The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Judeo-Christian history: A mini sketch

By M.S.N. Menon

Half the humanity is guided by revelations. The rest, by logic and reasoning. One by blind faith, the other by reasoned faith.

All gods began as tribal deities. Yahweh was no exception. He was the warrior God of the Jews (Jehovah to Christians.) He drank human blood! But, over the years, he gave up blood, gave up killing and became an advocate of ahimsa (non-violence). Remarkable transformation? Yes.

The God of Noah was angry and punishing. The God of Job argued much. Micah rejected both the gods. He denounced blood sacrifice and asked the Jews to give it up. “What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?,” he asked.

The God of Jesus was a God of love, compassion and forgiveness, not of terror and blood sacrifice—a total contrast. In six centuries, Yahweh will become Allah and arm himself with a sword!

The Bible thus presents a succession of gods, each an improvement upon the previous one, marking an ethical ascent of both God and man to a nobler plane. But the Bible, as Bernard Shaw says, is a “jumble of superstitions and obsolete cosmology”. There was nothing in it that was not already in other faiths.

The Jews invented two myths: That only one religion could be true—their religion, and that they were the “chosen people” of God. They paid a heavy price for this hubris.

Christianity and Islam may have given up idolatry of God, but they have taken to the idolatry of books, which is worse. One can neither question what is in the books nor can one go beyond them.

The Romans opposed Christianity for three long centuries until Emperor Constantine made it the official religion of Rome. Till then only slaves were willing to become Christians. But once it became official, Christianity became intolerant of all other faiths, including Judaism. But, had it not been for St Paul, a Jew and scholar of Greek, Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism. But in the process it was no more Christian; it became Pauline.

Jesus was a man of happy disposition. But the church made Christianity a doleful religion. After St Augustine, life became a “fleeting show on earth”, “beauty a snare, pleasure a temptation and abstinence a high virtue.” Rejection of life became the summum bonum of life. “If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister, yea, and his own life, he cannot be my disciple,” announced St Augustine.

Under this great denunciatory impulse, all intellectual curiosity disappeared. Europe entered the Dark Age for almost a millennium. With that bigotry grew. Persecution grew. And brutality reached unheard of limits in human history under the inquisition. One Ennapius writes: “Whoever wore a black dress was invested with tyrannical powers.”

With the advent of the second millennium, Christianity was in conflict with Islam, another semitic religion of common ancestry. For four centuries Christian Europe waged a relentless war of attrition against Islam. Had it not been for the crusades, Islam could have overwhelmed Europe—even Asia. The power of Islam was finally broken by the Mongols.

All these brought about the Reformation. But the discovery of Greece had to wait till the Renaissance. With that, Europe changed forever. It came under Greek and Roman legacy. Renaissance and Reformation marked the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire and the birth of the new world of Copernicus and Columbus, of Luther and Calvin, of Galileo and Descartes.

But there was little change in the soul of the Christian. It remained in the mould set by Rome. It took part in the African slave trade and in the genocide of the Red Indians. Lord Palmerston called these atrocities the greatest crime in human history. No wonder, Nietzche, the philosopher, said: “The earth is a beautiful place, but it has a pox called man.”

This was followed by colonial conquests and colonial plunders. The church was an enthusiastic party to these. But the Age of Reason, which was spawned by the Renaissance, took its own course. It gave a major boost to the scientific advance of man.

Nietzche proclaimed the death of God. In a universe, which had no beginning and end, God cannot have a role, cried the critics. But in a world of economic oppression and despotism, the rulers need the support of religion. As Europe entered the industrial revolution, the Christian God was back in the church. But, now, the communists took up the challenge.

Wealth is a sign of blessing, the capitalists said. If so, the Christian God is indeed cruel. He has kept out half the humanity in poverty and squalor. Where is the Christian soul?

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