Book Review: How Christianity prevailed in the Pagan world – Tom Bissell

Roman Goddess Victoria

Tom BissellThe Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. By Bart D. Ehrman. 335 pp. Simon & Schuster. $28.

The field of New Testament studies has never been a reliable starting point for scholars seeking publishing superstardom. One explanation for this is the subject matter itself. A true understanding of the forces that shaped Christianity—seemingly familiar but in fact highly arcane—requires the ability to synthesize and express deep learning in a dozen interlocking subjects. Bart Ehrman, who considers himself a historian but has done extensive work in textual criticism, has managed to achieve his remarkable renown by writing a string of best sellers that skillfully mine and simplify his more scholarly work.

That may sound pejorative, but it’s not. Ehrman’s outreach to a popular audience—among whom I happily include myself—is wholly to the good, if only because throughout history average Christians have proved oddly unwilling to dig into the particularities of their faith, beyond familiarizing themselves with a few tentpole doctrines. They share this reluctance with one of Christianity’s most spectacular converts, the Roman emperor Constantine, who credited his victory at the Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312 to the auspices of the Christian deity, despite not knowing much about Christianity, including the degree to which it was riven by sectarian disagreement. The following year, Constantine co-issued the Edict of Milan, granting Christians the right to practice their faith unmolested.

In The Triumph of Christianity, Ehrman describes the Edict of Milan (which was neither an edict nor written in Milan) as the Western world’s first known government document to proclaim the freedom of belief. At the time, Ehrman notes, “Christianity probably made up 7 to 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire.” A mere hundred years later, half the empire’s “60 million inhabitants claimed allegiance to the Christian tradition.” Ehrman declares, without hyperbole, “That is absolutely extraordinary.”

Over the centuries, countless books have been written to explain this, a great many of them by Christian writers and scholars who take the Constantinian view: Their faith’s unlikely triumph was (and is) proof of divine favor. Interestingly, Pagan advisers argued in vain to the first Christian Roman emperors that Pagan beliefs had been what won the empire favor in the first place. When the emperor Valentinian II removed the altar of the goddess Victory from the Roman Senate house in A.D. 382, for instance, a Pagan statesman named Symmachus reminded him, “This worship subdued the world.”

Very little about the historical triumph of Christianity makes sense. When Constantine converted, the New Testament didn’t formally exist and Christians disagreed on basic theological concepts, among them how Jesus and God were related. For those living at the time, Ehrman writes, “it would have been virtually impossible to imagine that these Christians would eventually destroy the other religions of Rome.” Some saw glimmers of danger, however. An otherwise unknown Pagan philosopher named Celsus wrote a tract called “On the True Doctrine” that attacked Christians’ penchant for secrecy, refusal to partake in public worship and naked appeals to “slaves, women and little children.”

The great appeal of Ehrman’s approach to Christian history has always been his steadfast humanizing impulse. In his superb book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which concerns textual variants in early Christian texts that were driven by theological agendas, Ehrman argues that these corruptions weren’t typically the product of willful obfuscation but rather the work of careful scribes trying to make sense of often perplexing language, imagery and traditions. Ehrman always thinks hard about history’s winners and losers without valorizing the losers or demonizing the winners. The losers here, of course, were Pagan people.

Ehrman rejects the idea that Constantine’s conversion made much difference; the empire, he writes, would most likely have turned Christian in time without him. So how did Christianity triumph? To put it plainly, Christianity was something new on this earth. It wasn’t closed to women. It was so concerned with questions of social welfare (healing the sick, caring for the poor) that it embedded them into its doctrines. And while there were plenty of henotheist Pagans (that is, people who worshiped one god while not denying the validity of others), Christianity went far beyond henotheism’s hesitant claim upon ultimate truth. It was an exclusivist faith that foreclosed—was designed to foreclose—devotion to all other deities. Yet it was different from Judaism, which was just as exclusivist but crucially lacked a missionary impulse.

Ehrman, summarizing the argument of the social historian Ramsay MacMullen, imagines a crowd of 100 Pagans watching a persuasive Christian debate an equally persuasive adherent of the healing god Asclepius: “What happens to the overall relationship of (inclusive) Paganism and (exclusive) Christianity? … Paganism has lost 50 worshipers and gained no one, whereas Christianity has gained 50 worshipers and lost no one.” Thus, Christian believers go from roughly 1,000 in A.D. 60, to 40,000 in A.D. 150, to 2.5 million in A.D. 300. Ehrman allows that these raw numbers may look “incredible. But in fact they are simply the result of an exponential curve.” At a certain point, math took over. (Mormonism, which has been around less than 200 years, has seen comparable rates of growth.)

Ehrman quotes a valuable and moving letter from a devout Pagan named Maximus, which was written to Augustine near the end of the fourth century: “God is the name common to all religions. … While we honor his parts (so to speak) separately … we are clearly worshiping him in his entirety.” But when Pagan intellectuals decided to confront Christianity on its exclusivist terms—“We believe in one God as well!”—they effectively stranded themselves on their own 20-yard line. The heart-rending Pagan inability to anticipate the complete erasure of their beliefs gave Christianity one clear path to victory  (emphasis added).

And yet, when the [boot] was on the other foot, Christians had different opinions about religious oppression and compulsion. Many of Christianity’s earliest apologists wrote of their longing to be left alone by the Roman state. Here is Tertullian: “It is a fundamental human right, a privilege of nature, that everyone should worship according to his own convictions.” These Christians “devised,” Ehrman writes, somewhat cheekily, “the notion of the separation of church and state.” But when Christians seized control of the empire, the separation they had long argued for vanished. The charges once lobbed against Christians—atheism, superstition—were turned against Pagan people.

Ehrman is careful to note that, for the most part, there was no Christian secret police forcing Pagans to convert: The empire was too large and diffusely governed to make such an effort feasible. In addition, “there was no one moment when the world stopped being Pagan to become Christian.” Rather, it happened in the manner of Hemingway’s theory of bankruptcy: gradually, then suddenly. Reading about how an entire culture’s precepts and traditions can be overthrown without anyone being able to stop it may not be heartening at this particular historical moment. All the more reason to spend time in the company of such a humane, thoughtful and intelligent historian. – The New York Times, 13 February 2018

» Tom Bissell is an American journalist, critic, and fiction writer based in Los Angeles, California. The first two paragraphs of this review have been omitted in this post.

Constantine with Christian bishops and Nicene Creed

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Book Review: How Christians destroyed the Pagan world – Bettany Hughes

Athena the Goddess of Wisdom : Roman copy from the 1st century BC/AD after a Greek original of the 4th century BC, attributed to Cephisodotos or Euphranor.

Bettany HughesThe Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. By Catherine Nixey. Illustrated. 315 pp. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $28.

Vandalizing the Parthenon temple in Athens has been a tenacious tradition. Most famously, Lord Elgin appropriated the “Elgin marbles” in 1801-5. But that was hardly the first example. In the Byzantine era, when the temple had been turned into a church, two bishops—Marinos and Theodosios—carved their names on its monumental columns. The Ottomans used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine, hence its pockmarked masonry—the result of an attack by Venetian forces in the 17th century. Now Catherine Nixey, a classics teacher turned writer and journalist, takes us back to earlier desecrations, the destruction of the premier artworks of antiquity by Christian zealots (from the Greek zelos—ardor, eager rivalry) in what she calls The Darkening Age.

Using the mutilation of faces, arms and genitals on the Parthenon’s decoration as one of her many, thunderingly memorable case studies, Nixey makes the fundamental point that while we lionize Christian culture for preserving works of learning, sponsoring exquisite art and adhering to an ethos of “love thy neighbor,” the early church was in fact a master of anti-intellectualism, iconoclasm and mortal prejudice. This is a searingly passionate book. Nixey is transparent about the particularity of her motivation. The daughter of an ex-nun and an ex-monk, she spent her childhood filled with respect for the wonders of post-Pagan Christian culture. But as a student of classics she found the scales—as it were—falling from her eyes. She wears her righteous fury on her sleeve. This is scholarship as polemic.

Nixey writes up a storm. Each sentence is rich, textured, evocative, felt. Christian monks in silent orders summoned up Pagan texts from library stores with a gagging hand gesture. The destruction of the extraordinary, frankincense-heavy temple of Serapis in Alexandria is described with empathetic detail; thousands of books from its library vanished, and the temple’s gargantuan wooden statue of the god was dismembered before being burned. One Pagan eyewitness, Eunapius, remarked flintily that the only ancient treasure left unlooted from the temple was its floor.

Christians became known as those “who move that which should not be moved.” Their laudable appeal to have-nots at the bottom of the pile, both free and unfree, meant that bishops had a citizen-army of pumped-up, undereducated young men ready to rid the world of sin. Enter the parabalini, sometime stretcher-bearers, sometime assassins, who viciously flayed alive the brilliant Alexandrian mathematician and Pagan philosopher Hypatia. Or the circumcellions (feared even by other Christians), who invented a kind of chemical weapon using caustic lime soda and vinegar so they could carry out acid attacks on priests who didn’t share their beliefs.

Debate—philosophically and physiologically—makes us human, whereas dogma cauterizes our potential as a species. Through the sharing of new ideas the ancients identified the atom, measured the circumference of the earth, grasped the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.

To be sure, Christians would not have a monopoly on orthodoxy, or indeed on suppression: The history of the ancient world typically makes for stomach-churning reading. Pagan philosophers too who flew in the face of religious consensus risked persecution; Socrates, we must not forget, was condemned to death on a religious charge.

But Christians did fetishize dogma. In A.D. 386 a law was passed declaring that those “who contend about religion … shall pay with their lives and blood.” Books were systematically burned. The doctrinal opinions of one of the most celebrated early church fathers, St. John Chrysostom—he of the Golden Mouth—were enthusiastically quoted in Nazi Germany 1,500 years after his death: The synagogue “is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts … a dwelling of demons.”

Actions were extreme because Paganism was considered not just a psychological but a physical miasma. Christianity appeared on a planet that had been, for at least 70,000 years, animist. (Asking the women and men of antiquity whether they believed in spirits, nymphs, djinns would have been as odd as asking them whether they believed in the sea.) But for Christians, the food that Pagans produced, the bath-water they washed in, their very breaths were thought to be infected by demons. Pollution was said to make its way into the lungs of bystanders during animal sacrifice. And once Christianity became championed by Rome, one of the most militaristic civilizations the world has known, philosophical discussions on the nature of good and evil became martial instructions for purges and pugilism.

Still, contrary to Nixey, there was not utter but rather partial destruction of the classical world. The vigorous debates in Byzantine cultures about whether, for example, magical texts were demonic suggest that these works continued to have influence in Christian Europe. The material culture of the time also lends nuance to Nixey’s story: Silverware and dining services in Byzantium were proudly decorated with images of the Iliad and Odyssey. And while 90 percent of all ancient literature has been lost, Paganism still had a foothold on the streets.

In Constantinople, the spiritual headquarters of Eastern Christendom, the seventh-century church was still frantically trying to ban the Bacchanalian festivities that legitimized cross-dressing, mask-wearing and Bacchic adulation. I read this book while tracing the historical footprint of the Bacchic cult. On the tiny Greek island of Skyros, men and children, even today, dress as half human, half animal; they wear goat masks, and dance and drink on Bacchus’ festival days in honor of the spirit of the god. It seems that off the page there was a little more continuity than Christian authorities would like to admit.

But the spittle-flecked diatribes and enraging accounts of gruesome martyrdoms and persecution by Pagans were what the church chose to preserve and promote. Christian dominance of academic institutions and archives until the late 19th century ensured a messianic slant for Western education (despite the fact that many Pagan intellectuals were disparaging about the boorish, ungrammatical nature of early Christian works like the Gospels). As Nixey puts it, the triumph of Christianity heralded the subjugation of the other.

And so she opens her book with a potent description of black-robed zealots from 16 centuries ago taking iron bars to the beautiful statue of Athena in the sanctuary of Palmyra, located in modern-day Syria. Intellectuals in Antioch (again in Syria) were tortured and beheaded, as were the statues around them. The contemporary parallels glare. The early medieval author known as Pseudo-Jerome wrote of Christian extremists: “Because they love the name martyr and because they desire human praise more than divine charity, they kill themselves.” He would have found shocking familiarity in the news of the 21st century.

Nixey closes her book with the description of another Athena, in the city of her name, being decapitated around A.D. 529, her defiled body used as a stepping-stone into what was once a world-renowned school of philosophy. Athena was the deity of wisdom. The words “wisdom” and “historian” have a common ancestor, a proto-Indo-European word meaning to see things clearly. Nixey delivers this ballista-bolt of a book with her eyes wide open and in an attempt to bring light as well as heat to the sad story of intellectual monoculture and religious intolerance. Her sympathy, corruscatingly, compellingly, is with the Roman orator Symmachus: “We see the same stars, the sky is shared by all, the same world surrounds us. What does it matter what wisdom a person uses to seek for the truth?” – The New York Times, 8 June 2018

» Bettany Hughes is an English historian, author and broadcaster. Her speciality is classical history.

Apostle Paul burning the holy books at Ephesus (CE 52–54)


 

Schwarz Church obstructs Brihadeeshwara Temple ritual – Aravindan Neelakandan

Brihadeshwara Temple Tanjavur

Aravindan NeelakandanAggression against temples is starting to become visible and violent in Tamil Nadu, and unless Hindus reinvent and reorganise themselves as a political majority, their survival decreases with every passing day. – Aravindan Neelakandan

On 29 April 2018, the ceremonial procession that takes the ruling deity of Thanjavur’s Brahadeeshwarar Temple for a ritual bath in the adjoining Sivaganga temple tank, was stopped. The procession, complete with the playing of the nadaswaram (a classical wind instrument), was stopped by the authorities of CSI Schwarz Memorial Church—an eighteenth century church built by Danish Lutheran missionary, Christian Friedrich Schwarz.

Schwarz was an interesting character, who often projected himself as gentle and suave. He was a part of the political missions of the East Indian Company, being often sent as an emissary. While most of his hagiographers praise him as a selfless missionary, it is easy to see him as a manipulator who prevailed over the “native rulers”, by influencing them positively towards the colonial forces and keeping them away from any rebel influence. In fact, the British East India Company made Schwarz a member of the council of administration for Thanjavur. He, on his part, tried his best to convert the king, who, while gently refusing his religious advances, used him more as a trustworthy intermediary in dealing with the British. (Of course, the usual Evangelist propaganda that the king was convinced of Christian superiority, but did not convert because he feared the Brahmins, has always been part of the mission hagiographies).

Thuljaji II and little Serfoji II with Lutheran missionary Schwarz

More relevant to this point is that this colonial missionary took pleasure in going to the places of “heathen feasts” where thousands of “Hindoos” would gather for worship and preach Christianity, condemning what he understood through his Christian hatred as “idolatry”. So, when Schwarz Church authorities stopped the procession of 1,000-year-old Brahadeeswarar temple, it was colonial evangelism once again.

To understand this, one should realise that evangelical Christianity is always at war with Hinduism. To them, Hinduism is a religion to be destroyed when the opportunity comes and tolerated not even respectfully. but only tactfully till then. During the period of tolerance, preparations are made for the period of war—the war that can be declared when it is advantage Evangelists.

So the war against Hinduism waged by Evangelists in India can be divided into three periods. Between the late 17th to mid 19th century, when the colonial Evangelists attacked Hinduism, while simultaneously using colonial enterprise to politically, militarily and financially support the mission.

Then came the period between 1857 and 2004 when Evangelists moved from direct war to covert war. The covert war takes the form of many mini-wars in isolated areas throughout India where Evangelists have power through demographic change and political influences. For example, in Tripura, Christianity made Jamatiyas refugees in their own land for refusing to accept the Jesus cult. In Mizoram, Hindu Reangs were driven away as refugees and made to face ethnic extinction. In Odisha, the Maoist-Evangelical axis has been established to combat Hindu tribals.

The national movement between 1857 and 1947 definitely acted as a great emotional and intellectual barrier to the evangelical war. Gandhi and Veer Savarkar, otherwise poles apart, held very similar views on conversion—as political aggression on souls. Veer Savarkar considered this loss as more dangerous than territorial loss. Dr B. R. Ambedkar, despite being a strong critic of Hinduism, did not mince words when he said that conversion to Christianity denationalised the scheduled communities and compromised national security.

Evangelists waited for a time of their choice to declare war on Hinduism, and in the meanwhile, cultivated forces that would hasten the blowing of the war trumpets. In this process, different evangelical organisations wielded a thousand cuts on the Indic body through seemingly secular anti-Hindu pro-evangelical forces. Riots happened throughout India and any counter attack by Hindus alone got sensationalised as persecution.

For example, when Christian terrorists gunned down an entire family of 16, including seven-year-old girl in a cold-blooded massacre for celebrating harvest festival, it was seldom condemned. Nor did it create an outrage. One should contrast this with the outrage generated nationally and internationally over the accidental, but definitely inhuman and unjustifiable, killing of Australian Hindu-phobic missionary Graham Staines and his son, when angry tribals, whose families were torn by conversion torched his vehicle. Some of the canards spread by Evangelists against Hindus in this conflict are time-tested hate propaganda like, for instance, the charge of poisoning a well – originally a Christian anti-semitic tactic which was effectively employed in instigating violence against the Jews in pre-holocaust Christendom.

In Tamil Nadu, Evangelists been waging the war on different fronts, and all their efforts converge at one point or the other in the physical curtailment of Hindu human rights. As early as 1980s, the converted Indian Christians of the coastal region were used by Christianity to block all the ceremonial sea rights of Hindu goddesses. In 1982, Christian fanatics planned and molested Hindu women during a Hindu festival, and the Hindu retaliation was swift and equally violent. This mellowed down the Evangelist assault on Hindus, but it never ceased.

At another level, Evangelists were waging the war by proxy through Dravidian forces. Swami Chidbhavananda, the great spirtual acharya, educationist, and social reformer pointed out how the Catholic Church openly declared the Dravidian movement as a “time bomb” set to destroy Hinduism in their book, titled Dravidian Movement and Catholic Church (Tamil). The war against Hinduism in Tamil Nadu took the form of a concerted strategy involving some well-placed academics, politicians, activists and Evangelists coming together. The aim is to reduce Hinduism to ancestral worship and project all its spiritual dimensions as Brahminical distortions to exploit people. Through this, even a fanatical Christian could claim that he or she can enter a Hindu temple as it is nothing more than a glorified mausoleum of ancestral worship.

This blatantly false theory is coupled with racist Tamil pride and peddled in a hysterical way by the political parties like Naam Tamilar. Further, hymns like Thiruvasagam are misinterpreted by the Christian clergy straitjacketing them into Christian monotheism. Hindu sacred spaces—in literature and liturgy, in ceremonial processions, and in physical area – are all encroached upon by Evangelists or proto-Christian Dravidianists. So when ultimately the physical violence descends, the local Hindus are left to defend themselves—often becoming homeless orphans in their own country.

After the Janata Party (BJP) lost power in the Centre in 2004, Kanyakumari district saw a spate of attacks on Hindu temples—mostly village temples.

Here is one such incident that took place in 2007 in Kanyakumari district and that would resonate in Thanjavur in 2018. However, unlike in Thanjavur, where the police forces were not yet inclined to stop the Hindus, in the Kanyakumari village, coincidentally or strategically placed police officials who happened to be Christians, violently stopped the Hindus. The procession of a goddess belonging to a centuries old temple was stopped by a handful of Christians claiming the road the procession was to pass through belonged to the church. Despite the village panchayat having constructed the road, despite Hindus being the majority in both the villages, especially in the area in question, and despite the panchayat well on that very road having been built by a local Hindu, the Hindus along with their deity were stopped by the police and in the ensuing violence, a woman was killed in police lathi charge.

Christian police against Hindu religious procession in Kanyakumari

All political leaders except the Hindu organisations and BJP deserted the Hindus. The tragic irony is that Hindus have been stopped from using a road which they themselves built. It could be only said that such an incident is only waiting to happen in Thanjavur.

Even in places where Hindus are a majority, Evangelist warfare strategically first weakens them—even preventing the development of a sense of national unity that may loosen the hold the church exerts on the flock. A case in point is the very recent diatribe that the church has indulged in against the patriotic salutation Jai Hind, incidentally coined by a Tamilian—Dr Chenbagaraman Pillai. While many Hindus are aware of the anti-Vande Mataram mindset of Islamists, not many are aware of the anti-Indian mindset that is deeply integral to even mainstream churches including the Catholic Church leave alone the innumerable ground-warrior Christian evangelist cults.

For example, the Catholic Bishops Council of Madhya Pradesh has come out strongly against the raising of Jai Hind slogan in the government schools. Father Babu Joseph, former spokesperson of the national bishops’ conference now based in Madhya Pradesh, criticised the government for asking government schools to raise the slogan. Mumbai based Catholic Secular Forum in its website claims the following about Jai Hind:

The commonly used slogan Jai Hind emerged during India’s independence struggle and continues to be raised at the end of national anthem. However, Hind is a shortened form of Hindustan (land of Hindus) that excludes India’s religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.

So, while in Tamil Nadu, the deity is stopped physically, in North India, where Evangelical Christianity is yet to achieve the muscle power and political clout, it uses ideological aggression to stop nation-building through very simple methodologies.

That such aggression is starting to become visible and violent in Tamil Nadu is not coincidental. Already, various Christian denominations including the mainstream churches have started preparing for the 2019 elections. Away from the willingly closed eyes of the media, Catholic Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi sent a pastoral letter which was read out on 13 May in all the parishes of the national capital. The letter called on Catholics to start a campaign ahead of elections due in April 2019. This year-long vigil and campaign though couched in secular language is a call for an Evangelist war on Hinduism.

So, after 2019 in case of a BJP defeat, Hindus in Tamil Nadu can expect a concerted attack on all their temples—small or big, in all their sacred spaces—in villages or town, in all their ceremonies. Hence, in the context of 2019, Hindus need to realise two factors:

  1. They are still only a communal majority and not a political majority in India. Unless Hindus reinvent and reorganise themselves as political majority, the probability of Hindu survival decreases with every passing day.
  2. Whether it is aggression in Thanjavur, physical violence in Kanyakumari district or resistance to Jai Hind in Madhya Pradesh, there is a common line connecting them all across the denominational Evangelist Christian divide—the hatred towards pagan Hinduism which animates the war that Evangelists wage in India. So any attack on Hindus anywhere in India is a threat to every Hindu throughout India. – Swarajya, 21 May 2018

» Aravindan Neelakandan is an economist, psychologist, author and contributing editor at Swarajya magazine. He is best known for the book Breaking India which he co-authored with Rajiv Malhotra.

CSI Schwartz Memorial Church, Tanjore


 

How Japan defeated Christianity – Vajrin

Jesuit missionary with Japanese nobleman circa 1600

The Japanese unlike the Hindus were endowed with rulers who possessed great foresight, who decided to extirpate Christianity by any means necessary to save Japan, and that included closing off Japan for the next 250 years. – Vajrin

Very few people are aware of the story of Christianity in Japan. They think Japan was isolated till Commodore Perry threatened it with guns. In fact it was eager for trade with Europe in the 16th and early 17th centuries before the poison of Christianity seeped into their society and began destroying it. Fortunately the Japanese—unlike the Hindus—were endowed with rulers who possessed great foresight, who decided to extirpate Christianity by any means necessary to save Japan, and that included closing off Japan to the West for the next 250 years.

What follows is a gist of the Japanese analysis of Christianity, after the Japanese had felt its presence deeply in their country.

Although far from uniform, the composite picture of Christianity that emerges in a number of Japanese sources from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries is of a Buddhist heresy propagated by barbarians and focused around the worship of a demonic deity. This sect encourages loyalty to a barbarian king said to be the representative of this monstrous god on earth. It expands its empire by subverting the inhabitants of a region through a combination of bribery and deception or black magic. It takes advantage of and encourages civil wars. Peasants, the poor, and the uneducated are particularly susceptible to its teachings. Eventually—as was believed to have happened in the Philippines and Java—the barbarians, aided by local traitors, annex portions of a country, corrupting the local rulers and enslaving the populace. The Christian followers then destroy the images and temples of the true gods and buddhas while purging local customs. This leads to the destabilization of the existing social order and the emplacement of a new order modeled on Christian civilization. — (The Invention of Religion in Japan by Jason Ananda Josephson, pg. 50)

What follows will give a sample of what Christian converts were doing in Japan—as they always do among heathens:

As Omura Sumitada had gone off to the wars, it so happened that he passed on the way an idol, Marishiten by name, which is their god of battles. When they pass it, they bow and pay reverence to it, and the pagans who are on horseback dismount as a sign of their respect. Now the idol had above it a cockerel. As the daimyo came there with his squadron he had his men stop and ordered them to take the idol and burn it together with the whole temple; and he took the cockerel and gave it a blow with the sword, saying to it, “Oh, how many times have you betrayed me!” And after everything had been burnt down, he had a very beautiful cross erected on the same spot, and after he and his men had paid very deep reverence to it, they continued on their way to the wars. — (Luís Fróis (1532 – July 8, 1597), a Portuguese Christian missionary giving an eyewitness description of non-Christian shrines being destroyed by Japanese converts.)

What follows is taken from a book describing the story of Christianity in Japan and is given here for what it’s worth, with the hope that our foolish Hindu compatriots may learn something about the nature of the Abrahamic beast and the means required to slay it.

We would also like to express our admiration for the Japanese people for they are the only heathen people in history known to have almost entirely extirpated an Abrahamic cult from their lands after it made deep inroads.

Ieyasu was ready to trigger a full persecution of the Kirishitan [Christian] and his opportunity came in February of 1612, when a court intrigue involving the Kirishitan Okamoto Paulo Daihachi (d. 1612) and the Kirishitan lord Arima Harunobu (1561-1612) was disclosed. Since both were Kirishitan, Ieyasu’s aversion to the Kirishitan faith became greater than ever. On 17 March of that same year, he announced the expulsion of his fourteen Kirishitan vassals, and four days later he issued an order to prohibit the Kirishitan faith of anyone in the shogun’s domains of Sunpu, Edo, Kyoto, and Nagasaki. The bakufu’s persecution in these areas was still limited, however. In Kyoto, only a Jesuit residence and a Franciscan monastery were demolished because they had been constructed without Ieyasu’s permission. Five months later, on 6 August, the prohibition of the Kirishitan faith was stated as one five state prohibitions announced across the country. This was the first declared prohibition of the faith as an official law of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Eighteen months later the Tokugawa bakufu further strengthened its anti-Kirishitan policy by announcing the expulsion of all missionaries from Japan. The “State on the expulsion of the bateren,” drafted by the Zen monk Konchiin Suden (1563-1633), was issued in 1614 under the name of the second shogun Hidetada. Strictly speaking, this statement was the re-pronouncement, re-definition, and re-enforcement of what had been legalized since 1587. But it was the Tokugawa bakufu’s first official statement of a comprehensive control of Kirishitan, which was to be fully implemented and canonized as one of the fundamental Tokugawa laws.

The statement proclaims that Japan is the land of kami and the land of buddhas, ruled on the political principles of Confucianism. And it contends,

The Kirishitan band happened to reach Japan. Not only have they sent merchant vessels to exchange commodities, but they also spread a pernicious doctrine to confuse the right ones, so that they would change the government of the country and own the country. This will become a great catastrophe. We cannot but stop it.

It further claims that the Kirishitan were bringing disorder to Japanese society and that the followers of padres (bateren monto) “contravene government regulations, traduce Shinto, calumniate the True Law, destroy righteousness, and corrupt goodness.”

The Kirishitan history finally entered the general persecution period both in name and practice. Thereafter, the Tokugawa shogunate strictly applied its anti-Kirishitan policy to the members of all social strata, including the commoners, who had been exempted from previous persecution. Ieyasu, who as the retired shogun had maintained the highest authority, died in April of 1616. In August of that same year the bakufu issued a directive to prohibit the Kirishitan faith, demonstrating that Ieyasu’s anti-Kirishitan law had been renewed under the new authority of Shogun Hidetada:

On the matter of the adherents of the bateren, because the absolute prohibition of their faith was notified by Sokoku sama (Ieyasu), understand its intent, and put great care that there are no adherents of the sect even among peasants.

The law prohibiting the Kirishitan faith was no longer limited to the reign of a single shogun, but a canon to be observed throughout the Tokugawa’s rule. During the reigns of the second shogun Hidetada (r. 1605-1623), and the third shogun Iemitsu (r. 1623-1651), policy was gradually systematized to eradicate the Kirishitan. The suppression of the missionaries and followers began with moderate acts such as expelling the missionaries abroad, or sending followers to remote places like criminals, but it generally intensified and became more brutal.

The great martyrdoms in Kyoto (1619), Nagasaki (1622), and Edo (1623) demonstrated in the most intense fashion the bakufu’s serious commitment to its policy of exterminating the Kirishitan faith in Japan, and this persecution was only the beginning. In Kyoto, fifty-two Kirishitan, mostly residents of the Kirishitan town named Daiisu (Deus), were slaughtered at Rokujo Gawara along the Kamo River. All the martyrs were lay followers, including six children. In Nagasaki, a total of fifty-five irmaos and followers were killed at the Nishizaka hill. Twenty-four who were burned were missionaries and lay readers, including two Jesuit padres, eight Jesuit irmaos, two Dominican irmaos, two lay members of the Fraternity of the Rosary, and three catechists. The remaining lay Kirishitan were beheaded….

Ship owners (funanushi) who helped missionaries secretly enter or return to the country were also hunted, and the authorities clearly intended to uproot all means that enabled the missionaries to survive in Japan. Meanwhile, in 1622, the residents of Kyoto were notified that the padres’ followers (bateren monto) would be punished with death. And the order further said, “Since this law is strictly applied, if you find followers in town, report to us immediately and receive rewards for it. If you hide [a follower] and it is reported by someone else, you will be charged of the same penalty [as the follower].”

All Kirishitan had to deal with the bakufu’s systematized methods of, first, detecting them, second, forcing them to apostatize, and finally, monitoring the apostates. All households were arranged into groups of five, each group bearing collective responsibility. This five-household association (goningumi) was a system of corporate responsibility and enforcement of regulations in town and country. It was institutionalized in the early Tokugawa years to find ordinary criminals, warriors loyal to the Osaka force, and Kirishitan. Later, however, its main purpose became to find Kirishitan. The bakufu took advantage of the system to make each household responsible for ensuring that there were no Kirishitan in its goningumi. In Nagasaki this system was first instituted in 1622 to find lodge masters.

In 1619, again in Nagasaki, a bounty of thirty silver pieces was announced for information leading to the arrest of a padre. This method of hunting priests spread to Kyoto in 1622, to Edo in 1623, and finally across the entire country after 1633 as an effective measure for arresting missionaries. In 1622, followers of Nagasaki wrote:

After the authorities announced an excessive amount of cash reward for information about bateren and their lodges, greedy and evil-minded rogues have been searching for the monks day and night, utilizing various means. When they find a place even a little suspicious, they immediately intrude and investigate it….

The apostate Kirishitan had to further prove their sincerity by becoming a parishioner (danka) of a Buddhist temple, and temples issued guarantees that apostate Kirishitan belonged. This measure began in 1614 in Kyoto by the direction of Itakura Katsushige (1542-1624), shogunal governor (shoshidai). Later, in 1635, the bakufu strengthened this temple-parishioner system by enforcing it regarding not only apostate Kirishitan but the entire populace—every Japanese was ordered to submit a temple guarantee. The practice of religious inspection (shumon aratame), necessary for issuing the guarantee, was institutionalized, and the Buddhist temples were given the task of making an annual religious inquisition of their parishioners. Thus, Buddhist temples were incorporated into the bakufu’s anti-Kirishitan policy by taking part in the monitoring system. This system was legally abolished in 1640 with the establishment of a bakufu office of Inquisitor (shumon aratame yaku), and was uniformly adopted throughout the country…. — (Christianity in Early Modern Japan: Kirishitan Belief and Practice by Ikuo Higashibaba, pgs. 138-148)

Readers may also explore the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the greatest heathen heroes in history though little known outside Japan. He perhaps single-handedly saved Nippon from following the same fate as ancient Greece, Rome, or the much battered Hindu civilization at the hands of the Abrahamics with no end in sight except what befell Greece and Rome.

The missionaries tried again of course to spread their poison in the Meiji era but after tasting the poison once, it seems the Japanese had acquired enough immunity to resist it. In contemporary Japan, Christianity is still associated with intolerance, fanaticism, and considered a morbid death cult. To quote a book about post WWII Japan:

Christianity’s intolerance of other faiths then as now, has also disturbed the Japanese who still have in their homes two altars, the Buddhist buttsudan and the Shinto saidan, which are most often tactfully set facing in different directions.

The central idea of a suffering Christ, a God who allowed himself to be publicly disgraced, then miraculously rose into heaven is inconceivable to them. I once asked a friend of mine, a Japanese Catholic with degrees from Notre Dame and Georgetown, why the Church had never succeeded in Japan. “Christ hanging on the cross bothers us,” he said, “he looks too much like a loser for a God. It was so embarrassing for Him to do that. It is embarrassing even to try explaining it. Maybe our blood is just too thin in Japan. We don’t feel comfortable with a God who sheds blood like that.” — (Japan: The Fragile Superpower by Frank B. Gibney, pg. 88)

Further reading

» This article has been copied from the Vajrin website (which has similar articles for reference). 

Japanese bell with Jesuit Christian inscription (1570)

Christian book in Japanese 16th century

Imperial Christianity: A Brief History – N. S. Rajaram

Constantine with Christian bishops and Nicene Creed

Dr. N. S. RajaramViewed from a Pagan perspective, Christianity appears to have passed through several phases, beginning as an obscure Jewish militant movement against Rome to becoming the master of the Roman Empire and much of Europe, evolving into the most important tool of Euro-colonialism to its present state of adjusting to changes in the post-colonial world. It is obviously beyond the scope of a short article to do justice to this immense history, beyond highlighting some of the lesser known aspects of Christian history. – Dr N. S. Rajaram

Christianity, like Islam, but unlike their common parent Judaism, is largely an imperial movement. Conversion is to Christianity what jihad is to Islam—an expansionist doctrine. Where Islam seeks to bring the whole world under its sway through jihad, Christianity’s goal is to make the world Christian, or turn it into Christendom, by conversion. The goal of such religions is not inner spiritual experience for the individual, which is generally denied by them, but conquering the external world for the belief.

This conversion may take many forms and shapes—service, violence, deception, political or military coup or whatever works in the situation at hand. The victim or the intended victim usually sees only one aspect, especially service, and often assumes that Christianity is mainly a religion of peace and service. This is the case in India where, except in pockets like Goa, the Church was never strong enough to resort to conversion by force. So it resorted to more subtle means. This is still the case.

One area in which Christianity has excelled, absolutely without a peer is publicity; it is without doubt the most successful publicity organization in history. One result is that the victims themselves within a few generations are convinced that they have been saved, though it is not always clear from what. Since Christianity is also a historical religion with an extremely violent record, it seeks to impose on the world, especially on its victims, a sugar-coated version of history that always shows Christianity in favorable light as a humanitarian movement. This is facilitated by the fact that Christian organizations own or control much of the media in developing countries.

Modern Christianity likes to speak in terms of peace, brotherhood, love and compassion, as if it were a universalist movement. It may take up causes like anti-war activities, social uplift, medical help and education. But Christianity does not honor other religions or accept them as valid. To date, no major Christian religious leader has made a public statement accepting any other religion as equal to Christianity or any other religious leader as equal to Jesus.

Christianity has One God but two humanities and looks down upon non-Christians as inferior people. It promotes violence and inequality between believers and non-believers, thus bringing social tension, conflict, even war and genocide along with its conversion efforts, as history reveals. targeting the poor and uneducated in other religions, it likes to pretend that Christianity brings the advancement of society. Since the end of the colonial era, when the Christian armies had to retreat from their colonies, it has sought to promote this softer face, while not giving up its exclusive views and denigration of other traditions.

This command of publicity makes it hard to expose Christianity’s imperial face. Churches and their officials don’t take kindly to any attempts to question their version of history or their activities. This is what happened when Indians, Hindus in particular, raised questions about its aggressive conversion activities. A barrage of publicity was let loose by churches and the media when Hindus reacted to Christian violence, including the recent murder of a highly respected Hindu social worker. But there is a long overdue debate about Christianity’s expansionist activities in the guise of service.

Such questioning of Christianity’s claims has a long history in the West, but is relatively new in India. It is unnecessary to go into reasons for this belated response, beyond noting that India’s colonial past and the excessive deference shown to Christianity and its institutions by the ruling elite and English media are major contributors (important topics not discussed in this article). Here is a very brief history of Christianity as an imperial movement, seen from a non-Christian, Pagan perspective.

Viewed from a Pagan perspective, Christianity appears to have passed through several phases, beginning as an obscure Jewish militant movement against Rome to becoming the master of the Roman Empire and much of Europe, evolving into the most important tool of Euro-colonialism to its present state of adjusting to changes in the post-colonial world. It is obviously beyond the scope of a short article to do justice to this immense history, beyond highlighting some of the lesser known aspects of Christian history.

Origins: Co-opting a Jewish movement

Christianity’s birth was bloody and violent. It grew out of the violent conflicts between the Roman rulers and an obscure—to the Romans obscurantist—Jewish sect in Palestine, then known as Judea. The leader of this sometimes militant sect was James commonly called The Righteous. He is known to Christianity as the brother of Jesus, but there is little evidence for the existence of Jesus as a historical figure and that little remains questionable. References to him in the works of the Jewish historian Josephus, the most important source for the period, have been seriously tampered with by later Christian scribes. Some are outright forgeries.

Christians and non-Christians alike take the Biblical accounts (in the Gospels of the New Testament) to be historical, but these are easily shown to be later fabrications. Of one thing we may be certain—even if Jesus was an historical figure, the Jews had nothing to do with his persecution and death. His crucifixion by the Romans, if true, was because Jesus led a rebellion against the Roman Empire, as did a number of Jewish leaders of the times, and not because of his radical teachings. His supposed teachings are not all that radical and lie within the Jewish tradition. Here are a couple of examples:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. – Matthew 5. 17–18

Note the famous statement attributed to Jesus, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God what is God’s”, would never have been made by a Jewish leader, as the Jews never accepted any Roman right to rule Israel.

The Law here refers to the Law of Moses, the ultimate source of Orthodox Judaism. These are the words of a traditionalist, not a rebel. This Jesus was co-opted first by Paul and later by other Church leaders and turned into a victim of Jewish persecution. This is how he is presented in the Gospels though there are enough hints to indicate otherwise. About James, the real leader of the sect there is no doubt. He was both historical and an orthodox, even ultra-orthodox Jew. All of the twelve apostles of Jesus were Jews.

It is important to keep in mind that the Gospels are propaganda literature, not history. They are not eyewitness accounts as claimed by Christians. They were created to fulfil the prophecies about the expected Messiah (Christ) who would deliver the Jews from Roman rule. The identification of Jesus with the Christ came later. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls, more properly known as Qumran texts, have shed important light on the period of early Christianity. They tell us that the Gospels dramatise and project as history the messianic expectations of some Jewish sects in Palestine. John Allegro, one of the pioneers of Dead Sea Scrolls Research wrote:

… the scrolls prompt us increasingly to seek an eschatological meaning for most of Jesus’ reported sayings: more and more become intelligible when viewed in the light of the imminent cataclysms of Qumran expectations, and the inner conflicts in men’s hearts as the time grew near.

In other words, Jesus Christ (Jesus the Messiah) was little more than a personification of the messianic expectation of some extremist sects in the Qumran region of Palestine. These Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls) go back a century before the supposed birth of Jesus. They contain important details that were later appropriated by the Gospel authors and attributed to Jesus. We may take a brief look at a few of them.

There is a long history of murdered or sacrificed savior in the ancient Near East including Osiris of Egypt and Adonis of Syria. Christianity borrowed from all these. Even the Persian Mithra is a sacrificial God that the Christians borrowed heavily from.

The Last Supper is one of the most enduring images in Christian mythology. Catholics (and other sects also) celebrate the “Lord’s Supper” to commemorate the event. But Biblical scholars have found that the ceremony of the Lord’s Supper is described in some Qumran texts more than a century before the birth of Christ. What this means is that the Gospel writers appropriated a practice that already existed and turned it into a story about Jesus. So the Last Supper is a fictional dramatisation of a long-standing practice predating Christianity.

Jesus is known as the Son of God, the Son of the Most High and also as of the Branch of David, the legendary king of Israel. He is placed in the Gospels in a lineage going back to King David as if he were meant to be a king. All these are proclaimed in the Bible. The Gospels give also genealogies of Jesus tracing his ancestry to King David. (This contradicts the claim that Jesus was the Son of God, but no matter.) But all these attributes are found in Qumran texts that go back a century or more before the birth of Jesus. Here are two passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

He will be called the Son of God: they will call him the Son of the Most High. … His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and he will be righteous in all his ways. He will judge the earth in righteousness.

I shall be the father and he shall be my son. He is the branch of David who shall arise with the interpreter of the law to rule in Zion at the end of time.

The heavens and earth will obey this messiah … and all that is in them … and he will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, to the meek announce good tidings. … He will shepherd them.

The Gospels attribute all these to Jesus. But as just noted they appear in texts that date back a century or more. The story does not end here. Even crucifixion, the central myth of Christianity, was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in a text known as the “Pierced Messiah”. When Robert Eisenman, regarded as one of the world’s foremost Scrolls scholar, announced his discovery of the text and its explosive implications, the Vatican tried first to suppress and then discredit it. Biblical scholar Neil Asher Silberman noted:

Here as Eisenman believed was additional proof (if any was needed) that the International Team [of the Vatican] was sitting on explosive material for decades that would show that the passion of the messiah [his crucifixion] … was a common expectation and not a historical event.

In summary, the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the Qumran region have shown that nearly all the important events relating to the life of Jesus given in the Gospels are later fabrications drawing upon beliefs and practices that existed for a century or more before the birth of Christianity. The history of Jesus is irrelevant since he was nothing like the Jesus of the Bible. It is this fictional Jesus, however, that the Vatican and other Christian organizations hold up as the saviour in pursuit of their activities, especially conversions. For this reason the Vatican tried to suppress these findings for several decades through its “International Team” of Biblical scholars. The Vatican monopoly was finally broken by Robert Eisenman in 1991. (See author’s The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Crisis of Christianity.)

This means that the “history” of Jesus found in the Gospels is a later fabrication, created for propaganda purposes. Jesus may never have existed, and even if he did he was nothing like how the Bible describes him. James was the leader of the sect that was awaiting the Messiah who would lead them in a victorious battle and deliver them from the Romans. The Jerusalem Church—also known as the Jewish Church—that James headed was destroyed by the Romans in the First Jewish War of 66-71 AD.

James had been killed earlier, around 64 A.D., by a gang of dissidents opposed to his teachings. According to scholars, the leader of this dissident group was a Hellenized Jew and a privileged Roman citizen known as Saul of Tarsus, better known as St Paul. He may be seen as the real founder of Christianity. Hence Biblical scholars refer to Christianity as Pauline Christianity.

The killing of James triggered a series of uprisings in Palestine that burst into the First Jewish War in 66 AD. The Jerusalem Church led by James the “brother was Jesus” was destroyed in the war. This left the field open for Paul to propagate his version of Christianity. Paul who had never seen Jesus, either because Jesus never existed or because he had been dead by the time Paul entered the picture, simply used Jesus as a symbol in his propaganda. To Paul, the master propagandist, history was irrelevant.

Many Christianities: from Paul to Constantine

From this brief outline of Christian origins—actually of the first phase of Christianity—it is clear that the historical picture is radically different from what is given in the New Testament of the Bible, especially the Gospels. Here is what Eisenman had to say about the new picture of the birth of Christianity revealed by the Dead Sea Scrolls:

So what do we have in these manuscripts? Probably nothing less than a picture from which Christianity sprang in Palestine. But there is more … what we have is a picture of what Christianity actually was like in Palestine. The reader, however, probably will not be able to recognise it because it will seem to be virtually the opposite of the Christianity with which he or she is familiar.

All this was destroyed by the Romans in the First Jewish War. James had died a few years earlier, in or around 64 AD. Jamesian Christianity represented the Jewish orthodoxy overlaid with messianic expectations that were common among the Jews of Palestine at that time. It was essentially a revivalist movement that looked back to the Jewish state of the Maccabean priest-kings and the Old Testament prophecies that promised the return of a Jewish “Redeemer” (Christ or Messiah) driving out the hated Roman rulers. The Gospels are essentially a recreation of these as a “history” built around Old Testament prophecies.

Opposing James and his conservative movement was a group of liberal Jews that advocated reform and accommodation with the Romans, led by Saul of Tarsus, later known as St Paul. Paul was born into a wealthy family and was a privileged Roman citizen. Like the Romans, he believed that James and his Jerusalem Church were holding back progress and leading the Jews to disaster by going against the might of Rome. Paul, accompanied by some followers, seems to have taken his message of reform to James and his followers in Jerusalem. They did not take kindly to Paul’s message, which led to heated exchanges ending in violence. James himself was stoned to death in the fracas.

Eisenman summed up the difference between the two visions in the following words:

Both movements used the same texts, the same scriptural passages as proof texts, similar conceptual contexts; but the one can be characterised as the mirror reversal of the other. While the Palestinian one [of James] was zealot, nationalistic, engage, xenophobic, and apocalyptic; the overseas one was cosmopolitan, antinomian … in a word “Paulinised”. Equally, we may refer to the first as Jamesian….

A point to note is that if Jesus did exist he would have been part of the orthodox group led by James and not the one created by Paul who was hostile to Jamesian orthodoxy to the point of destroying it. Nonetheless, while Jamesian Christianity (and its church) died in the Jewish War, the Pauline version, or a least a mutation of it, became an imperial movement gaining Rome itself as its first conquest. While the inward looking Jamesian orthodoxy failed to survive, Paul’s heresy went from strength to strength.

Who was this Paul, the founder of arguably the greatest imperial movement in history? Paul was born about 4 AD in Tarsus in Anatolia (eastern Turkey), a city that rivalled Athens and Alexandria for its wealth and culture. He was Jewish, known originally as Saul, but born into a wealthy and privileged family and enjoyed Roman citizenship from birth. By education and upbringing he was more Greek than Jewish. While the Jews of Jerusalem spoke Aramaic, the vernacular language, Paul always used Greek, the language of the elite. We do not know if he was proficient in Aramaic or the sacred language Hebrew.

Paul visited James and his followers in Jerusalem at least twice but found them backward looking and tried to drag them out of their insular world (which brought him into conflict and the death of James). Some scholars claim that Paul, a loyal and privileged Roman citizen, was acting as an agent of Rome in an attempt to break up the chronically rebellious Jews of Palestine. In any event, it is doubtful that St. Paul believed in a historical Jesus, which is why he preached a Christ of faith rather than a Jesus of history. This made James and his followers furious. They believed in Christ (Messiah) as a physical being.

Paul was born a Jew but his religious views were far removed from those of the Jerusalem sect headed by James. Rome was Pagan, and like India today was home to several religious groups. Among the most influential were mystery religions and Gnosticism. The Gnostics held that some sages possessed gnosis, the Greek equivalent of the Sanskrit gnana (or jnana) meaning secret knowledge, which they imparted to some chosen disciples. This can be compared to the sages of the Upanishads and their method of teaching. Some scholars detect Indian influence on Gnostic teachings.

As noted, the idea of a redeemer (Messiah or Christ) as saviour was in the air for more than a century before Christianity. Unlike the Jews, Gnostics were open to outside influences and readily accepted the idea. But while the Jews saw the saviour as a human figure who would release them from bondage to Rome, the Gnostics saw him as a spiritual symbol who would save their souls. Paul was strongly influenced by Gnostic ideas and interpreted Jesus as a spiritual symbol. It was this Gnosticised version of Christianity that Paul carried with him and preached during his extensive travels, presenting Jesus as a Gnostic teacher.

Originally, Pauline Christianity was a Gnostic hybrid overlaid with the messiah as a spiritual symbol. This is far removed from the religious vision of James and far removed also from the version found in the Bible. This is because Church propaganda turned Paul the Gnostic into Paul the Apostle of the Jerusalem Church, just as it turned Jesus the Orthodox Jew (if historical) into Jesus the crucified Jewish rebel. Just as the Gospels were used to create this fictional Jesus, the book known as Acts of the Apostles rewrote the life and teachings of Paul to suit Church propaganda, erasing his Gnostic leanings.

The two centuries after the Jewish War saw the growth of an enormous number of Gnostic gospels reflecting the great diversity of religious thought then prevailing in the Roman Empire. These are collectively known as Gnostic gospels and its creators as Gnostic Christians. It is impossible in a single article to do justice to this extraordinary subject, but the fate of a single text known as the Gospel of Judas will give some idea of the scene in the first three centuries of Christianity.

For nearly two thousand years, Judas Iscariot has been reviled as the archetypical betrayer for which the Jews have been made to pay a terrible price. But the Gospel of Judas gives a radically different picture: Judas, far from being a traitor was Jesus’s closest disciple to whom, and to whom alone, Jesus entrusted the most important task needed to fulfill his mission on earth—to die for the sins of mankind. In handing Jesus over to the Romans, Judas was doing exactly what his master ordered him to do. But for this act of Judas there would be no Christianity.

This is the dramatic, not to say shocking message of the Gospel of Judas, one of the forty-odd gospels that were in circulation during the first four centuries of Christianity. This is discussed in absorbing detail in Reading Judas by Elaine Pagels and Karen King, two of the world’s greatest biblical scholars. This is startlingly different from the story in the New Testament. Here is the reason for the disparity.

The standardisation of the New Testament with its four canonical gospels that we know today—of Mark, Luke, Matthew and John—took place in the fourth century. This had the effect of lowering the message from a spiritual to a material plane with the story of Jesus’s body disappearing from the grave with a resurrected body. To a non-believer or a scientifically informed person, this supposed miracle seems absurd. But it remains the foundation of Christian belief. The Gnostics also rejected the notion of Christ as a physical being, interpreting him spiritually. Remarkably, even Paul saw Jesus in spiritual terms as befitting his Gnostic leanings.

The Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas are among the Gnostic gospels carrying such radically different ideas. (Thomas was Jesus’s twin brother, so who was the Only Son of God?) Gnostic derives from the Greek gnosis—cognate to the Sanskrit gnana (or jnana)—meaning spiritual knowledge. According to Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman there were “Christians who … believed in one God. But there were others who insisted there were two. Some said there were thirty. Others said there were 365.”

To give an idea of how diverse early Christianity was, some said that Jesus never died, while some claimed he was never born, meaning Jesus was a fictional character. This is the view also of modern scholars like John Allegro and Robert Eisenman who have studied the Dead Sea Scrolls. This was the view also of many Gnostics, including possibly Paul. In any event Paul had no use for any historical Jesus.

Allegro was persecuted and hounded out by Church authorities for expressing such views. It was no different nearly two thousand years ago. The key figure in suppressing texts which “encourage believers to seek God within themselves with no mention of churches, let alone clergy” was Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon, a Syrian theologian. He is particularly harsh on Judas with his claim of having received secret knowledge (gnosis) as the favored disciple of Jesus. (It was the claim also of Mary Magdalene in her Gospel. She was also denounced as a sinner by the Catholic Church.)

Irenaeus’s program was to suppress diversity and impose total uniformity of belief and practice. According to Pagels, “the teachings Irenaeus labeled as ‘orthodox’ tend to be those that helped him and other bishops consolidate scattered groups of Jesus’s followers into what he and other bishops envisioned as a single, united organisation they called the ‘catholic (universal) church.’ The diverse range… they denounced as ‘heresy’… could be antithetical to the consolidation of the church under the bishops’ authority.” (Heresy in Greek means “choice”. Christianity and Islam abhor choice.)

The overriding concern of the early Church fathers was exercising political control over the followers. Irenaeus’s program was taken a major step forward in the fourth century by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria. He fixed the New Testament substantially in the form we have it today by selecting four gospels out of more than forty then known, and assigning them to Mark, Luke, Matthew and John.

Athanasius’s theological consolidation of Christianity was followed by political consolidation. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, persuaded Emperor Constantine to extend protection to this version of Christianity. It became known as Nicene Christianity. Armed with this power, it was a relatively easy matter for Eusebius, Athanasius and others to suppress the Gnostics and other competing versions of Christianity. Church dominance became complete when Theodosius in 391 AD declared Nicene Christianity the only legitimate religion in the Roman Empire.

Why are these momentous findings little discussed in India when the media is willing to give space to discredited Jesus lived in India stories and proven fakes like the Shroud of Turin? Is it because the English language media is dominated by a convent educated elite that doesn’t want to report controversial findings about Christianity? Or do Indian churches and their leaders still see themselves as serving colonial masters and have no tradition of critical Biblical scholarship? Whatever the reasons, they have yielded the space to politico-religious entrepreneurs like John Dayal and Valson Thampu. Fortunately, Western scholars like Elaine Pagels, despite being Christians, have not allowed their beliefs to come in the way of truth.

Examined in the light of modern discoveries—the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic texts—Christianity during the first three centuries of its existence is seen to be startlingly different from the account given by Christian institutions like the Vatican. Jesus Christ was a collage of ideas and expectations that were in the air for over a century. This was transplanted on to the extremely diverse field of Gnostic beliefs and other mystery religions. Uniformity of belief and its control by a centralised church was achieved only because of the political skill of the advocates of one particular group who succeeded in gaining the support of Emperor Constantine. So the real founder of Christianity was neither Jesus nor Paul but Constantine.

This was encapsulated in a statement, probably apocryphal, attributed to Eusebius; “The religion of Abraham is at last fulfilled, not in Jesus but Constantine.” He spoke no more than the truth.

Early Christianity added many Pagan elements to make the faith more attractive to the Romans. Most important of these was the figure of the Mother Goddess. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a minor figure even in the existent gospels and is nowhere lauded as any more than a saintly woman. Early Roman Christians added to this Jewish woman the attributes of the Mother Goddess and encouraged Pagans to transfer their Goddess worship to Mary. Later Protestants rejected Mary and her worship as unfounded in the Bible. Yet even Roman Christianity officially regards Mary as only the mother of Jesus not the Divine Mother as Indian Christians like to honour her. Just as they used the Pagan Mother Goddess as Mary to convert the Roman Pagans, they are using the image of Mary to convert Hindus.

Totalitarian Church: from Theodosius to Henry VIII

All this history makes clear that from its very beginning Christianity was a political movement that appropriated Jewish, Greek and Gnostic ideas that were then current and adopted them to best suit its propaganda purposes. Christianity triumphed because of the political skill of its leaders, notably Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. Thanks to Eusebius’s political skills, Constantine allowed his version of Christianity, known as Nicene Christianity to be recognized as the official Christianity.

By giving official recognition to Christianity, Constantine sounded the death knell of the Roman Empire. It soon lost its liberal and inclusive character and became a narrow theocracy unsuited to hold together a diverse people over a vast area. Constantine’s blunder found its fulfillment in Theodosius who banned all other forms of worship. This was the beginning of the end of the unified Roman Empire. Beginning with Theodosius, the liberal and pluralistic Roman Empire became a theocratic totalitarian state. Its breakup leading to the Dark Ages was all but inevitable. The Huns led by Attila delivered the coup de grace to the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD.

The next thousand years saw the Roman Empire in Europe break up into a number of smaller principalities engaged in continual wars. The Bishop of Rome, later known as the Pope, claimed power over these kingdoms as a gift from Constantine. The authority for this was a forged document known as the Donation of Constantine. It claims that the Donation was Constantine’s gift to Pope Sylvester for instructing him in the Christian faith, baptising him and miraculously curing him of leprosy. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits as much about the Donation:

By this name is understood, since the end of the Middle Ages, a forged document of Emperor Constantine the Great, by which large privileges and rich possessions were conferred on the Pope and the Roman Church. … It is addressed by Constantine to Pope Sylvester I (314-35) and consists of two parts…. Constantine is made to confer on Sylvester and his successors the following privileges and possessions: the Pope, as successor of St. Peter, has the primacy over the four Patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, also over all the bishops in the world.

The Lateran basilica at Rome, built by Constantine, shall surpass all churches as their head, similarly the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul shall be endowed with rich possessions. The chief Roman ecclesiastics (clerici cardinales), among whom senators may also be received, shall obtain the same honours and distinctions as the senators. Like the Emperor the Roman Church. … The Pope shall enjoy the same honorary rights as the Emperor, among them the right to wear an imperial crown, a purple cloak and tunic, and in general all imperial insignia or signs of distinction.…

In other words, the Pope in addition to being the head of all the churches in Christendom gets all the power and privileges of the Emperor. Thank to this daring forgery Roman Church becomes the Roman Empire with the Pope as its emperor! This is not the only forgery by the Church, only the most famous. While the Donation has little relevance today, the Decretum by Gratian of Bologna continues to exercise its influence over Church policy and practices. Peter de Rosa, a Catholic scholar and former priest has this to say about it:

… the documents forged in Rome at this time [before 1100 AD] were systematised in the mid-1100s at Bologna by Gratian, a Benedictine monk. His Decretum or the Code of Canon Law was easily the most influential book ever written by a Catholic. It was peppered with three centuries of forgeries and conclusions drawn from them, with his own fictional additions. Of the 324 passages he quotes from Popes of the first three centuries, only eleven are genuine.

As an example we may again quote the Catholic Encyclopedia:

A list of sixty … letters or decrees attributed to the popes from St. Clement (88-97) to Melchiades (311-314) inclusive. Of these sixty letters fifty-eight are forgeries. … This correspondence was meant to give an air of truth to the false decretals.…

No wonder the Greeks for centuries called Rome the home of forgeries. The thousand years from Theodosius to the beginning of the European Renaissance conveniently dated to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 is called the Dark Ages. This period saw religious wars in Europe, the Crusades, the persecution of thinkers like Galileo and Giordano Bruno (who was burnt at the stake), the Inquisition, witch hunts and other such acts in the name of God and Christ.

This period saw incessant struggles between the Church and the state, due to the Vatican’s efforts to control the kingdoms that had emerged from the remains of the Roman Empire. There was also a self-styled Holy Roman Empire, led by an elected emperor usually from the Hohenzollern dynasty, which was constantly at loggerheads with the Church. Voltaire dismissed the Holy Roman Empire as “neither holy, nor Roman nor an empire.”

The popes excommunicated several of its rulers, notably Emperor Frederick II. Frederick was a complete disbeliever in the Vatican’s divine claims, and in fact a disbeliever in all religion. He is famous for the statement: “World has produced three great impostors: Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.” No wonder he was excommunicated by the Pope, but the real reason was Frederick asserted his political authority and refused to bend to the Pope’s demands.

It was a similar story in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Once Christianity became the state religion, its leaders went on a rampage destroying centers of Greek learning in places like Alexandria and Athens. The great Greek civilization that gave sages like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and a host of others over a thousand years was totally destroyed. The murder of the Neo-Platonic scholar Hypatia in 415 AD by a Christian mob led by ‘Saint’ Cyril may be seen as the beginning of the Dark Ages in the east. The Eastern Roman Empire, known as the Byzantine, was unable to check the expansion of Islam and finally disappeared.

However, the eastern or Orthodox Church is older than the western or Roman Catholic Church that was not really organised until the time of Charlemagne in the eighth century. The Orthodox Churches today, which include the Greek, Russian, Armenian, Egyptian and Syrian do not accept the Pope, the mass and other pillars of the Roman Catholic Church.

Most if not all progressive movements in Europe were anti-Church; most of them were battles waged by the people and rulers to free themselves from the Church’s stranglehold. These include the Renaissance, the Reformation (led by Martin Luther and John Calvin) and the Enlightenment, which sought to place reason ahead of faith and superstition. The Church was opposed to all these and created the Inquisition to suppress free thinking. Gradually, European kingdoms broke free of the Vatican’s control and evolved into nation states. It culminated in England’s break with the Roman Church with King Henry VIII declaring himself head of the Church of England.

The Protestants rejected the Pope and the Church, the use of icons and even the figure of the Virgin Mary. Unfortunately they turned the Bible into the literal word of God which brought in another form of intolerance into their thinking, which remains to the present day in evangelical groups.

Thanks to England’s break with the Vatican, the US, Canada and Australia are progressive countries with democratic governments. Those colonized by the Catholic powers Spain and Portugal—Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and other countries in the Americas—are mired in military rule and Church tyranny. In spite of being rich in natural resources, these countries are poor because the Catholic Church controls much of their wealth. Essentially, Christian expansion for these countries brought only plunder and genocide.

Christianity and Colonialism: Columbus, Xavier and Gandhi

While the people and the princes of Europe were struggling to free themselves from the hold of religion, Christianity found the means to expand in newly discovered lands. So, while the Roman Empire had collapsed centuries earlier, a new world empire, Christian Empire, was about to begin. Its founder was a mariner of genius and a ruthless mass murderer known as Christopher Columbus. He was to revive the Christian theocratic empire and plant it in the Americas. It was colonialism in the name of God and Christ. In his letter to his sponsors Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Columbus wrote:

I should be judged as a captain who went from Spain to the Indies to conquer a people numerous and warlike, whose manner and religion are very different from ours … and where by divine will I have placed under the sovereignty of the King and Queen your Lords, an Other World, whereby Spain, which was reckoned poor, is become the richest of countries.

And this was to be in the name of Christ. According to his letter to Their Christian Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain:

Your Highnesses have an Other World here by which our holy faith can be so greatly advanced from which such great wealth can be drawn. … And I say that Your Highnesses ought not to consent that any foreigner does business or sets foot here [in America], except Christian Catholics, since this was the end and the beginning of the enterprise, that it should be for the enhancement and glory of the Christian religion.…

This Christianization of the Americas was followed by the greatest genocide in history, surpassing the Islamic record in India and even the horrors inflicted by Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Whole civilizations of Native Americans were exterminated. Historians estimate that 85 per cent of the native populations in the Americas were wiped out. Bartolome de Las Casas, a contemporary of Columbus and an eyewitness to the massacres wrote:

As for the vast mainland [Mexico and its neighbors] which is ten times larger than Spain, … we can be sure that our Spaniards with their cruel and abominable acts, have devastated and exterminated the rational [non-Christian] people who fully inhabited it. We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the forty years that have passed, with the infernal actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women and children. In truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself, that the number of slain is more like fifteen million.

Indian Christian leaders who shed crocodile tears over the treatment of the tribal people in India are they silent about the genocide of Native Americans. Textbooks in Europe and America freely mention these. Las Casas, a Christian priest himself, made no bones about Christian greed being the culprit:

Their reasons for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies.

The Portuguese were every bit as rapacious as the Spaniards, but their scope in India was checked because of the presence of powerful kingdoms like the Vijayanagar. Still, “Saint” Francis Xavier instituted the Goa Inquisition which was worse than anything in Europe. Thousands were burnt at the stake. It is no coincidence that of all the regions in India only Goa has no culture to speak of. It comes into the news only when there is some atrocity.

Such rapacity is by no means limited to the Catholic Church. Protestant British missionaries also played an active role in advancing imperial interests. The staunchly Protestant missionary David Livingston who is projected as a great humanitarian was a British imperial agent. He let out the truth in a letter to a close friend:

All this machinery had for its ostensible objective the development of African trade and promotion of civilisation; but what I can tell to none but such as you, in whom I have confidence, is that I hope it may result in an English colony in the healthy high lands of Central Africa.

The Kenyan freedom fighter Jomo Kenyatta put it in more colorful language:

When the missionaries came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray’. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible!

This is not limited to Africa. In India also, in most cities, prime properties are owned by the Churches, thanks to the generosity of the British rulers. The maharajas have lost their privileges like the privy purses, but the churches have kept their colonial benefits. They have also retained their links to foreign institutions like the Vatican, Church of England and the like. The British rewarded the missionaries for supporting their colonial rule.

Of late, with Hindus objecting to aggressive missionary activities, Church leaders, including the Pope, have begun invoking Gandhi and his nonviolence. This is like the Devil quoting scripture. The Pope failed to mention that Gandhi also said: “If I had the power to legislate I would outlaw conversions.” Nor did he ask his flock to follow Jesus’s teaching to turn the other cheek. The churches’ record during the colonial period leaves no doubt they were colonial institutions fiercely opposed to the national movement. Hardly any Christians participated in the Freedom Movement. They had their faces turned to Europe; today, little has changed.

The missionaries went much further than ordinary Britishers in supporting such brutal laws as the Rowlatt Act and even the Jallianwalah Bagh Massacre. In 1920, the Christian Missionary Review described Gandhi as an “unscrupulous and irresponsible demagogue”. It said that unless put down, Gandhi and his nationalism would emerge as “one of the dangerous phenomena of present day politics in India”.

The Madras Christian College Magazine (October 1921 issue) declared, “We have always regarded the doctrines he has been preaching and the policy he has advocated as pernicious.” The journal then went on to offer a homily: All those who want “peace and sobriety of life and progress” should reject the “sophistry of non-violence”. It is strange now that the Pope should be invoking the same Gandhi and his “sophistry of nonviolence”!

Bishop Henry Whitehead not only supported the Rowlatt Act but went on to denigrate the nationalist agitation and its leaders as irresponsible and ungrateful. Another missionary publication, The Young Men of India, heaped praise on Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the brutal Lt Governor of Punjab, who forced Indians to crawl before white women saying that he was “the strongest and best ruler the country has had in modern times”.

The Harvest Field, another missionary journal, was quick to point out that during the nationalist uprising against the Rowlatt Act, Indian Christians were not found “wanting in loyalty to the (British) Government”. The International Review of Missions was clear in its pronouncement that the means and methods adopted by the British to put down the uprising in Punjab were neither un-Christian nor a blot on British rule.

After the Jallianwalah Bagh Massacre, Marcella Sherwood, speaking on behalf of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, and Rev Canon Guildford, representing the Church Missionary Society, were to later applaud General Dyer’s brutality, saying it was “justified by its results”. The Christian Missionary Review, describing Gen Dyer as a “brave man”, said his action was “the only means of saving life”. Missionaries saw nothing wrong in brutality and the massacre, finding them “neither un-Christian not a blot on British rule!” This, when many ordinary men and women in Britain were ashamed of the brutality and denounced it.

This is not just a matter of history. Indian churches remain subservient to foreign organisations like the Vatican. Its priesthood, though more politicians than spiritual leaders, are appointed by foreign officials like the Pope. They have never reconciled to India being a free country. They act as though Indians including Hindus should behave like the subjects of an imperial power. They also hold on to privileges that they received from their former colonial masters.

This raises a fundamental question: can these colonial institutions, still owing allegiance to foreign masters still enjoy tax and other privileges? This should be the topic for a new debate. – Vijayvani, 1 December 2017

» Dr N. S. Rajaram is an author, historian and mathematician in Bangaluru. 

Jesus


 

Why Nepal has one of the world’s fastest-growing Christian populations – Danielle Preiss

A Swiss missionary talks to a Nepali woman about the Bible in Kathmandu

Danielle PreissChurches mushroom throughout the Kathmandu Valley and across the terraced hills. Proselytizing remains illegal, but with political instability and weak law enforcement, that doesn’t stop it from happening. – Danielle Preiss

Famous for its high peaks and wind-whipped prayer flags, Hindu-majority Nepal used to be a nation unreached by Christianity.

Now the country has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world, according to the World Christian Database, which tracks global trends in Christianity.

Bishwa Mani Pokharel, news chief at Nepal’s Nagarik newspaper, pulls out copies of the census to show the statistical gallop of Christianity across Nepal. It listed no Christians in 1951 and just 458 in 1961. By 2001, there were nearly 102,000. A decade later that number had more than tripled to more than 375,000. Pokharel and others think the increase is really much higher but inaccurately reported.

“Before, when the Christians had a party, they slaughtered a chicken. Now, they slaughter a goat,” says Pokharel, who has been reporting on the conversions. That extra meat, he explains, is necessary to feed all of the new people who’ve joined the guest list.

Much of this growth can be attributed to Nepal’s internal changes. Before 1950, Nepal was closed to foreigners. Mountain climbing changed that. And starting with the Maoist Civil War of the 1990s and culminating with the end of the monarchy in 2008, the country has transitioned from a Hindu kingdom to a communist-led secular republic with greater freedom of religion. Encouraging someone to convert to another religion was always illegal, but as Nepal eased away from its official Hindu status, the rules lightened up.

Churches now mushroom throughout the Kathmandu Valley and across the terraced hills. Proselytizing remains illegal, but with political instability and weak law enforcement, that doesn’t stop it from happening.

Meanwhile, the earthquake last year may have strengthened the Christian surge. Where the government—long mired in political instability—has failed to help poor villagers, aid groups have trickled in to fill gaps, some of them carrying a message of salvation.

Climbing for Christ (C4C), an evangelical group based in Rochester, N.Y., is one.

Pledging to bring the Gospel “where others cannot or will not go,” the group began its “Mission: Nepal” in 2008. In 2011, it dedicated the first church in the village of Dapcha, 25 miles east of Kathmandu. Today, Dapcha—with a population of just 1,000 families—is home to three churches.

“They found some sick people and broken families and talked to them and prayed for them, and miraculously these people were convinced and began to follow Christ,” said Tej Rokka, pastor of the C4C partner ministry, Savior Alone Redeems Asians. “They distributed some food for the people, and clothes. Because of that, people began to listen to them.”

After the earthquake, C4C sent relief materials such as tents and money for food and first-aid items to congregants in Dapcha and other affected areas. Gary Fallesen, C4C’s founder and president, and a team were also in Nepal in October helping rebuild the earthquake-damaged house that belongs to the family of Sumitra Pariyar, a young woman who believes she was healed from paralysis and seizures by her acceptance of Christ.

Lauren Leve, a professor in the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is researching women who have converted to Christianity in Nepal. She found that as in the case of Pariyar, many of these conversions were related to illness.

Others point to the Hindu caste system as an impetus. Though outlawed in 2001, caste discrimination is still widely practiced, particularly in rural Nepal, where people on the lower rungs suffer systematic abuse passed on between generations. Many converts come from these lower castes, and missionaries point to Christianity as a way to escape. “It’s the only way out,” says Fallesen. “Socially there’s nothing they can do to change that and then we come along and we share about Jesus and the love he has for them.” The system still exists, Fallesen says, but no longer has power over them.

Nepali leaders aren’t happy about the Christianity boom. Before the release of the country’s first constitution this September, debates swelled over whether to scrap secularism and go back to an official Hindu designation. While Christians and other religious minorities feared a clampdown on religious freedom, the Hindu right insisted secularism would allow Christianity to take over. The British ambassador in Nepal ran afoul of this sentiment in 2014 after telling Parliament the right to change religions should be included in the constitution. Pro-Hindu groups accused him of supporting proselytizing and called for his resignation. When lawmakers did ensure secularism in the constitution, police needed water cannons and tear gas to dispel angry Hindu protesters.

Leve thinks laws against proselytizing aren’t the best way for the Nepali government to keep conversions down. “What it needs to do is ramp up the public health and social support infrastructure so that its citizens are getting what they need from the state,” she says. “When public hospitals start to provide effective health services, when there’s a social safety net in place post-earthquake or any other time, you will see fewer people expressing any interest in Christianity.”

For Fallesen, this need for material goods can be a foot in the door to a conversation about Jesus. He said his team starts by building relationships with villagers to find out what their problems are. “Usually the solution to those needs is to share about Jesus,” he says.

Rokka, the Nepali pastor who is also C4C’s country representative, shows off the audio Bibles the team uses to minister to the illiterate in Nepal. People think the local language recordings of the New Testament are cellphones or MP3 players, he explained. He said that even when they find out what the gadget is, they’re still excited to get a new device.

Few avenues exist here for the rural poor to better their situation. For more than a decade, many parents have sent their children to “orphanages” in Kathmandu, where they hope they’ll get better resources and education than what’s available in their villages. The problem of false orphanages has grown so out of control that the U.S. and other countries banned international adoptions from Nepal in 2010. There were simply too many “orphans” with parents.

C4C supports an orphanage, too. Not all the kids are orphans in the western sense, Fallesen explained, but they come from families that don’t have the ability to properly care for them. How do these families feel about their kids getting baptized? “Some are happy, some are not. Some now want to take them out from the home,” said Rokka, whose ministry runs the orphanage. But the parents don’t typically act on their concerns, he added. “They have no way to help them. Anyway [the children] are getting help here, so [the parents] think, OK, let it be.”

Rokka came to the faith as a child after his mother died. He says some people convinced his father to send him and his brother to an orphanage run by an Indian missionary. Rokka estimates that 90 percent of the children he grew up with have since started their own ministries.

Sitting outside their Dapcha house, an elderly couple expresses disdain for the churches popping up around them. “We don’t go there,” the woman says, waving her hand dismissively and mimicking someone in Christian prayer. She then pretends to handle Buddhist prayer beads. “We say ‘om mani padme om,'” she says, using the Buddhist mantra to declare her faith.

To Christian relief workers like Fallesen, the importance of bringing Nepalis to Christianity outweighs the concerns expressed by nonbelievers. “If I have a choice between possibly offending you or saying OK, whatever you believe is fine, but I believe in my heart if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re going to go to hell, well, then I’m going to take the risk of offending you,” he says.

So C4C has its sights on more remote areas of Nepal. Land was just purchased for its newest church in the hard-to-reach far west district of Humla, where Fallesen says the Nepali population of seven Christian men has grown to 150 men and women. The church will be strategically placed at the point where Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims begin the trek to Mount Kailash, a holy site for both religions. – NPR, 3 February 2016

» Danielle Preiss is an American radio and print journalist in Kathmandu.

 


 

Arunachal Pradesh: Aggressive proselytisation is killing indigenous faiths – Aravindan Neelakandan

Christians in Arunachal Pradesh

Aravindan NeelakandanConversions in Arunachal Pradesh are not mere problems of religion but of utmost strategic importance given the presence of Christian terrorist organisations in the region. … Losing ‘souls’ to aggressive religious bodies is a dangerous threat to the vibrancy and survivability of India’s mutli-religious fabric. – Aravindan Neelakandan

In August 2017 the Pema Khandu led BJP government in Arunachal Pradesh approved the establishment of the “Department of Indigenous Faith & Cultural Affairs” at a meeting chaired by the Chief Minister.

The Chief Minister had stated that the indigenous communities of Arunachal Pradesh need to take “specific steps to preserve and protect them from disappearing into oblivion”.

According to news reports Christian lobbying organisations quickly began opposing the government move. They alleged that “through its move to create a department to protect the indigenous faiths, the state government was taking aim at the Church.”

The secretary of the Arunachal Christian Forum (ACF) was quoted as saying that the government’s aim was “to target the Church by putting pressure on it, but the government should not interfere in religious matters and treat all religious groups equally”.

Demographic data—as pointed out by many—has been largely pointing to an increasing number of conversions in the state.

In 2001 Christians formed 18.7 per cent of the population in Arunachal Pradesh. A decade later, in 2011 this number has been reported as 30 per cent, officially. The actual number is likely to be much higher.

The increase in Christian population is also accompanied by the diminishing of local spiritual traditions like Donyi-Polo, Rangfraa and Buddhist tribal groups. The Christian claim is that the teachings of Jesus Christ attract the tribals who face a lot of problems. Christianity is said to have “reformed” the tribes.

A look into the incidents of past one decade shows another picture which is not just different but much scarier than the benign picture provided by lobbyist groups.

In August 2004, months after the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had come to power at the centre, four tribal villages in Tirap—Changlang district in Arunachal Pradesh had some visitors. The visitors carried assault automatic weapons and told the villagers that they should either convert to Christianity or face execution. The visitors were secessionists belonging to the two rival factions of NSCN—appropriately named National Socialist Council of Nagaland, a terror group fighting for a Christian socialist theocracy. The villagers had to flee fearing torture and death. They belonged to the indigenous religious streams of Arunachal and a syncretic tradition of Buddhism. (The Assam Tribune, 23 August, 2004)

Such gun-point conversions were condemned by the joint Buddhist session of the Purvanchal Buddhist Bhikkhu Sangha and Purvanchal Buddhist Association of both the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. They strongly condemned “the heinous atrocities committed by the militants on the peace-loving Buddhists and tribes” and issued a press release saying that aggressive proselytism in Arunachal Pradesh was a violation of human rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

What followed was a deafening silence from both the mainstream media and the government. Throughout the UPA government’s decade-long stint, aggressive proselytising continued in Arunachal Pradesh, so much so that in 2010 when Tikhak Buddhists of Changlang district in the state celebrated Buddha Purnima, security forces had to provide them protection. The NSCN had issued a threat to Buddhist villagers to convert to Christianity. They were also warned not to celebrate Buddhist functions and if they did, they would face dire consequences.

An agonised Venerable Aggadhamma, the highest Buddhist leader of the province, told reporters that the NSCN terrorists were setting seven day deadlines for villagers to convert to Christianity. Ven Aggadhamma even sent a memorandum to then prime minister Manmohan Singh, the Union Home Ministry, the President as well as the Minority Commission (The Indian Express, 28 May, 2010).

It is a telling comment on the nature of mainstream media that nothing except minimal reportage happened. No outrages, no op-eds and no cartoons were published against such aggressive attempts to convert people of indigenous faith. That the hyper-proselytisation drive in Arunachal Pradesh correlates with the UPA regime period may not be accidental at all. The rate of conversions has been high despite there being legal restrictions against aggressive conversions in the state.

The current Khandu government, meanwhile, has been made to bow to the pressures of international lobbying groups and bodies such as the ACF. It is apparently toying with the idea of using a different name for the body being set up for protesting indigenous culture and faiths.

That a strategically important border state of India has to go through such issues is a cause of deep worry. Conversions in this state are not mere problems of religion but of utmost strategic importance given the presence of Christian terrorist organisations in the region.

When we lose territory there is a possibility that we can regain it. But losing ‘souls’ to aggressive religious bodies is a far more dangerous threat to the vibrancy and survivability of India’s multicultural, mutli-religious fabric. – Swarajya, 27 October 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.

St Joseph's Cathedral, Itanagar, Arunachal PradeshCatholic priest Itanagar Arunachal PradeshTribal Christian converts in Arunachal Pradesh

See also