BEYOND GODS AND SCRIPTURES – Book Review

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BEYOND GODS AND SCRIPTURES

Book Review

*By Isaac Gomes

      Mr Joseph Mani, the author of this book, is a person with a scientific temperament backed by his sound credentials (B.Sc. & M. Sc. in Physics and MBA from IIM Ahmedabad).  Having also done his studies in Philosophy, Religion, Literature and Linguistics, he is fully equipped to have written such an in-depth and rare book in a lucid manner.

He has made an attempt to build a bridge between Theists and Atheists so that in spite of having diverse beliefs, both can agree to work for the common good of humans all over the world. Throughout the book he has stressed on Common Good irrespective of one’s religion. The author feels that his book is directed more to the theists than to the atheists because he is convinced, based on the evidence from history, that religion has more often than not, been a cause of division than unity. He cites rationalists Govind Pansare, Narendra Dalbhokar and M.M. Kalbargi who were murdered not by terrorists but by religious fundamentalists. He reinforces his viewpoint by stating that one does not hear of atheists or rationalists causing the bloodshed of religious people. However, he feels that religion can unite humanity and not divide it provided religious leaders are willing to give up their assertion “only my religion is right” and their irrational beliefs.

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Being a man of science, the author, has based his analogy with clarity and on the bedrock of scientific evidence. He questions the Catholic Church practice of harping on sin (even for a new-born child) and guilt. He concedes that believers may not agree with his analysis. But the way he has put forth his points is certain to make the reader sit back and take a relook at time-honoured religious beliefs/practices.   

The book (299 pages) is divided into five sections:  Section one – Irrational Religious Beliefs which includes Unquestioned Acceptance of Scriptures; Section two – Harmful Beliefs of Religious People which includes Religious Intolerance – Only My Religion is Right; Section three – Religion Can Be a Force for Good; Section four – Does God Exist? Section Five – Some Luminaries of Science.

The salient points to ponder are:

  • Irrationality Vs Rationality: Rationality, reasoning ability, is supposed to distinguish humans from animals and other forms of life on earth. Irrationality deters us from acquiring new knowledge.  Once we give up rationality, we stop questioning and once we stop questioning, we stop growing. 
  • All of us have a natural tendency to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms our beliefs.
  • None of the four gospel writers (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) knew Jesus personally. The gospels were written decades after the occurrence of the events they described. The author bases his observation on the verbatim explanatory notes to each gospel given at the Catholic Answer Bible also called the New American Bible which has gone through all the ecclesiastical screening and has a foreward by Pope Paul VI.  He states the gospels were written by fallible humans beings and they should not be taken as `Gospel Truth’.
  • The Bible was not written by one individual with a consistent world view and moral code. It was written by different individuals separated by decades and centuries. No wonder there are so many inconsistencies in the Bible. Example: The good thief and the bad thief on either side of Jesus on the Cross. Both in Mathew (27:38) and in Mark (15:27) the two thieves are called “revolutionaries”. In Luke (23:33) they are called “criminals”; and in John (19:18) they are called “two others” on either side, with Jesus in the middle. So out of the four Gospels, John is silent about any of the thieves being good or bad. Mathew and Mark are clear that both were bad. Luke alone says one was good and other bad.
  • The New Testament as we have it now has been put together by the Catholic Church keeping what suited it and excluding what did not. It suppressed the Gnostic Gospels.It is the Church which came first. Then around 400 CE it decided on the Scripture.
  • The God of the Old Testament is so blood thirsty that he goes for genocide at the drop of a hat. It started with the Great Flood, then to the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, then to the annihilation of the Midianites and the six tribes.Had the British rulers of India, most of whom were Christians, taken the Old Testament God as a role model, they would have destroyed all the idols, razed to the ground all the cities, towns and villages under their rule, burnt all the places of worship and murdered every man, woman and child except those who were Christians. They would have also enacted laws by which one would have been stoning to death women caught in adultery; be killed for gathering sticks on a Sunday, for cursing one’s parents, for marrying a woman and her daughter and for other forms of sex.
  • The author’s point is that the Bible or any other scripture should not be accepted blindly.  All scriptures should be subjected to critical analysis.
  • The Catholic Church has 5120 saints, for every ailment, profession, bird and animal. The Church maintains that Catholics only `venerate’ saints, and that worship is reserved for God alone. But in practice, devotees bow, kneel and prostrate before the statues of saints as they would do before God.
  • It is also not that all saints deserve our unqualified respect.For example St. Augustine of Hippo who led a licentious life and is the patron saint of brewers; or St. Cyril (Bishop Cyril of Alexandria who had Hypatia, the first recorded woman mathematician in history, dragged by his parishioners to a church, beaten and burnt to death, and had her works destroyed).
  • There are very few lay persons among the saints except among the early Christians and Christians persecuted and martyred in Korea. The largest majority of saints are bishops, priests, nuns, and popes.
  • This is not because there are no holy lay persons but because of the time consuming, complicated and costly process of canonization.A Congregation does not mind this long wait and expenses because, once they get one of their members elevated to the stage of `Blessed’, the money starts pouring in and the flow will continue indefinitely. Pope John Paul II was a prolific saint maker.During his papacy he made more saints than all his predecessors put together.He was also in turn made a saint.
  • Baptism: Typical Catholics insist on infant baptism because they believe that a baby who dies without receiving baptism will go to hell. Act 2:38-39 is quoted both by Baptizers and non-baptizers.  Baptizers say Peter asked all his listeners including children to repent and be baptized. Non-baptizers say Peter asked them to first repent and then be baptized. Children have nothing to be repentant about, so child baptism is out.  They also argue that faith is a pre-requisite before an adult can be baptized.  This rule applies equally to children and since children cannot have faith, they should not be baptized. 
  • Even if Adam and Eve committed the Original Sin, why should their sins be passed on to a child born today? Children are innocent. Didn’t Jesus say we should become like children if we want to go to heaven? “Only the one who sins shall die. The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son.  The virtuous man’s virtue shall be his own, as the wicked man’s wickedness shall be his own.” (Ezikiel 18:20). But yet we need sin and hell because religion is unfortunately based on guilt and fear to keep people on a leash.
  • There is also no clear indication in the New Testament that Jesus himself ever baptized anybody (John 4:2 Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples).
  • Free will: According to neuroscientist John-Dylan Haynes the subconscious part of a person’s brain decides on an action six seconds before his/her conscious brain takes the decision. This is true of all actions of humans. So neurologically decisions are taken subconsciously before the exercise of free will. A subconscious decision is not the decision of a free will. Therefore where there is no free will, there is no sin or for that matter no Original Sin.
  • God has created humans with their own free will. But there are Catholics who maintain that everything is predetermined by God and that humans have no choice. This means both the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot and the 9/11 tragedy were predetermined by God.
  • END OF THE WORLD – WHEN? The author describes the predictions/forecasts on the end of the world from Hindu, Islam and Christian standpoints including Sr Lucia’s prediction of world calamities – revealed by Pope John Paul II. But are we any rational when we believe in and spread doomsday prediction in the face of overwhelming evidence that all of them have turned out to be false?
  • Prayer and Proven Efficacy of Prayer: Praying for healing is common.  The Bible says: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Mathew 6:8).  Perhaps God gives His blessings at random.  No wonder we have hung Parliaments and Assemblies. Prayer has health benefits of the person who prays just as meditation, yoga and other forms of relaxation.  The effect of prayer is from within, not from outside. There is sufficient indication that prayer definitely improves the overall well-being of the person who prays.  But there is little evidence to show that praying for a specific outcome is effective, whether for health, wealth or India beating Pakistan in cricket or hockey.
  • Building Churches: BJP Government spends people’s money on cows and statues; Christians do so on churches and cathedrals. Instead of spending money on mammoth structures, the Church should focus on human resource development / changing lives.
  • Harmful beliefs of Religious People: Religion originates from the Latin `Religio’ meaning “binding together”. Yet religion has been the greatest divisive force in history. This aberration came about because members of each religion think that their religion is the only true religion, resulting in vicious hatred and condemnation of anyone who does not fall in line.
  • Blasphemy laws in some countries:  People are executed for making the smallest or even indirect reference which is considered derogatory to Islam or the Prophet.  You insult my God and I’ll kill you and my God will reward me for it because my God is the only true God.  
  • Are Hindus of today any more tolerant? Rationalists and atheists are murdered by Hindu fanatics.So many human beings have been lynched, flogged and killed in the name of the cow!
  • Should not religious people be fighting for environmental protection, elimination of nuclear weapons, justice and equality, women’s safety and empowerment of the marginalised rather than fighting to establish religious identity and superiority?
  • Jesus was perhaps the greatest moral teacher and social reformer the world has seen.“Turn the other cheek”, “Love your neighour”, “Love your enemies” and “Every time you did this to the least of my brethren you did it to me.”He was was a fearless rebel and a reformer.  He was the most inclusive of all religious teachers.  He mingled with publicans and tax collector who were considered sinners by mainstream Jews. He also allowed women to be His disciples, something which was not the done thing in His time.
  • Jesus never founded any religion or church. It is His followers who started the Church.
  • Is the Present Pope a Successor to Peter? It is claimed that Pope Francis has a direct lineage to St Peter through an unbroken line.  After Pope Gregory XI died in 1378, the conclave elected an Italian as Pope who took the name Urban VI. Many cardinals who had elected him got fed up with his unruly behaviour, held another conclave and elected Clement VII as Pope who set up court at Avignon in France. But there was break in Papacy.  At one point of time, there were three Popes at the same time: Pope Gregory XII (1406-1415), Pope Benedict XIII (1394-1415) and Alexander V (1409-1410).
  • On 5th June 1409, the General Council of Cardinals declared Popes Benedict XIII and Gregory XII as schismatics, notorious heretics and unworthy of the Supreme Pontificate, deposed from their functions and driven out of the Church. Even today, the Vatican has not officially declared who, among the three, was the legitimate claimant to the throne of Peter. So for four decades there were two Popes, for some years three Popes.From which Pope does the present Pope trace his unbroken lineage?
  • Several Popes have been morally corrupt or inhumanly cruel. They are Pope Stephen VI (896-897), Pope Sergius III(904-911), Pope John X (914-928), Pope Benedict IX (1032-1048), Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484), Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503).Throughout history many Popes have been personally corrupt and immoral.Pope Boniface in 1301 declared “God has placed us over Kings and Kingdoms. It is necessary for Salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Are such Popes and bishops worthy successors of the Apostles?
  • The Church was against Science – It believed for half a millennium that the earth was the physical centre of the universe. Galileo’s proof that the earth moves round the sun was accepted by the Church only in 1996 through public apology by Pope John Paul II). Prior to that Galileo was censured and persecuted by the Church. The Church found the idea of others suns and other earths (as propagated by Giordano Bruno an Italian monk), heretical. He was burnt in February 1600 at the stake.
  • The author contends if the Church was divinely guided, as has been claimed by Church theologians, would not that Divine Hand have stopped the Church from persecuting and killing scientists who correctly explained God’s own creation?
  • He also deals with Sexual Abuse by Catholic priests.Instead of dismissing them, the Church merely shuffled them around. Now we are witnessing a spate of such sexual abuse cases including Bishops.
  • The author also deals Celibacy of priests and ordination of women. Priests and nuns are supposed to be married to Jesus. He feels it is quite likely the Church may allow priests to marry if they so wish and also lift the ban on women being ordained.
  • It is evident that revision and reformation of the Cannon Law is urgent in keeping with the changes that have taken place in society.
  • On Moral Policing, the author feels that many religious people tend to be intolerant of life-styles different from theirs. He feels religious fanatics cannot change their stripes.They are caught in the web they have created for themselves
  • Religion is not evil. So much good has come from the sublime teaching of religions which teach us to be compassionate, merciful and helpful to others. The author feels religion and religious teachings need to be renewed and changed as humanity moves forward. If religious leaders accept this need for change, then religion can be a great force for good in society. Religion has inspired some of the world’s greatest efforts in the world. If followers of each religion practised what their scripture tells them, there would be peace on earth.
  • He dwells with scientific, philosophical and psychological arguments of Gods’ existence and leaves it for the readers to decide for themselves.
  • He also states that there is no denying that many scientists believe in the existence of God. Interestingly the more eminent a scientist, the less he is likely to believe in a personal God. More scientists of modern times are openly non-believers compared to scientists of earlier times.
  • Science and religion have had a love-hate relationship with each other – regrettably more hate than love. Some scientists hold that science and religion are complementary because both fields of inquiry are trying to find the truth, using different methods.

The book is priced at Rs 350/- and is published by Notionpress.com.  It is available online from Amazon.com.

It is a very plucky and well-researched book and has to be read with patience line by line.

Other books written by the author are:

Why can’t you be normal like me – Understanding oneself and others through the Myers-Briggs-Type Indicator (2009) – The Bombay St. Paul’s Society.

Three Talented Men – Lessons in Leadership through Stories (2014) – Patridge India, New Delhi.

 

* Isaac is a Member Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA);  Member – Archdiocesan Social Communications Commission, Archdiocese of Calcutta;  Associate Editor Church Citizens’ Voice and regular contributor to The Herald Kolkata – Mouthpiece (weekly) of the Archdiocese of Calcutta. He also writes in mattersindia.com and Silent Voice.

Comments

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4 Responses

  1. Denis Daniel says:

    I some how always like the balanced approach of Chhotebhai. Congratulations, brother!

  2. Chhotebhai says:

     

    One cannot judge a book by its cover, or by its review. However, since my good friend Isaac has done a review of the book by Joseph Mani, I would make some pertinent comments.


    1. The author claims that his findings are based on the bedrock of scientific evidence.But science itself is evolving. A hundred years ago we believed that the atom was indivisible. Then we got protons and neutrons. Then we got quarks, neutrinos etc and we are still looking for what is called the God particle.


    2. He claims that the four Gospel writers did not know Jesus personally! Both John and Mathew were his disciples. Besides, it is not necessary to personally know somebody. Gandhiji died before I was born, but I am his follower.


    3. He feels that the Bible should be subjected to critical analysis because it was written by fallible human beings.Here he is airing his ignorance. The Bible is the most researched book in the world, and studies continue. For example the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls established that what the Protestants call Apocryphal books, and Catholics call Deutro-Canonical, were part of the Jewish Canon.


    4. I agree with his observations about Pope John Paul II making too many saints.


    5. The moral corruption of the popes in the dark ages is well documented. I have a book on it written by a Catholic priest and published by St Paul’s. So there are no secrets here.


    6. He refers to scientists like Copernicus and Galileo. The church has long since apologized for its treatment of Galileo.


    7. Reference is made to Augustine of Hippo being a debauch. This was before his conversion.What about Abraham, who twice gave his wife to kings to save himself? What about David who got Uriah killed so that he could take his Hittite wife Bathsheba? Yet we call ourselves sons of Abraham and Jesus himself was hailed as a son of David?


    8. The author claims to be rational. He should also be logical and factual. Nevertheless it is good to have such challenges thrown at us, lest we take everything for granted.

     

    Chhotebhai

  3. Vincent Bagul says:

    Brother Isaac Gomes has paintstakingly written an excellent and detailed review of Joseph Mani's book BEYOND GODS AND SCRIPTURES.  The contents of the book may be debatable, but the laity should not be blind to the new ideas, interpretations and evidence. 

    This book will surely make readers sit up and think about what the Church has been churning out to us for centuries.  I agree with the author that religion can unite humanity and not divide it provided all religious leaders are willing to give up their assertion "only my religion is right". The author's observation on the Catholic Church always harping on sin and guilt is also correct. The theory of 'Original Sin' invented by St Augustine in the 4th century, needs to be reviewed. Many other superstitious beliefs and practices, such as 'Virgin Birth', 'Real Presence', 'In Persona Christi', Sacrament of Confession, Priestly Celibacy, Ordination of Women, etc need to be debated and reviewed.  The new generation is not willing to blindly toe the line set by the Catholic Church. Article 51A(h) of the Indian Constitution requires every citizen to develop scientific temper, humanism and  spirit of inquiry and reform.  This new book is in that direction and will be helpful for readers to look at our beliefs and practices rationally. 

     

  4. Joseph Mattappally says:

    I congratulate Isaacji for sorting out this book and bringing it out after a thorough review. The present Church 'goers' (this is the phrase that fits) are virtually blind and they are not bothered about a world of light. 

    Joseph Mani is trying to shed some light into their skulls. If he wins in at least one case, he has every reason to be happy. Congratulations Isaacji for your in-depth evaluation. From this review a reader gets a clear idea about the contents in the Book.

    No problem  Isaac is carried away by Joseph Mani to a realm beyond heavens!

    Joseph Mattappally

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