Religion Turns Trendy In Modernist Wave

Two weeks ago a bright young research assistant from the BBC asked if I would take part in a global ’90 Minutes’ programme on whether people still believed in God.

A few days later, she called back in some embarrassment and said they’d decided that they wanted a Hindu. I could hardly take this to the Human Rights Commission, so I gave up my place.

Cafeteria Religion

Cafeteria religion denotes the trend where people pick and choose religious beliefs, doctrines and practices – mixing and matching them much as they would select food in a cafeteria.

A number of publishers refer to the phenomenon as “private spirituality.” It is also described as “spirituality without religion”

Regrettably. For, I’ve been intrigued by the way the young of all creeds are turning aggressively to institutionalised religion even as the BJP has begun to water down its saffron.

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It’s very clear that God has a new incarnation in India — cool, user-friendly, results-oriented, upwardly mobile, and probably carrying one too. Seriously. Those who think ‘Jingle Bells’ is too pseudo-secular a ring tone and Saare Jahan Se Achcha too jingoistic, download Raghu-pati Raghav…

Today’s New Age cults are nothing more than flower-power genetically modified. Like the sitar, guru shirts and transcendental meditation in the Beatles-era, India Cool has discovered nirvana, yoga, incense sticks, Shiva chants and Vastu Shastra via the West.

But much of this is confined to the Tai-chi and Chai-Tea crowd. Ordinary, middle-class 20-somethings have an equation all their own with God.

Young Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isai — and the Parsi Zoroastrian — see no contradiction in their enthusiastic embrace of religion and their 21st century globalised aspirations.

Pretty young things genuflect to patriarchy by fasting every Tuesday, and Karva Chauth, for the long-life of present and future husbands, has joined the pantheon of events on the social calendar.

But they also subpoena the manifestations of ‘Shakti’ to fight their social battles. Gender-bender iconography pops up in the most unexpected places.

Ganesha has always had a secular stretch perhaps because the desire for success is non-denominational. But now there’s also a new Om-nipresence.

The mystic word once reverberated in an exclusively religious context. Today it has acquired a dubious universality even among those not attuned to Madonna mantras and Sunset Boulevard spiritualism.

The urbane young have converted Hinduism’s most potent symbol into a fashion accessory; diamond-studded ” Om ” pendants flash from Evian-splashed throats and jangle on charm bracelets. The spiritual O-Word beams out from almost every episode of popular TV soaps.

Remember Rani Mukherjee in a micro-mini belting out the aarti Om Jai Jagdish Hare… in Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai?

Where the young differ from their parents is their attitude to faith. If faith wants to keep them, it has to work for it. It’s a commercial relationship. You can have my prayers, provided you get me my girlfriend back.

Personal belief is easy to understand in the young. What is more surprising is the exuberance with which they plunge into ritual.

Young couples want the works at their wedding to the bemusement of parents who probably had upset their own folks by insisting on Shaadi Simplified — ‘mumbo jumbo’ pared down to the bare minimum.

Elsewhere technology comes to the aid of the Almighty, via the tele-puja and the tele-darshan.

But it’s not all sanitised sanctity. A regressive fundamentalism has inveigled its way into middle-class sections of youth of all religions, including such traditionally liberal ones as Zoroastrianism.

Its disturbing manifestation is an obdurate intolerance, communal exclusivity, and the demonising of the Other.

Hidebound, insular, middle-aged fundamentalists may not know any better. What’s the excuse of the urbane, educated, have-it-all young?


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Times News Network, India
Feb. 28, 2004
Barachi Karkaria
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday March 1, 2004.
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