The climate of religious distancing

SHOULD the rule of one-metre physical distancing be applied to religions? A community welfare service institution in Puchong renowned for its unity programmes has these few weeks been getting a bashing on social media for displaying the symbols of six religions close to each other in a neat row atop the entrance to a hall.

The institution has also been flayed over a musical night event it organised four years ago, featuring artistic groups from various religions. Incredibly, long before SARS-CoV-2 made distancing a norm around the world, Malaysians were already expected to practise religious distancing – you stick to your crowd of fellow believers, and I stick to my crowd of fellow believers.

As more years get added between now and that faraway time when Malaysia secured independence, our diverse ethnicities and religions have also grown more socially distant from each other. We have made it a standard operating procedure for each community to stay confined within its silo. In so doing, we are subverting the purpose of religion.

For each civilisation, a religion or sometimes two would spring up to forge unity among the masses of people by serving as superglue. A civilisation’s religion or cluster of religions would anchor that civilisation securely to its bedrock of values, reflecting its distinctive culture and geographical habitat. Each religion is paramount within its realm, just as the sun is paramount in our solar system. But there is no competition among the stars in Milky Way galaxy, and on Earth no one civilisation is paramount.

When religions dissociate themselves from each other, they subvert the global effort to stop climate change. The Covid-19 pandemic and rapid climate deterioration are two devastating consequences of the human warfare against Nature. If we don’t close the distance and forge solidarity between religions on a platform of globalisation, this may be humanity’s final century.

Climate change should induce a change of mind in us. Instead, religious preachers find it a boring topic and parliamentarians don’t think it can win votes. Climate change never crops up in any by-election, and won’t be mentioned in the coming general election for sure.

Authorities may be wasting time enforcing regulations that stipulate physical distancing between religions, when the issue of climate change should in fact be Malaysia’s topmost religious problem.

How religious is the issue of climate change? In the Bible’s book of Revelation is a verse warning that God will “destroy those who destroy the earth” (11:18). Who are the people destroying the earth? They are you, me, and all the pious folks. In the book of Daniel is this verse: “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting” (5:26-27).

It may seem out of context to apply this verse to present-day humanity in general, but we have indeed reigned over the earth disastrously and we have weighed the scales of the pangolin for sale in the market. Now it’s our turn to be weighed. And the writing is on the wall. One clear sign is the increasing heat that you feel on those blistering days when it is not rainy.

Your temperature is read when you enter any shop, office, or restaurant. If it consistently registers above 37°C, it could mean that your body’s cooling system is getting dysfunctional. If it hits 40°C, you are in a state of hyperthermia (very high body termperature) and may collapse into unconsciousness.

In the 1960s, room temperature was 25°C and you didn’t need air-conditioning unless your room faced west.

This year’s room temperature is 30°C, with outdoor air temperature going above 40°C on a few days. If you draw a heat graph covering the past 60 years, you will notice that it is now an accelerated climb.

Britain has seen 38.5°C, Japan 41°C, Italy 42°C, France 42.6°C, China 43°C, and India 51°C with troupes of monkeys – more resilient than humans – dying from heatstroke. Most alarming is that Arctic temperatures have recorded 38°C, and one glacier in Iceland has completed melted. Arctic temperatures are warming twice as fast as the global average, with melting ice exposing a larger volume of sea water that absorbs solar heat more than ice does and hence contributing to higher global warming.

In addition to collapsing your organs, the heat can drown you. Rising CO2 levels are likely to dissipate ocean clouds, allowing more solar penetration to heat up the Earth by another 8°C. Polar ice will melt almost completely, raising sea levels tens of metres. Your housing estate will be completely submerged and your grandchildren will be swept out to sea.

This is the projected scenario 80 years from now. So, are you still more interested in measuring the distance between religious symbols than in measuring the rising temperature and the rising sea height year by year?

The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: