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We had a fantastic day presenting our campaign website and discussed our vision for a Secular Sri Lanka at the Rationalist Day 2010, which was organized by the Sri Lanka Rationalist Association. Prasad, Chathura and Lahiru represented Secular Sri Lanka staff, and it was well received by a large enthusiastic audience. Those discussions after the presentation were mostly focused around our core concerns; the need for Constitutional Separation of Religion from The Republic of Sri Lanka, and how can we succeed in removing religion in the tax payer funded public school system? We will bring you a full-length video series on this presentation and audience discussions via our Youtube Channel, so stay tuned.
We would like to share the following report on the Rationalist Day 2010 sent by Dharmapala Senaratne, the current President of Sri Lanka Rationalist Association. In this report he points out how SLRA campaigned in the 1970’s supporting a secularized Constitution: ‘In a multi-religious country like Sri Lanka, the best protection for freedom of conscience is a Secular State.’
Secular Sri Lanka
Rationalist Day – May 18, 2010
The Sri Lanka Rationalist Association chose May 18 as the Rationalist Day on the basis that it was the 138th birth anniversary of Earl Bertrand Russell. It needs to be said that Russell was a great personage who can be looked up to by not only rationalists, secularists and all other varieties of humanists but by all discerning men and women right throughout the world. Announcing the decision of the SLRA to declare this day to be Rationalist Day, I wrote a brief account of this great man in the ‘The Island’ newspaper of May 11, 2010.
By this time, I had already established a rapport with Secular Sri Lanka, as I mentioned in my welcome address. It was not very long ago that Hemantha Wijesuriya inquired from me through Facebook if I am the President of the SLRA. Not knowing much as to why such a question was posed, I truthfully answered him in the affirmative. It did not take long thereafter for me to be a member of their Innercircle.
While it is not proposed to go into details, I must state that the SLRA has right along been advocating secular governance, meaning that the government should be separated from all religions, religion being a private matter of individuals. Indeed, it was as far back as 1970 that the SLRA (then known as Ceylon Rationalist Association) submitted a Memorandum on this issue to the then Minister of Constitutional Affairs, when he sought the views of the members of the public and NGOs on the proposed new Constitution.
Item 6 of our Memorandum dated 25. 09. 1970, stated as follows. ‘In a multi-religious country like Sri Lanka, the best protection for freedom of conscience is a Secular State. India, a country ridden with diverse religions and superstitions, although the vast majority of its teeming millions are Hindus, is, through the wisdom of its political leaders, a secular state. It is good to remember that in the history of the human race, more blood has been shed in the name of religion than in any other cause’.
This Memorandum was published in ‘The Ceylon Rationalist Ambassador - 1971’, the annual Journal of the Association, edited by its then President, Dr. Abraham Kovoor. Subsequently, I added its Sinhala version at the end of the Chapter on ‘The Eternal Conflict Between Rationalism and Religion’ in the Sinhala book, named ‘Hetuvadaya Saha Kovoorge Darshanaya’, written by me and published in 1983.
Unfortunately for the nation, our suggestion was overlooked and for the first time, one particular religion was afforded a preferred position by the Constitution of 1972. We have little doubt that it was so done for political expediency. The minorities felt discriminated and ethnic and religious strife took a firm root, as I stated in my welcome speech. The nation now repents at leisure.
We are firm in our view that religious dogma of whatever brand pollutes human mind. It is, however, a theme that deserves a separate treatment, which is not attempted here except to say this. When one set of people are deeply convinced of the truth of an Almighty God and Creation, for instance, and a different set of people are equally convinced of the diametrically opposed dogma of karma, samsara and rebirth, the much-talked of inter-religious harmony and reconciliation will remain hypocritical and mythical, as it has happened today.
But, quite apart from that, from a politico-social perspective, we deem it grossly unfair to utilize the public funds, collected from those belonging to all religions, for the benefit of one preferred religion, as I stated in my welcome address.
During this address, I read out quite a few Goodwill Messages we received in connection with this event. I wish to make special mention of that, sent by James Randi, the head of James Randi Educational Foundation in Florida, USA. Randi is the holder of two Guinness Book records for magic, which term he avoids in preference to ‘conjuring’, in addition to being a movie actor, author and an indefatigable crusader for rationalism and secularism. He has challenged anyone from any part of the world to demonstrate any supernatural, supernormal or psychic powers in exchange of 1 million USD.
Randi not only wrote the book ‘The Truth About Uri Geller’ (1982) but also exposed Geller, who had earned a world fame as being able to bend and move metal objects, such as spoons, forks and keys by mind power - the so-called psychokinetic abilities – to be a conjurer-cum-fraudster. Geller then sued Randi but the court ordered Geller to pay 120,000 USD to Randi for bringing a frivolous law suit ! I have been associating with Randi for quite sometime and in my Sinhala book ‘Elovin Aa Jeevakaya Saha Venath Hetuvadi Lipi’, put out last year, I have not only referred to Randi but even carried his photograph.
Randi underwent heart by-pass surgery in 2006, laparoscopic surgery for the removal of a malignant tumor in June last year, and chemotherapy for quite a few months thereafter. Last month, in April, however, he was given a clean bill of health by his doctors. At the age of 82, he is now as active as a youth of 22 years.
When I emailed him informing of our Rationalist Day, he acknowledged it within minutes and sent us a Goodwill Message a little time later !
To cut a long story short, on the occasion of the Rationalist Day, the SLRA launched its Rationalist Song, a CD containing rationalist songs and the Tamil version of the Young Rationalist magazine.
All in all, it was quite a success and those present had a very lively discussion as well. Last but not least, it should be thankfully said that Secular Sri Lanka played a major role in making it a success.
President – Sri Lanka Rationalist Association