Q: Who would you count as victims of the troubles? Who would fall into that category for you?

A: What religion do you mean?

—From Northern Ireland


INTRODUCTION

Religion is a cause of conflict and a solution to conflict, but it is never entirely to blame for wrecking a society nor able to heal one by itself. In Sri Lanka, South Africa, and Northern Ireland, religion has shaped ethnic boundaries and social attitudes, both fomenting the dehumanization of the other and nurturing the most courageous peace activism.

Some churches in South Africa found use as covers for planning actions to undermine the apartheid regime. Yet some temples in Sri Lanka were employed by Buddhist monks in stirring anger against Tamils.

Places of worship have been used for political sermons that give encouragement to violence and for radical lament of social brokenness. The work of religious figures in challenging the terms of the conflict and caring for suffering communities is undeniable. In short, the role of religion in conflict and peace building is at the heart of a paradox.

Religion has clearly helped many people cope with hardship; however, one less noted aspect of religion during conflict is the psychological pressure on people of faith seeking to maintain a holistic spiritual life in the face of threat. People who believe they have lost faith as a result of the conflict around them may have been doubly wounded—not only contending with the immediate and long-term impact of violence and its related consequences, but of spiritual exile from a community that once sustained them.


1) We used the churches. We were standing there pretending while I was passing the message, so long as each and every sentence would be Jesus, never mind what I was saying, but if I end that sentence with Jesus.

—From South Africa

 


2) In Sri Lanka, it is strange the power or the influence of the Buddhist monks…. They are considered to be gods. The incarnations of gods. What better ways do they have than misleading people, saying, “Tamils are enemies.”

—From Sri Lanka

 

With our religions we could not achieve peace. There were religions that we adhered to. There were religious sides. But these sections could not come to a common agreement. The religious background helps us to develop as individuals. But that was not helpful to resolve the situation of conflict.

—From Sri Lanka

 


3) Q: Can you compromise with individuals or groups? With whom should we begin?

A: This should begin within the hearts. This can be done by religions, cultures. If you take the Tamils and Sinhalese, the two groups have similar physical features; we eat similar things; we think alike; we are people who are able to survive in this geographical climate; we are born to this land and we are people of one country; our attitudes are the same. This cannot be done at the individual level, but as a society. It can be done by religions, and in my view only by religions. Religions can bring peace in society. Maybe also sports could bring about this peace. If we are sports companions we have a sense of brotherhood. When we meet a friend who has done sports with us we speak about those who excelled, et cetera. So sports could be another arena for peace.

—From Sri Lanka

 

If we are to build up national unity and mutuality and work as children of the same mother, all must have social justice equally. We cannot categorize people by their race. Various religions must help remove these attitudes. Every religion exhorts to do good. Be it Buddhism or Christianity, nobody advocates killing of people, but to co-exist peacefully with all. But what do some do? They condemn other religions and consider their own to be greater and destroy the others. Even if we do not follow other religions, we must [at least] respect them. We must respect other ethnic groups out of humaneness. Without distinction, all must enjoy the same facilities. We can take an example. When a reservoir having a large capacity for water is full, before the bund breaks, we must send away the water through the sluice gates. Any problem is like that.

—From Sri Lanka

 

There is a need for a permanent solution, and compromise is one way of achieving this. This could be done or initiated by powerful people in the country. Religious leaders and civil societies can take this forward because there is a valid reason for this; I am a Hindu but I have a great respect and gratitude towards the church because of its service to people who are in need. If I am living like this then credit must go to them because they helped me in various ways. So it is my firm belief that church can bring about real change in Sri Lanka…. Also, other religious leaders also can come together and bring compromise among people, and this is the only possible way in which compromise can be reached among communities here in Sri Lanka. I don’t believe at all in politics and politicians who will never do this and they can’t do this. All the religions have to play a huge role in this regard.

—From Sri Lanka

 


4) Even if you were to take the border away magically, the people would still be divided. There is no use having a United Ireland and the people still divided. If you want to unite the island then you have to unite the people. You don’t do it by killing police officers or assassinating people who disagree with you.

And that was a message that I wanted to get across. And I believe I was getting that message across successfully…. Our mixing with Catholics…“Is it really going to be beneficial to your ministry?” they would ask. “Have tea and biscuits, or send the priest a Christmas card.” Tea-and-biscuits ecumenism is fine, but [they didn’t want me to] get into this standing up in Church, saying, “I bring you the love of Christ, my fellow Christians.”

—From Northern Ireland

 

 

Mixed marriages are still looked upon as, “don’t you bring in or go with that.” Now I have a sister-in-law and she met a fellow from Andersonstown and they had to go to England to live. They couldn’t live here. Which is sad. And there is hundreds the same. It is still a taboo if your son comes and says, “I am going with a Roman Catholic.”

—From Northern Ireland

 

We have a form that the parents have to sign: “does your child go to Mass or go to services on a Sunday?” You put it down, yes or no. Do you want them to go? Do you not want them to go anywhere?

And the biggest problem we had when we took children away was that Protestant kids wanted to go and see what went on in Mass…. They weren’t allowed. And the Catholic kids wanted to go and see what was on in the service. And they were not allowed…. It is a shame because it lets them see what happens…. It takes the fear away. That Protestant child going into a Catholic Church—we all haven’t two heads! And the same going into a Protestant Church. You weren’t sure of what happened. You got the impression…that if you go and see the likes of Paisley and McCrea, it is all fire and brimstone.

But it isn’t like that going to a Protestant service on a Sunday. There wasn’t much difference. The priest or the minister done the gospel, done a sermon, and something similar goes on.

—From Northern Ireland

 


5) Keep bloody religion out of it. Religion I am sick of. I have been proven right in recent years with all that’s going on in the Catholic Church. And you see all these guys, I have to say this too, you see all these good living people who are religious. They are running about with the bible in one hand. I find them to be more the bigots than ordinary working class people…. Yes, they are all supposed to be do-gooders. But they seem to have this mental block. They can’t open their eyes. They have this dogmatic attitude. And I think that is why you can’t move on. Simply because their minds are closed. And there is no room for compromise there.

—From Northern Ireland

 

There’s this idea of “thou shalt not kill,” and the next thing they are supporting the death penalty. There are all these so-called moral rules in society, moral laws. But then as soon as a situation arises, they are broken.

—From Northern Ireland

 


6) But now, when we come to the house of the Lord, compromise is good. Because I cannot run after my brother with the wrong things they have done. If I still hold that, like this cup, I will want to kill him. So I have to say, okay, Lord, I have been hurt about this, but, Lord, I pray take it out of me and make me to love my brother so I might be aware in the future I must not be hurt according to this. In the house of the Lord we compromise. Love yourself as your love your neighbour. Love, that is a very potent word. I used to say in the church all the time, no, no, the white guy is not your enemy; the enemy was the system, the system that was imposed by the government of those days. It was made to oppress us, not the white person.

—From South Africa

 


7) Yes, I have got no grudge at this point in time. Because if you think of what happened to you, you ask yourself, who am I?

Jesus went though a lot more than I went through, you see. So, which means, if you are a human being, don’t expect every nice thing. There must be the good and the bad.

That’s why a person has a right and a left. All those things that you experience, which you can just carry over to other people.

I have no worry. I am still here.

—From South Africa

 


8) But spiritually, we became closer to God. It was surprising for me because people get away from God with such incidents, but we became closer to God.… There was a Tamil family living behind our house; we played with them, played cricket. But after the death of my brother, the father of that house did not come to our house to help us, but his son came. There were a lot of army personnel; maybe because of fear he did not come. But my father asked that son to ask his father to come. Then my father said to that Tamil person: “Anton, there is no problem. My son died; it is another thing. You know me. You come.” My father was not revengeful. But he started praying more. He used to read the book of Job often from the Bible. I was surprised and thought, why become so close to God?


—From Sri Lanka

 

 

Q: What do you do to forget these bad memories?

A: I go to the Buddhist temple often. I went even recently. I always dream my three children. My parents took me to the temple. They come in my dreams; they touch me, my body in my dreams; I see them playing. If I think of them before going to sleep, they come to me in my dreams. I told my mother about it and she took me to a Buddhist monk. He counselled me. He tied a thread [a custom in Sri Lanka to assure protection]. Then I saw them less in dreams. Although I do not see them in my dreams, I remember them always.

 —From Sri Lanka

 

God’s help was there and it was a source of comfort. God took me to the last point during the war. When I saw his dead body, I brought his body and kept it on the floor and I would have also died with him but I think God keeps me alive for the sake of my children. God showed the way to walk the distance and if I died with my husband, my four children would have become destitute.

 —From Sri Lanka

 

I was mentally strong, which helped me to crossover to the cleared area. Above all I was spiritually strong, which never deserted us. If we didn’t have faith in God, our mental and physical fitness would have become immaterial.

—From Sri Lanka

 

I wanted to take everything in a positive manner. Even when I came to the camp the first day, I did not eat. As St. Paul says, “I suffered for you and in that suffering I was happy.” I was reading that. Purposely I did not [read it earlier]. But I was reading that after entering zone 4. I had a small bible. So I just opened and I read and I said I bore and suffered all these not for me [but for] all who were entrusted to me. In another way, it gave me some kind of strength to live there. Even when I was in the camp, we were cheated. [That was frustrating.] A lot of frustrated feeling I had. But anyway I could overcome that.

—From Sri Lanka

 

To be free from sorrow, Buddhism is the only answer. We only have the help of the Father Buddha. Nothing else can take away that pain. It is only by the dhamma [doctrine] that happens. Although I cannot forget the sad memories once and for all, I observe sil on the full moon day. I read the preaching of the Buddha. The monk explained to me the incident of Patāchārā. She also quenched her mind because of the preaching of the Buddha. It was in that manner I have come to the present state of mind. I did the compassion meditation. Earlier I did not observe sil. If we are born, we have to die. Without crying for spilled milk we must protect what we have. One gets more helpless by weeping and crying. One has to make up one’s mind. We also have to die one day.

—From Sri Lanka

 

I believed in God and I trusted him, but in the last stage people died in numbers not just hundreds but in thousands, and we all lost hopes in everybody, including God. When we saw dead bodies in front of our eyes, we lost all the faith and the hope. It was my first experience and when I saw people were killed for no reason I lost faith in God.

—From Sri Lanka

 


9) But I am not religious. People say to me that maybe as I get older I will go back. The other thing, the strange thing about all this: I call myself an agnostic, but I can’t be an atheist because on the night that I was lying with the blood pouring out of me, and I thought I was dying, I said to Anne, get me a priest. For the Last Rites. I can’t deny that. So there is something.

People say to me, “Oh, that was the indoctrination of your Catholic background.” But there was something in that moment. What is it they say?—between the saddle and the ground you mercy sought and mercy found. That thing when you are dying, that is the test they say.

So I call myself an agnostic now. I don’t say I am an atheist. I would love to be an atheist, but I can’t be because of that moment. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.

—From Northern Ireland

 

Well, I mean, at the end of the day I believe in God. I believe that everybody has to face their maker someday. If that is the way it is, they will have to face their maker, and that would be it for me. I am not a religious person, but I do believe in God.

—From Northern Ireland