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Our Minister of Public Relations (Disasters) has done it again. He is holding a protest at Muneswaram Kali Kovil on September 1 to prevent the animal sacrifices that are part of the religious festivities that happen there.

Hundreds of Buddhist monks and layman are also joining to protest to save those poor goats. After all, it is far more important to save goats than to prevent the abuse of your fellow man.

Now I understand that Buddhism is a philosophy of peace, detachment from the world, and respect for all life. But if you are going to be on that march, you better be vegetarians.

Can anyone spell ‘hypocrisy’? (Hint: It rhymes with Deviled Chicken)

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Three French tourists on holiday in Sri Lanka took photos of themselves posing with Buddha statues at the Embekka Devale. Now the photos were not very respectful, but what do you expect? They are French. The French are known for cutting heads off royalty, disrespecting religions, food, sex and running away. The studio responsible for developing the photos patriotically (see what I did there?) handed the photos over to the police who then arrested the offenders. The tourists were sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment suspended for five years and fined.

It seems a pretty steep sentence for a moment of idiocy. But this sort of sentencing only happens when the act is on a  Buddhist place of worship. There is absolutely no such enforcement when a Christian church is attacked, when a mosque is stormed, or when a statue is stolen from a Hindu kovil. Where’s are the fines there? Where is the rigorous imprisonment? Does Sri Lankan automatically equate to Buddhist? Can anyone spell DOUBLE STANDARDS here? (Hint: It rhymes with extremism).

 

Foreign Policy’s May/June issue is a…. fiery one. It focuses on sex, which in itself is not a big deal (see the countless ‘women’s’ mags out there). But this is about sex and the Muslim world. It’s about Muslim women and the repression they are under. It’s about hate, and about sorrow and about a call for change. Some of the articles are very personal and very moving, especially ‘Why Do They Hate Us’ by Mona EltaHawy.

I hesitate to weigh in on the issue of women in Islam, mostly for the backlash it draws. Now the criticism wouldn’t really bother me if it were only from men, but a good part of it is from Muslim women as well. Approximately 23% of the world population is Muslim, and half of that (obviously) are women. Now even taking into consideration the different types/divisions of Islam, it follows that the way women are dealt with in Islam is perpetuated in part by the women in Islam itself. So me, being a non-Muslim male, speaking out about women’s rights in Islam is often met with scorn. And you know what ol’ Shakespeare says about a woman’s scorn.

Mona EltaHawy on the other hand is an Egyptian-American female journalist, which makes her perfect to address the issue of sex, and women in the ME. And man, she is intense. The articles are beautiful, but what bothers me about it are the pictorials used to represent the articles.

The pictures are of a female model nude, and painted black to resemble a burkha.  I have written about sexualisation before, and the problem with Western media and their idea of sex/freedom is that they identify it with nudity. Sex is not about nudity. Freedom is not about nudity. Expression is not about nudity. Being modest and dressing modestly is not repression but rather a cultural trait which is admirable. So the pictures of the nude model are rather offensive and frankly insulting. It is akin to a body painting of a nun, or a priest, or a Jew.

It is like burning down the yard to get at the weeds. A little bit of cultural awareness hurt no one.

An Infographic

This infographic from the Pew Research Center and Macleans.ca shows how free you are to worship around the world. What’s interesting is that the highest amount of persecution is in and about Asia. India and China are pretty bad, and so is the Middle East. I can understand the Middle East being pretty bad because it is has a conservative Islamic culture, generally intolerant of other religions. But Asia is a mixed bag of religions; you have Christians mixing with Hindus mixing with Muslims, and yet it is rated very high on persecution.

The graphic shows that Sri Lanka is rated high when it comes to religious persecution too. We don’t seem to be a very tolerant nation. There are plenty of reports of violence towards Christians (I have had friends who were beaten up for being Christian), vandalism in churches, anti-conversion bills being put forward in the parliament. I don’t know how much of the violence aimed towards Hindus and Muslims was because of the war or were unrelated incidents, but either way it does not make for a very relaxing environment. Colombo itself is not so bad really. There is a good enough mix of religions and ethnicity here to make people more companionable, but you still can face a bit of ridicule for being different or ‘strange’ in your beliefs.

Here’s hoping that things would get better.

If there is one thing i believe about religion in general, its that people should have the freedom to practice it to the satisfaction of their conscience. This makes sense as long as one group’s practice of religion does not interfere with another group’s right of freedom. When religious freedom gets curtailed, I get real panicky about the state of a country. All religions have aspects and principles of righteousness, justice, and kindness in them, but sometimes people grab it and twist it and pervert it to cater to their own mixed values and malice.

I have admired the philosophy that is Buddhism for some time. The concept of temperance, of a middle path, of kindness and tolerance are all things i admire and try to follow myself in some form. I don’t kill, I don’t eat meat, I don’t drink; and yet these very traits are found strange in a country that should be upholding the principles of their ‘State’ religion. Instead, the ones who should be leading and guiding the people in their way of life are instead dirtying their hands in secular politics, playing power games, and of course beating up practitioners of other religions.

Tamils get the brunt of the bad feelings here in Sri Lanka, the Muslims their share, but the Christians are not far behind. Preachers have been beaten, churches damaged, worshipers abused, and threats tossed around for many years now. I personally know Sinhalese Christians who have been beaten up by gangs lead by monks solely for the crime of having worship in their homes, I know of buildings that have been burned for the same reason. On the 6th of this month, the Calvary Church at Thalahena was the latest victim of Buddhist violence. Four Buddhist monks led a mob into the church, vandalizing it and beating up the preachers and elders and threatening to burn the church down with the members in it. I wonder how much merit a dead preacher would get them? Normally I would try to write neutrally about religious issues, and try not to focus too much on the religion but rather on the issue. In this case however, the mob was LED by monks and there is no hiding the fact that this attack is religiously motivated. The violence here was premeditated and unworthy of what is principally a peaceful way of life. (Needless to say to say the police were reluctant to keep the peace in this situation)

What is as disturbing is the blatant display of hate by certain monks with no thought as to how they portray Buddhism to the world. At the Thalahena incident, the monks boasted of having attacked some 23 churches already and also stated that

..it was they who made the laws in the land and it would be they who would break the laws

One of the monks even admitted to having underworld connections.

Consider the words of the Ven. Thero of Bhodirajaramaya (during an interview regarding the Middeniya rally) when asked if the mob burned a picture of the Virgin Mary he said:

If The Sunday Leader wants a news story I could set fire to a cross with Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary’s photos and send it to your newspaper.

If religious leaders like the ones mentioned have no peace and tolerance in their heart how can we expect the public to learn proper precepts from them? They should either reanalyze their beliefs or start a whole new religion of violence altogether because at present there is not even a pretense of piety in the violence they commit.

It seems to be that the more dollar bills there are, the less religious people become. Or so says a report I came across recently

A recent post on religion that I thought was light hearted managed to get itself quite a lot of attention, and not to mention hits. It led me to read up a bit more on the religiousness of people which then led me to an interesting report. The Pew Global Attitudes Project released a report on certain key issues, one of which included religion. The results of the report seem to show that the richer a country is, the less religious it is.

w-and-r.gif

Right up there, you see Africa, definitely poor and definitely religious, and right down there you see West Europe, richer and seemingly less religious. The graph is quite interesting really. It seems to show that the more self sufficient you are, the less interest you have in a higher power. Also, it is the older people that are more religious and the younger ones don’t seem to be as bothered about this religion thing.

It’d make an interesting discussion, but this time I leave the conclusions to you.

A professor of philosophy speaks to his class on the problem science has with God, the Almighty.
He asks one of his new students to stand and….

Prof.: so you believe in God?

Student: absolutely, sir.

Prof.: is God good?

Student: sure.

Prof.: is God all-powerful?

Student: yes.

Prof.: my brother died of cancer even though he prayed to God to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill, but God didn’t. how is this God good then? Hmm?

Student: (student is silent)

Prof.: you can’t answer can you? Let’s start again, young fella.. is God good?

Student: yes.

Prof.: is Satan good?

Student: no.

Prof.: where does Satan come from?

Student: from….. God.

Prof.: that’s right.. tell me son, is there evil in this world?

Student: yes.

Prof.: Evil is everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything…. Correct?

Student: yes.

Prof.: so who created evil?

Student: (student does not answer)

Prof.: is there sickness, immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don’t they?

Student: yes sir.

Prof.:
so, who created them?

Student: (student has no answer)

Prof.: science says you have 5 senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me son… have you ever seen God?

Student: no, sir.

Prof.: tell us if you have ever heard your God?

Student: no, sir.

Prof.: Have you ever felt your God, tasted your God, smelt your God? have
you ever had any sensory perception of God for that matter?

Student: no, sir. I’m afraid I haven’t.

Prof.: yet you still believe in him?

Student: yes.

Prof.: according to empirical, testable, demonstrable, protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist. What do you say to that, son?

Student: nothing. i only have my faith.

Prof.: yes, faith, and that is the problem science has.

Student: professor, is there such a thing as heat?

Prof.: yes.

Student: and is there such a thing as cold?

Prof.: yes.

Student: no sir. There isn’t.

(The lecture theater becomes, very quite with this turned of events.)

Student: sir, you can have lots of heat even more heat, super heat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don’t have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such a thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy…. cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.

(There is pin-drop silence in the lecture theatre).

Student: what about darkness, professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?

Prof.: yes. What is night if there isn’t darkness?

Student: you’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. you can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light . . . . . but if you have no light constantly, you have
nothing and its called darkness isn’t it . . . , if it were you, would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?

Prof.: so what is the point you are making, young man?

Student: sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.

Prof.: flawed? can you explain how?

Student: sir, you are working on the premise of duality, you argue there is life and then there is death, a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can’t even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. to view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorantof the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it. . . . Now tell me, professor. . . . . . . . Do you teach us students that they evolved from a monkey?

Prof.: if you are referring to the natural evolutionary processes, yes, of course, i do.

Student: have you ever observed evolution with our own eyes, sir?

Prof.: (the professor shakes his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument is going.)

Student: since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion sir? are you not a scientist but a preacher?

Narrator – class in an uproar

Student: is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor’s brain?

Prof.: (the class breaks out into laughter.)

Student: is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt it, touched or smelt it?…… no one appears to have done so… so, according to the established rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable, protocol, science says that you have no brain, sir.
With due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

Narrator: (the room is silent, the professor stares at the student, his face unfathomable. )

Prof.: I guess you’ll have to take them on faith, son.

Student: that is it sir… the link between man & God is FAITH. That is all that keep things moving & alive.