LETTER TO THE EDITOR – THE GOD(S), RELIGIONS AND HOLY BOOKS

 

Varghese PamplanilVarghese Pamplanil

writes a letter  to the editor

 

 

Note:    This article is a response to Catholic clerics who are still in the  grip of  the ghosts of the past: heresy hunting, Inquisition et al.

James kottoorTime was when people blindly believed without questioning according to the saying: “Rome has spoken and case is ended.”  Now the dictum is: “Rome has spoken and discussion has started,” to find out what the ground realities are.

 

Freedom  of thought undeniable

Who is there anyone in this world to stop you and me from our freedom of thought and speech? Some may say God could or would. Then the atheists would counter: “Show me that Guy and I will deal with him.” Can you bring  any god – now there are too many gods to suit the needs of proliferating religions, each religion having its own God – to defend your claim?

That could happen only during the time of the dictatorship of religions. But aren’t we now living in the 21st century where believers, agnostics and atheists have equal freedom to think, speak, write and spread their views? Didn’t  even Pope Francis say that there are any number of atheists who are much better than Catholics? Of course you don’t have to believe him either. But what are the facts? (Contra factum non est argumentum)There is no argument against facts.

 

Be a good human being

In the final analisis what is it that the world needs most today? A good Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Muslim or belonging to any known religion or a Good Human being. Even Jesus of Nazareth did not present himself as a follower of any religion. He presented himself, instead, as the  Son of Man,  85 times in the Gospels and only 38 times as the son of God the Father. What is more he never asked anyone to worship him as God or pray to him either.

We want to ask all the so-called Christians: Whom are they supposed to follow or imitate? No one will deny that it is Jesus the Nazareen. He is not a God because you can never imitate a God with the concepts humans have about God or Gods. That is why people shut your mouth saying: “Stop palying God!” It is impossible to imitate a God of our understanding. But this what all religious leaders are doing. Theirs is the last word and there are any number of illiterates or idiots who swallow all stupid things they blurt out.

But we all can imitate great human visionaries and inspiring models of service to humanity. Such a person is Jesus for me, a matchless ideal person. That doesn’t mean I understand him completely and succeed to imitate him.When I fail, I fight with him tooth and nail and tell him, as I would to a soul-mate: “The moment I find a better leader and model, I will follow him and quit admiring you.” Yes that I will.  Only, so far I have not found another and so I stick with this  Galelean who asked his followers to call him and treat him as a “Friend” and not a Master at the last supper after washing their feet. That is what I have been trying to do for ever so many years.

 

Churches today

The thousands of churches we have today say they are followers of Jesus but they are not. They are all like the High priests, Pharisees and publicans except for a few. The pharisee praying in the temple said: ‘I am the most perfect human  being observing all commandments of God, unlike the  publican at the  far end of the temple, beating his breast and saying: I am not worthy even to look up to you, Have mercy on me.”  Which of the two went out of the  temple justified before God, if there is a God?

The Catholic Church says that it is the best of the lot, except for Francis who calls himself a sinner again and again. No other Pope in History has ever done that.  That is why I have great admiration for him. All the Popes  call themselves: “His Holiness!”  making themselves equal to God, which is down right “Nonsense” or  Blasphemy. If there is a God, he alone can be the embodiment of holiness, not any human being!

 

Cattle Class!

Is there any church which calls itself second to another or a servant of another church? So any church that acts like the Pharisee in the Temple is a counter-witness to Jesus. Left with that option I have said “Good bye” to all organised churches, which are for the organisers, and stay happy and contented to be the last and least in the Cattle Class.

Cattle Class means the  company of the Jesus the Jew, born in a cattle shed, lived a homeless life (birds have their nests, foxes their caves, the son of man has no place to rest his head), died on the cross for bearing witness to truth and got buried in a borrowed tomb.

So Cattle Class mens: A classless, clashless and casteless group of people who are on constant run to take the last place, not the first, who have no caste distinctions of blue blood (but all red blood) and among whom there is no graded hierarchical positions of power to rule over, because they are brothers only, not Rabbies, Masters, Teachers or Fathers. That is the simplest understanding of following the rustic Jesus of Nazareth.

This is very similar to what Sri Narayana Guru preached and practised. This is what prompted a Vivekanda to start his historic Chicago address saying; “My Sisters and brothers!”

It is only those who are totally ignorant about the history of Papacy and the Catholic church can be shocked or upset about what our columnist recounts as historic facts. Those who studied the inside out of the wheelings and dealings of Vatican had once the branded it as the ‘Whore of Babylon’. That is why even a Jesus could boldly say to his pharisiac audience: “Drunkards and prostitutes would go to heaven before you”, meaning they were worse than them. Are their successors today any better than them in the light of sexual and financial skeletons tumbling out of their cupboards regularly?

 

Holy Books or Sacred Scriptures!

When it comes to the authority or authorship of the gospels called the WORD OF GOD, the very simple truth to remember is,  Jesus never wrote even a single word, no one knows about his education either, except that he was a historical person. God the Father did no writing, nor did the Holy spirit flying about like a dove. Everything was written by erring human beings. Research scholars know that Jesus never instituted any priesthood or sacraments. For those who believe that Jesus did that, with good intentions, may be reminded of the saying: Road to hell is paved with good intentions!

Conflicts and contradictions in the  Bible is known to every careful reader. Some don’t even read the Old Testament because of the vindictive God it presents. In the New Testament the fight between Peter and Paul and James and John the sons of Sebadi bargaining to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, the special human affection between Jesus and Magdaline, and her instant response ‘Rabboni’ to the call of Jesus ‘Mary’ who wanted to ‘touch him’ and the objection not to do it ‘now’ and all that is left unsaid but hinted.

Once Bible is made the WORD OF GOD, nothing unholy can flow from it. Once it is seen as the handiwork of frail humans every ugly and  inhuman can come out of it. Pamplanil is answering a Catholic cleric. The fact that he has not mentioned any name is clear indication that  he is not interested in any personal war of words but only in discussing issues, to demolish absurd, irrational assumptions with irrefutable concrete facts.

The ones who raised absurd objections have all the right and duty to raise counter points, so that the reading public may learn from both. That is why Pamplanil says: In a free society, one may be inclined to  “ totally disagree with what another may say; but defend to death the right to say it”, Let that freedom be accepted and defended by all is the motto of CCVjames kottoor, editor CCV.

 

The review of the book  “Beyond Gods and Scriptures” that appeared in the Church Citizens Voice elicited a few, apparently, strange and shallow, responses.

 

Let me deal with only two aspects for the time being :

  • The book is heretical (the view of a Catholic Priest)
  • Gospels writers Mathew and John are of disciples of Jesus.

 

Heresy and heretics

The response from a Catholic priest may indicate that his mind is  gripped by the ghosts of the past; heresy hunting, Inquisition et al. He appears to think that the Church is the sole custodian of all truths. He cannot tolerate any one other than the Ecclesiastes dealing with matters of faith. “When Rome Speaks” everyone   should simply  listen; the  laity shall not  enter the hallowed ground of the “so-called theology”; the laity is not authorised and  capable of thinking for themselves.  The cleric’s comments would seems to converge on the idea of torturing suspected heretics with the  pulley and the rake and finally  burning them alive at the  stake. Either he is pretending that he doesn’t know the sordid history of the Catholic Church or suffering from lapses of memory about the terrors of Inquisition.

 

Has he not, heard of the Albigenesian  Crusade   unleashed by Pope Innocent III on 22nd July 1209 and orchestrated by the papal legate Arnaud Amaury?  In mad frenzy the papal legate ranted  aloud:  “kill them all, the Lord will recognise his own”. Thousands were mutilated and murdered; prisoners blinded, dragged behind horses and used for target practice. The doors of the church of St. Magdalene were broken down, refugees were dragged out and slaughtered. The town of Beziers in France was set on fire and totally destroyed.  Amaury wrote to Pope Innocent III “Today, Your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to sword regardless of age or sex.”

 

Any student of history should be in the know of the Spaniard Dominican Tomas de Torquemada (1420-1498) Grand Inquisitor who was instrumental in killing in cold blood not less than 2000 Muslims and Jews (he had Jewish ancestors) and suspected  Christian heretics.

 

The person who is prone to detect heresy under every stone generally opts for silencing opinions that don’t toe the official lines. The names of Jan Hus (1370-1415), Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) stand out. Thousands of other innocent people were burned alive at the stake on the suspicion of heresy.

 

Bruno, the monk, was burned alive for defending the Copernican theory that the earth and other planets orbit the sun;  that the universe is infinite and that there is no absolute truth. Afraid of the prosecution of the Church, Copernicus the Polish monk and mathematician had circulated his ideas anonymously. His book “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres” was published only after his death; he thus escaped the fate of being burned alive at the stake.

 

In today’s world, Inquisition had assumed  a more subtle form in its avatar as The  Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith especially under the  “actor turned zealot”  Pope John Paul II and his deputy, the Panzer Cardinal Ratzinger who succeeded him as Pope Benedict XVI . The victims included eminent Catholic theologians such as Hans Kung, Charles Curran. John Courtney Murray S. J., Edward Schillebeeckx, Leonardo Boff, Tersa Balasurya, Jacques Pohier, Uta Ranke-Heinmann etc. The list is too long to be enumerated in this short presentation. Let us hope for fresh wind to blow under the stewardship of Pope Francis.

 

Luckily the once mighty roars  of the Catholic Church have now  become mere whimpers except in the uneducated, ignorant, economically backward and decease-ridden third world (or is it the fourth world)? To quote a Malayalam ditty : “Pandan nayyudae  pallinu souriayam  pandaepolaebhalikkunnilla” i.e. the bite of the dog with spots (on his skin)  is not as effective as in the olden days.

 

Now-a-days at least a few of the hitherto suppressed Catholic laity, cease to be mere obedient “goats” to be controlled by the “almighty Lord  Bishop with his Crook. At least a few ordinary Christians may tend to explore a thing or two in the matter of faith.

 

The subtle difference between a person who has undergone the regimentation of a seminary for years under the regimented regime of the Church and a free thinker is telling. The indoctrinated cleric may not tolerate any well-reasoned view expressed by a non-clerical person. The stark reality is: hardly a few cassock wearers can cast way their uniform  with the  “dog collar” least  they will be out of job and wandering adrift with no means for survival,  least of all,  filling  their hungry bellies, clothing themselves and finding shelter.

 

Heresies take root and flourish quickly in the fertile soil prepared, at least in part,  by the moral laxity and corruption of the clergy and whose behaviour does  not serve as an adequate model for the laity in search of moral and spiritual guidance in tumultuous periods of intellectual and social  changes (Edward Burman).

 

In a free society, one may be inclined to “totally disagree with what another may say; but defend to death the right to say it”. In such a society renegades and women of easy virtue are not votaries of moral precepts and public morality.

 

Christianity/ authorship of the Gospels

Christianity

What is Christianity? Is it about love and brotherhood. Look again.  Jesus hates the high priests, Pharisees, scribes. He called them hypocrites; progeny of vipers; white washed tombs containing putrid flesh and rotting bones and what not. He shows disdain for Hebrew Law in one place while asserting perfect adherence to it as the only way for salvation elsewhere. Galileans do not get on with Judeans. Everyone hates Herodians. Nobody seems to like the Samaritans. Everyone hates Paul: Paul rebukes Peter, Peter rebukes Paul. Paul says he knows better than Jesus’ family. James writes a letter saying that salvation relies on good works. Paul is of the view that good deeds cannot save, only Faith. Some followers of Jesus want to kill Paul. Paul says anyone who teaches differently from him is “accursed”.

 

Mark 6.3 tells that Jesus (Yeshua or Joshua ) had brothers: James (properly Jacob), Joses (Joseph or Yusef), Simon (Shimon) and Juda (called Judas in Mathew). Unnamed sisters are also mentioned. Despite all these, Catholics vouch that Mary is ever Virgin, in effect her maiden head remained unruptured, implying that the fate of the world and human salvation depends on the condition of the thin membrane of hymen  inside that woman’s anatomy.

 

The first leader of Jesus people in Jerusalem was James, brother of Jesus, a tradition heavily obscured, if not perverted in the Pauline “Acts of the Apostles.”

 

Many today are actively looking beyond the unity of doctrine imposed by religious authorities. Many are suspicious that the Churches obscured or distorted deeper or higher truths. They look bewildered at the stark commands of righteousness offered with threats to faithful and faithless alike for two millennia. Social and psychological changes, archaeological discoveries, science and free scholarship have loosened the holds of dogma and opened up new vistas.

 

The Roman Catholic Church wanted a super-real character Jesus Christ; in effect with “no character” at all as an object for worship. The Christian Church has purloined the historical Jesus, repackaged and branded him. His family allegedly rejected him; so the Church has rejected the family and adapted and morphed him to suit its agenda. At the initial stages of the transformation of the Pauline Christianity to a Roman religion, Jesus was projected as Zeus/Apollo. Later he was remodelled and made to order as something else to suit the purposes in mind. Jesus has been shaped and reshaped, altered and restructured with the result that some historians doubt his very existence. The paternity of Jesus has been, as it were, killed off or wiped out and his mother has been penetrated and violated by dogma. It seems that there is something neurotic about Christian theology; the Church is prone to explode at the hint of doubt or questioning.

 

This diagnosis may expose a degree of schizophrenia detectable in the tension between Jesus, James and the family with their humane spiritual righteousness and the Pauline anti-law, atonement dominated “evangelical” frenetic mysticism. There was no love lost between the family of Jesus and Paul. The historical Jesus, whoever he might have been, is now obscured and overwhelmed by the ghost of the Christ allegedly encountered by Paul on the road to Damascus.

 

At the behest of Emperor Constantine, the faith was argued over, solidified and crowned at Nicaea in C. E. 325. The “definition” was argued over and compromised at the Council of Chalcedon (C.E.451) convened by Emperor Marcian. What stands out is: theological questions have been settled by secular Emperors. The Christ of Faith is of a genre totally different from the historical human Jesus, whoever he might have been.

 

In Nicaea Emperor Constantine faced an almost impossible task. Eventually, after weeks of wrangling, the Emperor appointed his political ally Eusebius, the head of the Church at Caesarea,  Palestine, to iron out the different opinions.  Nearly everyone present objected to something or the other. Constantine lost patience and decreed that anyone who refused to sign the settlement presented by Eusebius, would be banished from the Empire. And he enforced his ruling; those who dissented his ruling was never heard again. Thus the Creed (or Confession) of cobbled up by the Emperor still remains the central pillar of the “established” Church.

 

After the 5th century, Catholic doctrine was rock solid on each every spiritual and governmental issue. What was held true by Rome was supposed to be held true everywhere. But no more. 

 

Who wrote the Gospels?


Pundits on the New Testament are of the view that among the four gospel writers only the author Matthew (not any disciple of Jesus) could be a Galilean. The gospels are post Paul’s epistles and letters.

 

“Everything in New Testament has been fingered, lifted, compared, sewn in, re-sewn, interpreted, reinterpreted, attacked, defended, denied, obscured, translated, transliterated, transmogrified or tranquillised, infinitely annotated, theologically violated “sacred text”. There are so many commentaries, concordances, conferences, councils, canonical constipations, footnotes,  references, indexes, cross indexes, critical evaluations by liberals, conservatives, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, communists, fascists, philologists, evangelicals, popes, bishops, pundits, persons known, unknown, radicals, nuns, revisionists, rock ’n’ rollers, skin-heads,  journalists, nobodies, spooks, numb-skulls; that any kind of ‘fair assessment’ has become an Impossibility. You simply join one of the ‘schools of thought’ and get on with it, or ignore it . The New Testament has been fought over so very long that it has ceased to make any kind of coherent sense or sensible in all its parts to everybody. As is common knowledge, anyone can find a quote to support his argument. And that is basically what the New Testament is, or has become: “a bag of quotes copyright free”. “It cannot prove anything that everybody will agree with”(Tobias Churton).

 

The New Testament began to take shape in C.E. 367 from some unintelligible scribblings on tiny scraps of papyrus. The book is collated and codified, revised and edited and ad ons added to suit the purposes on hand. The result; contradictions, dichotomies,  historical errors and geographical inaccuracies. Despite all  the congruities the Bible is believed to be the Ultimate Word of God, the WORD; no doubts brooked. The stark fact remains: hardly a dozen “logia” or sayings can be attributed to Jesus.

 

After the failure of Revolt of 131 C.E, Christians distanced themselves from Judaism. The gospels were altered to make them pro-Roman and demonising Jews as sole Jesus killers being hounded all over the Christian world (Graham Philips).

 

The Gospels of Thomas, Philip, Peter, Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Egyptians, the Gospel of Truth were excluded and declared heretical and sentenced to be destroyed. The official Canonical Gospels should inevitably toe the line Paul’s thinking and writings. But the Ecclesiastical compiled New Testament was subjected to any number of edits and amendments to suit the agendas of the Church behind the iron curtains.

 

The version now in vogue was approved by the Council of Trent in Italy as late as 1547. Experts who studied the gospels in depth hold the view that none of the disciples of Jesus wrote any of the four canonical gospels. The earliest gospel seems to have been written sometime around the 70s of the Common Era from oral descriptions from the standpoint of faith about  30 years after the Crucifixion of Jesus to cater to the requirements of specific communities of believers.

 

In 1835, German theologian David Friedrich Strauss published his “Life of Jesus Critically Examined”. As a result even biblical scholars began to doubt that gospel writers were really eyewitness to the events they were describing. The Bible inter alia contains many geographical errors and omissions; e.g. Sepporis, capital of Galilee, just 6 kilometres from Nazareth is not mentioned in the book.

 

In the 1920s Rudolf Bultmann, German theologian and New Testament scholar, drew attention to the late authorship of the gospels. No gospel writer describes Jesus the person. The portrait of Jesus as a tall Caucasian with soft blue eyes, long black hair and beard, is a medieval conception. (Graham Philips)

 

The irony that stands out: No gospel written in Aramaic,  the language of Jesus is available. One logical conclusion: Jesus did not leave any record of himself. Whatever is written about him border on speculation and make-believe.

 

The history of Christianity is one of asymmetries and never ending   theological rows which show no sign of abatement. Jesus may have existed. But who is he and what is his message? In the final analysis in today’s world, has Christianity any relevance?

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