Interview given to a student of religious studies – Koenraad Elst

Koenraad ElstThis is an interview given to a student of Religious Studies collecting material for her dissertation – Dr Koenraad Elst

Q : You have written that a Hindu simply is an Indian pagan. This raises the question: What is a pagan, exactly? Or what is paganism?

A : Strictly a “rustic”, “peasant” or “village bumpkin”, as opposed to the Christians in the Roman Empire, who were at first mostly city-dwellers. The textbook definition since the 4th century is “a non-Christian”. After Islam became more familiar in Europe, it often came to mean a non-Abrahamist, or better, anyone who does not subscribe to prophetic monotheism. The category “Pagan” strictly includes both atheists and polytheists, but mostly it is only used for a type of religious people, excluding non-religious atheists and agnostics.

When the Muslim invaders brought the Persian geographical term “Hindu” (“Indian”) into India, it came to mean “Indian by birth and by religion”, excluding those who were non-Indian or who were Indian but followed a non-Indian religion. In those days, people remained conscious of their original nationality for very long. When in the wake of the British, some Indian Zoroastrians settled in South Africa, they called themselves “Persians” though their families had lived in India for a thousand years. By the same token, the Syrian Christians counted as Syrians; but even if they counted as Indians, they would still not be Hindus, for they followed a non-Indian religion.

By contrast, all Indians without foreign links are Hindus: Brahmins, upper castes, middle castes, downtrodden, tribals, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins” according to the 8th-century Muslim chronicle Chach Nama), Jains. By implication even sects that did not exist yet, were Hindu upon birth: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, RK Mission, ISKCON. Today, “Hindu” is a dirty word, so they all try to weasel out of it and declare themselves non-Hindu, also to enjoy the legal benefits of being a minority. (Indeed, under the prevailing anti-secular Constitution, non-Hindus are privileged above Hindus.) They see Hinduism as a sinking ship, and being rats, they leave it. But I am not impressed by this. People should simply grow up and face facts: they satisfy the definition of “Hindu”, so they are Hindus, Indian Pagans. I don’t care what elephants think of being called elephants; since they satisfy the definition of “elephant”, they are elephants, period.

Since roughly 1980, the RSS family of Hindu nationalist organizations have tried to water this clear historical definition down by saying that “Hindu” simply means “Indian”. That would have been the pre-invasion usage, when Persian and Arabic were not tainted by Islam yet. But when the word was brought into India, it immediately differed from “Indian” by its religious dimension. Muslims and Christians are by definition not Hindu. But because the contemporary Hindutva leaders are not clear-headed (or not brave) enough to face difference, they try to spirit the difference between Hinduism and Islam away by calling the Indian Muslims “Mohammedi Hindus”. And likewise, “Christi Hindus”. I think that is the summum of cowardice.

Look, I don’t claim to be brave. I just sit behind my computer screen. Writing articles that displease some people doesn’t require more courage than posting cheerful holiday messages on Facebook; it’s just words. It is nothing compared to a soldier on the battlefield running into enemy fire. Here in Flanders fields, we are presently commemorating every event that punctuated WWI, a hundred years ago. When you read about those events, you come across unspeakable acts of bravery. So, compared to that, scholarship is nothing, even when a bit controversial. But conversely, when even words can intimidate you, when even a purely logical application of the definition of “Hindu” is too much, when even a word of disapproval by the secularists is too much, that is really intolerable cowardice. To be sure, even the secularists approve of a difference between “Hindu” and “Indian”, but the so-called Hindutva people now try to out-secularize the secularists by even denying that there is a separate religious category “Hindu”, different from the secular-geographical term “Indian”. They have come a long way: from flattering themselves as being the “vanguard of Hindu society” to denying that there is even such a thing as a “Hindu Indian” different from a “non-Hindu Indian”.

Q : You have criticized both Christianity and Islam for being basically a set of superstitious beliefs. Yet many would claim to the contrary that there is a lot more superstition in Hinduism. For instance, while Christianity and Islam at least have a historical basis to many of their most important stories, this is less the case for the Hindu stories about various gods and goddesses, which are more akin to the stories about Greek or Egyptian gods. Furthermore, the practice of image- or idol-worship could itself be considered superstitious, since it leads the worshipper to fetishize the idol as a source of magical powers, or as a divine being in itself. What is your response to this?

A : The core beliefs of Christianity and Islam are superstitious. Or without bringing in any psychologizing jargon like “superstitious”, they are, more simply, untrue. It is not true that Mohammed had a direct telephone line with God, and that the Quran is simply a collection of divine messages. It is simply not true that Jesus rose from the dead; just like all deceased people, he is not part of this world anymore. Much less is it true that he thereby freed mankind from sin (and thereby also of mortality, the punishment that befell Adam and Eve after their fall into sinfulness); levels of sinfulness or of human mortality have not appreciably changed in 33 AD. Yes, it is claimed by believers as a historical that Jesus resurrected or that Mohammed received revelations, but apart from the fact that the date given is realistic, the event is definitely not. And I don’t even go into the theories that Jesus or Mohammed never existed. Believing something that is flatly untrue, and moreover as the basis of your worldview, that is simply not the case with Hinduism.

As it happens, Hinduism is not one definite worldview. It is not based on one untrue statement, like Christianity or Islam. It is not necessarily based on a true statement either. Within the Hindu big tent, there are many traditions with their own doctrines. They have an awe for the sacred in common, but what counts as sacred is conceived in many ways. As the Rig Veda says: the wise ones call the one reality by many names. Among these traditions, the Upanishadic ones converge on an insight that is not historical but true, just as the Law of Gravity is not historical (its date and place of discovery happen to be known but are immaterial, as it is valid everywhere and forever). It is the Atmavad or doctrine of the Self, summed up in Great Sayings like Aham Brahmasmi, I am Brahma. That is the monist or Vedanta view, in parallel you have the dualist or Sankhya view, still within the Hindu big tent, the basis of Patañjali’s yoga. It is both rational and spiritual; Christianity and Islam cannot boast of anything parallel. But I agree that this is only the spiritual backbone of Hinduism, and that many of the beliefs and practices around it are not so rational. However, these don’t have the status that the core beliefs of Christianity [and] Islam have. You can safely discard them and still be a Hindu.

Q : You have questioned the conventional view that Siddhartha Gautama broke away from Hinduism and founded a new religion. Yet did he not deny the authority of the Vedas? And did he not reject the caste system, saying (variously quoted): “By birth one is not an outcaste, by birth one is not a Brahmin; by deeds alone one is an outcaste, by deeds alone one is a Brahmin”?

A : He did not go out of his way to deny the Vedas, and if he did, it only followed the latter part of the Veda itself. The Jnanakanda part (knowledge), the Upanishads, is explicit in declaring the Karmakanda part (ritualism), the Brahmanas, as outdated. Shankara lambasts the Sankhya-Yoga school for never quoting the Veda. It was part (not the whole, but part) of Hinduism to ignore the Veda.

He did not bother about the caste system, which Buddhists in Lanka and Tibet also practised. Buddhism never changed the social system in China, Japan or Thailand, because it had a spiritual agenda incompatible with a social reform agenda. If pursuing your own desires is already incompatible with pursuing Enlightenment, this counts even more for the immense job of structurally changing society. Either you do that, or you become a monk practising the spiritual path, but you cannot do both.

It simply accepted the social structures it found. Check the Buddha’s own life. Once his friend Prasenajit discovered that his queen was not a true Kshatriya, only on her father’s side, so he repudiated her and their common son. The Buddha persuaded him to take them back, pleading for the older conception of the caste system, which was purely in the paternal line (same caste as father, mother’s caste can be any). Now, if he had been a caste revolutionary, as all Indian schoolkids are taught nowadays, this incident would have been the occasion par excellence to lambast and ridicule the caste system. But he does no such thing, he upholds one version (the older one, for far from being a revolutionary, he was a conservative) of the caste system.

Or consider the distribution of his ashes after his cremation. They are divided in eight and given to eight cities for keeping them as a relic in a stupa. The ruling elites of those cities had staked their claim exclusively and purely in casteist terms, though this was a Buddhist context par excellence. After 45 yeas of Buddhism, they say: “He was a Kshatriya, we are Kshatriyas, so we are entitled to his ashes.” If Buddhism had been anti-casteist, then as bad pupils they still might have thought in casteist terms, but they would have used a non-casteist wording. Instead, they have no compunction at all in using casteist terms.

I have more examples, but to sum up: the Buddha was an elite figure par excellence, he mainly recruited his novices among the elite, and all the later Buddhist thinkers were Brahmins, as would be the Maitreya, the next Buddha. He was not an egalitarian at all, witness his initial refusal to ordain women, and when he relented on this, he ordered that even the seniormost nun would be subservient to the juniormost monk. So, the secularist-cum-Ambedkarite attempt to appropriate the Buddha for modern socialist causes is totally false. It is bad history par excellence.

Q : Regarding Islam, it seems that one of your foremost critiques of this religion is the Qur’an itself, which you view as (if I understand your position correctly) irredeemably fanatical and intolerant. Yet as you are surely aware, the Qur’an is a complex work which takes on different qualities depending on how the verses are interpreted, which verses are emphasized, whether a verse is considered as universal or contextual, and so on. Thus there are many Islamic scholars who claim, for instance, that armed jihad is only permitted in self-defense, seeing that militant verses are often accompanied by verses preaching restraint and forgiveness. So does the Qur’an really have to be problematic in itself? Is it not rather certain traditions (mostly Salafi) of interpreting the Qur’an which are a problem?

A : Let me clarify first that my fairly elaborate answers to your questions on Islam do not mean that I am especially interested in Islam. The Salman Rushie and the Ayodhya affairs forced me to study it more closely, but since the 1990s, I have only returned to it when current affairs dragged me back to it. As a subject, it has lost my interest because it is quite straightforward and all the important answers have already been given. The only meaningful debate that remains, is on which policy vis-à-vis Islam will deliver both Muslims and non-Muslims from it, as painlessly as possible.

Now, your very common position that “source text good, tradition bad”, or “founder good, followers bad”, or “prophet full of good intentions, followers misunderstood him”. (It is equally used in the case of Christianity: “freeing Christ from Churchianity”, and all that.) Only by not reading the Qur’an, and especially the life events of the Prophet, can you say that. The magic wand of “interpretation” does not impress me. What interpretation do you know of that turns qatala, “slaughter”, into “restraint and forgiveness”? Moreover, Muslims and their sympathizers have had decades to “reinterpret” their scriptures, and what is the result? The prophet’s biography (Sirat Rasul Allah), of which the authoritative translation by Alfred Guillaume is very literal and has been published in Karachi under Islamic supervision, is used by Muslims worldwide (their Quranic Arabic is usually not that fluent either), unaltered. Thomas Cleary’s Islamophile “translation” of the Qur’an does not meaningfully “reinterpret” the Qur’an, but simply leaves out the embarrassing parts; similarly a Dutch selective translation of the Sira that was recently published. The most-used English translations of the Qur’an are by Muslims, yet they faithfully translate that “war will reign between us until ye believe in Allah alone”. There, we are fortunate that their great respect for the prophet’s every word prevents them from imposing their own false interpretations instead of it.

Jihad only permitted in self-defence? Pray, why did Mohammed order a (failed) invasion of the Byzantine Empire? Why did he attack the Meccan caravans, who went about their business peacefully? When the Muslim army was defeated in central France by Charles the Hammer in 731, what was it doing there, thousands of miles from Arabia? Defending itself? These are just silly sop-stories. As an intellectual spectacle, it is amusing to see the acrobatics of “enlightened” Islamophiles in exculpation of Islam.

The solution is simply to grow up. It is not so hard to outgrow childhood beliefs, though it does take an intellectual and social transition, especially in the intermediate period when you have to co-exist with relatives who still shy away from taking this step. But then, I am asking no one to make changes in his life and outlook that I haven’t been through myself. I had the exceptional good fortune of being in the middle of a nation-wide (largely Europe-wide, in fact) religious conversion. I was born in Catholic Flanders, a frontline of the Roman Church against Anglican England, Calvinist Holland, Lutheran Germany and secular-Masonic France. In the 1950s, society was still deeply penetrated by the Church’s all-seeing eyes. Everyone in my primary school went to church on Sundays, was baptized, had a Catholic saint’s name, etc. In the 1960s, this edifice started crumbling, with Vatican II as both cause and consequence. By the 1980s, this became the dominant narrative, and the conformists who had earlier gone to church because everyone did, now stayed away because everyone did. Today, practising Catholics are a small minority. The ex-Catholics are now the dominant group, until the next generation takes over, because they are not even “ex”, they simply have no memory of Catholicism. And all this without bloodshed, without destruction of the admittedly wonderful artistic heritage of the Church. (I still sing Gregorian plainchant under the shower.)

So, that is what I wish for my Muslim friends too. Make Islam un-cool. Outgrow it. And take it from me: there is life after apostasy.

Q : I would also like to ask the same question regarding Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the prophet of Islam. There are many hadiths attributed to Muhammad which certainly seem to us to set a bad example, but there are also many hadiths to the contrary. Is it not again simply a matter of emphasis and interpretation? For instance, consider this opinion by the scholar Hamza Yusuf, who was traditionally educated in the Maliki madhhab. Do you consider his understanding of what Muhammad stood for as somehow Islamically illegitimate? (Pardon the flawed subtitles!)

A : I have toughed it out to listen through the Shaykh’s special pleading, but I really knew enough after the first sentence, where he names Karen Armstrong as his main inspiration. Hers is a rare extreme of special pleading, distorting everything of Islamic history to fit modern values. The rest of his narrative is the usual idealization of the person Mohammed, as in his very special courtship with the widow Khadija (but with the false allegation that women before Islam had no inheritance rights, just when Khadija’s case proves the opposite). It is the basic conjurer’s trick: directing the audience’s focus to a few nice episodes in Mohammed’s life and keeping the rest out of view. That is why Muslims are more properly called “Mohammedans”: they are far more punctual followers of Mohammed than Christians are of Christ.

To be sure, Mohammed may well have had some positive traits. He was known as very reliable, and I have no quarrel with that. Whether Khadija chose him because of those traits, as amply argued here, is another matter: he was a good young toyboy for this mature lady, and like his poverty (he worked as a shepherd in the service of the Meccan townspeople), his age made him her inferior and thus less likely to claim lordship over the wealth she had inherited or augmented by her entrepreneurial skills. But even if it was a marriage made in heaven, with all manner of perfections accruing to the bridegroom, that doesn’t make him God’s spokesman. Shaykh may pontificate as much as he wants about Mohammed’s claimed virtues, that still does not make him more than the next man. He was neither the Son of God (as Muslims rightly hold against the Christians) nor a prophet with a private telephone line with God (as Muslims believe; it is the heart of their religion).

Let’s cut short all the circumlocutions, let us cut out all the modern propaganda, and look at what the primary sources say. We can summarize Mohammed’s life story in a single sentence: he destroyed an existing pluralistic society—Polytheists, Sabians, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews and Hanifs—and replaced it with a monolithic Islamic dictatorship. That is what the Islamic source texts themselves say. It is the height of ridiculousness that the multiculturalists in Europe, like their “secularist” counterparts in India, hobnob with Mohammed’s followers.

A lot also becomes clear when we know that most Arabs shook off Islam after Mohammed’s death and defeated the Muslim army. Unfortunately, they demobilized after that, the Muslim army came back and this time they securely imposed Islam. But the Arabs were the first victims of Islam. Mohammed practised robbery, extortion, abduction for ransom, rape, enslavement, slave-trade, and the murder of his critics and of a resistant Jewish tribe. All those data are in the primary sources of Islam. There is no way that an Islamic court can declare them un-Islamic—short of saying that “Mohammed was a bad Muslim”.

It follows that I am skeptical of Muslims who call themselves “moderate”. First of all, the distinction between moderate and extremist Muslims is an invention by non-Muslim soft-brains, unknown in Islam, and firmly rejected both by ex-Muslims and by leading Muslims such as Turkish president Erdoğan. He calls it insulting to Islam to make such a distinction. At any rate, I will accept Shaykh’s interpretation as moderate the day I hear him say: “Mohammed was wrong. Don’t follow Mohammed.” If, by contrast, he still recommends following Mohammed, as every Muslim is expected to do, he is in fact telling us: do practise abduction, robbery, rape, slave-taking, beheading, stoning, for those are all things he actually did, not just displaying his charms to win Khadija in marriage, as you might think after hearing Shaykh’s narrative. Until he takes this distance from Mohammed’s precedent behaviour, he is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Q : Finally, I haven been impressed by many of your writings, which always allow the reader to follow transparently your train of thought—more than can be said about much academic literature in my opinion—and which offer some thought-provoking conclusions on diverse subjects. I am not always in agreement with your viewpoints (and sometimes I simply don’t know), but all the same your method strikes me as a very refreshing example of how the history of religions can actually be studied. This is all the more interesting since you are, if I understand correctly, unaffiliated with any university and basically carrying out your research on your own. So my final question is: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue the same path? What type of literature would you recommend; how does one work with the primary sources; how many languages does one need to master? How many languages do you know yourself?

A : To start at the end: I have studied mother tongue Dutch, other Belgian national languages French and German, and English; these I read and speak fluently. Afrikaans is really simplified Dutch, so I can also follow it effortlessly. Because of my studies, I can get around in Mandarin and Hindi, but claim no fluency. Persian I have largely forgotten. I also know a smattering of Spanish, and in my young days, I also browsed through the Teach Yourself books of the Celtic, Scandinavian, the main Uralic languages (Finnish, Hungarian), Serbo-Croatian and Turkish. I totally forgot about those, though I can still decipher written Scandinavian because of the closeness to my mother tongue, Dutch. But knowing something of the structure of the languages has proved useful in comparative linguistics and studies of the Indo-European language family. Among classical languages, my Latin was always good, my study of Wenyan (classical Chinese) and Sanskrit was thorough but I claim no fluency, alas no time to go deeply into them lately. I also studied Greek for two years, some Biblical Hebrew, and a smattering of Quranic Arabic, Sumerian and Sangam Tamil. The net result is that I know plenty of political and philosophical terminology and can place the concepts in their proper contexts, but I rarely use those languages as language. Thus, when I need to look something up in the Vedas or the Mahabharata, I scroll through the English text, and only when I come to the passage I was looking for, I switch to reading the original. Life is short, and languages only interest me as entry to a world of thought. I am a historian and more and more a philosopher; philology has been a good basis but only as an instrument.

For born Indians, it ought to be a feasible minimum to familiarize yourself with Sanskrit. For doing Indian history or philosophy, it is simply necessary. For medieval history, you need to know Persian, and Arabic is a plus. In the US, they did a test: of two equally gifted groups of pupils, one took 8 hours of English, and one 4 hours of English and 4 hours of Latin. After a few years, the second group not only knew Latin, unlike the other group, but also had a better knowledge of English. Similarly, your knowledge of your Indian mother tongue will increase if you take out time to study the supposedly useless Sanskrit. It also promotes national unity, the convergence between the vernaculars, and also the phasing out of English, which you and me may find practical, but which to Indians is an anti-democratic imposition by the Nehruvian elite.

Whenever possible, you should go back to the primary sources. Thus, I am presently working on the history of early Buddhism, and I was initially surprised by the world of difference between the usual narrative peddled nowadays in schoolbooks and popular introductions, and the narrative revealed by the primary sources. Apart from the many errors that have crept into the modern narrative (mostly showing a strong anti-Hindu bias; see for example what I told you above about caste), the over-all conceptual mistake is the cardinal sin in history: the projection of modern concerns onto ancient developments. History is all about difference, the fact that “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.

My being outside academe was not a matter of choice, but of being boycotted. Thus, my very first Indological conference was the International Ramayana Conference 1990 at my own university, Leuven, and I defended the existence of a Hindu temple forcibly replaced by Babar’s mosque. One-third of the professors there were privately in support but publicly silent; one-third were furious at my daring to violate their safe space of rationality with such a silly and politically tainted claim; and the last one-third just didn’t have an opinion but were embarrassed at the commotion. The following years, I was boycotted and bad-mouthed throughout academe. But the fact is: I was right all along, as recent excavations and a court verdict have confirmed, and all those big-time professors were wrong.

The good thing about being on my own is that I don’t feel pressured to conform to the received wisdom. Thus, on Buddhism, practically all academics concerned swear by the paradigm “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good”. If I had been part of their circuit, I would probably have conformed to some extent to their view, at least to accept the narrative of “Hinduism and Buddhism”, as if these were two distinct entities on the same footing. Today I can just ignore their fairy-tale and state: the Buddha was 100% a Hindu.

I don’t advise anyone to take the path I stumbled upon. But if somehow it happens, at least you should enjoy its good side. Meanwhile, I keep hoping against hope that the present supposedly Hindu government will come to its senses and invest in scholarship, rather than parroting the narratives that several generations of secularist control over culture and education have established. In that endeavour, they will not only have to deconstruct all the harm done by the Nehruvians, but also the hare-brained alternatives presented by traditionalist Hindu “history rewriters”, who think history means quoting from the Puranas. The last half-century, a gap in Hindu scholarship has grown that will require energetic initiatives to fill. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 15 August 2016

How religion can lead to violence – Gary Gutting

Saint Etienne Church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, France

Prof Gary GuttingThe path of modern tolerance has proved more difficult for Islam than for Christianity, and many Muslims still do not accept the ethical constraints that require religious tolerance, and a significant minority see violence against unbelievers as a divinely ordained duty. – Prof Gary Gutting

The latest victim is a French priest, murdered in his church by killers shouting “Allahu akbar! ”Following such attacks, Muslim leaders assure us that, as Tariq Ramadan said after the Paris massacre, the murders are “a pure betrayal of our religion.” After the shootings in Brussels, the leading Sunni university, Al-Azhar, issued a statement saying,

“These heinous crimes violate the tolerant teachings of Islam.” Similar responses followed recent attacks in Orlando and Nice. We are told that the fanatical fringe groups who do these terrible things are at odds with the essential Muslim commitment to peace and love. I understand the reasons for such responses, but they oversimplify the relation of religion to intolerance and the violence it can lead to.

Both Islam and Christianity claim to be revealed religions, holding that their teachings are truths that God himself has conveyed to us and wants everyone to accept. They were, from the start, missionary religions. A religion charged with bringing God’s truth to the world faces the question of how to deal with people who refuse to accept it. To what extent should it tolerate religious error? At certain points in their histories, both Christianity and Islam have been intolerant of other religions, often of each other, even to the point of violence.

Yahweh / JehovahThis was not inevitable, but neither was it an accident. The potential for intolerance lies in the logic of religions like Christianity and Islam that say their teaching derive from a divine revelation. For them, the truth that God has revealed is the most important truth there is; therefore, denying or doubting this truth is extremely dangerous, both for nonbelievers, who lack this essential truth, and for believers, who may well be misled by the denials and doubts of nonbelievers. Given these assumptions, it’s easy to conclude that even extreme steps are warranted to eliminate non-belief.

You may object that moral considerations should limit our opposition to non-belief. Don’t people have a human right to follow their conscience and worship as they think they should? Here we reach a crux for those who adhere to a revealed religion. They can either accept ordinary human standards of morality as a limit on how they interpret divine teachings, or they can insist on total fidelity to what they see as God’s revelation, even when it contradicts ordinary human standards. Those who follow the second view insist that divine truth utterly exceeds human understanding, which is in no position to judge it. God reveals things to us precisely because they are truths we would never arrive at by our natural lights. When the omniscient God has spoken, we can only obey.

For those holding this view, no secular considerations, not even appeals to conventional morality or to practical common sense, can overturn a religious conviction that false beliefs are intolerable. Christianity itself has a long history of such intolerance, including persecution of Jews, crusades against Muslims, and the Thirty Years’ War, in which religious and nationalist rivalries combined to devastate Central Europe. This devastation initiated a move toward tolerance among nations that came to see the folly of trying to impose their religions on foreigners. But intolerance of internal dissidents — Catholics, Jews, rival Protestant sects — continued even into the 19th century. (It’s worth noting that in this period the Muslim Ottoman Empire was in many ways more tolerant than most Christian countries.) But Christians eventually embraced tolerance through a long and complex historical process.

VoltaireCritiques of Christian revelation by Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and Hume raised serious questions that made non-Christian religions—and eventually even rejections of religion—intellectually respectable. Social and economic changes—including capitalist economies, technological innovations, and democratic political movements—undermined the social structures that had sustained traditional religion.

The eventual result was a widespread attitude of religious toleration in Europe and the United States. This attitude represented ethical progress, but it implied that religious truth was not so important that its denial was intolerable. Religious beliefs and practices came to be regarded as only expressions of personal convictions, not to be endorsed or enforced by state authority. This in effect subordinated the value of religious faith to the value of peace in a secular society. Today, almost all Christians are reconciled to this revision, and many would even claim that it better reflects the true meaning of their religion.

The same is not true of Muslims. A minority of Muslim nations have a high level of religious toleration; for example Albania, Kosovo, Senegal and Sierra Leone. But a majority—including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Malaysia—maintain strong restrictions on non-Muslim (and in some cases certain “heretical” Muslim) beliefs and practices. Although many Muslims think God’s will requires tolerance of false religious views, many do not.

A Pew Research Center poll in 2013 found that in Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan and other nations in which Islam is officially favored, a large majority of Muslims think some form of Islamic law should be the law of the land. The poll also found that 76 percent of such Muslims in South Asia and 56 percent in the Middle East and North Africa favored executing Muslims who gave up their religion, and that in 10 Muslim counties at least 40 percent favored applying Islamic law to non-Muslims. This shows that, for many Muslims, the revealed truths of Islam are not only a matter of personal conviction but must also have a central place in the public sphere of a well-ordered society.

Ibn Sina / AvicennaThere is no central religious authority or overwhelming consensus that excludes such Muslims from Islam. Intolerance need not lead to violence against nonbelievers; but, as we have seen, the logic of revelation readily moves in that direction unless interpretations of sacred texts are subject to nonreligious constraints. Islamic thinkers like Ibn Sina accepted such constraints, and during the Middle Ages Muslims were often far more tolerant than Christians. But the path of modern tolerance has proved more difficult for Islam than for Christianity, and many Muslims still do not accept the ethical constraints that require religious tolerance, and a significant minority see violence against unbelievers as a divinely ordained duty. We may find it hard to believe that religious beliefs could motivate murders and insist that extreme violence is always due to mental instability or political fanaticism. But the logic (and the history) of religions tells against this view.

Does this mean that Islam is evil? No, but it does mean that it has not yet tamed, to the extent that Christianity has, the danger implicit in any religion that claims to be God’s own truth. To put it bluntly, Islam as a whole has not made the concessions to secular values that Christianity has. As President Obama recently said, “Some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity.” This adaptation will be long and difficult and require many intellectual and socio-economic changes, some produced by outside forces, others arising from the increasing power of Islamic teachings on tolerance and love. But until such a transformation is achieved, it will be misleading to say that intolerance and violence are “a pure betrayal” of Islam. – The New York Times, 1 August 2016

Ten serious accusations against Mother Teresa – Adrian Asis

Mother Teresa

Adrian AsisIt’s easy to dismiss the criticisms against Mother Teresa as the biased rantings of anti-Catholic skeptics who aim to discredit her. But perhaps, it is wiser to look into the evidence these critics present before making a judgment on the life of a woman once dubbed “the living saint.” – Adrian Asis

Mother Teresa is commonly depicted in such a saintly manner that it’s difficult for most people to imagine she has even one bad bone in her body. After all, the religious sister is responsible for founding the Missionaries of Charity, a religious congregation that provides free care for the sick, the hungry, the orphaned, and the dying. Moreover, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and was beatified as “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta” by the Catholic Church in 2003. And yet, to this day, eighteen years after her death, numerous critics still insist that Mother Teresa is not the saint many people believe her to be.

Of course it’s easy to dismiss the criticisms against Mother Teresa as the biased rantings of anti-Catholic skeptics who aim to discredit her. But perhaps, it is wiser to look into the evidence these critics present before making a judgment on the life of a woman once dubbed “the living saint.” Here are ten of the most serious accusations that have been brought up against Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

10. Forced Catholicism on others

Because Calcutta (now “Kolkata”) is composed predominantly of Hindus, they are responsible for many of the criticisms against Mother Teresa, most especially with regard to her conversion of Calcuttans into Catholics. An example of such a critic is head of an Indian Hindu nationalist group Mohan Bhagwat who, in a public speech, said, “It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity.” In support of Bhagwat’s claim, researchers revealed that nuns at Mother Teresa’s institution secretly baptized the dying regardless of the patients’ religious affiliation. More specifically, Mother Teresa was said to have taught nuns how to ask the dying if they wanted a “ticket to heaven,” after which a positive reply would be followed by cooling the dying’s head with a damp cloth while the nun softly uttered the words for Catholic baptism.

9. Substandard quality of medical care

Mother Teresa established the Kalighat Home for the Dying in 1952 by converting an abandoned Hindu temple into a free hospital. As the name of the facility suggests, its main purpose is to provide its patients with an opportunity to die with dignity. However, in 1991, the editor of the medical journal The Lancet paid a visit to the hospice and observed that conditions there were far from ideal. More specifically, Robin Fox described the quality of the care provided to dying patients as “haphazard,” including unacceptable practices like the reuse of needles and the mixing of tuberculosis-infected patients with the uninfected. Worse, no distinction was made between the dying and the curable, thus leaving even curable patients to waste away. Furthermore, other critics pointed to the hospital’s disregard for modern medical practices, including the most basic of diagnosis procedures. However, Mother Teresa’s defenders countered the accusations by pointing out that the facility was only meant to serve as a refuge for the dying.

8. Support for the suspension of civil liberties

“The Emergency,” which took place from June 25, 1975 until March 21, 1977, is one of the most controversial intervals in India’s history. During the period, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a dictatorship whereby civil liberties were suspended and most of her political enemies were imprisoned. Furthermore, the press was heavily censored, and a shocking mass-sterilization campaign was said to have been carried out by the Prime Minister’s son. Mother Teresa, however, seemed to have failed to recognize the oppression present at that time. Of the period, she commented, “People are happier. There are more jobs. There are no strikes.” Well, the Indians of the time certainly seemed to disagree with Mother Teresa as during elections in 1977, Gandhi and her son lost their seats in parliament, and the opposition was overwhelmingly swept into power.

7. Warped understanding of suffering

The Catholic Church is often criticized for allegedly teaching its followers to revel in suffering, and Mother Teresa is said to have been among the teaching’s most prominent purveyors. During a Washington, D.C. press conference in 1981, for example, Mother Teresa was asked, “Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?” and she replied,

I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.

This response is said to exemplify the crooked mentality behind Mother Teresa’s insistence on keeping her facilities substandard despite the availability of funding to improve their services.

6. Inconsistency in teachings and actions

Perhaps even worse than allegations of her warped understanding of suffering are accusations of Mother Teresa’s hypocrisy. These are rooted in the advanced treatments she received for her illnesses despite her supposed appreciation for the value of suffering. More specifically, in 1985, Mother Teresa underwent cataract surgery, including the implantation of an artificial lens, at the St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. Then later, in 1989, the “Saint of the Gutters” received a pacemaker at the Woodlands Nursing Home in Calcutta. Furthermore, Mother Teresa has been accused of being selective in her values, such as when she openly opposed the legalization of divorce but supported Princess Diana when she divorced Prince Charles.

5. Questionable associations and silence on abuse

Mother Teresa has been documented to have associated with several individuals whose records of uprightness are questionable at best. In 1981, for example, she visited Michèle Duvalier, then the wife of Haiti president Jean-Claude Duvalier, who was later overthrown by popular uprising because of the terrible abuses of his regime. However, Mother Teresa instead ended up singing praises for the people’s familiarity with the First Lady and even accepted a national award from the government — all the while remaining silent on the numerous human rights violations of the regime. Another similar encounter took place in 1989, when Mother Teresa visited communist Albania. At that time, the government there was widely perceived to be openly oppressive to anyone who opposed it, and yet, Mother Teresa met with the nation’s leaders without commenting on their abuses.

4. Accepted donations from criminals

Connected to Mother Teresa’s questionable associations is her practice of keeping donations from criminals. One example involved Robert Maxwell, a British Member of Parliament who donated to Mother Teresa’s charities but was later found to have misappropriated the pension funds of his media company. Even more infamous was the case involving Charles Keating, a moral crusader who donated millions of dollars to Mother Teresa’s charities and even had her use his private jet. Later though, despite Mother Teresa sending the court a letter to attest to Keating’s kindness and generosity, he was found guilty of multiple counts of fraud that deprived thousands of people of their life savings. Then, after Keating had been convicted, the Deputy District Attorney wrote Mother Teresa a letter asking that the money she had received from Keating be returned. She did not reply.

3. Lack of transparency with funding and expenses

With all of the positive attention that Mother Teresa commanded and still commands, it is uncontested that her charities have received millions in donations from various sources. And this has led her critics to ask, “Where is all the money?” In fact, even Susan Shields, a former nun at the Missionaries of Charity, has asked the question. Shields claims she was assigned to record donations at the institution, and despite the fact that she regularly wrote receipts for donations of up to $50,000, the nuns continued to beg for supplies and reuse syringes. Furthermore, Stern, a German magazine, exposed that despite Indian laws requiring charitable organizations to publish their finances, the Missionaries of Charity never did. Stern also reported that only 7% of the 5.3 million Deutsche Marks donated in England in 1991 had been used for charitable purposes. The rest? Head of the Missionaries chapter in England, Sister Teresina, insisted, “Sorry, we can’t tell you that.”

2. Doubtful miracle attributed to her

This item is not an accusation directed at Mother Teresa but rather at those responsible for her beatification. However, the issue does raise doubts on the integrity of those defending her legacy. The matter in question has to do with Mother Teresa’s beatification, which like all those before her, required the documentation of a miracle performed with the candidate’s intercession. In the case of Mother Teresa’s beatification, the “miracle” certified by the Vatican as genuine involves the healing of Monica Besra, a woman from Calcutta.

On September 5, 1998, exactly one year after Mother Teresa’s death, Besra applied a medallion bearing Mother Teresa’s image over what she believed was a tumor in her stomach, and this act purportedly caused the growth and the pain it caused to disappear instantly. However, the doctors who handled Monica’s case over several months claim that the growth in Monica’s stomach was not a full-grown tumor and that treatments they had administered could have been responsible for the cure. In fact, even Monica’s husband, Seiku, believes that his “wife was cured by the doctors and not by any miracle.” Adding to the mystery, the medical records of Besru’s case were taken away by a certain Sister Betta of the Missionaries of Charity, and a call to her by Time magazine simply had her responding, “No comment.”

1. False claims about the impact of her work

Even the harshest critics of Mother Teresa concede that she had a positive impact on some people’s lives, but how many lives, really? Aroup Chatterjee, an atheist who performed extensive research on Mother Teresa, claimed that “the living saint” deliberately misled the public several times about how many people the Missionaries of Charity were helping. For example, Chatterjee noted that Mother Teresa repeatedly changed the figures—from as low as 1,000 to as many as 9,000—relating to how many people her charities in Calcutta had fed, sometimes in speeches delivered within just days of each other. Then there’s Mother Teresa’s claim of a “modern school [in Motijheel]. . . with over 5,000 children in it” even if no such school established by her with such a large number of students actually exists. – The Richest, 7 May 2015

» Adrian Asis is a freelance writer from the Philippines.

Academics condemn Mother Teresa

The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice

Mother Teresa: Where are her millions? – Walter Wuellenweber

 Vatican Bank (Institute for the Works of Religion)
Walter Wuellenweber“Every year, according to the returns filed by the Missionaries of Charity with the British authorities, a portion of the fortune is sent to accounts of the order in other countries. One of the recipients is however, always Rome. The fortune of this famous charitable organisation is controlled from Rome—from an account at the Vatican Bank. And what happens with monies at the Vatican Bank is so secret that even God is not allowed to know about it.” — Walter Wuellenweber

The Angel of the poor died some years ago. Donations still flow in to her Missionaries of Charity like to no other cause. But the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize vowed to live in poverty. What then, happened to so much money?

If there is a heaven, then she is surely there: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu from Skopje in Macedonia, better known as Mother Teresa. She came to Calcutta on the 6th of January 1929 as an 18-year-old sister of the Order of Loreto. 68 years later luminaries from all over the world assembled in Calcutta in order to honour her with a state funeral. In these 68 years she had founded the most successful order in the history of the Catholic church, received the Nobel Peace Prize and became the most famous Catholic of our time.

Are doubts permitted, regarding this “monument”?

In Calcutta, one meets many doubters.

For example, Samity, a man of around 30 with no teeth, who lives in the slums. He is one of the “poorest of the poor” to whom Mother Teresa was supposed to have dedicated her life. With a plastic bag in hand, he stands in a kilometre long queue in Calcutta’s Park Street. The poor wait patiently, until the helpers shovel some rice and lentils into their bags. But Samity does not get his grub from Mother Teresa’s institution, but instead from the Assemblies of God, an American [Evangelical Christian] charity, that serves 18000 meals here daily.

“Mother Teresa?” says Samity, “We have not received anything from her here. Ask in the slums — who has received anything from the sisters here—you will find hardly anybody.”

Pannalal Manik also has doubts. “I don’t understand why you educated people in the West have made this woman into such a goddess!” Manik was born some 56 years ago in the Rambagan slum, which at about 300 years of age, is Calcutta’s oldest. What Manik has achieved, can well be called a “miracle”. He has built 16 apartment buildings in the midst of the slum—living space for 4000 people. Money for the building materials—equivalent to DM10000 per apartment building—was begged for by Manik from the Ramakrishna Mission, the largest assistance-organisation in India. The slum-dwellers built the buildings themselves. It has become a model for the whole of India. But what about Mother Teresa? “I went to her place 3 times,” said Manik. “She did not even listen to what I had to say. Everyone on earth knows that the sisters have a lot of money. But no one knows what they do with it!”

In Calcutta there are about 200 charitable organisations helping the poor. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity are not amongst the biggest helpers: that contradicts the image of the organisation. The name “Mother Teresa” was and is tied to the city of Calcutta. All over the world admirers and supporters of the Nobel Prize winner believe that it must be there that her organisation is particularly active in the fight against poverty. “All lies,” says Aroup Chatterjee.

The doctor who lives in London was born and brought up in Calcutta. Chatterjee who has been working for years on a book on the myth of Mother Teresa, speaks to the poor in the slums of Calcutta, or combs through the speeches of the Nobel Prize winner. “No matter where I search, I only find lies. For example the lies about schools. Mother T has often stated that she runs a school in Calcutta for more than 5000 children. 5000 children!—that would have to be a huge school, one of the biggest in all of India. But where is this school? I have never found it, nor do I know anybody who has seen it!” says Chatterjee.

Compared to other charitable organisations in Calcutta, the nuns with the 3 blue stripes are ahead in two respects: they are world-famous, and, they have the most money. But how much exactly, has always been a closely guarded secret of the organisation. Indian law requires charitable organisations to publish their accounts. Mother Teresa’s organisation ignores this prescription! It is not known if the Finance Ministry in Delhi who would be responsible for charities’ accounts, have the actual figures. Upon Stern’s inquiry, the Ministry informed us that this particular query was listed as “classified information”.

The organisation has 6 branches in Germany. Here too financial matters are a strict secret. “It’s nobody’s business how much money we have, I mean to say how little we have,” says Sr Pauline, head of the German operations. Maria Tingelhoff had handled the organisation’s book-keeping on a voluntary basis until 1981. “We did see 3 million a year,” she remembers. But Mother Teresa never quite trusted the worldly helpers completely. So the sisters took over the financial management themselves in 1981. “Of course I don’t know how much money went in, in the years after that, but it must be many multiples of 3 million,” estimates Mrs Tingelhoff. “Mother was always very pleased with the Germans.”

Missionary of Charity nuns entering the Chase Bank in New York.Perhaps the most lucrative branch of the organisation is the “Holy Ghost” House in New York’s Bronx. Susan Shields served the order there for a total of nine and a half years as Sister Virgin. “We spent a large part of each day writing thank you letters and processing cheques,” she says. “Every night around 25 sisters had to spend many hours preparing receipts for donations. It was a conveyor belt process: some sisters typed, others made lists of the amounts, stuffed letters into envelopes, or sorted the cheques. Values were between $5 and $100.000. Donors often dropped their envelopes filled with money at the door. Before Christmas the flow of donations was often totally out of control. The postman brought sackfuls of letters —cheques for $50000 were no rarity.” Sister Virgin remembers that one year there was about $50 million in a New York bank account. $50 million in one year!—in a predominantly non-Catholic country. How much then, were they collecting in Europe or the world? It is estimated that worldwide they collected at least $100 million per year—and that has been going on for many many years.

While the income is utter secret, the expenditures are equally mysterious. The order is hardly able to spend large amounts. The establishments supported by the nuns are so tiny (inconspicuous) that even the locals have difficulty tracing them. Often “Mother Teresa’s Home” means just a living accommodation for the sisters, with no charitable function. Conspicuous or useful assistance cannot be provided there. The order often receives huge donations in kind, in addition to the monetary munificence. Boxes of medicines land at Indian airports. Donated food grains and powdered milk arrive in containers at Calcutta port. Clothing donations from Europe and the US arrive in unimaginable quantities. On Calcutta’s pavement stalls, traders can be seen selling used western labels for 25 rupees (DM1) apiece. Numerous traders call out, “Shirts from Mother, trousers from Mother.”

Unlike with other charities, the Missionaries of Charity spend very little on their own management, since the organisation is run at practically no cost. The approximately 4000 sisters in 150 countries form the most treasured workforce of all global multi-million dollar operations. Having taken vows of poverty and obedience, they work for no pay, supported by 300,000 good citizen helpers.

By their own admission, Mother Teresa’s organisation has about 500 locations worldwide. But for purchase or rent of property, the sisters do not need to touch their bank accounts. “Mother always said, we don’t spend for that,” remembers Sunita Kumar, one the richest women in Calcutta and supposedly Mother T’s closest associate outside the order. “If Mother needed a house, she went straight to the owner, whether it was the State or a private person, and worked on him for so long that she eventually got it free.”

Her method was also successful in Germany. In March the “Bethlehem House” was dedicated in Hamburg, a shelter for homeless women. Four sisters work there. The architecturally conspicuous building cost DM2.5 million. The fortunes of the order have not spent a penny toward the amount. The money was collected by a Christian association in Hamburg. With Mother T as figure-head it was naturally short work to collect the millions.

Mother Teresa saw it as her God-given right never to have to pay anyone for anything. Once she bought food for her nuns in London for GB£500. When she was told she’d have to pay at the till, the diminutive seemingly harmless nun showed her Balkan temper and shouted, “This is for the work of God!” She raged so loud and so long that eventually a businessman waiting in the queue paid up on her behalf.

England is one of the few countries where the sisters allow the authorities at least a quick glance at their accounts. Here the order took in DM5.3 million in 1991. And expenses (including charitable expenses)?—around DM360,000 or less than 7%. Whatever happened to the rest of the money? Sister Teresina, the head for England, defensively states, “Sorry we can’t tell you that.” Every year, according to the returns filed with the British authorities, a portion of the fortune is sent to accounts of the order in other countries. How much to which countries is not declared. One of the recipients is however, always Rome. The fortune of this famous charitable organisation is controlled from Rome,—from an account at the Vatican Bank. And what happens with monies at the Vatican Bank is so secret that even God is not allowed to know about it. One thing is sure however—Mother’s outlets in poor countries do not benefit from largesse of the rich countries. The official biographer of Mother Teresa, Kathryn Spink, writes, “As soon as the sisters became established in a certain country, Mother normally withdrew all financial support.” Branches in very needy countries therefore only receive start-up assistance. Most of the money remains in the Vatican Bank.

Stern asked the Missionaries of Charity numerous times for information about location of the donations, both in writing as well in person during a visit to Mother Teresa’s house in Calcutta. The order has never answered.

“You should visit the House in New York, then you’ll understand what happens to donations,” says Eva Kolodziej. The Polish lady was a Missionary of Charity for 5 years. “In the cellar of the homeless shelter there are valuable books, jewellery and gold. What happens to them? The sisters receive them with smiles, and keep them. Most of these lie around uselessly forever.”

The millions that are donated to the order have a similar fate. Susan Shields (formerly Sr Virgin) says, “The money was not misused, but the largest part of it wasn’t used at all. When there was a famine in Ethiopia, many cheques arrived marked ‘for the hungry in Ethiopia’. Once I asked the sister who was in charge of accounts if I should add up all those very many cheques and send the total to Ethiopia. The sister answered, ‘No, we don’t send money to Africa.’ But I continued to make receipts to the donors, ‘For Ethiopia’.”

By the accounts of former sisters, the finances are a one way street. “We were always told, the fact that we receive more than other orders, shows that God loves Mother Teresa more,” says Susan Shields. Donations and hefty bank balances are a measure of God’s love. Taking is holier than giving.

The sufferers are the ones for whom the donations were originally intended. The nuns run a soup kitchen in New York’s Bronx. Or, to put in straight, they have it run for them, since volunteer helpers organise everything, including food. The sisters might distribute it. Once, Shields remembers, the helpers made an organisational mistake, so they could not deliver bread with their meals. The sisters asked their superior if they could buy the bread. “Out of the question—we are a poor organisation.” came the reply. “In the end, the poor did not get their bread,” says Shields. Shields has experienced countless such incidents. One girl from communion class did not appear for her first communion because her mother could not buy her a white communion dress. So she had to wait another year; but as that particular Sunday approached, she had the same problem again. Shields (Sr Virgin) asked the superior if the order could buy the girl a white dress. Again, she was turned down—gruffly. The girl never had her first communion.

Because of the tightfistedness of the rich order, the “poorest of the poor”—orphans in India—suffer the most. The nuns run a home in Delhi, in which the orphans wait to be adopted by, in many cases, by foreigners. As usual, the costs of running the home are borne not by the order, but by the future adoptive parents. In Germany the organisation called Pro Infante has the monopoly of mediation role for these children. The head, Carla Wiedeking, a personal friend of Mother Teresa’s, wrote a letter to Donors, Supporters and Friends which ran:

Mother Teresa“On my September visit I had to witness 2 or 3 children lying in the same cot, in totally overcrowded rooms with not a square inch of playing space. The behavioural problems arising as a result cannot be overlooked.” Mrs Wiedeking appeals to the generosity of supporters in view of her powerlessness in the face of the children’s great needs. Powerlessness?! In an organisation with a billion-fortune, which has 3 times as much money available to it as UNICEF is able to spend in all of India? The Missionaries of Charity have the means to buy cots and build orphanages,—with playgrounds. And they have enough money not only for a handful orphans in Delhi but for many thousand orphans who struggle for survival in the streets of Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta.

Saving, in Mother Teresa’s philosophy, was a central value in itself. All very well, but as her poor organisation quickly grew into a rich one, what did she do with her pictures, jewels, inherited houses, cheques or suitcases full of money? If she wished to she could now cater to people not by obsessively indulging in saving, but instead through well thought-out spending. But the Nobel Prize winner did not want an efficient organisation that helped people efficiently. Full of pride, she called the Missionaries of Charity the “most disorganised organisation in the world”. Computers, typewriters, photocopiers are not allowed. Even when they are donated, they are not allowed to be installed. For book-keeping the sisters use school notebooks, in which they write in cramped pencilled figures. Until they are full. Then everything is erased and the notebook used again. All in order to save.

For a sustainable charitable system, it would have been sensible to train the nuns to become nurses, teachers or managers. But a Missionary of Charity nun is never trained for anything further.

Fuelled by her desire for un-professionalism, Mother Teresa decisions from year to year became even more bizarre. Once, says Susan Shields, the order bought am empty building from the City of New York in order to look after AIDS patients. Purchase price: 1 dollar. But since handicapped people would also be using the house, NY City management insisted on the installation of a lift (elevator). The offer of the lift was declined: to Mother they were a sign of wealth. Finally the nuns gave the building back to the City of New York.

While the Missionaries of Charity have already withheld help from the starving in Ethiopia or the orphans in India—despite having received donations in their names—there are others who are being actively harmed by the organisation’s ideology of disorganisation. In 1994, Robin Fox, editor of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, in a commentary on the catastrophic conditions prevailing in Mother Teresa’s homes, shocked the professional world by saying that any systematic operation was foreign to the running of the homes in India: TB patients were not isolated, and syringes were washed in lukewarm water before being used again. Even patients in unbearable pain were refused strong painkillers, not because the order did not have them, but on principle. “The most beautiful gift for a person is that he can participate in the suffering of Christ,” said Mother Teresa. Once she had tried to comfort a screaming sufferer, “You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you.” The sufferer screamed back, furious, “Then tell your Jesus to stop kissing me.”

The English doctor Jack Preger once worked in the home for the dying. He says, “If one wants to give love, understanding and care, one uses sterile needles. This is probably the richest order in the world. Many of the dying there do not have to be dying in a strictly medical sense.” The British newspaper The Guardian described the hospice as an “organised form of neglectful assistance”.

It seems that the medical care of the orphans is hardly any better. In 1991 the head of Pro Infante in Germany sent a newsletter to adoptive parents:”Please check the validity of the vaccinations of your children. We assume that in some cases they have been vaccinated with expired vaccines, or with vaccines that had been rendered useless by improper storage conditions.” All this points to one thing, something that Mother Teresa reiterated very frequently in her speeches and addresses—that she far more concerned with life after death than the mortal life.

Mother Teresa’s business was: Money for a good conscience. The donors benefitted the most from this. The poor hardly. Whosoever believed that Mother Teresa wanted to change the world, eliminate suffering or fight poverty, simply wanted to believe it for their own sakes. Such people did not listen to her. To be poor, to suffer was a goal, almost an ambition or an achievement for her and she imposed this goal upon those under her wings; her actual ordained goal was the hereafter.

With growing fame, the founder of the order became somewhat conscious of the misconceptions on which the Mother Teresa phenomenon was based. She wrote a few words and hung them outside Mother House:

“Tell them we are not here for work, we are here for Jesus. We are religious above all else. We are not social workers, not teachers, not doctors. We are nuns.”

One question then remains: For what, in that case, do nuns need so much money? – The Freethinker, 22 December 2006

» Walter Wuellenweber is an investigative journalist for the German magazine Stern and a fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn. This article originally appeared in Stern.

See also

Religious law versus universal ethics – David Frawley

Priest, Rabbi, Mullah, Monk, and Sadhu

Vamadeva Shastri / David FrawleyAll religious leaders should sign a document of universal ethics rejecting any exceptions to it in the name of theology. No human being is condemned or damned, evil or wrong by belief alone. It is our thoughts and behavior that determines our nature and our karma regardless of the religion we may claim to follow. If our behavior is that of criminals, how can any religious law justify it? – Dr David Frawley

Do All Religions Share Common Ethical Principles?

It has been argued that all the major religions of the world share a common sense of ethics. They all teach us not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, to treat others well, to help the poor, and various other virtues acceptable to any sensitive human being. Such rules of respectful behavior form universal ethical principles and are found in many secular law codes as well. Even atheist humanists will honor them.

However, monotheistic belief-based religions teach another set of laws and principles that are purely theological in nature and can override these humanistic ethical principles, at times justifying violence and oppression. Such “religious law” or what could also be called “theological morality” teaches that if you don’t accept our particular belief in God, God will punish you, and in God’s name we true believers have the right to convert, punish or harm you as well.

These biased religious codes tell their followers that they are religiously justified in violating the human rights of those who follow other beliefs; in fact, they will be honored by God for doing so. For the true believers, religious law abrogates all other laws and principles of acceptable behavior.

Not Accepting Religious Beliefs made into Unforgiveable Crimes

The problem is that several prominent sects of Islam and Christianity have not questioned their theological beliefs even when these promote deception, conflict and violence. Islamic law or Sharia stands above all human law codes as something Divine. Christian missionaries similarly feel justified to deceive or intimidate others into conversion as part of spreading the Word of God.

According to many sects of Christianity, a murderer who repents on his deathbed will go to Heaven, while a saintly person who is not a Christian will go to hell in spite of his or her exemplary life. In other words, God will forgive you of heinous crimes if you believe in him, but will not forgive you of the ultimate sin of disbelief, whatever else good you may do. This means that not following certain Church dogmas is equated with great evils—as if violations of theology were worse than crimes against humanity.

In Islam, criticizing Mohammed or the Koran is a crime that can be punishable by death, as stated in anti-apostasy and anti-blasphemy laws. It has been said in Islam that the worst Muslim, be he/she a criminal, is better than the best non-Muslim, be he/she a saint. In other words, belief in Islam outweighs being a good person. Such unethical laws are part of the Sharia law code followed in Islamic states today.

For fundamentalists in Christianity or Islam, theological morality outweighs any universal ethics. It makes deception, theft and killing in the Name of God into virtuous acts, however much destruction and sorrow caused along the way. History is replete with examples of Crusades and Jihads, with genocide, witch-burning, and wanton destruction of entire countries and cultures.

Universal Ethical PrinciplesIslamic State, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

The Islamic State today is a good example of a religious group that follows a cruel theological morality that violates all universal ethics, extending to public beheadings of non-believers. Such true believers feel justified in promoting a wave of terror against all who do not accept their particular view of Islam, which may include those who follow other types of Islamic teachings like the Shias.

Yet Saudi based Wahhabi Islam follows the same law codes as the Islamic State, which it teaches in numerous madrasas throughout the world. As long as Saudi Arabia upholds these cruel religious laws, the rest of the Islamic world will likely continue to do the same, regardless of any covenants of human rights they may politically claim to endorse for the United Nations.

Pakistan is another prime Islamic State in which Islamic law is regularly invoked to justify brutality and to promote state support of terrorist Jihad, now threatening the entire world. Bharat has historically had the imposition of Islamic law that brought about a genocide of Hindus and massive destruction of Hindu temples during the long period of Islamic rule.

An End to Religious Law and Theological Morality

Though religions may appear to share certain universal ethics—it counts for little if they have overriding religious laws that consider it acceptable to harm non-believers. There can be no real interfaith dialogue until such dehumanizing religious laws and principles are totally rejected.

There can be no peace between religions until all theological morality is given up in favor of a universal ethics that does not depend upon any belief. It is wrong to kill, steal or deceive any human beings, not just believers. There is no exception for true believers that allows them to perform criminal acts as a form of religious virtue. That the other person is in your eyes a heathen, kafir or idolater is no excuse for their degradation.

Until such theological morality is rejected, and any religious law that promotes it, speaking of the unity or harmony of religions, and their promotion of love and human values, cannot be taken seriously. This extends to the Catholic Church, which while trying to bring an end to certain political conflicts in the world, continues to promote religious divisions and antagonisms as if it were the only true faith.

All religious leaders should sign a document of universal ethics rejecting any exceptions to it in the name of theology. No human being is condemned or damned, evil or wrong by belief alone. It is our thoughts and behavior that determines our nature and our karma regardless of the religion we may claim to follow. If our behavior is that of criminals, how can any religious law justify it?

If Islam is a religion of peace why does Islamic law promote and justify war, which may excuse terrorism? If Christianity is a religion of love, why does its God of love hatefully condemn the majority of humanity to eternal damnation? If a religion sanctions violating common courtesy and respect between people, how can it lead us to any higher truth or immortality? – Hindu Post, 28 July 2016

» Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) is a Vedacharya and includes in his wide scope of studies Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient teachings of the oldest Rigveda. Tweet him at @davidfrawleyved.

Cultural Relativism

Islam a tolerant religion!

Paedophile priests go to heaven

See also

What Hinduism is lacking – Maria Wirth

Maria WirthIt struck me one morning that the respect for dogmatic religions is based on irrationality and how easily it could be corrected if Hindus would choose to be as irrational and if they would back up—this is an important ingredient—their irrationality with blasphemy laws. Hindus could take part in the one-upmanship of “only we are right” and threaten those who dare to dissent with death. – Maria Wirth

There seems to be some “defect” in Hinduism, because worldwide, it is clearly not as respected as Christianity and Islam. Hindus struggle to get a fair representation for Hinduism in the media or in textbooks whether abroad or even at home.

This is hard to understand, because Hinduism has the best philosophical basis of all and is in tune with modern nuclear science. It acknowledges that the essence in all is consciousness (spirit) and shows practical ways how to realize this one spirit as true. It is therefore even in tune with the ever growing tribe in the West who say “I am spiritual, not religious”.

When India was ruled by Christians and Muslims, it was understandable that those in power promoted their religion as the best and denigrated the “primitive native religion”. But today, when there is an open market of ideas, why is Hinduism still getting a rough and very unfair deal when it actually deserved the highest respect, and how can this be changed?

One fine morning I realized what Hinduism is “lacking” and how this could be rectified. Hinduism would finally be on the same footing as Christianity and Islam.

HellIt is simple.

The ancient rishis had left out only one important sentence after passing on their insights. This one sentence obviously makes all the difference whether a religion is respected, powerful and keeps gaining followers or whether it is demeaned, ridiculed and loses followers.

This sentence is:

If you don’t believe what we tell you, the supreme Divinity will throw you for all eternity into hell-fire.

Let’s imagine Maharishi Vyasa, after compiling the Vedas, had added this sentence: “Whoever does not believe in the Vedas as the only truth, will be thrown for all eternity into hell-fire by Bhagawan himself.”

Or after writing the Mahabharata, if he had added “Whosoever does not believe that Sri Krishna is the only true mediator between man and Ishwara, will burn eternally in hell”.

Or if Valmiki, after writing down the teaching of Yoga Vashishta to Prince Rama, had added that Vashishta alone is the true guru and whoever does not believe it will end up in hell.

Or even today, if Mata Amritanandamayi for example, who has several miracles to her credit and an unparalleled outflow of love, would claim that she is the only indigenous daughter of Bhagawan and who does not believe it, will be thrown into hell-fire forever….

If this had happened, Hinduism would not be the underdog. It would be on the same level with the respected religions. In fact, the newcomer religions probably had little chance to come up, because Hinduism was there ages before them and it could have easily declared those newcomers as inexcusable heretics that need to be put to death.

In fact, not all is lost. Since the Bible and the Quran were written down after Jesus and Mohammed had died and several earlier versions were discarded, maybe Hindus still could amend their sacred texts?

In case it is not clear, of course I am not serious.

But it struck me one morning that the respect for dogmatic religions is based on irrationality and how easily it could be corrected if Hindus would choose to be as irrational and if they would back up—this is an important ingredient—their irrationality with blasphemy laws. Hindus could take part in the one-upmanship of “only we are right” and threaten those who dare to dissent with death.

Actually, it is not so much irrationality but cunningness, because those who made those claims of eternal hell for outsiders in all likelihood did not believe it themselves. It could not possibly have come from RishiDivine inspiration but is driven by worldly power.

The rishis in contrast were truthful. They were not cunning or irrational, and Indians—all Indians—can be proud of them.

But pride is not enough. Present day Indians need to take care that this irrationality does not eat into their society because it will lead to its downfall. It is not difficult to find examples for such societies.

Dharma finds expression through people who stand up for it and if necessary fight for it. Adharmic forces need to be called out and challenged.

It seems, on this world stage, a Mahabharata war is always on, in all ages. Yet ultimately, at a higher level beyond the dichotomy of good and evil, all are absorbed in the one eternal Brahman from which all has originated.

There won’t be a huge cauldron of fire where billions of human beings will burn for all eternity. This claim by both Christianity and Islam does not deserve respect.

It deserves ridicule. – Maria Wirth Blog, 30 June 2016

» Maria Wirth is an author and psychologist who has lived many decades in Uttarakhand.



Book Review: A colonial debate on Sati – Farrukh Dhondy

Tanjore painting of a Rani Sati

Farrukh DhondySydney Smith attacked the missionaries as not being gentlemen scholars of the clergy but rather “devout tinkers who set off for the East”. He castigates them for their intolerance of the religions they find there: “The missionaries complain of intolerance. A weasel might as well complain of intolerance when he is throttled for sucking eggs.” – Farrukh Dhondy

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah predicted that “navigation, especially that which is commercial, shall be one great means of carrying on the work of God.” Having lived a few thousand years before the East India Company began to trade and annex parts of India, he couldn’t have known, except through miraculous prophecy, that the 18th and 19th century evangelists of Britain would take their proselytising mission to the subcontinent.

Meenakshi Jain’s enlightening historical account is, in the words of her introduction, “not a work on sati per se. It does not address in any depth, issues of the possible origins of the rite; its voluntary or mandatory nature; the role if any of priests or family members; or any other aspect associated with the actual practice of widow immolation.” The focus of the work is instead “the colonial debate on sati” and the role of Christian missionaries and their attempt to defeat the resolve of the merchants of the East India Company to refrain from interfering with the religious beliefs and practices of the native populations of what had become their imperial territories.

William Carey and a captive Hindu student of Christianism.Between 1801 and 1802, the Baptist missionary William Carey was commissioned by the Governor General Lord Wellesley to research and prepare a report on child sacrifice as a religious rite. In 1802 an ordinance against the practice was passed. It was the first regulation issued by the British rulers which directly forbade a “religious” practice. There was no rebellious reaction to it. Jain contends that this was probably because child sacrifice was rarely practised and the law was aimed, not at the protection of children, but at altering the opinion of the British public back home. Calling attention to what the missionaries labelled “barbaric practices” would further their cause of conversion.

Jain, throughout her account of this central ideological battle, quotes the Indologist and Orientalist current of opinion which went against the missionary attempt. The Sanskrit scholars H. H. Wilson and William Jones vociferously contended that child sacrifice and female infanticide were rare occurrences and had no religious sanction in Hinduism.

The argument between the missionaries and the orientalists continued and resulted in a partial defeat for the latter when the Charter Act of 1813 allowed missionaries to operate in India.

The abolition of sati in 1829 by Governor General Lord William Bentinck was among the final acts of interference in religious practices. Again the ordnance met with no resistance. “No sepoy shot at his colonel; nowhere were magistrates or missionaries mobbed, treasuries plundered or bungalows fired,” wrote William Carey.

The Hindu religion, if not the practice of sati, had very many defenders and indeed admirers. Jain quotes Colonel Stewart of Bengal who writes that Hindus invented immortality. Stewart is also quoted as saying that he admired the heroism of Hindu widows who immolated themselves while disapproving of the delusion that prompted them to it.

Sydney SmithSydney Smith attacked the missionaries as not being gentlemen scholars of the clergy but rather ‘devout tinkers who set off for the East’. He castigates them for their intolerance of the religions they find there: “The missionaries complain of intolerance. A weasel might as well complain of intolerance when he is throttled for sucking eggs.”

The first half of Jain’s meticulous account is devoted to this intellectual battle, by and large confined to British opponents. Her account doesn’t confine itself to the battle over the rights and wrongs of sati or to the preponderance of the phenomenon but covers the clear, but in my judgement failed, attempt by a particular brand of missionary to convert India to Christianity and to denigrate the religion and practices of Hindus.

The latter half of the book reproduces accounts of sati and verbatim descriptions of reactions to its occurrence through the ages. The accounts substantiate Ms Jain’s arguments – and of course they would as she has chosen them! But they also tell a different story or perhaps several different stories and it’s a credit to Ms Jain’s historical objectivity to have included them.

In another historian’s hands a book about the contentious practice of widow burning could have produced something completely contrary. A Marxist account may have attributed the practice to the laws of property tracing its origin in the conventions of property and inheritance.

A psychological account may insist that “voluntary” sati is akin to the voluntary suicide-bombing with the bomber fervently believing that his act will guarantee an instant place in Islamic heaven with 72 virgins thrown in.

A consideration of why a trading enterprise turned to the Imperial tasks of converting the subject peoples would consider how industrial Britain was evolving from its feudal past. But these are not the focus of Ms Jain’s engaging and single-minded perspective, which illustrates in-depth the changes and conflicts of attitude that accompanied this evolution. – Vijayvaani, 26 June 2016

» Farrukh Dhondy is an author, playwright and columnist in London.

» Prof Meenakshi Jain is an author, political scientist and professor of history at Gargi College, Delhi.

Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse by Meenakshi Jain


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