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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 5 February 3, 2024

Televised Devotees and Live Steaming of Devotion | Bhabani Shankar Nayak

Saturday 3 February 2024


Once upon a time, devotion used to be a private affair for the devotees. It was an unbreakable spiritual bond and a personal religious experience between gods, goddesses, and their followers. It was neither televised nor live streamed to project propaganda, power, and dominance of one religious practice over another. The private and public practice of religious customs and traditions used to be solitary affairs for individuals and communities. The celebration of religious festivals used to be communitarian events based on the collective sharing of food, fun, and friendships beyond the narrow silos of religious boundaries. The celebration was part of understanding each other’s sufferings. Those days are over now in the age of social media, digital technology, and the public display of devotion.

Religion and religious practices serve as an escape for individuals and communities from the harsh material and spiritual realities of capitalist exploitations, inequalities, and marginalization. These unforgiving capitalist conditions are perpetuated daily, where the hardworking masses bear the brunt, while a privileged few leisurely dominate and exploit both human beings and nature to expand their empire of profit. People behave like orderly objects in a consumerist and religious society of continuous marginalisation.

People persist in enduring both material and spiritual marginalization within the alienated capitalist society. In the 19th century, Karl Marx observed that "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." This observation remains relevant in the 21st century. Working people continue to follow and practice religion as a spiritual and metaphysical balm for the material sufferings they experience in their everyday lives under capitalism.

For working people, religion serves as a private spiritual experience—an illusory escape through communitarian practice. These individuals often lack both the financial means and the medium to express their real sufferings. Instead, they externalize their pain to their fate, as dictated by their gods and goddesses. The illusory happiness derived from religious practices aids people in surviving and confronting the everyday challenges posed by capitalism in its various forms. All forms of alienation are inherent and integral to capitalism, and religions and religious practices function as a form of therapy for the suffering masses within capitalist society.

Modern, secular, liberal, democratic, and constitutional states and governments are expected to be free from all religious affiliations and practices. However, religious right-wing parties and reactionary leadership often employ religion as a mobilizing force in politics to gain access to power. The sustainability of this power and dominance relies on the mass domestication of people with the aid of religion.

Religious masses tend to be submissive and subservient to power, opposing revolutionary transformations of their conditions of marginalization. Religious practices teach the masses to patiently await heavenly rewards or hope for salvation after death while enduring suffering here on earth.

The ruling and non-ruling elites, corporate class, and their crony celebrities in different fields of life livestream and celebrate their devotion, presenting themselves as televised devotees to convey messages of mass domestication and submissiveness in the name of religious practice. This practice ultimately benefits the ruling elites and their crony capitalist associates, who amass their empire of profit at the expense of domesticated labour.

Radical labour consciousness, characterized by a secular and scientific ethos, poses a significant challenge to both ruling and non-ruling elites within capitalism. In contrast, labour embedded with religion tends to surrender before the power of all-mighty gods and goddesses, aligning with the requirements of capitalism.

The proliferation of religions and religious practices among the masses aids capitalism in surviving its crises by outsourcing blame to individual fate and attributing community sufferings to the destiny of communities. Religions act as shock absorbers for human sufferings under capitalism.

As televised celebrity devotees celebrate their devotion and livestream it for public consumption, it unfolds in a society where people grapple with issues of hunger, homelessness, unemployment, illiteracy, and illness. The time is always ripe for a revolution that can transform individuals, families, communities, states, governments, and societies under capitalism.

When will an inclusive, secular, progressive, democratic and radical revolution be televised as an alternative to the harsh realities of capitalism? When will the masses awaken from their religious slumbers and reclaim their citizenship rights? When will science and secularism become gateways to peace and prosperity, prompting people to reject the deceptive promises of various forms of capitalism and religion?

(Author: Bhabani Shankar Nayak, University of Glasgow, UK)

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