This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Importance of Ritual

I don’t think I’m the first person to say that religion is woefully over-ritualised. Even many theists I know would agree, though they would disagree on the cause.
More than once I’ve had thoughts about the precise importance of ritual in religion. Well, sometimes the answer is so obvious that one rejects it because it’s too obvious, and one keeps looking. I guess it’s the influence of old detective novels where the villain is never the obvious suspect.
So…when I came back to the beginning, here is what I decided: ritual is religion’s way of camouflaging the fact that it’s all so utterly illogical.
We’re a social species, and like baboons with their ritual grooming, we’ve evolved our own rituals. These rituals are an essential lubricant in social intercourse, right? When I shake hands with you, aren’t I following through on an old ritual that was once meant to keep your hand from your weapon? All that military razzmatazz of parades and salutes, can’t we compare it to the African tribe’s war dance and the hyena pack’s ritual of sniffing and urinating before going on the hunt? It’s not as though an army that can’t put on a decent parade won’t be able to fight either, but catch any general even thinking of doing away with it.
So, we’re used to rituals. We feel safe in rituals. Rituals bond us together in a common purpose, so that we can go through with it without thinking about what we are doing. We don’t really think of the rituals even when we’re following them. And when something is cloaked in ritual, we’re more likely to accept it unthinkingly than we are if it’s bare and stripped of all extraneous factors.
Try and think about it. Why are the most popular religions – and religious sects – those that have clothed themselves in the maximum of ritual? Why have religions like Buddhism that were initially without ritual accumulated more and more down the years? Why do sects splitting off in an attempt to go back to the “spiritual” roots almost never gather followers? Why does, for example, Catholicism survive, what with its hierarchy and its mind-numbingly ritualistic practices? Why does “mainstream” Hinduism flourish at the expense of the simpler sects like the Brahmo Samaj? Why did sects like the Sufis, who wanted the individual believer to find “god” in his or her own way, lose out to the gigantic mosques and religious hierarchies of Islam?
Because ritual camouflages illogic and numbs the ability to think.
And thought being something inimical to religious belief, which has always depended on blind faith, it has to be suppressed. The medieval Christian church, at least, could directly order people not to think, but it’s kind of more difficult to do that these days. Hence, the importance of ritual.
Theists generally brainwash children at an early age, and it begins with ritual – worshipping the idols at home, going to church, offering namaaz at the local mosque. The child is indoctrinated in ritual, so that he or she can be more easily made to accept religion later. A child who’s been among crucifixes (for example) all his life is more easily fobbed off with lies and half-truths than one who’s been left alone to develop his own way.  
And religion being a parasite on the host of the human race, if you don’t brainwash children, where’s the next generation of hosts to batten on to come from?   
And oh, I forgot - like a magician's patter, ritual offers great scope for covering up sharp practice and sleight of hand.   

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