What is the future of religions, even if there is collaboration amongst them? 

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VargheseVarghese Pmplanil

This is in response to Dr. Kottoor’s article in CCV “If no Religious Collaboration, Goodbye to Organised Religions!”

Note: Sri Varghese Pamplani, a Keralite SM Catholic now living in UK, began his life as a teacher and retired as one among the administrative officers of Reserve Bank of India. He is in his 80s but still a voracious reader and reserve of great knowledge. His letter to dr. kottoor in response to his question, ‘What is the future of religions, without collaboration?’ is pretty long. He is posing here a great question, “What is the future of Religions (if there is collaboration or not)?” His question emerges out of true historical facts, which say that we Christians live in an empire of a JOSEPH (2)Paul and his power mission. It sheds some light into the probable destiny we are supposed to undergo. Thank you Varghese Sir for sharing your profound thoughts. CCV is here to present distinct views and varied opinions. Joseph Mattappally Asso. editor CCV.

Even if, in the land of Utopia, by some miracle, the ever-quarrelling religions converge together for survival, what will be the outcome? The million dollar question is, can Humpty Dumpty, who had a great fall, be put together by all the king’s men? Quite doubtful! The King himself seems to have vanished without a trace. In this context, an overview of the Roman Catholic Church seems relevant.

Constantine cobbled up a monarchical “Divine Right” theory based Roman Catholic Church with Pope as its head. The popes have ruled for centuries, in totalitarian manner, over   the members of the Church on the strength of the alleged claim that his authority is derived from Christ, the Son of God, through Peter the Rock. The irony is, it is Paul’s and not Peter’s church that the popes have been presiding over. Paul and Peter were always at loggerheads and Paul prevailed.  Paul, a Roman citizen, an intelligent businessman with superior organisational skill and wide contacts could travel freely in the Empire and propagate his religion. Peter’s Jesus movement, the Ebionites, was no match for Paul’s enterprise in terms of followers and resources. The claim that Peter along with his wife was taken to Rome to be martyred there fly in the face of facts because the minuscule followers of Jesus of Nazareth headed by James and Peter, according to Ehrman numbered only 15 to 20. They could not give even a flea bite to the Imperial Rome.

The Christian religion had spread initially among the marginalised classes in the Roman Empire consisting of immigrants to Rome from different parts of the Empire living in ghettos at the periphery of the city, concubines of Roman nobility, slaves and house maids who were attracted to the new religion on account of its promise of universal salvation to all unlike other mystery religions of the day which offered nirvana to the chosen few only. Emperor Constantine, as a political expediency, took over Paul’s Christianity. Paul’s brand of religion had all the characteristics of other mystery religions of the day such as the cults of Mithras, Isis and Dionysos.

In order to make the Christian God acceptable to the Roman elite, the rustic from Galilee was transformed to an other worldly Olympian Zeus, a virgin born Son of God and King. Incidentally A. N. Wilson says that, “Few of the Christian churches have ever viewed the teaching of Jesus with any thing but contempt. And while churches might think that they are returning to the teaching of Jesus, it is invariably be found that they are pursuing a distorted version of one or two of his ideas while contradicting the others.” The Roman elite who joined the Emperor sponsored church did so for material benefits and positions of power and phelps in the administration.  

Emperor Theodosius 1 (Emperor from CE 378 to 387),  the fanatic and ruthless murderer from Spain,  let loose a killing spree in the Empire during his rule. In January 381, he issued 15 edicts against heretics and pagans. Over the course of the next 14 years, he sanctioned the destruction of the non-Christian temples, the banning of heterodox writings, exile and execution of recalcitrant polytheists. He exterminated Eunomians, Arians, Appolliarians, Macedonians, Manichichians and others who did not toe the official line. Once engrossed on the wealth of the pagan world, the Church, in an act of sublime cynicism, moved rapidly to reintroduce the rituals and practices it had so assiduously extirpated. This inhuman beast is named “Great” by the Church for the dirty work he did for it.  

The power vacuum caused by the collapse of the Western part of the Empire was utilised by the Papacy to take control of both spiritual as well as temporal matters of the Empire, the priority being sway over temporal affairs. The emergence of national identities and the struggle for power between the popes and the kings had swung the pendulum this way and that. In the interregnum, the Church let loose reign of terror and wanton murder in the form of Inquisition in most parts of Europe and other parts of the world, such as Spain, Portugal, Rome, North, Central and Southern regions of South America and even in far flung Goa. “Inquisition burns and tortures in order to perpetuate a creed, a ritual and an ecclesiastico-politico-financial organisation regarded as necessary to man’s salvation.“ (Aldous Huxley)

The colonisation of the South American region by the Catholic Spain and the suzerainty over parts of Asia by Catholic Portugal in the 15th century enhanced the papal influence and the spread of the Catholic religion. The history of the papacy is littered with avarice, power mongering and indulgence in worldly pleasures. The majority of the popes hailed from influential and powerful Italian families. The nadir of decadence was the reign of the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI.

The Protestant Reformation was aimed, initially, at setting right the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. But its religious aspects were overshadowed by ambitious rulers of Europe, who wanted to extend their power and control at the expense of Church. The Catholic Church commenced counter measures to retrieve the situation with the convening of the Council of Trent (1512- 1517) but could not make much headway. The Church relapsed to its old ways of orthodoxy and obscurantism. It reiterated  its claim of “infallibility” and resorted to “ANETHAMA” on dissenters. It did not mend its old mindset. In the Second Vatican Council, the Belgian bishop Emil de Smedt unsuccessfully called for the end of “triumphalism, clericalism and legalism” that had gripped the Church. But the actor turned zealot (to quote Morris West) John Paul II set at naught anything positive and modern.

The claim that the Church is the sole possessor of “the God Revealed Immutable and Absolute Truth”, has placed it in a Catch 22 dilemma from which it find itself almost impossible to extricate. For example, no sensible person can agree with bishop James Ussher that Creation began on 23rd October 4004 BCE, that humans were created on 28th October thereof and Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden 10th November that followed.  

Robert Owen (b. 1771) considered religion as one of the greatest enemies of human happiness and social wellbeing.  “Every religion that has hitherto been” has done its part to transform each of us “into a furious begot and fanatic or a miserable hypocrite”, “the trinity of evils responsible for all the world’s misery and vice has been traditional religion, conventional marriage and private property”, “it was religion that sustained pernicious beliefs about marriage and property; it was therefore, religion that has bore the greatest blame for humanity’s ills”.  

Jonathan Sacks wrote in the Catholic Herald of U. K. that religion died after prolonged period of intensive care; the age of the true believer is over; the liberal democratic state in which the individual’s right to live as he chooses take priority over all creeds and codes. It is the last chapter of a story that began in the 17th century, the last age of wars of religion. The West had undergone a process of secularisation that had taken four centuries. In the 17th century came the secularisation of knowledge in the form of science and philosophy. In the 18th century came the secularisation of power by way of the American and French Revolutions in the form of separation of church and state. In the 19th century came the secularisation of culture as art galleries and museums were seen as alternatives to churches as places in which to encounter the sublime. Finally in the 1960s came the secularisation of morality, by the adoption of a principle first pronounced by John Stuart Mill a century earlier – that the ground on which any one including the state, is justified in  intervening in behaviour done in private, is the prevention of harm to others. This is the end of traditional codes of ethics to be replaced by the unfettered sanctity of the individual autonomy, rights and choices.

By the late 20th century most secularists had come to the conclusion that religion, if not refuted, had at least been rendered redundant. We no longer need the Bible to explain the universe, instead we have science. We no longer need sacred ritual to control human destiny. In its place we have technology. When we are ill, we do not need prayer; we have doctors, medicines and surgery. If we are depressed, there is an alternative to religious consolation, anti depressant drugs. When we feel overwhelmed by guilt we can choose psychology in the place of the confessional. As for human morality, the best thing to do is not to think about it too often. People may be uncertain about the existence of God, but are reasonably sure that if we do not bother Him, He won’t bother us. Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom and life expectancy and affluence. They are the greatest achievements of human civilisation and are to be defended and cherished. Undeniably though the greatest threat to freedom in post-modern is radical, politicised religion, it is the face of the altruistic evil in our lives.  

So long as the Church tenaciously holds on its untenable tenets, its prospects are bleak. All cannot be fooled all the time.  Even if all the strange birds of religion somehow flock together for survival, they will be blown away by a Harvey like hurricane.

The women in today’s Europe refused to be baby making machines as expected of them by the Church. They have assumed total control over their bodies. The alarm that Islamists with their penchant for multiple wives who give birth to innumerable children will over run the world especially Europe with a dwindling birth rate among Christians could be reality to some. But the panic that Islam will over run Europe seems to far fetched. Even it happens, religions in Europe can do precious little. Even if the Malthusian Law were not to operate, the various disparate groups in that religion, the Sunnies, the Shias, the Ahmediyyas and sundry other groups (72 at the last count)  will turn on each other and go at the throats of the opponents and  to get  annihilated in the mad scramble for power and control. That is the track record of the power hungry of all the religions.

The Second World shattered, beyond repair, the smug    feeling that all was well in the Christian world with its God revealed “Word” in the Book containing the frame work for a safe, secure and contented existence. The scrambled egg can’t be, it seems, made whole again. 

Let me conclude with the observations of the historian Arnold Toynbee. “As human beings, we are endowed with freedom of choice, and we can not shuffle off our responsibility upon the shoulders of God or nature. We must shoulder it ourselves. It is our responsibility.” “The human race’s prospects of survival were better when we were defenceless against tigers than today when we have become defenceless against ourselves.”

The future may be that genetically engineered clones and self replicating artificially intelligent robots taking over the world elbowing out Homo Sapiens as a species.

Pamplanil.     

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