I’m only ten pages into Arundhati Roy’s 2016 book of essays, The End of Imagination, and I already have several asterisks and exclamation points in the margins.
In the introduction, Roy reviews recent Indian political history to help set the tone for the essays that follow.
The theme of India’s history is the “competing horror show of majoritarianism and religious chauvinism” as India’s religious communities jockey for national influence in their newly independent nation.
Toward the end of the the nineteenth century, the politics of representative governance (paradoxically introduced to its colony by the imperial British government) began to replace the politics of emperors and kings. The British marked the boundaries of the modern nation-state called India, divided it into territorial constituencies, and introduced the idea of elected bodies for local self-government. Gradually, subjects became citizens, citizens became voters, and voters formed constituencies that were assembled from complicated networks of old as well as new allegiances, alliances, and loyalties.” —Arundhati Roy
Roy’s accounts of a Hindu majority, marginalized Muslims, a military-enmeshed political party, and persistent scapegoating in the name of God and country reminded me immediately of the roles that Evangelicalism plays in the US today.
For the last thirty years, Evangelicals here have functioned as a political constituency: a bloc formed to advance group interests and to speak for group concerns about family, belonging, right social order, and the integrity of the law.
This Evangelical bloc isn’t primarily tied by doctrinal considerations, however. Debates last year over whether [Evangelical] Christians should line up behind the Republican nominee should have made that clear.
Instead, like the Hindu nationalists of India, Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianities are a nation-building mechanism. They identify and differentiate themselves from the usual enemies and Outcastes/outcasts, and they leverage social calamity to promote political solutions—especially exclusive ones.
I don’t know where Roy will take this background information, and further into the book, I could find my understanding way off-base. But right now I’m reflecting on the global uses of religion, and wishing that, in each of our societies, we were much, much more careful with one of the most powerful social tools we have.