The adherents of religions presume the truthfulness and the validity of the content of what is believed and taught in the name of their religion. Living and activating oneself according to the norms of one’s religion follows. Meanwhile, the reliability and solidity of the basis for accepting the validity of any religion could also be investigated.
Such inquiry could be on any aspect of its teaching, examining how compatible are they to truth and reality, how justified are its claims, how convincing are the elements that persuade, and how cogent, attractive, and appealing are the ways of relating to its content and even on the life of its founder. And shouldn’t religions themselves be cleansed of error, inaccuracy, contradiction and falsity in practice handed down by the authoritative but imperfect subsequent teachers and adherents?
SOURCE OF SPIRITUAL VIGOUR
The affirmed word of religion, clear normative code guide the lives of the adherents of a religion. The word of religion guides the thinking, the process of observing, understanding life and external reality. Judgments, decisions, and actions proceed. They bring positive and beneficial or negative and harmful consequences to followers and others.
The word of religion is intended to be liberating, uplifting and enhancing the life, spirit and mind of human beings. Religion brings to life a bright ray of hope. Religion does not depreciate, demean or threaten human life. Religion should help everyone to preserve life and persevere in life, reassuring everyone. Lived religion gives all the resilience that even in the process of trial and error and many a failure positive attitudes prevail, hope is not lost and life is not forfeited.
Religions emphasize the importance of enlightenment, relating to and concern for others. Admitting one’s faults, repenting for them and amendment of life bring freshness and give new inner strength to their followers. Worthwhile religion is associated with kindness, benevolence, gentleness, meekness and humility. They give strength and meaning to life. They enable anyone to give up a blemished past and graciously begin life afresh, step into the future morally cleansed and with new spiritual vigour.
BIAS BLEMISHES RELIGION
The messages or the word of religions has come down to us from human sources of past ages. Naturally, the reliability of the source underpins the content of what is communicated. The truthfulness, the inner coherence of the message and its sagacity, reasonableness and its purpose become clear and persuasive especially in the way it guides people to seek the truth, to reach the transcendent and to relate to one another.
Yet all followers of any religion are not always consistent; their values, beliefs and actions may not always cohere and concord with the religion they profess. Even universally persuasive and objectively true and sound doctrine, when filtered through preconceptions, prejudice, partiality and bias handed down from generation to generation could misdirect reasoning, judgement, attitudes, doctrines and decisive action.
Then, when other elements incompatible with coherent development weigh in, teaching and actions even of authoritative figures become inconsonant and inconsistent with the pristine teaching.
Political powers and political influence have sometimes arbitrarily and selfishly arrogated to themselves authority, distorted religion and even misled nations. When authority is thus annexed, bias and actions of authorities distort religions’ teachings to suit the desires of political powers. Followers get misdirected. Misunderstanding and ignorance of others often lead to suspicion and misjudgement.
Consequently, social confusion and antagonism follow over generations where such would not have otherwise arisen. Had the teachings of religion been faithfully adhered to, disturbances on account of belief would not have been created, peace and order could have subsisted.
It is therefore up to the teaching authorities to adhere to the true and authentic teaching of the religious Founder and the tradition faithful to him and aid each adherent to appropriate religion anew.
It is important to note that the meaning of the original words of the Founder could also be misunderstood and misinterpreted due to the ignorance of the idiom of the original language or not having a reliable translation and therefore ignorance of the real meaning. When the key and basic word or the key phrases are central to the main doctrines, their correct understanding is very important to illumine and inspire correct stand-points, pure stances, right attitudes and decisive action and response or reaction in life situations.
UNFAITHFUL TO FOUNDER
It also so happens that though the instructions of the Founder are correctly understood, the weight of actual tradition and practice is such that individuals and communities could nevertheless persist on the wrong path. This is seen among Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims.
They could not be faithful adherents of their respective Founders and true to their scriptures and be racially prejudiced and caste minded and engage in fratricide; Some Muslims such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda could not be professing a merciful God and shed the blood of innocent people branding them ‘infidels’.
For whatever reason ‘honour killing’ is against basic human norms. All of us of whatever religion should take care not to turn fanatical in belief and act rashly and commit a crime against our fellowmen.
As a result of the distorted and misinterpreted understanding of the religious teachings, we turn ourselves into inhuman beings denying others even the space to live.
Everyone needs to study and reflect well to come to a proper understanding of religious teachings and the Founder one chooses to follow. And consequently, all need to accept and adhere to the way of life and discipline the teachings call for. Today most people emphasize on the establishment and strengthening of relationships that bring about good understanding and reconciliation among different communities of religious adherents.
RELIGIONS AND SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Teachings on moral life and relationships, common to all, if followed seriously, do not cause stagnation in lives without meaning and purpose or satisfactory direction and healthy associations with fellow human beings.
Religion should lead also to compassionate openness to the spiritual search of others, to better human kindred and to spiritual growth.
If the enlightenment from religions truly convert and refresh people, evils of iniquity, immorality, selfishness, theft, rape, homicide, hypocrisy, dishonesty, corruption and indifference would not be so widespread among them.
When religion does not revitalize people it remains superficially external, not interiorized. Such religion is exploited by greedy politicians for their selfish purposes of creating a rivalry, envy, suspicion leading to conflict and bloodshed.
We in Sri Lanka are still to gain vibrancy and vitality in our mutual spiritual growth through sincere sharing of thought and interreligious dialogue. We have not consistently launched into investigations on doctrines of even the main religions in Sri Lanka or deepened our self-understanding and understanding the bases and fundamentals of other religions.
The fundamental principles we hold dear should lead all adherents to honour and respect others as fellow human beings and willingly accord to all justice, equality and freedom in keeping with human dignity and human rights. Where there is no respect for human dignity, truth and honesty, justice and fairness, real religion is dead, phoney religion prevails and society degenerates.
We need to investigate and better understand the fundamental truths the Founders of religions underlined. We need to ask whether they (!) or we failed – where, why and how – to underline the intrinsic dignity and worth of every human being. Today, we should understand the intrinsic worth of the least of our brethren, whatever their religion may be, and compassionately care for them, not humiliate them on any account, if we wish to be called civilized.
RELIGIONS NOT POLITICIANS’ TOOLS
An environment for mutual understanding is created on important social and religious occasions. Further, religious leaders coming together create among the people a truly fraternal atmosphere leading to spiritual enrichment. They should strive to banish from the community mistrust and suspicion and enhance humanness, amity and spiritual growth among all our people.
This should not become some kind of strategy merely to bring together important personalities of the major religions in Sri Lanka occasionally as a much needed social project today lending itself also to political machinations. The biggest rogues in politics also often visit places of worship. Religious authorities should detect their enticements given with political advantages in view.
Meetings of all religious leaders should be undertaken seriously because it behoves to raise the interior quality of peoples’ lives. People’s lives need to be protected from many social, moral and political evils. Thereby religions together would make a major contribution to improve society and build the nation.
To create a new Sri Lanka in which genuine national solidarity, reconciliation, unity and peace prevail, we should critically look at ourselves and not overlook that religions and their followers need cleansing. (Rev. Fr. Augustine Fernando -Diocese of Badulla)