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India, Oct. 2 -- After conducting a seminar on value education for teachers and students of a prestigious school, I was returning home. The principal of the school, a respectable priest, and two nuns accompanied me to the railway station. On entering the station I asked them, "Did you buy the platform tickets?" The priest replied, "It is not required; all the officials in the station know us because their children study in our school". Saying this, he walked with me to the platform. I was very disturbed by his statement and could not resist confronting him, "are you not breaking the law and indulging in corruption?" "What about the thousands of crores the politicians loot from the government treasury?" countered the priest. "Corruption is corruption, whether it is Rs. 3 or 3,000 crore," I replied firmly.

Similarly, many self proclaimed moralists ask for a 'kutcha' bill from the shops, instead of a cash memo, to avoid paying tax. Then they make 'adjustments' with the auditor without realizing the crime they commit against the government. Nor do they feel guilty of committing any sin.

Giving bribes has become very common among the clergy and the religious; bribes have become a common practice to get recognition of schools and other institutions. Religious congregations pay large amounts (even several lakhs) to get admission in private medical colleges when their members fail to pass the entrance tests. "We have to be practical", was the response I got from the major superior of a congregation known for their rigid life style with many hours of community prayer. They pay large sums of money in cash to get these admissions . How do they account for this bribe (black) money? Perhaps again, adjustments to be 'practical'! The church and religious congregations perhaps escape the raids from the government agencies under the shield of religion.

Often clergy and religious use theological arguments to justify their illegal acts. "Government laws are man-made, not divine; breaking them is illegal, not immoral" said a learned priest. We conveniently forget the commandment of God 'not to steal'. Financial manipulations are immoral and a sin against God and against the government. The morality of the god-man Satya Sai Baba was shattered when large quantities of gold, silver and unaccounted currency were found in his private chamber. Religion is misused when religious men and women commit acts of injustice or immorality yet pass themselves off as 'moralists'.

In the ordinary sense when we say he or she has no morality what we mean is that the person concerned has illicit relations with the opposite sex. But, any sin related to injustice is considered immoral. Telling lies, spreading false allegations against someone without verifying the facts, misappropriation of funds, not being committed to the mission, not paying just wages to the workers, etc. are not considered immoral. All these immoralities are washed away automatically if one is regular in practicing the religious rituals. Irregularity in the practice of rituals is sinful and immoral. Questioning the hypocrisy of the 'moralists' is considered not only immoral but sacrilege.

People indulge in all kinds of corruption and immorality. They either proclaim themselves as moralists or make tall claims as consecrated persons. On the contrary, when those who proclaim themselves as consecrated men and women, yet indulge in immoral and illegal activities it is very disturbing. It is a big hoax when they preach morality to the world. They should reflect on the words of Jesus, "If the salt loses its saltiness there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it". Neither the several layers of religious habit nor the medals and crosses hung on the neck can bring back the lost credibility.

To seek spiritual renewal it is important to reflect on the words of prophet Amos, "The Lord says, 'I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings. Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps. Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry'" (Amos 5: 21-24).

Religion and rituals are misused by people and priests to escape the guilt of committing all kinds of immorality against God, his people and government. The distinction between legality and morality is a game invented by the priestly class to justify immorality. Cheating the government by not paying tax, not paying just wages to the workers, spreading false allegations without verifications, making judgments on innocent persons without facts are as immoral as sins related to sex. Long hours of prayers and month long retreats cannot absolve these immoralities committed by individuals and communities. Priests and high priests should introspect before preaching morality to common people and making sweeping statements and judging prophets who set new trends in spirituality.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Date:Oct 2, 2011
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