Why The ‘Word of God’ To Us Seems Odd
The teachings of a recently deceased Indian preacher have been hailed as ‘inspirational to millions’, by spokespersons of the State as well as the mainstream media, and he has been encomiastically credited with being an advocate of ‘universal values’. Sympathizers of the deceased preacher find it unthinkable that a teaching that goes, “Love all. Serve all. Help ever. Hurt never. Be good. Do good. See good. That is the way to God” could cause any sort of objection to any right-thinking person. Here is why some of us are not convinced that the wisdom of life is fully contained is these oft-chanted platitudes, and think that while these may have the appeal of nursery rhymes, they do not constitute a sound moral code to organize our private and public lives around.
The dictum of ‘Hurt never’ is selectively and zealously invoked by Indian governments, especially when it comes to books purportedly hurting religious sentiments, sentiments whose most egregious variants governments feel obliged to coddle. Any shield which a paternalistic state may foist upon citizens to shield it from the seeming hurt caused by the challenging of tightly held beliefs and by the shock of unfamiliar worldviews, is a shield that also weighs down and blinds. ‘Hurt never’ while sounding innocently like a call for a gentler society, can easily be distorted to promote a culture of risk aversion and tongue-tied tolerance of extremism, which no modern society can afford to encourage.
The enthusiasm to step out into the world and ‘do good’ is not one that is universally shared even in religious circles. Within religious circles, the so-called Golden Rule, which seems to be a license to impose our version of good on others, is often argued against, in favour of the ‘Silver Rule‘ which simply counsels refraining from doing unto others what is hateful to us. It is the sort of dilemma forced by questions like, “How does one deal with a fundamentalist who is ‘well-meaning’ in that imposition of Shariah is his way of ‘doing good’ to humanity?”. Dr. Amartya Sen doubts if there can be ‘any agreement at all on what that (a perfectly just world) would be like’. The only ones free from doubt when faced with questions like “What is justice? What is truth? What is it to ‘be good’?”, are, expectedly, self-proclaimed prophets and their fawning followers. Their’s is a child-like trust and acceptance, playing to perfection their assigned role of ‘children of God’.