Try Throwing the First Stone
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
“...yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”
(John 16:2 –KJV-)
Although I share very little about it, I’ve had the opportunity to spend two years of my life in the Philippines, operating as a representative of a certain church. Because of the nature of my assignment and the various responsibilities in leadership I carried, on and off during that period of time, I experienced my fair share of interesting stories and experiences, meeting plenty of interesting people.
Many of such I still remember in great detail, even today. On one such assignment, I had the opportunity to meet Tony (it’s not his real name of course). Living in a small bamboo hut in a tiny rural village, myself and my assigned companion often ran into Tony between our appointments. We would often exchange greetings and part ways, getting on with our schedule. It was late in the evening, and we were visiting a house we had set an appointment with.
However, when we knocked on the door, no one was there to answer. We decided to speak with their neighbours as we waited for our appointment, and found Tony, sitting outside his family’s bamboo hut, tears in his eyes. After sitting down and consoling him, trying to find out what was wrong, we learnt that Tony had fallen victim to abuse by the hands of his very own family a few hours earlier.
The culprits, his brothers were out drinking and his parents inside were apathetic. This wasn’t the first time either. We also learnt that he didn’t have many friends either, and the ones he did couldn’t really be considered a good influence on his life. Most of them were neighbourhood rascals who were neither good students, nor productive individuals, spending most of the time of their day playing basketball and wandering the streets, loafing around.
Tony was, of course, part of the clique. The conversation went on and Tony opened up to us, sharing that he had a strong belief in God, and wanted to make a change in his life. He appreciated us for being representatives of the church, which was why he often stopped to speak with us, this, and the fact that we were always friendly to him. Needless to say, we asked Tony if he frequented any church, to which he answered he did not.
He rarely ever did. We asked if he would be interested in going to church with us. We would be there to support him and he could leave if he didn’t feel comfortable. With a quivering voice and tearful eyes, he looked up at me and replied, “I really do want to go, but will the people at your church be willing to accept me?” The look on his face at that moment still remains etched in my memory.
Judge me not
Tony is a homosexual. He has long hair, and is never comfortable in men’s clothing. Whenever we saw him, he was always in some scantily clad outfit, with a thick layer of makeup on his face. Although he had fully accepted himself as an LGBTQ, it was clear that a lot of things were troubling his mind. One of which was how people of various churches reacted to him when he was present.
The judging eyes, the homophobia, the unwillingness to understand and empathise. Of course, these are problems that we ourselves in Sri Lanka aren’t immune to. One would only have to point out the controversy that surrounded a certain ‘lecturer in positive thinking’ and ‘counselor’ and her workshop with the Police. A quick browse online and you would know that her comments have already sparked outrage among much of the Sri Lankan people.
Which it should. Much has already been said about this and the constant injustice that Sri Lankans who identify themselves as LGBTQ face. Nevertheless, it is clear that this incident has clearly exposed the dissonance of ideals between the people, the law, and a group of people who point fingers while hiding behind the skirt of a ‘culture’ that has long been warped after over a century of colonialism and decades of exploitation, to mask their prejudice and homophobia. Which brings up another question, is this the only thing we are guilty of being unjustly judgemental on others, merely because they think, act and have values that although different from us but mean no harm or danger to society?
Beware of the hypocrite
A young woman whose attire or actions don’t fit to what the standards of ‘our culture’ dictate, a young couple in love living happily together out of wedlock, a wife who saves herself from a toxic relationship through divorce, a man who is abused by his spouse, a couple who have tried and failed to conceive, a youth at the ‘right’ age to marry but is happily single, a person who identifies as LGBTQ, or maybe even a woman who was the lover of a certain policeman who was cheating on his wife and family, and was brutally murdered, beheaded and packed in a suitcase by her own lover; the list of victims to people’s judgmental eyes and gossip is endless. I cannot help but ask, why? Is it because of their lack of conformity to ‘our culture?’ Because they are sinners? Or is it merely because they sin different?
The sin and the sinner
Keep in mind that this is no excuse for immorality. We all are responsible for our words, actions and thoughts. Whichever religious denomination you may identify with, or even if you are an atheist, we all have a clear idea of what is right and what is wrong. Be it karma, divine judgement, or the natural order, we deem that we will be rewarded for things we do that are morally good, and be punished for our actions that aren’t.
If that is the case, why do we take it upon ourselves to pass judgement on others? On whose authority? Are we truly doing so with clean hands? Having spoken and interacted with many such people, throughout my years, I have noticed that many who do engage in such actions often for cheap entertainment, as if condemning their actions makes their own mistakes and wrongdoings insignificant. Some even do so with the misguided understanding that they are doing their country and ‘culture’ a service, acting as a guardian to prevent the corruption of the values that we have held on for so long. Of course, that’s as effective as trying to part a river with your bare hands.
It’s just a shallow fantasy.
Doing so will neither make any difference to one’s mistakes, nor will it be any benefit to society. It would however, be intolerant and uncharacteristic of our culture, one that is heavily influenced by the values of Buddhist philosophy that teaches of letting go of all attachments. Clearly, it is important for all of us that we nurture the ability to have empathy for the people around us and be able to have understanding, compassion and tolerance, regardless whether our opinions differ, for in a multicultural society, each of us will undoubtedly have our differences.
A relatable story
Whether you believe it to be scripture or not, The Bible tells some interesting happenings that I often find very relatable to all that is going on today. I find one story that is easily summarises all that has been shared. In the New Testament of the Bible, which documents the time when Jesus the Christ walked on Earth, we often read of him criticising a group of people known as the scribes and the Pharisees, a party among the Jews.
According to what we read, we find the Pharisees as a group of people who were highly conscious on retaining the ‘culture’ and traditions of their people, but to the point where they started to overlook the meaning and importance behind them; performing lavish religious ceremonies, making sure to boast of their piety and ever-ready to point fingers at those who fell short of their standards. These people were criticised by Him with such words as, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess”
(Matthew 23:25 – KJV-)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
(Matthew 23:27-28 –KJV-)
One day, a group of such individuals bring a woman caught in adultery in front of Jesus Christ, saying: “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
(John 8: 4-7 –KJV-)
Much like the Pharisees and scribes of The Bible, are we guilty of hiding our mistakes and shortcomings by pointing fingers at those whose standards are different from our own?
In a country which boasts of its hospitality and multi-ethnic background, is it not saddening that we have failed to nurture a culture of acceptance, where we can look past any prejudice and truly connect with the people around us? It’s time we all stop spending so much time looking around, and take a little time to look inward, to better understand our own shortcomings, and through that, understand that whatever differences we may have, we all are sinners trying to get by in life.