RELIGIONS: DEVELOPMENTS AND DISTORTIONS | Daily News

RELIGIONS: DEVELOPMENTS AND DISTORTIONS

All religions, religious movements that have had many a significant impact on various peoples were initiated by uniquely gifted human personages. Their life example, vision and words have become so central to human life over the centuries that others are compelled to pay close attention to them. Their influence though circumscribed by manifest human impulses and limitations have surpassed boundaries of nations and languages to inspire across the ages millions of people far more than various philosophies and ideologies.

From time to time there have arisen religious reformers who see the unacceptable disparity between the original Founding Leader’s pristine teaching, the perfect example and/or the pattern of his life and the existential reality of the day in which that exemplary model of life has been communicated and transmitted in a neglected, less faithful, declined and even distorted spirit. The great weaknesses and flaws of successive followers have done that.

Though legend and myth may have also influenced oral narratives of religions, they too may be of some value as accretions and fonts of information which could and need to be investigated in spite of the German theologian Rudolf Bultmann’s much-argued entmythologisierung, demythologizing: myths, legends, ancient visions or concepts of human existence connected with religions needing reinterpretation.

GREAT TEACHERS’ FAITHFUL DISCIPLES

The teachings of the Great Teachers had such an impact on the lives of people that subsequently they have been transmitted to us by the narratives written by their closest followers who proclaimed their message to various people and witnessed to it by their own lives. Only the most perfect of followers or adherents could be authentic and genuine in discipleship. In fact, some of them expressly said that they are very faithful followers of the Master. For example, St. Paul would dare to say, “Follow me, as I am of Christ”.

Yet with time, baser human tendencies came to prevail. Human shortcomings, weaknesses, failings, imperfections, faults and sins have contaminated human relationships and relationships connected with religion, observances, religious practices and life and to a considerable extent confined life to the mere external performance of rituals the meaning of which came to be little understood.

Then there arise insightful disciples and religious reformers with unblemished spiritual discernment who clearly see where, what and how principles and aspects of teachings have not been quite right. It is not an easy thing to initiate and pursue religious reform and keep faithful to the teachings and spirit of the Founding Teacher who has not left any written documents.

The authentic reformers have shown valid and genuine discipleship and the spirit of the Master in their own life and with great enthusiasm shared their deep-felt convictions and feelings with others who were like-minded and attracted to the new insights that have organically and consistently developed. There are many who accept the challenges involved and follow the reforming leader as the leader patently shows himself or herself as a humble follower striving to be a more perfect and faithful disciple of the Great Teacher. They do not turn out to be rigid imposers of their personal way of life but even though they may be firm and decisive, through their own life they show and direct the lives of others to the perfect life of the Great Teacher.

RENEWAL IN CATHOLIC CHURCH

The Church was founded by Jesus Christ. It was one, united Church for a thousand years till the Eastern Greek Rite in Constantinople (later, Istanbul) separated from unity with the Pope of Rome in 1054. In the Catholic Church there are several men and women who like St. Ambrose, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), and father of monasticism in the West St. Benedict (circa 480-547) influential figures of Western civilization, and Benedict’s sister St. Scholastica founded religious orders and others who reformed them.

Some were very ordinary disciples who occupied themselves in humble services to others had wide reformative influence. Later came St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic and St. Ignatius of Loyola. St.Theresa of Avila (1515-1582) reformed the order of Carmelite nuns and influenced the religious orders of women. Mary Ward (1585-1645) had a vision ‘that women in time to come will do much’. She passionately believed in the capability of women to make a profound difference for good in the world through education. She lived and worked for that vision and it has come true.

In recent times, Pope Saint John XXIII, after nearly four years of thorough preparation, opened the Second Vatican Council in October 1962 for an ‘aggiornamento’, an updating of the whole life of the Catholic Church. More than 3,500 Catholic Church’s Bishops, from all over the world who had assisted in its preparation, came to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican to take part with the participation of the mainline Christian Churches and the Orthodox Church as observers, in what became an unprecedented event in the Church and the biggest ever meeting in the history of the world. It acknowledged that there is legitimate and organic development of and better understanding of doctrine and life in the Catholic belief and launched many changes hitherto unforeseen for the renewed life in the Church, firmly establishing also new relationships with everyone on earth, sincerely proclaiming that the ‘joys and hopes, tears and sorrows of the people in all the world are the joys and hopes, tears and sorrows of the followers of Jesus Christ. Solemn enthroning of the Word of God before each session of the Council was a sign of the Council Fathers striving to be faithful to ‘Deposit of Faith’, to love of God and love of neighbour which was recognized as the fulfilment of all of the law.

There are those who like and welcome reform as they see the need for self-purification, reform and a new direction to persons, community and society. It goes without saying that the States and governments of the whole world also needs to come to a renewed understanding of humanity to build a better world for all to share. The Holy Father at that time intervened directly between America and Soviet Russia to diffuse the Cuban crisis which nearly culminated in a nuclear holocaust. This peaceful intervention without fanfare or political propaganda was followed by the Pope’s encyclical Pacem in Terris which was addressed to the whole of humanity and which was well-received by all and also by President John Kennedy of the USA and Chairman Nikita Krushchev of the USSR who observed that Pope John XXIII was a man of peace who understood that world peace was absolutely necessary for mankind to make progress and live in harmony.

Following his predecessors, Pope Francis is striving to help everyone to rediscover external simplicity and interior serenity reinvigorating life with the hope of the possibility of moral renewal and human enhancement without giving in to despair due to past failures, tragic mistakes and miseries that may have led some people to give up striving towards spiritual enrichment.

REVIVAL OF WORLD RELIGIONS

It was very creditable that a Sri Lankan Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera initiated The World Fellowship of Buddhists. It should be kept alive and contemporary by some self-sacrificing persons able to work in unity especially by making a religious contribution towards world peace.

If parallel revivals were to take place in other religions on a world-scale and outline programmes of good work and good relationship with all other religious communities and diverse secular communities of the world, there is hope that ways can be found to establish global fraternity. Humanity is entering a never before experienced period in world history with a population that will reach a peak in a few decades.

All the religions have to update themselves and establish harmonizing new relationships in order to ensure an absolutely necessary stable world peace and collaboration. In the world of today where better communication could transmit knowledge of others and integral education could be established, misunderstanding could be lessened; unnecessary rivalry and tension due to prejudice, bigotry, misplaced zeal and fanaticism arising out of narrow interpretation of religious texts and teachings could be avoided, relationships with people near and far revived and wholesome fraternal relationships with everyone established that a firm foundation for a durable world peace may be laid in our day.

This could be done by the leaders of world religions who could unitedly call the political leaders of the world to act intelligently and wisely so that the world’s peoples may progress serenely. Religions would then be fulfilling its main function of keeping up and preserving fraternity. When good religious leaders default, delay and fail, erratic and evil men take over religious leadership and cause catastrophes of Taliban and ISIS and massive tragedies like that of Easter Sunday.

If the religious leaders of Sri Lanka could recall the local political and other social leaders to reach an altruism and a pearl of wisdom to achieve goals of a good relationship, progress and peace, this small country would give a shining example to the rest of the world.

Complexities of life in the modern world that arise in many fields lead peoples and nations to violent rivalry and war. Precious resources that could be directed towards the well-being of the whole of humanity are wasted on armaments and maintenance of large armies. Only religions working together and collaborating could motivate men and women and revive people’s lives with new meaning and purpose.

The authentic revival of world religions should bring diverse people, communities and nations closer together. It should be an absolutely necessary prelude to a serene and peaceful world in which to live becomes a sharing of fraternal happiness.

Authentic and genuine religious reformers are truthful, just, humble, honest and sincere. They inspire and light up the lives of others in various ways, but especially by the shining light of their own good example.

Today, peace among religions is absolutely necessary. Religions should promote world peace which could be the basis for the solution of the many problems that nations face in their complex relationships.


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