From Orpheus to Jesus: The Trail of the Good Shepherd – Aravindan Neelakandan

Orpheus

Aravindan NeelakandanChristianity should come to terms with the truth that there is nothing exclusive about Jesus, and his mythology represents just one instance of the many dismembering-resurrection myths which can be found throughout the world. – Aravindan Neelakandan

Twelve years ago on a hot summer day in Wardha, we, a group of friends, were visiting Vinoba Bhave Ashram in Paunar, Maharashtra, after a rather strenuous but very useful camp on sustainable farming technologies. As we walked by the prayer hall, I noticed a rather interesting sculpture of Jesus playing a flute. I pointed it out to my Protestant friend accompanying me. He saw it and spontaneously reacted, “Impossible … this is a distortion….” I saw that he was not happy with the depiction and I changed the topic but deep inside I felt disturbed. Why is it that my Christian friend finds it uncomfortable to see Jesus with a flute … after all, the image of Jesus as a good shepherd is a powerful Christian iconography.

The shepherd imagery of Jesus features prominently in John’s narrative of Jesus mythology (John 10:11 and John 10:14). Christian theology relates this to Psalm 23 of David in the Hebrew Bible, which says that the God is his shepherd and that he shall not wander. However, in John, Jesus is a good shepherd and a good shepherd is defined as “one who lays down his life for his sheep” (10:11). Christian evangelists, who try to convert Jews, often use this statement as a kind of a continuity and fulfilment of Judaism in Christianity. Yet the Psalm 23, which begins as “a song of David”, speaks of God leading his herd to greener pastures and not “laying down his life”.

Hence it is interesting to see if the Christian imagery of “good shepherd” is really a continuation or even derived from Judaism or if it is inspired by non-Jewish elements. In this context, it should be noted the Jesus story of John is considered as the highly Hellenised version of all the four narratives endorsed by Council of Nicea in the fourth century CE.

Let us assume that a time machine has transported us to the Rome of early decades of the first two centuries of the Common Era. Standing in the streets of Rome, we ask for the Shrine of the Good Shepherd. We are led to a shrine. It is not that of Jesus but that of Orpheus.

Orpheus was a divine musician, who was also the good shepherd of ancient Rome. In the Pagan sacred shrines, the mosaics showed Orpheus seated in a mandala surrounded by animals which are attracted by his divine music. He holds a lyre. His mythology has striking parallels to that of Jesus.

In Greek mythology, Orpheus was the son of god Apollo. He was also a musician from Thrace who played the lyre. His divine music tamed the wild animals and even the rivers stopped to listen. He ultimately sacrificed his own life for the resurrection of his bride. He was dismembered by maenads, women devotees of Dionysus. It is a resurrection that failed at one level. Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, however, asserts that “through dismemberment … the divine spark got into everything, the divine soul entered the earth … which guarantees resurrection”. In Christian theology, the believers are actually considered as being unified as an institutional body (Church), which in turn is seen as the bride of Jesus (2 Cor. 11:2). Now one can appreciate the mytho-theological parallels. Jesus sacrificed his mortal body for the salvation of his believers—or his bride—just like Orpheus did for his bride centuries ago. In Christian myth Jesus triumphed.

Orpheus shunned the females on his return from the netherworld and was killed. Jesus also meets a female in his mythical return from death. However, unlike Orpheus, Jesus meets a lonely, lamenting Magdalene. Immortalised in countless medieval Christian paintings, Jesus restrains Magdalene from touching him. Perhaps, this act of Jesus made famous by the words Noli me tangere (“Touch me not” John 20:17) may actually be scoring of a brownie point by Christian myth-makers over their Hellenistic counterparts. Orpheus allows himself to be murdered by women. Jesus orders Magdalene not to touch him. This may also be a subtle hint of the fear of murder by the females that proved fatal in the Orpheus mythology. Jesus after his brief sojourn into the world after resurrection ascends to heaven and lives eternally with his heavenly father. Orpheus too descends to the netherworld and lives eternally with his terrestrial bride, now transformed spiritually.

With these parallel elements of mythology, the early Christian art started depicting Jesus as Orpheus, the good shepherd—then a very famous attribute of one of the most popular Hellenistic [cults] of that period. Orphic mystery initiation was a great spiritual practice in ancient Rome and in this, Orpheus himself was seen as the chief messiah of Dionysus.

Like all Pagan religions, the Orphic school too was not an exclusive one. It allowed its own evolution through rich infusion of Mithraic imageries and Neoplatonic philosophic streams. Neoplatonism in turn contained in its elements of Indic wisdom. It will not be a far off speculation to consider that the music which captivated the beasts from the lyre of Orpheus could have been the Pythagorean music of the spheres. The Hellenistic mosaics show Orpheus with the characteristic headgear of Mithra worship.

In early Christian art, we see Christians adopting the Orphic imagery for Jesus. Here then is the more Pagan root of the Christian imagery of “good shepherd”. In early Christian catacombs of the fourth century, we meet Jesus-Orpheus compound figure still with Mithra headgear and the lyre. But starting sixth century, as the temporal power of Rome started becoming well established in the hands of institutional Christianity, we see a marked change in the Orpheus-Christ art. The figure of good shepherd is still there–significantly the lyre is gone and in its place there is the [crook] of a shepherd—shaped like a cross. The biodiversity surrounding Orpheus is progressively reduced with mono-culture of white sheep.

Now the divine musician, who bonded with multitude of animals through the celestial music is gone and in his place has come the shepherd king with the sceptre. As the authoritative Biblical and Theological Dictionary explains, sceptre, the Hebrew word, originated from the shepherd’s rod. In the Christian art of the medieval period as well as in later calendar art, Jesus the Good Shepherd permanently lost his musical instrument as he was handed over the power through the sceptre.

As the Pagan good shepherd’s mystery of dismembering and resurrection got mapped into the history-centric account of Christianity, the passion plays which depict the death and resurrection of Jesus became encapsulated with anti-Semitism. The passion plays have been focal points of spreading anti-Semitic violence in Christendom. In Adolf Hitler’s Germany, the Nazi Party was delighted in the use of passion plays in inciting violence against the Jewish community. And that is not limited to the pre-holocaust/Nazi period either. Actor Mel Gibson, who is known for his drunken anti-Semitic rants, has also been severely criticised for his movie The Passion of Christ (2004).

Abraham H. Foxman of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found the movie as “the reincarnation of a story that became the legitimate basis for centuries of expulsions, murders and discrimination against Jews”. Sure enough, the flashback scene 11 of the movie talks about Jesus being the good shepherd, who dies for the flock.

The appropriation of the good shepherd imagery by Christianity achieved two things: the spiritual evolution of Orphic music was lost to Europe; the wilfully inaccurate anchoring of the good shepherd imagery to the Psalms of David, with the motive of proselytising Jews, created institutional anti-Semitism. It would take a burning of Bruno, inquisition of Galileo and countless torture and deaths of heretics, for the West to discover again the music of Orpheus at least in the realm of science. It would take 2,000 years of anti-Semitic persecution and a holocaust in the twentieth century to exorcise, though still not fully, the evil of anti-Semitism.

A contrasting evolution can be seen in the imagery of Krishna as the cowherd and flute player in India. Attested by the chronicles of Megasthenes, the Greek emissary, and Greek convert to Bhagwat Dharma in third and first centuries BCE respectively, the imagery of flute playing Krishna evolved uninterrupted by institutional power games for at least the last 2,000 years if not more. There are some rare sculptures of Krishna with shepherd’s staff. But the most dominant picture is that of the flute player.

Perhaps, Christianity too should shed its history-centrism and accept the Pagan archetypes on which it is based upon. It should come to terms with the earth-rooted spirituality of its images, forsaking its claims of messiah-hood appropriating Judaism. Christianity should also come to terms with the truth that there is nothing exclusive about Jesus, and his mythology represents just one instance of the many dismembering-resurrection myths which can be found throughout the world. Perhaps, then the Christian mind can come to terms with Jesus playing a flute. – Swarajya, 16 April 2017

» Aravindan Neelakandan is an author, economist and psychologist. He is a post-socialist thinker of cultural evolutionism and Indian ethnogenesis. He is known for the book Breaking India, which he co-authored with Rajiv Malhotra.

Jesus as Orpheus with Mithra cap and lyre. From the Catacombs of Peter and Marcellus, Rome, 4th century CE.

Jesus the Good Shepard. Orphic attributes replaced by cross as shepherd's crook and white sheep for the diversity of animals. Mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, 5th century CE.

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Easter, a Pagan festival co-opted by Christianity – ABC Radio

Goddess Eostre

Prof Carole CusackEaster began as a Pagan festival celebrating spring in the Northern Hemisphere, long before the advent of Christianity. – Prof Carole Cusack

On Easter Sunday, a bunny will deliver chocolate eggs to many households across the world.

Have you ever wondered how this seemingly bizarre tradition came to be?

Well, it turns out Easter actually began as a Pagan festival celebrating spring in the Northern Hemisphere, long before the advent of Christianity.

“Since pre-historic times, people have celebrated the equinoxes and the solstices as sacred times,” University of Sydney Professor Carole Cusack said.

“The spring equinox is a day where the amount of dark and the amount of daylight is exactly identical, so you can tell that you’re emerging from winter because the daylight and the dark have come back into balance.

“People mapped their whole life according to the patterns of nature.”

Following the advent of Christianity, the Easter period became associated with the resurrection of Christ.

“In the first couple of centuries after Jesus’s life, feast days in the new Christian church were attached to old Pagan festivals,” Professor Cusack said.

“Spring festivals with the theme of new life and relief from the cold of winter became connected explicitly to Jesus having conquered death by being resurrected after the crucifixion.”

Easter’s changing date

In 325 AD the first major church council, the Council of Nicaea, determined that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox.

That is why the date moves and why Easter festivities are often referred to as “moveable feasts”.

“There’s a defined period between March 25 and April 25 on which Easter Sunday must fall, and that’s determined by the movement of the planets and the Sun,” Professor Cusack said.

Pascha, Easter and the Goddess of Spring

In most countries in Europe, the name for Easter is derived from the Jewish festival of Passover.

“So in Greek the feast is called Pascha, in Italian Pasqua, in Danish it is Paaske, and in French it is Paques,” Professor Cusack said.

But in English-speaking countries, and in Germany, Easter takes its name from a Pagan goddess from Anglo-Saxon England who was described in a book by the eighth-century English monk Bede.

Eostre was a goddess of spring or renewal and that’s why her feast is attached to the vernal equinox,” Professor Cusack said.

“In Germany the festival is called Ostern, and the goddess is called Ostara.”

Rabbits and eggs as ancient symbols of new life

Many of the Pagan customs associated with the celebration of spring eventually became absorbed within Christianity as symbols of the resurrection of Jesus.

“Eggs, as a symbol of new life, became a common people’s explanation of the resurrection; after the chill of the winter months, nature was coming to life again,” Professor Cusack said.

During the Middle Ages, people began decorating eggs and eating them as a treat following mass on Easter Sunday after fasting through Lent.

“This is actually something that still happens, especially in eastern European countries like Poland,” Professor Cusack said.

“The custom of decorating hard-boiled eggs or blown eggs is still a very popular folk custom.”

Rabbits and hares are also associated with fertility and were symbols linked to the goddess Eostre.

The first association of the rabbit with Easter, according to Professor Cusack, was a mention of the “Easter hare” in a book by German professor of medicine Georg Franck von Franckenau published in 1722.

“He recalls a folklore that hares would hide the coloured eggs that children hunted for, which suggests to us that as early as the 18th century, decorated eggs were hidden in gardens for egg hunts,” Professor Cusack said.

Commercialisation, confectionery and greeting cards

Commercialisation during the 19th century saw rabbits become a popular symbol of Easter with the growth of the greeting card industry.

“Postage services became affordable and people wanted to keep in touch with people,” Professor Cusack said.

“Card companies like Hallmark became big by launching images of cute little rabbits and Easter eggs on cards.”

The first edible Easter bunnies made from sugared pastry were made in Germany in the 19th century.

Big confectionery companies, like Cadbury in England, started manufacturing chocolate eggs.

“Chocolate that used to be something that’s bitter and drunk became something that was sweetened and turned into a confectionery treat,” Professor Cusack said.

“Easter eggs were one of the areas of marketing for chocolate.”

Today, chocolate eggs and egg hunts are a popular part of Easter celebrations around the world.

Easter in Australia today

Australia’s significant public holiday periods of Easter and Christmas are based on Christian European celebrations.

So although autumn is in full swing and winter is coming in the Southern Hemisphere, rabbits and eggs as symbols of spring remain part of Australian festivities.

On Easter Sunday, the Easter bunny will deliver chocolate eggs to children and there will be egg hunts in backyards and parks across Australia.

Christian Australians will attend church services and the majority of secular Australians will enjoy the four-day weekend feasting and relaxing with family and friends.

All the while, the chocolate bunnies and eggs serve as a reminder of Easter’s ancient Pagan origins. – ABC Radio, 15 April 2017

» Prof Carole M. Cusack is an Australian historian of religion, specialising in Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, western esotericism, and trends in contemporary religion.

Easter Bunny

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

 

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

Evangelist struck dumb when attempting to demolish traditional African shrine – Nigerian Tribune

Nigerian Community Shrine

Pentecostal Pastor & Traditional African Priest

If the traditionalists complain to the police about the destruction of their shrine, the Pentecostal pastor will be charged for sacrilege and malicious damage. Everybody has right to worship anything he so desires. – Ogun Police

A [Pentecostal] pastor, Wale Fagbere, was rendered unconscious and speechless after invading a community shrine at Ketu–Ayetoro in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun state, Nigeria.

His mission was to destroy the shrine.

Reports said he was trapped by forces suspected to be spirits. And he also became dumb. The Gods meted out instant justice.

Fagbare was said to have boasted before his members he would flatten the shrine where the community traditionalists congregate to worship.

But he was said to have struck motionless until people spotted him, according the News Agency on Nigeria (NAN), quoting from media reports.

NAN quoting from media reports said: Those who sighted him in his agony, unable to lift his feet, raised the alarm, which drew attention of priests in charge of the shrine.

It was learnt the priests demanded some rituals must be carried out before the trapped pastor could be set him free.

He was, however, said to have regained consciousness after treatment following intervention of the Alaye of Ayetoro, Oba Abdulaziz Adelakun.

Ogun Police Public Relations Officer, Abimbola Oyeyemi, confirmed the incident.

He hinted the cleric may be charged with “sacrilege and malicious damage.”

According to Oyeyemi: “The Command got the report at its Division in Ayetoro that one Evangelist Wale Fagbere went to Ketu to destroy traditional worshippers’ shrines.

“After the destruction, the man became unconscious, motionless and could not talk.

“When the policemen visited the place, the traditionalists claimed that the subject cannot be taken away until some spiritual exercise was performed.”

He added: “The Alaye of Ayetoro, Oba AbdulAzeez Adelakun, waded into the matter which led to the release of the man.

“The victim has been revived and handed over to his family.

“The police’s next step would be determined by the traditionalists.

“If they complain to the police about the destruction of their shrine, the victim would be charged for sacrilege and malicious damage.

“Everybody has right to worship anything he so desires.” – Nigerian Tribune, 26 September 2016

Ogun, Nigeria Police

Pastor Wale Fagbere will be charged – NAN

The Ogun Police Command says it will prosecute a Pentecostal pastor, Wale Fagbere, who allegedly invaded a traditional shrine in Ketu area of Ayetoro in Ogun.

The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Mr Abimbola Oyeyemi, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abeokuta on Monday that the cleric would be charged for malicious damage and conduct likely to cause a breach of public peace.

“What he did was wrong and so he must be charged to court. If it was the other way round too, they will also be charged to court.

“Everyone has a right to worship whatever deity one chooses without fear or favour,” he said.

Oyeyemi, however, said he could not tell in which court the accused would be arraigned as at press time.

NAN reports that Fagbere on Saturday attempted to pull down a traditional shrine in Ketu, Yewa North Local Government Area of the state.

But he was reported to have immediately gone numb upon entering the shrine, attracting a crowd to the scene.

He, however, regained consciousness after the traditional ruler of the town, Oba Abdulaziz Adelakun, intervened and directed that some traditional rites be carried out on him. – Naira Naija News, 26 September 2016

Destroyed African Shrine

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