By Asoka N.I. Ekanayaka –
Ever since the terrible slaughter of 259 people – nearly all of them Christians – on Easter Sunday 2019 the air has been thick with various analyses, inquiries, theories, speculations, accusations, and recriminations about who was responsible for the carnage and who must be held responsible for not preventing it. Whether posturing politicians, raging fanatical Buddhist monks, grouchy cardinals, self styled pundits or sections of the fake media and press, the tragedy has been a golden opportunity for many to grab the spotlight, indulge their pet aversions, pursue their private agendas and exercise their pompous egos in the public square. The tragedy itself was bad enough. However some of the farcical contradictions surrounding its aftermath have exposed the shallow hypocrisy, foolishness, and sanctimonious humbug of Sri Lankan society. Robert Knox may have had a point when he said something about the Sinhalese being a people with a low cunning which they mistake for high intelligence !
It began soon after the tragedy when in a fit of emotion with heart overriding head much too much was made of the Cardinal’s call for Christians not to retaliate. In doing so he was after all doing no more than affirming the most basic and elemental exhortations of the Lord Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God who in his historic Sermon on the Mount went much further in commanding his followers to actually “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, and if anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the other also”. So the Cardinal deserved no particular credit for not asking Roman Catholics to hit back ! He was only doing his Christian duty. To have said anything else would have been a gross betrayal of basic Christianity. It is a stupid immature society that ascribes the proportions of nobility to what is no more than plain duty.
At any rate the Cardinal’s call for restraint instantly propelled him into something of a national celebrity. Like his controversial mentor Pope Francis (better known for being culturally correct than Christian) the Cardinal too became the darling of the secular media where he rapidly established himself as a ‘holier than thou’ figure in relation to the universally despised politicians of the land whom he has castigated. In doing so the Cardinal found common cause with a population now fed up with the self serving manipulations of pompous parliamentarians many of whom along with a discredited President, have been enjoying the delicious perks pleasures and privileges of governance over the toiling masses!
The trouble is that amidst his broad self righteous denunciation of politicians the Cardinal himself was increasingly perceived as revealing his own political proclivities. After all was it not during his administration that the former President and his much feared brother of the previous criminal regime were given the privilege of an audience with the Pope at the Vatican Embassy ( although the Cardinal has denied that he had anything to do with it) ? So as the Cardinal increasingly sounded more like a politician than a priest, one cannot blame those who noticed in his overall reactions to the massacre and utterance a noticeably anti government slant. Otherwise rather than trashing around blaming all and sundry, the Cardinal’s initial reaction would have been to demand the immediate resignation of the responsible “subject Minister” namely the President under whose watch ( having stubbornly brought the police, defense, and law and order under his personal control ) 259 people were massacred. The absurd contradiction of the responsible Minister as President stubbornly carrying on regardless, obviously did not trouble the Cardinal’s Roman Catholic conscience. Maybe he had never heard of the celebrated case of India’s Lal Bahadur Shastri who in 1956 resigned as the Minister of Railways in Nehru’s cabinet taking moral responsibility for a rail disaster that killed over 140 people. On the other hand the Cardinal and the Roman Catholic Church have been vociferous about discovering the ‘true culprits’ for the security failure, in the process unfairly implicating nearly everybody by innuendo, with obscure references to some dark mystery surrounding the tragedy yet to be unraveled.
However the sad thing from a Christian point of view was the seeming failure of the Christian Church and its leadership in Sri Lanka to seize the golden opportunity presented by the massacre to enlighten a predominantly unbelieving population about the true meaning of Christianity, and so witness to the immeasurable riches of the Christian Gospel and its unique message of salvation to a suffering world. Now four months after the massacre millions of non Christians in the country are probably just as clueless about the meaning of Christianity as they were before ! Of course people appreciate the fact that Christians did not give vent to their anguish by blindly hitting out. But there is nothing uniquely Christian in that. Other religions too teach their followers to eschew violence in the face of provocation, and such restraint is not inconsistent with the morality of secular humanists who scoff at Christianity.
On the contrary the message that ought to have been conveyed by the Christian Church and its hierarchy to a population shocked and bewildered by the Easter day massacre is that Christians are no strangers to persecution. Throughout human history all over the world Christians have been tormented by horrendous persecution providing the backdrop to Tertullian ‘s triumphant affirmation “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Jesus himself had explicitly forewarned his disciples “they will lay their hand on you and persecute you ; you will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends; they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death and you will be hated by all nations for my sake; In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart I have overcome the world”. Moreover even centuries before Jesus was born the scriptures record God’s people crying out to Him “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” ! The slaughter continues to the present day though hardly reported by the mainstream media. It has been estimated that all over the world some 345 Christians are killed every month, while in the 50 worst affected countries 4136 were killed in 2017/18 alone , including more than 1000 slaughtered in central Nigeria in 2018.
So it is a serious omission that in the aftermath of the Easter massacre Cardinals bishops and priests in Sri Lanka largely failed to draw public attention to the global dimensions of Christian persecution and set the Sri Lankan carnage in context. And given this global context, rather than sounding like panic stricken politicians expressing nervous concerns about security and making angry demands for ever more inquiries into ‘whodunit’ and who should be held accountable for not preventing it – the Cardinal and Bishops ought to have been boldly proclaiming the great truth that from a Christian perspective the real human predicament is not the sufferings of this present life, but the universal curse of human sin that has alienated human beings from God fatally undermining their hopes of attaining to eternal life. In this situation they should have been telling a confused skeptical nation about the unique consolation and victory of the Christian Gospel which proclaims that for those who abandon idolatry and turn to God in humble repentance and saving faith whatever their earthly predicament (in the memorable words of the great apostle Paul) “ the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. So we do not lose heart. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal”
That is the great Christian affirmation of hope and optimism the Cardinal and Bishops of the Church ought to have been proclaiming from the roof tops to a nation engulfed by the gloom and depression of a terrible tragedy. Their failure to do this reflects their own ignorance of and callous disregard for the inalienable Christian Gospel. Indeed many Bishops and priests nowadays shrink from recognizing the supreme authority of scripture and have themselves become purveyors of a false Christianity of their own imagination rather than the authentic Christianity of the Bible. Rather than defend “the apostolic faith which God entrusted to his people once and for all” in the early Church, many have deviated from the sound doctrines of historic Christianity through imbibing the poison of a pernicious secular liberal theology and social gospel that has distorted their thinking and sapped them of spiritual power. All that is a sad story with a long and dispiriting history that is beyond the scope of this article.
But the devastating effects on the modern Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches are to be seen everywhere. As moral decay inexorably follows theological deviation the former is struggling with the embarrassing revelations of widespread sexual misconduct in the Church. Meanwhile the global Anglican Church is on the verge of fragmentation. All the razzle-dazzle media hype and pompous ceremony surrounding the current visitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the island belies the humbug of an apostate primate who has failed to take a stand against the abomination of homosexual marriage and has become irrelevant having alienated a majority of the global Anglican community that is now re-organizing as a powerful Global Anglican Fellowship (GAFCON) under the inspired leadership of hundreds of faithful Bishops.
However more specifically the pathetic inability of the Cardinal to witness to the great hope of Christianity in the midst of tragedy was predictable. His longstanding ‘religious pluralism’ conflicts with the plain Biblical teaching about the uniqueness of Christianity. His outrageous support for controversial anti conversion legislation in 2017 ran directly counter to the ‘great commission’ to evangelise the world that has been the centerpiece of historic Christianity. More recently the Cardinal’s sickening tender commiserations at the bedside of a fanatical Buddhist monk threatening the government by pretending to commit suicide by starvation, was a deplorable contradiction of Christianity where attempted suicide is a grave sin. The tragic events of April 19th may have enhanced the reputation of this Cardinal as a politician with a passion for social justice, but not a priest with a passion for the Biblical Gospel !
The depressing contradictions surrounding the response of the weak Christian establishment to the massacre, were only exceeded by the belligerent behaviour of the militant Buddhist establishment which was quick to exploit the tragedy in pursuance of its longstanding hatred of the Muslim community. The irony of the situation is that while Christians were exclusively targeted for execution it is the Buddhist establishment that has been running riot in the months since the massacre. Christians were singled out for massacre. Yet it is Buddhists who have been on the rampage with hate attacks on mosques, shops and private homes, perpetuating the farce of a cruel witch hunt against an innocent Muslim doctor, and forcing Muslim cabinet ministers to resign. Only Christian blood was shed by radical Islamists. But it was a 3rd party that sought to take mean advantage of the situation over the bodies of slain Christians in pursuance of a fanatical nationalist agenda. Ironically had Buddha been in Sri Lanka after the April massacre his dominant focus would have been “How best can Buddhists reach out to minorities with kindness and compassion after the terrible suffering they have experienced ?”. By contrast the dominant concern that saturated the media and evoked a ferocious reaction by Buddhist society has been “How dare anybody deny that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country” ? That is the level to which pure Buddhism has degenerated in Sri Lanka corrupted by Mahavamsa mythology !
Nor did the Buddhist hierarchy have the humility to exploit the wonderful example of non violent restraint by Christians in the face of extreme provocation, and draw an important lesson to a Buddhist population who would almost certainly have indulged in an orgy of bloodletting in retaliation had even a single Bo sapling or temple been attacked ! Such is the self righteous arrogance and sanctimonious humbug of a pompous corrupt Buddhist hierarchy who make a mockery of pure Buddhism but whose vanity all politicians feed by everywhere falling to their knees and worshipping them !
A final irony in the aftermath of the Easter massacre by radical Islamists is the way Sri Lankan society has conveniently forgotten the long and sordid history of Christian persecution in Sri Lanka by rowdy Buddhist monks and their goons encouraged by the indifference of Buddhist politicians, local authorities, and police. However hundreds of such incidents going back nearly 20 years have been well documented, and they have tarnished the reputation of the country in the eyes of the world. Indeed on the Sunday before the Easter Massacre there was a nasty incident in the Anuradhapura district where a worship service was badly disrupted involving forcible entry, stone throwing and fire crackers. It resulted in a unique public demonstration by many Christians outside the Kollupitiya Methodist Church just two days before the Easter Massacre.
One might have expected that the unspeakable brutality of the Easter Massacre might soften the heart of the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka and make it more sensitive to its own dismal record of Christian harassment. On the contrary it is possible that Buddhist attacks on Christians may only intensify, as Sinhala Buddhist attitudes to both ethnic and religious minorities continue to harden driven by the fanatical dogma that “Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhists country”, with the population meekly submitting to and all governments unable to control an ever expanding aggressive Buddhist establishment that is a law unto itself. In fact as recently as 4th August in a nasty incident a Christian theological student required treatment at the Wathupitiwala Base Hospital after being assaulted by villagers led by three Buddhist monks .
The Easter day massacre revealed the extremes of cruelty and monstrous evil to which human beings are capable of descending. At the same time the conflicts and contradictions following the tragedy have shown up the flaws and weaknesses permeating secular institutions, as well as the rot and decay that has infested religious institutions, causing true religion to perish amidst an overall decline in standards values and attitudes throughout society. In this situation it was left to the security services to deal professionally with the problem of terrorism which they have done.
However after the initial shock had worn away, the proper response should have been for the entire nation to engage in an act of earnest introspective soul searching, leading to national repentance for the entrenched sinful beliefs attitudes values and priorities that plague this land, condemning it to endless conflict instability and misery. The failure of secular and religious leaders to challenge the national conscience by calling for such a discipline reflects the false pride and arrogance of a foolish society that will not admit its fallen state and is consequently incapable of renewal.