India’s first anti-colonialist uprising predates Mangal Pandey’s by 274 years? – Mayabhushan Nagvenkar

Festival of Sontreo (Procession of Umbrellas) at Cuncolim

Mayabhushan Nagvenkar“Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik, who has been a part of the campaign to put the Cuncolim revolt as the first landmark on the map of India’s nationalist history, said he was confident eventually the central government would formally acknowledge the event as India’s first recorded revolt against a European power.” – Mayabhushan Nagvenkar

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangal_PandeyConventional wisdom has it that lowly-ranked sepoy Mangal Pandey became the catalyst for India’s first uprising against Western rule in 1857 after he revolted against the alleged use of cattle and pig lard smeared on bullet cartridges used in Enfield rifles issued by the East India Company.

But here’s what you perhaps do not know. 

Jesuits at Akbar's courtA sustained campaign is on to haul back the date of India’s first rebellion against Western colonialism by a good 274 years—from Barrackpore in eastern India to what is now Goa.

The campaign, which is endorsed by historians, freedom fighters, elected representatives and local residents, wants the central government to officially endorse as the first real rebellion the prolonged, defiant struggle of five south Goa villages—Cuncolim, Ambelim, Assolna, Veroda and Velim—against the Portuguese colonists which saw bloodshed and non-payment of taxes.

“The residents of the five villages, led by Cuncolim, had, beginning from 1583, defied Portuguese taxes after Christian missionaries destroyed five temples in the area to bring the villagers into submission and also killed over a dozen of our chieftains,” Oscar Martins, who traces his lineage to one of the slain chieftains, told IANS.

Many of the claims made by Martins find echo in Church records and historical accounts of the time.

The struggle, in which several lives were lost, dates back to 16th century when early Christian missionaries along with their Portuguese armed escorts tried to convert the residents of these five villages to Christianity.

Jesuit priests killed at CuncolimWhen the attempts largely failed, the missionaries destroyed nearby temples, which enraged the villagers, resulting in the massacre of some priests including Fr. Rodolfo Acquaviva—an Italian Jesuit who had also held position at Emperor Akbar’s court and has since been beatified—and their colleagues on July 15, 1583.

In retaliation, the colonists proposed a parley, which ended in yet another bloodbath.

“Sixteen chieftains from Cuncolim were called for a truce to (nearby) Assolna fort. They were ambushed and shot to death by the Portuguese soldiers as retaliation. One of the chieftains managed to escape and tell the story,” said Martins, who now heads the Cuncolim Chieftain Memorial Trust.

After the bloody feud, the five villages stopped paying taxes to the Portuguese rulers for eight years from 1583—centuries before Mahatma Gandhi started his “no tax” campaign against British colonists.

Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik, who has been a part of the campaign to put the Cuncolim revolt as the first landmark on the map of India’s nationalist history, said he was confident eventually the central government would formally acknowledge the event as India’s first recorded revolt against a European power.

Shantaram Naik“For that, the state government will first have to include this incident in our history books to convey Goa’s formal recognition of the event. We also need to give the central government rigorously researched material to back our claim. We are confident that the  will get its place in history that it richly deserves,” Naik told IANS.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led ruling coalition had promised three years ago to appoint a committee to study the matter for the Cuncolim revolt to be included in school books, but Martins claimed it would need persistent lobbying and reminding because history “cannot be hidden for a long time even if the government neglects it”.

The Trust has engaged a documentary maker to produce a historical film on the subject. “We did not want to wait for the government to take a decision. We do not want to lose time in giving the Cuncolim revolt its rightful place in history,” Martins said. – The News Minute, 19 July 2015

» Mayabhushan Nagvenkar is a journalist in the Panaji area of Goa who writes for various media. He can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in

Our Lady of Health Church in Cuncolim

C. I. Issac: Christian ICHR member calls for ban on conversions – G. Sreedathan

G. Sreedathan“Although a St Thomas Christian himself, Issac disputed the claim that St Thomas landed in Kerala and converted Namboodiri Brahmins. ‘They are targeting higher jatis. They realized that without converting Brahmins they can’t bust the very foundation of Hinduism. In this line they deputed Robert de Nobili, an Italian padre, to Madurai in 17th century CE and he studied Sanskrit and wrote Jesus Veda, and lived in sanyasin attire in order to convert high-class Hindus, and miserably failed.'” – G. Sreedathan

Prof C. I. IssacThe lone Christian member in the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) under the Human Resources Development ministry and noted historian, C. I. Issac, has put up a passionate defence of the Sangh Parivar’s ghar wapsi (home coming) programme and called for a ban on conversions.

A retired history professor and author of over 10 books, including Evolution of Christian Church in India, Issac is now vice-president of Kerala-based right-wing think-tank Bharateeya Vichara Kendram. “Ghar wapsi is not religious conversion. It is a measure of opening doors for those who left earlier from poorva dharma due to historical reasons. Article 25 of the Constitution is not a provision for a one-way traffic or of a non-return valve. In no way with this Article, the founding fathers of our Constitution thought of any sort of conversion. Their intention was the healthy coexistence of all cultures and religious groups. Conversion by brainwashing, coercion, allurement, incentives, etc. is cruel in cultural terms,” said Issac.

According to him, ghar wapsi is a legitimate right of the Hindus. This movement began not only after May 26, 2014.  “Its origin in Kerala goes back to British period that is 1921. It started systematically as the shuddhi movement in the 19th century CE by Arya Samaj leader, Swami Dayananda Saraswati.”

Calling for capital punishment for indulging in conversions, he said, “The conversion is a criminal offence against humanity. The death of a religion means the total vanishing or death of a culture, civilization and knowledge system which generated by a religion through generations…. We lost the Greeks, Mayans, Persians, Romans, etc, like classical societies legacies. We missed Bamian rocks of Afghanistan. Nobody can New Delhi Archbishop Anil J.T. Coutoretrieve the lost knowledge. They have a substantial, objective, and observationally demonstrated information framework, obtained through generations. We, as an enlightened society, are bound to secure all societies and their commitments appropriately,” he added.

When his attention was drawn to Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto’s statement in an interview to Business Standard that he has a problem with the word ghar wapsi and not conversion, he said, “Behind this answer a fraudulent design is hidden. Ghar wapsi means return to poorva dharma. In it there is nothing as wrong. On the other hand, if it is conversion they can level charges against the Hindu society in international forms that Hindus are forcibly converting Christians to Hinduism, Hindus are fundamentalists, etc. Now they can’t raise such allegations. Above all in Hinduism there is no provision of conversion to Hinduism. Prima-facie, one may feel it is an innocent and genuine demand. But in fact it is cunning and putting Hindus in doldrums.”

Claiming himself to be a practicing Christian, he said, “The Church has good relations with me. When I was nominated to ICHR, the bishop arranged a meeting to congratulate me. I believe in Christ but I don’t believe Christ as the only way.”

On Delhi church attacks, he said, “Martyrs and saints are fuels for the gigantic engines of the Church (like jihadis for Islam) without which it cannot sustain. The nature and character of the Delhi church attack is doubtful. All the churches subjected attacks were suffered with minor damages. After the Delhi election they never pressed for the arrest of the persons behind attack or further investigations. It can be considered as a self-goal strategy.”

St. ThomasAlthough a St Thomas Christian himself, Issac disputed the claim that St Thomas landed in Kerala and converted Namboodiri Brahmins. “They are targeting higher jatis. They realized that without converting Brahmins they can’t bust the very foundation of Hinduism. In this line they deputed Robert de Nobili, an Italian padre, to Madurai in 17th century CE and he studied Sanskrit and wrote Jesus Veda, and lived in sanyasin attire in order to convert high-class Hindus, and miserably failed. Madras Bishop Arulappa bribed Ganesh Iyer and converted him as John Iyer and deputed him for manipulations and attempted to high-jack ancient Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar.” – Business Standard, 11 July 2015

» G. Sreedathan Sr Assistant Editor at Business Standard, New Delhi Area.

Roberto de Nobili

Marriage in the Bible: Captive virgins, polygamy and sex slaves – Valerie Tarico

Dr Valerie Tarico“The God of the Bible explicitly endorses polygamy and sexual slavery and coerced marriage of young virgins along with monogamy. In fact, he endorses all three to the point of providing detailed regulations. Based on stories of sex and marriage that God rewards and appears to approve one might add incest to the mix of sexual contact that receives divine sanction. … Furthermore, none of the norms that are endorsed and regulated in the Old Testament law – polygamy, sexual slavery, coerced marriage of young girls—are revised, reversed, or condemned by Jesus.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

David & JonathanBible believers are beside themselves about the prospect that marriage norms and laws are changing, but let me tell you a secret about Bible believers that I know because I was one. Most don’t actually read their Bibles.

If they did, they would know that the biblical model of sex and marriage has little to do with the one they so loudly defend. Sex in the Bible includes rape, incest, master-slave sexual relations, captive virgins, and more. Of course, just because a story is told in the Bible doesn’t mean it is intended as a model for moral behaviour. Does God forbid or command the behaviour? Is it punished or rewarded? In the New Testament stories, does Jesus change the rules or leave them alone? By these criteria, the Bible not only describes many forms of sexual relationships (including sexually coercive relationships), it gives them the divine thumbs up.

Not one man, one woman

The God of the Bible explicitly endorses polygamy and sexual slavery and coerced marriage of young virgins along with monogamy. In fact, he endorses all three to the point of providing detailed regulations. Based on stories of sex and marriage that God rewards and appears to approve one might add incest to the mix of sexual contact that receives divine sanction.

Prophet and ConcubinesNew Testament endorses Old Testament

Nowhere does the Bible say, “Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you.” Consent, in the Bible, is not a thing. Furthermore, none of the norms that are endorsed and regulated in the Old Testament law—polygamy, sexual slavery, coerced marriage of young girls—are revised, reversed, or condemned by Jesus. In fact, the writer of Matthew puts these words in the mouth of Jesus:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law [the Old Testament] until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

The Law of which Jesus speaks is the Law of Moses, or the Torah, and anyone who claims the Bible as the perfect word of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God should have the decency to read the Torah carefully—and then keep going.

• Sex Slaves. Concubines are sex slaves, and the Bible gives instructions on acquisition of several types of sex slaves, although the line between biblical marriage and sexual slavery is blurry. A Hebrew man might, for example, sell his daughter to another Hebrew, who then has certain obligations to her once she is used. For example, he can’t then sell her to a foreigner. Alternately a man might see a virgin war captive that he wants for himself.

• Polygamy. Polygamy is a norm in the Old Testament and accepted in the New Testament. Biblicalpolygamy.com has pages dedicated to 40 biblical figures, each of whom had multiple wives. The list includes patriarchs like Abraham and Isaac. King David, the first king of Israel may have limited himself to eight wives, but his son Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived had 700 wives and 300 concubines! (1 Kings 11)

• War Booty. In the book of Numbers (31:18) God’s servant commands the Israelites to kill all of the used Midianite women who have been captured in war, and all of the boy children, but to keep all of the virgin girls for themselves. The Law of Moses spells out a purification ritual to prepare a captive virgin for life as a concubine. It requires her Tamar &  Judahowner to shave her head and trim her nails and give her a month to mourn her parents before the first sex act (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). A Hebrew girl who is raped can be sold to her rapist for 50 shekels, or about $580 (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). He must then keep her as one of his wives for as long as she lives.

• Brother’s Wife. A man might acquire multiple wives whether he wanted them or not if his brother died. In fact, if a brother dies with no children, it becomes a duty to impregnate his wife. In the book of Genesis, Onan is struck dead by God because he fails to fulfill this duty—preferring to spill his seed on the ground rather than providing offspring for his brother (Genesis 38:8-10). A New Testament story shows that the tradition has survived. Jesus is a rabbi, and a group of scholars called Sadducees try to test his knowledge of Hebrew Law by asking him this question:

“Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 22:24-28).

Jesus is too clever for them and points out that in Heaven, that place of perfect bliss, there is no marriage.

Having a brother act as a sperm donor isn’t the only biblical solution to lack of offspring. The patriarch Abraham is married to his half-sister Sarah, but the two are childless for the first 75 years or so of their marriage. Frustrated, Sarah finally says, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Her slave, Hagar, becomes pregnant, and then later Sarah does too and the story gets complicated (Genesis 16). But that doesn’t stop Abraham’s grandson Jacob from participating in a competition, in which his two wives repeatedly send in their slaves to get pregnant by him, each trying to get more sons than the other (Genesis 30:1-22).

Abraham, Sarah and HagarBible believers or simply change-averse?

These stories might be irrelevant to the question of biblical marriage were it not that Bible believers keep telling us that God punishes people when he dislikes their sexual behaviour. He disliked the behaviour of New Orleans gays so much, according to Pat Robertson, that he sent a hurricane to drown the whole city—kind of like Noah’s flood. And yet, according to the Bible story, both Abraham and Jacob were particularly beloved and blessed by God.

The point is that marriage has changed tremendously since the Iron Age when the Bible was written. For centuries, concubines and polygamy were debated by Christian leaders—accepted by some and rejected by others. The nuclear family model so prized by America’s fundamentalist Christians emerged from the interplay between Christianity and European cultures including the monogamous tradition of the Roman Empire. As humanity’s moral consciousness has evolved, coerced sex has become less acceptable even within marriage while intertribal and interracial marriage has grown in acceptance. Today even devout Bible believers oppose sexual slavery. Marriage, increasingly, is a commitment of love, freely given. Gay marriage is simply a part of this broader conversation, and opposition on the part of Bible believers has little to do with biblical monogamy.

Since many Christians haven’t read the whole Bible, most “Bible believers” are not, as they like to claim, actually Bible believers. Biblical literalists, even those who think themselves “nondenominational,” almost all follow some theological tradition that tells them which parts of the Bible to follow and how. Granted, sometimes even decent people do get sucked into a sort of text worship that I call bibliolatry, and Bible worship can make a person’s moral priorities as archaic and cruel as those of the Iron Age tribesmen who wrote the texts. (I once listened, horrified, while a sweet, elderly pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses rationalized the Old Testament slaughter of children with the same words Nazis used to justify the slaughter of Jewish babies.)

US Supreme Court 2015But many who call themselves Bible believers are simply, congenitally conservative—meaning change-resistant. What really concerns them is protecting the status quo, an ancient hierarchy with privileged majority-culture straight males at the top, which they justify by invoking ancient texts. Gay marriage will come, as will other reproductive rights, and these Bible believers will adapt to the change as they have others: reluctantly, slowly and with angry protests, but in the end accepting it, and perhaps even insisting that it was God’s will all along. – Raw Story, 29 June 2015

Westboro Baptist Church

Judgement Day Prediction

Where the Bible really stands on slavery – Valerie Tarico

Japheth, Ham & Shem

Dr Valerie Tarico“It is easy to look back on slavery from the vantage of our modern moral consensus—that treating people as property is wrong, regardless of what our ancestors believed. But the very same Bible that provided Furman and Jefferson Davis with a defense of slavery also teaches that non-believers are evildoers, women are for breeding, children need beating, and marriage can take almost any form but queer.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

New TestamentShould a person be able to own another person? Today Christians uniformly say no, and many would like to believe that has always been the case. But history tells a different story, one in which Christians have struggled to give a clear answer when confronted with questions about human trafficking and human rights. Had the Bible been edited differently, Christendom might have achieved moral clarity on this issue sooner. As is, the Bible contains very mixed messages, which means that biblical authority could be invoked on either side of the question, leaving Christian beliefs about slavery vulnerable for centuries to prevailing cultural, political, and economic currents.

Old TestamentOld Testament endorses, describes, and regulates slavery

The Bible first endorses slavery in the book of Genesis, in the story of Noah the ark builder. After the flood, Noah’s son Ham sees his father drunk and naked, and for reasons that have long been debated, is cursed. One recurring theme in Genesis is that guilt can be transferred from a guilty person to an innocent person (think of Adam and Eve’s fruit consumption, which taints us all), and in this case the curse is put on Ham’s son, Canaan.

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave. May God make space for Japheth, and let him live in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” (Genesis 9:24-27 NRSV)

Most likely, this story was intended originally to justify the Israelite subjugation of Canaanite peoples, who, in other stories about the conquest of the Promised Land are slaughtered or enslaved. Later though, Christians and Muslims would use the story to explain why some people have dark skin, and “Ham’s curse” became a justification for enslaving Native Americans and Africans.

Throughout the Hebrew Old Testament, slavery is endorsed in a variety of ways. Patriarchs Abraham and Jacob both have sex with female slaves, and the unions are blessed with male offspring. Captives are counted among the booties of war, with explicit instructions given for purifying virgin war captives before “knowing them.” The wisest man of all time, Solomon, keeps hundreds of concubines, meaning sexual slaves, along with his many wives.

The books of the Law provide explicit rules for the treatment of Hebrew and non-Hebrew slaves.

  • You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46)

When punishing slaves, owners are given latitude that falls just short of on-the-spot murder:

  • When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21)

That said, the book of Deuteronomy explicitly forbids returning an escaped slave to his master, in a passage that was a favourite of abolitionists:

  • Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them. (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)

Most Christians believe that Mosaic Law is no longer binding, and that the life of Jesus ushered in a new period of grace and forgiveness, but that hasn’t stopped Old Testament endorsements of slavery from shaping the course of Christian history. They are, after all, still in the Bible. Fourth century Catholic councils endorsed the Hebrew Scriptures as a package, permanently binding them together with the Christian writings that became the New Testament.

Paul & OnesimusNew Testament encourages kindness from master, obedience from slave

Equally regrettable, from the standpoint of moral clarity, is the fact that New Testament writers fail to condemn Old Testament slavery. In fact, the Jesus of Matthew says that he has come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18)

Slavery comes up regularly in New Testament texts; but rather than repudiating the practice, the writers simply encourage good behaviour on the part of both slaves and masters. Slaves are clearly property of the owners, as are their families. In one parable Jesus compares God to a king who has slaves. When one slave refuses to forgive the debt of a peer, the righteous king treats him in kind, “and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made.” (Matthew 18:25)

While in prison, the Apostle Paul encounters an escaped slave, Onesimus, and sends a letter to his Christian owner, Philemon, tacitly endorsing Philemon’s authority in the matter. The messages are mixed. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon “not as a slave but as a brother”—but he does send him back.

Several letters attributed to Paul express the sentiment that in Christ all people are one:

  • For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
  • There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Then again, he tells slaves to submit to their masters, even as he exhorts masters to treat slaves well.

  • Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free. And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality. (Ephesians 6:5-9)
  • Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. (1 Timothy 6:1-3)

The mixed messages of the New Testament provided the basis for later Christian arguments on both sides of the slavery question.

Gregory of NyssaChurch Fathers disagree but pro-slavery faction dominates for 1300 years

For some early Christians, the message of equality trumped endorsements of slavery. John Fletcher (Lessons on Slavery, 1852) wrote that early sects in Asia Minor “decried the lawfulness of it, denounced slave-holding as a sin, a violation of the law of nature and religion. They gave fugitive slaves asylum, and openly offered them protection.” We are told that the Emperor Constantine gave bishops permission to manumit slaves, which would have offered a powerful incentive for conversion to Christianity. St. Gregory, the 4th-century bishop of Nyssa in what is now Turkey, made impassioned arguments against slavery.

“Do sheep and oxen beget men for you? Irrational beasts have only one kind of servitude. Do these form a paltry sum for you? ‘He makes grass grow for the cattle and green herbs for the service of men’ [Psalms 103.14]. But once you have freed yourself from servitude and bondage, you desire to have others serve you. ‘I have obtained servants and maidens.’ What value is this, I ask? What merit do you see in their nature? What small worth have you bestowed upon them?”

Regrettably, as the Church and Roman state became more tightly allied, politics trumped idealism. In the mid-4th century, Manichaean Christians, who were considered heretics by the Church of Rome, were encouraging slaves to take their freedom into their own hands. The Church convened the Council of Gangra, and issued a formal proclamation aligning with the Roman authorities against the Manichaean slave rebels. “If anyone, on the pretext of religion, teaches another man’s slave to despise his master and to withdraw from his service, and not serve his master with good will and all respect, let him be anathema.”

This became the official Church position for the next 1300 years. Although some writers, including Augustine, voiced opposition, the Vatican repeatedly endorsed slavery from the 5th through 17th centuries. To help enforce priestly celibacy, the Ninth Council of Toledo even declared that all children of clergy would be slaves.

Gregory XV Colonial powers invoke the Bible; Mennonites and Quakers raise opposition

As the countries of Europe colonized the world during the 17th century, the moral authority of Bible and Church offered little protection for subject people in the Americas and Africa. The Dominican Fray Bartolome de las Casas, argued against enslavement of Native Americans, but was ignored. The Catholic Church required only that slaves be non-Christians and captured in a “just war.” Near the close of the 17th century, Catholic theologian Leander invoked both common sense and the Bible in support of Church doctrine:

“It is certainly a matter of faith that this sort of slavery in which a man serves his master as his slave, is altogether lawful. This is proved from Holy Scripture…. It is also proved from reason for it is not unreasonable that just as things which are captured in a just war pass into the power and ownership of the victors, so persons captured in war pass into the ownership of the captors…. All theologians are unanimous on this.”

Catholic defenders of slavery were not alone. In England, the Anglican Church spent half a century debating whether slaves should be taught the core tenets of Christian belief. Opposition came from owners who feared that if slaves became Christians they might be entitled to liberty. In North America Protestants first passed laws requiring that slaves be sold with spouse and/or children to protect the family unit, and then decided that these laws infringed the rights of slave-holders. Many sincere Christians believed that primitive heathens were better off as slaves, which allowed them a chance to replace their demonic tribal lifestyle with civilization and possibly salvation.

But as the 17th century came to a close with broad Protestant and Catholic support for slavery, two minority sects, Mennonites and Quakers began formally converging around an anti-slavery stance. Their opposition to injustice, rooted in their own understanding of the Christian faith, would become the kernel of an abolitionist movement that ultimately leveraged the organizing power and moral authority of Christianity to help end both church and state sanction for human trafficking.

John Wesley, anti-slaver and founder of Methodism.Protestant support for slavery fractures and turns

The 18th century marked a pivot point in Christian thinking about slavery, much as the 4th century had, but in the opposite direction. At the start of the century, British Quakers forbade slave-holding among their members, and American Quakers even relocated communities from the South to Ohio and Indiana to distance from the practice. But then as now, Quakers were a small sect, the leading edge in their ethical thinking perhaps, but only the leading edge.

It took John Wesley, founder of the Methodist denomination, to bring abolitionism into the Christian main current. A son of the Enlightenment as well as the Christian tradition Wesley drew on both secular and religious tools to make his case. His writings lay out in careful detail the history of the Atlantic slave trade as it was known to him. He cites laws that prescribe mutilation and worse for slaves who offend. He makes the argument in clear secular ethical terms for abolition. He also plumbs the language and passions of faith:

“If therefore you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of mercy, nor of the revealed law of GOD) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion! Be gentle towards men. And see that you invariably do unto every one, as you would he should do unto you.” 

Wesley is keenly aware that the book of Genesis has long been invoked in defense of slavery, and rather than deny the Bible’s dark legacy he invokes it, calling on God himself to free the oppressed from both slavery and sin:

The servile progeny of Ham
Seize as the purchase of thy blood!
Let all the heathen know thy name:
From idols to the living God
The dark Americans convert,
And shine in every pagan heart! 

I cite Wesley not because he gets sole or even majority credit for the sea change in Christian thinking during the 18th century, but because he embodies the many currents that came together to create that change. The European Enlightenment prompted lines of ethical philosophy and political analysis that are fundamentally at odds with slave trafficking and forced labour. America’s deist founding fathers documented their own conflicted feelings on the topic. Christians including Puritans, Quakers, Methodists, Anglicans and Baptists wrestled publicly with the issue.

The first and second Great Awakenings spawned revival meetings across the country that drew slaves and former slaves into Christianity. And emancipation began making political inroads, though not without opponents. Vermont outlawed slavery in 1777, and by the end of the century, Upper Canada—now Ontario—had implemented a law that would phase out the practice. By contrast, the Catholic Church placed anti-slavery tracts on a list of forbidden books, and Virginia forbade Blacks from gathering after dark, even for worship services.

Jefferson DavisChristians in the American South hold out

By the start of the 19th century, the fight was far from over, but without Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793, legal slavery in Christian-dominant countries might well have ended with a whimper instead of a war. The economic value of slavery was in decline throughout Europe’s empires, and in the American North a transition to grain production had made slavery all but obsolete in some regions. Where slaves cost more to feed than they could produce, owners set them free.

But as cotton production soared in the South, thanks to Whitney’s invention, so did the demand for slave labour. By the start of the Civil War, the South was producing over 4 million bales of cotton annually, up from a few thousand in 1790. Between 1790 and 1808, when an act of Congress banned the Atlantic slave trade, cotton-producing states imported 80,000 additional slaves from Africa to meet growing demand.

Northerners could think about slavery in abstract humanitarian terms but for Southerners, slavery was prosperity, and many Southern Christians behaved like owners of oil wells might today: they hunkered down and defended their revenue stream by engaging in the kind of “motivated reasoning” that allows us to find virtue in what benefits us. Under pressure, prominent Christian leaders turn to the Bible to defend the South’s way of life:

  • [Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…. It is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…. It has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts. — Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.
  • There is not one verse in the Bible inhibiting slavery, but many regulating it. It is not then, we conclude, immoral. — Rev. Alexander Campbell
  • The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example. — Rev. Richard Furman, prominent Baptist and namesake of Furman University
  • The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined. — U.S. Senator James Henry Hammond.

The doom of Ham. Whether Ham’s curse is “branded on the form and features of his African descendants,” as Hammond believed, the story of that curse has been branded on the form and features of Christian history, down to the present.

Brigham Young: Self-styled prophet, polygamist and slaver. Kind of a 19th century Muhammad.Modern Christians struggle to disentangle biblical authority from bigotry

On Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, the LDS Mormon Church officially renounced the doctrine that brown skin is a punishment from God. The announcement acknowledged that racism was a part of LDS teaching for generations, as indeed it was, officially, until external pressures including the American civil rights movement and the desire to proselytize in Brazil made segregation impossible. LDS leaders have come a long ways from the thinking of Brigham Young, who wrote, “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so” (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10).

“This will always be so,” said Young, but modern Mormons believe he was wrong. Similarly, most modern Protestants and Catholics believe their spiritual forefathers were wrong to endorse slavery—or practice it—or preach it from the pulpit. But thanks in part to words penciled by our Iron Age ancestors and decisions made by 4th-century councils, this moral clarity has been painfully difficult to achieve. How much sooner might Christians have come to this understanding if the Church had not treated those ancient words from Genesis and Leviticus and Ephesians as if they were God-breathed?

It is easy to look back on slavery from the vantage of our modern moral consensus—that treating people as property is wrong, regardless of what our ancestors believed. But the very same Bible that provided Furman and Jefferson Davis with a defense of slavery also teaches that non-believers are evildoers, women are for breeding, children need beating, and marriage can take almost any form but queer.

This month, aspiring presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was asked to comment on marriage equality and said, “This is not just a political issue. It is a biblical issue. And as a biblical issue, unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, ‘Okay, I’m just going to evolve.’” I’m guessing that the generations of Christians who fought slavery, biblical texts and Church tradition notwithstanding, would beg to differ. – Alternet, 12 February 2015

» Dr Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. As a writer she tackles the intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics, with a growing focus on women’s issues, and is actively engaged in dialogue that aims to find common ground between theists and freethinkers, in particular by focusing on humanity’s shared moral core.

Slavery in Brazil

See also

Why Christianity poses a threat to India – Rakesh Krishnan Simha

Nasrani or Syrian Christians of Kerala

Rakesh Krishnan Simha“Under the cloak of democracy, Christian missionaries can sneak in and conduct their unholy work among the poor and helpless. Christian churches have cropped up like a rash across the east coast after the tsunami hit southern India. Nagaland, which was entirely animist, despite two centuries of British rule, became 100 per cent Christian under 50 years of democratic—or rather Nehru-Gandhi dynasty—rule.” — Rakesh Krishnan Simha

India Crossed-OutChristianity poses a clear threat to India

If you could sum up the history of Christianity in India in one word, that word would be ingratitude. Among the earliest refugees to arrive in India were the Syrian Christians, who were facing persecution in their native lands in the Persian Empire in the fourth century CE.

Persecution would be the wrong word to use here because the Syrian Christians of the Persian Empire were found to be collaborating with Christianised Rome. Aghast at the betrayal by his Christian subjects—in the midst of Persia’s war with the Romans—the Zoroastrian king Shapur II lamented: “We are in a state of war; they are in a state of joy and pleasure. They live in our land but are of like mind with the emperor, our enemy.”

Shahpur II deported some Christians from his Eastern Syrian province and imposed a double tax on those that remained. The Christian subjects were then ordered to revert to their native Zoroastrian religion.

Down on their luck, the Syrian Christians sought refuge in India. Kerala’s Malabar coast attracted them because they had heard of an ancient community of Jews who had been living there since the first century CE, having also fled the turmoil of the Middle East.

How were these Syrian Christians—or Nasranis as they are still called by the locals—treated? “The Indian king received them with great kindness,” George David Malech writes in History of the Syrian Nation and the Old Evangelical-Apostolic Church of the East.

“At the Kotem school in Malabar there are still some copper tablets in existence on which there are written messages from the king to the Christian leader, permitting him and his followers to settle in some places and recommending them to neighbouring chiefs.”

In fact, around the time (1498 CE) when the Portuguese marauders led by Vasco Da Gama arrived in Malabar, the Syrian Christian community was thriving, with at least 30,000 members. Now, here’s how they repaid India’s generosity. When Da Gama returned for the second time in 1502, he was met by a delegation of Syrian Christians: “They identified themselves, surrendered their ancient honours and documents, and invited him to make war on their Hindu king,” writes Ishwar Sharan in The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple.

According to George Menachery, a Catholic apologist and former adviser to the Kerala State Department of Archaeology, the Syrian Christians presented Da Gama “a ‘Rod of Justice’ and swore allegiance to the Portuguese king and implored Portuguese protection.”

K. M. Panikkar elaborates in Malabar and the Portuguese: “More than this they suggested to [Vasco da Gama] that with their help he should conquer the Hindu kingdoms and invited him to build a fortress for this purpose in Cranganore [Kodungallur]. This was the recompense which the Hindu rajas received for treating with liberality and kindness the Christians in their midst.

Author and researcher Sanjay Subrahmanyam, no friend of Hindus, writes in the extensively annotated The Career and Legend of Vasco Da GamaThe perspective of the Syrian Christians on early Portuguese activities in Kerala is an interesting one; they clearly support their co-religionists, rather than the local rulers….

In a letter of late 1524, the Syrian Christian bishop Mar Jacob writes after recounting all his actions in favour of the Portuguese Crown: “This, Sire, is the service that I have done in these parts, with the intention of moving you to the help me in the expansion of these people [Syrian Christians] through this India in the faith of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.”

Subrahmanyam continues: “In the same context, he hence offered the aid of the Syrian Christians as an auxiliary military force, to aid the Portuguese, claiming that they represent ‘over 25,000 warriors.‘” The bishop requests Vasco Da Gama to intercede—that is use military force—on behalf of the Syrian Christian community. Mar Jacob also proposed the construction of a Portuguese fortress at Cranganore, a proposal that was put into effect a decade later, in 1536, paving the way for the Portuguese colonisation.

However, once they had cynically used the help of the traitorous community, the fanatic Portuguese persecuted the Syrian Christians with a vengeance, and forced them—on pain of death—to abandon their ancient Orthodox church and swear allegiance to Roman Catholicism.

Vasco da Gama & Zamorin of Calicut

Flash forward to the 20th century

The history of Kerala Christians—who today comprise around 20 per cent of the State’s population—hasn’t exactly been exemplary in modern times. In the early 1970s when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was publicly denouncing the threat of CIA subversion of India, the US ambassador in New Delhi, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ordered an investigation into the matter.

The US embassy uncovered two occasions during Indira’s father Jawaharlal Nehru’s premiership when the CIA had secretly provided funds to help the communists’ opponents in state elections. The first occasion was in the 1950s, in Kerala, where cash was supplied to the Syrian Christian Church to destabilise the democratically elected Communist Party of India. According to Moynihan, “Both times the money was given to the Congress Party which had asked for it. Once it was given to Mrs Gandhi herself, who was then a party official.”

Just like the Syrian Christians backed their western co-religionists over the local Hindu and Muslim communities, with whom they had co-existed—and from whose help they had thrived, prospered, and gentrified—modern Indian Christians look up to the West, especially the United States. In their view, America, being the most Christian nation, should help them in keeping India—and thereby Hindus—in line.

Role of Christians in India’s Partition

In a paper titled The Role of Christians in the Freedom Movement of Pakistan published in the Pakistan Journal of Social Sciences, Munir-ul-Anjum and Shahnaz Tariq write: “The support of Christians for the cause of Pakistan was based on their belief that the Muslim society in its nature was more secular than the caste ridden Hindu society hence more permissive for the rights and safe guards of the religious minorities.”

“Christians strongly supported Quaid-e-Azam and Muslim League at that critical time when there was lot of opposition to the formation a new Muslim state. The All India Christian Association assured unconditional full cooperation to the founder of Pakistan. This crucial role of Christian population of the region was recognised by the founder of Pakistan and the All India Muslim League at all levels. These Christians played a very strong role in the creation of Pakistan…. The Christian vote before the Boundary Commission was the only decisive vote for the true foundation of Pakistan. Christian leaders voted for Pakistan because they believed that Quaid-e-Azam would be the real protector of their rights and interests.”

“When the proceedings of the Boundary Commission took place, Christian leaders Dewan Bahadur S. P. Singha, C. E. Gibbon and Fazal Elahi, in their recorded statement, demanded that for the demarcation of the boundaries, the Christian population be included and termed as Muslim population.”

“In the last days of united India Jinnah visited Lahore as a part of his campaign to fetch the support of the minority community for Pakistan. He met the Christian leader Chandu Lal and Sikh leader Giani Kartar Singh. The Sikh leader turned down his offer while Chandu Lal declared unconditional support of the Christians for Pakistan. When the resolution to join Pakistan or India was moved and voted upon in the Punjab Legislative Assembly, the three Christian members voted in favour of Pakistan and saved the situation. Eighty-eight and 91 votes were cast in favour of India and Pakistan respectively. In this way the three Christian votes decided the fate of the province.” 

However, not content with the creation of Pakistan, the Christians “denounced and condemned the unfair distribution of Punjab province more forcefully even than the Muslims and tried their best to get the districts of Pathankot and Gurdaspur included in western Punjab”.

Bishop of Tuticorin Roman Catholic Diocese Rt. Rev. Yvon Ambroise

Are Christians a fifth column?

Christian fundamentalists thrive on suffering and disaster. In February 2001, T. John, the Karnataka civil aviation minister and a member of the Orthodox church, described the Gujarat earthquake, which resulted in death of over 20,000 people, as “the punishment of God to the people for ill-treating Christians and minorities in the state.”

John also saw a divine connection between attacks on Christians in Orissa and the cyclone that hit the region in December 1999, killing 10,000 people. This is nothing but vicarious pleasure at the expense of non-Christian Indians.

He wasn’t the only one expressing such sentiments. The tsunami in India—in which 10,136 people were killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless—was indeed a windfall for many American Churches which poured in billions of dollars to convert large numbers of poor fisher folk in the Kudankulam area.

Ten years later, these converts were unleashed against the crucial Kudankulam atomic power plant. In 2014, the Intelligence Bureau (IB)—India’s premier internal security agency—submitted a report to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, identifying several foreign-funded NGOs that are “negatively impacting economic development”.

The IB report neatly ties in with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s claims that NGOs funded by the Americans were leading the protests against the Russian-built nuclear reactors in Kudankulam. That the maddeningly taciturn Singh would speak out—despite owing his prime ministership to his party boss, the pro-Christian and Catholic Sonia Gandhi—is an indication of the danger posed to India’s national security by forces being remote-controlled by the West.

The NGOs that were at the centre of the mass protests were associated with Bishop Yvon Ambroise, the Tuticorin Church leader, who had been active in the vicious campaign against the power plant.

In fact, there is evidence that the earliest Christian converts from Hinduism betrayed Indian interests. It also illustrates how Christians are easily coerced by their western masters.

Animalising—the process by which cotton is dyed—was a secret that remained a mystery to Europeans. Stephen Yafa explains in his book Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber how this trade secret was stolen: “Ironically it was a man of the cloth, Jesuit Father Coeurdoux, who betrayed these fiercely guarded secrets. In 1742 the French cleric took advantage of his missionary posting on the Coromandel coast to gain the trust of Indian master dyers who he had converted to Catholicism.

These Indian Christians confided their secret process to him with an understanding that he would never reveal it. And what the father do? “Coerdoux immediately gave a detailed description in a step-by-step letter published in France. In a blink, 3000 years of clandestine artisan practice became public knowledge.”

The point is not the betrayal by newly converted Indian Christians. To be sure, they had—albeit naively—asked the European priest to keep the secret to himself. The point is that this is exactly how Indian Christians can be used by their western masters. For instance, pressure can be applied on the family of a seemingly loyal Indian Christian who is, say, a rocket scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Pressure can come in a variety of ways but the most likely approach a western intelligence agency would take is to first approach the Christian scientist’s parish priest via the local bishop, who may be approached through someone in the Vatican.

Parish pressure is no joke. Hindus, who do not formally congregate under a priest, cannot understand how closely integrated the Church is with the families of local Christians in a particular area or parish. When this writer was studying in St Thomas College, Thrissur, Kerala, he was witness to priests, some of who were lecturers, demanding to know why a particular student had skipped Sunday mass.

The family can be threatened with pariah status. For instance, many Kerala Christians who joined the Communist Party of India were denied burial services by the Church upon their deaths. This can be traumatic for the surviving members because the rest of the community members tend to treat them as outcastes. (Imagine the state of children who are not able to bury their dead father.)

Under such circumstances, transferring national secrets into a pen drive and handing them to an agent of a western intelligence agency might seem like a small inconvenience. To be sure, individual Christians in high-level positions may not be predisposed to betrayal. But because the entire Christian ecosystem is geared towards complete control of its flock, it’s unlikely many of them can stand the immense pressure brought to bear on them and their families. As Subrahmanyam writes, the Portuguese looked at Syrian Christians as a means to get “political and economic mileage”. Similarly, today’s Indian Christians are a means for the West to penetrate the higher echelons of power in New Delhi.

Onesimus & Paul

Why Christianity has no place in India

Some argue the caste system in Hinduism is unfair to the lower castes and hence Christianity can lift them by treating them as equals. That’s probably the lamest argument in favour of the Abrahamic faith. For, if Christianity has not made, say, Europeans or Americans, better human beings, what makes them think it will make Indians any better?

First up, racism is at all-time high levels in the West. American Christian Churches quoted the Bible to give approval to the slave trade. Today, black Christians are again being lynched by white Christians in America. What can they teach India about equality?

Also, despite the horrendous bloodshed of two world wars, these Christian nations are still at each other’s throats and still bombing innocent civilians around the world. And if events in Ukraine are any indication, European Christians haven’t learnt anything at all and are creating a situation that could lead to World War III.

At any rate, caste schisms among Indian Christians mirror the caste divisions in Hinduism. “Conversion to Christianity does not seem to eradicate caste prejudice in India any more than it eliminates racial discrimination in the US. Despite Jesus’ call for brotherly love, isn’t Sunday the most segregated day in America?” writes C. Alex Alexander, a naturalised US citizen and former Chief of Staff, US Department of Veterans Affairs in a detailed expose of the Christian threat to India.

Caste segregated Christian graveyard in Tamil Nadu

There are others some who argue that converted Hindus will remain Indians, and therefore where’s the problem with conversion? Well, there is a major problem and Swami Vivekananda set it in the founding document of the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897. If India embraces a foreign religion, he wrote, “Indian civilisation will be destroyed. For whomever goes out of the Hindu religion is not only lost to us but also we have in him one more enemy.”

Because the West has usurped the soul of Christianity, Christianisation—like Islamisation—equals denationalisation. Western missionaries who were rampaging through China in the 1940s were fond of the line, “One more Christian, one less Chinese.”

Religious conversion is therefore a flick of a switch that transforms an Indian—or for that matter any follower of a native religion—into an extension of western culture and influence.

In his book The Armies Of God: A Study In Militant Christianity, Iain Buchanan, a British-born, Malaysia-based academic, has explained how Christianity imported from the West can cause havoc in developing countries. In an interview with DNA newspaper, he says“There is no doubt at all that US strategy makes deliberate (and somewhat cynical) use of Christian agencies in pursuit of foreign policy – and that the distinction between the religious and the secular is deliberately blurred in the process…. Most of the major evangelical corporations (like World Vision, Campus Crusade, Youth with a Mission, and Samaritan’s Purse) operate in partnership with the US government in its pursuit of foreign policy—World Vision, which is effectively an arm of the State Department, is perhaps the most notable example of this.”

What does this mean, in practice, for a targeted country?

“Above all, it means that it is often very difficult to distinguish the agencies of evangelization. Active Christian proselytization is often just a small part of the process; in addition, there must be infiltration of every sector of influence in a society, from religious groups to government departments to local charities to private business, in ways which blur the line between Christian indoctrination and secular change.”

Alex Alexander agrees: “Self-professedly Christian pressure groups have both a highly influential membership and a powerful grip on policy. The network of evangelical influence goes far beyond this: there are scores of such groups at work in Congress, the military, and departments of state. All act to connect politics, business, the media, and the military with one another in pursuit of a common vision of a Christian American dominion over the world.”

It is well-known that Indian Christians in cahoots with fundamentalist American politicians, Church groups and Indian Marxists played a leading role in getting Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned from entering the US for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat religious riots.

However, Christians have been working against Indian interests even prior to that. In September 2000 when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in the US on an official visit, Christian fundamentalist John Dayal appeared before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in Washington DC.

According to Alexander, the virulently anti-Hindu “Dayal should have thought of the possibility that the timing of that invitation extended to him by USCIRF was not an accident. It is quite likely it was part of the US State Department’s plan to place the visiting Prime Minister on his defensive and thereby weaken India’s efforts to convey to the American public the destructive consequences of cross-border terrorism aided and abetted by Pakistan.”

Alexander offers an example of the West-Christianity nexus: “A page from the recent history of East Timor may be appropriate for Indians to review in order to understand the negative potential of offshore proselytisation. The indigenous tribes in that island were first converted to Christianity by Dutch and Portuguese missionaries. Then they were helped by the western nations to secede from Indonesia. India may run similar risks if it continues to allow foreign missionaries to have unfettered access to its tribal populations.”

Indeed, the activities of Christian missionaries can cause turmoil as it did on a massive scale in 1857. Historian R. C. Majumdar wrote: “The sensitiveness of the sepoys to their religious beliefs and practices and the dread of conversion to Christianity worked as a nightmare upon their minds…. A vague dread that the government was determined, by hook or by crook, to convert the Indians to Christianity pervaded all ranks of society, and the sepoys, fully shared these apprehensions with the rest…. The aggressive attitude of the Christian missionaries … in matters of proselytisation had been frequent subjects of complaint.

Among such aggressive activities, Majumdar noted the practice of missionaries of “open unchecked denunciation of their cherished social usages and customs in most violent language, and filthy abuses of their gods and goddesses by bands of Christian missionaries.
John Paull II & Hindu Swami (1999)

Myth of passive Christians

Outwardly, Christianity might appear to be a benign religion. Indeed, when compared with the aggressive face of Islam, it definitely appears to the tamer Abrahamic sister. In “Why Christianity Failed in India,” Tony Joseph writes in Outlook magazine that after 2000 years of trying to convert India, Christians form just around 2 per cent of the population. However, he misses the point entirely.

Christianity did not grow much during the centuries preceding the period of European colonialism because the early Christians were refugees and not keen on converting native Indians. Again, during the colonial period, when hordes of missionary Europeans waded into India, the pace of conversion failed to pick up because Indians knew who the enemy was—Christian Europeans, who came to destroy Indian civilisation just as they destroyed Native American and Australian Aboriginal cultures.

Today, the Europeans are gone but their agenda remains. Where earlier you could spot a Christian or evangelist by the colour of their skin, now they are in our midst. They have names like Mahesh Bhupathi, whose mother once said, “My burden is for India, since in this country we fight with about 33 million other gods.” Had she not uttered those tasteless remarks, nobody would have been the wiser to her and her son’s proselytization activities.

Under the cloak of democracy, Christian missionaries can sneak in and conduct their unholy work among the poor and helpless. Christian churches have cropped up like a rash across the east coast after the tsunami hit southern India. Nagaland, which was entirely animist, despite two centuries of British rule, became 100 per cent Christian under 50 years of democratic—or rather Nehru-Gandhi dynasty—rule.

Christianity has not—yet—failed in India. With powerful backers in the West, it is preparing for another big harvest. While visiting India in 1999, the Pope openly proclaimed his wish to “witness a great harvest of faith” there through the Christianisation of the entire country. Predictably, it led to a backlash from Hindus who felt threatened—and betrayed—by the huge crowds of Indian Christians who turned out to greet the Pope.
Jesus

Breaking India

Christian leaders and organisations in sync with western NGOs and Church backed bodies are playing a divisive game aimed at breaking India. Author Rajiv Malhotra has exposed this with abundant evidence in the book Breaking India, which he co-authored with Aravindan Neelakandan.

According to Malhotra, US and European churches, academics, think-tanks, foundations, government and human rights groups play an aggressive role in fostering separation of the identities of Dravidian and Dalit communities from the rest of India.

Koenraad Elst says, “There is a vicious attempt to delegitimise Hinduism as India’s native religion, and to mobilise the weaker sections of Hindu society against it with ‘blood and soil’ slogans.”

Seeing how the nativist movement in the Americas is partly directed against Christianity because of its historical aggression against native society (in spite of Liberation Theology’s attempts to recuperate the movement), the Indian Church tries to take over this nativist tendency and forge it into a weapon against Hinduism.

Christian involvement in the so-called Dalit (“oppressed”) and Adivasi (“aboriginal”) movements is an attempt to channel the nativist revival and perversely direct it against native society itself. It advertises its services as the guardian of the interests of the “true natives” (meaning the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) against native society, while labelling the upper castes as “Aryan invaders”, on the basis of an outdated theory postulating an immigration in 1500 BC.

Elst adds: “To declare people ‘invaders’ because of a supposed immigration of some of their ancestors 3500 years ago is an unusual feat of political hate rhetoric in itself, but the point is that it follows a pattern of earlier rounds of Christian aggression. It is Cortes all over again: Cortes, the conqueror of Mexico, could defeat the Aztecs, the ruling nation which had immigrated from Utah three centuries earlier, by enlisting the support of nations subdued by the Aztecs, with himself posing as their liberator (of course, they were to regret their ‘liberation’). The attempt to divide the people of a country on an ethnic basis—whether it is a real ethnic distinction as in the case of Cortes’ Mexico, or a wilfully invented one as in the case of India—is an obvious act of hostility, unmistakably an element of warfare.

“Therefore, ‘without any restriction’, Christians are teaching some sections of Hindu society hatred against other sections. You don’t normally try to create hostility between your friends, so the Church’s policy to pit sections of Hindu society against one another should be seen for what it is: an act of aggression, which warrants an active policy of self-defence and counter-attack. This counter-attack should take a proper form, adapted to the genius of Hinduism.”

From allying with the fanatic Portuguese to siding with the murderous Muslim League mobs of the 1940s, Indian Christians have shown an unbelievably stupid and opportunistic streak. Their Abrahamic compass is fixed due west and there’s little hope Christians will suddenly become nationalist. For, identifying with the Indian nation-state would also imply acceptance of Hinduism. That, more than anything, is incompatible with the Christian worldview. Former top cop Julio Ribeiro and Supreme Court judge Kurian Joseph—who both railed against the Indian nation-state—are living symbols of this incompatibility. In this backdrop, Ghar Wapsi-–or reverting of Christians to Hinduism—is not such a bad idea after all. – IndiaFacts, 18 May 2015

» Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based journalist and foreign affairs analyst, with a special interest in defence and military history. He is a columnist with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta group, Moscow, and Modern Diplomacy, a Europe-based foreign affairs portal.

World Vision India

How does the Jesus proto-image for pseudo-theology impact Hinduism? – Shiva Das

Brahmin“From a Hindu and Vedic view, Christianity would be viewed as adharmic teachings or asuric dharmas.  Due to the lack of any compelling evidence of the existence of Jesus, aside from a requirement of blind faith that this is true, one must wonder if there was really a Jesus and if so to what extend did he really involve himself in teaching.  In reality, modern Christianity is more akin to the teachings of Paul than Jesus; ironically, Paul did not personally know Jesus or receive the teachings directly from him.   For Christianity to expand through conversion of Hindus, it has also embraced and was an originator of the proto-image.” – Shiva Das

Jesus the YogiWith the globalization of an obscure sect that existed within Judaism, the Christian Bible has become one of the most studied and research texts in modern history.  Yet, despite numerous generations of scholars pouring over the compendium of Biblical writings, there remains numerous questions about the life of Jesus.  Most notable his life from age 12-33, but there are numerous other apparent conflicts including a remarkable similarity with elements of “Wars of the Jews”[1] as well as a marriage between a person, image or concept of Jesus with various qualities procured the world’s older religions.  As an example, it is commonly known amongst scholars that Jesus was not born on December 25; in reality this was a common day amongst ancient civilizations for celebrating the culmination of the Winter Solstice celebration.  This celebration had a primary focus on the deity of one’s choice. A careful examination of religious teachings reveals that little is really known about Jesus or his teachings, and scholars do acknowledge that Christianity borrowed some concepts from other ancient religions, as an example Easter which was a pagan holiday and is the reason rabbits are still a part of the celebration.  Additionally, ancient Christianity “borrowed qualities or attributes” from the Vedic deity Mitra which was the concept of the “Divine Friend” that permeates Christianity to this day, but in the modern age this acquisition of attributes has been expanded to include Krishna and even Prajapati.  It is most interesting that this parallel is at times propagated by a small number of Hindu teachers, and the association of the Vedic Prajapati is commonly used as an attempt to portray Christianity as sort of a creator of Hinduism and pre-date Christianity to an earlier era which is simply false. Additionally, another rational may be the purpose of creating a spiritual typology aligning Christian and Hindu theologies, which simply does not exist.  We have seen this appear with absurd suggestions that the Vedas are a Christian text and more recently in Southern India, the equally absurd suggestion that Jesus created the Surya Namaskar.

Christ Pantocrator, Sinai, 6th centuryOne of the most pressing issues facing biblical scholars is actual evidence of the life of Jesus.  One criticism is pertaining to the name of Jesus which ironically cannot be found in any significant writings of the time, which would make sense as Jesus is not a Jewish name, therefore, there would be an absence of the name; as the name for Jesus was Yeshua.  While the actual name for Jesus (Yeshua) is a common name for that age and geographic region, it has proven to be no easy task to find actual documentation of Yeshua from the period Yeshua (Jesus) was believed to live.  Strangely, there is a surprising lack of references within Greek, Roman or Jewish records referencing Jesus.  In fact, there is considerable debate as to any location being identified as Nazareth i.e. Jesus of Nazareth, with the latest theory being that Nazareth must have been a small village of 2-4 families.  In fact, references to Jesus as a physical person appear in only one ancient writing to any degree and that is still somewhat limited: The Wars of the Jews by Josephus.  Scholars throughout history have noted similarities between The Wars of the Jews and the story of Jesus to some degree, a modern debate has emerged centering upon the question if this was an effort by the Romans to control the apoplectic Jewish sicarii,[2]  who were quite violent and rebellious from a Roman perspective.  Other views have suggested that the information about Jesus was added later to create a historical record.  Likewise, there have been attempts by scholars to “fill in the gaps” that have been fiercely debated, these attempts to whitewash and change records are often attributed to bad science with a nefarious religious agenda.  As an example, several scholars historically have attempted to resolve some of these issues by changing only a few key words in texts to secretly resolve issues regarding a historical Jesus.

This has led to my theory of Jesus being a proto-image for the formation of religion with numerous agendas such as promoting a Roman[3] agenda while vilifying the followers of Judaism. Even a casual read of the teachings of Jesus will reveal an occasional pro-Roman position and an almost anti-Judaic view.  This conflict between Christianity and Judaism has been reflected historically in the relationship between the Catholic Church and Judaism.  It appears clear that the Romans developed an interest in the formation of Christianity to meet a political as well as social agenda.  My suspicion is that the Flavian era discovered that the masses can be more easily controlled through religion than through military means, this management of the masses through religion is not only more easy to do but is rather cost effective, as military campaigns require considerable financial resources.  The proto-image has been a powerful image throughout history, but a more correct definition for the modern age would be the Proto-image psychological disposition.

Dancing Jesus in The New Indian BibleThe proto-image is an image that is designed to appear psychologically to the masses.  This has appeared frequently within Christianity, commonly manifesting simplistically in various visual cues such as a white Jesus, a black Jesus, blue-eyed Jesus to various ethnic variables included in the imagery of Jesus.  I have even witnessed an image of Jesus dressed as a Hindu on the cross with Hindu women dressed in sari’s standing around. This establishes the first basic psychological requirement, namely to establish a connection by way of the visual cultural identification. The second psychological requirement is to identify an obligation to the image, for the world the proto-image creates a psychological feeling of debt, as the image that someone died for you can easily create a feeling of a psychological debt and moves one further from the proto-image psychological disposition and more towards dogma, but we will explore that shortly.

While the world is currently witnessing a mass exodus from the Church amongst western peoples, evidenced by churches closing and numerous church properties being sold globally, especially in Europe, there is also prolific loss of churches occurring in the United States, as well.  While the current exodus from the Church is quite obvious, ironically, it is due the proto-image psychological disposition that is most responsible and likely the driving force for the exodus in modern western society.

JesusThe proto-image psychological disposition group is a rejection of the other Christian groups, the formal Church or dogma of the Church.  This group ignores all contrary statements relative to their particular view, emotional need and attachment to the proto-image of Jesus, in essence allowing Jesus to be whatever they wish with disregard for any conflicting message that violates their individual proto-image concept. This group will ignore violent actions of the Church littered throughout history, and psychologically believe that the action of the institution of the Church is somehow separate from the man (Jesus), while ignoring the violent message found in the Bible and associated with Jesus.  Some examples would include:

“Violence is mine…” (Deut. 32.35)

“Think not that I come to send peace on earth; I come not to send peace but a sword.” (Matthew 10.34)

“For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” (Matthew 10.35)

“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” (Exodus 21:24)

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51)

“I have come to bring fire on the earth…” (Luke 12.49)

Paul burning books at EphesusTo compensate for these violent messages, the proto-image psychological disposition devotee must project their own interpretation upon the Biblical teaching based upon their own proto-image view, again often based in little to no study of the language, languages of translation (such as Greek), people, era, translation or other quality used to justify a rational. To state it in blatant terms, they simply make up their own meanings to conflicting passages. These groups typically focus on such statements as love, turn the other cheek and various examples of forgiveness, while ignoring comments attributed such as, and I paraphrase, I am the only way to the father[4].  Some might argue that this is in reality a division between fundamentalist and more secular views, certainly there would be some degree of truth to this, and certainly there is nothing wrong with embracing love or turn the other cheek, it becomes more of a conflict between following dharma and the desires of the ego.  This has ultimately resulted in a hybrid or pseudo Christianity which is commonly reflected in the New Age movement.  Ironically, the New Age movement is largely based on snippets of Hinduism and to some degree Buddhism combined with the Jesus proto-image.

The proto-image psychological group is powerfully influenced by samskaras[5], often the by-product of being raised within a Christian tradition or having joined a tradition and creating numerous latent impressions within the mind.  These impressions are repeated and reinforced to such a degree that often one loses discrimination between impressions and desire for factual realization of the latent impressions. In other words, a false belief must be made believable. It is the samskaras that in essence demand reconciliation within the mind of the student of spirituality, but the latent impressions are so strong within the field of the mind that the only easy reconciliation is a proto-image that is heavily modified to ones comfort zone.

From a Hindu and Vedic view, Christianity would be viewed as adharmic teachings or asuric dharmas.  Due to the lack of any compelling evidence of the existence of Jesus, aside from a requirement of blind faith that this is true, one must wonder if there was really a Jesus and if so to what extend did he really involve himself in teaching.  In reality, modern Christianity is more akin to the teachings of Paul than Jesus; ironically, Paul did not personally know Jesus or receive the teachings directly from him. For Christianity to expand through conversion of Hindus, it has also embraced and was an originator of the proto-image.

Jesus & KrishnaWhat does this mean for Hinduism?

Of all the forces supporting the proto-image in India, it is through teachers within Hinduism that the proto-image is becoming most prolific. An example is a conversation I had with a swami residing in India. He was trained by a well-known and established sampradaya within India. He publicly stated that “the teachings of Jesus were 100% compatible with Hinduism.”  I found this strange, and questioned how he reconciled Jesus’ statement that he was the only way to the father, which is contradictory to most Hindu beliefs. After considerable debate, in private the swami confessed he had never read the Bible and knew little to nothing of the teachings of Jesus. I was shocked by such a confession, and it beckons the question “why would such a statement have been made?” if one had never read the teachings of Jesus. While I cannot speak of what was truly within the heart of the swami, one must wonder if financial motivations and the prospect of western dollars was a temptation to strong to resist. Or possibly there were some other motivations, but clearly making such a statement would clearly be adharmic and appealing to the proto-image psychological group.

The Jesus proto-image is problematic for Hinduism. As questions as to if Jesus really existed are becoming more common and evidence to support his physical presence is lacking in the current archeological and historical records. If the image of Jesus is not real, not correct and the reality is that Jesus is only a psychological proto-image, the ramifications for Hinduism are rather severe. It appears that a large number of teachers have seemed to need to align themselves with Jesus in order to come to the west and teach, some have even proclaimed to reveal “secret teachings of Jesus” or special insight into the teachings of Jesus.  In reality, this is a rather sad commentary for Hinduism, as it seems to imply that the teachings of Hinduism cannot stand upon their own without help from Christianity.  This is certainly not the case, as Hinduism is the last remaining teachings of the great Dharmic traditions!  Likewise, this action does a disservice to western students as it strengthens samskaras within their own minds, further trapping them in the world samsara[6].

M.K. Gandhi in 1929While the proto-image is a method of exodus in the western church, it has the exact opposite effect in India as it is a tool for conversion.  But for the Hindu, the proto-image is an appealing image that makes the process of conversion easier and much more simplified, as the nature of the proto-image is to appeal psychologically to people by design. Likewise, Hinduism has been accommodating to the image of Jesus, but if the image is merely a proto-image and nothing else, it would question the levels of realization of some teachers as they would have demonstrated an inability to not see through the illusionary proto-image. A compelling recognition of this proto-image was actually made by Gandhi, who said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”[7] But something more insidious is hiding in such statements, a potential assumption of Jesus that is more akin to a psychological proto-image. So the Hindu begins the journey into Christianity through the proto-image, then a further conversion takes place, one that moves past the proto-image. After indoctrination into Christianity with the proto-image, the convert is slowly manipulated away from the proto-image and more into the dogmatic teachings of church, masterfully moving the Indian convert away from proto-image psychological disposition and more toward the dogmatic position of the church.

For the Hindu, this has opened a floodgate of missionary activity and has begun a process of implanting Christian samskaras within the Hindu mind. It is the purposeful application of samskaras that is most insidious.  In the west, they have a saying, “once a Catholic, always a Catholic” which recognizes the powerful force that samskaras have within each mind. Once the samskaras are planted within the mind, these samskaras prove difficult to remove; as a number of Hindu’s that studied in Christian schools appear almost as Christian apologists. It requires tremendous iccha shakti (will power) to free oneself from these powerful samskaras, yet, certainly there are Hindu’s that are able to stand against these impressions.  Therefore, this process of implantation of the proto-image begins in the Christian-based schools in India. 

Jesus as Shiva?Conclusion

Hinduism faces a difficult path in the long-term, if it does not recognize the hidden adharmic nature of the proto-image theory and begins to deepen the honouring of its own teachings regarding samskaras. Likewise, Hinduism must tap into its own teachings to explain the appeal of the proto-image, as it is understood that we are in the Kali Yuga, in this yuga the dharmic teachings become largely ignored, and spiritual belief is given to false concepts and ideas.

As westerners that have embraced the proto-image psychological disposition leave the Church, relatively few actually identify themselves as Hindu.  Despite the fact that many are practising some form of Hinduism or at a minimum a hybrid Hinduism.  In reality, they are practising more what is known as “eclectism”, which is disorganized mixture of various religious views and beliefs. The fact is that this group is taking Hindu teachings and concepts or dharmic concepts preserved by Hinduism and are repackaging them as something separate from dharma and not part of Hinduism.  Some have even been so bold to state they are “improving them”, yet one must ask how can one “improve” dharma?  This mentality of “improving” is prolific within yoga, but is spreading to other areas of Hinduism and even to the relationship with the deities.  As I have encountered numerous westerners that profess to worship Ganesh, as an example, yet have no concept or understanding of Hinduism.  It is common to see icons in yoga studios now, but few appear to know what a murthi is.  This will ultimately result in a pseudo-theology that is based upon the whims of the ego and samskaras rather than the realization of the Rishis. But the greater threat to Hinduism is far more reaching, as the greater threat to the religion is re-importation of a westernized Hinduism or pseudo-theology back into India.  In fact, this may ultimately prove to be a greater concern to India than Christianity, but the two combined are a powerful force facing modern Hinduism.

Adhi Guru DakshinamurthyThe solution is quite simple. We need the leaders of Hinduism, the Brahmins, the Swamis, Paramahansas, the Yogis and Babas to come out and embrace the masses with knowledge and tools to understand the illusions of the proto-image. This needs to not just be taught to wealthy Hindu’s, or the growing middle class within India, it needs to be taken to villages and the poor as well.  Just as Krishna instructs Arjuna to perform his duty within the Bhagavad Gita, the dharmic leaders must begin to perform their duty on deeper levels. We have entered a time where each of us is standing in Dharmakshetre, Kurukshetre or in the field of dharma and in the field of the kurus[8].  As it is the duty of all dharmic teachers to preserve and protect dharma. It is important for each and every Hindu man, woman and child to remember—“Dharmo rakshati rakshitah” (One who protects Dharma is protected by Dharma). – The Chakra, 21 June 2015

References

  1. Atwill, Joseph, Caesar’s Messiah
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. King James Bible, John 14.6
  5. Samskaras are a Hindu teaching that each thought leaves an impression within the mind and body.  We are powerfully influenced by the sum total of these thoughts.
  6. Reincarnation.
  7. Good Reads Quotes
  8. Bhagavad Gita 1.1

» The author Shiva Das was trained in the traditional dharmic systems of India. 

Nine reasons why everything you know about Jesus is a myth – Valerie Tarico

Dr Valerie Tarico“The person of Jesus, if indeed there was such a person, is shrouded in the fog of history leaving us only with a set of hunches and traditions that far too often are treated as knowledge. The “facts” I have listed here are largely trivial; it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was tall or short, or how he cut his hair. But it does matter, tremendously, that “facts” people claim to know about how Jesus saw himself, and God and humanity are equally tenuous.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

Jesus with wife Mary Magdalene and KidsJesus has been described as the best known figure in history, and also the least known. If you mentioned the name “Jesus” and someone asked Jesus who, you might blink. Or laugh. Even people who don’t think Jesus was God mostly believe they know a fair bit about him. You might be surprised that some of your most basic assumptions about Jesus are probably wrong. 

We have no record of anything that was written about Jesus by eyewitnesses or other contemporaries during the time he would have lived, or for decades thereafter. Nonetheless, based on archeological digs and artifacts, ancient texts and art, and even forensic science, we know a good deal about the time and culture in which the New Testament is set. This evidence points to some startling conclusions about who Jesus likely was—and wasn’t.

1. Married, not single. When an ancient papyrus scrap was found in 2014 referring to the wife of Jesus, some Catholics and Evangelicals were scandalized. But unlike the Catholic Church, Jews have no tradition of celibacy among religious leaders. Jesus and his disciples would have been practising Jews, and all great rabbis we know of were married. A rabbi being celibate would have been so unusual that some modern writers have argued Jesus must have been gay. But a number of ancient texts, including the canonical New Testament, point to a special relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. The Gospel of Phillip says, “[Jesus] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.”

2. Cropped hair, not long. Jewish men at the time of Christ did not wear their hair long. A Roman triumphal arch of the time period depicts Jewish slaves with short hair. In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses male hair length. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14 NRSV). During the 1960s, conservative Christians quoted this verse to express their disgust against the hippy movement and to label it anti-Christian.

3. Hung on a pole, not necessarily a cross. For centuries scholars have known that the Greek New Testament word “stauros,” which is translated into English as cross, can refer to a device of several shapes, commonly a single upright pole, “torture stake” or even tree. The Romans did not have a standard way of crucifying prisoners, and Josephus tells us that during the siege of Jerusalem, soldiers nailed or tied their victims in a variety of positions. Early Christians may have centered on the vertical pole with a crossbeam because it echoed the Egyptian ankh, a symbol of life, or the Sumerian symbol for Tammuz, or because it simply was more artistically and symbolically distinctive than the alternatives. Imagine millions of people wearing a golden pole on a chain around their necks.

4. Short, not tall. The typical Jewish man at the time of the Roman Empire would have been just over five feet tall, which makes this a best guess for the height of Jesus. That he is typically depicted taller derives from the mental challenge people have distinguishing physical stature from other kinds of stature. Great men are called “big men” and “larger than life.” In ancient times they often were assigned divine parentage and miraculous births, and the idea that Jesus was uniquely divine has created a strong pull over time to depict him as taller than is likely. A good illustration of this is the Shroud of Turin, which is just one of many such Jesus-shrouds that circulated during medieval times and which bears the image of a man closer to six feet in height.

5. Born in a house, not a stable. The miraculous birth story of Jesus is a late, maybe second-century addition to the Bible, and it contains many fascinating mythic elements and peculiarities. But the idea that Jesus was born in a stable was added to the Christmas story even later. In the original narrative, Joseph and Mary probably would have stayed with relatives, and the phrase “no room for them in the inn (gr: kataluma)” is better translated “no room for them in the upper room.” Later storytellers did not understand that people of the time might bring animals into their ground floor, as in Swiss housebarns, and they assumed that the presence of a manger implied a stable.

6. Named Joshua, not Jesus. The name Joshua (in Hebrew Y’hoshuʿa meaning “deliverance” or “salvation”), was common among Jews in the Ancient Near East as it is today. Joshua and Jesus are the same name, and are translated differently in our modern Bible to distinguish Jesus from the Joshua of the Old Testament, who leads the Hebrew people to the Promised Land. In actuality, the relationship between the two figures is fascinating and important. Some scholars believe that the New Testament gospels are mostly historicised and updated retellings of the more ancient Joshua story, with episodes interwoven from stories of Elisha and Elijah and Moses. A modern parallel can be found in the way Hollywood writers have reworked Shakespearean tropes and plot elements into dozens of modern movies (though for a very different purpose).

7. Number of apostles (12) from astrology, not history. Whether Jesus had 12 disciples who ranked above his other devotees is an open question, as their names vary from list to list. Since the Gospels echo the story of Joshua, the “12” apostles most immediately mirror the 12 tribes of Israel. But the number 12 was considered auspicious by many ancient people, including the Israelites, and the 189 repetitions of the number 12 in the Bible ultimately may derive from the same pre-historical roots as the 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 months of the year. Astrotheology or star worship preceded the Hebrew religion, and shaped both the Bible and world religions more broadly. One might point to the 12 Olympian gods or 12 sons of Odin, or 12 days of Christmas or 12 “legitimate” successors to the prophet Mohammed.

8. Prophecies recalled, not foretold. Even people who aren’t too sure about the divinity of Jesus sometimes think that the way he fulfilled prophecies was a bit spooky, like the writings of Nostradamus. In reality, Scooby Doo could solve this one in a single episode with three pieces of information: First, Old Testament prophecies were well-known to first-century Jews, and a messianic figure who wanted to fulfill some of these prophecies could simply do so. For example, in the book of Matthew, Jesus seeks a donkey to ride into Jerusalem “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). Second, “gospels” are a genre of devotional literature rather than objective histories, which means that the authors had every reason to shape their stories around earlier predictions. Third, scholars now believe that some Bible texts once thought to be prophecies (for example in the Book of Revelation) actually relate to events that were current or past at the time of writing.

9. Some Jesus quotes not from Jesus; others uncertain. Lists of favorite Jesus sayings abound online. Some of the most popular are the Beatitudes (blessed are the meek, etc.) or the story of the woman caught in adultery (let he who is without sin cast the first stone) or the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you, which, we are told, sums up the Law and the Prophets).

Thomas JeffersonWhich words are actually from Jesus? This question has been debated fiercely by everyone from third-century Catholic Councils to the 20th-century Jesus Seminar. Even Thomas Jefferson weighed in, but much remains unclear. The New Testament Gospels were written long after Jesus would have died, and no technology existed with which to record his teachings in real-time, unless he wrote them down himself, which he didn’t.

We can be confident that at least some of the wise and timeless words and catchy proverbs attributed to Jesus are actually from earlier or later thinkers. For example, the Golden Rule was articulated before the time of Christ by the Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who similarly said it was the “whole Torah.” By contrast, the much-loved story of the woman caught in adultery doesn’t appear in manuscripts until the fourth century. Attributing words (or whole texts) to a famous person was common in the Ancient Near East, because it gave those words extra weight. Small wonder then that so many genuinely valuable insights ended up, in one way or another, paired with the name of Jesus.

JesusThe person of Jesus, if indeed there was such a person, is shrouded in the fog of history leaving us only with a set of hunches and traditions that far too often are treated as knowledge. The “facts” I have listed here are largely trivial; it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was tall or short, or how he cut his hair. But it does matter, tremendously, that “facts” people claim to know about how Jesus saw himself, and God and humanity are equally tenuous.

The teachings attributed to Jesus mix enduring spiritual and moral insights with irrelevancies and Judaica and bits of Iron Age culture, some of which are truly awful. That leaves each of us, from the privileged vantage of the 21st century, with both a right and a responsibility to consider the evidence and make our own best guesses about what is real and how we should then live. A good starting place might be a little more recognition that we don’t know nearly as much as we’d like to think, and a lot of what we know for sure is probably wrong. – Salon, 14 May 2015

» Dr Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. As a writer she tackles the intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics, with a growing focus on women’s issues, and is actively engaged in dialogue that aims to find common ground between theists and freethinkers, in particular by focusing on humanity’s shared moral core. She is a founder of WisdomCommons.org, an interactive site that allows users to find and discuss information about virtues that emerge repeatedly across secular and religious wisdom traditions.

Workers lift the head of a giant idol of Jesus the King onto its body in Swiebodzin, Poland

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