23 June, 2024


Moral Crisis Proving More Toxic Than The Economic Crisis!

By Mohamed Harees –

Lukman Harees

You cannot make men good by law’ ~ C.S. Lewis

Sri Lanka is already facing an economic crisis precipitated by gross mismanagement, chronic corruption, nepotism and abuse of power in the hands of few elite families and their cronies. Little do people realise that the ‘stability’ boasted about the political leadership after the dire situation which prevailed in early to mid-2022, is merely a myth or a ‘calm before storm’. Amidst this, even out-shadowing the economic meltdown, has been the moral crisis and corrupted lifestyles even among those ‘fences who are supposed to guard the crops’, which will have a far extensive damage to the social fabric and soul of the nation – the moral convulsion and crisis, with levels of trust in our institutions, in our politics, and in one another— in precipitous decline. 

The crisis of moral authority today is accompanied by a crisis of theological authority. The Internet has introduced a new level of visibility to areas of our social life, exposing certain uncomfortable realities. Many social media exposures revealed corruption and abuse as well as sexual abuses within religious institutions too, provoking a reaction of distrust and a loss of these institutions’ effective authority. This The crisis of theological authority has affected the leadership of  all major religions. In the Sri Lankan context, some embarrassing instances of sexual abuse in Buddhist temples; few involving even prominent monks, came to light in the recent past. Many were offended that reporting such incidents brings the religion to disrepute. 

One of the reasons pointed out even by the Buddhist writers for the prevalence of these abuses, has been the lack of accountability and oversight within the monastic community. Society generally chooses to remain silent as many monks and teachers are revered and respected figures in Sri Lankan society, and as a result, such actions may go unquestioned or unreported. Greed leads to other vices, including sexual abuse. The closed system governed by fear perpetuates the culture of impunity, allowing paedophiles such rogue monks to thrive. 

In a scathing editorial published in the Bangkok Post newspaper on Wednesday, veteran Thai journalist Sanitsuda Ekachai lamented that reports of sexual misconduct among Thailand’s Buddhist monastics have become so frequent as to be almost commonplace. She observed that without sincere and far-reaching reforms and greater transparency in the way monastic communities are governed, Buddhist temples would remain breeding grounds for abuse and could no longer be considered safe sanctuaries of spiritual refuge for the nation’s children. In her editorial, Sanitsuda decries the institutional complacency and complicity that has allowed such a culture of abuse to fester unremedied, writing: The system is sick. Seriously sick. Yet the clergy keeps turning a blind eye to these heinous crimes which are happening right under their noses to protect their image. Sri Lanka is no different.

Public institutions and the Sri Lankan social order crumbled and were revealed as more untrustworthy still. The nation had many historic opportunities and chances, in crisis, to pull together as a nation and build trust; but did not. That has left this country a broken, alienated society caught in a distrust doom loop. Finally, they threaten to undermine the legitimacy of our democracy and incite a vicious national conflagration that has left us a charred and shattered nation. The ultimate victims are our future progeny.

US Author Jonathan Smucker, who has spent two decades in organizing within grassroots social justice movements and organizations in the US calls this moral crisis quite poignantly, in his book ‘Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals’, as ‘as a ‘crisis of community’! He says in his book, “We face a deep moral crisis, which we might also describe as a ‘crisis of community.’ Alongside increasing economic stratification and the continuation of an adaptive racism, a ‘morality’ of individualism has grown more and more severe. With this deadly combination, we have been losing the spirit that’s needed to hold any community or any nation together: a sense of responsibility for each other. In the long term no community can survive when greed and irresponsibility are incentivized instead of reined in. This crisis point to a decision we have to make as a society: Do we want to live in a nation that is defined by inclusionary, solidaristic community values, or one that is defined by the moralistically bankrupt values of Wall Street and the bigoted, exclusionary “solidarity” of reactionaries?”

The quote attributed to Dante Alighieri, ‘Darkest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality’ are both poignant and hard-hitting. It articulates an important concept about moral responsibility and societal engagement. It serves as a call to arms, a moral imperative that challenges us to take a stand when faced with moral crises or injustices. The underlying message is that inaction, indifference, or neutrality during such times is as damaging, if not more so, than the act of injustice itself. It’s a critique of passivity, suggesting that by choosing not to make a choice, you are, in fact, making one – and it’s not on the side of righteousness. The ‘darkest places in hell’ metaphorically represent the severe consequences for those who choose to remain silent, underlining the seriousness and importance of being vocal and active participants in societal issues. It underscores the belief that each individual has a role to play in shaping society, and we should not shirk from these responsibilities, especially in challenging times.

The worst offender responsible for the moral crisis has been the political and administrative establishment whose corrupt, unjust and authoritarian rule and governance have led the steep decline of trust and confidence in the State Institutions. “A government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.”— Ayn Rand. In a world “where nationalistic populism tears apart global cooperation, where civility is sacrificed by the banality of self-interest and the common good is trampled underfoot, where individuals are stripped of their dignity, and their identities are manipulated, it raises significant questions about the fading moral law, the failures of political and economic systems, and the inability of  public institutions to uphold basic rights and social justice.

Today, in conflicts, ethnicity, religion, and other identities play key roles. The modern-day wars are waged not only in battlefields but also in civilian locations including schools and hospitals. We’re in a moral crisis and the very soul of the ‘so-called democracy is imploding, with even religious leaders either becoming of a problem rather than the solution. One of the other evils raising its head has been the re- emergence of the evil of racism and bigotry. Noted characters among the rogue sections of the Maha Sangha, belonging to the Rajapaksa Nikaya as well as their goons like Dan Prasad etc. The recent publication titled, ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday Massacre’ by Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, with many untruths and incriminating statements being made therein, is helping to raise the ugly head of Anti-Muslim hatred once again. Some further ugly incidents are also taking place in the N-E areas of Sri Lanka pitting both Sinhalese and Tamils involving religious symbols. The world does not anyway work the way we have been led to believe – by our mainstream media, by our politicians, by our corporations, by our financial institutions, by our military, by our schools. We are bombarded daily with so much misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, half-truths, and outright lies, that it takes a persistent individual to sort through the fog of information to find the truth. 

The resurgence of ethno-nationalism and identity politics in recent times,  producing  fresh tensions and fault lines is truly regrettable. Didn’t the people of all communities at the grassroot levels show last year that they can stand together for common causes, when they booted out the powerful Gota regime? The racist agenda on which most of them then voted for their ‘Weda Karana Wiruwaa’ led to those racist rulers being strangled in their own yard. Rulers do not like united populace lining up against them. In this context, because democracy is what citizens run together, people must extirpate their tendencies to do it all alone based on their  personal conceptions of the good—they must listen to one another as much as talk about their affectations and quandaries.

Sorting out the moral crisis is the collective responsibility of the people as otherwise, ultimately it will be the future progeny who will be the victims. Collective protests against what is undesirable are what ultimately bring about changes. They are signals that We are unhappy, and we won’t put up with things the way they are.” But for that to work, the “We won’t put up with it” part has to be credible. Aragalaya despite its overall effectiveness in bringing about appreciable changes in people’s mentality, also did not lead to expected political changes both in culture and administration. In fact, as seen then, large protests sometimes lack such credibility with political vested interests hijacking the cause. But protesting ,we must! Society must become better at protesting. We must learn from previous protest movements’ successes and failures, from their tactics and methods and from their determination to be inclusive. 

Protest should always be seen as a legitimate avenue towards policy change and influence, and one that must therefore professionalize to make politics more reflective of societies’ wants, needs and demands. As Elie Wiesel said, ‘there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”. Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence. So, let’s raise our voice against this increasing moral convulsion and breakdown in society, like we stood against the economic butchers, injustice and social injustice! We must; for even a single whisper can be quite a disturbance when the rest of the audience is silent. We must stand up and protest not just because it’s the right thing to do; we do so also to protect ourselves with the best tools we have at our disposal. Our protests convey a vital message to both government and its officials that peoples’ lives matter’; our moral codes and systems do need to be protected. 

Education in the country is placing emphasis on our youth securing an occupation and neglecting the affective domain of behaviour and ‘live and let live’ approach! Education is producing intelligent rogues. Youth must be helped to acquire religious principles and apply to moral situations. Have we lost sight of the primacy of human ends? Governments still push for economic growth and technological advances, but many are now asking: economic growth for what, technology for what? Even professionals are caught up in the same inversion of human priorities. Government, professionals, educationists, religious leadership and social activists – all need to take on social responsibilities and a collective civic voice, and play their part in a moral regeneration of society.

As citizens, each of us can take steps to rebuild trust within our communities. We can also demand that the government politicians and legislators we support with our votes and money, and the businesses we patronize, and the religious leadership we respect, behave in ways that contribute to social trust and help to sort out the moral mess the nation is in. Connected as never before as one human family beyond racial or religious divisions, we have a chance to change the course of history, if only we join hands!

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Latest comments

  • 3

    “Terrorism” is word discovered to cover up the Crimes that was planned, organised and implemented by Power hungry politics, Religious Fundamentalism and Racism. This is a common philosophy practiced in many countries now. Sri Lanka took first place in this philosophy. The Book by Gunaratna is to cover up the Easter Bombing. The West which uses “Terrorism” to target those countries who do not come under their control. Easter Bombing is planned to tell the world that Muslims in Sri Lanka are “Terrorist”. The Buddhist Fundamentalism started this work after eliminating Tamils in 2009 and achieved that goal in 2019.

    • 1

      Words may be coined for a purpose. Discovered for a purpose?

  • 4

    Although what the writer says is credible, the minority lament is also audible. It seems hard for him to let go of his ethnic identity when writing. A truly mainstream thinking “Sri Lankan” would not exhibit this.

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