Of religions, reformation and self righteous indignation: The Appukuttan perspective

Appukuttan walked into the bathroom exasperated at the turn of events. He had lost to his arch foe and cousin Asokan in all the competitions. The only one left now is the debate and he had not spent too much time thinking about it. A quick shower, 2 pegs of Mansion House (MH) brandy and some dinner ought to provide the necessary food for thought! Ah! MH, libation for the soul! Soothing sleep! Appukuttan moved into the realm of dreams! He could see his convincing win over Ashokan in the debate! He saw Damayanthi give him the half demure smile she normally reserved for Ashokan. He also saw his dad who has been constantly on his case for the longest time stand up and clap when his name was announced as winner!

He was quickly jolted out of the pleasant thoughts with the arrival of Stephen Nettooran, the man he had invoked to prepare for the debate. Nettoran, the firebrand communist leader, the man who sacrificed everything for the people! The man whose blood is guerrilla red in color!

Nettooran: Appukutta, get up! We have a lot to cover! That Sanghi Asokan should not be allowed to win the debate competition. I have requested the services of some of my other friends that you may be familiar with to help build our case.

Appukuttan: Eh? Asokan is Sanghi?? ayyo!!! Since when?? We have enough time to prepare Netooran Comrade. May I get a beedi and pass me some of that MH please?

Nettooran: Shut up you lout! It is because of idiots like you that Sanghis have a free run in this beautiful land of ours. We had such dreams I tell you….An independent land where we would have wrested power through the barrel of a gun and ruled by our own Castro for life Achu Mama! You guys have screwed up all that by deviating from the path laid out by our leaders!

Appukuttan: Chill Comrade Chill! Didn’t you see CIA (Comrade in America)? We send Comrade Dulqer via all communist countries in South America to the USA. He came back and told us that he preferred the USA despite its decadent, materialistic, imperialistic, petit bourgeois style. The communist countries that he went through to reach the US were hopelessly under developed, ruled by corrupt dictators or autocrats and people from those countries just wanted to get to the US! So we are the new gen comrades! We want the best of both; Poland and China on the same plate!

Nettooran: Poland, don’t you bloody say a word about Poland! How dare you?

Appukuttan: Why shouldn’t I say anything about Poland? You are now beginning to sound eerily like that comrade Srinivasan!

Nettooran: Idiot, let us get to work. I have asked some very important people to give us their perspectives on the topic. They will debate and then you craft a detailed summary and use that for the debate tomorrow.

Appukuttan: Wokay!

Nettooran: I give you the man himself! I yield the floor to Comrade M!

Comrade M: Comrades, my salutations!!! It is my considered opinion that man makes religion, but religion does not make man. Man is the world of man, the state, and society. Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in a popular form. It is the fantastic realization of human essence, because the human essence has no true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore immediately the fight against the other world of which religion is the spiritual aroma. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people!

Appukuttan: Eh?? What???? Heilige Scheiße!!! (Holy Shit!!! in German) Comrade Nettooran, I did not understand a word of what he just said! This is unlike the party classes where our comrades say that we should follow what Che Guevara and Pablo Neruda said and when I ask them what they said, they tell me I will not understand if they tell me! I really need to understand this!

Nettooran: Have some more MH! You have the man himself standing here and you don’t want to take this opportunity to understand religion and dialectical materialism! Idiot! Comrade M, my apologies! We in Kerala take some time to understand the finer nuances! Please continue….

Comrade M: Our aim is to fight for the socialist transformation of society on a national and international scale. We believe that it is the duty of any humane person to support the fight against such a system which involves untold misery, disease, oppression and death for millions of people in the world. We wholeheartedly welcome the participation in the struggle of every progressive person, irrespective of nationality, the color of their skin, or their religious beliefs. We believe that only our doctrine (scientific socialism) provides such a perspective. We stand on the basis of philosophical materialism, which rules out the existence of any supernatural entity, or anything outside or “above” nature. There is, in fact, no need for any such explanation for life and the universe – least of all today. Nature furnishes its own explanations and it furnishes them in great abundance. Science has proven that humankind has developed – like every other species – over millions of years, and that life itself has evolved from inorganic matter. There cannot be a brain without a central nervous system, and there cannot be a central nervous system without a material body, blood, bones, muscles etc. In turn, the body must be sustained by food derived from a material environment. The most recent discoveries of genetics in the human genome project have furnished incontrovertible evidence for the materialist standpoint.

The revelation of the genome’s long and complex history, so long hidden from view, has prompted discussions about the nature of humankind and the process of creation. Incredibly, in the first decade of the twenty first century, the ideas of Darwin are being challenged by the so-called Creationist movement in the USA, which wants American schoolchildren to be taught that God created the world in six days, that man was created from dust and that the first woman was made out of one of his ribs.

The latest discoveries have finally exploded the nonsense of Creationism. It has comprehensively demolished the notion that every species was created separately, and that Man, with his eternal soul, was especially created to sing the praises of the Lord. It is now clearly proved that humans are not at all unique creations. The results of the human genome project show conclusively that we share our genes with other species – that ancient genes helped to make us who we are. Humans share their genes with other species going far back into the mists of time. In fact, a small part of this common genetic inheritance can be traced back to primitive organisms such as bacteria. In many cases, humans have exactly the same genes as rats, mice, cats, dogs and even fruit flies. Indeed, scientists have now found some 200 genes that humans share with bacteria. In this way, the final proof of evolution has been established. I conclude by stating that NO divine intervention of any kind has ever happened, all religions need immediate and urgent reform and religion is Unsinn (nonsense in German)!!!

Standing ovation of 10 minutes for Comrade M!!!

Appukuttan: Comrade Nettooran, who is next please?

Nettooran: I yield the floor to Swami V, the most enlightened person from the land who bathed in red till the bloody blues came along!! The বেজন্মাদের!!! (Bastards!!! in Bengali)

Appukuttan: Control! Control! Nettooran Comrade!

Swami V: Brothers and Sisters of the world, have you ever heard of Ram and Peter being successful at reforming Islam or Ahmed and Paul being successful at reforming Hinduism? No, would be answer right? Then why has it suddenly become a trend for folks who publicly call themselves left, liberal, secular and are followers of many a recent “isms” and “ologies” of 1800-1900 vintage to raise a shrill cry for religious reformation? Let’s take Hinduism first, being the oldest, polytheistic and the one that has managed to catch the fancy of a lot of folks who are crying for its urgent reform.

Some of the reformers of Hinduism include Adi Sankara (788-820 CE), Basava (1134-1196 CE) and Kariakkal Ammiyars, Alvars, Nayanars, Tulsidas, Mirabai, Kabir, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu etc. who led the Bhakti movement (4th Century to 1800 CE). The spurt in social reformation in the 18th and 19th century was led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, my guru Ramkrishna Paramhansa, my dear friend Sree Narayana Guru, Ayyankali (local flavor) and Mahatma Gandhi to name a few.

Christianity:

The First Council of Nicaea under Constantine (325 CE), Renaissance in Europe, Protestant reformation (1517-1648 CE) by Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli etc, Church of England and Puritan movement to present day ecumenical reform under Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.

Islam:

Ahmed Bin Hanabal and Ibn Tanayyiah of the Hanabli school, Muhammed bin Abd Al Wahab of the Wahabi school, Abdul Qadir Gilani of the Sufi school, Jamal Al Din Afghani, holders of the Mushrif Ul Azhar title in Egypt, Hassan Al Banna, Mohammed Emara, Aligrah movement (India), Ahmidya movement, Deoband movement , Al hi Hadith etc.

See anything in the above narrative? What is common among all these people? All devout to the core, understood the imperative of the times they lived in and therefore resuscitated and revived the core fundamentals of THEIR faith that had decayed over time. Not someone elses religion or faith! And what did they do to reform? They made sure that the values that defined their faith that had become dogma (without rationale/justification) were questioned. Questioning brought about rational thinking which in turn lead to reform. A small example that would be apt here is my good friend Sree Narayana Guru stating that he was consecrating an Ezhava Shiva instead of saying that worshiping Shiva itself is a travesty during his role in the reformation of his faith.

Now let us look at some of the more recent isms and ologies and what happened to people who tried to reform them. Remember, they don’t claim to be religions, but their founders today essentially have been elevated to demi-god status by their followers and their words and deeds are considered sacrosanct. Their core tenets are not open to interpretation and become more and more rigid as time passes by. There is no room for questioning and hence no debate. Funny enough, they are the same folks who complain that religion does not change with the passing of time! The deep irony of calling for reform of anything let alone religion sitting behind a desk with photos of Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il etc. is lost on them! Such is their belief in something that has not even crossed 300 years and they are convinced that others should not believe in religion of which the youngest itself is 1000 years old!

I conclude by stating that any ism, ology that does not seek to understand the eternal human quest for self-actualization will not succeed. The dust bin of history is replete with examples of such!!!

Appukuttan: আমাকে বলো!!! (Fuck me!!!) This is a bit too much Swamiji!! I feel like a Kyabla!! (Dumbo!!) This is the debate in a local temple festival not Oxford debating club!

Nettoran: Idiot. Swami V has provided a fresh perspective to the conundrum! and when the hell did you learn to speak Bengali??

Appukuttan: My friend Debo the toddy tapper taught me! Nice guy, was a communist earlier now Mamta Di fan!

Comrade M: All that is real in human history becomes irrational in the process of time Swami V.

Swami V: Comrade M, I completely agree with the scientific approach you espouse as do most religions. You are taking but one stream of thought from one monotheistic religion and using that to generalize as a universal case against religion. I should also point out that you started off by saying that “religion is the fantastic realization of human essence, because the human essence has no true reality”. The quest for that fantastic realization is the essence of all religions! Also the moment you say that “only” your doctrine of scientific socialism is the way, what is the difference between what you preach and other religions?

Comrade M: I disagree Swami V. Religion shackles the human being in a never ending pursuit of existential dilemmas that has no real answer with a hope for something better after death. A Chimera!

Nettooran: Thank you so much Swamiji and Comrade for such refreshingly fresh perspectives. I am sure our very diligent Appukuttan has been taking copious notes and will ensure that the table are turned on that Sanghi Asokan!

Whats a Sanghi? Asks Swami V and Comrade M in unison. To which Nettooran says tale for another day!

Comrade M: Whats your poison these days ? Jaeger bombs, Vodka or Opium? Lets grab some….we actually agreed to disagree and that is a start! How about we discuss material dialecticsm juxtposed against the philosophy of vedanta as prescribed chakra in the evolution of latter day vedic hindus?

Swami V: I am more a bourbon guy! Picked up a taste for it during my visit to Chicago. And easy on this opium reference man, you know that “HE” will will not take too kindly to that! A tandav we don’t want!! Want to invite Shashi T and D Frawley as well to our soiree? Nah! Maybe some other time! They bore me.

Comrade M: Apologies, do inform “HIM” that it was just a rhetorical flourish! No offence meant at all! Anyway, he is the original cool dude! I am sure he will understand! And hell no, please don’t invite T & D, I don’t understand a word they say!

Nettooran: Prost, Salut, Cheers Gentlemen!! Though they don’t look it, such brains no Appukutta?

Appukuttan: Yup Nettoran Bro, Absolutely! Hit it Chanks!!! (New age Malayalam for bum chums)

Nettooran: Nettoran Bro ya? Comrade only!! So what have you learned and what are you going to say at the debate tomorrow?

Appukuttan: Asokan is my brother and we can agree to disagree and live with that disagreement without rancor. Perception is reality and it is the perception that needs to change not the reality. For all idiots who insist on reform without understanding what it means, they need Chloroform! Can also be Jaeger bombs, Vodkas or Idukki Gold!!

Nettooran: Eh??? Appol njan Shashi !! (No, Dont confuse with Shashi T, just ask a Mallu friend)? Give me a MH and a beedi now you petit bourgeoisies!

Appukuttan wakes up to sound of a standing ovation in the distance…..Asokan has won the debate! Well! At least the MH did not give a hangover.

* Please note: All names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are real to me! Identification with actual persons (living, created or deceased), places, buildings, and products is to be inferred by you!!! And before you all think of hurting me (mentally and physically) do understand that Marx and God had a sense of humor! And I have nothing against Opium!

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