Religious laws always tend to claim permanence, while historical laws seek to abolish its excesses. Trapped in the crossfire between the archaic and new, dazed in the tension of this historical process, which is evident in modern times, man looks for a respite. He wishes to be something not ‘him’; sighs wish ‘you’ are here. It leads him towards a religious experience that exists only as absurd, contradiction and utopia.

With the mushrooming of god incarnations — offspring of a god and a mortal or a mortal elevated to lesser divine rank — in thousands and the phenomenon of believer’s ever increasing ‘father-fixation’ and ‘mother-fixation’, mankind’s quest for god, divine or spirituality has been reduced to a false hope implicit in the modern anthropomorphic gods.

The otherwise long and arduous spiritual journey to reach god or attain ‘godhood’ is drastically scuttled to such an extent that man now needn't care to delve deep into the myth and mystic of the divine and reach the heaven of Zarathustra for liberation, the only reason being, today he can afford a luxury of consulting living gods or goddesses for his material and spiritual needs in his vicinity, real-time.

Man’s sheer curiosity and ‘running before time’ restlessness forced him to relocate heaven to his home town and replace the incommunicado gods with his choice of living gods and goddesses, who by engaging through direct dialogues and interactions would heal the individual as well as the social ills; so is believed. And consuming this belief and people’s sense of urgency, the parasitic human-gods thrive.

After all, it is mutually agreed that if we cannot ascend to where god is when we need him the most, then let him descend to where we are. It’s because the whole purpose of referring to god in anthropomorphic terms is to make god more relevant to humans. Without anthropomorphism, since god is invisible and immaterial, he is lost in the market of modernity.

The phenomenon of this burgeoning anthropomorphic gods and people falling for it, is dialectical in nature with two exclusively opposite qualitative aspects. Promising side is that with the gradual erosion of faith in fictitious heavenly bodies, man has at least intellectually evolved thus dared to discard the illusory existence of god and the monopoly of heaven that has been purportedly scripting his destiny for eons and started believing more in man himself for its good or more precisely, immediate existential needs.

Perhaps, it seems wiser to find a saviour in human being than an abstract romantic entity. On the other hand, the worst part is that the more numerous the god (on earth), the more pervasion of autocratic and theocratic power in social life, exploitation, and misery for man. Truth confused, the degeneration of faith has become so much that the relationship man has forged with god (godmen and godwomen) now is more of a trade and political than a journey to achieve ‘truth’, spiritual well being or self emancipation.

The disturbing obvious fact is that when blessing comes from the object behind the faith rather than from the faith itself, the purposes are never solved. In the guise of religious or spiritual guide, by exploiting the faith and man’s precarious existential crisis, the ‘object’ (read godman/godwoman) always tries to establish its rule, authority and hegemony detrimental to people’s aspirations. The fundamental contradiction therefore rests between the ruler and the ruled, and in the tug of war, the narcissist ‘god-affiliates’ have hitherto succeeded to privatise the god and government, as our collective consciousness failed to grasp that “faith alone can give blessing (if needed at all), not the object behind it.”

The scenario in impoverished and economically weaker countries is further grim. For instance, in India, the land of faith and spirituality, the self-appointed messengers of god - sundry spiritual gurus to whom people comfortably submits in search of solace - have been flourishing well while settling political scores to business deals (godman Chandraswami), suggesting dowry (Radhe Maa), castrating their followers and killing witnesses (Dera Sacha Sauda’s Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh), owning vast empires (Mata Amritanandamayi, Satya Sai Baba) and indulging in incredible acts that are least saintly.

And evidently, not only political audacity, consumed by greed and ruthless power, numerous godmen and godwomen exhibit extreme sexual perversions including sex slavery, rape, sodomy, murder, peadophilia, and so on, which further affirms, power and coercion go hand in hand. But tragically, these ugliest of crimes and controversies could not diminish the count of rapt followers belonging to all the economic and political classes, cutting across all regional barriers.

While ‘faithfools’ (mostly poor and the oppressed) overlook the glittering and blatant hypocrisy of these demigods and subscribe to them, ‘powerfools’ (ruling class) exploit them for their better survival; be it mobilising electoral support, bagging business deals or fighting political rivals. The high and mighty such as former British PM Margaret Thatcher, Sultan of Brunei, Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor (followers of Chandraswami), American business tycoon Isaac Burton Tigrett (disciple of Satya Sai Baba) and countless others were attracted by the magnets and miracles of these god affiliates, though their quest for ‘power’ than ‘truth’ is by now more than exposed.

In 2011, now rape accused godman Asaram Bapu who has millions of followers (read voters) was state guest of seven Congress and BJP ruled states. Chief Ministers who have publicly hailed him include Chhattisgarh’s Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh and Prakash Singh Badal of Punjab. Such is the farce.

Why do we need refuge?

Psychological compulsions:

Post ‘great depression’ of 40’s, devastating World War II, gory militarism and socio-political upheaval of 60-70’s across the world and further intoxicated by globalisation generated robotic lifestyle, growing economic disparity, unemployment, debt, cuts, and political repression, today people have been terrified and socially alienated to such an extent that a pathetic sense of utmost insecurity and existential angst — anguish, forlornness, and despair — have shrouded the global psyche. The anxiety is so deep that it makes people feel ‘no direction home’ and disoriented in a vast Kafkaesque world where liberty is a statue, like a child left alone in a cruel, merciless island. Quantum of such anxiety is directly proportionate to the rise of modernity, and with the modernity being enough celebrated since last hundred years, humanity has already suffered a severe haemorrhage within. We can hear the child crying “here I am, will you send me an angel.” The shrill is getting louder.

Such bewildering condition always warrants a saviour to look up to, who would provide some certitude in a very uncertain world. The psychological dependence becomes so intense and overwhelming that the absence of a messiah pushes people to a massive existential turbulence, where drugs, alcoholism, and suicide become the only escape. Here comes the messiah to man’s rescue after massive failures. With exceptional manoeuvring capability to connect with the anxieties and fears of a victim through their theatrical, provocative oratory skills, these ‘spiritualists’ work “like opiates to people”. With their least concern and knowledge of the ancient spiritual and religious doctrines and traditions, to modern man they are no more than an efficient psychiatrist with good counselling and PR skills. Capitalising on the crisis of time they put on an image of celestial saviours in blood and flesh striving to stand by their followers in their thick and thin and thus gradually replace the traditional ‘isht devta' or one's personal/family god.

They are growing popular because unlike the invisible gods they are always accessible, within reach and their concerns revolve around the practical solutions for day to day living crisis of man. Their familiarity flourishes because the weak and the oppressed need to cling to someone who understands them and the wild world they are thrown in, who by combining the material and spiritual would reflect on the absurdity people confront in their everyday lives and try to sooth them, without alienating divine from the social.

With faith having an impact on healing, such healing qualities of these demigods are the reason behind people finding a refuge in them and happily tolerating the rampant sexuality of these anthropomorphic gods. In terms of classical psychoanalytic theory or Freudian psychology, the child-like believers, driven by an unconscious desire, share an incredibly strong psychosexual and emotional relationship with these modern gods as parents. Such identification with the godmen is the successful resolution of the Oedipus complex; his and her key psychological experience to developing a mature sexual role and identity. Also, eroticised faith like Hindu Tantric practices or the cult of the Shakti, has always been a big strand in several religious traditions and therefore culturally brought up the people to accept the perverse sexuality of these godmen and godwomen. The aberration is such that even some sects in India prescribe a woman to spend some time with a priest and become pregnant if she was not able to conceive.

Modern day popular film — Hollywood, Bollywood and other ’woods — is another phenomenon that reaffirms the people’s tolerance of the sexuality of godmen and women in their modern avatars. The sexuality is inviting. Since these stars are the icons people draw their moral lessons and social inspirations from, their presence as followers, portrayal of superheroes, and their sexuality easily identifies with the modern concept of godmen or women as role models. “This makes for a complex and ambivalent psycho space contemporary godmen and women inhabit and capitalise on.”

Cultural reasons:

Culture has a meaning in the universe of the faithful. To the followers, the modern gods are more of a gaudy character than the traditional philistine one. In a bid to survive the onslaught of capital, globalisation and free market, these godmen have already submitted and adapted to the contemporary neoliberal political system by betraying the archaic, severing all relations with the ancient spiritual traditions, and reconstructing spirituality on the basis of a popular culture. Unlike the older ones with behind-the-clouds personality, they do not indulge any more in just Platonic love with their subjects.

They hug (Mata Amritanandamayee), dance and do shopping in a pink mini-skirt or jeans in uptown malls (Radhe Maa), enjoy sex or going on a date in private luxury hotels and resorts (Sarathi Baba), are passionate about top-end fashion accessories, expensive jewelleries and luxury sedans (Dera Sacha Sauda's Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh) and also provide solace. Such vulgar display of wealth and least ascetic lavish lifestyle are what the upwardly mobile middle-class population aspires to. Therefore, instead of challenging the blatant economic exploitation and spiritual fallacy of these godmen and women, it is the dream modern men seek. While these real gods epitomise the aspirations of their generation, they argue, if devils can wear Prada, then why not the gods?

Establishing a cultural hegemony that helps to rule is another primary concern of these sundry godmen. For instance, in India, with the substantial Hindu majority support, these godmen profess to defy West by building a counter culture. On 14 February, 2011, Asaram's Yoga Vedanta Seva Samiti (YVSS), organised a Matri Pitri Poojan Divas ("mother-father worship day") in Rourkela, Orissa, and declared a crusade against the Valentine’s Day as a Western cultural invasion. Asaram's aspiration was supported by many prominent Indian politicians including President Pranab Mukherjee despite the fact that change in culture too is historical inevitability. In 2015, the Chhattisgarh government institutionalised the practice, and directed all schools to observe Matru-Pitru Diwas ("mother-father day") every year on 14 February. Such is the cultural regression.

These reasons are self explanatory and it is not unfounded to say: it’s not superstition but an urgent need for a solution to the massive rupture (economic, political and social) inside society that drives people to believe in anthropomorphic gods. Pained by the acute feeling of having been abandoned in a precarious world and in search of meaning, direction, and purpose, the need to believe far exceeds the need to expose spiritual debauchery and profligacy. Therefore the human gods will only sprout in ever increasing frequency till the existing theology and its modus operandi are vehemently challenged, not as a theoretical construct, but as a life practice. Days are not far when anthropomorphic gods as a conjecture of time will challenge the monolithic construct of elusive gods of heaven as well as the religions on earth. Such is the desperation. In the cacophony of such existential cries we must not discount the German radical poet Heinrich Heine’s warning:

I call'd the devil, and he came,
And with wonder his form did I closely scan;
He is not ugly, and is not lame,
But really a handsome and charming man.
A man in the prime of life is the devil,
Obliging, a man of the world, and civil;
A diplomatist too, well skill'd in debate,
He talks quite glibly of church and state.

Currently he is staggering under Sanskrit and Hegel.