Separation of Church and State

The result of any mixture between religion and politics is EVIL. Sri Lankans who are aware of world history already know this. Christianity corrupted by political power took a thousand-year bite out of our civilization: the period spanning approximately 5 – 15th century AD are lost to humanity, the Dark Ages. The Church tortured and burned women as witches; it had the power to dictate what people learned and what they didn’t; to ban and burn books; to jail/execute writers and scientists; to send troops to other countries in the name of God.

Christianity was restored to the form originally designed by Christ, only through a massive internal struggle between Christians themselves: the Reformation. Christians have never forgotten this lesson. This is why in America, religion is forbidden from entering the government and is forbidden at the highest possible level: the Constitution. Religion may not be taught at school; public prayer or religious symbols within state buildings are not allowed. Most non-Christians find Americans’ apparent hostility toward their own religion puzzling. There is nothing puzzling when you see that the hostility is not toward religion, but toward mixing religion and politics. Muslims have yet to learn this lesson.

Buddhists tend to argue that, since Buddhism is a non-violent and tolerant system of beliefs, it cannot happen to Buddhism. They were proven wrong: on the subject of the ethnic conflict, political monks continue to be the most outspoken advocates of violence and intolerance. Astonishingly, some of them went beyond advocacy to direct demonstrations of violence.

There is ZERO correlation between the teachings of a religion and the degree of evil committed once it is mixed with politics. If “he that is without sin, cast the first stone” and “turn the other cheek” lead to the Witch Trials, it is no surprise that sermons of the Buddha too, were distorted to serve political ends. Buddhism in Sri Lanka has already been heavily corrupted by the politicized clergy, yet there is no sign that Sri Lankans are becoming wise to what Europeans learned centuries ago: ANY MIX OF POLITICS AND RELIGION IS EVIL.

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist COUNTRY. But it cannot be a Buddhist STATE. The difference seems subtle but is critical. Americans are far more Christian than Europeans or even their own neighboring Canadians. It is said that America is at once the most secular state and the most religious nation.

Amend the constitution to prohibit the government from favoring any religion or the parliament passing any law mentioning a specific religion. Make it clear that no religion is exempt from the Law: in any contest between the Law of the Country and the Law of a religion, the Law of the Country must prevail. In the eyes of the Law, only the Law is Holy. Religion must remain a private matter. Abolish all religion-related government departments and funding programs, with the exception of archeology projects dealing with preserving ancient Sri Lankan ruins (most of which happen to be from a Buddhist civilization). Sri Lankan cannot become a Buddhist state or a Christian state or an Islamic state or a Hindu state. It MUST be a secular state.

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One Response to Separation of Church and State

  1. Castedeus says:

    Refreshing post and certainly a very pertinent issue. Reform along the lines of what you recommend is highly desirable and yet so highly unattainable for the foreseeable future. Political reform in this context is tantamount to large scale social reform. In a country in which near 70 percent of the population are Buddhist and of which a significant portion have, thanks to actions of past leaders, come to accept the quasi-religious state as status-quo, such reform calls for an ideological shift within Buddhism in practice. It is perhaps time for a Buddhist Reformation in accordance with the present day needs of the Sri Lankan polity, similar in purpose to the nineteenth century Dharmapalian Renaissance. If a society must change from within, literalistic interpretations of religion present one of the earliest hurdles that must be overcome.

    Social norms must be laid out in the context of personal norms based on the principles of karuna (wisdom, tempered with compassion), metta (kindness) and mudita (rejoicing in the happiness of others), as explained through Buddhist philosophy. Sri Lanka’s version of Theravada Buddhism in practice must be remodeled to have direct benefit for practitioners of the faith and not the State. If the formerly mentioned concepts are holistically adhered to, in this context especially the last principle, the situation of constitutional marginalisation would not arise.

    Reform within the clergy is needed. At the expense of being Schumpetarian, Buddhism – a philosophy – cannot be easily interpreted by a non-intellectual mind. Thus, it is imperative that those providing a philosophical interpretation – and it must remain that – are intellectually equipped and competent to embrace the wider issues and provide their teachings within the context of what is both relevant and applicable. If, as the Buddhist doctrine indicates, there is no concept of the ‘self,’ then from that logic, might we infer that there cannot be a concept of the ‘homeland’ – in the context, the Dharmadweepa?

    I’m no expert – food for thought.

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