BY Priyan Rajapaksa 

On 10 April, the first photograph of a black hole in space was published. The black hole was located in the Messier 87 galaxy, approximately 55 million light-years away from Earth. And modern humanity welcomed the finding.

A mere 11 days later, on 21 April – and in an insult to all of humanity – a band of men and women believing in an extreme ideology attacked the prayer houses of a religion established some 20 centuries back.

They slaughtered more than 250 people in the name of their god. Some of the victims had no connection to this tribalist battle. According to the slaughterers’ beliefs, the eight male assailants are now in heaven blessed with a multitude of virgins.

But merciful only to those of their faith?

If I was yet another religious opportunist – an influencer with the gift of the gab deluded enough to think that I’m the son of a god or the messenger of one – the black hole would present a lucrative opportunity to introduce a new faith.

I could say: “On April 10, a distant light was revealed to me by, let’s say Zoltan. It’s an unfathomable force so powerful that it will consume all sinners who do not join my faith. Repent, all ye sinners and kiss my bum!”

And if I was Pope Urban II, what better time than now to launch another crusade?

A transcript of my speech to the crusaders might read as follows: “The Lord beseech you, as Christ’s heralds – destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends!”

No, that’s inflammatory.

My mind is inflamed at the senseless slaughter. But as a rationalist, I need to step back, think and pen my thoughts rationally.

To quote Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

In my opinion, religious differences that lead to hate are instilled in the mind on the first day one is taken to a temple, church, mosque or kovil to have water poured on one’s head by clergy who safeguard their market share. This is reinforced by weekly visits where one is told that you are saved, all others be damned. Their motto seems to be ‘catch them young’ – lifetime subscriptions!

Being someone with liberal parents, religion held no significance for me. From the age of eight, I was familiar with the idea that ‘religion is the opium of the masses.’ To me, there’s no such thing as karma, rebirth or gods. Most importantly, there are no differences and therefore, no reason to hate.

Ironically, along the lines of a saying of the Buddha, all things arise in the mind and everything changes. So the current crop of religions, gods and statues will become museum pieces akin to those of Osiris, Anubis, Horus, Thor, Odin and Zeus.

Some would point out that religions preach love but I vehemently say ‘no!’ I have been to temples, churches and kovils but haven’t witnessed any signs of promoting unity among humans. Asking the clergy of one religious brand to say other brands are acceptable is like asking a Coca-Cola salesperson to promote Pepsi. We the people must know to switch to Portello!

Existing knowledge suggests that we do not know how we came about or where we are going. Is that so difficult to believe?

The Earth seems to have been formed some 4.6 billion years ago. Our common ancestor, mitochondrial Eve, stepped out of Africa about 200,000 years ago and her DNA travelled the world.

Sri Lankans populated the island over 20,000 years before the seven-day creation story was fabricated. Therefore, biblical theories should not apply to Sri Lankan citizens.

Moreover, it appears that creation was an incomplete job, as the guy who created rested on that vital seventh day – and creation was thrown out of the window. The Earth’s core is still molten, its foundations are cracking, the continents are drifting and holy cow, Mount Everest is growing by two inches annually! We need to shelve that book and accept peer reviewed theories instead.

Sri Lankans at least can sheathe their swords, donate outdated religious books to the Middle East and read anew.

Along with ridding ourselves of the myth of creation, we need to archive the other fables that have influenced Sri Lankan minds. These include an ancient myth of a genetically impossible union between a lion and a woman (to bring credibility to our DNA).

As knowledge advances, we need to shed old ideas. The Pope accepted that the Earth orbited the sun only in 1992, some 359 years after Galileo presented his theory. But Sri Lankans cannot wait another 350 years for religions to accept modernity.

What we need is attitudinal changes now – it’s all in the mind… and all things change.