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.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Christ, that’s blasphemy!

Saturday, May 06, 2006 12:11:11 IST

A recent discovery of what has come to be known as the Gospel of Judas has come to light and has set off a lot of controversy in the Christian world. The Indian media has sensibly kept off the controversy...

Religious belief is a very touchy affair and one must be most careful in handling it. Islam does not permit picturisation of the Prophet and one must respect Muslim sentiments. There are two major issues in Christianity over which there can be no debate: The virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection. It is nobody’s business to question these assumptions; if there are doubts, it is for Christian theologists themselves to settle them among themselves. But a recent discovery of what has come to be known as the Gospel of Judas has come to light and has set off a lot of controversy in the Christian world. The Indian media has sensibly kept off the controversy probably in order not to get embroiled in a religious dispute and earn the opprobrium of being communal or anti-minority.

But two articles in a recent issue of The Pioneer (April 16) have raised some fascinating questions. The Gospel of Judas - some 13 pages of papyrus - was discovered accidentally, but its authenticity has been confirmed by experts, and Christian experts, at that.

The accepted version in the Bible is that Judas betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Now we learn from the newly discovered Gospel of Judas that Judas was not a traitor but the chosen disciple of Jesus and it was Jesus himself who told Judas to betray him. It sounds unbelievable and the church understandably does not accept that theory. Judas is the last of the twelve disciples of Christ and his surname, Iscariot is derived from Kerioth, no doubt his birthplace.

Columnist says...

According to Gautam Siddharth, a Pioneer columnist, the story of Judas’ condemnation itself is uncomplicated. St. Irenaeus - he published against Heresies, a volume that sought to unite the Christians divided in the early era, by readings of at least 40 different gospels - had denounced most of the then prevalent theological interpretations including the Gospel of Judas. So can it now be accepted as the truth? According to Siddharth whose antecedents are not stated, “Judas was a mere instrument” because “Jesus knew he had to die so that humanity could understand mercy”.

But more than Siddharth’s it is a full-page article in the same paper by Shalini Saksena that commands attention. Saksena quotes from a book called The Jesus Papers authored by Michael Baigent in which the claim is made that Pilate did not want to crucify Christ, that he allowed Jesus’ body to be removed from the cross after only a few hours and that Jesus was alive and was taken care of, possibly by Mary Magdalene, before leaving Palestine for good. One theory suggests that he spent the rest of his life in Kashmir and was buried in Srinagar. It is well to remember at this point that the Gospels of the New Testament - those of Mathhew, Luke, Mark and John - denounce Judas as a traitor. What comes as fascinating information in Saksena’s article is that in the early years, there were over 80 gospels, some in the form of diaries written by many followers of Jesus, including Mary Magdalene. The claim is made that “some of these gospels also were written by Jesus himself”. Saksena apparently has done a lot of study but her credentials as a scholar, too, are not mentioned. It would have greatly helped, if these were stated.

Media kept mum

What is notable is that hardly any newspaper - with the exception, of course, of The Pioneer - has dared to analyse the Gospel of Jesus which, may it be emphasised, was unveiled at the National Geographic Society’s headquarters in Washington DC. Is this Gospel a fake? Writes Saksena: “Experts on the Gnostic or secret gospels - the Gospel of Mary, subject of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, is one of them - are unanimous that such a codex cannot be faked, it is not worth anyone’s while to do so and way too difficult in any which way”. If it is telling the truth can one ask whether Judas was merely trying to justify his action? ‘Jesting’ Pilate is supposed to have asked: “What is truth?” and reportedly did not pause for an answer. Wise man. Truth has many faces. But what is significant is the marginalisation of the story by practically the entire Indian press. One can understand the unwillingness of the media to get into a religious controversy. It has had enough of it after the stupid cartoons drawn by a Danish cartoonist of the Prophet that had some severe consequences.

There is no reason why anybody should offend Christian sentiments. But where does one draw the line? One supposes that in certain circumstances discretion is the better part of journalistic valour. One answer to that troublesome question was recently given in The Radical Humanist (January 2006) by Ramaa Kundu. She was writing about evolving culture. Should we continue to accept Mannsmriti or, for that matter, the ways of life laid down by Ramcharitamanas in regard to treatment of dalits and women? Ramcharitamanas says: “Drums, illiterates, dalits, animals, women all are fit only to be beaten”. Nonsense it is, and should be challenged. Says Kundu: “It is imperative in today’s world to look beyond some particular inherited/ acquired cultural baggage, to overcome the exclusivist approach which necessarily attends any aggressive purist presumption about one’s own specific culture and ethos”. And again she writes: “Must we accept prescribing/ proscribing instructions which are culled from some dated texts of the past regarding the details of our everyday life and lifestyle or should we go on re-inscribing the heritage again and again, re-contextualising tradition again and again in the quickly changing social-cultural contexts of our times? This is possible only when we keep our mind open and freely interact with the other influences flowing in through all times and spaces”. That is more easily said than done. Some months ago, a British Anglican Bishop had his reservations about Virgin Birth. We do not know what happened to him since then. Kundu says that “even daring irreverence should be more welcome than blind adherence to fossilised strictures”. But that is not how social institutions, especially the media, function. At any rate it would be unbecoming, in a largely Hindu society, for a newspaper to take on the church on certain fundamental issues. It is wiser to push some issues under the carpet than to make them subject for discussion. That could only lead to unintended consequences. But it would be interesting to know how the western - largely Christian - media will have to say. Or would they also follow the path of least resistance and treat the Gospel of Judas as just one more item of news to be read and glossed over? The Radical Humanist, incidentally (it was found by M.N. Roy) is a class journal ready to challenge accepted notions. Unfortunately it is one of its kind.


At 5/10/2006 03:41:00 AM, Blogger Trudging said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5/10/2006 03:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finnally, some decent press!


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