t may intrigue many of us to know what a tiny island country in the North Atlantic, Iceland, has gone ahead and done. The Alpingi (Parliament) of Iceland had voted 60-3 in favor of a statute recently. And it is interesting to note what that particular statute was all about. The nation’s Parliament has unequivocally declared ‘all religions to be psychological disorders’. This may seem humourous and odd to us Indians embroiled in deep religious debates in the present times. What Iceland has done seems extremely revolutionary when observed in the context of human history. The country’s opinion that it does not want to end up like Saudi Arabia or the United States could seem like a befitting rebuttal to the growing aggressiveness of religious fundamentalism across the globe.
Religion must have evolved with the ancestors of modern man. Initially, an even today, indigenous peoples across the world pray to Nature. Known as animists, the obeisance was primarily aimed for good health and good crops. Unlike a pride of lions which can hold only so much and no more of loyalists to the leader, human intellect needed something more. Therein, probably, came the concept of a bigger force beyond human comprehension. With the increase in numbers of the tribe came a desire, in the leader, to control a bigger pack. The village, the tribe, the area and beyond could not be controlled by sheer muscle power. It needed loyalty added with muscle power. The need for creating blind belief could have driven the ruler or leader to project himself as an emissary of God in flesh. This helped them consolidate power over larger tracts of land and bigger number of people.
Religion helped justify wars and subjugation. The concept of the Infidel also justified killing anyone who disobeyed the conquering leader. The annexed land and its people either converted or were killed or taken as slaves. This prompted religion to become a source of financial activity. Once there was money, the desire to spread specifically about religion came into being. That may be one reason why we hear of most ancient scholars being associated with religious preaching. The money involved in religion could also have been a prime reason for which religious institutions were always the first places to be plundered by marauders. How is it that religion makes so much money? As we can observe today, it can logically be said humans always thought in the same manner. The poor peasant donated his meager savings to propitiate the Gods above to help get a bountiful crop. That donation went to the temple or the church. Similarly, the trader also tried to please God with rich gifts to protect him during his travels to far off lands in quest of bigger riches. The same amount of wealth required lot of coercion to collect if the king or the state wanted it. But for religion, the alms flowed free and easy since the birth of mankind.
While religion ruled the roost as the biggest business, the desire to conquer lands resulted in creation of state religions. Once endorsed by the state, religions saw a rapid geographical growth. One fine example of this is the growth of Buddhism after Emperor Ashoka converted to that religion. State sponsorship brought in all the goodies and induced larger number of people to adopt that particular religion.
Iceland’s Parliament’s statute is a step away from the age-old thinking. The politics of religion has always resulted in creating divisions in society. Although, people have claimed that all religions lead to the same God, yet millions have been massacred historically in the name of God. In other words, ‘My God is better than Your God’ has always been a destructive thought. When mankind realizes and accepts that religion can be a very personal affair, then it might be a lot easier to bring about peace on Earth. Unfortunately the very birth of religion was intended to ensure it was never personal.