Moonstruck in modernity

The modern order of things is a result of rationalisation. To synchronise with modern times, it is important to bring about changes in our ways of seeing and understanding

Moonstruck in modernity

Today we live in a world that has been rendered disenchanted under the influence of scientific outlook and rationalisation of life. Disenchantment is the process whereby society undergoes, what Max Weber calls, ‘demagnification’ due to the rationalisation culture and devaluation of mystical. For Weber "traditional world remains a great enchanted garden", whereas modern society is bereft of rose-coloured glasses of magic because the modern man has eaten the fruit of rationality. In modern society, the world and life is organised through rational goals, institutions, processes and practices.

The modern order of things is a result of rationalisation. To synchronise with modern times, it is important to bring about changes in our ways of seeing and understanding. Instead, we in Pakistan have developed an anachronistic mind that makes our cognition incongruous with the objective world around us. This has given birth to cultural schizophrenia. Since we live within the prison of cognitive schizophrenia, we have lost contact with reality. This is well reflected in the controversy about moon-sighting for Eid and other religious events in Pakistan.

Like every year, moon sighting for Eid in Pakistan this year has also generated controversy resulting in pitching the clerics against science. Even the clerics themselves were not unanimous about the exact date of Eid as Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai-led private Ruet-e-Hilal Committee announced Eid in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa one day earlier than the rest of country.

Infuriated by the formation of a scientific committee by the Federal Minister of Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry, to provide a calendar deciding dates of Eid and other religious events, Mufti Muneebur Rehman of Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee announced that he did not give a damn to science. The irony is not lost on everyone as he himself was wearing glasses, using telescope and addressing a press conference in front of cameras.

Such farcical actions and explanations are symptomatic of deep fissures in our collective psychology. Due to this our mind has become schizophrenic. Division of our self into tri-polar personality has caused cognitive dissonance. Now Pakistani clerics have become so schizophrenic that they see several moons in one gaze. Such a divided self is indicative of disintegration of mind and ideas about different domains of life. Gradually, the fragmentation of mind creeps into cultural, moral, intellectual, scientific, religious and personal domains. This is visible in our collective social ethos.

For instance, with 1.1 million pilgrims Pakistan tops countries in performing Umrah this year. At the same time, we are one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Our practice at social and public spaces is diametrically opposite to what we religiously confess and preach. It is our morbid mentality that has transformed religious charisma into a miasma by allowing demagogues to define religion.

At mental level, schizophrenia rends asunder our mind, and further pushes us into a state of oblivion where we get disconnected with reality. Our existential situation is like a person who shuts himself in a cave for the fear of external world. Over the time, that person somehow develops skills to survive in darkness. He never dares to step outside the cave to see the light illuminating the world. When such a person gets exposure to changed realities outside, he tries to fathom it through the phantasmagoric figures created in darkened soul and obscurantist mind. This type of dystonic personality chooses a destructive path by working under the illusion of phantasmagoric figures and taking figments of his imagination as real.

The dystonic self views at things from ideas incompatible with reality principle. That is why he interprets things differently. According to psychology, there are two sides of the brain -- left and right hemispheres. In our case, there is a complete disconnect between left and right hemisphere of his brain because both are not joined by a massive bundle of fibres called corpus callosum, which functions as agency of dialogue between the cortical hemispheres or brain. Our left hemisphere is logical, mathematical, sequential, intellectual, worldly, active and processes reading, writing, naming, and does complex motor sequences. On the other hand, right hemisphere is holistic, artistic, symbolic, simultaneous, emotional, intuitive, creative, spiritual, receptive, synthetic, and perceives abstract patterns. The left-hemisphere of our mind is in constant fight with right hemisphere. This split has permeated into every part of our body.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan we have evaded modern existential questions by closing ourselves within the cave of our certainties and received wisdom. Our clerics fear that the disenchantment will erase religion from the face of the earth.

The split within our brain has become so acute that our left hand does not work in unison with the right hand. Hence, the loss of coordinated actions. One of our eyes sees a woman, while the other sees her as a threat to our life hereafter. The heart wants to enjoy the abundant beauty around, but our puritan mind deems aesthetic sights as sources of filth corrupting our pure being. Our left foot wants to move forward, but the right one drags us backward. Ours is a soul stuck in an immunised existence. This existential condition is beautifully encapsulated by Samuel Backet in his play ‘Waiting for Godot’ in which the character Estragon declares "nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful."

Not only that, our dystonic self has also developed a dark firmament under which the left and right hemispheres have become so dark that no light can penetrate into them. So dark is our brain that nothing grows on its soil. On a cursory glance at our cultural and intellectual landscape, we find none of the traits associated with the left and right hemisphere of brain because the dark firmament above the cortical hemispheres has suppressed both and turned our brain into intellectual wasteland.

When T. S. Eliot in his classic book of poetry ‘The Waste Land’ laments absence of solace, he unconsciously points towards drying up of intuitional, aesthetics and spiritual in modern religion. He laments disintegration of unified sensibility and divorce of traits with their entities. He writes,

"What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water."

With the type of religion peddled by our managers of the sacred, there can be no spirituality, creativity, intuitional and holistic vision. Like a musical instrument that has lost its capacity to produce music, religion under the immunised existence and dark firmament of clerics has become spiritless.

It is the immunised existence that has caused freezing of our mind in space and time. There is no gainsaying the fact that the disenchantment by modernity has created an existential hole from which metaphysical pathos emerges. If this black hole of pathos is not filled through modern means, then the society plunges into nihilism.

However, modern pathos cannot be addressed through treatment of ailment from prescriptions that has begotten it. In the West, the society has at least tried to fill it by exploring subjectivities through modern arts, culture, literature, music, philosophies and new interpretation of religion. It has helped in engaging with questions about life and the world if not answering.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan we have evaded modern existential questions by closing ourselves within the cave of our certainties and received wisdom.

Our clerics fear that the disenchantment will erase religion from the face of the earth. However, experiences of Judaism and Christianity show that they have not only survived but emerged stronger, more accommodative and rational in the process. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam has to undergo the process of disenchantment. The controversy about moon sighting for religious events stems from the attempt of the enchanted mind to cast the outside world in its enchanted lense. Hence, our failure to understand a natural phenomenon like moon sighting. Because of our immunised existence and mind, we, instead of contributing to modern civilisation, are still moonstruck in modernity.

Traditionally, people relied on witnessing the moon with naked eyes. But scientific inventions in our daily life have brought out-of-sight things within the ambit of our vision, i.e. far away stars and invisible germs. The very word television is portmanteau word, which means vision at a distance. Modern scientific instruments have brought distant things and entities that exist at macro and micro level under the purview of our eyesight. Telescope is just an extension of our eyes. Similarly, motorcar is extension of our feet. To insist on travelling for pilgrimage on camel in the age of aeroplanes looks farcical. The purpose is to reach our destination. It is unwise to go for pilgrimage on foot as done by our ancestors in the age of compulsory foot walk. Opposition of our religious clergy to scientific sighting of moon on religious occasions to save their enchanted vision is turning us blind.

In our socio-cultural and political settings, the managers of the sacred suppress rational and dissenting voices through noise and vociferous edicts, not conversation. It is contrary to the processes entailed by intellectual reflection. Great intellectual and mystical conversation takes place in the state of inwardness. It is hallmark of philosophic meditation that it fosters a single thought for years and decades to make it ripe. The great thoughts of the world have emerged in this state of inwardness and silent meditation. When the space for spiritual element in external world becomes cramped, people with sense and sensibilities take inner migration to avoid noises and distractions. However, our clerics and religious leaders thrive on noise. Reflection is suicidal for them. Ideas and practices in existentialism, psychoanalysis, expressionism, surrealism, magical realism and aesthetics are signs of spiritual quest of modern sapiens to create an alternate self and actualise the suppressed self. Such a thinking can take place when one amasses cognitive riches inside by learning from and listening to the outside world for her intellectual contemplation.

Cure for modern ailments like metaphysical pathos can emerge from engaging with modernity and its episteme not from obsolete axioms and formulas. Alas! Our religious leaders and clerics have lost the capacity for self-reflection because they are intellectually empty inside. That is why we witness more clamour than reflection in our religious spaces, increase in the domain of unthought and rejection of objective realities outside.

Religion can make itself relevant to contemporary times by saving itself from religious people with schizophrenic traits. To cure ourselves from our state of insanity and its resultant inanities, we need to disenchant our mind from the religious narratives created by schizophrenic mind.



Moonstruck in modernity