Limits of Puritanism

Narendra Modi's visit to Sita's birthplace in Nepal an exercise for BJP to shed charges of misogyny, patriarchy

 

by Bhabani Shankar Nayak    25 October 2020

The principles and ideological commitments in politics, culture, religion, and social practices breed a culture of puritanism both in its progressive and regressive forms. The transformation of society to lead an exemplary life is the core in the politics of puritanism as a movement of divinity. Both right-wing reactionaries and left-wing radicals use puritanism like applied theology to the concerns of their followers. The confident control of individual conscience and sanctification in the name of purity is central to this gradual and subtle process of puritan socialisation. Such puritan praxis shapes individual rights, liberties, duties, and obligations for the society, state, community, and family in different stages of history. The puritan provocations change with the change of time, place, and public opinion but certain unchanging core doctrinal elements of puritanism continue to exist in spite of the growth of science and technology. In the idea of purity of race, religion, gender, sexuality, caste, language, region, and nationalism, the puritans use core doctrinal elements to appeal to the public for its legitimacy. The purity and coherence between thoughts and actions are central to the core of puritanism, which individuals and communities tend to practice as a daily discipline in matters of all forms of relationships and interactions. Puritanism as an ideological force has influenced religious, cultural, political, secular, liberal, conservative, and radical trends in society.

The religious, right-wing and reactionary puritans have relied heavily on the idea of god and nationalism in their effort to exercise political authority, influence government policies, and control the state by forming informal and voluntary associations with missionary spirit. It is the idea of god and religion that works as the core and heart of puritanism. Religions provide an ideological foundation to puritanism as an ideology of conformism, which emphasised ‘work is god and god is truth’ for salvation. Such a narrow puritan essence has helped to hinder working class abilities to embrace emancipatory ideals of their own consciousness from their own work and workplace. Further, the religious puritanism has destroyed the organic relationship between the ‘work’ and ‘worker’ by converting it into a contractual language of ‘‘Covenant of Works’’ and the ‘‘Covenant of Grace’’ in Christianity. The spiritual relationship between the ‘work’ and the ‘worker’ was further destroyed by asking for desire free work (Niskama Karma) in the Hindu religion as outline in the Bhagavad Gita. All major world religions follow this pattern of theological arguments, which are adopted by puritanism and its advocates. Any deviation is regarded as sin; a path towards hell and blind following is sacred; a path towards heaven. In this process, the glorification of God, complete surrender to work, unquestionable truth, and morality becomes the core of right-wing puritanism that helps to domesticate individual freedom, individual labour, and community space in the service of power; rulers, industrialists, and capitalists.

Similarly, the radical sectarians and democratic dissenters have also reconfigured puritanism as a revolutionary ideology of counter-culture led by marginalised communities to transform existing social, political, and economic order. The mechanical understanding of historical transformations and conceptualisation of revolutionary processes follow certain outdated and unchanging narratives like puritans. Class struggle as a revolutionary project needs to get away from the orientation of puritanism. The class struggle often demands political and ideological manoeuvres within different contexts. It is adultery of ideas, people, and strategies to uphold working-class values and interests. The revolutionary organisational structure, its mechanisms, and style of functioning need to get away from everything that disciplines individuals and their creative abilities. The idea of discipline is the core of puritanism that drags revolutionary processes into the reactionary puritan path. The individuals find themselves in an environment of disorientation; be it in religious congregations or in revolutionary political projects. Puritanism provides simple and readymade answers to higher questions guided by puritan morality. In this way, puritanism and its frameworks create a theological understanding of human life and the natural world.  Puritanism discourages individuals from scientific scrutiny and inquiry into existing knowledge and its advancement.

The re-emergence of religious puritanism and its right-wing avatars are products of this larger philosophical terrain, which is concomitant with capitalism and its hegemonic control over individuals and communities. Domesticated labour is a central requirement for the growth of capitalism. Religious puritanism can only create conformist and subservient individuals. Therefore, capitalism promotes authoritarian and religious right-wing force in politics and society to nourish conformist and domesticated individuals, who live with limited resources with unlimited manufactured desires. The gap between reality and desire is so vast that individuals fall in line to fulfill the gaps in their life. Puritanism itself is a desire that exploits such a situation of unnecessary emptiness created by the capitalist system to control individuals and communities.

Puritanism fortifies the spirit of capitalism and ensures the survival of unequal economic relationships based on social and religious morality. The religious foundations of puritanism shape every day live by controlling our choices and freedoms in the name of morality devoid of any substance and materiality. Puritanism as a movement has sanctified the ruling class virtues as a naturally social and political order. The ideas of subordination, hierarchy, exploitation, and inequalities are normalised within puritan frameworks of divine order. In this way, puritanism is a detrimental ideology, which is against progressive social and political transformations. It is within this context, it is important to reject all forms of puritan ideals to pave a clear path for scientific inquiry for the advancement of knowledge for social and political change.

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