26 October, 2020

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BBS, Religious Fundamentalism, Barbarism And Democracy

By Hemantha Warnakulasuriya –

Hemantha Warnakulasuriya

In Ceylon, in the sixties, democracy was alive and kicking. The pre ’56 era produced an anglicised coterie of pukka sahibs aping the west. After the 1956 revolution, we became non-aligned but were now aping the communist block. Bandaranaike was a true democrat who ignored the venomous press, which was hell bent on destroying him politically. As an Oxonian, he knew the freedom of the press was sine quo non for the sustenance of a democratic society. He understood this and did not send goons or white vans after the journalists. The people were poor and less affluent but they enjoyed a greater freedom and were politically independent. The most important facet during the pre ‘56 era was that religion was considered a private matter. There were very few messiahs who preached that they could cure any illness through prayers to God, nor were there American missionaries and local pastors who said that prayer and only prayer could give the poor anything that they wanted. All Muslim women exposed their fair and lovely faces. Mrs. Gulamhussein, who married to a rich Muslim, was the fashion Guru and there was no Bodu Bala Sena roaming the streets and ordering the police to close down slaughter houses. We, in school, questioned our teacher, who taught Buddhism, about the fanciful story of Lord Sakara drawing a picture of a Hare on the moon. This freedom was such that the generation born after 1977 could hardly understand it.

One of the most important aspects of the freedom, was the freedom of speech. The freedom extended to discuss religious beliefs. There were no blasphemous laws or punishment for criticising religious beliefs. There was no Bodu Bala Sena or Hindu Rastriya Swayangsevak Sangha or Al Qaeda or Taliban. Jihad was unknown. Bible Societies and other fundamental Christian Churches were not in vogue as today. Religion was a private affair. Today, on every single TV and radio channel Bana is being preached by Sangha Super Stars. This was quite contrary to the Bana that was being preached in the sixties. The learned monks then dwelt with the most complex Buddhist tenets found in the Abhidamma.

Yet, students were not constrained or prohibited from arguing for and against the religious beliefs. At that time most people were taking the left or the middle path and the Marxist parties were very much in the forefront of the anti-imperialist struggle. The freedom to discuss and criticise religion was a freedom that we all had. Most of my friends were Marxists and attached dogmatic reverence to the teachings of Karl Marx whose centrist theory was the saying that Religion was the opiate of the masses. Politicians of the calibre of Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe, Pieter Keuneman, Dr. N.M. Perera and Dr. Colvin R. de Silva practiced the principals of Marxism and were rarely seen offering flowers at temples or attending Church masses. Even if they did it was wholly a private affair. There was a large section of the masses who believed that the final emancipation of mankind could be achieved only through Communism and all other organisations and even State and its organs would wither away.They opined that Marxist Lenninism was scientific political philosophy and could not be challenged as it had been proved by adopting the scientific method and all other dogmas political philosophy cannot last long as they were built on false and anti-scientific theories, whereas dialectic materialism was scientific and a proven political philosophy.

Dr. Abraham Kovoor and Dr. Carlo Fonseka initiated the Rationalist Movement in Sri Lanka. This movement openly criticised the religious beliefs prevalent in Sri Lanka and would openly criticise the institutions and the mythology of all religions. Meetings were held at Thurstan College, where Dr. Kovoor taught. The hall was filled to capacity and many had to be under tamarind trees and in cadjan huts in Thurstan College premises. The press devoted pages to these meetings and Abraham Kovoor himself wrote extensively on his researches. There was no Fatwa issued against Dr. Kovoor or Dr. Carlo Fonseka. Calling on good Muslims to kill anyone critical of Islam. There was no Bodu Bala Sena to disrupt Kovoor’s meetings when he questioned the validity of rebirth and Karma. Freedom to express opinions against any religion was accepted. Mr. Kovoor never had any security guards around him though he constantly berated all religious beliefs in Sri Lanka. He was a folk hero amongst young radical and intelligent youth who firmly believed in what Kovoor and other said. Some believed that religion was creation of the adults to keep young men in bondage and a conspiracy to hoodwink and cheat them to prevent their quest for knowledge and their search for the truth.

There were four main religions and Communism, which was against all religions, had taken a firm root in the minds of the youth. They argued that Religion retarded development progress and science. There was also a very strong movement against imperialism, racism and capitalism as opposed to communism and communist brotherhood. In small countries like Sri Lanka people were more sandwiched between the two major powers, one striving to build a religious empire and the other to build and Atheist and agnostic empire.

The people, in spite of their upbringing and conservative and religious backgrounds were ready to relinquish their beliefs based on superstitions and tradition to socialism based upon science.

I was firmly opposed to communism as my parents came from a fairly affluent background and as a youth, I found many arguments to support my parents convictions on whether it was politics or religion and their thinking.

When the mighty United Socialist Soviet Republic (USSR) collapsed, I remember being elated and the collapse of the Berlin Wall drove the final nail into the communist coffin. I was taught ,and believed that Communism was all evil as I was convinced that any political philosophy which alienates a person from Buddhism and the great teachings of Lord Buddha was the philosophy of the devil. USSR was an evil empire.

But today in hindsight, I feel sorry that the Communist Empire crumbled as we have become more and more fundamentalistic, chauvinist and our political thinking and philosophies are driven by race and religion. Today I hear no one criticising the teachings of Lord Buddha. Every single person I come across blindly follows their religion, be it Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Islam. There is no room for an independent thinker who thinks independently on which is right and wrong in what you believe in.

Then there is no Ayatollah Khomeni to issue Fatwa, our parents, elders, teachers and religious clergy, whether monks, priests and mullahas believe in what they pronounce without any independent thinking on whether what they say are true or otherwise. I feel that with the disappearance of the Soviet Republic the fundamental medieval beliefs are descending upon us. The dark gloomy clouds are descending upon and engulfing us. We are gradually receding to the dark ages of religious fundamentalism which is the most retrogating force against human civilisation, scientific advancement and democratic ideals and the pursuit of happiness. I could see no force that would stop this avalanche of religious bigotry and liberate us and our children from this pernicious beliefs. The scientific theories would give way to the message of God. We are doomed. The renaissance would recede like the initial wave of the Tsunami. The final onslaught would be so devastating that we will be mowed down by the most ambitious religious power in the world.

But We have the only silver lining that would stop our descent to religious fundamentalism or barbarism. Even in another 50 years the largest population in the world would be the Chinese. China is a communist country where pig-eating is staple. Chinese, will believe that religion is the opiate of the masses. The Chinese call their country the Middle Kingdom and it will finally prevent and stop these forces of retrogation from engulfing the world. The Chinese will not permit paedophilia and will respect a woman and she would have the same rights as a man.

No child would be married as an infant, in case the husband dies the child will not be widowed for life. Neither would you permit man to marry more than once without divorcing. You could be convicted and shot if you rape your own infant daughter and there is no law to pay blood money after doing so. The most fundamental aspect of civilisation is the manner in which the people treat their women and children. In communism the most important teaching is equality of women and the treatment of children. Ultimately when the whole world succumbs to religious fanaticism, the Chinese communist party if it remains so, would be the greatest bulwark against religious oppression.

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Latest comments

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    A rather interesting mix of nostalgia, bias and predictions. The writer attempts to include all sides of thinking without stating his own line of thought clearly and tends to conflate issues with his ambiguity. Despite these, I like his articulation style and form of expression though…

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      All the religious issues, nationality issues and economic issues will be settled, when the country settle on LAW and ORDER, The day police can do their duty impartially, Courts can take right decisions without any influence from higher authority and last but not least when [Edited out] Lawyers like Hemantha Warnakulasuriya not make the system abused by bringing bogus excuses preventing accused appearing in courts!!!

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    Am I really to believe that you are resting your hope on the Chinese system to save this world from the religious fanaticism that appears to engulf us?

    Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the statement you make in the final paragraph where you say “The most fundamental aspect of civilisation is the manner in which the people treat their women and children.” I do not believe it is the Chinese model alone that grants this basic human right!

    I am not as pessimistic as you are. I do believe these mad man theories engulfing religion, will be consumed by an enormous backlash, this time not by leftists or communists, but rationalists and humanists with a new ism yet to be born, something that has not seen a parallel or comparison.

    I believe fundamentalism will peak shortly as there is NO basis in which it can survive. It is animalistic to say the least, with no decency humanity or humility. It is all about arrogance, cynicism and intolerance. When injustice rules, there has to be a counterbalancing force that emerges, and it is a matter of time before it takes over and completely engulfs the insane.

    Let us all hope that all your sentiments can be regained in a shorter space of time that I believe it will take. It definitely will happen!

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    An amusing piece of writing. You make valid points about our public life going in reverse from 60s Marxism, rationalism and free expression to the current phase of chauvinism, fundamentalism and the lack of free expression. But you also made me laugh my ass off in the end by your antiquated knowledge of China [Update on China urgently required] and your prejudice converging when you write, “China is a communist country where pig-eating is staple.” This is a rare gem of unintended bathos and Freudian slip combined. The effect is so ludicrous I could visualize you as a slapstick comedian slipping on a banana peel. Pardon me for laughing, but it is not my intention to belittle you or the noble ideas you have expressed until you stepped on the banana peel.

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    Taking up your theme of being critical of Religions, picking out one at a time and tearing it apart using the base of “religion being the opiate of masses” is sorely needed again.

    I am a firm believer that for one to strengthen one’s own beliefs, one must face criticism standing up, not taking up arms. One must be able to fight with words, without using one’s cool. It is this that I see less of and passions inflamed in the name of religion to me is the worst of a human and the worst ambassador for the religion being defended!

    Let us go back to basics of free speech for a start, where we do not have to offend in a nasty way, just talk rationally and ask the believer to rationally explain his belief, if he is able to or resort to the word faith when unable!

    We rarely discuss such matters today, escaping from offending lest we be boxed into a corner, unnecessarily.

    It is time we take up the cudgels of war without fear and say what we believe in as polite a way as possible. Sometimes it is the words used, while being very proper, nevertheless pierces the heart in a way that no blow to the body can.

    I long for the day I can get up on a public square and speak my mind, and have people come up to me and say. Sir I beg to differ on this and that point, and why they do in fact believe to the contrary. Wouldn’t that be the day I will be proud to call myself a Sri Lankan, and not till then! We would then have finally come of age.

    Blasphemy is man made mind you, the Gods differ and do not hold it against you, only man! Its ARTIFICIAL. Blaspheme all you want, out of earshot lest you hurt a poor man’s feelings! After all we don’t want to willfully hurt anyone do we?

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    The failure of capitalism has driven people to seek solace in the religons. Many have become atheist or agnostic. Communism is symbolised by state regimentation and dictatorship.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union heralded the rejection of the system by the people of those countries. China has come a long way from the era of Mao and his red book. Gradually it is abandoning the grass roots socialist values and embracing commercial and capitalist economic theories. Chinese people are asking for more freedom and human rights.

    All these systems depend on the people who drive them. There is no solution for corruption and autocracy which plagues both the capitalist and communist systems other than to improve the minds and characters of the human being. This is what religon is supposed to achieve.

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    Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke and regime change in Sri Lanka [Edited out]

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

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    Marx lived in Europe and he understood that the religious establishment was hand in hand with the ruling classes oppressed the workers. Religion always limited our thinking . On the hand scientific advancement gradually broke down many myths created by religions.

    USSR initially practiced an anti religion ideological movement. However at the end of USSR many people were in search of spiritual revival through religion or faith.

    PRC(China) government does not encourage religion and religious establishments.

    Liberals are more-fully influenced by scientific advancement.For them Charles Darwin is greater that Moses or “God”. As you know Darwin never believed in rebirth. For liberals Galileo and Copernicus are greater than various authors who wrote various books in the Bible.

    Both Sidadartha Gauthama and Jesus were humans. There are no gods in the world . There is no heaven or hell. The biggest tragedy of human history is that religious establishments have taken the monopoly of ” virtue” . Lots of traditions have been evolved and some have become symbols. Can a tooth of a man help any person in this world? it is only a part of a dead body. Yet a tradition has been evolved. People love traditions and festivals evolved with these traditions.

    Buddhism too has a philosophy. Buddha analysed the mind of the humans.

    He analysed the nature of his society. He was an idealist. He did not have a knowledge of mathematics and science. Greek philosophers laid foundation to the present scientific thinking and development.

    Sri Lankan are a population that uses western technology and its products. the mind set of average Sri Lankan is occupied by myths. They believe in astrology, sorcery, gods and boothayas, auspicious time.Even there are men learned science do not apply scientific theories day to day life.

    In a such a situation a group of religious fanatics can tempt emotions in the minds of the devotees. What we liberals should do is to propagate more vigorously against all type religious myths and organizations.

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    A thought provoking article.As you said in sixties we never saw black clad ladies any where in Srilanka.It was a tragedy to see that women are not treated like men in certain religious practices in the world.

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      But children are abused, girls are raped, monks are caught for abusing children and driving under the influence of liquor! Yes,! yes! you treat your women equally by sending them abroad to earn foreign currency! Here husband is abusing own child and wife there is having a different taste with boys! Girls are with old men..

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      Yes yes where on earh 80 year old dying old kogers get married to girls of 15-16 just ataiend puberty against their wishes.I resently saw an article written by a doctor who works for judicary how a muslim girld fled her home to escape from her father, due to his sexsual advances towards his daughter.Not only in Srilanka men like animals live every where.

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        What about this? The chief priest of London Thames Vihara abused a 9 year old girl and sent to prison for 7 years by the England Court. He was running a orphanage in Sri Lanka and one in England!. This is 9 years old little girl read CT August 31, 2012. See the picture there!

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          One mor to you Lion! Very recently, A man set fire to his own wife and the child to run away with his illegal love. Your party politician raped a 12 year girl in Akuressa! This all happened here in Sri Lanka. Not in the space!

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    WHAT IS THE RESPONSE TO MY ARGUMENTS BELOW FROM Mr WARNAKULASURIYA P.C.
    TO CONSTITUTIONALITY OF APPOINTMENT OF PCs?

    For over 10 years I have written to the press about the CONSTITUTIONAL ANOMALY regarding PRESIDENT’S COUNSEL. Other professionals are discriminated against by Lawyers (about 14000) being entitled to be appointed PRESIDENT’S COUNSEL.

    Why aren’t there PRESIDENT’S DOCTORS, ACCOUNTANTS, PHYSICISTS, CHEMISTS SURVEYORS, ECONOMISTS, BOTANISTS,ZOOLOGISTS,ENGINEERS, ARCHITECTS ???

    I QUOTE BELOW
    Chapter VII 33. cc under which the Presidents Counsel are appointed. This provision is in conflict with Chapter III 12 .(2) Right to equality AND Chapter
    VI 26 (6)

    CHAPTER III – FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS

    Right to equality.
    12. (1) All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.
    (2) No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds:

    CHAPTER VI – DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY AND FUNDAMENTAL DUTIES
    Directive Principles of State Policy.
    27. (1) The Directive Principles of State Policy herein contained shall guide Parliament, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers in the enactment of laws and the governance of Sri Lanka for the establishment of a just and free society.
    (2) The State is pledged to establish in Sri Lanka a democratic socialist society, the objectives of which include –
    (6) The State shall ensure equality of opportunity to citizens, so that no citizen shall suffer any disability on the ground of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion or occupation.

    CHAPTER VII – THE EXECUTIVE
    The President of the Republic

    Powers and functions of the President.
    33. In addition to the powers and functions expressly conferred on or assigned to him by the Constitution or by any written law whether enacted before or after the commencement of the Constitution, the President shall have the power –
    17[(cc) to appoint as President’s Counsel, attorneys-at-law who have reached eminence in the profession and have maintained high standards of conduct and professional rectitude. Every President’s Counsel appointed under this paragraph shall be entitled to all privileges as were hitherto enjoyed by a Queen’s Counsel

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      Just to let you know that most lawyers are sharks and have no principles. I do not care whether they have white wigs or black wigs.
      Leela

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        Just accusing them all being shark cant bring us further. People have to fight against them. Then only things could get its way better for the folks :)

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    The writer states “Dr. Abraham Kovoor (AT) and Dr. Carlo Fonseka initiated the Rationalist Movement in Sri Lanka.” This is totally false and there are other similar exaggerations and hyperbole. I was there from the very inception in 1961, initiating fundamental amendments to the constitution that were supported by Mr Kottegoda who later became the chairman of the Peoples Bank. Lawyer Mervin Cassie Chety the draftsman of this constitution opposed it. Carlo Fonseka was never there at this time and came for these meetings at least 2 to 3 years later after AT, Carlo and I had an encounter at a British Council organised meeting on a book pertaining to extrapolation of the theory evolution into the so-called spiritual realm written by a French catholic priest named Tiel Hart De Chadan not quite sure of the correct spelling.

    Even before AT there was a Rationalist Movement there. It was previously known as the Rationalists Association of Ceylon (RAC). AT told me that he had taken it upon himself and renamed RAC to it as Ceylon Rationalists Association (CRA) or vice versa and revamped it with a new constitutional restart. I first encountered AT in 1955 as the under 14 disciplinarian at Thurston College peeling off my skin on the left arm with a twisted prolonged pinch (which he did not want to remember or recall in later years) for fooling a fellow student that he was going change his religion to become the class monitor.

    From 1961 onwards I had spent many hours alone with AT and as well as his wife as I too lived in the vicinity of his house. I have attended almost all those monthly meetings from the very 1st meeting in 61 to 81 with a short break from Aug 78 to Dec 78 when I was in Italy. During this time AT once put a notice in the Daily News asking the members to come to the Kelaniya temple for fire walking demonstration by some CRA members to prove that there was nothing divine about it and that there was an art to it. AT also told me then that Carlo too was coming to persuade me to join them but I managed to get him to cancel and withdraw the notice based on unforseen legal consequences as well as potential violence and other horrendous outcomes.

    Unless these took place after I had left them for good but that too is doubtful as I remember AT with tears in his eyes stating at one of the monthly meeting that due to the advanced state of his prostate cancer he would not be there the next year around the same time and just as he had anticipated he did pass away. I suspect Mervin Cassie Chety and Carlo Fonseka whom AT often tendentiously wanted to take his place on his demise followed as presidents.

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    It’s the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Not United.

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    Every heart and mind need Religion since if a murderer kill more than one human being cannot be punished except the killer alone in this world.So he or she will not satisfy the rule set by man and the punishment defined by man. GOD and the religion cannot be simply understood unless he/she correctly approach the creator.

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