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Jesus, freedom and democracy

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Jesus was a supremely and radically free human being. He was not a slave, a serf, a follower of anybody or under any authority human or divine. There was nothing, no commandment or tradition, no law or regulation that could bind him down. He did not give his companions and his group a constitution or a set of rules to follow. At the end of his earthly carrier of just three years, he gave them one, only one, commandment or rather a guideline. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Living with Jesus this is what his disciples saw and experienced, the freedom and love of Jesus, and to this they bore witness even unto death.

Democracy and freedom

A citizen is a free person in his country. In the ancient Greece and Rome, where the seeds of democracy were sowed, free citizens were only men who were citizens by descent. Women, children and slaves could not vote. Even for men there were different types of citizenship with various restrictions to full freedom. Democracy and freedom developed and evolved historically to what it is today in non-totalitarian countries. Freedom of a citizen is still developing even in the democratic countries. So, keeping the freedom of Jesus as a benchmark let us discuss the freedom of the citizens of Sri Lanka, our country.

Jesus and God

Before we proceed further it is necessary to show evidence for and confirm what I had said in the opening paragraph. Jesus did not bow his head or bend his knee to anyone or any authority, human or divine. Yes, even divine. Jesus called God “Abba”, a cuddly childlike word like “Thaththi” or “Daddy”, he did not use the formal word “Father”. He was God’s son and he told others they are God’s children. For Jesus God is family. In the intimacy of a loving family all are equal, nobody bends his knee or bows his head to anybody else. It was clearly enunciated in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The loving father (God) did not want his younger son to be a servant or a slave in his household. This is the radical freedom that Jesus exercised and enjoyed.

Jesus, authority and fear

Jesus was an authority unto himself. He was free from and above all other authorities. People said he spoke with authority. In the ancient Jewish milieu the authority of the Torah was never questioned. But Jesus taught saying “You were told (by Torah) …but I tell you …” The famous saying that the Sabbath rule was made for man and not man for the Sabbath rule exemplifies it. He freely broke the clean and unclean rules by eating and socialising with tax collectors and sinners, the hoi polloi, the “anavim” or the poorest and the “thrown away people” as Pope Francis calls them. He feared none. He chased out the sellers of animals and money changers from the Temple premises telling them that the Temple was a House of Prayer not a den of thieves. Whether it is Herod the satrap, the chief priests or the imperial governor he would accost them with his head held high on equal terms. Anybody perusing the trial of Jesus cannot avoid noticing how Jesus never showed any fear or subservience to his judges or the crowd or the soldiers. Even after Pilate got him bloodied and showed him to the crowd Jesus was unbowed and unbent. Pilate could not but say to the chief priests and the mob “Ecce Homo”. “Here is a MAN” or “Behold a MAN” in the full Kipling sense of the word.

Love and freedom

The secret of the radical freedom of Jesus was his total and transparent selflessness or his love. He loved as no man ever loved on this planet. He loved people in the same manner as he loved God, his Abba. If one loves as Jesus loved he can do no wrong and do no harm. He doesn’t need commandments, rules, regulations or customs and traditions to make society safe from and for him. As Augustine of Hippo said “Love, and do what you like.” A man or woman who loves as Jesus loved becomes fearless and free.

Are Sri Lankans free?

The obvious answer is that the great majority is not. They can be very easily deceived and led by the nose. It is pathetic to see 6.9 million people making fools of themselves. First of all they are affiliated to parties, ideologies and all kinds of isms and follow blindly any leader without making an evaluation or analysis of the party manifesto or the character of the man they follow. Secondly they believe in myth and superstition. Thirdly fear dominates their lives. What democracy can you have with such people?

The super charlatans

Didn’t the 6.9 million know about the Rajapaksas and the tsunami funds? Didn’t they ever wonder how his three brats were spending like nothing and living it up like playboys? Have they never heard of Siriliya? Have they never heard of the deals between the Krish and the Rajapaksas? Didn’t they ever realise what an enormous amount of money has been wasted on useless white elephants, like the Lotus Tower, the Sooriyawewa Stadium, the Mattala Airport and the Hambantota Conference Hall? Why is it that the murderers of Thajudeen and Lasantha Wickrematunga can never be discovered? The revelation, from circumstantial evidence, is that Adani Group probably has dealings with the Rajapaksas. The Pandora Papers expose has raised the Rajapaksas to the notorious status of International Crooks. This is only the tip of the iceberg. If the 6.9 million had only scratched the garbage heap a little they would have found much more.

Lies, myth and superstition

With a loud noise a cobra emerges from the Kelani River carrying a casket of relics and people rush with flowers to worship and gaze on the relics! The media too, degenerates so low as to make falsehood truth and myth fact. A Muslim doctor was accused of sterilising Sinhala mothers to the tune of thousands without their consent! Those who spread fake news never accepted they had made a mistake or apologised for it because it deliberately spread fake news with an evil political motive . They believed in scandalous tales about Kottu rotti mixed with birth control pills, and underwear soaked in a chemical that causes infertility. Everybody knows but nobody says who the brains behind the Easter Sunday massacre are. Some guessed who it was quite soon. In any crime, the prime suspect is the one who profited most from it. Ask any police detective. Among the 6.9 million there were monks, intellectuals, professionals and artistes who were taken for a jolly good ride. The world was surprised that the citizens of Sri Lanka have such low IQ and can be so easily fooled.

Charlatans and scoundrels leading a country of fools and morons does not amount to democracy. Our democracy is only in name.

A glimmer of hope

Our young generation (between 20-40) called the digital generation or the FB, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsup, Imo, Viber and You Tube generation has given us through their Aragalaya a glimmer of hope. They are politically and socially more aware. A truth seeking, more rational, logical and an independent thinking generation. If they were of the 6.9 million, with humility they accepted their mistake and joined the Aragalaya with a vehemence. They are free from affiliation to any political party or ism or hero worshipping. They are more altruistic and affectionate. They are fearless and courageous. They are truly a new generation.

I gauged them at the Galle Face Gotagogama. The Aragalaya can be defined with the three words they always use, Nirpakshika, Nirprachanda and Aadaraya. Nirpakshika means they are not followers or slaves of anybody, any party or any ism. They are free; they think for themselves and they decide for themselves. Doesn’t this remind us of the freedom of Jesus? Nirprachanda means non-violence stemming from human solidarity. Aragalaya is an experience of solidarity; not the narrow solidarity of groups of the same race, religion, language, class, caste or political party but the all-inclusive solidarity of the human race. This is the ethos of Jesus. Finally they called their movement Aadaraye Aragalaya. “Love one another as I have loved you”. Reading the four Gospels in the New Testament one can clearly see that the three year Aragalaya of Jesus was truly an Aadaraye Aragalaya.

Conclusion

The Aragalaya led by the new generation revealed what is truly necessary for democracy. Aragalaya was democratic as it never had a clear leader. All were welcome to come forward and share their opinion. Various individuals were spokespersons for it but Aragalaya went on, a common project of the people. Everybody shared equal responsibility for the spontaneous project, in such a way that all were leaders. Aragalaya formed citizens fit for true democracy. And that has given us a glimmer of hope. Democracy, not just in name but in practice, is possible in Sri Lanka. The good news of Nirpakshika, Nirprachanda and Aadaraye prajatantravadaya must be spread, countrywide. It is already spreading. This is the foundation for the system change we are looking for. And this is what frightens the enemies of Aragalaya, the Ali Baba and the 225 thieves. They know their evil system is in its death throes. With PTA, Emergency, suppression, new alliances, new parties, fake news and all kinds of crooked deals they are fighting for their survival. They will be vanquished.

Aragalayata Jayawewa!

Fr J.C. Pieris

Galle



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Opinion

Science vs religion – II

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Of course, there are many shortcomings and limitations of the scientific method. Scientific knowledge alone is certainly not enough to make humans attain their full potential. The human values we live by, and questions of meaning and purpose, morality or ethics. are not amenable to hypotheses, modelling, and mathematical equations. They rely on methods that are interpretive, speculative, and philosophical.

By GOVIND BHATTACHARJEE

(The first part of this article reproduced from our Asia News Network partner in India, The Statesman, appeared on 25 Nov.)

“The known is finite, the unknown infinite”, the British biologist Thomas Huxley wrote in 1887, “Intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.”

Before the last century, the vast unknown territory of inexplicability was ruled by religion.But the last century has seen a tremendous explosion of scientific knowledge, and ever since, science has been reclaiming more and more territory from religion so that scholars started predicting a diminishing relevance and eventual disappearance of religion from human society.

While it is true that religion’s stranglehold has been remarkably weakened in most countries during the last half-century, except in the diehard Islamic states which stubbornly refuse to reform Islam, the resurgence of religion in our contemporary socio-political life negates the prediction of religion’s demise.

There is too much religion on the streets now that is increasingly intruding unto our lives. It is not the spirituality that Sagan had talked about, it is religion in its crudest original form – bloodthirsty, demanding total and unquestioning allegiance from its followers who would not shy away from spilling the blood of non-believers. While science continues to conquer ever newer frontiers and invents technologies that are revolutionising our society, a full transition to a scientific society is not possible without the complete displacement of religion.

From medicine to biotech, from electronics to telecommunication, from AI to nanoscience, the progress of science during the last 50 years has completely transformed the way we organize society, conduct business, and connect with people for ideation.

The paradox is that while we are exploring the frontiers of science and technology driven by limitless human yearning and thirst for knowledge, we are also reinforcing the prejudices, bigotry, and intolerance of contrary ideas and beliefs in our social and public life with renewed vigour and pride. Of course, there are many shortcomings and limitations of the scientific method.Scientific knowledge alone is certainly not enough to make humans attain their full potential. The German philosopher Edmund Husserl argued against recurrent tendencies of applying the methods of natural science in the research of human affairs, which are essentially outside empirical scientific approaches.

The human values we live by, and questions of meaning and purpose, morality or ethics, etc. are not amenable to hypotheses, modelling, and mathematical equations. They rely on methods that are interpretive, speculative, and philosophical. This is always an epistemological problem in social sciences, and this is where religion is supposed to supplement the techno-scientific worldview of science to understand how Nature works her laws in the universe and in human society.

But Nature also includes her children and us humans, and her well-being depends on their activities. No one knows that better than us, especially at this juncture of time when the world is precariously poised between sustainability and irreversible devastation from uncontrolled human greed.

Religion was supposed to impart and promote morality, ethics, love, and compassion among humans to make them understand their symbiotic relationships with nature, with fellow beings, and with animals. Religion was supposed to teach humans to limit their greed, increase empathy towards others, and strike a harmonious balance with nature to make the world a better place for all to live. What it has done and the moral blindness it has promoted instead is for all to see and judge.

Religion today is relentlessly marching to colonize every aspect of our socio-economic and political life with increasing aggressiveness. Suffering has been trivialised by it, the pain has been glorified by it, killing has been sanctified by it and the tattered social fabric that has resulted is being flaunted with egotistical pleasure and pride.

Though it will be unfair to blame religion alone, it has to take a large share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. It is propelling us energetically to forget our humanity and respect for those who do not share our faith and driving us towards an Orwellian world where intercultural understanding, the richness of culture and diversity, and the ideal of an inclusive and pluralistic society are strongly denounced in favour of a blind pursuance of faith as dictated by its self-proclaimed guardians and their bigoted followers.

The ideal of peace and harmony are receding at the speed of light as religion strives to regain the territory it has lost to science and is countering science with what can best be described as a pseudoscience that is carving out a niche for itself – and a wide one at that.To quote Huxley again, “The question of all questions for humanity is that of the determination of man’s place in nature and his relation to the Cosmos.”

Religion derived sustenance from the concept that humanity was positioned proudly at the centre of God’s magnificent creation, the Earth, around which revolved everything, and humanity – the crowning achievement of God’s creation in his own image, the pinnacle of his divine handiwork, occupied the centre-stage on this earth.Science would shatter the concept, but not before thousands of Giordano Brunos were burned at the stake for holding a contrary view.

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn convincingly explained how paradigm shifts take place in the history of science when one dominant worldview is replaced by another. He showed that scientific progress is like Darwinian evolution – a process of selection of one amongst all the competing theories that have the most predictive power puzzle-solving ability, a concept that was later supported by Bas van Fraassen in The Scientific Image (1980).

But each such major paradigm shift has shaken the edifice of religion from which it could never recover. Thus, when the geocentric Ptolemaic worldview was replaced by the Copernican worldview, man lost his centrality in the scheme of things. Till then, heaven was in the sky, hell was underground and God in heaven ruled all three while religion regulated the entry to heaven or hell.

Copernicus banished the earth from the centre of the Universe, and later Hubble displaced the entire Milky way from the centre of the universe, giving us instead an expanding universe of billions of galaxies in which neither is humanity at the centre of creation nor is the earth at the centre of the universe; in fact, the universe itself is one tiny dot in a multiverse of many universes.

Thus, God’s magnificent creation has been relegated to the position of a second-rate planet attached to a third-rate star, discarding religion’s medieval fancies. Today we are humbled by the immensity of the universe and mesmerized by the eternal silence of infinite space.

But for religion, the determination of man’s place in nature and his relation to the cosmos was not a question, it was an irrefutable truth questioning which meant inviting risk. Copernicus wrote De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelesticum on his deathbed in 1543, beyond the morbid reach of the Inquisition.

Galileo and Bruno were not that fortunate. Science established that neither does life enjoy any special privilege – countless worlds exist in deep space devoid of life, and countless species have become extinct in the course of evolution. We may be one someday, and going by our misdeeds on this planet, that day even may not be too far.

Darwin would finally dislodge humanity from the centre of the biological universe, giving it a lowly ancestor that was too humble compared to an almighty God to be a creator of such intelligence as possessed by man. Thankfully, the inquisition was dead, but prejudiced minds that shun logic were not. They are again back at the centre stage in force, flaunting scriptures, dictating how we should conduct ourselves, threatening to push us into a hell of ignominy and violence if we disobey.

Creationism is still being taught in many US public schools, despite the Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. Half the people in the USA still don’t believe in evolution, their share in India is unknown. But here, vigorous attempts are now on somehow bringing God inside the classroom in any guise, be it a hijab, or anything else.

Worship only makes you a slave. A slave forgets his reason, and his purpose for existence, and ultimately becomes an automaton to serve the master – Religion – and obey its commands without thinking.Religion is not the source of spirituality, peace, morality, virtue, and ethics any longer. Its principles may be eternal, but its methods are gross. It has now become the source of violence, hatred, unconcealed greed, corruption, and a road to power.

Instead of breaking barriers, it is building them afresh, destroying the very roots upon which mankind has built civilizations through the millennia. Don’t expect the State to control religion and the street will always celebrate it with ever-ostentatious pomp and splendour. It is therefore for us citizens to shield our children from the corrupting influences of religion. It has no place in the fabric of the mind of civilized men and women, just as God has no place in the fabric of the space-time that science tries to untangle. We don’t need the ancient wisdom of the spirit to guide us, because religion which was supposed to imbibe it has lost its divinity. It is now for science to redeem religion.

(Concluded)

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Opinion

A dreamer’s dream

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Last night as usual I watched the local news, leaving aside the World News and the FIFA matches on TV, looking for some encour-aging news about the financial situation in our country. On all TV Channels The daily scenes in Parliament are always the same very chaotic and a waste of time to listen. The arguments in Parliament resembles the Maria Kade fish market between some women, accusing one another in filth.

Rather disappointed I fell asleep. I dreamt I was at the Aragalaya on the Galle Face Green packed with jolly enthusiastic people seemed on holiday-spirit singing and enjoying the music, and some drowning the noise with speeches through loudspeakers. Walking around I noticed there was a bus with a full load of passengers stuck and surrounded by a mob who was trying to topple it.

Finally the bus toppled and they all clapped and cheered not caring for the poor frightened passengers in the bus. One of the mob leaders gave a speeh and then got the bus upright, and tried to start it, but couldn’t. Then they pushed and it wouldn’t start as the tank was empty . The wounded passengers came out crying some wounded with fractures and bleeding. Someone phoned for ambulances but none came. To my horror the Aragalaya then attacked that mob who toppled the bus and in the utter choas I woke up in a cold swept.

Recollecting my dream I wondered whether this dream is similar to what would happen to our country.

D. L. Sirimanne,
Kohuwela

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Opinion

How many people can the Earth sustain?

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=On Nov 15 November 2022, we became a world of 8 billion people. 

It’s a milestone we can celebrate, and an occasion to reflect: How can we create a world in which all 8 billion of us can thrive? The growth of our population is a testament to humanity’s achievements, including reductions in poverty and gender inequality, advancements in health care, and expanded access to education. These have resulted in more women surviving childbirth, more children surviving their early years, and longer, healthier lifespans, decade after decade.

Looking beyond the averages, at the populations of countries and regions, the picture is much more nuanced – and quickly takes us beyond the numbers themselves. Stark disparities in life expectancy point to unequal access to health care, opportunities and resources, and unequal burdens of violence, conflict, poverty and ill health.

Birth rates vary from country to country, with some populations still growing fast, others beginning to shrink. But underlying these trends, whichever way they point, is a widespread lack of choice. Discrimination, poverty and crisis – as well as coercive policies that violate the reproductive rights of women and girls – put sexual and reproductive health care and information, including contraception and sex education, out of reach for far too many people.

We face serious challenges as a global community, including the mounting impacts of climate change, ongoing conflicts and forced displacement. To meet them, we need resilient countries and communities. And that means investing in people and making our societies inclusive, so that everyone is afforded a quality of life that allows them to thrive in our changing world.

To build demographic resilience, we need to invest in better infrastructure, education and health care, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. We need to systematically remove the barriers – based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or migration status – that prevent people from accessing the services and opportunities they need to thrive.

We need to rethink models of economic growth and development that have led to overconsumption and fuelled violence, exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, and we need to ensure that the poorest countries – which did not create these problems, yet bear the brunt of their impacts – have the resources to build the resilience and well-being of their growing populations.

We need to understand and anticipate demographic trends, so that governments can make informed policies and resource allocations to equip their populations with the right skills, tools and opportunities.

But while demographic trends can help guide the policy choices we make as societies, there are other choices – including if and when to have children – that policy cannot dictate, because they belong to each individual. This right to bodily autonomy underlies the full range of our human rights, forming a foundation for resilient, inclusive and thriving societies that can meet the challenges of our world. When our bodies and futures are our own, we are #8BillionStrong.

(UNFPA)

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