Colombo Telegraph

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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