“What was the book that won Pearl S.Buck a Nobel Prize?”, he asked a group of fellow students chatting away outside the lecture hall..
“Good Earth”, said some.
“No,” said Babu Paul, a stickler for details. “The Good Earth. And her other works.”
All of us in the Pre-university class in Union Christian College, Alwaye knew Babu Paul as a brilliant, ambitious student. His first name, Daniel, was rarely known. Sociable despite his high academic standard, full of humour and friendliness, and very, very popular with girls – his logic was flawless, his arguments arresting. It was also very clear that among us many agnostics or indifferent practioners of our respective religions – Madhavan, Ibrahim, Wilson and Thamban Thomas whose names I recall –
that Babu Paul was different . He was a very faithful Christian.
That was 54 years ago. Today, when I watched Daniel Babu Paul being interviewed by TN Gopakumar, another Malayali man of fame, on Asianet television, I recollected the earlier Babu Paul I knew – younger, slimmer, but sporting the same Mohanlal-kind of smile. It wasn’t the first time that I had learnt that Babu Paul had gone on to win many laurels and the rank of Chief Secretary to the Government of Kerala, or that he was a vice chancellor to the prestigious Kerala University and had a Doctorate as prelude to his name .
Looking him up in the Wikipedia,. I learnt that during the past half-a-century and more, he had been a district collector, an examiner and guide for PHD aspirants, the only layman to win the highest award instituted by his sect of Christianity. I found a whole paragraph on the offices he held, another on the awards and laurels he had won. They included some outstanding ones that came his way – a national award in the name of Rajiv Gandhi, an international award for his dictionary on Biblical phrases, and, incredibly, one from the Nair Society of the Guruvayoor temple. Universities and communities give away awards to famous men, thereby awarding themselves. By that reckoning, VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad – World Hindu Conference) missed an opportunity. O. Rajgopal, the rather solitary BJP stalwart from Kerala was a good friend of Paul.
Jokes aside (I mean that one on VHP award), I am very proud that I knew Babu Paul for a whole year in college. He was undoubtedly one of the – perhaps the – most thinking, knowledgeable student in college – always logical, never argumentative.
What got me to writing this blog was : Babu Paul and Gopakumar (not a religious man, if you go by his comments on television) got in to a brief discussion on Paul’s Christian values. I wake up early morning and switch on the television to find a smug scroundrel in saffron robes misinterpreting some ancient Hindu scripture to a gullible audience of women. I switch to another channel, there is a man in ill-fitting suit reading from the Bible and frightening his audience in badly spoken English, and another man translating it into even more poorly spoken vernacular. In the street where I live, there are half a dozen Hindu madrasas that call themselves international schools and teach their children – regardless of their religion – Gayatri Mantra and “Hindu values”. On anniversary days, some of them present a tableau of “Bharat Mata” as a Hindu Goddess not caring that idol worship might be anathema to some among the audience of parents. Then I watch the BBC to see the effects of bombs that blew up nursery schools, hospitals and hotels in the cause of Islamic values. Not to miss the Christian-value drones that rain down ‘collateral damages’ on children, women, nursery schools and hospitals while looking to get at a couple of upholders of Islamic values.
I mean no disrespect to Babu Paul, who I believe is a regular church goer and a genteel minister of his church. It’s just that that particular interview inspired a chain of thoughts that have been welling in me for some time.
Talk of religious values gets my goat. In the late eighties, Ramanand Sagar aired on television a money spinner named “Ramayan”. This plastic-and-polyester show was followed by sequels such as ‘Luv Kush’. People with the caste name of Valmiki (original author of the story) went on rampage when the series discontinued without the part where Ram, the honourable one, discarded hispregnant wife Sita for a stupid reason. So the series continued. Arun Govil the Ram (a neighbour in early nineties with whom I used to spend occasional evenings over pegs of whisky) was worshipped on Ramlila stages, and awarded for his acting skills in other stages. Indira Gandhi announced : “ “Ramayan has stirred the imaginations of millions of viewers. It has imbibed the great Indian culture, tradition and normal values especially in the young.” It did. The young in Ram’s supposed birth place imbibed the religious value so much that they destroyed a four-century old mosque while their national leaders looked on with glee and relish. That single event of religious value set off a raging fire of religious murders and mayhem, destroying thousands of lives and billions worth properties. The inspired ones in Orissa or, for that matter, in Karnataka, burnt plaes of worship, raped women and burnt Graham Staines and his sons while sleeping inside their vehicle. The embers of the religious-value fire continue to crackle till today in secular India. In the meanwhile, a clash of Christian and Islamic values are scoring centuries of death in other parts of the world every day in the new millineum.
Asianet and its competing Malayalam channels are on a money-spinning spree of supposedly value-enhancing Hindu stories with an occasional dash of a series on a Christian priest or a Muslim legend. Every interviewer starts with a few points that go to the credit of his subject. Gopakumar obviously felt that a mention of Christian values would fit in very well as an introduction, because of Paul’s well-read books on his religion, and his highly acclaimed Dictionary of Biblical phrases.
I beg to differ. Paul being an honest, upright administrator in an enormously corrupt bureaucratic machinery of Kerala might cherish the so-called Christian values, but his outstanding record has nothing to do with them. I believe that he would not have been different if he was born a Muslim and had written a dictionary on Quranic phrases. This blog was inspired by that interview and takes a critical look at some aspect of Christian and Biblical values – theoretical and empirical. I will have to come to Hindu values or Muslim values and many other cult values in later blogs. “If you get wet, take a dip” is an old Malayalam saying. I plan to do that.
In Kerala, there is at least half a dozen (more probably a whole dozen) sects of Christianity – many of them derived from the ancient Jewish-Christian faith called Syrian Christians. Others – a majority among the broad band termed Christianity – are Catholics. In the Union Christian College, where Babu Paul and I spent our first year in college, run by the Protestant version of the religion and staffed mostly be protestant priests and their wives, it was easier for a gentile Hindu like me to get admission than it was for a Catholic boy with the same percentage of marks in his high school certifiate. Christian value?
In the last and previous centuries, hordes of low-caste Hindus (now termed Dalits), disgusted with the humiliation and discrimination meted out to them by the so-called caste Hindus, converted to Christianity of various hues. They lost the reservation rights by conversion, but not their status of low castes. They continued to get lowly menial jobs while higher-caste Christians became administrators, businessmen, jewellers and teachers. Many Syrian Christians called their houses ‘mana’ (name reserved for Brahmin households) because, it was claimed, they were converted from Namboodiri (Vedic Brahmin) men directly by St. Thomas. In Goa, where the Catholics have no such mythical claims differentiate themselves as Brahmin Christians and non-Brahmin Christians. An inter marriage between the two is almost unthinkable. Christian values?
Portuguese priests that came to India in early sixteenth century tried everything they could to destroy the ancient culture of the native (‘Suriani’) Christians’, their rituals and treasured records. These were the followers of Christ who lived in the West Coast since the first century AD and prayed in a language that was closest to what Jesus spoke. The Portugese tried to wipe out and partially succeeded in destroying that Christian civilization that thrived under tolerant and condescending Hindu kings for a millineum and a half. It is said that an order that came from Portugal to their soldiers and priests in Kerala was – spare the pagans (meaning Hindus), but kill the Syrian Christians. Christian values?
Twenty three years ago, a young nun, Abhaya, was raped, murdered and thrown into a well. Those involved – allegedly a priest and two nuns – bribed the police and forensic experts, destroyed evidence and had the case declared as a suicide. Priests, Maulavis and Communist party secretaries can frighten the hell out of Kerala police and make them sign on dotted lines. Sixteen years later when the case was dug up again by the efforts of other suffering nuns, the conspirators tried again to suppress facts and even managed to make CBI file an application to close the case. A consciencious judge refused to relent. The horrible crime is being tossed around in courts till today. The Church tries everything in its power to block a thorough investigation. Christian value?
Christ had said : “don’t fight your tormentors, yield to them. You will be rewarded in Heaven”. That was a Christian value practised by a Car Nicobari cook I met in the Air Force Staging Post in that island. The powerfully built tribal refused to resist a puny corporal who slapped him for dropping a ladle. “Slap him back,” I cried. “No” stuttered the islander. “My God Jesus said to turn the other cheek”. Every native of Car Nicobar I met was just as powerfully built, and just as meek in their faith in Jesus. By definition, they should inherit the earth. Nearly half a century later the island was virtually washed away in the Indonesian tsunami that devoured some parts of our own coast. Did Williamson (nearly all Car Nicobaries were protestant Christians following the English church, and had names like Jefferson, Lincoln and Churchill) get his promised reward in Heaven, I do not know.
I do know that Sister Jesme, a pious Christian nun, did not pay heed to that particular value propounded by her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. A plain-speaking principal of a Christian College, she tried to set right things in her college and the convent where she lived. And to resist her tormentors. The church – right from the highest in the pecking order to the lowest parish priest and the mother and sisters in the Convent – had her declared insane and removed from the post of Principal. They failed to destroy her spirit. Sister Jesme wrote a frank and immensely readable book – Amen, Autobiography of a Nun. The book describes her humiliating experiences as a bride of Jesus Christ. If they cared to read it, the church would have had an opportunity to look into the rot setting in the system. Instead, attempt was made to burn all the copies of the book. Christian values?
Sister Jesme will find good company when she goes to her Maker – may she thrive in this world for a long time before that happens. Professor M .P. Paul, father of literary criticism in Malayalam, promoter of many a good writer, educationist of great fame (he started the parallel college culture in Kerala; M.P. Paul Tutorial College was acclaimed to be the best educational institution of the time), composer of devotional hymns that are still sung in churches, was denied a religious funeral in church premises when he died. They delegated him to what is called a rogue pit. His brother, a priest, was banned from seeing his body. Professor Joseph Mundassery, the first education minister of Kerala, former vice chancellor, renowned critic and thinker, faced almost the same fate. The Christian clergy fought tooth and nail Mundassery’s attempt at educational reforms, and the fight ended by setting a precedent whereby the central government dissolved a duly elected state government long before its term ended. A century earlier, in 1842, when a Scottish watchmaker named David Hare, who had dedicated his life for educating the poor and illiterate in Bengal died, his church refused to give him a place in their cemetery. Thousands of grateful Bengalis attended Hare’s funeral, but not a single Christian priest.
Babu Paul himself appears to have suffered at the hands of the same Chrisitan values. In an interview he said: “A prominent section of the Church that I served selflessly with my energy, money and time denied me to the Government and tried to tarnish my name. While I did not mix my administrative duties with my service to the Church, the Church (a prominent section of it) did just that.” A leader of his church took pains to convince the then Chief Minister- VS Achuthanandan – that Paul was a thief! Babu Paul failed to recognize that his own high values could never reconcile with the religious values of his own church. I assure him that he would have suffered the same fate even if he were a devout Hindu or Muslim.
Christians of Travancore, like the Muslims of Malabar, are a powerful political force in Kerala. (Travancore Christians, incidentally, were among the leading freedom fighters against the British while Brahmins preferred British rule till freedom actually came). If I recall right, Babu Paul and Thamban Thomas (who became a promising politician and a MP, but faded away along with his Janta Party) used to wear khadi in college. Over the years, the values had a paradigm shift. Many Christian-dominated “Kerala Congress” parties sprung up to fight for spoils of power. Staying stuck in the mainstream party might deny you a ministerial chair, but if you are an “ally” with the option to support or oppose cabinet formation, you are assured of a powerful ministry. With that principle, some in the Kerala Congress are with the communists, others with the Congress, both ever ready to switch places. They remind you of Ruth, who changed allegiance from Moabites to Israelis according to convenience. The leader of one of the Kerala Congress parties was arrested for probing the neck of a woman passenger who had a seat ahead of him in a domestic flight. He lost his ministry in the Communist-dominated government and barely managed to escape imprisonment. When the government changed, his allegiance changed too under the pretext of a merger. Christian values?
Christians of various denominations in Kerala are constantly at loggerheads in their churches for right to pray or for right over the church land. Riots and fisticuffs in the church premises are commonplace. They all pray to the same God (or Son of God, if you will). Then why this altercation that leads to public mudslinging among bishops, cardinals, priests and laymen? Christian values.
This blog would not have happened if it weren’t for those who placed the Holy Book in my hotel room. You get one free in virtually every hotel room in India. I found one even in a hotel in Islamic Dubai. Some courage. This unsolicited free service is ertainly a Christian virtue. (I got a Quran in a Malaysian hotel, but that should wait for another blog). How many million dollars are spent a year by spreading the God’s word through hotel rooms, I do not know. But I have never met a man or woman who checked into a hotel as a pagan and checked out as Christian. It had just the opposite effect on me who reads everything that comes my way. Bible tells you that Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God – a story we all know. The Couple got two sons – Cain and Abel. Cain farmed while Abel ran a ranch of cattle. Instinctively both knew that to curry favour with God, they had to bribe Him. If Cain had read Bible, he would have known that ‘burnt offering’ was a sweet aroma to God. Sadly, God had not dictated Bible yet. So Cain offered fruits to God while Abel offered what he cultivated – farm-fresh meat. God made it clear that he was pleased with Abel and displeased with Cain’s vegetarianism. Cain, angry at the divine slighting, killed Abel. He later went on to raise a family. Eve, the only woman present till then, had not delivered a girl child yet, but it would be against Christian values if you ask whose womb Cain’s wife came from.
God created day and night three days before he made the sun and the moon. Morning and evening were created a day earlier than the sun. “Come on”, you tell me. “That’s in the Old Testament. Christianity is all about the New Testament and Jesus Christ”. Wrong. Evangelists quote more from the Old Bible than the new one. A few years ago, I put my grandson in Grace International School in a foreign country. The famed school was run by a British missionary sect. At admission the suave and imposing English principal warned me that they taught Christian values in the school. I must grant that the principal was far more candid that the prinipals of our own International schools. I said values are fine with my family, we respect and honour values. Stupid me.
Towards the end of his term in class 2, my six-year-old had been assigned to write a project on any animal of his choice. He chose dinosaur. I downloaded and printed a picture of one for him. He wrote a short description about dinosaurs’ origin in his childish scribble and proudly carried it to school.
That afternoon the child came home, nearly in tears, accusing me of putting him to shame due to my ignorance. “Teacher said this dinosaur, evolution and all such talk are nonsense. How we got made by God is all in the Bible, he said. He returned my project.” Since to a child teacher is always right, I got his mother to agree to withdraw the child from that Christian-value school.In the St. Alocious School where I did my primary schooling for a brief period, poor children were made to sit on the floor. A nun took special pleasure in twisting their ears with sand between her fingers. Better-off children were treated far more tenderly.
You think blind faith in the naïve and grossly illogical Biblical Chapter Genesis is no longer accepted at face value by Christian churches or that the particular prinipal I mention was just one odd protestant fundamentalist, you could be very, very wrong. Galileo Galili’s life story hardly needs to be retold. He was accused of blasphemy for suggesting that sun, not earth, was at the centre of the universe and that earth revolved around the sun. Even after apologising for his “mistake”, Galileo lived under house arrest till death. Through the past four centuries, the Vatican made varying noises about Galileo’s theory even after a pair of practising Christians landed on the moon and returned to earth. As recently as 1990, twenty one years after the first moon landing, Cardinal Ratzinger affirmed the views of Christian philosopher Paul Feyerabend by ostensibly quoting him: “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consi-deration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune.” Cardinal Ratzinger is the current Pope Benedict XVI. He believed, 11 years ago, that a revision of the ban and condemnation of Galileo for his theories can only be on the grounds of “what is politically opportune”! Pope John Paul did, two years after his Cardinal’s wise statement, reverse that opinion of the Church. Nonetheless, Genesis is not rescinded. Pope Paul called Stephen Hawking and his fellow-scientists to an audience. He said that their theory of the Big Bang was all very well, but they shouldn’t enquire into what was before the Big Bang. That lay in the realm of God, he said. By the way, if you haven’t heard about a namesake predecessor of the current Pope Benedict XVI , you could search the web for Pope Benedict VIII and IX, or search an earlier blog of mine. The result could be startling.
If you are a Catholic and dare to say that day and night, morning and evening, are results of the sun and that they could not precede the birth of the sun, you could theoretically be punished for blasphemy.
If you are a doctor and help a woman to have painless delivery, you work against Christian values. God had ordained that woman should suffer in child birth. He also said that man shall rule over woman. If you are not a MCP, you lack Christian values.
New laws against corporal punishment go against Christian values. The God-inspired Proverbs chapter in Holy Bible tells you that you should not spare the rod and spoil the child.
If you marry a deserted woman – whether divorced or simply cast away, you commit adultery, a great sin worthy of being stoned to death. That’s merciful God’s law, as stated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. (I must admit He didn’t mention the stoning part at that time).
Gandhi suggested premature withdrawal as a safe and humane means of family planning. If you are a Christian, dropping your essence on the floor will take you straight to hell fire.
Sodomy is not a Church-sanctioned value. City of Sodom (and Gomorrah, for being located close to it) were pilloried and then burnt and showed up as an example for the severity of God’s punishment for attempting it on Lot’s visitors. In late sixties, I knew a Malayali Christian widow and her son who were excommunicated and rendered penniless because their teen-aged son, a menial employee in the Church, let it out that a priest had sodomised him. After denying such incidents across the ‘developed’ world, Vatican has come around to apologize to millions of boys and girls across nations for sodomy committed by priests, the very exponents of Christian values. Those boys and girls are now grown men and women. Some of them carry the wounds in their hearts, others in their behinds.
Christian friends from Australia and the US send me chain-mail jokes about the Sharia law. They wrong the Bible. Every God-ordained punishment – decapitation (and proud display of the severed head – an art perfected by David), stoning adulterators to death , cutting off of limbs – is advocated and described in their gory details by the Bible. For genuine gems of God’s law, spend an evening reading Leviticus. Actually Mohammed softened some of the goriness in the Biblical penal code in his Hadith and Quranic verses. If Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, sent Jesus to the cross and not to be stoned to death, He had Roman laws, not His Father’s laws, to thank. I am presuming that crucifixion must be slightly less painful than stoning.
God, says the Bible, is a Man of War, full of vengeance, cruelty and jealousy (‘I’m a jealous God’).The Psalms tell you: “”The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance. He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” This principle was reiterated when He instructed his devotees : “, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and woman”. All but Saul obeyed this command (“they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.” ) and were rewarded (Ezekiel, Joshua) but Saul who failed to carry out the utter destruction command was dethroned in principle. (it’s another matter that Saul, like some of our chief ministers, chief justices and CVCs refused to oblige). God’s new favourite, David, had to wait till Saul died to get at the throne.
If you are a Syrian Christian, you would not marry a relation less than five generations removed. But your most revered grandfather, Abraham, married his sister (from the same father). One couldn’t say that it was because there was a shortage of women a-la Haryana. Female foeticide is no longer a value advocated by the Judo-Christian God. That claim now rests on Hindus, Sikhs, Indian Muslims and Chinese communists. In the sixteenth century, King Henry VIII, at whose behest the English Church broke off from the Pope and catholic monopoly of Christ, when the queen bore a girl instead of a male heir, the baby was spared, but the queen was beheaded. The Bible gave them other alternatives to do away with womenfolk : “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live”. When a storm blew, or plague spread, you catch a couple of old women, proclaim that the catastrophe was brought about their witchcraft, and burn them on stakes. (Modern Hindu husbands and moms-in-laws are more civilised; they don’t use the stakes. They just burn the brides).
Long before Abraham came on the scene, Bible tells us that “men began to multiply and daughters were born to them”. At your wedding the priest might tell you that you should protect and feed your wife before you eat till death does you part. Bible tells us that Abraham had no qualms in asking his wife to say that she was his sister. “You are of beautiful countenance and for taking you they would kill me,” he reasoned. He had no faith in his God protecting him. What would happen to the wife when they took her didn’t matter. The royal flunkies who saw Abraham’s wife recommended her to the pharaoh, who readily took her, rewarding Abraham with money, servants and Cattle. It is not clear whether the ignorant Pharaoh had his fun, but he was punished thoroughly by God. Abraham, as always, was rewarded. I once knew a man (not a Christian) in the South who offered his wife to the local pharaohs for terms cash. Unlike Abraham, he was a little ashamed of himself and rarely showed his face in public. Abraham, like the Hindu god Ram by Hindus, is revered by Christians as the ideal man who should be emulated. In the same part of the town I met Anthony, who took his school-going daughter’s name for ten rupees. Those days that was a lot of money. For Anthony, indeed, his action had an element of Christian value – “I will repent just before my death, and I will be cleared of all my sins,” he told me. Anthony and his values figure in an earlier blog.
God, forever on the lookout for non-Jews to destroy, sent a couple of angels to Lot’s house. A nephew of Abraham and ever a good (you will see how good) host, Lot asked them in, gave them food and a place to sleep. Citizens of the city (Sodom) – young and old – knocked at his door. “Send your guests out,” they demanded.. “We want to do to them what you do to women.”Lot had his wife, his two daughters and their husbands in the house. But, like Yudhishtir of Hindu Mahabharat who staked his wife in a gamble, he offered his daughters in place of the guests. He lied that his daughters were virgins though his sons-in-law were living with them. Sodomites, torchbearers for several Catholic priests of US, Germany, UK and Australia (and at least one in India that I knew) were not interested in women. The angels managed to save the situation. Lot and his daughters were saved in the God-sent calamity that visited Sodom (and another city named Gomorrah for only God knows what reason), but his suffering sons-in-law perished with the rest of the town; his poor wife turned into rock salt.
Lot’s misery didn’t end there. His guiding angels sent him to a mountain, far away from civilization. His daughters got worried that their generation would end there. So the elder one, and then the second one, respectively fed wine to their father and ‘lay with him’ night after night. Drunk as he was, Lot did not fail to ‘go in’ to his daughters who bore him a son each.
Joseph Fritzl of Austria held his daughter in a dungeon, repeatedly raped her and had children from her. “It’s a shame,” said a friend, “that he bears the name of Jospeh, who did not touch his wife till she delivered her son.” Fritzl, at least, did not offer the excuse that he was drunk or that it was his fourteen-year old daughter who started it all. Lot, a favourite of God and always guided by his angels is not known to have felt ashamed the nights after or when the girls’ bellies bloated or when his sons-cum-grandsons were born. Bible puts the blame on the offspring of the incest – so they were separated from the Jewish race. Nevertheless, from this Fritzl-like relationship, Ruth descended from the elder daughter’s son Moab after several generations; David from Ruth and Jesus from David.
God of the Bible – whether old or new – was a blatant racist. Non-Jews, including the kind pharaoh who gave refuge to them, were punished ruthlessly. Reverend James, A genial American preacher whom I met in Bangladesh told me that God’s favouritism towards people of Israel was symbolic – People of Israel in the Olde Testament simply meant righteous people who believed in Him. That argument is not borne out by the historical and geographical references in the Bible. Jews, whenever and wherever they won a battle, were ordered by God to destroy the losers completely – young and old, women and the new-born, cattle and camels. Often he destroyed cities (Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre – you name it) with fire. His favourite punishment was the pain of scorpion bite, delivered till eternity. Once He destroyed the entire human population – Jews and Gentiles – except Noah and his wife and their favourite offspring and samples from the animal kingdom. You wonder where non-Israelis came from after the flood receded. I suppose Canaanites, Samaritans, Egyptians, Punjabis, Malayalis (though the last two and many others do not find mention in the Holy Book) sprung up from the ground the same way as Cain’s wife did. The crusades, goaded and perpetuated by Christian priests and Jesuits (particularly the Pope, but Protestants were not far behind) that wiped out civilizations, practised slavery and ill treatment of blacks in the American continent, caused destruction of entire human races in the Americas and Australia. (Slavery of men and women is sanctioned by the Bible, so no sweat). Apartheid in South Africa, principles of Ku Klux Klan, Irish-English fratricide through a whole century or more, shameful Opium wars, white domination and cruelty towards brown and ‘yellow’ Asians, more recent beating up and killing of Indians in Australia, can all be traced to Biblical God’s virtue of racism. The Book of Mormons, aka Latter Day Saints, tell you that there is a reason why good men are white and villains and slaves are black (as you can see in any Hindi or even Tamil or Malayalam movies) : they bear a curse of God. Mormons are a breakaway sect of Christianity and have churches and congregations in India. On 27th March 1996, the Church of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, US, ‘baptized’ Mahatma Gandhi forty eight years after he died!.
Jesus outdid his Holy Father in racism. Probably then, unlike now, it was a virtue. Don’t ask if God’s virtues are time-bound. Jesus, out on a spree of healing Jews (but not Pharisees, who were a different sect like Protestants are different from Catholics and Shiivaites are different from Vaiishnavites) was approached by a Canaanite woman for healing her demon-possessed young daughter. Jesus ignored her till his more sensitive disciples pleaded on her behalf. “It is not right to take the bread meant for your children and throw it to dogs,” Christ reasoned. It would seem Christ had a limited supply of healing touch, which could not be wasted. He did heal the child in the end, a grudging exception from the job assigned to him by his Holy Father. Jesus believed that he was the saviour of the people of Israel and their king as prophesied in the Old Testament. Never in his lifetime did say he had any other tribe in the world to save. Simon the Canaanite (and Thaddaeus, presumably a Greek if you go by his surname) were exception to the rule. Just as you’d find a couple of whites among the disciples of Hindu Babas. After empowering his twelve disciples to cast off sickness and heal every kind of diseases, Jesus sent them out to preach the new Gospel. “Do not go into the way of Gentiles, nor the city of Samaritans,” he admonished them. “Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
It is possible that the early Syrian Christians of Kerala were spared of Christ’s racism because they were sons of Jews saved and baptised (Mamoodisa-dipped) into Christianity by a Jewish-born Apostle. Alternatively they were Brahmins, the best second choice available in Kerala coast at that time.
Jesus was as vengeful as his Holy Father. He cursed an old tree that had no fruits to give him when he felt hungry. It was not the season of figs, explains Mark. Nonetheless, they found the tree dead and dried up next morning. He could work miracle and feed hundreds if he had a few loaves, and make water in to wine, but couldn’t create food out of nothing. Like most Gurus of today, he cursed and riled at his trusting disciples for their inability to work miracles and to faith-heal the sick like he could. He cursed the cities that did not receive his disciples and promised them an end worse than what befell Sodom and Gomorrah. Vipers was his favourite abuse for those who expressed doubt – not just in words, but also in their thoughts. They were also promised hell fire. The Apostles, not quite trusting their master’s miracle power to create food, stole grains from farmers’ fields. Jesus thought that was a virtue. (Like Krishna stealing butter from the neighbours and molesting their daughters are sung as virtues). Pharisees accused Jesus of gluttony and excessive wine-drinking. Bible justifies the trait and finds fault with the Pharisees. Jesus ruled that there was no need to wash hands before eating bread. Just so the onlookers would be ‘astonished’ at his ability to fulfill a prophesy, Jesus rode astride an ass and its colt at the same time. Of all the feats that He performed, this must have been the hardest. Can you imagine riding into a town with one buttock at three feet height and the other at two feet?
If you are a non-Christian or even a Christian not very familiar with the Holy Book, you are likely to form the image of Jesus Christ as a calm, peaceful man who restricted his speech to sermons and sweet parables that taught you good things. Epic films like Ben Hur and The Bible fortify that impression. That he had come to save all men and women from sin. You are mistaken. Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Ye may not suppose that I came to put peace on the earth; I did not come to put peace, but a sword; for I came to set a man at variance against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and the enemies of a man are those of his household.”
Eventually, this was a prophesy that came true for Jews, the race that Jesus came to save and rule. They split into several sects, scattered to Europe where they were tormented, humiliated and laughed at by others, eventually ending up in the great holocaust. Those who went to Biblically unknown India fared better. (I remember Mr. Mayer, always with a skullcap, our fifth grade English teacher, who told us the story of Merchant of Venice saying that Shylock was a cruel miser, but not mentioning that he was a Jew).
Someone might argue that Christ’s saying that he did not come to put peace on earth, but to set brother against brother has a symbolic meaning. Just like a Pundit would explain that the images of gods and goddesses screwing on temple walls have symbolic spiritual meaning. The fact is, Jesus succeeded in his stated purpose of life. Man has never known peace since the day of resurrection. There are many Christian churches in the West named ‘Man of War’. Perhaps they breed Ku Klux Klan.
“If you are not with me, you are against me”. The haughty and insolent phrase, which gives no room for mediators and which renders the much propounded concept of secularism anti-Christian was first pronounced not by George W Bush nor Hillary Clinton, but by Jesus himself. Benito Mussolini found great virtue in those holy words in perpetuating fascism. Hitler interpreted those famous words thus: German nationalism is my guiding principle, Mein Kampf. Jews are a nation-less people –so they are against me. That was his reason for the extermination of a million or more Jews and persecution of any that lived. The sacred words of their King and Saviour of Jews came to haunt Jews even 1,940 years after he was crucified. Some saviour.
I had a somewhat eccentric uncle. Like Apostle Matthew, he was a private tax collector and a professional witness for local landlords. Though not a Christian, he believed in the Biblical proverb that one should never spare the rod on one’s children. He used the rod profusely on them. One day Uncle had to go to the district court to give evidence in a criminal case. He calculated that his examination-in-chief and cross-examination in the court might go on for two or three days; he would take a day by bullock cart traveling to the court and back. His four children would miss the rod and commit mischief all those days of his absence. So he called them, lined them up against the wall and thrashed them thoroughly. “This is advance payment for your for your mischief for the next four days,” he told them – or words to that effect. I do not wish to recall what happened to those cousins when they grew up.
God, being God, did several degrees better. He planned advance punishment for all human sins by the suffering of his own son. He produced a son out of an unsuspecting, innocent virgin just for the purpose of sacrificing him. He made the rules, but the rules said someone – not necessarily the sinner – had to suffer for sins committed by men. Then he hid the young boy from the eyes of the world and, for a couple of years, let him go around preaching His gospel and healing the sick to carry conviction. When the son came to know what was coming, he cried passionately that he be spared, but God had made up his mind. God’s own favourite tribe, nearly all of them, bore witness against their healer-preacher. A reluctant Governor – you are reminded of a reluctant president before Indira Gandhi declared emergency – sent the dear Son to the gallows. “Father, father, why have you forsaken me?” he cried in agonizing pain. God didn’t hear nor care. Like my uncle, he was pleased that future sins of the world were totally paid for.
This theory, widely proclaimed by all Christian preachers, differs from the Saviour-King prophesy of the Old Testament. He was not the Emmanuel predicted, after all. New Testament never uses that name. Matthew wasted his time and effort describing how Jesus carried out all that was prophesied.
You have heard that Christ’s last words were “ “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Matthew, Mark or John never heard those historically significant words at all. Luke heard it, not on the cross, but when he was being readied for the cross. Forgiveness for those who bayed for His blood should have been a foregone conclusion. They were, albeit unwittingly, doing a pre-ordained job. God wanted his Son to suffer on the cross on behalf of all the sinners that were to come. The sinners are to be saved if they recognized that Jesus was made to die for their sake. How could that be achieved if the blood-thirsty mob of Jews had not obliged? If you ordered the execution, why would you punish the executioner?
“It’s finished,” Christ cried before he breathed his last at the cross. It didn’t. He resurrected and continues as a Living God. To this day, every church named after him keeps distributing his symbolic flesh and blood so that the recipients’ sins might be washed away. In many churches and Christian processions, Mother Mary is said to sheds tears on the anniversary of crucifixion. Apart from the ritual of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, they keep enacting his suffering year after year.
If you believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he died on the cross for your sins, you can go ahead and bomb distant countries, set fire to a whole nation with your napalm bombs, dismiss the death of men, women, children , new-borns and animals (a sweet aroma to God) as corollary damage. Your sins are already forgiven by your faith in the man who was prophesied to be a king and savior of Jews – even the uncircumcised gentile-born as long as they believed. Including the uncircumcised was a correction that came later. That concession, however, has not convinced the Messianic Jews nor many in the Philippines. A newly discovered “Gospel of Thomas” depicts a Jesus with an entirely different view on Judaism as a whole and circumcision in particular. You have many Christian values to choose from!
Although I did not cultivate anything but a passing acquaintance of Babu Paul while in U.C. College, I do believe that he held very high personal values through his career and beyond. “I wish that I will be remembered as a son who did not let down his father’s values,” he said in another interview. He did not mention Christian values; Gopakumar please note. His church (a ‘significant section of it and their leader, as per Paul) persuaded the Chief minister to believe that Babu Paul was a thief. That failed to tarnish his name or fame. Someone else from his own tribe got his name removed from the merit list for Governorship. Paul says he has no regrets.
Values come from sources other than religion. T.K. Wilson (Hindu,despite his name) was a closer friend from college who had become a district
judge. When I met him four decades later he told me that with a judge’s pay he could not have put his two children to college without the help of his wife’s salary as a bank employee. That’s a value one could cherish. Incidentally, when I last met him, Wilson was heading an enquiry into the corruption scandal involving a Christian priest. I am proud of the values of AK Anthony (no class mate), our current defence minister for the sole reason of his integrity. A member of the Congress party and then an aspiring minister, Anthony refused to meet Indira Gandhi after she declared emergency. Anthony, like M.P. Paul several decades before him, may not get a grave in a church when he passes on, because he is a self-proclaimed atheist. Looking up into the higher strata, I can think of Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Bertrand Russell, Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Jawaharlal Nehru, C.V Ramman, to name quite a few men of real values uncontaminated by religion. I do not value the values, if any, of George W Bush and his father nor of Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler (though some historians try to show that he was not a believing Christian, he indeed was. Mein Kampf is full of praise for both versions of Christianity – Catholic and Protestant) – none of whom proved to be any better than Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden.
I have seen Gulzarilal Nanda, erstwshile home minister and twice the interim Prime Minister of India, standing outside the INA colony in New Delhi waiting for a bus after relinquishing his high position in the Government. Nanda was the only politician ever to resign as Home minister for his inability to contain corruption. I read later that he was thrown out of his rented house by his landlord after which the Government of India deigned to give him a house in his home town. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri couldn’t find money or time enough to buy a house of his own; his wife was gifted one much later after his death in Tashkent. These men who happened to be Hindus certainly did not claim to be practising Hindu values. Medha Patkar, Teesta Setalvad, Anna Hazare, Shabna Azmi and Kiren Bedi – of varying religious faiths – are among the people who come to mind when I think of values.
I cannot, of course, denounce anyone for his or her beliefs when I have this picture of Mother Teresa right on my mantle. Nor of a priest running a charity school whom I met some time ago. An admirer offered him a couple of new robes to replace his tattered ones. “Give me the money,” I heard him say, “I can see two poor children through a year in school with it”. I believe he meant it. My children did their elementary education in Christian convents and were treated in Christian hospitals. I admired their devotion and selfless service. (I also met a frustrated young nun who masturbated obliging young patients, but I do not blame her. Her action was not in the same class as forced sodomy of children). How can one forget Mrs. Staines who said she forgave the cruel killers of her husband Graham and her sons?
I cannot forget, either, Grace Thomas, a lecturer in U.C. College and the wife of a priest-teacher in the same college, who offered to pay my fees when she learnt that I was discontinuing college for want of money. The College, famous and prestigious, used to pay pittance to its teachers in those days.
POSTSCRIPT: From me, an apology is due. Dr. Babu Paul points out that my impression that UC College prefers (or preferred) to admit non-Christians rather than Catholics is grossly erroneous. I should have been far more careful while referring to this my renowned Alma Mater. That a Catholic parent gave me the impression of discrimination is a fact.
As regards the other corrections offered by Dr. Paul, they are of a personal nature. In the fading screen of my memory, the pristine white clothes of Prof. Thomas figured as a priest’s robe. Yes, I do recall Mrs. Anna Joseph who once commented in class that my contemplative look was a put-on. Perhaps she was right. Professor Krishna Pillai, probably the only atheist among the faculty, was also a known literary critic of the time.
Incidentally, PC Alexander, who missed being the President due to Congress politics, was once an alumnus of UCC. In the late nineteen-twenties, young Malcum Muggeridge taught here and made quite a sensation. (“This is the only institution in India where Europeans work under Indians,” he once wrote cheerfully). He went on to become a journalist, writer and critic of stature. Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi graced the college with their visits.
Sorry, and thank you, UCC!