Religion and politics-expedient tensions
The continuing violence against minority religions is unacceptable and must stop. The most recent incidents against two vulnerable Christian communities in Hikkaduwa, currently receiving wide video coverage, contradicts the noble teachings of Buddhism and exposes our repeated claim to national integration.
The only encouraging sign in this tragic episode was the individual performance of the handful of police officers on duty; who were seen doing their utmost to restrain the mob and prevent violence, against extremely heavy odds. They need to be commended.
The wider, politicised application of law and order however reveals a more dangerously worrying pattern. This is the swing from swift action to frustrating inaction, determined by the corresponding benefit that accrues to the government. An elected government with claims to democratic governance is obliged to rectify this strategy in the interest of justice for all communities. If not, a house divided by its householders must inevitably fall.
A still more honourable way
But the primary restoration of law and order only, will not bring the inter-religious goodwill that most Sri Lankans long for. It will at most define boundaries and prevent violence. Law and order cannot build trust and cordial relations among the religions. This equally urgent role can only come from the religions. The festival of the Epiphany, celebrated on the 6th of January highlights one such essential thrust in this role.
The Festival of Light
Epiphany commemorates the harmonious convergence of light. The inner light which stirred the journey of the wise-men from the east easily merges with the anticipated light that Christ will offer the world. Since the nature of light is to intrinsically converge to dispel darkness, this encounter, points to the enlightening potential in our religions to collaborate for wider socio-religious harmony.
Consequently, when religious conflict spreads anxiety and desperation, we are to draw inspiration from and return to this shared spirituality of the east; the affirmation of light within our respective religion which dispels the insensitive and dehumanising aspects within us and then enables a celebration of light among all religions.
In practice this calls for an indispensible responsibility by those in positions of religious authority (beginning with the clergy) in multi religious societies like ours. This is to build friendships of trust across the religions through a sensitive redefinition of the light in ones’ own religion and respect for the sensitively redefined light in ones’ neighbours’ religion.
Refusal to do so will only polarise our religions further and consolidate the inevitable construction of exclusive world views and sectarian agendas, the convenient caricature or demonization of the other and the spread of more prejudice and violence.
An Inter-Religious Spirituality
When on the other hand such relationships grow and flourish, (as they are known to in some encouraging instances) there will always be a friend at hand with whom misunderstandings can be clarified and whose religion can never be ridiculed, undermined or violated. It is as the ethos created by thousands of such multiple friendships, spreads, that fear and suspicion will be dispelled, political interference marginalised, the cause of all true religion vindicated and all our people blessed.
And when tensions still erupt, as we must expect them to, it will be from such a collective inter religious spirituality that spontaneous and corresponding interventions will emerge to dialogue, clarify and heal.
With peace and Blessings to all