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.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Church Vs Christ and East

12/2/2007 5:25:27 AM

An open letter to the Kerala Christians from *M. P. Ajith Kumar

“Who followed Buddha? Jesus … [but] Christianity became disfigured when it went to the West … that is my reading”. Thus commented Mahatma Gandhi in his address, ‘message of the East’ he delivered before the first Asian Relations Conference at Delhi (April 2, 1947). But the “message of Asia” he said is something “not to be learnt through European spectacles”. In fact the West’s dilettantish reading into Christianity making it the twin brother of its economic interest has deeply marred the beauty of human civilization.

The recent controversy regarding Kerala’s St. Thomas tradition gave cure reading. Faith is different from history, which has a scientific methodology of writing. Their mixing would only confuse. Quoting somebody rather than primary historical records would not suffice. True, there may be early Christian saints’ references to the St. Thomas’ visit to Kerala. But they have no historical records to substantiate. Since such hearsay has no say in history Kerala’s St. Thomas tradition, falling wide off truth goes only to the rendezvous of myth and fancy.

But historical evidences prove Christianity’s Indic heritage. Scrolls from the Lamasery of Leh mention Christ’s life there. Even the Book of Luke, an almost complete biography of Christ, does not answer to where was he between the ages of 13 (after he was lost and found in the temple) and 29 when he came out to be baptized by St. John. Buddhist scrolls unravel this missing link. Nicolai Notovich, a Russian scholar who visited India in 1887, has recorded Jesus’ visit to Ledakh and other eastern places in his book Life of Saint Jesus. In Hemis Lamasery at Leh Notovich found 84000 scrolls some of which contain the biography of the prophet ‘Isa’ or Jesus. “Isa”, Notovich writes, “born in Israel … when reached the age of 13 … disappeared secretly from his parents’ house … set out towards Sind”. From the Buddhist teachers Christ learnt the tenets of non-killing, meditation and unattached work, which he later taught his followers. Max Muller in his Sacred Books of the East (Vol. XI) confirms that ‘Messiah’ which in Persian means the ‘great traveler’ is nobody other than the ‘Mettayya’ of the Buddhist literature. Isa Messiah was indeed the great messenger of ‘Isa’, which means God in Sanskrit. It is thus history that Christ’s teachings were Indian in origin. Historians opine that after crucifixion Christ returned to Bethpur or Bandipur on the banks of Jhelum in Kashmir where he met the lost children of Israel and spent his old age. During this return to India Jesus was accompanied by St. Thomas and his mother Mary who died at Muri (named after Mary) on India-Pakistan route. Mullah Nadiri in his Tareekh-e-Kashmir, Mirza Gulam Ahmad Qadiyani in his Maseeh Hindustan Mein, Andreas Faber-Kaiser in Jesus Died in Kashmir and Holger Kersten in Jesus Lived in India have dealt this at length. Jawaharlal Nehru, Zafarullah Khan, the Pak Judge of International Court of Justice and many others subscribed to this view. They were internationally reputed scholars and not Church historians with exclusiveness and missionary zeal.

True, there is a St. Thomas tradition connecting Gondophernes of Taxila. But none knows St. Thomas’ itinerary to Kerala. A professional missionary, he must have preferred a land route. But there is no place connecting him between Taxila and Kerala. Besides, the claim regarding his converting the Brahmins proves untenable, since this privileged group had no reason to quit Hinduism and embrace Christianity, which in AD 1st Century did not develop a philosophy even to attract this Keralite intelligentsia. St. Thomas as the recent Vatican Note asserts never visited Kerala.

But the question involved is different. It is, why those who uphold the St. Thomas tradition of Kerala gobble down Jesus’ visit to Kashmir and his indebtedness to Indian thoughts in developing his teachings? Why the Keralite Christians get soured at the Hindu traditions in Christianity? Answer is simple. They got their religion not directly from Christ but from the colonial West with Cross as its mere trademark. Again, why the Church in India opposes socialism whereas in Russia the Communist Government tolled the Church bells to arouse the patriotic sentiments against a German invader? Here again the answer is simple. It is capitalism Vs socialism. In Russia Christianity remained oriental and hence near to Christ. Unopposed to the Communist uplift of the downtrodden, an ideal Christ too preached, Christianity proved to be a national religion in Russia. One may recall the Russian Communist leader Gennady Zuganov’s comment when the Soviet Union fell, “Christ was the first Marxist”. One may again remember the Russian philosopher, Doestoyevski’s dream of a new Russia emerging from the synthesis of Christ’s sympathy to the poor, Marx’s principle of equality and Russian countryside piety, which of course for the time being failed, and the forecasting of Spengler, the German philosopher historian that the “next thousand years of Russia will belong to Doestoyevski’s Christianity” which is now becoming almost true. But Indian Christianity always went the reverse. The statement of the Chennai Arch Bishop five years ago that the Church would call off all its educational, humanitarian and charitable activities in retaliation to the then Tamil Nadu Government prohibiting religious conversion was typical of its attitude. Really he said what he meant – stunting of education and starving the destitute in their orphanages, all in the name of God. Charity narrows down to become a reward for conversion. Poor Jesus! He would once again have prayed his ‘Father’ to forgive this ignorance. This is no religion of Christ, which he imbibed from India, but of Church that grew in Europe. Learn Christ first, and that against his Indian background. Otherwise all what are being done in the name of Christ would only go against his teachings.

* The Author is Senior Lecturer in History, Sanatana Dharma College Alappuzha, & Vice-President (Kerala Unit) Akhila Bharatiya Rashtriya Saikshik Mahasangh

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