Dr James Kottoor
Endogamy fails tests of Christian teaching, UN’s Human Rights & laws of civilized lands like USA. Given below is substance of keynote address at Knanaya seminar held at St.Thomas Cathedral Hall, Chicago on Aug.3rd. The other speaker was Sri Chacko Kalarickal from Detroit, research scholar and author of several books on renewal.(A Malayalam Version of it is published in the Almayasabda.blogpot by the organizers of the Knanaya Catholic Renewal Committee to coincide with it’s elaborately arranged annual meeting on Saturday Dec.20/14 at Red Cross Hall, Nagampadam, Kottayam with speakers like Padmabooshan Justice K.T.Thomas, Dr.Ghevarghese Mar Kurillos,Jacobaya Suriyani Archbishop of Niranam, dr.james kottoor etc. Editors)
“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it, unless the Lord Guards the city, they labour in vain who guard it.” This is the great lesson I have learned for certain, during the last seven decades and eight years of life and we present here would be toiling in vain like the apostles at sea, without Jesus to guide us. So all of us need an awful lot of humility to bow and prostrate before truth if and when we find it.
We are here to find a way out of the bitterly fought shameful issue of “Endogamy” — preserving purity of blood in a mixed up world among the members of the so-called Knanaya community in the Kottayam Diocese, Kerala. The practice consists in expelling man or woman marrying into their community from outside and denying sacraments and membership in parishes even to children adopted from outside. They are believed to be descendants of 72 families of 7 tribes in todays’ Iraq who landed in AD 345 at Kodungalloor, led by Knayi Thomman a trader. Now this virus is being imported also to US via Chicago Syromalabar Diocese.
I have only two very simple, very basic messages to share with you: 1. what does Jesus mean for you: Son of God, Son of Man or just a Role Model? 2. What does church mean for you: 1. The Pope, 2. Bishops & Clergy, 3. Lay People, 4. Your Syromalabar Parish, 5. Your Knanaya Parish?
If you can answer these two questions aright the issue of practising Endogamy, or living within such water-tight domestic walls of imagined purity of blood should evaporate like mountain of ice before a scorching sun for any thinking person. The issue is as simple as asking: Is it right to promote Manu’s code on Caste system? We don’t need any Solomon to answer that.
Wisdom of Ages
Just listen to the wisdom of ages: The UN declaration of human rights of 1948 says: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” It was preceded by Magna Karta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) etc. If we go back to our own roots St.Paul of the Apostolic times says: “There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is neither male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,”(Gal.3.28)
And what does the prayer “Our Father” mean? Does the word “Our” include only the Endogamous of Kottayam diocese and exclude all the rest? See the same idea expressed in the age old Indian thought: “Vasudeva Kudumbakam” (The whole world, the family of God)? Listen also to the spiritual yearning of the Indian soul: “Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavanthu” (May the whole world be happy and contended.) Also think of the assertion of that universal vision by Sri Narayana Guru: “One God, one religion, one caste, human caste.”
Some 40 years back while discussing this divisive, disgusting church politics I wrote in the New Leader: “I can never say honestly, earnestly and sincerely the “Our Father” and mean every word of it, until I break out of all fighting factions of churches, religions, countries and continents to include in my embrace the whole of humanity, even unbelievers and atheists excluding none.”
Just Human Right Issue only
All these must have weighed heavily on late Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, when he said often: “This is just a human Right issue only” meaning there is nothing to say in favour of Endogamy. But then comes a bombshell from the highly placed present Cardinal George Alancherry saying: Endogamy is inseparable part of Syromalabar Church(SM), and its promotion among Knananites is part and parcel of SM mission, as reported in Knanaya Media (weekly) and from those who heard it said. It is like politicians like Mayavathi now conducting caste-based political rallies for vote-bank politics and provoking Allahabad High court to come down heavily on her. Are top officials in SM church imitating her and playing vote-bank politics for social and financial gains? The fact is religions, especially organised ones have become carbon copies of dirty, divisive party politics in all countries.
While it is true that spiritual and religious values have to be cultivated in personal and community life, it is also a disturbing truth that organised and aggressively proselytising ones are the biggest threat to peace and harmony in today’s world. Unfortunately I belong to one of the organised religions, the Catholic church (not a proselytizing one), due solely to accident of birth alone because my choice is to be one of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth alone, not of any of the over 2000 fighting churches. The other proselytizing one to my mind is Islam.
It is the duty of all of us to be a good citizen of the country you belong to and to be an honest, upright and spiritual (if you are a believer) person. For being a good citizen you don’t have to be part of any organised political party. I am not a card carrying member of any party, since I see all parties are looters of the people and public funds in the name of serving the poor. I have always voted for good candidates — congress, communist or BJP, but never for parties. Because both the democracies – the oldest and the largest – they say, have become governments of hypocrites, by hypocrites and for hypocrites. We can easily substitute the word “hypocrites” with crooks, looters , or parties, since none of these parties practice internal democracy and transparency, while they impose them on others. The very same can be said of almost all organised religions, especially the proselytizing ones.
So it is my considered conviction that Jesus never founded an organised proselyting religion. Otherwise, what else does his outspoken indictment mean: “You hypocrites! You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed you make him twice as disserving of going to hell as you yourselves are.” Mt.23, 15. You don’t need a Solomon to explain its applications. In this context, the one religion which meets all the demands of human rights cited above, to my mind is Hinduism which is not bound up with any creed, book, prophet or even one God. Believers, unbelievers and atheists and all sorts of honest religious rites are allowed and no defined doctrine is pressed down in anyone’s thought. In that sense it is more catholic than any which calls itself catholic.
Publicity and Advertising
What then is the difference between true and organised religions? It is that exists between Publicity and Advertising. Jesus gives a very telling easy to grasp example when he says: Do not light a candle and put it under a bushel, but put it on a lamp stick, so that it may shed its light on all in the house, so that seeing your good works people glorify your father in heaven. Something similar is said of USA: the land of the free, home of the brave and a city seated on a mountain top to inspire and guide. A lighted lamp expels all darkness without saying a word. It is like St. Francis telling his followers to go and preach the good news to the ends of the world, but never to open the mouth, that is, by example. Goodness is enticing, infectious and contagious like leaven. Truth is a trap. It has magnetic pull. It needs no embellishing. Hence the maxim: Truth is mighty and will prevail.
The essence of advertising instead is exaggeration par excellence like presenting oneself as the matchless leader, as in the case of all political party candidates. Narendra Modi presents himself as the fittest person for the Prime Minister’s post in India, reportedly also with the help of an American adverting agency which is handsomely paid. I myself am living example when they announced me in the notice as “renowned theologian and noted Journalist. The truth is I am here only in the role of a Simon of Cyrene, just a passer-by. My friends here in Chicago have been carrying the heavy, ridiculous cross of Endogamy for long and falling down repeatedly. They saw me passing by and begged for help to shoulder it for a while and I am just obliging.
Similar exaggerations are resorted to sell all goods and services in our age of cut-throat completion in the world of international marketing. Thus we hear of “The best tooth paste”, “the tastiest food in the world’s cuisine”, “the only remedy for bald head” even if it is advertised by a bald man, and “the only means of salvation” the Catholic Church. Under the onslaught of damaging criticisms from within and without, of course the Catholic Church is changing a lot. The sum and substance is, Jesus never resorted to such dishonest advertising techniques.
Exhibiting Humane Humanity
Then what was Jesus doing if he was not advertising a new religion? What was Jesus in the raw as seen by his contemporaries? He was presenting himself as the exemplar of a humane humanity for others to imitate. For that purpose he presented himself more as THE SON OF MAN, 85 times in the gospels as against SON OF GOD, only 38 times. The message is resoundingly clear: He was presenting himself the ideal Man (humane human person) for all places, all peoples, all times, all countries, all cultures and all climates, an ideal world citizen in our modern global village. To this day no one has contested that claim. Didn’t Gandhi himself say: I love Christ, not Christians? Hence we see a G.K.Chesterton, a protestant become catholic, writing a book: “The Everlasting Man” and Archbishop Fulton J.Sheen writing his: “Eternal Galilean” and Vivekananda describing him as the visible human face of invisible God.
The best and briefest description of Jesus is: “He went about doing well. No one could accuse him of sin.” It was long after his death his followers were called Christians in Antioch. By that time St.Thomas must have brought Christianity to Kerala. But his followers were not called Christians, but Margam Koodiyavar (Those that tread the path of Jesus) which I think is the only right description and I want to be one among them only. In concrete what did he do? Unlike us scribes, he never wrote anything, but preached. Similarly unlike his present followers, he never built any church or temple, never ordained any priest or claim to be a priest, never went to any temple either to offer sacrifice or even to pray.
I am sharing here with you, not just my petty or crazy ideas, but what I have learned also from very reputed scholars like Prof. Herbert Haag of the Catholic Universities of Tuebingen and Lucerne quoted by Prof.Jose Mattam sj founder of Jesuit theologate in Gujarat, its dean for many years and a constant invitee to Europe and Americas for theological lectures. According to them all sacraments, including priesthood were creations of man after the third century. Read: Clergy-Laity divide in the Church, Forget Priesthood, No biblical base, etc. in website:
Jesus builder of Living Temples
Although Jesus was not interested in temples of brick and mortar, his disciples were fascinated by grand concrete structures as we today are by Burge Kalipha in Dubai. For the disciples Jerusalem temple was such a structure then. So pointing to it they told him: Look master what a huge stones they used for that marvellous temple and his reply was: “Not a stone upon a stone will be left.” We know how it was raised to the ground during Roman invasion and how similar man-made churches in brick and mortar are either destroyed or are left abandoned today. Let us hope that doesn’t happen to our Syromalabar Cathedral although some want to bring Syromalabar ventures to Zero in US.
True Jesus never asked anyone to build churches, but this carpenter of Nazareth was indeed terribly busy at work all through his three years of public life building churches, not of brick and mortar, but living temples of God – reviving or reconstructing humane humans. That was what he did when he raised the dead to life, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansed lepers, fed the hungry, comforted the broken hearted and pardoned sinners and prostitutes and reconstructed his own temple by rising from the dead. It is such living temples Jesus wants his followers to build in homes (domestic churches) and in the Villas of Miseries (Shanti tows of the poor) as Pope Francis says.
Did he ever claim to be priest? How could he, after using such defamatory, vitriolic language against Priests or God-men of his times? If you can’t beat someone join him, they say, is the American policy and point out our good philanthropist, Bill Gates who appointed as CO of his company the one who managed to burst his computer. If Jesus acted like him, he would be called a double dealer and time server for personal gain.
He never offered any sacrifice in any temple either. But he had something very thought provoking and pertinent to tell us about sacrifice. He told us to go and get reconciled to your brother who has something against you first, before offering your bloody or un-bloody sacrifice which shows that sacrifice was of no significance at all for him compared to mercy and reconciliation. It looks Jesus never went to temple even to pray. My God, what can you think of it? What else are temples for, if not to offer sacrifice and pray? But Jesus went to mountain tops to pray in silence. He moreover told us also to pray in silence and not shout like heathens as if God is hard of hearing.
But he did go to temple to drive out buyers and sellers who made the house of God into a den of thieves. Nay he even went violent like a wild bull before a red flag in a bull fight, and he turned down cash tables and took up a whip. I don’t know if or how many got a taste of his whip and therefore I honestly don’t think it right even to present Jesus as the embodiment of non-violence. Doesn’t Gandhiji deserve that praise better? Excuse me for talking like a doubting Thomas. That is my incorrigible weakness and I fight with my Lord too often with these kind of honest doubts and I have too many.
When Jesus took up the whip, I think he was just following Indian wisdom exhorting to follow the four-fold path of: Samam, Danam, Bhedam, and Dennam. But what about the moral violence he exhibited and the whole list of “woes” contained in Mt.23? Had he used such defamatory language against the high religious leaders like Pope, bishops or other revered religious heads today, won’t he be arrested and jailed? If we find this conflict in the life of Jesus it is, I believe, because we concentrate often only on the convenient aspect of his character: “Sweet Jesus, meek and mild”, and not enough on the “Bitter Jesus rough and wild.” Both are complimenting aspects of the character of Jesus.
And last but not the least, what bout the purity of blood in Jesus’ own genealogy? If we go by the standard of Knananites even Jesus the Savior of the world cannot claim pure blood because four women in his ancestry were not even Jews but gentiles and shady characters: Tamar was a Cananite widowed twice, nay disguised herself as a prostitute and got pregnant by Judha her own Father-in-law, Rahab was another gentile prostitute of Jericho, Ruth was a Moabite non-Jew and the 4th Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite and mother of Solomon. For more confer genealogy of Jesus in Google website.
In short one thing that was very special about Jesus was, from the moment he was born in a cattle shed, to his end on Calvary he was constantly with the cattle-class, in Shasi Tharoor’s language, constantly mixing with the low castes, outcastes, untouchables, pavement dwellers, the sullied sections of society, drunkards and prostitutes with impure, polluted or tainted blood and never with the palace people, with noble blood, blue blood, royal blood, sacred blood or undefiled endogamous blood people. If He could find no room in the Inn at first Christmas perhaps the Inns, I suspect, were all occupied by ancestors of Knanayas with pure blood, blue blood or royal blood. The message is: You can’t just sup with Jesus and sleep with the Bhraminic lot. You can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, least of all with the Hound of Heaven, Jesus.
Resurrect Church Citizenship
Another thought I want to share is what I consider the real, original idea of Church as fellowship of faithful with unity, universality, equality and fraternity without any clergy-laity, Melalar-Keezhalar divisions of hierarchical ups and downs. Historically Jesus turned upside down his own Jewish pyramidal religious structure with high priest at the very top, when he washed the feet of Peter and laid the foundation for a domestic church of perfect equality. Nay he did more. He called upon the highly placed to come down to vie with others to take the lowest place.
Since the first Christian community had all things in common there was no one in need or want. So outsiders were compelled to say: “How they love one another.” Since the community enforced the principle: “To each one according to his needs and from each according to his capacities”, the first communist society was also helped to sprout and flourish. Fulton J. Sheen described it saying: “Christian communists said: all that is mine is yours while present communists say: all that is yours is mine.” This was the heyday of the Domestic church. It went into catacombs in Rome during persecutions from 100 to 300 AD. All this time the head of the family, male or female, presided over all prayer meetings and table fellowships in different homes because the priestly class was non-existent then.
Then came the Royal Imperial Church with the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 AD and the domination of the palace and princely culture ruling roost to the time of Pope John XXIII. He presided over the dawn of the Church of collegiality and co-responsibility in theory, not in practice due to constant resistance by successive popes. Now they are being implemented bit by bit by Pope Francis. What is to be buried is the hierarchical structure which developed with Constantine, the “Holy Father Church” and the church of the Clergy with various grades which ended with good Pope John XXIII.
What is to be resurrected is the assembly of the people God consisting mainly of the laity who are not only the forefront of the church but constitute the church according to Vatican II. It still remains to be implemented as the laity are still nowhere in the decision making and leadership roles in any sphere — spiritual, moral, social and administrative — of the church. The laity even today is condemned to a “Sudra” status in the caste-like hierarchical ladder with a pejorative meaning of incompetence, inexperience and ignorance attached to that term “laity”. So it is now being replaced by the more dignified phrase “Church Citizen”(based on Eph.2.19) conveying the meaning they are to be second to none in dignity in the church. This is the challenge facing the laity today.
A conversation between Grand Inquisitor and Jesus in jail, in the novel Brothers Karamazov describes best the emasculated sad plight of laity today as headless chicken in the church. In the novel Jesus had come to visit his flock in the church in Seville, Spain where he did some miracles similar to the ones narrated in the gospels. It created a hue and cry for Christ-came-back and against the cruel Inquisitor cardinal. Sensing instant danger to his throne the cardinal had already locked up Jesus to be burned at stake the very next day. But fearing serious consequences he now visits Jesus in the prison by night to persuade him to go back to heaven. In the cell he tells Jesus that the biggest blunder of his life was not to heed to the three temptations of the devil in the desert. Even the devil must be given his due!
Christ not only refused but also taught his followers to disobey such orders of the devil, nay to resist such temptations. In contrast the grand inquisitor doesn’t allow Christians under him to act on their own but to be remote controlled by him. All moral decisions for them are taken by the Inquisitor and his minions while the faithful are exploited like slaves using the mantra “Pray, pay and Obey” to mesmerise and the promise of a heaven of fabulous joy in the next world as reward to prevent them from murmuring. So everything in the church of the Grand Inquisitor moves quite smoothly, orderly and dignified way. Hence he tells Jesus, not to disturb this perfect order and discipline in the church under his royal dispensation. The church does not need Jesus any more. So to escape being burned at the stake, he advises Jesus to go straight back to heaven as he came and so he does. The principle is: “Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take all freedoms away from him.”
Church Citizens or Headless Chicken?
The moral of the story is that Laity is neither ready nor allowed to take decisions on moral and leadership issues even today in the Church. They are simply led by the nose by the clergy so they just do what is pleasing to the clergy. For example, you have a bishop as the president of the lay association which means lay people in the in the SMC at least is a headless chicken. And recently why was there resistance on the part of the hierarchy to accept the elected office bearers even of the Syromalabar Catholic Congress (CMCC) held in Detroit on June 30th? What is strange, that was the first election allowed in the rather long history of CMCC?
It is high time laity or rather Church citizens stop being weaklings hanging on to the apron strings of the clergy and start becoming full-fledged citizens electing their leaders from top to bottom based on merit and charisma. Didn’t Pope Francis say: In the Church if one is holy, let him pray for the rest, if one is learned, let him teach others and if prudent let him govern? The cry for the practice of endogamy in Kottayam diocese and elsewhere, to my mind, is due mainly to a staggering theological illiteracy about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and member of his church. His church, no matter whatever name it is called, has to be a gathering committed to, Christian practice, human rights and rules of the land.
Jesus always stood for the underdog, the last, least and lost. Hence the universal church of late speaks of its preferential option for the poor. The present Pope is yearning for a poor church for the poor. The endogamy issue in the Knanaya community is just tempest in a tea cup as it is just a spec in the universal church which cannot and should not compromise on this human right issue. The basic Christian teaching is to be all inclusive starting with the cattle class at the bottom. According to latest reports Pope John Paul II at the fag-end of his life had set up a commission to study and settle this issue once and for all. That commission according to reports had recommended even to suppress the Kottayam diocese, in case it still refused to implement Christian teachings but could not get it executed as the Pope was in his dying days. So it is in the best interest of Knanaya community everywhere to reform itself following Jesus’ example of becoming humanely human and all embracing, lest they meet the fate of a sinking ship from which over 500 reportedly are leaving every year to save their faces and souls. May good sense prevail, we all shall pray.
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Dr. James,
Thanks very much for this positive refreshing article, and congratulations! So true of me, especially!
God bless you and your mission!
Bishop Paul Grawng
Sent from my iPad (Received on Aug.8/13)
(Fr. Joseph Mattam)
Excellent; well said and true; I go along with you in all that you
have said there; you have put it very forcefully and convincingly,
though I am not sure how many would be convinced, as how many want to
be true Christians?
Continue challenging the church and Christians all around.
God bless you and your good work.
Joe, On 11/08/2013
My dear Dr James
The article was really thought provoking, informative and all the more makes one think about the brochuha the church is in today in the name of a simple Man. Kottayam is only one such example from many in the world. The descrimination againt our Pulaya, Parayar are other examples as you wrote once earlier. All the best for your spaceous elbow room. Love, Alu
Dear Dr James,
Many thanks for sending me your article on Knanaya community. I am enlightened and inspired by your clear and forthright thinking and even challenging the Knanaya community to be true followers of Jesus. All the best. Fr Varghese Paul, SJ