Monday, June 30, 2008

Right of (Non)Believing

Following is a collection of thoughts I gathered reading a column letter published in the Sinhalese newspaper 'Ravaya'. This piece is written by popular Sinhala novelist Gamini Viyangoda. It's one of the few writings I've seen in Sinhalese about Atheism rights. Some of the other interesting reference material in this area are the book 'God Delusion' and the BBC documentary 'Root of All Evil' by Richard Dawkins.

‘The right to express, hold and publish my ideas should not challenge the right of the other to criticize the same’. This is a well accepted practice in politics and in all social matters in general. If law comes up and defends my right to protect my idea from being criticized, that law will be grabbing the right of freedom of expression from the other. Although such laws are not common place, strangely enough, most of the countries have similar laws when it comes to religion. Although the right to criticize any sort of political opinion is well accepted at a principal level (practice can be different) the same right is not even accepted at a principal level for religion. If I go ahead and try to criticize a religion I most probably be accused of a legal offence.

Including Sri Lanka, many countries generally agree that you should not ‘look down’ upon religions. Actually looking down upon anything be it religion, people or anything at all is not appropriate. But the religious societies misinterpret any sort of criticism towards them as a ‘looking down’ scenario and all of us have got used to accept it as an eternal practice. There could be exceptions when the main religion of a country goes ahead and criticize other religions, but in principal criticism towards any religion is considered as non-ethical in any country. But what is the need to have such a ‘critic-proof’ shield only for religion?

Any religious person does NOT like others criticizing his/her religion. So he himself imposes a self-ban on criticizing other religions due to very obvious effects of throwing stones from a glass room. Preventing from criticizing other religions to prevents one’s own religion from getting attacked is a well understood self-preservation mechanism that cannot be criticized J. But what about an atheist, someone who does not believe in any traditional religion? It is not correct to say that an atheist does not have a religion. Not believing in any religion IS his ‘religion’. So as much as the right of a established believer to rise for his religions correctness and atheist should have the same right for his ‘religion’. On the other hand if the religion is a way of self liberation an individual should have the freedom to decide whether he wants to liberate that way, not the majority or state. Similar to a Buddhist rejecting the Islam liberation and a Christian refusing the Buddhist liberation and atheist should have the right to say that he does NOT want any religious liberation.

If someone claims that the refusal for religious liberation is harming the established religions, the same logic should apply against any religious person by another religion. We should not forget that if someones (non)belief in some way harms the society at a more physical level (murder, theft, sexual misconduct etc…) the civil and criminal law is there to handle that as for any other social misconduct. There have been recent developments in the world promoting this right to non-belief at least at a principal level.

While the world progresses on this aspect we as Sri Lankans seem to accelerate backwards. Religion is been continuously used as a way of forcing or isolating people from the mass recently. It’s still very much a taboo to say that you are an atheist here. Also lots of social and personal tensions rise up due to total myths and traditions which are part and parcel of established religions. At a time when scientists and so called intellectuals come and spread myths about science and religion in media round the clock, even the law seem to be very distant from protecting the innocent public, both believers and non-believers.

PS : The photo is of 'Dr. Richard Dawkins', the famous Atheist and great biologist.

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