Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Response to Understanding the Change of Value Systems: Are Buddhism and Its Clergy, the Root Cause of Sri Lanka’s Problems?

By Sanjeewa Karunaratne

It is interesting to observe an attempt to sling mud at a religion using catchy phrases and the results of an opinion poll. The foundation of the article is an international survey conducted by the Gallup Organization about religion. Based on the survey results, the article finds, “Almost all the topmost religious countries belong to “developing/underdeveloped” category of nations in the world” and “the least religious countries studied include several with the world's highest living standards.” Thus, authors argue, “socio-economic status of a country improves when the religiosity drops.” It relates these results to Sri Lanka and suggests Buddhism and its clergy are the root cause of socio-economic and ethic problems in Sri Lanka. Does this claim resonate with world history?

Though we like democracy, because it is perceived as an invention of the west, the acclaim it is the best form of governance is contextual. Had Russia won the cold war, we would be arguing communism is the best form of governance which, by the way, prohibits the practice of religion. Today, the communist China literally funds U.S. debt and produces over 90% of U.S.’s retail items. The living conditions in the U.S. during its great depression (1930’s) were worse than in most of the countries today; and no one knows where its current recession is heading.

If the Gallup poll had followed-up with a question about “happiness in life” the lists would have been reversed. There are studies that had found the most religious people are the happiest and least religious people are the unhappiest. So what is our yardstick?

The problems of the world are results of unequal distribution of resources based on the location. It is mere luck that 10,000 or so years ago world’s best crops, animals, weather, soil, minerals (e.g. steel and, later, oil) etc. were concentrated on Europe and western Asia where 8 out of top 10 least religious, developed nations in the Gallup list are located. These nations with their protein rich diet, iron, guns, germs and animals greedily and ruthlessly conquered other parts of the world and disrupted their natural progression. Countries these nations spread their faith, race and way of life (e.g., America) later developed and countries they did not because of patriotic, resistive and equally intelligent indigenous populations, they screwed up (e.g., Sri Lanka)—squeezed up its resources; created chaos and left. The root cause of socio-economic and ethnic problems in Sri Lanka is not Buddhism but the occupation of British colonial rulers for 150 years. Translate Iraq to 1815 Sri Lanka, add 150 years and imagine that period!

In conclusion, I would like to draw attention to the 10 most religious and less developed countries in the Gallup list. In the parentheses are its last colonial ruler and the year it gained technical “independence”. Egypt (Britain; 1922); Bangladesh (Britain; 1947); Sri Lanka (Britain; 1948); Indonesia (Netherlands; 1945); Congo (Belgium; 1960); Sierra Leon (Britain; 1961); Malawi (Britain; 1964); Senegal (France; 1960); Djibouti (France; 1977); and Morocco (France; 1955). In contrast, 9 of the 10 least religious and most developed nations were never under any colonial rule. In fact, 7 of those are the colonial rulers themselves. So Buddhism and its clergy are the root cause of SL problems is a baseless claim.


Prasad said...

Are Buddhism and Its Clergy, the Root Cause of Sri Lanka’s Problems? I don’t think so!

Anyway, I am thankful to Sanjeewa for reading the long essay on religion and governance. Although it is doubtful whether Sanjeewa read it in its entirety, it is understandable not having the time or frame of mind to read all of the rants.

Few things need to be corrected quickly. You have chosen a discursive heading that says “Are Buddhism and Its Clergy, the Root Cause of Sri Lanka’s Problems?” I have to point out that it is not a question answered in my essay. I wasn’t interested in finding root causes. Any one thing cannot be the root cause of all the issues. IMO the causes are multifactorial and trying to find “root causes” is a futile effort. In my essay I am not trying to blame anyone or anything for the problems that we face. It is rather a suggestion about way-forward regarding one aspect (one out of many) -the connection between religion and governance.

On the outset let me re-emphasize that I do not have strong convictions regarding any of these topics that I cannot let go of. Trying not to cling hard on to anything (ideologies in particular) is perhaps a value that I borrowed from Buddhism. I do understand that people who are more educated and knowledgeable than me hold different opinions to that of mine regarding these topics. If those more enlightened people read my rants and if they care, they are bound to respond, convince me, and free me of my wrong opinions. Even during the short period between starting the essay and publishing it, I changed some of my opinions slightly. However, at the moment I am ready to passionately argue this opinion, as I have not seen anything convincing yet to change.

When someone challenges the opinions stated, they can take many approaches. (a) Some will take each point carefully and dissect the point logically. (b) Some will come to the table with a hardcore conviction that they will not change no matter what. They will argue passionately to convince themselves of their own opinion with less regard to the actual points discussed. This may include deliberate distortion of facts presented; in order to prime them for attack (c) Some will try to find ways to personally attack the authors, if they are not agreeable to what is being said.

I thank Sanjeewa for not taking the approach (c) but staying somewhere between (a) and (b) which is a very good start. In any case, reading the essay and caring enough to respond is something I am grateful of. I will post a separate article as a response to your post, since there is a word limiation on a comment like this.

lstlee said...

"If the Gallup poll had followed-up with a question about “happiness in life” the lists would have been reversed. There are studies that had found the most religious people are the happiest and least religious people are the unhappiest."

Yes your claim is true in the sense that a drug addict is happier than one who is not on drugs.Religions allow people to live in alternative realities in which they have some scared path to salvation from the evils of realty,therefore you can assert religious people are happier at least within their mental bubble blown specially for them but,it is illusionary happiness based on fraudulent claims.