Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation – Religion and Governance in Sri Lanka (Updated)

The work-in-progress article of Prasad Mapatuna, Mahasen Bandara (Co-Author), Religion and Governance in Sri Lanka, has been updated, with a new section on the “Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation” and the section “Laws based on religion vs. scientific reasoning” expanded.

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Philosophical base of religion vs. Practical implementation

It is interesting to note that the core philosophy of almost all major world religions survived humankind’s relentless pursuit of determinism by way of scientific enquiry. Defenders of these religions always found ways to stay above science or, at least, to be even with the propositions of the scientific modeling of the universe. The origin of the modern scientific approach is found in cultures with a Judeo-Christian background. In those cultures, most scientists treated their efforts as a pursuit of finding the ultimate equation of God. The theories, like the Big Bang beginning of the universe, in fact, were supportive of the argument of the creation of the universe by a personal God. The laws of nature seem to break down at the Big Bang singularity and scientists agreed that only God knows what happened there. On the other hand, with the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum theory, and modern concepts of subatomic physics, the wisdom traditions of the East found their way into the minds of the scientific community. The concepts, like ‘observer-created-reality’ in quantum theory go hand-in-hand with Buddhist philosophy. Also the modern notion of ‘an undivided universe’ where the observer and the observed are treated as a single system, and every observed phenomenon is treated as manifestations of ‘an underlying wholeness’, goes well with the Hindu philosophy of undivided wholeness of the Brahman Paramaathma.

The philosophical base which serves as the seed for the intellectual discourse within and among religions has often little or no bearing to the way the religion is practiced in the field. The people rally not around the philosophy, but around the institution. The leaders who run the institution hold the key to the emotion-buttons that they can press to mobilize the followers in a direction that they please. A dangerous mob can be easily and quickly organized using power of custom or arbitrary authority. This is the danger of endowing religious institutions with more and more resources and authority.

In most of the religious implementations, relationship between the underlying philosophy and the practice of the intuition is similar to the relationship between the Koran to Taliban OR the Communist Manifesto to Stalin’s regime OR Eugenics to Nazi Germany. It is true that it is unfair to judge The Koran, The Communist Manifesto or Eugenics by Taliban, Stalin’s regime or Nazi Germany respectively. We all can hopefully agree that the seeds (Koran, Communist Manifesto or Eugenics) were not evil by themselves, but these three institutions were.

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Is Religion an important part of your life? 99% Sri Lankans say yes

Apparently, according to a Gallup poll done in 2008. Sri Lanka is 3rd on the list of the most religious countries in the world, after Egypt and Bangladesh, and leaps just ahead, by a whisker, of  Congo, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Indonesia, Djibouti and others. At the other end of the spectrum we got the countries who are the least religious, Estonia at 14%, Sweden 17%, Denmark, Norway, Hong Kong, Japan etc. Lists shown below. I’m sure I don’t have to point out some obvious trends, do I?

Lets break down these lists to perform some analysis shall we (data from Wikipedia and CIA Factbook);

Egypt – Approximately 90% adheres to Islam, the rest pretty much Christianity.

Bangladesh – Like Egypt, approximately 90% adheres to Islam, and most of the rest to Hinduism

Sri Lanka – 70% follow Buddhism, 15% Hinduism, 8% Christianity, and the rest Islam.

Indonesia – 86% follows Islam, 8.7 Christianity and the rest a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism

Congo – 50% Christians, and 48% Animists

Malawi – 80% Christian, 13% follow Islam

Senegal – 95% follow Islam

Djibouti – 94% follow Islam

Morocco – 98.7% follow Islam

UAE – 96% follow Islam

A you can see, from this list, Sri Lanka is the only country with a Buddhist majority. Sri Lanka doesn’t have the highest concentration of Buddhists even (Bhutan 66-75%, Burma 90%, Cambodia 95%, Japan 96%, Taiwan 93%, Vietnam 85%). Of course, wealth plays a major factor. Most of the least religious countries are developed or well developed. If you are rich, you have the option of ignoring God, most of the time atleast. If you are poor, you tend to pray to, and ask, God most of the time.

Few of the least religious countries;

Estonia – 76% no religious affiliation

Sweden – 75% Church of Sweden, BUT, that’s because till 1996, people born Sweden automatically became a member of the Church, if one of the parents was a member. Now only if you are christened you become a member, and single digit percentages attend church regularly.

Denmark – 81% members of the Church. According to a 2005 study by Zuckerman, Denmark has the third highest proportion of atheists and agnostics in the world, estimated to be between 43% and 80%.

Norway – 83% members of the Church of Norway.

Czech Republic – 60% no affiliation to any religion, 27% Protestant

Mongolia – 50% Buddhism (!) and 40% listed as having no religion.

Azerbaijan – 96.7% follow Islam. Religious affiliation is still nominal in Azerbaijan; percentages for actual practicing adherents are much lower, according to Wiki

As the report itself point’s out, “Obviously, these data only compare the importance of religion in people’s lives — they say nothing about what being highly religious means in different parts of the world and among different faiths”.

So why do Sri Lankans say they are highly religious?

Is it because the principles and conditions of the religions are being followed meticulously by Sri Lankans? Is it measured by how much the people idolize their god(s) and believe in spiritualism and supernatural powers? Or is it because of the number of times we visit places of worship, and the amount time we spend there? The value of alms and donations we give to the clergy? The involvement of religion in politics? Or is it because we are still a developing nation, education and wealth wise, with a civil war in our hands?

Personally, the results from the Poll are a bit hard to believe, although its a valid poll done by a highly respected agency. But 99%?

Religion and the Economic downturn – Priorities get twisted?

Came across an article published by the University of New Hampshire last year;

Lent may help Catholics during Economic Downturn

Well if they give up travelling in gas guzzling SUV’s or having 3 maids in the house, sure. Not by giving up McDonald’s, Crispy Creme’s or Cadbury’s. Those three examples were true examples, by the way. Its very rare, or almost impossible to find anyone that has given up anything more serious than Spring rolls. Its almost as hard to find Jesus, as a bunny, laying chocolate eggs during Easter. Maybe this tradition has some value, maybe it tries to instill some discipline into our over indulgent lives, but absolutely through no rational or humanistic approach. Its because big ol’ daddy is watching from the skies.

You know what I gave up for lent? Believing in superstitious powers.

Please don’t think I’m defending the concept of Lent and lamenting on how people don’t take it seriously anymore. I’m glad that Catholic people don’t take it seriously, preparing yourself through prayer, penitence, alms giving and self denial to commemorate a holy week? University students do those things before every exam!

Back to the economic downturn, its no uncommon situation when people resort to extremes when times are hard, especially financially. Alcohol, depression, suicide, violence, guns………..and religion. I’m sure the number of giving of alms, and pooja’s (gifts to gods) must have rocketed through the asbestos roofs the temples and kovil’s of Sri Lanka, filling those lovely bronze coffers. Whilst respecting the right to believe and gift to whoever you wish, I ask you to inject yourself a bit of perspective from a fat syringe, new needle of course. Think about the people who also affected far more than you due to these hard times. Instead of making our already well off clergymen more comfortable, and without keeping money with a platter of delicious fruit under a picture of your favourite god, think about people who are finding it even harder to keep some food on their table, to buy some books for their kids. We know how to help each other, and we can, we just need to prioritise who to help.

Welcome to Religurd

Organised Religion = Absurd = Religurd. We believe that many a Sri Lankan life is influenced and affected, negatively, due to religious authority, superstition, tradition and dogma. Intelligence and rationalism is our salvation. Free your mind.

This is a place to discuss and promote our and your views on how to free our society from these forces that limit our intellect and feed on our resources. It preys on people’s hope. The corruption that ravages under the guise of religion, the waste, the hypocrisy and the double standards are amongst the issues that have to be addressed. Please remember, we raise these issues only for the betterment of society, not to bring any person or organisation down or to insult any belief. Humans have the right to believe in whatever they like. Belief is all good, but believing in something without asking why, without knowledge and intelligence……….is stupidity. Please engage in our discussion and contribute your thoughts, ideas, criticisms, and solutions.

We have a couple of regular contributors to fuel the discussion, as well as a few more to join the ranks. If you think you process along similar thought avenues as us, please drop us a line if you would like to contribute as an author.