WHEN a temple in Subang Jaya becomes the scene of tragically violent confront-ation that punches a hole in the fabric of our society, we need to ask: Is religion a platform where all Malaysians can stand together united, or is it a cluster of rival silos? You may have noticed these silos or storage towers for cement at construction zones.
Coming round the corner is World Interfaith Harmony Week to be celebrated on Feb 1-7. It’s a UN observance week mooted in 2010 by King Abdullah II and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan to promote world peace. But after nine years, where is the success? This year is Harmony Week’s tenth anniversary and it will pass like a fleeting cloud, unless the reform government promotes fresh mindsets as the driving force of a New Malaysia.
The most strident speeches of late have been loud calls for the “defence of race and religion”. Such rallies are not peculiar to Malaysia as they are also happening in Africa, America, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and other countries in Southeast Asia – more recently Myanmar. Whether Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, or Hindu, you may feel that your faith is under siege and prepare a “fight or flight” response. It can result in one death ... or a million.
If you live in a silo, the massive circular wall protects you and your community living in it; it also suffocates you and your community. We are living in silos of faith labelled according to the various religions. Their cement don’t mix. But just as cement hardens into concrete, our minds harden and become dense. No fresh ideas can get in.
You may have noticed that Malaysians don’t read serious non-fiction books that fall outside the limits of their religious beliefs. Scientific works that touch on metaphysics are left on the shelves. Fearful of sinning, Malaysians also avoid making courtesy visits to each other’s temple, mosque, or church although it may be just across the road. Some of us even question the “Merry Christmas” festive greeting.
This is ironical when you consider that ancient religion was the glue that bonded culturally diverse primitive tribes together at the tail end of the last global climate change roughly 10,000 years ago. Climate change hit our primeval ancestors hard as they were hunter-gatherers depending on food sources in the wild.
To survive climate change, womenfolk invented planting of crops such as wheat and rice. The menfolk later invented herding of animals like cattle and goats. Small tribes formed cooperation pacts to build very much larger human groupings through extensive teamwork. Tribes that were strangers integrated to survive climate change, and a consequence was the emergence of civilisation (the word means “living in cities”) independently in North Africa, West Asia, India, and China beginning 7,000 years ago.
Early religion was the glue that fostered mass cooperation and teamwork culture resulting in civilisation. Those ancient religions have long disappeared, along with the early civilisations. Over the past 6,000 years – mostly within the last 3,000 years – new religions have emerged on the world scene. In Malaysia today we have Islam, the big five (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism), and another half dozen small ones. And today we face global climate change again. It is an equally threatening climate change induced by human consumption, unlike the previous climate change that was part of a natural cycle.
But climate change isn’t the talk of the town – certainly not in places of worship or religious schools. It’s an ignored topic because all our present-day religions have arisen in a time of climate stability. Hence, no scripture dwells on climate change. It’s a new phenomenon in our recorded history, catching everyone off-guard.
Climate change presents a challenge to all religions: can we demolish our silo faith rivalry to build a meta-faith alliance for survival? If our hunter-gatherer ancestors could forsake their tree canopies to build civilisations, why can’t we abandon our silos to save this human-friendly climate? From silo faith to meta-faith, from needless competition to needful cooperation – this is the transformation we need to make in 2019.
The writer, a former journalist, champions inter-faith harmony. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org