Christianity – A perspective!
This article is the result of the analytical study of more than 100 books on Jesus, Paul, Bible and Christianity and other topics written by eminent faculty members of universities of Europe and US during my long duration visits to UK from 2005 to 2015. I am greatly indebted to the London Borough of Sutton Library Service. It is an attempt by a student of history – Mob.No. +91 9447152533 Email: pmvparijat@Gmail.com
A significant segment of Kerala Catholics is concerned and agitated over the aberrant direction to which the Church is now heading for. In this age and time every action in the public domain better be subject to scrutiny and oversight. Gone are the days of blind to the unilateral diktats of the overbearing people at the top. In order to understand the behaviour pattern of the Church leadership it may be appropriate to have a bird’s‐eye view of the historical development of the Church from it's inception. The Christian Church did not evolve seamlessly as presented by its’ leadership. The strategic ordering of the documents with later Gospels and its Acts coming before the “earlier” letters of Paul was deliberately done. It cradles Paul within the setting of Jesus’ message and the early Church expansion. It is a brilliant arrangement that dovetails with the Act’s account of how early Christianity developed. The order of the New Testament documents and the alleged history presented in the Act conspire to give the impression that the religion was transmitted from Jesus to Paul. But history didn’t unfold this way. Jesus did not establish a Church. He announced the Kingdom of God as a radical alternative to Pax Romana. The Kingdom of God does not look like a structural Church with a hierarchical leadership, sacred texts, places of meeting and rituals. The claim that Jesus came to found a church sounds questionable. Jesus who heaped scorn and ridicule on the Jewish priesthood would never even dreamed of a Church with an Emperor Pope and his princely deputies of bishops to lord over the general members.
The manipulations made in the Bible over the years and the hotchpotch creeds made later, hides the real human Jesus. The Kingdom of God envisaged by Jesus is a just society where human values are of the highest priority, where deeds of compassion and caring backed by an inner spirit of generosity and forgiveness is paramount. In this regime, people are sensitive to the needs of others and respond appropriately and here right action arises out of right attitudes for the benefit of the human kind. “In the person of a deified Christ. There is minimal linkage between the Jesus of Nazareth and the Christ of faith." The historical Jesus who walked on the rough terrain of Galilee dispensing love and compassion to the down trodden and the marginalised in the 20s of CE has been striped off of his humanity. He is now a supernatural being engaged in a rescue mission; someone who has swooped down from heaven to take loyal followers with him back there. By the time the contours of Pauline ‐ Constantanity has coalesced into the present form, Jesus and his message has been overtaken by a cult of personality. This metamorphosis of haloing of Jesus drowns out the vibrancy of his being in as much as we have trouble in seeing him as human or even identify his message. The human teacher and Messiah became elevated quickly to a Christ and then into a God.
All this occurred within just over three centuries of his death. Now his message is irrelevant. His images and statues are peddled for hard cash. It is, of course, a very lucrative business. Instead of affirmative action to ameliorate the human condition, money spinning shamanism without accountability and reciprocity has become the order of the day. After the death of Jesus by crucifixion, the followers of Jesus under the leadership of James, his brother, remained in Jerusalem, as a dissident wing of Judaism along with Peter and John to keep his memory alive and waiting for the Kingdom of God to usher in. They adhered to the laws of the Jews including circumcision and dietary restrictions. This group was later known as Ebionites, the poor. To them Jesus was the Teacher, not God Incarnate who rose from the dead in three days.
In the early 40s of CE, Paul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen and a diaspora Jew more attuned to Hellenistic culture rebelled against Judaism and started a new religion Christianity on the basis of his alleged mystical experience of encountering the resurrected Jesus,whom he called Christ (the anointed). Paul never met Jesus in person, nor did he take cognisance of Jesus’ message or his out look or his aims. Paul postulated the idea that Christ the God’s only Son, linked to God the Father Almighty and to the Holy Spirit, came down from Heaven to earth to redeem the humankind from the sin of Adam by his sacrificial death. Salvation and eternal life according to Paul is assured by the faith in Christ and the grace emanating therefrom. He unilaterally called himself an apostle of Christ. While the Jesus movement was meant to be for circumcised Jews only, membership of Paul’s religion was open to all, Diaspora Jews, ”God‐ fearers” (found in Hellenistic synagogues) and Gentiles. Being a Roman citizen and a businessman with extensive contacts Paul could travel freely through out the Roman Empire and propagate his religion.
From the late 40s to the early 60s Paul travelled through the Diaspora, Greece, Turkey and Italy (except Rome) and organised his brand of congregations, taught and wrote letters. His message emphasised freedom from Jewish Law (Torah) and the Jewish way of life and urged believers to undergo his kind of mystical experience of the resurrected “Christ”. Much of Paul’s views paralleled that of Roman mystery religions. Both portray a dying ‐rising Saviour God human who comes down from heaven to rescue humanity from its plight. His view was akin to the religions of Mithras, Isis or Dionysus with their saviour figures. Paul’s dispensing with Torah obligations represented a major religious break through, something new in the horizon of the first century. It offered enormous advantages; and expanded dietary menu and a welcoming stance for God‐fearers who no longer had to become Jewish to gain access to the Kingdom. (In all ancient societies meat was available only through the temples as sacrifice. If someone wanted a meat meal the had to take a temple to be sacrificed). Paul’s Christianity was separate and independent of the Jesus Movement. His contact with the original followers of Jesus was minimum. He quarrelled with Peter and others as will be observed from his letters. Paul’s enterprise was not without opposition from the genuine followers of Jesus, but he could prevail over his opponents on account of his Roman citizenship, organisational skill and extensive business contacts.
The inherent advantage Paul had, was not available to any of the Jewish followers of Jesus. Despite the brave attempt of Luke, the follower of Paul, to paper over the fissures in the nascent efforts by followers of Jesus to carry forward his message of vis‐à‐vis Paul’s Christianity, the fault lines are there for all to see. In Paul’s Eucharist, the bread becomes the body of Jesus and the cup represents a new covenant; those who eat the flesh and drink the blood have eternal life. The ceremony finds its natural home in Hellenistic mystery religion environments. It was only in this context that the participation in the consumption of the body and the blood of the divine‐human Jesus Christ made sense. The idea of divine communion through the eating of the God is a rite so ancient that it is found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Such a “holy communion“ was also practiced in the Mysteries as means of becoming one with Osiris,Dionysus or Mithras. Paul’s ritual shifts the focus away from Jesus as Messiah to Christ the God. “The Eucharist signifies the mystical incorporation of the initiate into the god‐head by eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ. Such a ceremony implies the deification of Jesus and is quite impossible to reconcile with a view of Jesus as Messiah in the Jewish sense”. The implication of such a Eucharist that salvation is to be obtained through Jesus’ death and the shedding of his blood is a revival of the pagan concept of atonement.
Jesus a practicing Jew would never have instituted a ceremony involving eating of human flesh and drinking human blood even symbolically. Blood is taboo to Jews. The tradition from Jesus passed through James of Jesus Movement into Ebionites. With the martyrdom of James in CE 62 and the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in CE 70 the Ebionites escaped to Pella to the north and east of just below the Sea of Galilee in modern day Jordan. Without the advantages of Paul’s religion, the Jesus Movement and Ebionites eventually died out. In the meantime the Christ based religion of Paul moved out into the wider area of the Roman Empire in the second through the fourth centuries. Paul’s Christianity or Paulinity became favoured by the Emperor Constantine because of its larger following. Emperor Theodosius in CE 380 made Christianity the state Religion of the Empire and banned all others religions. The imperial backing allowed this dominant group to do away with all other rival groups such as Arians, Ebionites, Gnostics etc. Constantine bestowed to the Church, immense wealth and other privileges which attracted the senatorial and others of rank to Christianity. The Emperor busy in his military enterprises entrusted the civic administration to the bishops. Those who joined the religion for its message and its way of life and the expectation of eternal life were cast aside. The scramble to occupy positions of ower led to all sorts of corruption, nepotism and other ills.
In the Council of Nicaea Constantine by force reshaped Christianity where Jesus was affirmed as pre-existent supernatural being who became incarnate in human form by his virgin birth in the mode other divine‐human religious and political figures such as Attis, Pythagoras, Apollo, Augustus Caesar, Zoroaster, Osiris Dionysus et al. The dying‐rising God man saviour Mithras also exhibited the same feature. Jesus was elevated to the status of the Only Son of God and coequal to God the Father and the Holy Spirit.The concept of a Trinitarian Godhead landed Christianity in a theological cul‐de‐ sac; the concept has not many takers now. The mission of Jesus to establish the Kingdom of God on earth through deeds of compassion and caring backed by an inner spirit of generosity and forgiveness and sensitivity to the needs of others was thrown over‐board.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire in CE 496 the Pope became the ruler of the Empire. In the subsequent period known as the “Dark Ages” stretching from the fifth to the eleventh century Papacy spent its energy and resources to reinforce its temporal power vis‐à‐vis the kings of Europe especially that of Germany. The hegemony of the Church dissipated by the eleventh century. The struggle for supremacy between the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople resulted in the vertical split between the Western and Eastern wings permanently since the middle of the eleventh century. In this power game what is the relevance of the message of love and forgiveness of Jesus? It will take volumes to write about the sordid stories of the most notorious of the “holy” Popes. The papacy was controlled by the princely families of Italy such as the Medici, Borgia in Italy and the rulers of other parts of Europe and even certain women of ill repute. The worst criminals would be saints when compared to doings of some Popes. What we have today a diehard pyramid structured hierarchical divine right mode Church whose pronouncements should be followed implicitly.
The basis of this infallible authority is “revelation" directly from God Almighty to the specially chosen people? Whatever is not explainable is terms of human reason is considered as “mysteries”. The basic components of the belief system of the Church are “mystery, miracle and magic”. In the present age, the Church finds itself in a catch 22 situation; on the one hand it can not jettison what was touted as God given “revelation" and at the same time carry forward what the modern mind dismiss as laughable. Compelling the faithful to recite ad nauseam creeds which a person of some intelligence will find difficult to ascribe to may be futile. The church claims to authority as the putative successor of Peter, the chosen one to lead the Church, which Jesus never meant to establish, in the first place. It is only after Constantine shifted the capital of his Empire to the newly constructed city of Constantinople in the present day Turkey that the bishop of the erstwhile capital of the Western Empire, Rome became prominent. There is no evidence that Peter ventured beyond Antioch. It is inconceivable that Peter conveniently obliged ante the Papacy by going to the far away from Rome to be martyred there. One can expect this and more from the forgers of the Constantine Donation.
The promise of universal salvation turned upside down by the Church to make it a tool of oppression and control of the ordinary people. While the exploitive regime of the ruling class comprising the king, princes and lords in the secular domain and the princes and lords of the Church enjoyed all comforts, the deprived class of people toiled hard and paid taxes to the State and tithes to the Church to keep the former in luxury. The ruling clique be‐fooled them with the hope of an after life of everlasting happiness and comforts these unfortunates missed in their life on planet earth. How long this bogus promise of a heaven in the never never land can be kept alive? That is the million dollar question! All pervading corruption and opulent life style of the Pope made possible mostly by the large scale sale of indulgences and other questionable ways triggered the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. The Age of Reason and the Enlightenment from the seventeenth century in Europe stressed the importance of reason and critiquing of existing belief systems. The French Revolution of 1789 shook the Catholic Church in France to its roots a never before. The Polish monk Copernicus (1473‐1543) demolished the Ptolemaic hypothesis that the earth lay at the centre of the universe with the sun, the moon and the known planets revolving round it, with God the angels the princes, secular and religious, occupying their assigned places in the dome of the sky in the descending order. In the Copernican universe, the earth becomes a minor planet orbiting around a minor star in the vast expanse of the universe. With it disappeared the closeness of man and his solicitous deity. Charles Darwin made the Homo Sapiens one among the many competing species with his tenuous hold on earth and fighting for his food and mate; the human is no more the creation of God in his own image specially marked for redemption. Galileo opened up the sky for exploration and study. The archaic views and opinions of the Church have been dumped on the way side.
Democratic polity, universal secular education, humanistic values, equality and liberty freed the human kind from tyranny and oppression of the Church and superstition at least in Europe. Religion has been on the back foot ever since. Christianity with its time worn slogans and nostrums stands puzzled in the environment of intellect and is fighting hard for survival in the ever evolving world of ideas. Latest surveys 2014, indicate that in Britain people who say that they have no religion account for 49 percent of the population up from 31 percent in 1983. In 2014 the number of people who said they were atheists stood at 247 lakh as against 128 lakh atheists in 1983. The highly Catholic country Ireland seems to have turned its back to the Catholic Church judging from the overwhelming support to the same sex marriage legislation.
It is a fact, crime rate is lower in liberal societies compared to religious ones. Religion can not arrogate itself as the custodian of ethics. Latest Pew Research Center survey has shown that even in the highly religious country US, Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One fifth of the US public—and a third of adults under 30 are religiously unaffiliated today. In 2007 about 60 percent of those who said they seldom or never attend religious services nevertheless described themselves as belonging to some particular religious tradition. In 2012 just 50 percent comes under this category a 10 percent drop in five years. The vast majority of religiously un‐affiliated Americans are not actively seeking to find a church or other religious group to join. The survey shows that societies in which people feel constant threats to to their health and well‐being are more religious. This is a global trend. The fortunes of the Catholic Church took a beating by the Italian Unification resulting in the loosing of the vast Papal Estates and the Pope being confined in the Vatican. The Papacy responded with “infallibility” and “index” and the dogma of “Virgin Mary”. But the downward slide of the Catholic Church continues. A significant number of people in the predominantly Catholic countries such as Spain, Portugal and others are namesake Catholics only.
Believers in their thousands are leaving the Catholic Church in Latin America for charismatic and Pentecostal outfits. While charismatic and similar circuses are on the decline in developed countries, they are thriving in third world countries like India. They find the business lucrative with minimal investment. There is an abundance of guilt ridden and mentally retarded people becoming easy prey to the cunning operators out to rob these misguided ones. The deteriorating economic situation in rural areas in Kerala may keep the credulous, anxiety ridden and economically troubled strata of society church bound in the short run. Professionally qualified younger generations are already leaving villages for employment in metros out side Kerala. Uprooted from their rural milieu to the potpourri of social and religious diversity of urban agglomerates make these people less and less oriented to their particular religious groups. This diaspora generation may find life partners from other religions, regions and ethnic groups which may result in a secular and non‐religious way of life. The lack of opportunities to the places of worship of their religion, especially that of their particular denomination and the hectic life style of the cities will lessen their ardour for religious practices.
Another factor that may impinge the future of the Church is the decelerating growth rate of the Catholic population of Kerala. The lesser number of children in the Catholic families will make it difficult for the Church to recruit youngsters to the various religious orders especially for manning the parishes. The Church will be forced to find candidates from the lower social and economic strata, with questionable moral, caliber to fill‐up the vacancies. These people who join the priestly profession in the absence of viable alternatives will play havoc in the society, the signs of which have already emerged in the Church of Kerala. The insatiable demand for money by the Church from the members for various purposes is another factor which may keep people away from their parish churches. Most of the average families are struggling to balance their family budgets, while the levies of the Church are on the increase.
The exponential explosion of information technology will make the young generation exposed to new vistas of knowledge. Some people do find solace and happiness in total blind faith in the tenets and rituals of a particular religion. If analytical thought, reasonable discussion, scientific debate or even every day common sense enter the scene all will be lost for this kind of people. The deities involved being almighty and all powerful,their divine will must be obeyed at all times. What is happening in such cases is a “switching on full blast of long lost infantile security, taken from those moments when a tiny child feels the great up swelling of happiness in the tender loving embrace of a protective all‐powerful parent”. For thousands of years the major deities have been known by parental titles such as “The Mother”, “The Great Mother”, ”The Earth Mother” and later on, after an unfortunate sex‐change as “God the Father”. This use of maternal and paternal names when referring to deities has been misappropriated by some claiming to be representatives of these deities as in the case of (childless) Mother Superiors and (childless) priests who call themselves “Fathers”. An individual who is capable of momentarily suspending reason and of calling upon a supernatural super parent for help may be able to find great happiness in this reversion to the trusting days of infancy. Because the sacred super parents are never present in flesh, they are incapable of demonstrating any of the usual weaknesses of real human parents. The remain aloof with their messages and their teachings passed on to their “children”by astute middle‐men who organise special ceremonial gatherings at which the faithful work on each other up into a shared passion of zealous devotion and divine frenzy. It underlines yet again the extent to which human evolution has been a neotenous trent, neoteny being the process by which the human animal achieves adult status while retaining juvenile qualities. It is time to pause and ponder.