By HL Seneviratne –
Commenting on Kumar David’s article Mr Kaputa stridently assets that there are no secular states. This statement deserves comment because it is a widespread belief, especially among expatriate communities, and especially after the “defeat of terrorism”. The secular state is not just a “fancy idea” as Mr Kaputa claims. It is real. It is true that some relics of the past survive in the political ritual of western democracies. But this is merely a civil religion that has neither religious emotion nor a tangible effect on the polity. It has no social significance other than a fleeting entertainment value. This civil religion does not confer on any particular religion a status that is not conferred on a given society’s other religions. In Sri Lanka, as in the many Islamic republics of the world, and in Israel, there is constitutional recognition of religion, which relegates other religions to a lower status.
Secularism is an aspect of development. Secular societies are more “developed” than religious societies, and by reason of their religious equality, are ethically and rationally superior to religious states. Secularism is therefore a measure of the extent to which a society is civilized. I do not mean “development” in the narrowly economic sense but on the criteria of the well being of citizens, the main ingredients of which are individual liberty, and equality of opportunity. These are possible only within the supremacy of the rule of law. On these criteria, Sri Lanka is a primitive state.
The irony is that no state could be more secular and rational than one that incorporates Buddhism if by that we mean the Buddha’s Buddhism with its universalist humanism and ethical perfection. But sadly, at no time in history did the Buddha’s Buddhism ever permeate the Sinhala state or society. Our Buddhism remained a ritualism that maintained and legitimized social inequalities, oppression and tyranny. After the consolidation of British rule, we had a brief interlude of secularism and potential for development into a civilized society. With the rise of a certain kind of nationalism that manifested itself in 1956 and that has reached its peak in today’s Motherlandism, our national heritage with its culture of tyranny has returned to the centre of society. The numerous forces – ethnic, moral, political, the youth, students, workers, FUTA, civil society, women and so forth — that clearly seem to be disenchanted with this alarming development can either work diligently and intelligently towards a united force for coordinated and coherent action, and assert the values of Buddhism and democracy, or brace themselves for more severe and more lasting enslavement. The impending blatancy of the threat to the judiciary is one more stream that can contribute to a deluge of protest.