The focus of this essay is twofold. (A) To build a case for separation of governance from religious influence in Sri Lanka (B) Argue that religion is taking too much of a share in people's lives (more than it ought to be) and it is given undue importance and undue immunity from criticism.
The first point in question can be discussed and argued without creating lot of controversy. The second point however can hurt lot of religious feelings and create enemies. It can be argued that I am not helping the cause by mixing the two. It could well be that I am approaching the topic in a wrong angle. However, this is the angle that I believe will have the most impact, in order to do a course correction. The reason that I believe so is because the two topics are strongly interlinked and they feed off each other.
Implementation of these concepts in Sri Lankan society cannot (and should not) happen as sweeping changes. It is a gradual process, and it has to take its time. The religion cannot be taken off from the society without a sound alternative. Some of the responsibilities of today's religion have to be transferred to law of the land and/or social ethics. All we can do is to take small steps in the correct direction in that path. The purpose of this essay is to increase awareness and arm those people who like to take the cause forward with weapons of knowledge. I am keeping in mind the layer of the society that has a say in policy making process as the target audience. If I can influence several such people in a way that they will be able to leave their religion aside when dealing with policy making process, and adopt a scientific approach, that involves critical inquiry and use of empirical evidence, I am satisfied that I have succeeded. People often resort to science when their questions are not answered by their religion. The challenge for them is to take a scientific stance even when they have been taught by religion what their stance should be regarding a particular issue.
One might ask why separate? Why not try reforming the religious institutions in a favorable way if we see institutions as the problem. Well, that is the point argued in this essay. The reason to take both (A) and (B) together in this essay is to argue that refining the religious institution is not a viable solution. The point being that religious institutions are built upon a "wrong" foundation. Most religions do not identify that ‘change is the nature’. Conservative religious leaders will not agree that everything including the doctrines should be subjected to discussion, and should be open for change. Even a religion like Buddhism, that talks a lot about ‘change’ at the core of its philosophy, have not bred lot of followers open for change. Even a religion like Buddhism that advices critical inquiry of the tradition (refer ‘Kalama Sutta’) has managed to create establishments that advice unquestioning adherence.
The key issue is religious scripture based doctrine not being subjected to scientific inquiry. Religious doctrines are not continuously challenged and refined based on new knowledge. In that sense, a religious scripture is highly unscientific. For that matter, any concept that is accepted as an unchallengeable and unquestionable truth can never be a scientific concept. Science is all about continuous learning and continuous improvement to theories and models that we create about the universe. And science boldly discards models that have been held as ‘truth’ for generations when those models fail to explain new phenomena and new knowledge about how the world works.
It is also important that the champions of this cause to keep an open mind. It is easier said than done to keep an open mind, take opposing arguments with respect, and leave room for change. Sometimes we tend to forget that all of these arguments that we make are extremely relative in nature. Religious people may believe in absolutes, but a secular person should always be aware that everything including concepts like "separation of governance and religion" are very much relative. There are taken-for-granted reference points in these arguments that we can easily forget. By arguing that religion and governance should be separated, we are also arguing for a particular knowledge system as well. The Appendix at the end of this essay titled "worldview differences" is my attempt to acknowledge the existence of different knowledge systems and rival arguments within them that should be treated with due respect.
I thought I should give a brief answer to one more question raised by a few. Why bother to write this essay?
Am I getting in to politics? Is this a pastime? Do I not have anything better to do? The answer to first two questions is a No and last question does not need an answer since it is what we call a rhetorical question.
I wrote this since I am very passionate about keeping such dialog alive. Although I am not certain whether claims that I make and ideas that I propose are 100% accurate, I still like to put them forward for discussion. It is these types of continuous dialogs that helped humankind to make course corrections and keep on progressing. The social, economical and political structures around us dictate the terms of our lives. It is our civic responsibility to continuously poke at those structures to see if they are sound. They might need repair or even rebuilding.
I don’t believe that we can be certain about anything. Certainly is a word in my vocabulary that I use sparingly.
“Nature is a network of happenings that do not unroll like a red carpet into time, but are intertwined with every part of the universe, and we are among those parts. In this nexus, we cannot reach certainty because it is not there to be reached; it goes with the wrong model and ‘certain’ answers ironically are the wrong answers!
Certainty is a demand that is made by philosophers who contemplate the world from outside; and scientific knowledge is the knowledge for action, not contemplation.”
- J. Bronowski