Nihilism, often associated with extreme pessimism and radical skepticism, is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known. Nihilistic attitude is a big threat to the world order explicated by religion. The recent growth of populism and extremism even in mature democracies in the Western world and authoritarianism in lesser developed countries have contributed to instability around the world. Many believe this disarray came about as an increasing number of people feel disconnected from God.
In the post-religious era, the Nepali people also have not been able to decipher the politics of extreme confusion manufactured by the political parties to throw a smokescreen on the government’s inability to effectively tackle Covid-19 and its horrible economic and psychological impact on the populace.
Nietzsche and God
Interestingly, long before the world arrived at this extremely confusing state, Frederic Nietzsche, a German philosopher had proclaimed “God is Dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” Nietzsche, however, was not against the spiritual feature of religion and was simply pointing at the danger of this atheist worldview that could potentially infect the world with destructive society, damaging beliefs.
Nietzsche believed the scientific revolution would put the basic religious belief system in jeopardy. Science exposes people to a universe devoid of conforming ideas of a God-given purpose. God was the origin of truth, justice, beauty, and love. These transcendental ideas have provided meaning and purpose to help ordinary people lead normal lives for thousands of years. Currently, people feel the deeper meaning of life is missing as they feel disconnected from God. More importantly, they no longer feel moral and a sense of responsibility towards the world. This change in people’s attitudes, according to Nietzsche, will bring a terrifying consequence for humanity.
The deeply religious society of Nepal was shaken to the core when King Birendra, a man Nepali people regarded as an incarnation of the god Vishnu, was murdered in 2001.
Nihilism, for Nietzsche, was a bridge to a new way of being for he believed people are “undermined animals”: malleable enough to be refashioned and to be transformed into “Ubermensch (over human).” As society begins to value truthfulness as a virtue, intellectual honesty that rejects faith will arise. More importantly, “humanity’s passion for the worship of God will be replaced by the quest for answering life’s hardest questions and the answers will be found in science rather than religion.”
The Covid-19 pandemic is one such example. Kumbh Mela, a gathering of roughly 2.5 million devotee’s congregations in Haridwar in India, ended up becoming the super spreader event. The religious leaders were criticized for ignoring the predictions of the scientific community. The majority of the Indian people around the world are betting on the science of vaccines to rescue the world from the deadly pandemic.
Religion has traditionally attempted to make sense out of the world around us, finding order and meaning in what often seems chaotic and hollow. The democratization of information and rapid advancement in science have made many religious interpretations obsolete. As Nietzsche had predicted, Europe did go through great suffering in the 20th century as destructive ideologies like Communism, Nazism, and Nationalism—to name a few—made their way across the continent in the wake of the two World Wars. Society moves towards decadence when people discard the religious concept of morality.
Although Nietzsche is usually regarded to be an atheist, he has never exclusively advocated the atheist agenda. He warned that “when religion fails to become a means of education and cultivation, it stops being a major influencer in people’s lives opening up opportunities for fringe elements to embrace religious rhetoric to disenchanted masses and promote religious hegemony.” Nepal should have never arrived at an unfortunate point in its glorious history because without a functioning religion a healthy and thriving political community cannot exist.
The displacement of religion has started to shake up humanity across the planet. Indeed, we have arrived at a time when religion is no longer central to people’s lives. This void has given rise to religio-political groups like ISIS that are trying to recreate a world that denies science and reason. On the other hand, sadly, the worship of the state and anarcho-nationalism have taken center stage to challenge the new religious fundamentalism of ISIS breed. The state preaches the people to sacrifice their lives, their freedoms, and even their reason at the altar of the state even when it has been hijacked by outdated political ideologies, identity politics, and anarcho-nationalism rendering democracy dysfunctional.
Religion in Nepali politics
Religion has played an important role in Nepali people’s lives for hundreds of years. However, like in other parts of the world, religion’s influence has been decreasing here as well. To make matters worse, the deeply religious society of Nepal was shaken to the core when King Birendra, a man Nepali people regarded as an incarnation of the god Vishnu, was murdered by his son in 2001. Many refused to accept the bitter truth as they compared the Monarch to the Hindu god Ram. The tragic incident had a profound impact on the psyche of the nation and this contributed to people’s decreasing faith in the Hindu religion.
In the post-religion era, people had high hopes in global liberalism. The bad news is global liberalism has not worked too well either to empower the Nepali people.
Five years after the death of King Birendra, the country saw another political uprising in 2006 that abolished the age-old monarchy and established the country as a secular state. The political parties of different stripes attempted to fill the void left by King Birendra by preaching the new Republic where everyone would have an opportunity to thrive despite their ethnic and economic background. Furthermore, they demanded absolute loyalty to the state because many had sacrificed their lives in the process of democratic achievement. The state has been hijacked by outdated communist ideology and left-wing nationalism. If Nepali people practice free speech that is guaranteed to them by the new constitution and complain or rebel against the government, they will have to bear the wrath of the state’s bureaucracy and security machinery. Little did the people know back then that they were sold wolf tickets.
Religion has always had an important place in Nepali society. Now, new opportunistic political parties have sprung up promising to bring back the glory of Hinduism by re-establishing Nepal as the Hindu state. This, however, is just vote bank politics and is not about the welfare of Hindu society. Therefore, religion has to be taken away from the hands of the politicians and be placed under the control of those most capable of understanding its proper use in promoting harmony in society.
Religion has to be taken away from the hands of the politicians and be placed under the control of those most capable of understanding its proper use in promoting harmony in society.
In the post-religion era, people had high hopes in global liberalism—the idea that markets, democracy and civil rights will arrive us in a world where everyone is entitled to a fair shot at a good life. The bad news is global liberalism has not worked too well either to empower the Nepali people. Poverty, lack of economic opportunities, corruption scandals, pandemic, crisis, lack of vaccines, dirty politics, brain drain, and environmental degradation to name a few have revealed that the promise of democracy was hollow, not because democracy does not work, but those in the driver’s seat are inept at making democracy workable. The sinister “confuse and control” technique of governance used by the political parties has to stop and functioning democracy must be established at all cost.
Bimal Pratap Shah is a policy wonk.