What is Hinduism? – N.S. Rajaram

Nataraj

Dr. N.S. RajaramIt is a very great error to say that all religions say the same thing. They emphatically do not. When Krishna says, “Those who worship other gods with devotion worship me,” and Jesus says, “He that is not with me is against me,” they are not saying the same thing. – Dr N. S. Rajaram

Many Hindus, including some who see themselves as leaders and thinkers are stumped when asked to describe what they see as the essential features of Hinduism. This being the case, it is not surprising that young people should be confused—mistaking ritual and traditional practices for the essence. What is given here is a rational description that does not rest on the beliefs and practices of any sect.

The first thing to note is Hinduism cannot be viewed as religion deriving its authority from a book or the teachings of a founder: these are just sects. The appropriate term for what we now call Hinduism is “Sanatana Dharma”. It is not a creed like Christianity or Islam, but a philosophic system that has spiritual freedom as its core. Any path that accepts the spiritual freedom of everyone may be considered part of Sanatana Dharma. It has no national or geographical boundaries. Unlike Mecca for Islam and Jerusalem for Christianity, any land in any country can be the Holy Land for Hindus.

OmHinduism is anadi (beginning-less), and apaurusheya (without human founder)

The basis of Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is the quest for cosmic truth, just as the quest for physical truth is the domain of science. The earliest record of this quest is the Rigveda. Its scripture is the record of ancient sages who by whatever means tried to learn the truth about the universe, in relation to Man’s place in the cosmos. They saw nature—including all living and non-living things—as part of the same cosmic equation.

This search has no historical beginning. This is not to say that the Rigveda always existed as a literary work. It means that we cannot point to a particular time or person in history and say: “Before this man spoke, the Rigveda did not exist.” On the other hand, we can say this about Christianity and Islam, because they are historical religions.

This brings up another important facet of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism: it is a-paurusheya, which means it is not originate in any man (purusha). That is to say it has no historical founder like Christianity has Jesus Christ and Islam has Prophet Muhammad. We can say that Jesus is the purusha of Christianity while Muhammad is the purusha of Islam. These religions cannot exist without their founders. Christianity and Islam are therefore paurusheya. Hinduism has no such purusha on whose authority it exists.

Hinduism is a-paurusheya in a deeper sense also, which brings it close to science, and brings its spiritual quest close to the scientific method. In paurusheya religions, the word of the purusha (founder)—be it Jesus or Muhammad—must be accepted without question. This gives rise to an enforcing authority known as the clergy to ensure that no one deviates from the ‘true path’ as shown by the founder, but in reality as dictated by the human representative who claims to be the true spokesman of the purusha. He is the enforcing authority of the true faith.

This naturally leads to men exercising political power in the name of God. This is what we call theocracy. The authority is the scripture, which is said to represent the word of God as conveyed through his medium (thePurusha). In this scheme, the medium invariably becomes more important than God. For example, it is Jesus not his God that defines Christianity. Also, the sacred book becomes also the law book in the hands of its enforcers.

Hinduism on the other hand leaves the individual free from any religious authority. If any work is considered great, it is because of its merit and not because of the authority of the author. Similarly, a teacher is considered great because of the greatness of the teaching. For example, Vishwamitra is considered a great sage because of the greatness of the Gayatri Mantra, which he enunciated. If someone else than Vishwamitra had given us the Gayatri Mantra, it would still be considered great because of its message. It is the same with Krishna and the Gita. It is the message of the Gita that has led to people revering Krishna as a great teacher. Also, a Hindu is free to question or reject any part or all of a religious work.

It is different with revealed religions like Christianity and Islam: Jesus and Muhammad are invoked as authority to justify teachings that sometimes cannot be justified on their own merit. No such authority exists in Hinduism: the teaching must stand or fall on its own merit. This is what makes it apaurusheya. Cosmic truths existed before the arrival of Vishwamitra and Krishna. These sages, who first expressed them, were historical persons but the truth of their message is eternal and always existed.

This feature—of focusing on the message and its truth rather than the authority of the source brings Sanatana Dharma close to science and the scientific method. In science also, a principle or a theory must stand or fall on its own merit and not on the authority of anyone. If Newton and Einstein are considered great scientists, it is because of the validity of their scientific theories.

In that sense, science is also a-paurusheya. Gravitation and Relativity are eternal laws of nature that existed long before Newton and Einstein. These are cosmic laws that happened to be discovered by scientific sages Newton and Einstein. But no one invokes Newton or Einstein as authority figures to ‘prove’ the truth of laws of nature. They stand on their own merit. The same is true of the Gita and the Gayatri Mantra.

Hinduism recognizes the freedom of the individual. It recognizes no prophet’s claim as the possessor of the “only” truth or the “only” way.

This is probably the greatest difference between Sanatana Dharma and revealed religions like Christianity and Islam. One can see this in a recent proclamation by the Vatican. In a document titled “Declaration of Lord Jesus” [Dominus Iesus] the Vatican proclaims non-Christians to be in a “gravely deficient situation” and that even non-Catholic churches have “defects” because they do not acknowledge the primacy of the Pope.

This of course means that the Vatican refuses to acknowledge the spiritual right of others (including Hindus) to their beliefs and practices. It consigns non-Christians to hell; the only way they can save themselves is by becoming Catholics and submit to the Pope. It also makes the Pope more important than both God and Jesus.

It is worth noting that this statement has nothing to do with God, or noble conduct. A non-Christian who lives a life of virtue is still consigned to hell because he refuses to acknowledge Jesus as the only saviour and the Pope as his representative on earth. The same is true of Islam: one must submit to Prophet Muhammad as the last, in effect the only prophet, to be saved. Belief in God means nothing without belief in Christ as the saviour or Muhammad as the Last Prophet.

One who believes in God but does not accept Jesus or Muhammad as intermediary is still considered a non-believer and therefore a sinner. They simply do not tolerate pluralism. This is what makes both Christianity and Islam exclusive. The rejection of this formulation is also what makes Hinduism pluralistic and tolerant.

From this it is clear that what governs a revealed religion is not God but the founder who claims to be God’s intermediary. (The clergy acting in the founder’s name becomes the enforcing authority or the thought police.) A believer is one who accepts the intermediary as the savior. God is irrelevant. He is even dispensable but not the intermediary who is all-important.

Hinduism recognizes no intermediary as the exclusive messenger of God. In fact the Rigveda itself says: “ekam sat, vipra bahuda vadanti,” meaning “cosmic truth is one, but the wise express it in many ways.” The contrast between exclusivism and pluralism becomes clear when we compare the following statements by Krishna and Jesus Christ.

Krishna of the Bhagavadgita says: “All creatures great and small—I am equal to all. I hate none nor have I any favorites…. He that worships other gods with devotion worships me.” Jesus of the Bible says: “He that is not with me is against me.”

This means that Krishna has no favourites and accepts all forms of worship—even worship of other deities. But revealed religions like Christianity and Islam could not exist without favorites or intermediaries like the Prophet or the Son of God. The Bible says that God is jealous. Reflecting the “jealous God” of the Bible, the chosen intermediary is also jealous.

This is reflected in both the Bible and the Koran. “He that is not with me is against me,” says Jesus of the Bible (Matthew 12.30). So a devotee cannot know God, but can only go through the intermediary who jealously guards his exclusive access to an equally jealous God.

Hinduism is the exact opposite of this. Anyone can know God and no jealous intermediary blocks his way. And the Hindu tradition has methods like yoga and meditation to facilitate one to know God. Further, this spiritual freedom extends even to atheism. One can be an agnostic or even an atheist and still claim to be a Hindu.

In addition, there is nothing to stop a Hindu from revering Jesus as the Son of God or Muhammad as a Prophet. In contrast, a Christian or a Muslim revering Rama or Krishna as an avatar would be rejected as a heretic. This is also what makes Christianity and Islam exclusive, and Hinduism pluralistic and inclusive.

From this it is also clear why revealed religions always claim to be monotheistic: One God allows only One Intermediary. So every monotheistic religion also tends to be monopolistic. It also requires a thought police to enforce this belief system, just as every earthly dictator does. So they invariably become theocratic political systems. In contrast, in Hinduism, God is internal to the seeker. As a result each seeker has his or his own version of God. Different traditions like Dvaita, Advaita and others represent different pathways. They exercise no authority and there is no clergy to enforce.

Swastika: Motif on ancient pottery found in BulgariaHinduism and spiritual freedom

So the single most important theme of Hinduism is the freedom of the spirit. Just as science insists on freedom in exploring the physical world, Sanatana Dharma embodies freedom in the exploration of the spiritual realm. There are no dogmas or prophets—or their agents—to block the way. This allows Hinduism, like science, to grow and evolve with time. Dogmatic religions on the other hand are frozen in time. (In fact, a good deal of the effort by the priesthood in Islam and Christianity is to ensure that the original teachings do not become corrupted due to change.)

This freedom of spirit is most concisely expressed in the famous Gayatri Mantra, which prays: “dhiyo yo nah pracodayat”— which means, “Inspire our intellect.” So the greatest prayer in Hinduism is for clarity of thinking. It does not ask anyone to accept anything on blind faith in a prophet or any other agent of God. Teachers in Hinduism are only guides who suggest pathways. They have no authority. The seeker has to find his or her own way, with the help of guides if needed.

In the light of this, “conversion” to Hinduism entails accepting a way of looking at the world and not simply changing faith and adopting a new mode of worship. Above all it means acknowledging spiritual freedom and rejecting exclusivism. It is like accepting the scientific method, which also is a way of looking at the world. It cannot be done by force or with promises of profit.

As a result, it is a very great error to say that all religions say the same thing. They emphatically do not. When Krishna says, “Those who worship other gods with devotion worship me,” and Jesus says, “He that is not with me is against me,” they are not saying the same thing.

A Hindu is one who recognizes this difference—and the code founded on the principle of everyone’s right to spiritual freedom, while Christianity and Islam reject and even punish this freedom. The method of worship and the deity or deities one may choose to worship are secondary as long one acknowledges everyone’s right to this freedom and is prepared to defend it. So the only enemies of Sanatana Dharma are those that oppose spiritual freedom.

Swami Vivekananda on a-paurusheya: “Our philosophy does not depend upon any personality for its truth. Thus Krishna did not teach anything new or original to the world, nor does Ramayana profess anything which is not contained in the Scriptures. It is to be noted that Christianity cannot stand without Christ, Mohammedanism without Mohammed, and Buddhism without Buddha but Hinduism stands independent of any man, and for the purpose of estimating the philosophical truth contained in any Purana, we need not consider the question whether the personages treated of therein were really material men or were fictitious characters. The object of the Puranas was the education of mankind, and the sages who constructed them contrived to find some historical personages and to superimpose upon them all the best or worst qualities just as they wanted to, and laid down the rules of morals for the conduct of mankind. ” – Vijayvaani, 8-9 January 2016

» Dr Navaratna Srinivasa Rajaram is an Indian mathematician, notable for his publications with the Voice of India publishing house focusing on the “Indigenous Aryans” debate in Indian politics.

Encyclopedia of Hinduism

On 3–4 April 2010, a blessings ceremony for the Encyclopedia of Hinduism was held at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh. It was attended by H.H. the Dalai Lama, M.M. Swami Gurusharananand, Swami Avdheshanand Giri, Sant Shri Rameshbhai Oza, Swami Ramdev, Sant Shri Morari Bapu and other religious leaders as well as top political leaders, including Shri L.K. Advani and then-Governor of Uttarakhand Shri Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, and India Heritage Research Foundation board members and trustees.

Christian missionaries will not succeed in India – Mohan Bhagwat

Mohan Bhagwat

DNA“We have forgotten ourselves. We are all Hindus. Let our castes, languages we speak, regions we come from, gods we worship be different. Those who are sons of Bharat Mata, are Hindus. Hence, India is called Hindustan,” – Mohan Bhagwat

Raking up the issue of conversions, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said such attempts are unlikely to be successful in the country as the missionaries “do not have the strength”.

Bhagwat pitched for Hindu unity and asked members of the community to come together irrespective of caste and language.

“… After converting people to Christianity in the US, Europe, they (missionaries) are eyeing Asia. China calls itself secular, but will it allow itself to come under Christianity? No. Will Middle-East countries let it happen? No. They now think India is the place.

“But they should keep it in mind, notwithstanding their strong push over 300 years, only six per cent of Indian population could be converted to Christianity. Because they do not have strength,” he said.

The chief made the remarks while delivering valedictory address at Virat Hindu Sammelan, organised by Bharat Sevashram Sangh in Vansda in the district.

Bhagwat sought to buttress his point by saying how two churches, one in the US and another in Birmingham in the UK, were converted into Ganesh temple and offices of Vishwa Hindu Parishad respectively, by a Hindu businessman in America.

Bharat Mata“This is the condition (of missionaries) in their own countries and they want to convert us. They cannot do it, they do not have that strength,” he added.

Bhagwat asked Hindus to remember “who they are” and that their culture is “superior”.

“Hindu community is in trouble. Which country are we living in? Our own country. This is our land, from the Himalayas (in the north) to the sea (in south). This is the land of our ancestors. Bharat Mata is mother of us all.

“We have forgotten ourselves. We are all Hindus. Let our castes, languages we speak, regions we come from, gods we worship be different. Those who are sons of Bharat Mata, are Hindus. Hence, India is called Hindustan,” he said.

Terming Hindu religion as one based on truth, Bhagwat said Hindus never tried to convert people pursuing other religions as they believe in co-existence.

He urged people of all religions to “walk together” to make the world a better place and India a world leader.

He reaffirmed the RSS stand that Hindus and non-Hindus living in “integrated India” have common ancestors who share the same DNA.

Bhagwat urged the attendees to reach out to their “brothers”, to whom they have not gone for ages, keeping aside differences of caste, religion and language.

“We should go to our brothers whom we have not gone to for ages. We did not go to them and hence these things (spread of other religions) are happening. We should go to them to share their pain, cooperate with them and perform our long-forgotten duty to make them aware of who they are, that we have common ancestors,” he added. – DNA, 31 December 2017

Missionary Visa

Though well-intentioned in his remarks, Mohan Bhagwat is somewhat naive about Christians and their missionary agenda. Conversions continue till today and Modi Sarkar continues to issue special visas to Christian missionaries. Christians being only 6% of the population is an out-of-date figure and very misleading. The true figure is closer to 15%—though nobody really knows as new converts are now hiding their Christian identity in order to grab government handouts meant for the Hindu poor. – Editor

 

Why Christianity has no reincarnation doctrine – Benjamin Creme

Justinian I

Cross of the Orthodox ChurchIn 553 CE the Christian Emperor Justinian had Origen’s teachings on reincarnation banned at the Second Council of Constantinople. 

“It seems reasonable to conclude that the so-called ban concerning the doctrine of reincarnation is the result of an historical error and contains no ecclesiastical authority whatsoever.” The German author, Peter Andreas, expresses this point of view in his book, Jenseits von Einstein. Andreas gives attention to the concept of reincarnation and, particularly, to the manner in which any consideration of the topic was suppressed within the Catholic Church—not by profound theological study, but by the action of a Roman Emperor.

In a chapter devoted to reincarnation, Andreas writes: “The Christian churches have very little indeed to say about reincarnation. They can hardly be blamed because the Bible is apparently sadly lacking in this respect. In fact, we may ask, if the subject of reincarnation is so important—from the religious point of view—why is there so little mention of it in the Bible?

“The few Bible references indicate that from the earliest times supporters and opponents of reincarnation have waged bitter ‘war’. Jesus’ remark to Nicodemus, for instance, ‘Thou must be born again’ can be interpreted as a reference to spiritual rebirth, according to the opponents of the idea (of reincarnation).

“Naturally, the Nazarene must have had his own reasons for not going more deeply into the subject. Perhaps he believed the truth to be too complicated for the limited understanding of people then, and that it was of greater importance to clarify the essence of his teaching and emphasise the message of love. He did not warn against belief in reincarnation.”

Nowadays, there is little doubt that early Christians gave more credence to the concept of rebirth than was later the case. The main figure responsible for this change was no churchman but an ambitious, worldly and powerful figure Emperor Justinian. In the year 553, quite independently of the Pope, Justinian had the teachings of the Church father Origen (185-253) banned by a synod. Origen had spoken out in unmistakable terms on the question of the repeated incarnations of the soul:

“Each soul enters the world strengthened by the victories or weakened by the defects of its past lives. Its place in this world is determined by past virtues and shortcomings.” — De Principalis

“Is it not more in accordance with common sense that every soul for reasons unknown—I speak in accordance with the opinions of Pythagoras, Plato and Empedokles—enters the body influenced by its past deeds? The soul has a body at its disposal for a certain period of time which, due to its changeable condition, eventually is no longer suitable for the soul, whereupon it changes that body for another.” — Contra Celsum

Church Father Origen of AlexandriaIntrigues

Andreas goes on to describe how Emperor Justinian managed to manipulate the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553 [also known as the Second Council of Constantinople] which resulted in the ban against Origen: “Strangely enough, there was not one Roman bishop present at this conference; apart from six African notables there were only Eastern bishops present. A curious feature of this Council was that although Pope Vigilius was in Constantinople at the time of the Council he did not attend. There had previously been conflict between Vigilius and the Emperor and the Empress Theodora. Justinian refused to accede to the Pope’s request for a stronger delegation of bishops from both West and East at the Council and then proceeded to convene the Council himself. The Pope did not attend, as a gesture of protest, and as an indication that he would not be held responsible for the Council. The ruling monarch did not have an entirely free hand, however, since official regulations drawn up during the eight sessions of the Council, which met over a period of four weeks, had to be officially endorsed by the Pope. This duly took place; the documents, however, only dealt with the so-called Three Chapters controversy—the work of three scholars considered by Justinian to be heretics. The Emperor had already issued an edict against these men. No mention was made of Origen. Research suggests that suspicions about Justinian were valid. Neither Pope Plagius I (556-561) nor Pope Gregorius (590-604) mentioned Origen when writing about the 5th Council.”

Pope VigiliusBan

But up to now it has been accepted tacitly that the following is the official ban of the Council: “Whosoever teaches the doctrine of a supposed pre-birth existence of the soul, and speaks of a monstrous restoration of this, is cursed.” How did this come about? No one can say with certainty, but there are strong indications that by some ploy the Emperor Justinian was able to insist on the convocation of a Council, which was delayed, however, by opposition from the Pope. Eventually the first meeting of the Council took place on 5 May 553, not before the Emperor had managed to call several bishops to a meeting at which he (Justinian) presented his ‘Fifteen Anathemata’ refuting Origen’s teachings, and gained the endorsement of the attending bishops. We can safely conclude that the Pope, who wished to boycott the Council, would certainly not have appeared at this meeting, which was precisely what Justinian had hoped for. The meeting prior to the Council was used by the wily Emperor to curtail the Pope’s powers and to pronounce a ban on the teachings of Origen. His scheming succeeded far better than he could have imagined. The Church accepted the ban as valid, having been imposed by the Council, and it then passed into established doctrine where it has remained for the past 1500 years. This makes the idea extremely difficult to correct. The subject of reincarnation has therefore not played any role in Christian doctrine, in contrast with other religions.

“Thus it seems right to conclude that the ‘ban’ on the teaching of reincarnation is based on historical misrepresentation and has no ecclesiastical authority. It was in fact a fait accompli, brought about by Justinian, which no one within the Christian Church has dared to challenge in the course of some 1500 years. What is worse is that the subject has been totally ignored, as a glance at any encyclopaedia will show.” — Peter Andreas, Jenseits von Einstein, Econ Verlag, Germany

» Benjamin Creme is the chief editor of Share International. This article is from the Share International Archives.

Reincarnation

Five reasons to suspect that Jesus never existed – Valerie Tarico

Nativity Display Vatican 2014

Dr Valerie Tarico“The arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido ReniMost antiquities scholars think that the New Testament gospels are “mythologized history.” In other words, they think that around the start of the first century a controversial Jewish rabbi named Yeshua ben Yosef gathered a following and his life and teachings provided the seed that grew into Christianity.

At the same time, these scholars acknowledge that many Bible stories like the virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and women at the tomb borrow and rework mythic themes that were common in the Ancient Near East, much the way that screenwriters base new movies on old familiar tropes or plot elements. In this view, a “historical Jesus” became mythologized.

For over 200 years, a wide-ranging array of theologians and historians—most of them Christian—analyzed ancient texts, both those that made it into the Bible and those that didn’t, in attempts to excavate the man behind the myth. Several current or recent bestsellers take this approach, distilling the scholarship for a popular audience. Familiar titles include Zealot by Reza Aslan and How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman.

But other scholars believe that the gospel stories are actually “historicized mythology.” In this view, those ancient mythic templates are themselves the kernel. They got filled in with names, places and other real world details as early sects of Jesus worship attempted to understand and defend the devotional traditions they had received.

David FitzgeraldThe notion that Jesus never existed is a minority position. Of course it is! says David Fitzgerald, author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All. For centuries all serious scholars of Christianity were Christians themselves, and modern secular scholars lean heavily on the groundwork that they laid in collecting, preserving, and analyzing ancient texts. Even today most secular scholars come out of a religious background, and many operate by default under historical presumptions of their former faith.

Fitzgerald is an atheist speaker and writer, popular with secular students and community groups. The internet phenomenon, Zeitgeist the Movie introduced millions to some of the mythic roots of Christianity. But Zeitgeist and similar works contain known errors and oversimplifications that undermine their credibility. Fitzgerald seeks to correct that by giving young people interesting, accessible information that is grounded in accountable scholarship.

More academic arguments in support of the Jesus myth theory can be found in the writings of Richard Carrier and Robert Price. Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history uses the tools of his trade to show, among other things, how Christianity might have gotten off the ground without a miracle. Price, by contrast, writes from the perspective of a theologian whose biblical scholarship ultimately formed the basis for his skepticism. It is interesting to note that some of the harshest debunkers of fringe Jesus myth theories like those from Zeitgeist or Joseph Atwill (who tries to argue that the Romans invented Jesus) are from serious mythicists like Fitzgerald, Carrier and Price.

Isis & Horus / Mary & JesusThe arguments on both sides of this question—mythologized history or historicized mythology—fill volumes, and if anything the debate seems to be heating up rather than resolving. A growing number of scholars are openly questioning or actively arguing against Jesus’ historicity. Since many people, both Christian and not, find it surprising that this debate even exists—that credible scholars might think Jesus never existed—here are some of the key points that keep the doubts alive:

1. No first century secular evidence whatsoever exists to support the actuality of Yeshua ben Yosef. In the words of Bart Ehrman: “What sorts of things do pagan authors from the time of Jesus have to say about him? Nothing. As odd as it may seem, there is no mention of Jesus at all by any of his pagan contemporaries. There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references—nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death—even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era—there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time—the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp. 56-57)

2. The earliest New Testament writers seem ignorant of the details of Jesus’ life, which become more crystalized in later texts. Paul seems unaware of any virgin birth, for example. No wise men, no star in the east, no miracles. Historians have long puzzled over the “Silence of Paul” on the most basic biographical facts and teachings of Jesus. Paul fails to cite Jesus’ authority precisely when it would make his case. What’s more, he never calls the twelve apostles Jesus’ disciples; in fact, he never says Jesus HAD disciples—or a ministry, or did miracles, or gave teachings. He virtually refuses to disclose any other biographical detail, and the few cryptic hints he offers aren’t just vague, but contradict the gospels. The leaders of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem like Peter and James are supposedly Jesus’ own followers and family; but Paul dismisses them as nobodies and repeatedly opposes them for not being true Christians!

Liberal theologian Marcus Borg suggests that people read the books of the New Testament in chronological order to see how early Christianity unfolded. “Placing the Gospels after Paul makes it clear that as written documents they are not the source of early Christianity but its product. The Gospel—the good news—of and about Jesus existed before the Gospels. They are the products of early Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ historical life and tell us how those communities saw his significance in their historical context.”

3. Even the New Testament stories don’t claim to be first-hand accounts. We now know that the four gospels were assigned the names of the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, not written by them. To make matter sketchier, the name designations happened sometime in second century, around 100 years or more after Christianity supposedly began. For a variety of reasons, the practice of pseudonymous writing was common at the time and many contemporary documents are “signed” by famous figures. The same is true of the New Testament epistles except for a handful of letters from Paul (6 out of 13) which are broadly thought to be genuine. But even the gospel stories don’t actually say, “I was there.” Rather, they claim the existence of other witnesses, a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has heard the phrase, my aunt knew someone who . . . .

4. The gospels, our only accounts of a historical Jesus, contradict each other. If you think you know the Jesus story pretty well, I suggest that you pause at this point to test yourself with the 20 question quiz at ExChristian.net.

The gospel of Mark is thought to be the earliest existing “life of Jesus,” and linguistic analysis suggests that Luke and Matthew both simply reworked Mark and added their own corrections and new material. But they contradict each other and, to an even greater degree contradict the much later gospel of John, because they were written with different objectives for different audiences. The incompatible Easter stories offer one example of how much the stories disagree.

5. Modern scholars who claim to have uncovered the real historical Jesus depict wildly different persons. They include a cynic philosopher, charismatic Hasid, liberal Pharisee, conservative rabbi, Zealot revolutionary, non-violent pacifist to borrow from a much longer list assembled by Price. In his words (pp. 15-16), “The historical Jesus (if there was one) might well have been a messianic king, or a progressive Pharisee, or a Galilean shaman, or a magus, or a Hellenistic sage. But he cannot very well have been all of them at the same time.” John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar grumbles that “the stunning diversity is an academic embarrassment.”

Thomas JeffersonFor David Fitzgerald, these issues and more lead to a conclusion that he finds inescapable:

Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a mystery faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.

In a soon-to-be-released follow-up to Nailed, entitled Jesus: Mything in Action, Fitzgerald argues that the many competing versions proposed by secular scholars are just as problematic as any “Jesus of Faith:” Even if one accepts that there was a real Jesus of Nazareth, the question has little practical meaning: Regardless of whether or not a first century rabbi called Yeshua ben Yosef lived, the “historical Jesus” figures so patiently excavated and re-assembled by secular scholars are themselves fictions.

We may never know for certain what put Christian history in motion. Only time (or perhaps time travel) will tell. – Salon, 1 September 2014

Joseph & Mary

India must stand firm against predatory proselytisation by American missionaries – Suhag Shukla

Compassion International

Suhag ShuklaCompassion International is only one player in an industry of humanitarian aid created by American missionaries where the only accepted currency is poor souls. Its marketplace is the 10-40 Window—home to the majority of the world’s Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. Its marketing strategy is predatory and not at all concerned with the aid recipients’ religious freedom. – Suhag Shukla

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) placed US-based Church, Compassion International, on its prior permission list earlier this year. The Church came under investigation for allegedly transferring funds to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) not registered under the Foreign Contribution Registration Act (FCRA) as required by law. In an unusual show of support from the highest levels of the US government, a special request first came from US Secretary of State John Kerry to the Ministry of External Affairs on the Church’s behalf. On Tuesday, 6 June, the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing admonishing India for singling out Compassion International. Compassion International is one amongst several American NGOs currently under scrutiny by the MHA’s FCRA division.

Compassion International’s president and chief executive officer, Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, shared in an Op Ed on The Hill, a heart-wrenching story about a 16-year-old Indian girl named Rinki. As an American of Indian descent, who frequently visits India, I have sadly met many such Rinkis—children and families who are suffering under the crushing weight of poverty, hunger and illiteracy. I’ve also seen, first hand, and supported, many humanitarian NGOs that work in India to alleviate suffering through transformative assistance and empowerment programmes.

Mr Mellado’s article was a continuation of a theme-of-the-week of sorts. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a full committee hearing on 6 December entitled, American Compassion in India: Government Obstacles, during which several members of Congress admonished the Government of India for placing restrictions on Compassion International’s ability to carry out its work there.

Mr Mellado presents Compassion International as primarily a humanitarian organisation, which just happens to be founded on “Christian values”. However, its stated mission attests to it being a response to the Great Commission and existing “as an advocate for children, to release them from their spiritual, economic, social and physical poverty and enable them to become responsible and fulfilled Christian adults.” As a Hindu American, a lawyer, and a civil and human rights advocate, and proponent of religious pluralism, I have several concerns both about Compassion International’s methods and our government’s endorsement of them.

First, there is no doubt that there is economic poverty in India. But, I am at a loss as to what Compassion International means by “spiritual poverty” in a deeply religious and tremendously diverse and pluralistic India—an India, which has not just inspired and spoken profoundly to the millions born into the Indic traditions, but scores of seekers and prolific thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Aldous Huxley, to name only a few. What I do know is that there are millions of Christians who wouldn’t find Compassion International’s message or methods very Christ-like.

Second, I am stunned that the House Foreign Affairs Committee would expend resources and diplomatic capital to hold a hearing that unequivocally endorsed Compassion International, an American Church operating in India. The thought of the American government body privileging a particular faith, even as it impinges on the faiths of the majority of a strategic partner country of a billion, is inconceivable, but it did happen.

Caruna Bal VikasThird, why should the US government interfere in the sovereignty of a strategic, democratic ally on behalf of a single non-governmental entity? According to Indian media reports in 2015, investigators found that Compassion International, through its Indian affiliate Caruna Bal Vikas, was distributing funds to NGOs not registered under the Foreign Contribution Act of 2010 (FCRA). This act governs the ability of Indian NGOs to accept foreign contributions and how they are distributed, requiring any NGOs receiving foreign funds to be registered. Caruna Bal Vikas was also found to be distributing funds to many religious NGOs—as opposed to social service NGOs—contradicting their own FCRA application. Mr Mellado’s suggestion that Compassion International is being targeted because it is Christian betrays the fact that consistently the top FCRA approved donors and FCRA recipients of foreign funds are Christian—evangelical and Mormon—as are a good portion of the tens of thousands of FCRA registered NGOs.

Rinki’s parents, like scores of other poor Indian parents, enrolled her in one of Compassion International’s child development centres, where she “enjoys nutritious meals, tutoring and counseling that counters poverty’s debilitating message that ‘you don’t matter’.” Dr Dan Brewster heads the academic programming administered in those centres. He also happens to be a renowned expert in missiology and proponent of the 4/14 Child Ministries and Mission Strategy. 4/14 targets children age four to 14 for evangelising and conversion because of their impressionability and receptiveness, as well as the unique mission opportunities that arise as a result of the vulnerabilities caused by their poverty. Mellado claims that his organisation is being singled out because they demonstrate Christian values—that they serve children and families in India of all religions. But donors are assured that the most important impact of their $38 sponsorship is that their “sponsored child will hear about Jesus Christ and be encouraged to develop a lifelong relationship with God.” Outcomes are monitored in part by the assistance recipients’ “…demonstrated commitment to the Lordship of Christ.”

World Council of ChurchesBy Compassion International’s own methods and measures, desperately needed humanitarian assistance is conditioned on religious conversion—something that both the Vatican and World Council of Churches have called un-Christian and unethical. Where the American government has partnered with faith-based organisations to provide social services both here and abroad, it’s deemed such conditioning illegal. That the government of India should want to curb the exploitation of its poor by foreigners or its own people then, is not only its right, but duty.

It is not my intention to single out Compassion International—its alleged violation of Indian law and our government’s unmerited defence has simply placed it in the spotlight. In reality, Compassion International is only one player in an industry of humanitarian aid created by American missionaries where the only accepted currency is poor souls. Its marketplace is the 10-40 Window—home to the majority of the world’s Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. Its marketing strategy is predatory and not at all concerned with the aid recipients’ religious freedom.

India Crossed-OutThe fruit of conversion to a brand of exclusivist Christianity is a cycle of inner, familial, communal and inter-religious strife, and even violence. I’ve heard firsthand accounts of converts, who are often asked to repudiate their community and family, reject traditions and customs that have been passed down for generations, and instructed to avoid attending religious ceremonies and celebrations that are the very basis of daily life. In some instances, converts are paid visits from Church volunteers to ensure that the convert, who may have received a seat for their child in a Church-run school, or much needed medical treatment at a faith-based clinic for their sick spouse, isn’t reverting to the practice of their original faith.

Where in the corpus of human rights law and widely shared notions of dignity, mutual respect, and pluralism should a person ever have to choose between remaining faithful or being full? The Foreign Affairs Committee made the wrong choice this week, but I hope that the Government of India does not relent in protecting its poor against predatory proselytisation. – Swarajya, 10 December 2016

Suhag Shukla, Esq., Executive Director and Legal Counsel, is a co-founder of HAF. She holds a BA in Religion and JD from the University of Florida. As Legal Counsel, Ms. Shukla has helped launch the Foundation as a leading voice for religious freedom.

Nepalese Children

10/40 Window Religions

10/40 Window Map

Christianity’s rise tests Nepal’s new secularism – Peter Janssen

Nepalese Christians

Peter A. JanssenSince the advent of secular democracy in 2008, when the decade-long communist insurgency ended with the resignation of the last king and a pledge to draft a new constitution, Christianity has enjoyed a growing appeal among Nepal’s hill tribe minority groups, such as the Kirats and the Dalits. – Peter Janssen

Saturday is the one day off in Nepal’s working week and therefore has become the holy day for Nepal’s growing Christian community. At the Nepal Isai Mandali-Gyaneshwor Church in Kathmandu about 300 Christians gather every Saturday to pray, sing hymns, listen to Bible sermons and praise the Lord, many of them reverently raising their hands to the ceiling and shouting out “Hallelujah,” “Trust in Jesus” and “Amen.” The Nepali congregation provides a glimpse of what early Christians communities might have been like — simple, friendly and egalitarian—before Rome took over.

“One thing I like about Christians is they believe all Christians belong to one family,” said M. J. Shah, whose own family are descendants of the Shah monarchs who ruled Nepal for more than two centuries. When the country’s absolute monarchy ended in 2008, so did the reign of its last king, Gyanendra Bir Bokram Shah Dev, and the former Hindu kingdom was set on the path to a secular democracy.

“When I was growing up I was told Christianity was not for us. It was only for lower caste people,” said M. J. Shah, who “found Christ” in 2005. His family initially disowned him but have since reunited with him, in acknowledgement of his much-improved personal conduct since his conversion and marriage to another Christian. “Before, I was a gambler, a fighter, a drinker and a drug user. I used to beat people up. I was terrible,” he admitted.

M. J. Shah remains somewhat unique among Nepali Christians. Most significantly, he is related to the royal family and is therefore of a higher caste than most. Christianity has been on the rise since Nepal went secular, at least in name, in 2008. Previously Christian missionaries were banned from the kingdom. Now there are over 8,000 Christian churches in the country and more than one million converts, although exact estimates are difficult to find.

Nepalese Christian ChurchNeed for acceptance

A more typical convert is Dil Maya, a 70-year-old woman from the Dalit, or “untouchable” caste. “My husband Dhan Bahadur fell very sick once and no doctor could cure him,” she said as she attended the Nepal Isai Mandali-Gyaneshwor Church in Kathmandu. “Someone told me to go to a church and pray and that was how I first came here. It healed my husband, and I felt healed, too because for the first time in my life, I felt accepted by a community. No one accepted me before. I feel accepted here.”

Since the advent of secular democracy in 2008, when the decade-long communist insurgency ended with the resignation of the last king and a pledge to draft a new constitution, Christianity has enjoyed a growing appeal among Nepal’s hill tribe minority groups, such as the Kirats and the Dalits. The Federation of National Christians in Nepal (FNCN) estimates that 60% of all Nepali Christians are Dalits, as is their chairman, C.B. Gahatraj.

Dalits account for an estimated 12% of Nepal’s 30 million-strong population, with most of them living in the southern regions neighboring India. Although caste prejudices are arguably on the decline in the new Federalist Nepal, they are still there, especially in rural areas. Dalits are still barred from Hindu temples and from sharing drinking or eating utensils with upper caste Nepalis. “They are converting because they are treated like animals,” M. J. Shah said. “We have to change the structure of our society … then no one would convert.”

The earthquake and aftershocks of April 2015 provided another fillip for the country’s “Christian soldiers.” The quakes, which destroyed more than 800,000 homes and left thousands dead, offered an opportunity for Nepal’s growing Christian community to do what Christians do best—provide charity to the poor and neglected in the name of “brotherly love.” Christian charities managed to distribute relief packages in some of the country’s most remote areas, which the government’s operations failed to reach due to lack of funding or manpower.

“I think the earthquake was one of the reasons for the growing popularity of Christianity,” said Chandra Man Nepali, FNCN’s vice general secretary. “Where the government was not able to reach, there were the Christians. We went to the hard-to-reach districts with food, water and medical supplies. We had funding from the churches outside. In this way, Christians were more helpful to society.”

The earthquake also gave rise to fears that Nepal’s fledgling Christian community was using the natural disaster to help proselytize their faith. Nepalese media reported several cases of Christian charities, notably South Korean ones, passing out Bibles with the relief provisions. Local Hindu politicians were quick to jump on the Christian charities for exploiting vulnerable populations.

New Constitution of NepalBan on proselytizing

Under Nepal’s new constitution, pushed through in September 2015, people have the right to practice their religion but are barred from proselytizing. In fact, the charter implies that the country’s original religions—Hinduism, Buddhism and the animistic beliefs and practices of the Kirat minority (the indigenous race) should be protected. “Secularism means protection of religions and cultures being practiced since ancient times, and religious and cultural freedom,” reads the constitution. Christianity clearly does not qualify as an “ancient” sect in the former Hindu kingdom.

Legal experts argue that the constitution has good reason for banning Christians from advocating their beliefs. “The basic difference between Hinduism and Christianity is that in Hinduism you don’t have the concept of the church, and secondly you don’t have the concept of proselytizing,” said Bipin Adhikari, dean of the school of law at Kathmandu University. “The Hindus, Buddhists and Kirats don’t have the institutional apparatus to convert others so obviously they would like to see some reciprocity.”

Nepali Christians, however, see the anti-proselytizing clause as a form of discrimination. Another source of complaint is that Christian churches are not permitted to register as religious institutions but must do so as non-governmental organizations. Christian-run schools and medical clinics are often visited by local authorities to ensure they are not secretly converting students and patients.

Trying to keep a lid on proselytizing among newly-converted Christians goes against the tenets of the religion, which has from ancient times been about going out and “saving the world.” In modern Nepal, Christianity inspires the same evangelistic fervour it does elsewhere.

“When someone becomes a Christian they can’t shut their mouths from speaking about Christ. That is fundamental,” said Padam Parajali, a FNCN board member.

To date, Nepal’s Christian community has been spared the outright persecution and violent communal outbursts faced by other religious minorities such as Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. Even so, some Nepali Christians claim they face discrimination, for example in the jobs market or in general social attitudes. The overall sense of religious coexistence however may be due to the national character of tolerance that the Nepali people are renowned for. Nepali Christians might be wise to partake of that tolerance, at least in the short term.

“There is a sea-change going on in Nepal,” Adhikari said. “First, the monarchy is no longer there, second, the country is no longer a Hindu state, and third, the political system is being adapted as a federal system. So people are getting more educated and they are given more opportunities. The problem is that things move very slowly in Nepal.” – Nikkei Asian Review, 4 December 2016

» Peter A. Janssen is a prize-winning editor and record-setting publisher of US magazines and media.

Christian baptism in Nepal

Pope wants to visit India next year – PTI

Pope Francic

Joseph Kalathiparambil“What I understood is that the Pope wishes to visit India next year. An indication in this regard was given to me when I visited him at his residence at Santa Marta in Vatican,”  – Archbishop-designate Joseph Kalathiparambil

Pope Francis, Head of the Roman Catholic Church, is likely to visit India next year, a senior Catholic priest here said today.

Archbishop-designate Joseph Kalathiparambil, who returned from Vatican today, said an indication in this regard was conveyed to him when he visited the Pope at his residence.

“What I understood is that the Pope wishes to visit India next year. An indication in this regard was given to me when I visited him at his residence at Santa Marta in Vatican,” he said.

Kalathiparambil is set to take over as the Archbishop of Latin Archdiocese of Verapoly in Kerala on December 18.

Earlier, there were reports that Pope Francis would “almost certainly” visit India but no dates were specified.

Kalathiparambil said he requested the Pope to visit Kerala and Verapoly Archdiocese, and his response was positive.

Pope John Paul II is the only Pope to have visited Kerala, where the Catholic community has a strong presence. He had visited India for the first time for 10 days in 1986, and again in November 1999, his 89th Apostolic visit outside Italy, for the occasion of solemnly promulgating in the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, in New Delhi.

During his India visit in 1986, Pope John Paul II had visited the state to beatify Sister Alphonsa and Kuriakose Elias Chavara popularly known as Chavara Achen.

Prior to appointment as the archbishop, Kalathiparambil was serving as the Secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People after being called for the assignment by Pope Benedict XVI in February 2011.

The 64-year-old bishop replaces Archbishop Francis Kallarakal, who has retired. – Business Standard, 24 November 2016