Religion and Race - some people liken them to two tinderboxes. I used to wonder why it had to be so.
When I was a young boy, I never gave much thought to religion or race. I learnt about race only in Standard One - from textbooks teaching us the typical Abu, Ali and Ah Chong, and it really didn't seem to be important to me back then. And religion - well I thought religion was just a part of daily life - Bible readings by Mother at breakfast (and being forced to be at the table throughout without toilet-break till it was done) and quiet time, praying before meals, reflection before bed (which I regularly skipped when nobody was watching), doing unto others what you would like others to do unto you, going to church on Sundays, refraining from certain habits (no bad language in front of Mom, no cussing, no fibs) and the like. It was some sort of 'it's something I do at home' and 'it's all a part of the upbringing' kind of thing. Until I came across some words in a history book. Words like 'oppression', 'genocide', 'hate', 'racism', 'Reich','bias', 'holocaust', 'wars of religion'. I remember asking Mom when I was way younger, and she merely told me that they were 'bad things we do to people we do not like'. And full stop. That was it. Which was weird to me, since it seemed strange to me that somebody could think of killing over 6 million people he didn't like. How did he find so many people to dislike? (By the way, I was referring to Hitler). But since I was given a relatively simple answer, and the person in question did not seem to find it necessary to elaborate on it, I thought, well, just another weird thing about life. Apparently.
I forgot all about it, until I was old enough to read the newspaper. And when I went to school.
There it was, Racism staring bald-faced at me. I remember a particular teacher disliking me, and I never understood why (I was eight). Everything I did was somewhat below-standard to this particular teacher, and I never understood why my efforts were always 'erroneous' to her no matter what I tried to do. Every piece of artwork I did surely had some fault to it. The way I wrote my numbers, my capital 'J's, the essays I wrote, were always wrong, unacceptable, and inferior to what she wanted. And I never understood why. Even the horror story I wrote for a school assignment was rejected. And as far as I remembered, I definitely had it double checked before submission. And all the while my parents just turned a blind eye. And one day, I remember coming home crying, and finally my Mother told me what it was. And for the first time I fully comprehended what they really meant: Racism. Bias. Hate.
And from that day onwards, my eyes were opened. And it became all the more clearer. The teachers clarified it for me. My school made it all the more distinct. And I learned very quickly to avoid some 'malignant' staff like the Plague.
And at the dinner table, everything suddenly fell into place. The concept of Bumi and non-Bumi, quotas, special rights, the concept of pendatang, the NEP, racial politics. But being very young, I never could accept why some of us had to have less priviledges just because we so happened to be of another colour. I thought it rather illogical, given that race was not like marks on a test - you didn't earn it, you were born into it.
But years passed, and after a while, I accepted it as a part of Malaysian life. Until I learnt about the next tinderbox - Religion.
I remember going to an interschool camp in primary school, which was aimed at creating a sense of 'integration' - another big word I didn't understand at that time.
And I remember accidentally vexing this particular boy at the camp who then in his angst said something I could never forget - Cina K*f*r. As I came from an all-boys school, calling each other names, including jokingly labelling each other as some kind of animal (e.g. babi) was very very acceptable. However this new term had a particular ring to it which made me uneasy. And the steely look in his eyes made it all the more frightening.
But I didn't think much about it. Until I came across part of an essay under my desk in secondary school (we used to have two sessions, so that piece of paper was most likely left behind by a senior). And being the curious cat, I read it. And although it was only the second page of an essay, I was left disturbed. The essay attacked a number of things I believed in, calling certain people blinded and led astray and liable to the wrath of God, so to speak. Its heavy usage of the K-word brought back terrible memories. To make it worse, it unforgivingly attacked certain beliefs I had long held to be a part of my life.
I went home disturbed. I mean, I knew a little bit about religious supremacy, extremism and how some cranky people can plough planes right through a couple of towers in the name of their religion. But I had always thought that those were rather distant incidents.
But that one essay changed everything.
I began to learn a lot about the real world. At the news stand. From books being sold at Popular. From newspapers and magazines.
And I wondered - why?
I found out that there were people who thought that one religion was so correct that everyone else had to be its follower. And there were some who made it their life's mission to kill others for the sake of their religion. I learnt that there were people who thought it right, and in fact, divinely-inspired, to massacre or deprive of certain rights, people who did not see eye-to-eye on matters of faith.
And what was even more puzzling to me was that this happened too within the same Faith. One Body, badly divided. Countless arguments and even wars being waged just because not everyone believed that some consecrated wafer actually turned into the Body of Christ himself. And crusades to wipe out heretics. It seemed Charity was something we all practiced when everything was going our way, and then it could be thrown out of the window the moment somebody comes up with some 'new ideas'. I could never accept the fact that God would condemn to hell people who have worshipped in a particular way all their lives in earnest. Would I go to hell just because I sincerely believed that it was upon Peter himself that my Church was built? Would I be regarded as condemned if I believed that the Communion was merely a memorial of the Last Supper? Was it at all logical, if one taught that God was merciful, to preach that some people are already predestined to go to heaven, and some to hell. One Body, divided for a long time. And some of us shatter it further.
How wondrous - that the way one prays can be used against him. To mock him. To oppress him. That people actually invest time and effort in writing inflammatory articles and organizing talks just to teach people that everything is a conspiracy of so-and-so religion. That wafer and holy water is being used to erode one's faith. That so-and-so is being oppressed, when in fact, the very same is being done by said religion unto others elsewhere in the world.
For once, can we just let religion stay where it ought to be: In the heart. After all, religion can never be true unless someone believes it sincerely.
I believe that God is a Trinity - is it so mortally wrong that you burn churches and desecrate sanctuaries? Of what use is it to you, and would that be a goodly testament of faith? Would that assist God in any way?
I believe that the Church is defined as being inclusive of people who profess the common tenets of the Faith. Does that mean that people who do not believe in the speaking of tongues are any less righteous than those who do? Or that because I attend so-and-so church and believe in so-and-so doctrine makes me more blessed and at a greater advantage than you? As far as I remember, I was taught that God was a fair God. Each man sows what he reaps.
Religion for the heart, and race for purposes of identification only. Not more than that.