Side Views

When a ‘prophet’ corrupts — Khairil Azhar

February 12, 2013

FEB 12 — “How do you know that God didn’t speak to Charles Darwin?”

“I know, because God tells me to oppose the evil teachings of that man.”

“Oh, God speaks to you.”

“Yes.”

“He tells you what is right and wrong.”

“Yes.” 

“And you act accordingly?” 

“Yes.”

“So you, Matthew Harrison Brady, through oratory or legislature or whatever, you pass on God’s orders to the rest of the world! Well, meet the prophet from Nebraska! Is that the way of things? Is that the way of things? God tells Brady what is good. To be against Brady is to be against God.”

In the end, Henry Drummond, the defence lawyer, using the logic of the Bible itself, successfully proved that Matthew Harrison Brady had gone too far. Amid his passionate preaching and offences against evolution theory, the former US secretary of state used religious symbols and doctrines more as he wished instead of in accord with their generic meanings.

Put simply, in the very famous movie “Inherit the Wind” — based on American legendary Monkey Trial in 1925 — we learn that the religious issue, as it is taken into the public domain packed with political interest, will only end with the exploitation of the religious symbols, attributes, doctrines and the followers themselves.

The politically ambitious Brady might not have been interested in enriching himself or his family. 

Yet, his passion for studying religion as a door through which he could easily reach the masses with a conservative stream made him blind to the real world. 

He stepped into very dangerous territory where he could say what was right and wrong, which is the position of the saints or prophets. 

Here, whatever he did would be defended by any means. His followers would look at and support him as if he was a prophet himself.

And we know, in conclusion, that absolutism can be a big problem. With its dealing with absolutism, religion might bring about calamities to human beings, especially when the preachers cannot control their ambitions. 

In Indonesia, we are seeing how the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is struggling to reimage itself. With its religious features, the party has to deal with the rise of the tide once the public’s conviction loosens. 

The latest survey by SMRC shows that its electability is at a level of 2.7 per cent, and that is mostly because the party represents religious symbols.

What strikes people more clearly is what is happening to its party leaders. Under the influence of absolutism embedded in a religion, people tend to evaluate them, more unintentionally, in black-and-white terms.

In religious language itself, it is said that “a leader puts a foot on the verge of paradise and another foot on the verge of hell.” 

He can easily slip into either of them depending on his endeavour (qadar) and, to a significant extent, his fortune (qada).

In the most recent case of the former PKS chairman, who has been alleged to have improperly used his power in his party to take advantage individually or “congregationally”, we see that he looked to be innocently controlling his fortune. This could be more clearly seen in the efforts of his followers and party members to reimage their party.

Compared to what happened to Matthew Harrison Brady in the story, we can note two tragic things. First, in a party where the most influential men have “religious power” beside their other normal human capabilities, law and order are potentially based on “religious absolutism” as they understand it. 

Here then, dissenting opinion and doubting inquiries can be easily understood as a signal of faithlessness.

Consequently, the correction over what a leader understands and says can become very taboo. As such, different from what happens in secular or non-religious parties where power depends more on secular issues such as financial capability or social status, the leaders of political parties with substantial militancy like PKS are more powerful.

Second, leaders can easily find themselves trapped in corruption because they think they are still on the right path while they actually have gone astray. 

It is simply because the line differentiating the rights and wrongs is blurred by their ascribed “religious power”. 

It is like a pilot experiencing disorientation: He thinks he is still at a safe height and particular speed, while in fact he is already close to the ground or sea.

To the masses, making cults of certain individuals gives them spiritual security but unfortunately at the same time it makes them less critical of what “idolised” men do. 

They tend to spontaneously reject any issues discrediting their leaders because it relates to their own protected existential security provided by their understanding of religion.

So, in the end, we should never idolise a man too much. Isn’t it taught that a prophet himself can make a mistake, simply because perfection is owned by God Himself? — thejakartapost.com

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.