Friday, July 30, 2010

Misplaced Religiosity?

Religion has occupied a rather prominent, and sometimes controversial place in our society’s landscape. Most of us, whatever our religious preference, do tend to show goodwill and have a generous regard for those whose religious orientation may be different from ours.

Sure, there are those individuals and, needless to say, government policies that undermine our widely held believe in the principle of freedom of religion. Yet, for the most part (and the religious bigots notwithstanding), we have had a fairly healthy tradition of coexisting.  

In this climate of relative religious coexistence (but also some uneasiness), however, we have come to witness a creeping – and now seemingly pervasive – tendency for many of our politicians and public figures to often invoke a religious prayer or greeting before addressing an audience, a gathering, initiating a meeting, or even making a presentation – all of which happen to be non-religious events. 
This has been increasing the case - irrespective of the religion concerned. It could be a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikhs, Taoist, Bahia, or anyone else. On one level, this seems rather harmless. I can imagine those who might be inclined to feel this way. But perhaps we ought to pause and consider, more thoughtfully, the implications of such public practices. Now I am sure there are some who might already be sensing that here come some atheist ideas thinly disguised to corrupt us from our pious ways. 

Well, let me assuage those suspicions by explicitly stating that I have nothing against any religion. But be as it may, this is quite beside the point. Whether one is religious or not, a believer or not, is really irrelevant here.

What is relevant is that we be thoughtful about the implications of bringing any religion – even when it seems so mundane – into our non-religious public functions.

What does it say about us as individuals to invoke our respective god in a non-religious public event? Why is it necessary? Has doing so really helped improve our ability to respect each other as fellow Malaysians? Has doing so made our politicians more virtuous, less corrupt than they might otherwise be, or improved their ability to function more effectively for our greater good? 

More importantly, perhaps we should ask, is it right and is it good, for these public figures – of whatever religious persuasion – to began a particular secular event or meeting with a religious invocation?

For the sake of discussion, should we not pause to consider if such invocations might in fact be more divisive – by further accentuating our religious differences (especially at a non-religious event, forum, or gathering), rather than what ought to be: to keep religion as a personal matter – and distinct from our “common” and collective (public) affairs – irrespective of religion.

As a nation aspiring to be so-called 1Malaysia, we, and especially many of our politicians, sure seem to already have numerous ways to repeatedly divide ourselves. Does such religious exhibitionism in non-religious functions, gatherings, and events actually add to bridging our divide as a people?

Does it really make the truly religious people any less religious if they dropped these religious invocations at non-religious gatherings? Will God love them any less for doing so? I wonder.

Of course, public expression and demonstration of one’s faith ought to be respected. Aside from publicly and openly celebrating religious holidays and festivals, many may also like to adorn their cars, vans, or lorries with religious signs.

Others choose to publicly wear clothing with religious symbols and expressions. Again, I personally don’t care to indulge in such religious chauvinism, but it’s a personal thing – and to each his own. But do our non-religious public events and gatherings need to have religion infused into it? 

In place of such religious invocations, might we not be better off – and would it not be more consistent with our desire for more national unity – if it became more commonplace instead to recite the Rukun Negara or the national anthem.

In a multi-religious country, specific religious invocations are by definition not universal; however, on the other hand, inclusive invocations such as the much-neglected Rukun Negara may well be a nationally universal and valuable unifying force.

God knows we may just go much further than we have toward being a stronger nation.

G. Krishnan