Friday, December 17, 2004

Jottings of an atheist

Carols Posted by Hello

Carolers entertaining the patrons at Gaya Street on Christmas eve, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, 2003.

Many people would chide me if I ever say outloud that I am an atheist. Why not? From the day we were born people has been telling us that our first principle in the 'Rukun Negara' is 'Believe in God' and if you do not believe in a heavenly being, you are a pariah and something of an oddity in a country where it seems everyone is mandated to be of a faith. Where do you point out in any form that states 'atheist' or 'free thinker'? None. That is the answer. But I'm tired, I do not want to be pestered into any religion by people who think my soul is heading towards the fiery depths of hell or is lost in limbo. I'm tired of the preaching of zealots who think it is their duty to make me enter their faith which seems akin to a pyramid scheme point earning system where the more people you convert the faster your ticket to paradise is assured. I'm tired of people keep asking me what religion I am of and to just ticking on the forms for 'Christian' so that people would stop questioning me and giving me a hard time about.

To not belong to a faith is not to say I don't believe, I do believe there is something bigger than me out there but I'm not ready enough or maybe not worthy enough to embrace it as of yet. I am thankful for my parents on not forcing me into their faith or pestering me to convert, I am grateful that they have allowed me the choice to find my own way in life and to the faith that calls to my heart. Yet I am sad that many people out there are still hostile towards me if I ever mention that I still am not in a religious denomination thus when they ask I say I am a Catholic as are my father and mother to quell the questioning and bigoted inquisitor though I've not been baptised at birth nor received communion. I respect your right to belief so please respect my right not to. Some say when you are in a denomination you should disregard the belief that all other religions are false and untrue, that is just bull s***. I feel equally at home in a temple, a church, a mosque or any other religious house of God. I love seeing the devoted Muslims praying to Allah in the mosque on Fridays, the Buddhist burning incense and offering prayers in communion to their diety, I admire the Indians and feel the fervor as they get closer to their Gods when carrying out the Puja and also of the Sikhs with their traditions as according to their Gurus as well as other religious groups. We may believe in a divine being but we should never degrade the beliefs of others, they have as valid a right to believe in the divine as you and I. Who is say which has the monopoly on faith? Who is to say which faith is false or true? Who is to claim that their faith is the one and only true faith?

Well, that's said I'm going to deviate a little. As many have blogged about the recent spate of arguments about the banning of religious connotations such as carols and Jesus from the National Christmas Day Celebrations, I really wonder if it is really such a big matter. It does smack a bit like the time Indonesia imposed restrictions on the Chinese population in their country such as the banning of Chinese New Year Celebrations or the display of cultural practices such as the lion dance. Secularism dictates that everyone has the right to practice their faith and to openly worship without worry of reprisal. That we have, we are not oppressed by being forcefully to convert to any religion nor are we forced to not practice any religious worship practice. We are reminded that the National Celebrations are just that, an avenue where people of every race can interact and celebrate together. I have never really ever had any inclination to attend such celebrations as the festivities are not truly festive celebrations but akin more to a large party filled with local entertainers, parades and long food lines (come on how does Zaibo and Scenario feature at a Cchristmas event?). From the feel of it, it's so sterile and fake!

I would prefer the personal celebrations carried out by the thousands of individuals that celebrate their faith. Visiting my Malay friends, sharing the bounty of the Raya meals of lemangs, curries and cookies; attending my Chinese colleagues place, playing mahjong and cards, exchanging ang pows, feasting in multi course meals and watch a lion dance; share a carolling session with my Christian brothers and sisters, attend mass and exchange gifts and also join in the celebrations with my Indian friends as their parents prepare endless chapattis, tosais and mutton curry to fill me to the brim. I figure the essence of the festive season is not in any National Celebration events, those are just veneers to showcase to the public, we see more miracles and a truer picture by the individual celebrants and there we see the true face of Malaysians, sharing each other's festivals without prejudice, eating side by side and sampling the multitude of culinary delight that is truly Malaysian and visiting each other on their respective festivals without care for colour, faith or denomination. Not the large crowds that watch a float parade, the rush of bodies to grab as much as they can of the free food buffett or the entertainers singing their latest album songs. So for this Christmas, I do wish a Merry Christmas to all those celebrating it and also to those that are not, let us share in this time as one.

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