Morality is to a reasonable man what religion is to a poor man. While the two are derivative of the same path that is to govern an individual’s life; both the reasonable and poor man have found ways around to make their paths seem shorter. Looking at the basis of all organised religions, one finds that the main underlying themes have remained the same throughout. Most religions have taught that man is to be just, kind, considerate, empathetic; and that this is to translate from the individual level to the society. So from this, a link can be created from the practice of the religion to the societal wellbeing. And in the absence of other variables, a consensus would remove any anarchy from the society. However, that is not the case, and the reason for this can’t only be attributed to the presence of many variables, but the belief systems governing these religions. 

In a world where many religions exist, and are governed differently by the clergy/sets of clergy of each sect, there is systemic discord in the generation of a consensus. This in turn affects the societal mobilisation or growth towards some common goal. This, however, is a cause of concern because if each religion teaches the same set of morality, then there shouldn’t, ideally, be any differences. But there exist many. This can be traced back to not the end, but the means of achieving a particular end. Hence the systemic discord causes systematic anarchy, or continues to do so, in a way where a significant and influential metanarrative isn’t being formulated. While the West has gone ahead with abandoning religion, or better yet reducing it to a personal choice, countries like Pakistan struggle to find a true identity incorporating religion, and at the same time without it. 

If we dissect the Pakistani society, and see how strongly religious sentiments resonate with the majority of the people, we understand that the mere practice of it, or the lack of it is at the centre of this belief system rather than the concept of real societal progression. One then wonders that if the state wants to endorse a specific brand of religion, then what is it doing to ensure societal cohesion and growth. In Pakistan, religion has been used as an exploitative force, and an element of separatism rather than for building consensus. This, coupled with different sects (of the same majority religion), presence of more religious ethnicities, and a free hand of clergy, has allowed for the dissemination of society into different groups, each disavowing the gods of the other. In all of this, the most surprising reality is that amidst the chaos, religion has never been deposed of its importance and continues to dysfunction in the society. It makes one wonder that to what end this dysfunctionality is serving its purpose.

Another debate, a spiritual one would be aimed at understanding how belief systems shape individual conscience, and what role they play for societal cohesion. At the core of any belief system is an objective system of causal relationships, more broadly categorised by reward and punishment. It is, however, incomprehensible to understand if people are more concerned about the rewards and the fear of punishment that motivates them to do good. Ideally, if everyone, or the greatest number of people, lived by these intrinsic values of a shared/common belief system then real societal progression can be guaranteed. But this is if people are fearful of god, and strongly believe in the divine system of rewards and punishments as determining factors for their lives. For those who choose to live otherwise, morality is based around a more human angle which ensures the sanctity of human morale remains intact. In the former, the plague of reducing the meaning of practice and the absence of any objective analysis in the latter is what has perhaps created a discord in the society. 

On this, Arthur C Clarke writes, “One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. So now people assume that religion and morality have a necessary connection. But the basis of morality is really very simple and doesn’t require religion at all.”

 Few weeks ago, the Pakistani lawmakers made a decision that was greatly appreciated. There seemed to be a space opened up for the others in this society. But whatever progress was made, was quickly reversed owing to great criticism from within the true practitioners of a particular brand of religion. While influential in their numbers, and violent in their actions, this group has only ever risen up for protecting the sanctity of only a particular facet of religion that it practices. This means that a unique flavour is added to religion – that is a force that mobilises some against another, against freedom for freedom, distorts law to uphold it, and to maintain society by protecting the sanctity of religion by distorting its very essence. 

Scenes of stranded passengers on the Motorway, commuters on roads, small-business holders robbed off of their merchandise and daily wagers being the most adversely hit with the lock down, were passing around on social media, amidst the media block out. Apart from the wave of utter confusion, there was a constant fear amongst the people everywhere, which was only exemplified without any authentic information sharing. The spectacle was not from a civilized society, it seemed as if time in this particular place had stopped and the righteous believers were out to offer a mighty sacrifice to the pagan gods. 

This reroutes our earlier discussion to the debate of whether religion is a mere personal choice or in fact the collective conscience of society. Perhaps the balance of rewards and punishments is what determines this belief system; and there is in fact very little that can be done for society from the disenfranchised versions of different religions. But as Mirza Ghalib very eloquently puts it:

“taa.at meñ tā rahe na mai-o-añgbīñ kī laag  dozak h meñ Daal do koī le kar bahisht ko” 

“To not love God for the greed of getting heaven, but to love Him despite the promise of a reward.”

Perhaps if we can move towards such a personal state, the society will be free. Then perhaps morality will be more humane, and the evils more tamed. For the Pakistani society that uses religion to govern its everyday decisions; the beauty of it should be enhanced by adopting a more rational thought to address the grievances rather than foster them. 

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. Her work focuses on economic and political issues.