Attacks on religion should be nipped in the bud | Sunday Observer

Attacks on religion should be nipped in the bud

11 June, 2023

The most unfortunate man-made disaster in Sri Lanka in recent times took place on Easter Sunday of 2019 where over 275 innocent, mostly Catholics were brutally killed in the bombings systematically carried out by an extremist movement at four different venues.

It has been confirmed by law enforcement authorities that no adequate measures had been taken by the then Head of State and the relevant officials to avert such a gruesome situation even after having received reliable intelligence information of the impending attack from neighbouring countries.

Soon after the mass destruction of the lives of people and properties, it was admirable to see how the Catholic Bishops and all other religious leaders got together and vehemently condemned the attack and requested all countrymen to act with restraint and not to get involved in destructive activities against anybody.

Solemn request

The solemn request of these religious leaders was patiently followed by the people, which resulted in avoiding a mass scale bloodbath in the country. Over five years had already lapsed after this unfortunate incident and some were found guilty by the courts but the Catholic religious leaders were not fully satisfied with the findings as they strongly believe that there had been a well organised sinister plan behind the bombings.

Under these circumstances no legal conclusion had been arrived at since the Catholic Bishops insist on a more effective, transparent and vibrant investigation.

In this backdrop a person by the name of Pastor Jerome Fernando who has a considerable number of followers at his “Miracle Dome” almost next door to the Bandaranaike International Airport, had made a derogatory statement about the Buddha and Buddhist philosophy, Islam and Hinduism at a religious discourse he conducted recently which had been attended by a substantial audience.

Within a few hours it went viral on social media (it was a live streamed event) and the wrath of the true Buddhists were quite evident by the comments they had made over these negative incidents, in the social media.

Fortunately, the Catholic Bishops immediately issued a statement to the media that this particular person is not a member of the Catholic Church and he does not belong to any of the recognised Catholic sects either. Religious leaders conducted a media briefing the same evening grossly condemning this irresponsible act and an imminent disaster was averted with the timely intervention of the religious leaders.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe immediately directed the authorities to probe the matter and to submit a detailed report within a few days. Meanwhile pastor Fernando had left the country before a travel ban was imposed by the courts and the authorities plan to take him into custody on his return to pursue investigations over his negative statement.

Just two weeks after the incident, a young comedian by the name of Natasha Edirisooriya had conducted a comedy show at a leading school in Colombo where she had expressed her sentiments over Prince Siddhartha and King Suddhodana which earned the wrath of Buddhists. Subsequently she realised the gravity of her discourse, made a public apology and tried to leave the country immediately with an associate.

She was taken into custody by the immigration authorities and handed over to the CID for further investigations with regard to the negative statements she made about Buddhism and the person who facilitated to upload it on social media was also arrested subsequently for aiding and abetting her.

In the recent past, journalist Sepala Amarasinghe had to apologise before a court of law as his statements against Buddhism were duly challenged by some bhikkhus and laymen. Public opinion is that it is a very good lesson for all journalists since most of them think that they can say anything and mislead the public according to their way of thinking.

Minister of Justice, Prison Reforms and Constitutional Affairs Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said recently that the Government had received reliable information that foreign funding is provided for this type of sinister activities in the country. This is a very serious situation and the authorities should immediately institute an aggressive and effective methodology to completely wipe out this menace from the country.

Delaying such actions may lead to a national calamity once again. We remember during the last regime that a large haul of swords, knives and some cutting weapons were imported into the country and some of them were found at certain places of worship. Nobody knows what happened to them or who uses them at present. Transparency in such matters is of paramount importance for the sake of harmony and national unity.

After gaining Independence in 1948 all Prime Ministers sought the blessings of the Maha Sangha on all nationally important occasions and respected and honoured their advice but religion entered the political discourse with Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike’s political campaign in 1956 where his main slogan was marshalling five forces Sangha, Veda, Guru, Govi, Kamkaru (Pancha Maha Balawegaya) against the Government of Sir John Kothelawala.

The Maha Sangha formed an organisation called Eksath Bhikkhu Peramuna (United Bhikkhu Front) to support S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. After becoming Premier, he was obliged to listen to the Maha Sangha on many matters. His cordial relationship with the Maha Sangha did not last long since he refused some of their demands and even before completing his full term he was assassinated by a bhikkhu called Thalduwe Somarama, a member of the Bhikkhu Front whom the Prime Minister himself had appointed as a senior lecturer at the ayurvedic hospital.

Political analysts

Thereafter all the other party leaders mustered the support of religious dignitaries for their political campaigns and at present many of them are aligned with some party or the other. Surveys conducted by independent political analysts had revealed that the general public had completely lost the respect, regard and honour they had for such religious figures who are involved in politics.

Spiritual values

Some of them are involved in different types of businesses where they earn good money and lead luxury lives with all comforts and facilities very often with the blessings of politicians.

It is very surprising and shocking to hear that sometimes they themselves utter derogatory statements about religions as well as spiritual values.

A few days ago Ven. Rajanganaye Saddharathana Thera was taken into custody for making derogatory statements which could lead to inter-religious disharmony among the people over a complaint made against him by Ven. Pahiyangala Ananda Thera.

It has become a fashion or a trend among some young educated bhikkhus to say that the Buddha never visited Sri Lanka and there are no records available to prove his three visits.

They further state that NASA research engineers and scientists also had confirmed the same.

In the minds of true Buddhists the Buddha visited Sri Lanka thrice after Enlightenment which is coming down from oral tradition from time immemorial. Minister of Buddha Sasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs Vidura Wickramanayaka has instructed the officials in the Ministry to establish a legal framework that fosters respect for all religions and discourages orations that are harmful or offensive to any religion. This will apply to religious dignitaries as well as lay people. The Minister said that similar incidents had occurred even earlier.

The decision to register religious institutions arises from the need to address the growing number of such unregistered establishments with reports including that some may be involved in covert agendas or aligning themselves with political ideologies. Somaratna Vidanapathirana, the Secretary of the Ministry is confident that no one can violate the Constitution under the pretext of religious tenets they teach and that all religious organisations should operate within the confines of the law refraining from any illegal activities.

The recent ugly incident involving pastor Fernando, who denigrated Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam has prompted the Ministry to expedite the introduction of well defined laws to prevent such situations. Pastor Jerome has insulted all other religions while his ‘church’ is not even a registered religious establishment in the country.

It was duly confirmed by the Bishops House. He caused unrest in the country with his derogatory utterances belittling Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and even the Catholic Church.

It is admirable to see that Minister Wickramanayaka had immediately taken steps to avoid similar incidents in future.

No room should be allowed to fracture inter-communal and inter-religious harmony in Sri Lanka, a country that went through a terrible war for three decades.