When it comes to the apparently inexplicable, people like explanations that make sense to them. When they are failing (on any level – academically, socially, economically, spiritually or even on their level of contentment or happiness), they seek reasons – and an explanation that doesn’t blame them is obviously more palatable.
In extreme cases throughout history in many parts of the world, they blame the witch down the street and stone her to death. And they often paint their crime with a veneer of religion in order to make it seem legal and acceptable. In less horrible cases they make up stories. Marsh lights today have a scientific explanation. In the past, you blamed the Will-o’-the-Wisp trying to lure you to your death in the bog.
Nowadays, when confronted with troubles, people go to the self-help section of the bookshop and buy books titled “How to…” or “The Secret” and start believing all you have to do is think positively, and you’ll win the lottery or whatever you want. You don’t have to, well, you know, actually work to solve your problems.
Students – especially those from a background of a loving, close-knit extended family with strong cultural and religious taboos and mores – are especially vulnerable when they are sent off to university in another part of the world. They not only have to accept an academia where they are not spoon-fed as they were back home, but they have to cope with a freer society. They are surrounded by temptation, or by pitfalls they never had back home. Their families are not there to consult or to intervene.
Students have to manage everything from their studies and finances to clashes with their flatmates and their landlady. They are faced with foods they may not like and they have to dodge foods that are not religiously acceptable. Problems abound. They make mistakes and feel guilty, or are unable to cope.
Unfortunately, all too often someone comes along with his/her own agenda to con them. It may not be for money; it may be simply to make himself/herself feel big and important. He or she says, “It’s not your fault.” And these people make their intervention and solutions sound acceptable and unassailable by calling it religion, or they make use of religion in their “cure” to gain acceptability. They prey on the gullible.
They preach magic, call it religion, use pop psychology – and you have the beginnings of a cult or a con or an unhealthy emphasis on blaming outside causes for a personal problem.
It makes me sad. Young people who will one day be future leaders, teachers, scientists or technocrats are buying into a belief in hocus pocus. They are rejecting reason and the rational for magic and fantasy and the unseen and unprovable. They seek learning and knowledge, yet fall prey to superstition and scare tactics.
The ultimate irony – I write fantasy. But hey, folks, it’s not real.
Want to know what prompted me to say all this?
Read this: Djinn and Tonic , also titled “Evil be gone!” in The Star on line, or see the StarTwo section of yesterday’s The Star newspaper.