The ideas of God and worship have evolved over time from the moment thinking man appeared on the face of the earth. Man started off as a nature worshiper who was overawed by the mighty elements of nature on whose benevolence and whims he depended for existence. Then followed the phase when these elements personified into a pantheon of gods and godesses. In the course of time, man graduated to the idea of one supreme being who created and ruled over the universe and also over the deities who wielded power over a particular part of it. But this Supreme Being was invisible, intangible and inaccessible. And so the deities became more popular and cults – idol worship – developed around them. The main difference between God and the deities is that, while He is goodness personified, they are a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Bible could be viewed in many ways – as a story of the creation of the world and the evolution of man from hunter-gatherer to modern man, the story of the chosen people of God, the story of man’s sin and redemption etc. It also can be seen as the story of the one true God’s relentless effort to wean man away from idol worship. But that, unfortunately, hasn’t had much success for the simple reason that men get easily disenchanted with the just, inscrutable and unforeseeable ways of God. They hanker for immediate and tangible magical solutions to their problems and needs – often at the cost of others – which they seek in the worship of idols representing deities who preside over all imaginable departments. So we have God’s chosen people taking advantage of Moses’ absence for a few days to pool together gold and make a golden bull-calf to worship. God forgave them, but only after killing three thousand of them. Finally, God relented and made a small allowance for human weakness for idols having magical powers: “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten would look at the bronze snake and be healed” (Num 21:9.)
Idol worship of humans started with deified rulers like the Pharaohs of Egypt, Caesars of Rome and Rama and Krishna of India. We have its modern version in the cult of the leader, which is engineered through the use of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, the arts, patriotism, demonstrations and rallies. That is how modern day rulers like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Mugabe, Trump, Putin, Erdogan and, of course, Modi, had or have gained a worshipful image. They were or are hero-worshiped not for being godly men of noble character, but for their idol-like capacity to deliver what their worshippers want.
Democracy was a solution society worked out to escape the tyranny of
dynastical monarchs, but it is now ironically throwing up many tyrannical
cult-leaders whom a vast number of people identify with and admire.
They are able to get away with anything
Democracy was a solution society worked out to escape the tyranny of dynastical monarchs, but it is now ironically throwing up many tyrannical cult-leaders whom a vast number of people identify with and admire. They are able to get away with anything – Trump even boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not loose any voters – because they have a host of followers who shower unquestioning flattery and praise with little concern for what is true, right or just. But the beauty of democracy is that they get exposed in the end, albeit after inflicting great harm on their nations. That was attempted but failed to happen in the impeachment trial of Trump by the US Senate. Trump became the president of America, the torchbearer of democracy for the world, with the solicited interference of his country’s foremost rival, Russia, in the election that brought him to power. In return, he openly confessed that he would rather trust Putin than his own investigation agencies. And like all tyrants, he just couldn’t stomach the idea of losing power. Trump was impeached by the House for inciting his worshippers to storm the Capitol and physically stall the certification of Biden’s election.
In a desperate bid, people sell their souls to idols that can help them achieve what they desire. There are temples in Thrissur District of Kerala where people sell their souls to the presiding deity in exchange for prosperity and other favours. Despite irrefutable proofs for Trump’s wrongdoing, he was exonerated by Republican Senators who have sold their soul to him in exchange for re-election. Little did they realise that a man who sent a mob of his worshipers to ransack the citadel of American democracy and to hang his Vice President publicly at the gallows in front of it could topple the Statue of Liberty into the Atlantic Ocean if he went unpunished. If only they had a look at India’s tragic experience with Modi, they would have easily been convinced of that.
Following the Gujarat riots, Vajpayee wanted Modi to be dismissed as Chief Minister for his role in instigating it and refusing to take timely action to stop it, but Advani intervened to save the day for him. Modi continued as Gujarat’s Chief Minister until he became India’s Prime Minister. And he is now successfully bleeding Indian democracy to death. The worship of cult-leaders is threatening to destroy democracy in much of the world. Angela Merkel, who just retired as Germany’s Chancellor after adorning that post since 2005, stands out as an iconic exception. Considered the leader of the free world since the day Trump came to power, this low-profile, unassuming and honest champion of democratic values of secularism, pluralism, humanism and inclusiveness is a rare role model of a ruler that the 21st century has offered for future generations to emulate.