24 July, 2024

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Psychology Of The Religiously Offended

By Leonard Jayawardena –

Leonard Jayawardena

At one time, Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism, was travelling on the highway between Rajagaha and Nalanda, two cities in India, in the company of a large number of monks with a character called Suppiya, a “wanderer,” following closely behind with his student Brahmadatta. While on the way, the former was heard to speak against the “three jewels,” viz., the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sanga, while the latter was heard to speak in praise of the same. The duo continued in the same vein, contradicting each other, even at the place they stayed the night, where Siddhartha and his devotees also stayed.

At dawn this became the topic of conversation among the devotees of Siddhartha, who, when he joined them, told them

“Do not resent those who speak against the three Jewels…. If anyone [does], on account of that you should not feel resentful, nor dejected, nor discontented in your heart.”

“O bhikshus, if you were to be angry or offended when anyone were to speak against me or against the Dharma, or against the Sangha, it would only be an obstacle for you [in terms of your own enlightenment?] … [and then] would you be able to know whether what they said is well spoken or ill-spoken?”

This story is reported in the Brahmajala Sutta, the first sutta in the Digha Nikaya (long discourses of the Buddha).

Siddhartha’s words are unambiguous. He clearly stood for tolerance of expression of views adverse to himself and his religion, so the question arises, Why then do so many professed followers of Siddhartha take offence at words perceived as being insults or attacks against “the three jewels,” the latest cases being Jerome Fernando and Nathasha Edirisooriya, the former a Christian preacher and the latter a stand-up comedienne, whose utterences were deemed insulting to their religion and hurtful to their religious feelings?

Jesus, the founder of Christianity, took things to another level by enduring not only insults against himself but also death on a cross, which were preceded by a flogging and beating (Matthew 27:26-31 and para.), all of which ultimately resulted from giving “offence” to the religious authorities of his day. He repeatedly told his followers to be prepared to face persecution on account of him and his religion. He that endured to the end would be saved (Matthew 2413).

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth (a Greek city), “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13).

Many verses of like tenor could be cited from the New Testament. Why then do the local members of the Roman Catholic Church, whose head claims to be “the Vicar of Christ on earth,” take offence at mere words—non-abusive at that—and wish to see the “offenders” punished? (We shall pass over the ugly history of the Catholic Church in which unspeakable atrocities were committed by it for centuries in the name of religion even with theological justications for it.)

In Islam blasphemy consists of speaking against Allah, his prophet and revered leaders and there are laws to cover that but Jerome’s relatively short remarks on Islam, part truth and part mirepresentation, do not rise to the level of blasphemy. Yet Muslims, too, appeared to be disturbed by his remarks.

It is said that Hindus don’t believe that there are true religions and false religions. All religions are said to be various paths towards god. Only requirement of a person seeking god is sincerity and purity. There are no blasphemy laws in Hinduism. Yet among the number of those offended are Hindus.

Unlike the Bible, the scriptures of Christianity and Judaism (Old Testament only), which, though large, can still be held in one hand, the scriptures of Buddhism, the Tripitaka, would fill a fair-sized book shelf. Hence the average Buddhist may be forgiven for not knowing the story reported in the Brahmajala Sutta and it is safe to say that not many sermons would have been preached on this story. But haven’t they heard umpteenth times about the compassion of the Buddha? Indeed, is not Sri Lanka called by some “the Land of the Compassionate One”?

Those professed Christians who have read the Bible from cover to cover are very few and far between, yet there can be hardly any professing Christian who has not heard Jesus’ words “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39).

Why then are so many still offended?

My observation is that, to those offended by religious remarks, religion is not so much a set of beliefs and moral precepts to be intellectually grasped, acted upon and order one’s life by as something that is bound up with and defines one’s identity like race. It ties them to a certain community and culture. Their religion, whatever it is, is highly externalised and devoid of the spirit of true religion (moral living, doing good, etc.). They may have been conditioned to believe that theirs is the true religion, at least the most superior, but when challenged they would evince no desire to study and research with a view to proving or disproving anything. Hence they are not genuine seekers of truth. The laymen among them are content simply to rely on authority (the pope, priests, monks, etc.). They cherish the prejudices handed down from generation to generation and cling to them tenaciously.

People like these are also “born” into a particular religion and also don’t convert to another, for only people serious about religion convert to another religion. Indeed it is a fact that the preponderant majority of professed adherents of the different religions in this country and elsewhere in the world were “born and reared” in their religion and brainwashed in its beliefs from childhood. Such people are not what they are by conviction. They did not arrive at their religious beliefs by a process of study and comparison with alternatives. When this mentality and attitude is combined with low education and low social class, you have the sort of people who go on religious riots. In one word it is tribalism.

People like this take any perceived insult to their religion like an insult to their kith and kin, race/community or even themselves. They have no intellectual weapons to take up to counter the criticism for they have none. Low spirituality, stupidity, mental immaturity, a deep sense of insecurity about their own religion characterise them. They are typically possessed of a low or mediocre intellect and questionable intellectual and moral integrity. To them merely presenting an alternative point of view that conflicts with their cherished beliefs, however dimly understood, constitutes an insult.

Their lack of true spirituality and hypocrisy goes hand in hand with pseudo-piety, displaying public outrage over perceived insults against religion being one manifestation of such pseudo-piety. A good example of this was seen in the case a certain government minister bearing the sobriquet “Raththaran,” who has been questioned and charged in the past with possessing a vast amount of undeclared and illegally obtained wealth. He said in Parliament recently that those who insulted religion should be executed by impalement (ula thianne ona).

Mention was made above that most adherents of a religion are born into it and brainwashed in it from childhood (the child is taken to temple, church, etc. and taught to observe its rituals, etc.). This is actually a form of child abuse. If the religious instruction/upbringing that a child receives is not accompanied by inculcation of respect for others’ freedom of speech and expression in religious matters and tolerance of religious criticism, whatever its intellectual level, such a child is well on its way to being a potential religious snowflake. In that case it is better for society to bring up children in a secular way than in a religion.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    2

    “Jesus, the founder of Christianity, took things to another level by enduring not only insults against himself but also death on a cross,”
    Is Mr. LJ insinuating that the well-fed “mendicants” protesting against Jerome and Natasha should offer themselves to be crucified? In that case, the crosses ought to be made of reinforced concrete to avoid collapse under the weight of the crucified.

    • 1
      7

      “Is Mr. LJ insinuating that the well-fed “mendicants” protesting against….”

      😊

    • 7
      2

      LJ,
      “A good example of this was seen in the case a certain government minister bearing the sobriquet “Raththaran”
      Raththaran is not a minister, though he has been publicly upset about it recently. Yes, it is the dumb voters who elect these vermin, the same ones who object to “insults”.

      • 2
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        OC:

        Thanks for the correction. He is only an MP now.

  • 3
    2

    A prophet is someone with special visions, and presntation is for healing people but what was said Is hurting words were said and then apologies.

    A comedian is to make people laugh why it hated the people.

    Are they not all actors playing parts in another person’s play

    All religion tells what to do and not to do.

  • 12
    2

    Several of my Sinhala friends in UK have been sharing messages on social media expressing outrage at comedian Natasha’s jokes, which, I would expect from old ladies in the village, not ‘educated’ ex-pats enjoying free speech in a developed country. Such are the sensitive Sinhala Buddhists that a mere contradiction to the popular beliefs that it is considered as insulting, & now, punishable by law. In school, we were taught amazing things, from the Buddha’s birth until his death, & as children, we believed without question but as we grew older, realisation dawned that such events were obviously folklore, yet, there was no necessity to disprove the myths & we went along with it. Accordingly, even the fact that Buddha visited Sri Lanka can be questioned as he is supposed to have travelled ‘by air’. Be as it may, it’s up to the individual to believe or disbelieve, & those who are obsessed can challenge disbelievers & prove the facts as correct but suppressing free thinking in a democracy is an indication of the state of mind of those citizens & their gullibility.
    Cont.

  • 12
    2

    Cont
    The reference by the author to the violent comments of a former petty thief who should be rotting in jail, instead, a Minister with enormous wealth, shows the absurdity, if not, the stupidity, of our voters. It is those who nominated this uneducated punk as a candidate for Parliament who should be questioned by the voters. The average public is happy to tolerate the hypocrisy of a known criminal but enraged by a reference to Buddha as ‘Suddodhana’s kid’ by a comedian. ‘Psychology Of The Religiously Offended’ – just plain ignorance & hypocrisy

    • 10
      2

      Raj UK, absolutely right. ” Immoral SB racists can fool Lankans all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but can they fool not so silly / stupid / sorry people, all of the time ?????”. Look who is in the forefront talking about saving Buddhism???? criminals, murders, master minds, corrupt, pseudos , drug peddlers, pogrom organizers, white van drivers, food scam scums, money launderers, underworld Mafia members, Theras who pressured to pardon a sentenced murderer (park city), ……………………

      • 4
        0

        Gauthama Buddha, is a great philosopher and teacher. We are fortunate to have had such great person, among us. His teachings are so practical and realistic, even today attracting many, around the world. But what is practiced by our SB in Pseudo Buddhism. No one blatantly disrespect his teachings , the way our SB do and they are a disgrace to Buddhism.

  • 4
    1

    ” Jerome’s relatively short remarks on Islam, part truth and part mirepresentation,”
    Back to defending Prophet Jerome?
    Even a hardened atheist will be more sensitive than Jerome in his comments on the faiths of people

    • 7
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      Hello SJ and Raj-UK,
      As a child in the sixties we watched TV shows by an Irish comedian Dave Allen. He was a self-confessed atheist at the age of 4 (one year before me). His comedy on the Catholic religion (and any other subject) was brilliant and got up the noses of the Holy Willies of many religions. Now the churches in Scotland have very little power -if any. To most young people (and not so young) in Scotland religion is irrelevant. Sri Lanka needs its own Dave Allen. http://www.bhamcomfest.co.uk/08daveallen
      We knew from our Catholic friends, long before the authorities took legal action, of the abuses perpetrated by the nuns in Nazareth House, Aberdeen. Many of the crimes covered up by the Catholic Church in Ireland have also come to light and are being dealt with.
      To paraphrase Dave Allen “May your gods go with you”
      Best Regards

      • 1
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        LS
        You found company in DA you think.
        Dave Allen was a humorist and satirist. Such categories short change viewers on truth, with no harm intended.
        I wonder if you are a humorist or satirist, but with serious doubt.

      • 3
        1

        LankaScot
        Comedians of the 60s were a little before my time but I am sure many in SL have enjoyed more recent ‘Father Ted’ & other sitcoms where the church, clergy & nuns, even the Pope & God, have been the source of light hearted fun. Some may have also heard of ‘the Mary with the cherry’ reference but hurtful it may be to devoted Christians, it is not considered offensive, just crude.

        Sensitive Buddhists refer to severe punishments by Muslim extremists on those who offend their religion & fail to see that they themselves fall into that category, at least, in a literal sense. Extreme Islamic nations may have advanced economically due their immense wealth from oil but backward in other areas of social wellbeing & justice, & supporting of religious extremism makes SL backwards as well. Considering the hypocrisy (for example, chanting of the 5 precepts every morning without any intention of living by them) & belief in gods to the extent of asking favors & divine intervention, contrary to Buddhist philosophy, SL is certainly a backward nation, exploited by despicable politicians & their cronies

    • 3
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      “Back to defending Prophet Jerome?
      Even a hardened atheist will be more sensitive than Jerome in his comments on the faiths of people.”

      I was not defending what Jerome said in this sermon, which is a mixture of truth and error, but his RIGHT to say it. Jerome is certainly not the sharpest tool in the shed and his audience did not consist of intellectuals. What is “sensitive” is a subjective matter and perhaps you could give us an illustration to show how Jerome, given his knowledge, could have made his statements to that particular audience more “sensitively.”

      “Even a hardened atheist will be more sensitive than Jerome…”? You do live in a little box, don’t you? Are you cut off from access to the internet, books, etc.?

      I can’t remember any now, but I think even some of the snooty remarks you have made about religious beliefs that you don’t subscribe to in your past comments in CT over the years may qualify as not being very “sensitive” by your own standards.

  • 5
    1

    LJ

    Your opening statement “at one time Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism ….. in the company of a large number of monks and a character named Suppiya” to me smacks of ignorance and blatant disrespect for a spiritual leader venerated by millions of persons world over- not for miracles or healing powers, but as a great philosopher and teacher. Prince Siddhartha – referred to as the Gauthama Buddha after enlightenment, was not the founder of anything. The followers of his path to the liberation came to be known as Buddhists after his passing.

    • 2
      2

      Pundit:

      “Your opening statement ‘at one time Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism ….. in the company of a large number of monks and a character named Suppiya’ to me smacks of ignorance and blatant disrespect for a spiritual leader venerated by millions….”

      If you think I disrespected Siddhartha by referring to him by that name, you have to at least concede that I am an equal-opportunity disrespecter of spiritual leaders because throughout the article I always referred to Jesus, who I consider to be greater than Siddhartha, by that name. I didn’t even once use his title “Christ,” corresponding to Siddhartha’s “Buddha.”
      Is this offense at not using the expected titles another manifestation of the pseudo-piety I was talking about in the article?

      There is no error in describing Siddhartha as the founder of Buddhism. Encyclopedia Britannica, among many others, describing him so. Why is it called Buddhism and why do you call yourself a Buddhist? Perhaps it’s time to revise your pseudonym to “Bucka Pundit”?

      By the way, if the cap fits, by all means put it on.

      • 1
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        As mentioned above, both “Buddha” and “Christ” are titles. The former because of the intelligence and supreme knowledge that Siddhartha is said to have possessed due to the understanding of the four noble truths. The latter because Jesus is said in the Bible to have been anointed (which is what “Christ,” from the Greek word “Christos,” means), that is appointed, by God to be a (spiritual) king, priest and prophet.

        These titles can be meaningfully used only by adherents of the respective religions for audiences composed of adherents of the respective religions. A serious Christian calling Siddhartha “Buddha” is as meaningless and silly as a serious Buddhist calling Jesus “Christ.”

    • 2
      0

      P
      Very correct.

    • 5
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      Pundit
      “smacks of ignorance and blatant disrespect for a spiritual leader venerated by millions of persons world over- not for miracles or healing powers,”
      That smacks of blatant disrespect for billions of persons the world over, who choose to follow miracle-performers.
      Be fair. Surely those who can perform miracles deserve as much respect as those who don’t.

  • 7
    0

    “Sinhala-Buddhism” ……. is a free meal-ticket.

    • 7
      0

      “Sinhala-Buddhism” ……. is a free meal-ticket.
      nimal, A stupendous statement.

      • 5
        0

        Rajapakses ruined this nation- that would nt have happened if sinhala buddhism was much close true buddhism compliant with teachings of Lord buddha.
        .
        May our fake monks be ordained or disappeared from politics

  • 4
    0

    LJ
    ” ……. I always referred to Jesus who I consider to be greater than Siddhartha….. ” – that says it all. I rest my case.

    • 1
      3

      Pundit:

      This is what I wrote:

      “If you think I disrespected Siddhartha by referring to him by that name, you have to at least concede that I am an equal-opportunity disrespecter of spiritual leaders because throughout the article I always referred to Jesus, who I consider to be greater than Siddhartha, by that name.”

      My point is that if I refer to X, whom I consider to be greater than Y–therefore more worthy of honour than Y–by his personal name only, why should I honor Y more than X by the way I refer to him? For example, if I refer to the current President as Ranil (his first name), why should I refer to, say, an MP as Mr. so and so? Further, as a non-Buddhist, my referring to Siddhartha as “Buddha” is meaningless for the reason I have explained in a comment above.

      I shudder to think that people with such a low IQ as this have the right to vote. Just imagine someone unnecessarily misunderstanding something in an article and then failing to understand even after it has been clarified!

      Baka Pundit, I think you are urgently in need of a brain transplant. After that you could put the cap back on. You are exactly the type of religious bigot I was talking about in my article.

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