While I was at work today (I’m an editor), I read an article called “Outsourcing Religion.” It was all about how some people in India were creating businesses designed to handle ritual and religious duties for expats and emigrant Hindus who couldn’t necessarily find the time or the money to travel to India and take care of any religious obligations themselves. The article detailed how the Internet and video conferencing could be a means to conducting those rituals and rites, such as honoring the ancestors of your homeland by proxy–for a fee, of course.
It got me thinking. The author of the article stayed away from most of the religious implications and debate of such an action, preferring instead to focus on the hows and whys. But what would be the implications of letting someone else conduct the rituals that, according to your religion, you are duty-bound to do? And not only that, but these people are giving money to someone else to handle their business for them.
To me, that is almost like a slap in the face to the ancestors and the gods. While at first I thought the article was funny and I laughed, I thought about it some more and decided I didn’t like the notion of letting someone else conduct my religious duties for me. It’s a means of escaping responsibility. Sure, some people may not be able to afford a trip across a continent or an ocean to be in their homeland for such rituals, but isn’t that where the idea of saving comes in? Isn’t that a part of being responsible in not only religious but mundane life? Provide for your family first, and then set money aside to be able to take trip back home to honor your ancestors, even if it’s only a brief trip.
In Paganism, I think most people would agree that there is no handing off of religious duties like this article is talking about. We couldn’t have someone else take our place for us at circle, or conduct the ritual for us and say we did it. We can have people cast a spell on our behalf or send us good energy, but that’s not the same thing. That’s asking someone else to do what you can’t or to help support your own efforts. But having someone else take over a religious duty, for whatever reason, seems wrong and disrespectful of the ancestors or the gods to whom you are professing to honor. The gods don’t want someone in your place going through the motions, they want you. Your ancestors don’t want some stranger paying lip service for a fee, going through the motions of a rite that is supposed to be heartfelt, they want you. It’s almost worse in the case of the ancestors–you wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for those who came before, and sending a proxy to do your duty is like telling them you don’t care about their lives, their sacrifices, their spirit.
Obviously, you can tell where I fall on this issue. I don’t think it’s a good idea to use a service like that, or to give over a religious responsibility to someone else when you should do it yourself. But what do you think?
*Please note: I am not critiquing or bashing the Hindu religion. I am critiquing the people who created these services and the people who use them.*