by Erna Mahyuni
JANUARY 25 — Karl Marx’s Die religion… ist das opium des volkes (Religion is the opiate of the masses) is an oft-repeated axiom.
In Malaysia, politicians are too keen to use it to drum up support or subdue critics.
Yet if you dig down it goes beyond politics and the reality is that it has become part of cultural identity in Malaysia to the point that every prime minister has tried to prove their religious credentials in as ostentatious a manner as possible.
Prayer will not fix our problems but even if that is pointed out, the most troubling, and perhaps slightly terrifying thing is, many Malaysians do not care.
For instance, the Malaysians who are convinced EPF withdrawals are a legitimate form of aid and now are clamouring for them to be made available again.
During the pandemic I think as an option it was not ideal but for some, there was no other resource to be found.
There were even Malaysians who were convinced that the EPF money wasn’t their money but given by the government, and that whatever they took would be replenished by the government as well.
What do we do with generations of Malaysians who believe that aid will fall from the sky and the measure of a person’s worth is whether they will lift their hands to prayer on national TV?
When I was younger I scoffed at the older generation and their “the young people are so different nowadays” lament.
What I do see now that I have reached middle-age is troubling. I can read someone’s writing and know they are Malaysian because of certain Malaysian foibles that have snuck into local usage and yes, even teaching.
I was bored as a child doing all my English drills, exercises in prepositions, numerous comprehension tests and repeating things I was convinced I already knew.
Now I feel lucky I experienced that because having the basics hammered into me in my youth made it easier in my adulthood.
Despite my trying multiple times to learn other languages, I struggle now.
Too many distractions, too little energy and meanwhile my language book collection has become its own mini library of barely touched tomes.
Sure there are complaints that the standard of English has dropped but I would argue that we don’t even teach our national language well either.
Few things are as rotten as the state of Malay-language media.
Our national language mainstream outlets are ripe with propaganda, bigotry and preaching while so-called lifestyle websites are primarily full of viral stories that are rife with defamatory material.
Sure, our English language media won’t win literary awards but at the very least most care about avoiding libel.
(That is except for a few names that happily lift other publications’ material almost wholesale but lawyers exist for a reason.)
I am tired of this pandering in both politics and local media to religious sentiment.
Religion won’t fix how badly our education system has fallen, how our welfare system is held together by band-aids and overworked civil servants and our overcrowded hospitals with a health minister thinking the solution is making health workers work even longer hours than they already are.
I pray. I believe, quite illogically I must admit, in a higher power. However, I do not ask my god to fix my government or to make me rich.
What I pray for is strength. What I ask for is solace and a reminder that I am not alone.
I do admit I have often asked quite loudly that a few political figures be struck down by lightning but they have all now been rendered politically irrelevant so I suppose that is enough compromise.
It should be illegal for politicians to make religious promises the way a certain political party has, convincing people that voting them is like booking a place in paradise.
That kind of talk is not much different from the way extreme groups recruit the easily misled.
Our government needs to finally stop being afraid of empowering its citizens to think for themselves, instead of believing some preacher can absolve them of responsibility in this life for some unguaranteed spot after death.
Our citizens must learn to think or we will forever be at the mercy of the thoughtless. They say god is in the details but it seems to be that it is time that we think of the bigger picture.