The future of faith is the story of social media

social mediaThe world is clearly becoming more spiritual than religious. In an increasingly more inter-connected, information saturated society – where the natural human ideals of freedom and pluralism are becoming central to the tenants of governance across the globe, identities are becoming more and more fluid. Faith just like social media profiles has become the corner stone of 21st century identity and this post-modern social order has created a conscience against the institutional nature of religion. The beauty and success of social media platforms, is the freedom, ease, volatility and mutation of expression and ideas which circulate the online ether – change and re-change with time. In this world – the institutional framework of religion – is finding itself cornered in fewer and fewer undemocratic societal settings – be it a country, a community or a family unit. When Rupert Murdoch bought the social networking site MySpace for $580 million in 2005 to expand his media empire to cyberspace, he tested his model of content commoditisation and regulation. MySpace soon tanked and Murdoch was forced to offload the site for less than half the money he had spent. This in my opinion is the future of religion, signs of which are already evident across the world. Those who consider faith to be inextricably linked to identity, are likely to cut the institutional middle men and rituals, to achieve a personalised and subjective relationship with a higher power. On the other hand, those who live in a system where institutional faith or singular ideologies are entrenched in the political system – are likely to be attracted to ‘unorganised’ faith narratives with the ‘self’ at the centre – like Zen, Buddhism, Shintoism and Hinduism amongst others. The simple social evolution of mankind in an environment of expressional freedom and volatile organisation is working to make faith a more salient tie-up of just Man and God – high on self symbolism, but a gradual loss of focus on regiments, lineage or attendance at places of worship. socialEarlier, religious sites like churches, temples and mosques used to be the prime centres of social and intellectual authority. With the advent of cyberspace and the liberation of opinion – intellectual authority has become more and more fractured, and so has man’s ability to understand God.   In that scenario, faith will gradually mould and re-mould around core humanist beliefs, re-enforced by widely accepted social justice norms – yet expression will become highly subjective down to the very individual. 21st century piety will be completely disconnected from a traditional line of faith diktats. Social groups who have traditionally been kept away from certain faith systems will find themselves in not only a more favourable environment, but will have the opportunity, even the legitimacy to negotiate and re-negotiate their concept of god and religion. Even as there is already a fledgling yet sustained movement towards spiritual plurality, traditionalists and extremists are hitting back with seclusion, persecution politics, paranoia and even violence. But they have already lost the ideological battle. Their role is already being seen as medieval and outdated, a hindrance to more universal and individualistic spiritual identities, where there are no pre-requisite rules or parameters to adopt faith. One of the passages in the Gospel of Saint Thomas, a coptic Christian text with the words of Jesus says – “The Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me”. This is the core belief of every faith, even if some are more clearer than others. We are shifting, although not harmoniously, to adopt these tenets in our spiritual experience and become the sole negotiators of our relationship with a higher power. The progress is natural, and reflects our basic human trait to seek ideological liberation.

India’s Daughter: Looking Evil in the Eye

indias daughter During the Nuremberg trials, the prosecution interviewed Rudolph Hoss, the SS Kommandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp about his operation where he gassed 2.5 million of jewish prisoners to death. When asked whether he felt remorse about what he did, he said “Does a rat catcher feel bad about killing rats?”. The army psychologist Captain GM Gilbert who interviewed the Nazi leaders on trial, said and I quote, “I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants.”

This same sentiment was reflected by Mukesh Singh, one of the convicted rapists in the Nirbhaya case in the ‘India’s Daughter’ documentary. A chilling lack of remorse or guilt, where he blamed the victim reiterating the ‘she asked for it’ argument. Even as the Indian government banned the telecast of the documentary, the web has catered to all curiosity, allowing everyone with an internet or a phone connection to watch the film. I too have seen the film, and found it to be a story of how India rose against crimes against women in the face of this despicable crime. Most importantly, it laid bare the sinister mindset of those capable of committing such crimes, giving the perception of the mindset of a rapist a terrifying dose of reality. If anything, this film has woken us up to a face of evil that lurks within our society, strengthening the case for the application of the death penalty for the crime of rape and weakening if not nullifying the human rights defence put up by those who defend rapists. This film has re-focussed our attention to the lethargy of the judicial system and the reality that despite the Nirbhaya case and the anti-rape law, our faith in the law is yet to be rewarded.

Yet, the media and the political discussion went on a different and trivial tangent, where it seems the film has jeopardised the image of India. The rationale from the government to ban the film may be legal yet the political argument is very selective. The argument that it defames India is completely narrow-minded, reflective of those who haven’t seen the film. Crime stories are read and seen all over the world via the web. Will the government use the same rationale to ban the reporting of rape incidents? The same argument could have been used for the documentary ‘Born Into Brothels’ about children of sex workers in Kolkata who are groomed into the flesh trade, which went onto win the Oscar for best documentary. The same argument was in fact made against ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, but thankfully the film was not banned by the government at the time. The documentary’s achievement is that it has punched our sensibilities with a gruesome reality, a social malaise that can be found in every other country. Let’s be clear, this is not a India centric problem. Citizens including the government are horrified but we shouldn’t be embarrassed by what it has revealed. We should be angry at the slow pace of the case and question the government why after months of the conviction, Mukesh Singh and the other convicts aren’t closer to the noose. We should be angry at why the much touted notions of ‘swift justice’ and ‘fast track courts’ have become a joke despite the nature of the crime.   

mukeskThis documentary should be seen by everyone to keep our blood boiling. Whenever a rape is reported in the country, activists, lawyers, politicians, judges, journalists should remember Mukesh Singh’s words and have no doubt in their minds that swift conviction and swifter execution is essential for the course of justice. Mukesh Singh’s testimony shows that those who commit rape do not deserve the sympathy of the law or India’s citizens. Away from the human rights argument and the legal jargon, there should be no doubt that men like him and the other convicts should be culled from society immediately and sent to the gallows.

‘Show me the true face of evil, to strengthen my resolve to vanquish it’, is a philosophy that has been enshrined in every righteous struggle across the world. Humanity has endured evil for centuries because time and again we mustered the courage to confront the demons that live among us. Similar to a cancer, they cannot be reasoned with and are pure with their intent. They have been put down and destroyed in the past and humanity has been better for it. India’s Daughter has exposed another demon to us. His testimony spits in the face of our justice system and every parent, man and woman in India. There are some moments where vengeance, justice and humanity all converge and we must be wise to understand it. Nourish and reward our faith in justice – that is all the Indian people ask for.