Capitalism and Christianity in America! In most ancient cultures and tribal communities, religion is the fulcrum of political organisation and institutions. Even economic transactions are dictated by religion. Religion is never an isolated entity, either in the past or present. Before modernisation religion has been a dominant form of social control, and before industrial revolution, education was based on the prescriptions of religious dictum. From colonialism, wars, development initiatives, religion through the medium of the church, religious denominations or its affiliates played a dominant role. There is always an overlapping zone of conflict or mutual trust between religion and politics. But we need to differentiate the social and the political role of the church or any religious sect or denominations.

It is hard to dissect religion from politics. Since childhood, religion per se (singularly) or through the medium of culture (even education) is indoctrinated, inculcated or shaped with cultural, religious values of life and afterlife. Religion/spirituality/belief/meditation/prayer whatever you call it is a default position where most people fall. If the environment surrounding a person fails to protect, enrich or support a person or individual from loosening his or her grip on life or reality, the inner world is where we choose to go when the outer world fails. If the inner world or spirit is stronger, we can fight the outer world, they say. Is this what the MLA was trying to lead us to? If yes, then he has chosen the right time but the wrong place and audience to do so. As a politician, hopefully, he has grown wiser from this agitating episode.

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