Religion as a Tool of Control

Yin said, “What if we are told that heaven and hell is here right now and there is no need to be held ransom by the religious establishment’s vague promises.

In one stroke the religious hierarchy loses its hold on the people.”

Religion has been used as a tool of control and suppression since time immemorial.

 This is how it is done:

        1.    Impress on the people the idea of a remote God. A God that is inaccessible to all except through a mediator – a religious hierarchy; the power elite that controls the religion. When the religious hierarchy  has successfully set itself up as the only portal to God, they have absolute power.

In the days when most people were illiterate it was easy; especially since most of the literate come from the religious elite. They were the ones who interpreted the holy scriptures.

2.    Next teach the people that this God is a judgmental God.  Those who obey will be rewarded with an afterlife of eternal happiness. The disobedient will be punished by being cast into hell – a fiery place of eternal torture and suffering.

In order to go to heaven one must live up to certain requirements. These requirements are defined by the religious hierarchy according to their own interpretation of the holy books. This ruling is also administered by them.

In other words your only passport to heaven – a realm not of this world and which no one has returned from to tell us about  – is to obey the religious hierarchy while you are in the present world.

Salvation is dispensed at the sole discretion of the hierarchy.

The psychology of this reward and punishment is very powerful. It makes adherents put up with hardships in this world (while those who make the rules live in luxury) and surrender their freedom of thought, their right to question the religious hierarchy. They give away their power to take control of their own society and instead submit to the dominance of the religious hierarchy (usually in collusion with the political elite).

Kelantan has remained poor, its infrastructure inadequate, the standard of living of Kelantanese on the whole is below that of other states. The people seem to have accepted it on the promise of “surga” if they obey the religious hierarchy. PAS has used this tool very effectively.

While most religions have used the above control method sometime in the past, they have evolved into a more liberal persuasion in the 21st century. The days of the Spanish Inquisition are gone and never to return.  However in the case of Islam we see increasingly more extreme forms – IS, Boko Haram and regimes like Saudi and Iran where ‘deviation’ is not tolerated.

Even a previously tolerant Brunei has turned into an intolerant Islamic state.

How will Malaysia go if the ulamas have their way? Will we be even more intolerant than we are now? Will other voices (within or without Islam) be tolerated? Will state apparatus be used to silence dissent. Will there be other “Pastor Raymond Kohs” – which Suhakam has implicated the disappearance with the Special Branch.

 We cannot risk it. The price is too high. The country will rip apart what is now only a tear.

Despite the promise of “no force in religion” (Baqara 2:56) ie freedom of religion  apostasy is punished with death in many countries. Questions that challenge the hierarchy’s teachings are not tolerated and even another sect within Islam is not accepted.   

In the Malaysian context where race and religion is intertwined, politicians have used it as a tool to control the Malay rakyat. The call to defend race and religion is a persistent war cry of PAS and other Right Wing Malay parties to rally the Malay constituents against  the non-Malays in order to maintain or wrest power.

The answer to the use of religion as a tool of control lies with the Malays. They need to reject a ritualistic, rules-based religion for a spiritual one.  

This applies to all religions, for surely there are also extremists in their midst too. It’s shameful to see how some in the Buddhist faith have mistreated the Rohingyas in Myammar.

What if our religion teaches us that God is not remote.  That we can communicate with Him directly and have no need for a middleman. What if we are told that the kingdom of God is within us.

What if we are told that God is loving and not judgmental and angry  – ever ready to punish us. What if we are taught that it is a change of consciousness that is needed and not rituals.  Internal change and not outward show of piety and obedience to some doctrines spouted by the religious hierarchy.

What if we are told that heaven and hell is here right now and there is no need to be held ransom by the religious establishment’s vague promises.

In one stroke the religious hierarchy loses its hold on the people.

Whatever religious path we choose, true spirituality presents a liberating message that we can enter the kingdom of God without the middlemen.

The above would end the hold the religious hierarchy have on the Malays. It will free them from the closed mental box of obeisance the religious hierarchy wants them in.

In the Malaysian context a spiritual Islam would mean the religious/racist parties will find it hard to use race and religion to divide and rule.

It would mean that political decisions are not made on the basis of race and religion but on universal concepts of fairness and citizenship ; on what benefits all Malaysians not just one section of the population disproportionately.

Instead of stoking the fires of division, the muftis of Perlis and and Perak should be preaching the true spiritual teachings of Islam – love for all humanity.

A loving God loves all his children equally – black, brown, yellow – all the rainbow colours. He doesn’t discriminate, why should we?

Let PAS, UMNO and PPBM explain that.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rebuilding Malaysia.)

By Yin, 

Letters from Ward 5, Tanjong Rambutan


Rebuilding Malaysia

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