Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rush Hour of the Karma Capitalists; Gentrification of the Gods


“The God Market – How Globalization is Making India More Hindu,” by Meera Nanda, 2012

If you ever wondered if the dim religiosity of American politics and culture is also penetrating other unequal societies, you have your answer.  Nanda’s book, which reads somewhat like a PHD thesis, posits a temple-state-corporation complex in India, centered ideologically on the merging of neo-liberal thought and a tarted-up version of Hinduism. 

There are American equivalents.  The bi-partisan “Office of Faith-Based Initiatives,” constant public affirmations of Christian faith by politicians, bi-partisan Congressional cabals centered on prayer and politics (attended by our own Secretary of State, Arkansas’ Hillary Clinton, among other Democrats); the tax free status of churches and the wholesale takeover of the Republican Party by Protestant/ Catholic/ Mormon fundamentalists are part of the US synergy.  In the corporate field, this book suggests a Hindi extension of “God & WalMart,” (reviewed below) - how Protestant religiosity is used by the Wal-Mart corporation. 

Nanda shines a light on the tele-yogis, invented traditions, the 'secular' government's funding of various Hindu practices, and above all, the myths that come with ‘development.’  The most prominent theory is that ‘increasing science’ (after all, part of India’s resurgence is in IT) will downgrade backward religious practices and ideas and result in a secular society.  Not so.

Nanda shows that the ‘rush hour of the gods’ is happening most of all among the prosperous middle-classes of India, those most involved in so-called ‘advanced education’ and scientific jobs.  Just as our own suburban mega-churches expand in upscale Republican outer-ring suburbs.  There is a revival of Hindu worship practices - yoga, mass chanting and singing, pilgrimages, ceremonies in supplication to various local gods, gold purchasing, temple-building, miracle-cures, rain praying, meditation, astrology, reincarnation, Hindu camps, special diets and private religious colleges.  In addition, there is a large strain of ‘prosperity Karma” running through this explosion of gurus, the most prominent being Swami Dyananda Saraswati.  He interprets the teachings of Lord Krishna to mean that desires are a ‘manifestation of divinity.’  Deepak Chopra, a follower of Mahesh Yogi, called his interpretation of the Yoga Sutras, “Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.”  Chopra famously wears a Rolex everywhere he goes. 

As Nanda puts it, the Indian upper & middle class is not really in the ‘middle’ of anything, but an ’elite of mass proportion – 20-30% of the population surrounded by a sea of utter poverty.’  Nanda estimates that the real reason for this religiosity is partly guilt, partly self-justification, and partly immersion in corporate/government propaganda.  As she puts it, ‘The Indian elite and middle classes display an exceptionally high degree of tolerance for the inhuman levels of poverty and deprivation all around them.”  This could be the result of the reactionary belief in “karma,’ which makes every individual responsible for his own fate down through time.  Of course, this is a society whose caste system is ideologically based on Hindu doctrines, including reincarnation.

Nanda maintains that this religiosity leads the majority of religious middle/upper class Hindus into supporting the right-wing Hindu BJP (“Bharatiya Janata Party”), and a soft ‘Hindutva.’  Hindutva is sort of like a Hindu version of theocratic Christian Dominionism.  Soft Hidutva also affects the neo-liberal and formerly secular Congress Party, which now makes public support of Hinduism one of its constant practices, breaking from its secular past under Nehru.  She thinks even this ‘liberal’ Hinduism is creating a Hindu majoritarian attitude that the communalists of violence can draw upon again in the future.  (see “Field Notes on Democracy,” reviewed below)  She notes that, in another PEW survey, Indians said their culture was superior to all others by the highest amount of any nation in the world – 93%.  Which reflects a level of complacency not seen since the last speech by an American politician.  She also criticizes the self-congratulation and back slapping Hindus are doing over the level of IT work in India - which Nanda accurately portrays as quite low-level.

Religion is not only good for business, it is a good business itself.  Where else can you sell people intangibles for actual money?  It is a sustainable business, since the supply of mysticism will never run out…at least, until people stop buying your invisible product.  And for that other ‘product,’ Nanda gives examples of various large Indian conglomerates that link their activities to various Hindu shrines, training programs and schools, even citing Ford Motor Company.

Nanda describes how the Indian government, though formally ‘secular’ according the 1950 Constitution, encourages religion materially through tourism and education.  Because of the prior poor state of Hindu religious shrines and temples, due to the incompetence and theft of the various priests, the government was given legal writ over Hindu religious structures.  This law has given the neo-liberals free reign to promote religion.  Nanda gives many examples of regional governments gifting large tracts of land for free or cheaply to private religious schools, shrines, temple complexes, etc.  Religious tourism is promoted by the government monetarily, as 50% of all tourism in India is for a religious pilgrimage. (!)    

Education in India is being privatized so that anyone that wants to start a school is granted a charter.  It is a model for what could happen in the U.S.  With government help, purely religious schools are being built, as well as those that mix the teaching of astrology and prayers with medicine or structural engineering. 

Nanda ends her book with an examination of various theories of secularism and ‘de-secularism,’ seeming to be quite confused by what is happening in India.  She errs in seeing the U.S., Japan and even Europe as being a ‘more religious’ society now.  The recent PEW survey which showed that nearly 20% of the US population (60 million!) is now atheist, agnostic or unchurched seems to have missed her publication deadline. (see commentary, below, “Congratulations”.)  As did the fact that 50% of people in the U.S. who say they go to church every week were … exaggerating greatly.  She does point out that the Marxists in India did not directly attack religion, especially theoretically, thus failing to limit its effects.  She settles for a theory that modernization 'can' put a dent in mysticism over the long run. 

The problem in her understanding of secularism is that she divorces it from the class structure and from capitalism.  While the first great bourgeois revolution killed the priests in France, burned their churches and promoted rationalism and science in the face of feudal obscurantism, a decaying capitalism will do the exact opposite.  This is the answer to the ‘mystery’ of why current governments promote religion, and take down the barriers between church and state.  After all, "secularism" is not an economic theory.  Neo-liberalism can do nothing else, even while it really puts profit and the almighty rupee at the center of life.

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog, November 7, 2012 

Happy 95th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the overthrow of Kerensky and the Russian rich.  In Spain and Greece, now is the time to start forming workers councils.  To celebrate, workers should seize government buildings in those countries.

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