Monday, December 05, 2011

The Goddess of English

Polytheism is the belief in many gods.   It’s estimated that there are over 330 million Hindu gods and goddesses.  With a population of over 1 billion people in India and 85% of them Hindus, most of their religion revolves around petition to local, village and household gods.

I readily admit, as a monotheist, I don’t understand polytheism.  I understand Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism as well, of course, Judaism and Christianity because each one of these religions has a historical base.  Buddha was a person, as was Confucius and Loa-Tz, Mohammed, Moses and Jesus.   The main characters of Hinduism, Ram, Vishnu, Shiva, are mythological figures as well as their avatars.  Though the function of Hinduism is basically the same as other religions, the one distinguishing factor is that it is not based on any historical record.  And, evidently gods and goddesses are still being created.

This past week I read about a new deity, the Goddess of English, created by a Dalit writer by the name of Chandra Bhan Prasad.  The Dalit are an oppressed people group with a population of 200 million people.  Though discrimination by caste is outlawed in India, the Dalit’s, formerly known as “untouchables,” remain an oppressed class. 

The language of power, since the days of the British Raj, has been English.  Only the privilege upper caste were given access to the English language and, as we all know, over the pat 50 years in this day of globalization, English has become the dominant means of communication in commerce and politics.  Illiteracy is much higher among the Dalit than any other class of people.  Believing that learning English is a path out of poverty and discrimination, Prasad created the Goddess of English, which is modeled after the statue of liberty wearing a floppy hat, holding a pen in one hand and the Indian Constitution in the other, perched on a computer.

The reason there are so many idols in polytheism is because there is a deity created for every need of man.   The gods/goddess of fertility, wealth, rain, social power, marriage, crop harvest, herd health, protection, whatever is the need there is a shrine or temple built for that need.  So, the Goddess of English is just another extension of polytheistic superstition.

Again, most religions have an element of superstition, myth and animism.  Whether it is the Muslims praying to one of their saints, Buddhists praying to their ancestors, Catholics praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe or evangelicals (?) with prayer cloths, all are objects for the adherent to manipulate the gods to grant them blessings. 

What is striking about the superstition of religion is the void of worship, worship that is rooted in love and gratefulness, not fear or mere veneration.  Human devotees may admire prayers to the Goddess of English, the fast of Ramadan, the immolation of Tibetan Buddhist monks, but they are acts driven to appease the Supreme power and to bend that power in their favor.   

The faith of a Christian is, or should be, marked by an uncharacteristic lack of human self-reliance.  Our belief is in the one true God that provided His creation with salvation through Jesus.  The only thing we humans are required to do is to accept that grace He has provided and turn away from the many gods created by man and turn to the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Learning English is a great endeavor for social and political power.  However, creating an idol and making it an object of devotion cannot and will not make the Dalit free, either in this life or after death.