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, August 25, 2008

European sceptics on Christianity

By M.S.N. Menon

Everything metaphysical is speculative. To make them into dogmas is to invite trouble. This is what happened to all the Semitic faiths. They turned into dogmas what could never be proved.

In contrast, Hinduism has few dogmas. It never pronounces the last word. It is always on the quest for the absolute truth. Hence the absence of major disputes in Hinduism.

Christianity is a minefield of dogmas. (So is Islam, but it suppressed all dissent.) No wonder, Christianity has little support among the European intellectuals.

Few of the great thinkers and sceptics of Europe supported Christianity. Of them six are mentioned here. They shaped the thinking of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. They are Kierkegard, Nietzche, Dostoevsky, Sartre, Kafka and Camus. (I do not mention Marx because he is not of the same category.) What did they think of Christianity?

Kierkegard was a bitter opponent of the organised church. In his view, the church had betrayed Jesus Christ. He writes: “One often heard, especially from priests, that one cannot live on nothing. But presently these priests manage to do just that. Christianity does not exist. And yet they live on it.”

Marxism made no impact on him. Logic must transcend itself to faith, he asserts. Reason is insufficient, he says, to shape the world.

Nietzche was a genius. He proclaimed the death of God—that is of the Christian god. He was hostile to the church, held Christianity alien to the German culture and racial instinct. Nietzche hated the Christian morality. He said it was born out of weakness, meekness and suffering. He was never friendly to the Jews. He says sin is a Jewish sentiment and a Jewish invention.

Whole generations of Christians, he points out, have been reproducing themselves with a guilty conscience. The church is responsible for this. He saw the Christian church as a collection of primitive and predatory cultures and beliefs. Wherever Christianity had gone, the church had adapted itself to existing superstitions and practices, according to him. It illustrated the coarseness and baseness of its intellectuals status in the world.

Luther allowed mediocrity to flourish, says Nietzche. To him, socialism is misapplied Christianity. It would annihilate individuality and maintain itself by force and terror, he feared.

By giving life to man after death, Christianity has devalued life on earth, he says. This is a serious charge. This has made men turn more to the “other world.” Death is final, he proclaimed. Only life matters. It is absolute. Christianity has perverted all values by its obsession with death. The fear of death has thus become a “European disease,” he says.

Dostoevsky was an epileptic. His own sufferings gave him profound insight into human nature. In the process, he discovered Jesus Christ. He was not a believer. He had his doubts. He had gone through a “furnace of doubts”, he confesses. But he was against atheism. An atheist cannot be a Russian, he proclaims. True, he believed in the mission of an ideal church. And he loved Christ.

Catholivism, he says, is no more Christian. It is turning into pagan idolatry. It is worse than atheism. Protestantism is even worse—it is approaching atheism. He was opposed to both socialism and dictatorship.

“Religions”, says George Bernard Shaw, “are of no use to us today to understand the universe we live in. People who are educated in these (religious) scraps are unfit to be citizens of any country, he says. And this was more true of Christianity, he opines. He says the Bible education makes you unfit for life.

Sartre dominated European thinking for a century. He rejected the entire civilisation based on Christian humanism. He created a “New Humanism” in contrast to the god-centered Christian humanism. Sartre asserts that life has no providential design, that it is meaningless. Hence the despair. Man must free himself from this despair, he says. He wanted man to live a life detached from moral responsibilities. It led to moral anarchy.

Kafka, the most celebrated prophet of doom, lived in a world without God. He did not believe in salvation. He calls church a sham that makes a “fool of God.” He was reconciled to the triumph… of evil. He was the most existential of the existentialists. To him, there was no moral order, no resurrection, no will to power, no role for women.

Kafka’s pageant of accusations against the present order (European and Christian) is formidable.

Camus perhaps was the last of the great Titans, he wanted to know whether it was possible to become a saint without nelief in God. He saw no sense in life. But he tried to find some meaning in it. His dilemma was how to create a world of moral perfection without belief in God. Though an existentialist, he tried to move away from Sartre by turning back to the moral order.

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