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, April 17, 2007

For a simplified history

It seems raising a controversy over Jesus Christ has become a favourite pastime with Christians everywhere. Why can’t the history of Christianity be as simple as the history of Hinduism, in which there is an orderly progression of ten incarnations?

Jesus Christ! It seems raising a controversy over Jesus Christ has become a favourite pastime with Christians everywhere. And the controversies are so scholarly that soft-brained Satiricus finds it as hard to understand Christianity as he has found it to understand Islam. In fact, this Hindu simpleton who has no problem bowing to Rama and Krishna without question is not a little taken aback to see that all sorts of doubts have dogged Christ’s footsteps for centuries. For instance, after a Pope of historical times solemnly certified that Jesus was a “lie”, a society of scholars in England secretly debated his existence (or non-)for nearly two hundred years. Over the centuries that dominant doubt has delightfully diversified. For it has progressed from ‘no Christ’ to ‘many Christs’—at least three, if not more. It was almost as if ‘merry Christmas’ meant more Christs the merrier. But as if this problem of plurals was not enough for poor Satiricus, the next controversy to confound him was—did Christ found Christianity? The question is curious, but the answer is curiouser. For there are scholars who say it was Jesus’s brother James who founded Christianity (originally as an orthodox sect within Judaism), and it was a Roman by name Saul who later came to be called Paul and still latter became St. Paul, who later foisted the foundership on Jesus (after, it is said, James met a violent death).

Good God! Does the history of a religion have to be so complicated as to be beyond the comprehension of a retard like Satiricus? Why can’t the history of Christianity be as simple as the history of Hinduism, in which there is an orderly progression of ten incarnations, with the tenth tantalizingly left for the future? Perhaps because Hinduism is for simpletons like Satiricus while Christianity is for suspicious scholars.

Talking about James, the same old question is being newly asked—did Jesus have a brother? This time the occasion is that an ancient painting has been recently found which shows a young boy walking along as the infant Jesus was being carried in his mother’s arms. Critics claim that the existence of this picture was hidden in a major cover-up operation of the church.

Well, now, Satiricus is certainly surprised but not too much. For he has been told that the Apocrypha are a part of the Bible, and the very word means an invented story. So Satiricus see no reason for devout Christians to disparage a divine delusion. At the same time, being a wordsmith by profession, Satiricus is interested in words, and he notices an interesting linguistic link between Jesus and James.

Biblical scholars say Jesus’s mother tongue was Aramaic, which was the colloquial version of Hebrew, and had no separate words for brother and cousin. So James was not Jesus’s brother, he was Jesus’s cousin. Now that should be enough to ally the doubt of a doubting Thomas, no? But then, the Biblical doubting Thomas was a doubting Christian, while Satiricus is a doubting Hindu, so he cannot help wondering—if the original Aramaic work can mean that James was Jesus’s cousin, not his brother, it can likewise mean that James was Jesus’s brother, not his cousin.

Then who is to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the gospel truth? Not even those who wrote the gospels a hundred years after Jesus’s death. So Satiricus can only plead that his ignorance may be on par with that of the gospel-writers. But does that ignorance extend to the brand new Jesus controversy, the discovery of the Jesus family tomb that is very much in the news these days? Satiricus does not know, but he would not be surprised if Christians welcomed this ignorance as bliss. For of Jesus’s remains are found in a tomb, what about his resurrection? Or does that mean yet another precious pillar of Christianity is about to collapse?

Already a few short years ago some prominent British church leaders had said they believed in Jesus Christ but not in his resurrection. Then does the latest controversy about the tomb mean the resurrection is finally, and literally, buried? For this hopeless Hindu ignoramus all this means if he has to understand Chritianity he must also understand everything from Aramaic to archaeology. Jesus Christ! Or is it James Christ?

Talking about British church leaders, Satiricus was taken aback to recently read in the Time of London that these subjects of a sovereign who is officially defender of the Christian faith are apparently no longer able to defend their faith. For the Times headline said, “African missionaries may be sent to revive the faith in Britain.” Oh my God, Father in Heaven! Does that mean the faithful flock is falling apart? A century ago the church of England had sent missionaries to Africa with the mandate to convert the heathen. What happens to that crusade? Or is it that heathens at home now outnumber heathens in Africa? That, believe it or not, oh believers, seems to be the case. For a mission “to rebuild British faith” is being undertaken and “in an ironic reversal of history, some of the missionaries could be from Africa and Asia.” Aha, Asia includes India, no? Then are we secular Indians going to teach Chritianity to Christian Britons? A proud prospect for this patriot, indeed.

But Satiricus has a problem. Are not Anglican Christianity and Roman Catholic Christianity two different Christianities? When the Pope came to secular India a few short years ago and gave a clarion call for a harvest of Christians did he want just Christians of the Catholic brand?

For nincompoops like this non-Christian all this is very confusing. He simply thought all Christians are followers of Christianity and that’s that. Alas, apparently that is not that. For these devotees of Christ may now well wonder—Jesus or James?

(The writer can be contacted at D-402, Veena Sargam, Sector No. 11, Mahavir Nagar, Near Osho Hotel Dahanukar Wadi, Kandivali (West), Mumbai-400 067.)

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